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Alpine Lakes Wilderness, Hike-a-thon, Hiking, Hiking tips, Reviews, Running, Solo

Five things that have improved my enjoyment of hiking this summer

(…because I obviously hated hiking before.)

My second hike of Hike-a-Thon, a variation on the Melakwa Loop, an old favorite of mine, was just incredibly enjoyable. The weather was perfect, the views inspiring, the company (just Wellie and one pissed-off marmot) excellent, but I was also struck by how effortless the hiking itself felt. Part of it is that I’m in better shape than I used to be, for sure, but I’ve also made some changes that make for a more comfortable time on trail.

1) Instead of lugging over three liters of water with me on hot summer days, I bring my Sawyer Squeeze filter with me and filter as I go (provided I know there will be water available – there usually is, since I mostly hike in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness). This filter only weighs three ounces (and the Sawyer Mini will be coming out soon, weighing in at two ounces, $20!) and is really easy to use. Less water to carry means faster, more comfortable hiking, and I get to drink fresh, delicious mountain water instead of tepid tap water that’s been heating up in my Platypus container.

Double Kaleetan

2) I switched from hiking boots to minimalist trail runners in 2011 and I love it. I used to roll my ankles all the time back when I wore boots, but, knock on wood, it’s never happened in trail runners – increased ground feel lets your feet adjust to the terrain. They’re also marvelously light and breathable, so my feet no longer feel horrible at the end of a long day. I usually don’t even take my shoes off before I get home, while back in my boot days, that was the first thing I did when I reached the car.

Alan! Alan! Alan!

3) Trail runners allow me to run the downhills (I would run the uphills if I could, but that’s not likely to happen unless I lose a significant amount of poundage). JK and I were talking about how much we love this last weekend as we were running the six not-very-interesting miles down a mountain – what would probably have felt like a neverending death march while walking turned into something fun instead; the running itself becomes one of the highlights of the trip (endorphins!). An added bonus that doesn’t seem to make sense, is that if I run back down to the car, my legs actually feel fresher than if I had walked – maybe because I’m using slightly different muscles and a different gait?

Lower Tuscohatchie

4) Hiking in a skirt! I can’t believe I never tried this before. I’m using the Moving Comfort Sprint Tech Skort and I can finally hike and run without having to endure chub rub chafing.

Olallie Lake

5) This one is new to me, but after trying it on my last two hikes, I’m a convert. All summer I’ve been eating total crap on my hikes – I can’t stomach granola bars anymore, so I’ve been eating Snickers instead, supplemented with energy gels. I finally realized that since I wouldn’t eat Snickers in “real life”, I shouldn’t be gorging on them when my body is working hard. Enter real food! These Chocolate & Sea Salt Sticky Bites from Feed Zone Portables: A Cookbook of On-the-Go Food for Athletes are tasty (because CHOCOLATE and SALT), efficient, and have a much less scary ingredient list than a packet of Gu or a Snickers bar.

– Melakwa to Pratt Loop w/Olallie Lake | 15 miles | 3600 feet elevation gain –

Big, big thanks to my Hike-a-Thon sponsor Mark who loves this area of our mountains as much as I do!

Thanks, Mark!

I’m currently at 92% of my goal, and there is still time do donate and support our trails!

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Hiking, Running, Solo, Top Trips

Woodland therapy

I woke up two Fridays ago feeling down in the dumps for reasons that, frustratingly, are beyond my control. It was tempting to just go back to sleep, but I knew that wallowing at home would be the worst thing I could do for myself at that moment. The best thing I could do? Hit the trails.

JK and his coworkers were headed to Rattlesnake Ledge for a “morale event” hike & picnic, so they dropped Wellie and me off at the Snoqualmie Point trailhead – at the other end of Rattlesnake Mountain – on the way. My challenge was to make it to Rattlesnake Lake before they were done.

I hauled balls, hiking as fast as I could on the uphills and running the flats and downhills, taking some breaks to feed and water Wellie and to appreciate the views. When I finished the nine miles to Rattlesnake Ledge, JK and the gang were still there! They gave me wine! And fed me watermelon! Huzzah for JK’s coworkers! We lazed and chatted on the Ledge for a while, then hiked the last two miles down to the lake (at a much more relaxed pace).

Looking down on JK and the Microsofties from the upper ledge Wellie at Grand Prospect

Blue feelings = gone. The situation I was sad about remained the same, nothing had changed, but I when I’m active, taking charge, hopped up on endorphins and sniffing trees, I find that I’m just so much better equipped to handle this kind of stuff.

A vigorous five-mile walk will do more good for an unhappy but otherwise healthy adult than all the medicine and psychology in the world.

(I have no idea who Dr. Paul Dudley White was, but he speaks da troof.)

– Rattlesnake Mountain Traverse | 11 miles | 2700 feet elevation gain –

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Alpine Lakes Wilderness, Hiking, Running, Solo, Top Trips

Mount Defiance at last

Two days after climbing Mount Adams, I wanted to see if a couple of days spent at high altitude would give me magic powers in the mountains. (It didn’t.)

Old Mason Lake Trail

Every summer I plan to hike to Mount Defiance, and every summer I end up not doing it. Until now! Huzzah!

Wellie and I took the old trail up to Mason Lake, and I must say, it is so much nicer than the Ira Spring Trail. No other hikers (even though the trailhead was almost full – on a Tuesday!), shaded and reasonably cool(ish), thanks to the river, and just really, really pleasant.

Wellie doesn't want to swim

It was hot as Hades out that day, so I had already finished my water by the time I reached Mason Lake. We sat down to have a snack and filter some delicious, cold water before heading up towards Mount Defiance.

It was my first time up there, so of course I took a wrong turn, following the first side trail I found. After sinking up to our ankles and knees (do dogs have knees, though?) in mud, I checked my map and realized I was in a marshy area on the way to Little Mason Lake. I backtracked to the main trail and found the clearly signed fork to Mount Defiance, cursing the microscopic pieces of sand that would grind away at my feet the rest of the hike.

Hot and happy hiking hound

Because I never learn, I timed my hike so that I was sweating my way up the steep, open trail to Defiance during the hottest part of the day. Jill Homer introduced the idea of “Bikram Mountain Biking” last year, and that really is the only way I can describe this trip – it was Bikram Hiking.

Even Wellie, a sun-worshipper if there ever was one (he’s totally the canine version of those 1970s leather-faced women who used tanning oil and reflector boards), hid in every patch of shade he could find.

Tiger Lilies

It was beautiful though. A new perspective on the I90 corridor for me, lakes, volcanoes, and Alpine Lakes Wilderness peaks all around, and a steep meadow blooming with wildflowers.

Hot dog

Unfortunately, there’s a price to pay for wildflowers – bugs. I had been warned about them in the latest trip report on WTA, which is why I didn’t bring Basil, but nothing could prepare me for how fierce they were on the summit. They kept flying up my nose and into my ears, bouncing off my eyeballs and getting stuck behind my sunglasses, and finally kamikazeing down my throat. For a vegetarian, I ate quite a lot of bugs that day.

Lake Kulla Kulla is made up of Wellie's drool

I put on my headnet, but poor Wellie couldn’t find any relief from the little bastards. When giant horse flies appeared and started eating chunks of flesh from my back, I gave up and started hiking down. Another hiker arrived just as I was leaving, and he lasted all of three minutes in the swarm before he came running down behind me, so it wasn’t just me being over-dramatic.

Defiance summit

Thankfully the bugs disappeared once I got out of the open meadow, and they didn’t bother us the rest of the hike.

Beautiful trail

From the Defiance junction, we hiked past some cool, ginormous boulders and a beautiful pond, then stopped at Rainbow Lake to filter more water and cool off with a swim. The water was perfect, and Wellie fought all of his natural urges and jumped in to rescue me, as usual.

Unnamed pond

This look clearly says: “Mother, I shall murder you in your sleep.”

Post-swim grooming

We spent a long time drying off and eating the rest of our lunch (I had attempted to eat some of it through my headnet on Defiance). Eventually I looked at the clock and realized that I was running a little late for my scheduled pick-up, so I packed up my stuff and told my legs that I needed to run the rest of the way.

My legs cooperated beautifully, and after a quick side trip to Island Lake, we made our way around the big Ollalie Lake cirque (including a bunch of uphill switchbacks that I really couldn’t remember from my last trip) and down past Talapus Lake. I felt like I was flying those last four miles.

Lovely Rainbow Lake

JK pulled up a couple of minutes after I made it to the Talapus trailhead, and I was so high on endorphins that, for a moment, I forgot about the heat and the bugs and told him “Best. Day. Ever.” Endorphins rule the world of mind-altering drugs.

– Mount Defiance “Loop” | 13 miles | 4100 feet elevation gain –

Pretty trail towards Talapus Lake

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Challenge, Issaquah Alps, Running, Solo

Enchanted dreams

Taking advantage of our continued bout of excellent weather, I took Wellie and Basil for a run on Cougar Mountain last Thursday. Cougar is a confusing maze of wooded trails, but I’ve spent enough time there this spring (running after WTA work parties) that I can finally make my way around the mountain without having to pull out my map at every trail junction.

A glorious day

I was aiming for 10 miles or so, but, even in the heat, I was enjoying myself so much that I ended up with 15 miles, covering all my favorite trails on the mountain. I know being self-deprecating is kind of my thing, but this time I have to be honest and say that I was downright proud of myself.

Boardwalk Fungus among us

– Cougar Mountain Loop | 15 miles | 2600 feet elevation gain –

This is promising, since my goal for this summer is to run through the Enchantments. I’ve given up on the backpacking permit lottery for the time being, so going from the Colchuck trailhead to the Snow Lake trailhead in one day is the way to go. As always, I use the term “run” loosely – I hike the uphills and do my shuffle-jog on the flats and downhills. We will be snailing through the core Enchantments, taking photos and enjoying ourselves.

I’m sure I’ll get so sweaty and salty that the mountain goats will lick me clean before I have time to jump in a lake!

Oh sorry, are we in your camp?

My main challenges will be getting my legs and lungs ready to hike up Aasgard Pass, which gains 2200 feet in something like 0.8 miles, without bonking (but yay, I’ll have a small pack this time!)…

LARCH OMGZ!!1!

…getting my feet ready for the mileage – 17-20, depending on side trips – and for running the last hot, dusty, boring six miles down to the Snow Lake trailhead when I’m already tired…

Little Annapurna

…but mostly getting my head ready, ’cause that’s usually where I fail when it comes to challenging myself – I’ll actually have to believe in myself for once. This run on Cougar was a mighty fine start.

Good morrow!

My previous Enchantments trips, four days each: 2008 and 2010.

Alpine Lakes Wilderness, Hike-a-thon, Hiking, Me, Solo

HaT #8: Wright Mountain, wrong day

For the last year and a half, I’ve been experiencing pretty significant pelvic pain. At first it was only for a couple of days of my cycle, but at this point I have the joy of dealing with it 2-3 weeks out of every month, complete with nausea when the pain is at its worst. On Monday I had laparoscopic surgery where my doctor removed some adhesions, which will hopefully help. If not, at least I am now in possession of gross photos of my innards.

I’ve spent the week recovering on the couch, having my wonderful man slave cook and do all the housework, but I’m hoping to feel good enough to walk and maybe even go on an easy hike soon. In the meantime, here’s a report from when I was dumb and went hiking during “peak pain week” in August. Exercise usually helps when there’s just pain (yay, endorphins!), but when there’s nausea involved, it’s better to just stay scrunched up inside and drink buckets of ginger tea. But, you know, I had Hike-a-Thon miles to cover.

Inferiority complex

The hike started on a promising note with coolish temperatures and, to Wellie’s excitement, our first full-sized Greyhound sighting on trail. I’ve seen a surprising number of Italian Greyhounds out there, but never a big one.

Snow Lake

Snow Lake was its usual pretty but crowded self, even on a weekday, so I stopped briefly for a photo and then went straight on towards Gem Lake, where I planned to spend the afternoon reading, drinking lake-chilled Pepsi, eating Ginger People chews, and moaning quietly to myself.

Gem Lake & Wright Mountain

As I was soaking my feet in the cold water, I noticed that my socks just happened to have the words WRIGHT SOCK printed on them (even the wleft one), so I pretty much had no choice but to drag my nauseous self up to the summit of Wright Mountain, just so I could take photos of my dirty sock.

Gem Lake

Then I went back home, curled up into a ball, and drank a bucket of ginger tea. The end.

Wright Mountain | 11 miles | 3400 feet elevation gain –

Wellie's feelin' all Wright