Three Days on Mount Jefferson

Around 11 years ago, in the summer before my 8th grade year, my dad looked at his map of the Jefferson Wilderness Area and pointed thoughtfully at one of the trails. “I think,” he said, “I want to try out this Breitenbrush trail this weekend. You wanna come?” he asked.

Of course I wanted to go. So we packed some snacks and sunscreen and, knowing my dad, left well before the crack of dawn. The hike was lovely and became one of our favorites, but perhaps the most life-changing thing that happened on that trip was me seeing a sign for the Pacific Crest Trail.

“That goes from Mexico to  Canada,” Dad explained when I asked what it was. That was the day that I decided I wanted to attempt a thru-hike.

The sign for the trail we took that day

Even though my thru-hike was thwarted by a lame knee, I still approached Jeff on my section hike with a sense of excitement and returning to where it all began. We arrived in the Jefferson Wilderness Area the day that we left Big Lake Youth Camp.

On day 1 in the Jefferson Wilderness Area, the PCT climbed up through bleached burnt forests and the baby firs that are trying to take their place. Purple wildflowers and red Indian Paintbrush were in bloom, even though by the end of the day we would camp among viny maple that are already turning red. Huckleberry bushes provided snacks for us at every break. It was warm, but a stiff breeze cooled my neck and played harmonica with the trees.

Hiking the South side of Three Fingered Jack

We passed on the South side of Three Fingered Jack, just above the treeline. A couple of hunters were glassing the screw field for mountain goats, and I might have felt bad for scaring away their quarry if they’d bothered putting a leash on their two dogs. For about a mile we could look up and see the changing shape of the boulder. Despite nearly circumventing it, we never figured out how it got its name. 

Suddenly the trail in front of us turned a corner. “Cue the Lord of the Rings music,” I said, so Braids and I broke out in winded orchestral impersonations. We broke over the hilltop to find our first close-up of Mount Jefferson. Perhaps just because this is my favorite mountain, I felt like I was home. Jeff was a king surveying his cloudless domain, bleached acres of burnt trees nothing more than his white robes to match his snowy crown.

Me and Mr. Jefferson!

After a few requisite pictures, we continued on to where we could see a few other hikers resting across the canyon. The trail led us to a spur just a few hundred yards from the boulder atop Three Fingered Jack. There, we had a snack and listened to a couple of weekend hikers tell us what badasses we are. I didn’t feel like one at the time, but it was a nice encouragement. We also meet Hot Tamale and Moon Train, who camped with us and the weekend hikers that night at a pond a few miles later.

Snack breaks are the best breaks.

Three Fingered Jack in the evening.

Day 2 in the Jefferson Wilderness Area was also a long uphill climb, though there weren’t as many burnt areas. At one point we stopped for a rest after only a mile–well, my hiking partners did. I stopped twice in that mile. My Poptarts called to me.

Just before that I was zoning out, listening to music, on a grueling shale hillside, trying to remember why I’d thought this would be fun. I heard a noise behind me. Apparently, when startled, I have the capacity to react in much the same way as a pirate being challenged to a duel. I spun around, trekking pole raised against the threat, shouting an unintelligible warning–only to find a rather attractive hiker standing frozen and alarmed on the path behind me. I gasped an apology as I let him pass. Safe to say we can probably scratch him off my list of potential soulmates. As it turns out, Braids fell down when he tried to pass her, so he was probably thinking PCT girls are really weird during that mile, anyways.

We camped that night by Milk Creek. We got there when it was almost dark, and all the campsites were full for a few miles around. Too tired to walk the three miles to the next marked campsite, we threw our sleeping bags down 2×2 on a side trail and hoped not to regret our tentless state.

Milk Creek. Also in the evening.

The final day we climbed 6 miles, passed the spot where I first learned of the PCT, ate lunch in Jefferson Park, and then climbed another 2 miles up Jefferson Ridge. There, I could look back at Mount Jefferson, then turn 180° and see Mount Hood, Adams, and St. Helens ahead. We ate more huckleberries here.

Captain Hook! Oh, wait…it’s Hood. Nevermind.

Our goal for the evening was Ollalie Lake Campground. I was craving a burger and needed to call my mom. Unfortunately they had neither burgers nor cell phone reception. However, I invested in a bag of Doritos for dinner. Basically the same thing.

Just before reaching Ollalie, I had one of the most peaceful moments on trail. I paused by Upper Lake to lay down and rest a few minutes. The sunshine glimmered off the water. As I looked up, I saw a strand of spider web caught in the breeze. It reflected the sunlight as it floated above the lake and into the open air.

Mount Jefferson and Jefferson Park from the north.

Mail drops on the PCT: Putting the Pro in Procrastination

Considering I leave this week for the Pacific Crest Trail, I thought it might be fun to, ya know, figure out what I’m going to be eating on the trip. Here’s the problem: I’m a lousy cook, even in the best of circumstances.

Case in point: I once was in charge of making macaroni and cheese for some high school boys at church. High school boys.

“Surely I can do this,” I thought. “High school boys will eat anything!”

Then, midway through his first bowl, one of them turned to me and asked, “Did you put sour cream in this?”

I had not, in fact, put sour cream in it. Yet despite his raving starvation just before lunch, he didn’t finish his bowl, and we threw away over half the batch of Mac and cheese.

Luckily, Campbell’s makes a wide variety of delicious soups that are almost idiot proof, so I’ll just eat those for the rest of my life.

Except for when I go on long backpacking trips that necessitate higher calories and also lighter foods. What to do?

The answer, of course, is simple:

1) Go to Winco and buy every container of food that looks like I might be able to prepare it on a backpacking stove, or, even better, without a stove;

2) Take the food home, thinking the while drive about what you really should have gotten;

3) Toss it all in a heap on the living room floor and stare at it for half an hour just in case it suddenly decides to prepare itself;

4) Grab random items from the floor and take them to the kitchen to test, while singing madly like the chef on The Little Mermaid;

5) Realize Mom is pulling into the driveway and run outside to ask her to brace herself for the mess inside.

I did all of these. She came in, saw kitchen littered with small pots, spilled couscous, and half-filled bags of trail mix and said, “Oh, this isn’t so bad.”

image

She then walked into the living room and said, “Oh, this is bad.”

image

Fortunately, after four kids and three grandkids, she’s developed a calm in the face of disaster. Just another reason she’s the best mom ever.

I ended up discovering that I have an affinity for couscous and not cooking anything, so my game plan at this point is to go stoveless for the first 200 miles, at which point I’ll be so grateful for hot food that I won’t even care if my Mac and Cheese tastes like sour cream.

Passing Out In First Aid Class

So I guess I’m more squeamish than I thought I was.

In preparation for hiking the PCT, I thought, “I should really take a wilderness first aid class.” When I saw that REI was going to have a class a week before I leave, I signed up without hesitation.

I would have been better off hesitating, though, because about a week later I realized that weekend was also Easter weekend, and since I worked Thanksgiving and Christmas, I kind of wanted to be with my family. Fortunately, they offer the class nearly every month in the Portland area, so after a brief period on the waiting list, I managed to get into one last weekend instead.

The first half hour was mainly business details: sign these papers, tell us why you’re taking the class, don’t be a creeper when you touch people, the usual. They gave is some snazzy stickers and a pocket guide to take on our journeys. Then they showed us how to do a patient evaluation system.

image

“Suppose you come across an injured mountain biker in the woods. Here’s a poem to help you remember remember what to do.” A poem!! And that said the English major would never pay off…

Everything was great. I resolved to begin frequenting mountain bike paths just so I could show off my about-to-be-developed skills.

That resolve cracked when they showed us how to check for spinal injuries.

Imagine this: you find an injured stranger in the woods. You don’t know exactly what’s wrong with them, so you do a patient evaluation. You’ve evaluated head, thorax, and extremities, and the only thing left to do is…risk paralyzing them by rolling them over and pushing all their vertebrae.

It’s much more technical than that, of course. You hold their neck still and keep them aligned so that their potentially fragile spines won’t snap in 2, but I didn’t know that and all I heard was, “You want to look for crunchy spots along the spine.”

Crunchy.
Spots.
Spine.

Oh no.

The nausea hit me first, but I fought it back with some deep breaths and a sip of water. The room began to pixelate, then go black. Our instructor’s voice sounded like she was talking out of a tin can. I folded my arms on the table and laid my head on the back of my hand, only to pull it back moments later dripping with sweat. I pulled my coat on, even though when I’d walked in the room had felt too warm. I looked up at the instructor, who was continuing her speech on crunchy vertebrae while glancing frequently at me. When the room began to swim again, I put my head back down, knowing that if I did pass out, at last they had a nifty poem to help them remember how to care for me.

“You’re so not cut out for this,” a voice in my head declared. “Better to leave now and forfeit the money than to spend the whole day blacking out.”

A stronger voice in me answered. “That’s a great idea, except you’ll pass out before you get to the door.”

So I stayed. With a few sips of water and a change of topic, I managed to cling to my consciousness and soon felt normal.

It turned out to be a really useful and interesting course, and I would totally recommend anyone heading into the mountains to take it. After a mere 16 hours of instruction, I’m officially certified in Wilderness First Aid.

Feel free to sound the trumpets and throw a parade in honor of the occasion whenever you have time. Just do me a favor and call someone else if your spine feels crunchy.

So I quit my job…

I generally enjoy my job. It’s the side effects I can’t stand–waking up every morning with third tier pop music stuck in my head, wanting to punch customers in the face for asking why I’m not more chipper at 9:53 at night, being unable to plan with certainty any events beyond next week due to the ever changing schedule.

For all the negatives, though, I love my co-workers. They’re some of the funniest people I’ve ever met, and they always make me feel valuable. Oh, and they’re nerds. In a good way. (Trick statement! There is no bad way to be a nerd.)

So, when I went to give my 2- weeks notice today, I left them a bit of art as well to commemorate our time together. I hope they hang onto this. It’ll be worth a fortune when the Louvre realizes how good my stick figures are.

image

Helm's Deep got nothin on us

On that note, two weeks and three days until I graduate college. Six weeks until I start to question my sanity for dreaming of the PCT for the last 6 years.

Commence panic mode now.

Permission Granted!

After a whole 17 days of delayed gratification, I received my permit to hike the Pacific Crest Trail this evening. And yes, it does feel fantastic.

 

wp-1455864223376.jpg

That is one nice letterhead.

Am I totally ready to hit the trail?

Sure! Right after I

  • buy a tent
  • get my California Campfire Permit
  • Get my permit to enter Canada
  • Buy a couple days’ worth of food
  • Print my maps

Between that and graduating college in 4 weeks, the next two months should be a breeze.

The Deep Questions

Why am I here? What’s the purpose?

If you’re talking about life in general, great questions! However, my psychology 201 professor said we need to guard against over-sharing, or else people might try to give us jackets without armholes. That would make blogging difficult, so I’ll hold off on answering those.

As to why I’m here, on WordPress, blogging under a URL that could either be seen as funny or pessimistic, or maybe just stupid, the answer has a few parts. And here they are!

  1. I need an outlet to share my mildly embarrassing stories from REI, and other backpacking adventures. Not only is it fun for me, I hope other people will relate to them and maybe even feel like they don’t need to look like a Jeep commercial in order to enjoy the wilderness.
  2. Everyone else is doing it. Who am I to resist a fad?
  3. Got to use the English major somewhere.

In all seriousness, I’m gearing up for a Pacific Crest Trail thru-hike in 2016. There are approximately a bajilion trail journals out there that cover that same topic, and they mostly say the same things. I can’t promise any new viewpoints, but the nice thing about the internet is no one has to read this except my mom and sister. I figure I might as well take advantage of a way to connect with fellow hikers, and give non-hikers a sense of the humiliation joy that preparing for such a trek brings!

Purpose statement: over and out.

Beaten by the Bearvault

Question: Which bear is best?

Is that a ridiculous question? Are there basically two schools of thought? If that’s your answer:

  1. Let’s be friends. I always need people to finish my quotes from The Office, otherwise things get kind of awkward.
  2. False. The best bear, at least when backpacking, is the one that doesn’t come into your camp and eat your food, and/or you.

With this in mind, and in preparation for a future PCT thru-hike and a more imminent trip to Glacier, I set out last week to buy a bear canister.

A what?

  • Bear Canister. n. An often bulky container designed to keep bears out and your delicious snacks in.

Okay, I don’t work for Merriam-Webster. But you get the idea. 

Bear canisters are important for several reasons:

  1. No one wants to get two days into a four-day hike and have all their food disappear down Bongo’s gullet.
  2. Bears who get used to eating people-food can become so aggressive that the parks service has to kill them in order to keep people safe.
  3. They’re required in Glacier National Park and several areas on the Pacific Crest Trail. 

As Linus said in A Charlie Brown Christmas, “Those are good reasons.”

Because I am mildly indecisive and never make a gear decision without consulting a trillion online sources, I compared four different models and eventually settled on one that looked coolest was lightweight and came highly recommended.

That is how I settled on the Bearvault.

Feel free to click that link. Look at that Bearvault. It’s beautiful. The clear blue plastic evokes visions of icicles and intergalactic travel at the same time. It has a black lid that practically screams, “Turn this for Nutella.” It has ridges that help the Bearvault stay secure on your pack. At least, that’s what the super helpful REI saleswoman from my previous blog entry said.

She also said I could take it out of the box and test it out. 

But really, what sort of person needs to test out a container for food? It’s not like it could be, say, mildly confusing to open! It’s not like anyone could be so weak that even when they figured out how to open it, they couldn’t push the tabs in far enough to actually accomplish the task!

Or maybe both those things could happen. 

Did happen. 

To me. 

To my surprise, I discovered the directions are really important on things like this. After five minutes of frustration at not being able to get that stupid black lid off that beautiful blue cylinder, I pulled out the instruction pamphlet that I had thrown across the room earlier. Turns out my fingers were about a centimeter above where they needed to be. Two seconds later, my two-year-old nephew, who had been trying to help but was now crying from frustration (or maybe because auntie kept taking this really cool looking thing away from him), started clapping as the lid spun off easily.

I felt so accomplished at being able to unscrew that lid, I tried it a few more times with nary a hitch. Two main takeaways from this experience:

  1. Since I did manage to open the container, I must not be a bear.
  2. If I see a bear with reading glasses on the trail, I must hide the Bearvault directions. The state of my snacking depends in it.

Embarrassment at REI

I’ve spent 4 years obsessing over backpacking gear and planning a future Pacific Crest Trail thru-hike.

I’ve been backpacking three times.

I’ve read dozens of trail blogs, gear lists, and books of backpacking wisdom.

So when I went to REI to jump on the bandwagon of the Osprey Aura AG 65, (the AG stands for Anti-Gravity! How cool is that!) I was hoping to not feel like a total dunce.

As if fate would be so kind.

It began when the extremely helpful saleswoman asked if I wanted to try the pack on.

Well, yes, I suppose I would.

She measured my torso, found me to be right between a medium and a large, then gave me a medium to start off with.

I swung it confidently over my shoulders.

“Crap!” I muttered as my arms became entangled in the straps. What is this, a backpack for ants?

“Maybe you should loosen the shoulder straps,” the saleswoman suggested.

Of course! This pack was still configured for shipment! All the straps were tight as could be!

I loosened the shoulder straps and slid my arms comfortably through. THIS was how a pack should feel! Built for an adult-sized human, not my two-year-old nephew!

“Looks good,” the saleswoman muttered. “Now, you want the belt to sit on your hips.”

“Yeah, I know,” I said, buckling it onto my hips like I’ve done on all my previous trips.

She paused. “It looks like it might be a little high,” she suggested.

I froze. I recognized that voice. That’s the voice I used when my roommate would try to wear leather boots with sweats on her walk to the cafeteria. It’s the voice that says, “If you think that’s a good idea, fine, but the rest of the world knows better.”

I refuse to be outsmarted by the rest of the world!

“Yeah,” I agreed, shifting the pack down an inch or so, “I’m just needing to adjust it a little. That’s better,” I said, looking up for affirmation.

I received none. “Still a little high. You want it to be on your hips,” she repeated.

At this point I was regretting bringing my sister on my shopping expedition. She wasn’t as adept at keeping a straight face as the saleswoman. I could practically hear her wondering how I would survive a five month trek if I couldn’t even make it to footwear. This, commingled with that particular joy that only comes from seeing your sister harmlessly embarrassed in a not-too-permanent fashion.

“Oh, right,” I mumbled, trying to save face and shifting the hip belt still further down.

“Do you know where your hips are?” the saleswoman asked gently.

“I thought I did,” I whimpered.

“Let me—do you mind?” I nodded. She moved forward to loosen the belt, then lowered it a full three inches and settled it where packs are apparently supposed to be.

It was at this point I discovered my error, though I was too embarrassed to state my case.

See, I had always thought that, “Your hip belt should be on your hips,” meant, “Your hip belt should be on top of your hips.” There is a crucial difference, however. If I had to write directions on how to wear a hip belt, I would say, “It should be around your hips.”

But no one asked me to write these instructions. Thus, I’ve been carrying my pack’s load on what most people would call my waist, or, not where it’s supposed to be at all.

In my defense, I’ve never seen a woman with a baby “on her hip” that carried it so low as REI and the rest of the backpacking world say a pack is supposed to be.

Embarrassment aside, the pack did feel incredible when worn properly. And the saleswoman was amazing and managed to not laugh throughout the entire episode, while giving me really useful advice. Unfortunately, I now have no idea if I actually need a new pack, or if my old one hurt my back simply because I was wearing this incredibly simple device entirely wrong. I’ve got two weeks to decide before my coupon arrives… And, should the upgrade be unavoidable, there are three other REIs I can go to to avoid having to meet that same salesperson’s eyes. Although with how helpful she was, I should probably go back and give her the sale anyways.