Blog .:. August 2014 4 Entries
The night I picked my friend up, we made plans for the next morning.
We’d wake up early. Pack the Pimpmobile. Go get food. And head for the Oregon coast. Our initial plan was to take a route something like this:
Over the days I’d spent with my brother and his wife, however, we’d been talking about Cannon Beach, home of the famous rock in the Goonies movie. To be honest, I can’t actually remember much about the Goonies movie. But there was treasure, and apparently a famous rock, and we could go see the rock.
We decided we’d go ahead and detour to Cannon Beach before heading south.
Then I remembered that I had to mail a letter.
That was fine. Pack car, get groceries, mail letter, head to Cannon Beach.
We packed the car and got groceries, at which point I realized we’d forgotten to grab chairs for the campsite. Since we were having problems locating a mailbox (seriously… when did all the mailboxes disappear?), I figured we could stop at a Big Box Store, mail my letter, and pick up some chairs. It turned out that the Big Box Store, which did have chairs, did not have a mailbox.
But it did have kites.
And someone who knew where a post office was.
By the time we were done, our route looked like this:
But once we got out of Portland, we had a nice drive and made it to Cannon Beach without any problems. To be honest, I think this may have been my favorite beach on the entire trip—probably because it was a little gray and dreary, but not really raining, and I love that type of weather.
The seagull loved it, too.
As promised, there was the rock:
I still don’t really remember it from the movie, but if I ever watch the movie again, I can say I saw it in person.
The smaller rocks were more interesting, to be honest.
After we left Cannon Beach, we began driving down the coastal highway, stopping whenever we saw a great view.
It happened a lot.
Although sometimes I got distracted by rocks.
Especially ones that, if you squinted just right, look like faces.
We had planned to camp at Patrick’s Point State Park in California, but between our late start out of town and the decision to include Cannon Beach in our itinerary, there was no way we were going to make it. After some debate about exactly what we were going to do, we decided to get a hotel.
My friend had recently gotten an iPhone, I think, as she was working out how to use Siri. As an aside, here’s what I don’t understand about Siri. People say they hate automated telephone systems, and you can always tell when people are talking to them, because they are practically yelling “BILLING! I SAID BILLING YOU HEARTLESS PIECE OF SHITE!”
And yet people go ga-ga over Siri, which is basically an automated telephone system that is trying to take over your entire phone. Except that when Siri messes up (as she inevitably seems to), people laugh and say it’s cute. Because the program has a name? I don’t get it.
Anyway, my friend was having as much success asking Siri to find a hotel as my previous experiences watching people interact with Siri led me to expect. Namely, none.
I should note that because I rented the car before my friend arrived, I couldn’t add her to the driver’s list. And because we were so far behind in getting out of town, we decided to stop and add her later in the trip. Which we hadn’t done yet. So I had been doing all the driving all day, and while I was pretty tired of driving, I was also thinking about how nice it would be to get to California early-ish the next day, set up camp, and start exploring the Redwoods.
So, as much sympathy as I had for my friend’s plight with Siri, I just kept driving. Through one town. And another, where we debated on one hotel slightly too long, missed the turn, and I opted to keep going south rather than turn around.
I hadn’t banked on the fact that the next town would be something like 30 miles down the road, but hey—this is what roadtrips with me are like. We just… go. We get there… or someplace, anyway… eventually.
We did finally find a hotel and get settled in.
Our plans for the next day were to do more of the same: keep driving south along the coast until we hit the state park, get camp set up, and then… Redwoods!
You’ll be totally shocked, I’m sure, to know that’s not quite the order in which things happened.
Well, with the 7,700-year-old aftermath of a bang, anyway.
After spending a couple days in Portland, my brother, his wife, and I went to Crater Lake. It was just as impressive (and blue) as it looks in photos.
Well, perhaps not my photos. But professional photos.
In some ways, the park reminded me of Yellowstone—very much set up so you can drive from viewpoint to viewpoint. However, there are some trails available for hiking. Even better, from my perspective, is that some of the trails had some elevation to them.
I decided I wanted to hike up Mount Scott, which is the highest peak in the park. Because we had brought their dog along, and dogs are not allowed on most trails in the park, my sister-in-law stayed with the dog while my brother and I tackled the trail. Going up about 1,500 feet over 2.5 miles seemed doable to me.
We headed off. Or I headed off while my brother hung back to give me a head start.
The first half of the trail is pretty straightforward, as the trail wraps around the back of the mountain and is a reasonable grade. Then it gets much steeper as it switches to some decent switchbacks. As I huffed and puffed my way along the first switchback, I started to get really worried. If I was having this many problems on a less difficult trail than the Chilkoot Pass…
Fortunately, the views at the end of each switchback were pretty spectacular:
As I stood there gasping for air, I realized my legs felt fine. And that’s when I finally realized that even though we were only climbing up about 1,500 feet, we had started around 7,700 feet and were headed up to about 8,900 feet.
[Note: this is why you can’t trust Wikipedia for anything. Those numbers are totally not adding up.]
Allow me to rephrase. We were starting many thousand feet above sea level and going up even further. I don’t know at what point altitude is supposed to officially start bothering sea-level-acclimated people, but for me, it appears to be somewhere between “many thousand feet above” and “even further.”
Once I realized that, the hike got easier. I slowed down, gave myself time to breathe, and enjoyed the view.
Every once in a while, I would catch up to my brother (who, despite letting me get a head start, had passed me early on). Usually this involved passing him while he sat quietly on a rock, and then doing a huge double-take when I finally caught him out of the corner of my eye. It’s a good thing he wasn’t a hungry bear ready to pounce on unwary hikers.
Eventually we made it to the top. There is an old watch tower on the mountain, previously used to spot and triangulate forest fires. I’m not sure if it’s used for anything now, other than some shade for hikers to stand in while they enjoy the view and rest a little before starting their hike back down the mountain.
Over the course of the weekend, we also checked out some of the standard viewpoints, like the Castle:
And the Pinnacles:
Both of which were made by lava flows doing something to the the ground and then the soil around them eroding. There were signs explaining the process, but I forget the details.
During our stay, we also saw the Phantom Ship and hiked to Plaikni Falls. We stopped by the visitor’s center and split up a bit. I took the dog on the Lady of the Woods trail—one of the few trails that does allow dogs. Since it was close to the visitor’s center and short, I mistakenly assumed that it would be easy. It certainly started out easy. And then switchbacks suddenly appeared. Not as bad as the ones on Mount Scott, of course, but when you’re expecting a pleasant walk in the woods, hills are not necessarily welcome.
As we headed back to Portland, I was on the one hand celebrating—other than the altitude, the hike up Mount Scott had not been particularly challenging. I was beginning to have faith that I could make it up the Chilkoot Pass. On the other hand, I had some blisters on my feet from my hiking boots. I had been wearing them on practice hikes in Texas, but they were not as broken in as I thought. I knew I was going to have to work on that over the next two weeks.
After we returned to Portland, I had a few days before my next big adventure. My brother and his wife have more camping gear than I would know what to do with, and I was beginning to feel horribly unprepared for a real backpacking adventure. I spent a couple days going through my gear and recalculating what I needed to buy.
My credit card company started sending me text messages, asking if I was actually spending that much money at REI.
And then it was time. I went and picked up the rental car, which was promptly dubbed the Pimpmobile (alias the Gangsta Car) and headed to the airport. A friend from grad school was flying in, and the next day we were going to head on our roadtrip down the Oregon/California coasts and through the Redwoods.
By early 2014, plans for the Chilkoot Trail hike were firming up.
We had a confirmed list of people who would be going—ten in all: my mom and I, one of my aunts and her fiance, two of my mom’s cousins and their husbands, a friend of my mom’s and her niece.
We decided to take our time on the trail and spend six days/five nights doing the hike.
We discussed dates and a tentative itinerary, and my mom called to get permits. Permits and itineraries are taken seriously on the trail; you must camp in designated campgrounds, and only 50 people per day may climb the pass (although, as one ranger cheerfully told us, we could climb the pass as often as we wanted on that day). Only one large group is allowed to climb the pass each day as well—presumably to ensure that large, guided tours do not take over the trail and edge out smaller, adventurous groups. (I totally made that last bit up, actually. But it sounds plausible, doesn’t it?)
At ten people, our group qualified as a large group and we had to shift our dates slightly.
But on February 21, my mom sent out an email confirming the itinerary and including a brief description of each day’s expected activities:
- August 7th – Check in with the parks service for our permits/passes. Check in with the White Pass & Yukon Route Railroad for our train tickets. Have a beer at a local restaurant and maybe a meal as well. Taxi to Dyea and the trail head. The graveyard is a must to see. Hike to Finnegan’s Point – 5 miles from the trailhead.
- August 8th – Hike to Sheep Camp – 8 miles. We can take our time and do a side trip at Canyon Camp if we want. The ranger talk is at 7pm so that is our target time.
- August 9th – Up early and on the trail. This is ‘Elevation Day’! We will camp at Deep Lake Campground. It is smaller than Happy Camp and more rustic but it will be more protected from the weather for all of our ‘hot weather’ hikers!
- August 10th – Today’s hike is a short 6 miles to Bare Loon Lake.
- August 11th – We camp in Bennett, a mere 4 miles down the trail. Another easy day to enjoy the surroundings, relax, swim, short hikes around the lake, etc.
- August 12th – Our train doesn’t leave until 2pm so we have another relaxing day to enjoy the area.
It all sounds like a pleasant jaunt through the woods, doesn’t it?
You should know that
- We didn’t end up following this itinerary after all, and
- After the hike, the cousins’ husbands submitted this itinerary into evidence as proof positive that everyone in my family lies
But all that would come later, on the trail. On paper, it seemed straightforward enough. It even seemed straightforward when I looked at the elevation chart:
Ignoring my mom’s optimistic descriptions of each day’s activities, our plan was, roughly:
|1 (Aug 7)||Finnegan’s Point||4.8 miles||Minimal|
|2 (Aug 8)||Sheep Camp||7.8 miles||Approx. 1,000|
|3 (Aug 9)||Deep Lake||10.4 miles||2,500 foot climb to summit, then down approx. 750 ft|
|4 (Aug 10)||Bare Loon Lake||6 miles||500 ft net loss, with a few climbs/drops in there|
|5 (Aug 11)||Bennet||4 miles||Minimal|
You’ll notice that Day 3, the day we actually go over the pass, is also the day with the longest hike. But at the time, going an extra couple miles in order to have a campground at a lower elevation seemed to make sense. All in all, on paper it all seemed very doable.
A day to ease into the hike, and, sure, there are a couple little hills in the elevation chart, but they are tiny. A second day with some moderate climbs, just to get warmed up for Day 3. Let’s not talk about Day 3. And then a couple easy days with minimal descents. I mean, there are portions on the elevation chart that look flat. How hard can this hike really be?
Itinerary set, I ignored the hike for a month or so. But Day 3 kept nagging at me. I wasn’t sure I could hike 10 miles on the flat, much less do a 2,500 foot climb on the same day.
Actually, in all honesty, I didn’t read the chart all that well and was convinced that we were hiking 12 miles on Day 3. When I found out—in Skagway, the day before we started—that we were only going 10.4 miles, I felt like Christmas had come. Everyone else thought I was nuts for being excited that we were only going 10 miles on that day, but to me the truth was an unexpected gift.
But that excitement came later. In the spring, while I was still contemplating the hike in a somewhat academic manner, I was thinking it was 12 miles. I finally started to take getting in to shape seriously. Because I had delayed for so long, I realized that “getting in to shape” was going to mean something more like “become oval-like instead of round” and not so much “become a toned and athletic goddess,” but maybe oval-like would be enough. It would have to be enough.
I started walking. I bought an elliptical machine and very quickly taught my cats that, while they might like to sit directly under me while I am trying to do yoga, they might not want to sit directly underneath the elliptical pedals when I was working out on that machine.
Since I live in Houston, the only hills around are the highway overpasses. I was resigned to not having elevation available, but I started visiting nearby parks so that I could at least walk on non-concrete paths. I scheduled some camping visits out in the Hill Country. The hills don’t offer much elevation, but they do offer more than I could get in Houston.
I began carrying a loaded pack—either tossing bags of flour/sugar into my day pack or, eventually, loading up my hiking pack and carrying it.
The closer the trip got, the more I worried about elevation. I cranked up the tension on my elliptical and then, in desperation, began walking through my apartment complex, climbing every flight of stairs. Twice. Up. Down. Up. Down. Change staircase. Up. Down. Up. Down. Change. Then I added a loaded pack.
I’m a little surprised the neighbors didn’t call someone on me. The cops. The men in white coats.
The more I prepared, the less prepared I felt.
12 miles* on real terrain. 2,500 feet up. I was going to die.
To make matters worse, no matter how many times I packed my pack, I couldn’t get everything in it. And every time I turned around, I was reminded of something else that I needed. I felt less and less prepared, but I took some comfort in knowing that next year’s REI member bonus will be larger than the gross national product of some small countries.
Eventually, of course, I ran out of time. In desperation, I threw everything into the duffel bag I would be using to protect the bag on the flight, packed my other bag for clothes I’d need on the rest of my vacation, and headed to the airport. I would sort out my pack later, possibly by leaving something non-essential behind. Like the hair dryer.
I checked in at the airport and was standing in line waiting to turn over my bags when one of the airline people came over, asked if I was going to Portland, and informed me that my flight was cancelled.
If that wasn’t an auspicious beginning, just wait. It gets better.
A dedicated attendant was handling those of us on that flight, and she told me the flight hadn’t been cancelled yet—but it probably would be. She was going to book me on another flight, just in case. I had no problem with this, until she cheerfully handed me some papers and said, “Here’s the refund for your baggage, here’s the ticket you need to take to the other airline, and by the way, the flight leaves in an hour.”
I eyed her warily. “You’re not taking my bags?”
No, she was not. I was no longer on her airline; I had to go to the other airline’s check in counter. Which was two terminals away. And I had to haul my two large bags with me. Go through that airline’s check in line. Make it through security. Make it to the gate. And the flight was leaving—on the runway, taking off—in an hour.
Fortunately, this sort of thing happens to me often. I was on the train between terminals before comprehension really set in. I spent the ride staring blankly at the passenger across me, trying to figure out which airline would be responsible for rebooking me when I missed this flight.
Fortunately the check in line was short.
Fortunately the security line was short.
I sprinted to the gate, with minutes to spare. Whole minutes! I would have done an end zone dance, except I probably would have fallen over.
And then I realized the flight was delayed, for several hours.
After a couple hours, they extended the delay. I went up to talk to the flight attendant, because now I was going to miss my connection. Not the connection I originally booked, but the connection on the new airline. She said there was the slimmest chance I would make the connection, so she was leaving me on that flight—but she booked me on the next available connection as well, just in case.
The flight finally took off, and as it was landing, the captain made one of those rare “we have people with tight connections, so please let them off first..” announcements.
Depending on where gates were located, there was a chance—a five minute chance—that I could make my first connection. Otherwise, I would have to wait an hour. The door opened for deplaning, and a group of six or seven of us took off running.
We burst out of the ramp like Olympic sprinters.
Well, they did.
I jogged behind with a determined look on my face. I had it easier than they did, though, because they scattered everyone and I was able to cruise along in their wake.
Unfortunately, the connecting flight was just too far—and I have one speed. It is not, alas, “fast.”
As I was trudging back to the next available connection (conveniently, located right next to the plane I came in on and not two terminals away like the connection I wanted to make), I contemplated the hike again.
I couldn’t run across two terminals with a light backpack on without getting out of breath.
How in the world was I going to hike 12 miles* and climb 2,500 feet in one day?
Fortunately or unfortunately, depending on how I wanted to look at it, I had about three more weeks before the hike. I was going to have to do some practice hikes in there somehow.
In the meantime, I made my connection, landed, and was picked up by my brother and his wife in Portland. The hike was three weeks away, it’s true—but my vacation had finally begun.
*Remember, I was confused about the distance on Day 3.
A few years ago, my mother announced that she wanted to climb the Chilkoot Trail for her 60th birthday.
Being a loving and supportive family, we cheered her on and promised to go with her.
After all, her 60th birthday was years away, and there was plenty of time for us to get in shape. Or for her to change her mind about the trip. Whichever.
The more curious among us looked up the trail and some of the history.
Klondike Gold Rush, Chilkoot Pass, Golden Stairs, iconic photo.
This iconic photo:
Check, check, check, check. It was years away; what did we have to worry about?
Last summer, she announced that she was definitely going, and some of us
went insane agreed to go with her, for reals this time.
She threatened to leave anyone who was not in shape behind for the bears, and we smiled and nodded and shrugged our shoulders.
The trip was a year away. We had plenty of time to get in shape. Or she could change her mind. There was time.
I decided that as long as I was going to hike the trail, I was going to knock off one of my own bucket list items and take the ferry up Alaska’s Inside Passage. For those who aren’t aware, this is just like taking a cruise ship up the Inside Passage. Except for the bit where half the passengers camp out on the aft decks. No, seriously. They duct-tape their tents to the deck and camp out. There are also fewer bad entertainers available. None at all, in fact. But I consider that a bonus.
And then I decided that as long as I was on the West coast, I might as well take some time off to see the Redwoods, too.
I asked my boss if I could take a month off in the summer of 2014.
He agreed, and I began planning.
In mid July, I flew out to Oregon to begin my month-long adventure, which ultimately included spending time in Portland with my brother and his wife, spending a weekend at Crater Lake, spending a week or so traveling the Oregon and Northern California coasts with a grad school friend, taking the ferry up the Inside Passage, hiking around Juneau for a couple days, and hiking the Chilkoot Trail.
It was exhilarating. It was exhausting. The Chilkoot Trail was the most challenging thing I have ever done, and I am thrilled I did it—but it was truly a once in a lifetime experience. For good reason.
For those who know of this blog as a primarily horse-related blog, please bear with me for the next while as I document this adventure. Fin has been on vacation all summer and we’ll just be legging up for the next little while anyway.
For those who have been reading this site for any length of time and know that I can get lost in a paper bag, I’ll leave you with this encouraging thought: for a substantial portion of my month-long adventure, I was the one in charge of driving and directions. But don’t worry, the National Park Service says they will find the lost member of our hiking party any day now.
Just kidding. No one got lost. One person did think they were going to be eaten by a bear, but other than some psychological scarring, she’s ok. Probably. She hasn’t talked to me much since the event, come to think of it.
We’ll get to that story before long.
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