I started writing this post from the 16th story of a hotel in downtown Tacoma with a view of the Puget Sound peeking out beyond other tall buildings in the distance on Tuesday. I did some urban hiking to get there; riding for 3 hours on public transportation 62 miles from home to attend a training. A training to be a presenter for the Bridges Out Of Poverty program that teaches people about the issues that cause poverty and offers different ways to think about how to alleviate it. I’m pretty excited about where this might lead and being able to make changes on a more community wide level.
Monday night, I picked up 8 Bear Vaults and 42 Mountain House Meals in preparation for the Glacier Peak logout I will be co-leading the beginning of July. Yes, I have 8 Bear Vaults and a huge pile of backpacking meals for my crew sitting in my living room right now. Along with 4 backpacks laid out on the sofa and a half made hammock laying on the dining room table. You can tell summer is here and I am only a little stressed about how to make it all happen. Normally I would be out for summer now and not having to juggle working, too.
I did get out another recipe this week that I made for my Spring Break road trip, Lavendar Walnut Trail Mix. I have been quickly trying to get meals dehydrated because once July hits, I will be hopping from one trip to the next until at least mid-August. I have a few new meals that I am working on but large scale production has been old favorites like Almond Ginger Chicken Satay, Pumpkin Spice Granola and Sweet Potato Mash.
My second successful scramble with the Mountaineers was last weekend, only one more and my badge will be complete. I can’t say it was the toughest adventure I have had so far, but it sure was challenging. It reminded me that it isn’t always about the view, sometimes the journey is what is important. You can read more about it by clicking on the picture above.
I have two weekends before July and I had been weighing my options of what to do with them. I knew I wanted to go backpacking and get away but I also knew I needed to get things done here at home before being gone most of July. Although weather was a variable, when Friday came along I REALLY needed to hit the trail and find some solitude. So even though the forecast was better for next weekend, I got off work early, packed up and headed for the mountains.
I now have an adopted section of the PCT north of Stevens Pass and I chose it because I can access via one of my favorite go-to trails: Meadow Creek to Fortune Ponds. My grand hope was to be able to get up to the PCT and scout my section because I won’t be able to do it before our log out crew trip at the end of July. I knew there would be snow and I most likely wouldn’t make the whole thing, but that is part of the adventure, I guess. I took my ice axe, microspikes and stove; all things I normally would not take on a backpacking trip in June. They turned out to be a real good idea.
I was hiking up the trail off FR 6530 (off the Beckler River Road) about 4pm. There were no other cars parked at the TH so I knew I would have the solitude I was looking for. I doubted anyone else would be hiking in after me, it is 7 miles to where I wanted to camp. Not many folks would want to do that this late in the evening! I wasn’t worried, it is less than a week away from the longest day of the year, plenty of daylight left.
The trail is pretty mellow, after a few switchbacks up away from the road, it begins to follow Meadow Creek as it flows down to the Beckler River. This is part of the Wild Sky Wilderness area and I rarely see but a few other people. The trail was a bit overgrown with huckleberry and ferns doing their yearly growth after the snow melt but it was overall in good shape. Once I hit the Henry M. Jackson Wilderness area the trail was less brushy but had a few downed trees to navigate.
Mostly wooded but I did catch a few glimpse of the sky and surrounding mountains as I made my way along. Lost in my thoughts as I rambled up the trail, I startled a bear about an hour in. Hmmm…I guess there wouldn’t be complete solitude. I then proceeded to make my thoughts known to the entire forest for the next mile or so just in case there were any more four legged friends out there.
Snow began in patches on the trail about 3.16 miles in, but there was enough trail to follow for about 15 minutes. After that, the rest of the trail was under snow until the pass at 5 miles in.
I tried following the creek as much as possible but after a few deep postholes into marshy goodness that thoroughly soaked my feet, I headed up slope and with GAIA’s help aimed for the pass over streams, washes and downed logs. I knew what I was looking for, a bunch of cut downed logs that my friend Gwen had helped log out recently. If you ever find yourself off trail, always look for cut logs!
By the time I made it to Fortune Pass at 3900ft just before 7:30pm, I was tired and a bit beat up from having slipped several times in my battle with the slope. There is a campsite here, but it was completely under snow. And when I say pass, there is no view here. It is just where the creek runs between the two slopes before dropping off on the other side. I wanted to make sure I got to this point, because this is where the trail takes you up the side of the mountain and to the ponds. Missing it could have meant not making my destination tonight and sleeping on the slope of the mountain. I guess I could have stopped here, but I wasn’t quite ready to give in for the day yet. Plus, seeing bear track just a few hundred yards before had me pressing on.
Interesting enough, up from the pass the trail was partially bare and I was able to be on actual tread for the switchbacks that take you up and start you on the contour trail around to the ponds. If you haven’t been here before, there is one tricky spot about 4080ft where the trail switchbacks up but it looks like just a stream coming down (the water is really coming down ALL the streams along the trail right now).
Soon, though, the trail was gone and I was plotting a course on the wooded slope towards the ponds just trying to stay as level as possible on snow that was 3-4 feet deep. It had begun to sprinkle back before the pass and now it was turning into more foggy low level clouds. I knew that where the slope leveled out the trail was more open, so I kept looking for areas with less trees but the same compass heading. Despite the waning sun, things soon started to look a bit more familiar.
Around 8:45pm and almost 7 miles in, I could see the wide open area that is Fortune Ponds. The sight was rather eerie with the dark pines lining the barely melted out pond and dark fingers the only indication of where the water’s edge was. Thankfully, I have been here several times and knew to keep pretty wide. Making my way along the left hand side, I was able to see a bit of watered logged trail freed from winter where it ran next to the trunk of the trees.
As soon as I arrived to the junction for the ponds and where you head up to Pear Lake, my first thought as that I hoped there would be some bare ground to camp over. Although I had brought my hammock, I didn’t really want to hang it over snow. In exchange for the ice axe, spikes and stove, I had left my underquilt at home making for a possible cold night. The temperature this weekend was not forecasted to drop too low but the fog and the fact that my feet were soaked had to be factored in. They weren’t cold yet but as soon as I stopped hiking they would start to be. I was glad when I looked over to the left and spotted a patch of ground level enough for camping and good trees for hanging my hammock.
I had myself set up by 9:15pm, including hanging my food. I might not have normally done this because I keep my goodies in an odor proof Opsak but considering the unavoidable evidence of bear activity so far it was definitely the smart thing to do. I gave thought to using my stove to make dinner and possibly a warm water bottle for inside my sleeping bag but I was so tired I just shoved down some jerky, dates and an orange, changed into warm layers and got into bed. There is just something about climbing into your sleeping bag after a hike that says everything is alright.
I must admit I didn’t sleep very well and my decision not to heat the water bottle plagued me because despite dry wool socks some of my toes just could not get warm. This affected my mental planning on what I hoped to do with the rest of my weekend. Although I had made camp where I had hoped to for my plans, the amount of snow and totally wet shoes that would not dry by tomorrow had me rethinking. I could still see how far I could get up and over to the PCT, but with this much snow still, I would not really be able to scout the conditions of the trail (downed trees and tread damage). It would just be for the adventure of it. I had anticipated snow on places like Grizzly Peak (south of Pear Lake on the PCT) but was guessing now that most of the slopes would have snow as well. Possible but very slow going, I could think of a few gullies the trail goes through that would give me pause. Was it worth it?
I woke up around 5am with the light of day but very little motivation to get out of my cozy hammock. I could see the fog was still settled over the mountain and I was just a little defeated by knowing I wouldn’t complete my original plan. I also had no desire to put my wet shoes back on. So, very uncharacteristically of me, I laid there for another 2 hours until the need to pee got the better of me. Everyone who has ever backpacked with me just made a gasping sound in disbelief…but I wrote it and have time stamped pictures so it must be true.
I luckily had brought my hiking sandals so I shoved my socked feet into them and wandered over to a bare patch of ground away from camp to do my business. There is a toilet here somewhere according to the trail marker but my guess is it was still buried. The sun was beginning to peek out from the clouds and the scenery I love here let itself be known.
I made my way back to camp to heat up some warm water for breakfast and maybe even to warm my toes. Without a windscreen, turns out keeping your toes close to the fuel canister gives enough heat to warm those babies up!
I used the water for my chocolate paleo granola and added the extra to my water bottle (after holding my toes over the pot a bit for extra warmth). Soon, all was right with the world. I was fed and warm. I might get used to this backpacking-with-a-stove thing*.
About this time, I made the decision that I would probably hike out today but I would attempt to get up to the ridge above the lake to check out Pear Lake first. If I got further, great, but I knew now that I would not make it the 16 miles to Lake Janus and back (further south on the PCT above Lake Valhalla) to scout my section and it was either camp here again or just hike out. How far I got this morning would help make that decision.
I changed back into my hiking clothes, kept dry wool socks on, left my tarp and hammock up to dry in the sun and packed for a day hike. I hung the rest of my pack contents back up in the tree; I must say I am getting pretty darn good at throwing now to make this happen! I shoved my feet back into my wet shoes and headed up the trail with my spikes on and one hand with my ice axe and one with a hiking pole about 8:45am. The sun was out and it looked like it would be a pretty nice day.
There was no trail to follow due to the snow, just my memory from previous trips and GAIA for reassurance (I had Green Trails and Halfmile’s PCT maps in my pack just in case). This was my third time taking this route to the PCT and I knew where it went in general. But if you have ever visited your favorite summer trail offseason, you know snow changes everything. Especially when it covers the gully that holds the tight switchbacks up to a ridge. Water running down underneath that snow makes for hazardous route finding, not to mention a slick ride down if you don’t get it right.
I made my way around and after a few minutes came to gully on my right that looked to be a safe route up. Inside I knew I was just a bit early but there appeared to be a ridge above that could at least give my a clue as to what I was getting myself into. It turned out to be the route to the upper Fortune pond at 4855ft, which was even more ice crested than the one below.
It sits nestled at the foot of Fortune Mountain and was a completely different than when I visited here two years ago on my way down from a scramble to Fortune Mountain in the fall. That peak has amazing views of the Cascades and Peach Lake if you have never been.
What this side trip meant, however, was that I needed to make my way laterally and up to meet the “trail” to the saddle in the ridge above Pear Lake. I already knew that to go up the ridge straight from here would not give me views of Pear from a previous walk of the ridge. I had a general sense of how to do this, I just hoped the ravines I would have to cross to get there weren’t too sketchy.
So, the next 50 minutes had me crossing over gullies onto treed rock bands, repeating until I was below the saddle I wanted. I didn’t take a lot of pictures because I had stored everything inside my pack in the event that I needed to self arrest. Which I did twice. Lesson learned? Even if the weather dictates a short sleeved shirt, long sleeves will prevent the loss of skin when sliding down icy snow. Just saying.
I eventually made it up to the ridge at 5277ft and the view of Pear Lake that I love. The lake sits at just over 4800ft and had just barely begun thawing out. If you want an idea of what it looks like on the PCT right now, here it is. The trail from here descends in a few long switchbacks over a large bouldered talus field and circumnavigates the lake to the north towards the outlet (at the tip of the pear) where it joins the PCT and runs about 50 feet below where the lake water flows out under more large boulders.
I walked the snow covered ridge back and forth and found a good resting stop to take in the amazing North Cascades. I debated continuing from here down to the lake, but honestly, the thought alone of coming back up was exhausting. I also knew that even if I made it around the lake to the junction with the PCT I would end up stopping there as the trail is a set of steep switchbacks to a deep ravine. There was a possibility that section was more thawed out but based on what I was seeing I didn’t think it was worth the gamble. I decided I had already had all the adventure I wanted to by myself. Plus, I still had to get down from here back to camp.
I opted to make my way directly down from here closer to the actual trail. This turned to be pretty efficient, even though I could neither glissade nor plunge step. I didn’t want to run the risk of hitting a tree or postholing into the water I could hear running underneath in several places. I stuck closer to the rock bands until I ran out of room on the gully where it flowed over a cliff band in a waterfall.
I, then, hopped over one more rock band to another gully heading down and eventually came out where I imagine the trail leaves the flat pond area and makes its way up to the ridge on the trail. It’s interesting here because up on the slope ahead of you, you can see the old Cascade Crest Trail etched in the hillside. No longer maintained, I wonder how far you can make it on it. I believe it connects back up with the PCT on some switchbacks before Saddle Gap. Hmmm…
From here I turned west and made my way back to camp around 11am. I pulled out my stove again to make lunch and swapped out my shoes for sandals. The sun was still out and helped to dry out my socks and toes.
I enjoyed some homemade paleo stroganoff, guacamole and chips, and fresh cherries before climbing into my hammock (sans tarp) to bask in the warmth of the sun and a view of Fortune Mountain.
I had given a very brief thought of trying to summit it with the time I had left today but decided that was more than I cared to do. I had also been keeping an eye out on the weather and as I had been lying there, the sky had slowly begun to cloud over. Not menacingly, but in the far distance to the southwest it looked just a little darker than I wanted it to. Yep, time to hike out.
At about 12:45pm, I was packed and making my way back down. I couldn’t help but take a few more pictures of the emerging pond as I left and attempted to follow yesterday’s tracks back out. This was partially helpful, but only where the snow had been soft enough to retain my steps (open area). Under tree cover the snow was much harder and thus not helpful at all. I will also note here that I still had my spikes on (unlike yesterday) because I knew they would be helpful on the snowy slope.
I stopped at the pass to dry out my feet again and take a brief snack. I took a little time to assess my self arrest wound, that was going to sting for awhile. Oh well, the view was worth it.
I chose to stick with the creek the whole time after this point despite how wet my feet might get. I was already wet and had dry shoes in the car. It was still a challenge battling brush and snow bridges but meant having to climb over a few less downed trees and no risk of sliding downhill if I fell.
I was back on continuous bare tread at about 3500ft and it was smooth sailing back to the car by 5pm. It was starting to sprinkle about this time and I was even happier with my decision to hike out today.
Although I didn’t make my goal of scouting my PCT section, I had accomplished my desire to find solitude and a little mountain adventure. I could accept spending the rest of my weekend doing chores and prepping for more summer adventures, most likely indoors. That is what I move about being out in nature, just a little exposure provides that wonderful reset I need to keep the rest of my life in perspective. And what a wonderful life it is.
I wrote about my other visits to the this area in Out With The Girls and Fortune Ponds to Top Lake (where you will find fall color pictures, directions and a video from the top of Fortune Mountain). My GAIA is here for this trip.
*I am normally a stoveless backpacker. On long distance trips, I find carrying a stove just one more thing to do and not worth the weight. My loving bf got me one for Christmas, however, the lightest one he could buy (I guess he didn’t have much faith in my homemade cat stove). I have started to incorporate it in overnight trips and as you can see it has definitely been worth the weight. You can find out more information about it on my Gear page.