Sunday, April 28, 2013

Marmots, Desert Parsley and Blisters the Size of Plums!

I had been wanting to hike the Klickitat Rail Trail for some time - I figured yesterday would be a beautiful day for it (sunny and 75 degrees!). I made the nearly 2-hour drive and started off at the Harms Rd. trailhead at 9 am. In preparation for a long day, I brought a gallon of water and lots of food. I also wore my relatively new hiking boots as I had read reports that the gravel can be extremely painful after a couple hours. I had worn these boots on two other long and strenuous hikes - they'd been very comfortable so far! The swale canyon, the portion of the rail trail I completed, is closed from July through September because it is so dry and hot and the risk of wildfires is high (hence the gallon of water).

Harms Rd. trailhead. It was locked on my way back so I had to climb over!
The swale canyon portion of the Klickitat Rail Trail is approximately 13 miles. It starts off in the high prairie - very open. On the drive there, I saw amazing views of Mt. Adams. As I started walking, I heard and saw many meadowlarks. I also heard frogs! I started off ahead of a group of mountain bikers and hikers. The bikers passed me after several miles and I didn't see the other hikers till the end of my hike!

Many parts of the hike were extremely windy - the beginning part, in particular, was so windy that I couldn't wear my hat because it would have blown off. In fact, I had wanted to do this hike earlier in the year but when I arrived, the wind made the 50 degree weather so cold, I quit before even starting. 

As you walk, the high prairie begins to change - you begin to see more rocks and trees. You can't tell from the picture above, but those rocks were swarming with marmots! 

I saw a bald eagle, butterflies, grey squirrels and lizards. I also saw and smelled a ton of desert parsley which was incredibly beautiful and fragrant! The trail includes 8 bridges or trestles. Some of these have been renovated but others haven't. While crossing one of them, I stepped on a rotten log and almost fell! I finally walked far enough that I began to see trees. I was very excited because I thought they might offer some respite from the wind (they didn't). 
The desert parsley is everywhere on this hike. It makes for beautiful scenery. It also gives ticks a more convenient way to find and get on you! I read several reports of hikers finding ticks on them after finishing this hike but I didn't have any problems. I wore long pants, high socks and Velcro around the bottom of my pants to keep anything from getting in.

Parts of the trail were packed dirt but most of it was gravel. By the end of the hike, I was elated when I'd hit a patch of packed down dirt. It felt like a vacation for my feet. 

I was walking pretty quickly for the first half of the hike - probably a little less than 4 miles per hour. However, by about mile ten (a little less than halfway), my feet were really tired and I had developed a couple blisters. I patched these up with moleskin and band aids and continued on. I probably should have turned back at that point but I didn't. Stubborn, as usual, I pressed on thinking it would be silly to hike ALL THAT WAY only to stop before the end. In retrospect, that was a poor life decision.

Before hitting the turn around point, I passed by several abandoned cars, cabins and many pieces of trail artwork. I also saw a lizard!

This car was a little ways off the trail.
Trail art!

By the halfway mark, my feet were aching and I was ready to be done. But, I had to turn around and hike four more hours. The last four hours were brutal. The Achilles tendon on my right leg started aching. I had to limp in order to avoid experiencing unbearable pain. I couldn't tell as I was walking but huge (plum size) blisters were forming on each heel. At one point I felt a stab of pain on my right heel and then felt a rush of warmth as all the fluid leaked out of my blister. To be honest, I don't know if I've had a more miserable four hours of hiking. HOWEVER, I persevered and made it back to my car (limping and almost crying from joy). I was probably walking at a rate of less than 2 miles per hour towards the end. I was also talking to myself - alternately berating myself for being stubborn and encouraging myself to continue onward.

Life Lessons Learned:
  1. I need to pace myself. I think if I hadn't been moving so fast at the beginning, I might have saved my feet, at least a little.
  2. I need to bring extra socks to change into when the ones I'm wearing get sweaty - damp socks cause more friction than dry socks and friction causes blisters (I usually bring socks if I think I'll be crossing streams. I never thought to bring them in the case of my socks getting sweaty). Even if I had had a change of socks, I wouldn't have thought that that would have ameliorated the situation.
  3. I need to know when to throw in the towel. If I had turned back a couple miles earlier, I probably would have saved myself a considerable amount of pain. 
Overall, this was a BEAUTIFUL hike. It was warm and sunny (I'm glad I brought as much water as I did - I drank it all!) and the wildlife was incredible. I didn't really get to enjoy the beauty of the hike for the second half of it but that's ok. I don't think I will be doing this again anytime soon but I'm glad I did it - it was an experience I will never forget and I learned some important lessons.


Miles: 25
Time: 7 hrs, 45 mins (total time including breaks)
Elevation: 900 ft 

Click here to see the rest of my photos!

Saturday, April 20, 2013

12.2 miles, 5,000 ft, 5 pieces of pizza and 1 delicious beer!

In preparation for the Mount St. Helens summit on Mother's Day, J&J and I decided to do the Starvation-Defiance Loop. This hike, considered one of the hardest in the gorge, did not disappoint. We were all dreading the hike but once it got underway, it wasn't that bad - in fact, the hardest part was the descent!

The trail is mild (paved) at first but quickly becomes rugged and steep. We went up Starvation and down Defiance so we started to go up right away. We trudged up switchback after switchback... It was never ending (at least, that's how it seemed!). While I had been warned that this hike doesn't have any redeeming qualities, I found it to be quite beautiful at points. We got some great views of the gorge at the beginning of the hike and towards the end. We also saw several different types of wildflowers and some HUGE banana slugs! Also, because the hike gains so much elevation (approximately 5,000 ft.), we were able to go from beautiful, warm spring weather to blustery, cold winter weather within a matter of hours - so cool!

This sign is usually at eye level - the snow was high enough that  we were looking down on it!
We anticipated some snow but weren't prepared for five or more feet we found at the top! When we had about 1,500 more feet to climb before reaching the summit, the snow covered the trail (and everything else) completely. Luckily, it was packed down enough so that we didn't need snowshoes. It's amazing how much more difficult it is to hike in the snow, even when the snow is packed down. There was quite a bit of postholing near trees and on the talus fields but it was such a refreshing change of scenery that I didn't mind!

Speaking of talus fields - these reminded me SO much of hiking in Rothrock in central Pennsylvania. It was so fun packing away my trekking poles and climbing (hand-over-hand in some spots) all over those rocks! The talus field that we scrambled up on Starvation didn't have much snow... but the field we went down on Defiance was completely covered - this actually allowed us to get down Defiance much more quickly than we could have had the talus been uncovered. The three of us jetted down the snow covered field - it was only when we got close to exposed rock or trees that we slowed down to avoid postholing.

We made it to the summit of Mt. Defiance and it started snowing! We didn't get any views but it was still really amazing. At the top, I put on extra layers and my winter gloves. Brr – it was cold up there.
So, the descent was the worst part of the hike - but only after we got out of the snow. I would rather ascend another 5,000 ft. than descend that much, any day. We spent a considerable amount of the descent running; it often seems easier to do this than to walk… also, we were extremely eager to be finished with the hike at that point. I think the descent would have been tolerable but at about 1,500 ft. (approximately 1,200 ft. before finishing the descent) I started getting a blister on my toe. This made things a little less comfortable but considering I was wearing new boots and I was only starting to get a blister after a 12-mile hike… I’d say I lucked out! 
                                                                                                                                                                  Overall, this hike was awesome. I’d like to do it again when the snow is melted to see how much more quickly I could do it. It took us 7 hours – 4.5 to ascend and 2.5 to descend. We kept a steady pace throughout – approximately 2.3 miles per hour. We were moving for 4.5 hours. I never understand how those shorts breaks to change gear and eat snacks add up to as many hours as they do!

To see the rest of the photos, click here.

Oh! After finishing the hike, we drove several more miles to Hood River. We got pizza and beer at Double Mountain. Oh man, it was so delicious. J and I decided that we don’t know if the pizza was really as good as it seemed or if it just seemed so good because we ate it after doing such an exhausting hike… I guess it doesn't really matter!

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Seven months in the Pacific NW...

and I can't imagine ever leaving. I've neglected this blog but I'm going to try to keep up with it from now on. Moving to the other side of the country on my own is the biggest challenge I've ever had the pleasure of overcoming - I mean that - it's been a pleasure even when it hasn't been fun. If you haven't put yourself out of your comfort zone for a while... I highly recommend it. Besides all the outdoor adventures I've had, I've had countless adventures related to moving, my new career and dating/relationships. All those are less interesting than the outdoor adventures, though.

I'll just give you a taste of what I've been doing based on my adventure-tracking document. 

2012.08.31 - Crater Lake: an amazing way to start my time in the Pacific NW. I went on this trip, spur of the moment, with a group of people I met earlier in the week. We climbed to the top of Mt. Scott and down to the water - I jumped off a cliff into Crater Lake - click here to see a video of it! I don't think I've seen anything as beautiful as the views I saw on this trip.

2012.09.14 - Early Saturday morning, we drove to the parking spot on the south end of Ecola State Park. I couldn't believe we were actually seeing the ocean! Then we all jumped into my car and I drove us to the starting point of the hike 8 miles north. Most of the hike was forested but we occasionally saw the ocean through the trees. It was like we were in a jungle... I guess we kind of were? We stopped for a while when we got to Indian Beach.

It was so amazing and sunny and beautiful. Oh man. We walked along the entire length of the beach before we finished the hike and got to the car. On Sunday, we went to the beach right by our campsite in Ft. Stevens park. We saw the shipwreck there and it was really neat. That beach was so peaceful in the early morning.

2012.10.07 - Indian Heaven Wilderness: What an amazing hike! 14 miles; 5.5 hours. Not too strenuous. I used my new day pack which I love... I have to be careful not to lay ON the drinking part of the hydration system, though, because I accidentally squeezed all the water out of the container 3/4 through the hike. Sigh... amateur hour. This area really reminded me of Dolly Sods, WV!
2013.03.29 - Coyote Wall: First hike with EB! Ohmygod it was so beautiful! This hike should be done when it's sunny as long as it's not too hot - it's very exposed. The wild flowers were just beginning to bloom... and they were so lovely! We stopped for lunch and took our time and it was JUST what I needed. We saw many mountain bikers.
2013.03.30 - Mount St. Helens: Wow. What an amazing hike. It was worth the four hours of driving (round trip). We started at Hummocks and walked for about 1.8 miles. Then we reached the start of Boundary trail which gained almost 2000 feet of elevation in about 4 miles. This trail was SO windy - I mean, my hat blew off and I had to chase after it! Keep in mind that the trail was on the side of a cliff... if you fall, you're dead. 
We weren't sure if there was going to be snow so I rented snow shoes from REI and strapped them onto my day pack with bungee cords. I didn't end up using them even though we definitely hiked through some snow. Most of it was packed down pretty well, but I did sink in to my knees a couple of times. At several points we lost the trail; however, the area was so open and exposed it was easy to stay on track. 
There wasn't a cloud in the sky all day and it was just amazing! Oh! We saw a herd of elk up on the mountain - about 8 of them! We decided to walk back via the road which was closed to all cars for the season. This was a really long walk. We were exhausted and the sun was beating down on us. Overall... an amazing, wonderful, awesome hike!!