Wednesday, October 12, 2016

A Quick Trip to Mendocino County, CA

In September I spent a long weekend in California to visit a friend and attend a mutual friend's wedding together. On Friday I flew into Santa Rosa, just north of the Bay area, an airport experience that I highly recommend.

At Sea-Tac you walk onto the tarmac to board, which goes really fast since you can board on the front or back of the aircraft. Your "carry-on" goes onto a cart on the side of the plane to get loaded underneath, since the overhead bins are tiny. Then there is complimentary beer and wine. When I asked the flight attendant if there was Wi-Fi, she smiled sympathetically and said, "Um, no, hon." The time from when the plane touched down in Santa Rosa to me being outside in the pickup area was about six minutes.

Eli picked me up and we drove through the golden hills of Mendocino county to her house in the little city of Ukiah. On Saturday morning we had some time before the wedding, so Eli took me hiking near Lake Mendocino in the pleasant late-summer heat.
Eli and her husband are commercial bee keepers and sell their honey locally. We stopped by the farmer's market and I got to see their vendor's booth.
Then we hit the road to drive to the tiny coastal town of Elk.
On the way to the coast we drove through Anderson Valley, which is know for its pinot noir grapes. I wanted to stop at Anderson Valley Brewing Company because I really love their sour beers that get distributed up north, but unfortunately we didn't have time. We did have time to stop to taste some pinot noirs, which I especially appreciated since Eli was five months pregnant and not drinking.
It's a good friend who takes you wine
tasting when she's not even drinking
After Anderson Valley, we drove through an awe-inspiring forest of Redwoods along the Navarro River. It was clear, hot, and sunny, probably in the 80s. As soon as we crossed the river to pick up Highway 1, we definitively entered a coastal micro-climate; it was thick fog and the temperature dropped about 25 degrees. The ceremony was on a small hill above a barn right on the coast, and it should have had a stunning view of the ocean. It was completely foggy but incredibly beautiful in a mysterious, ambient way.
The bride walked down the aisle to a Talking Heads song, and the ceremony was heartfelt and lovely. The reception was in a big wooden barn, complete with vintage furniture, a big fire pit, yard games, and signature cocktails.
With Eli: awesome friend and fabulous +1

Friends and family giving toasts
The next day we stopped for breakfast at Queenie's Roadhouse, and I ate possibly the best huevos rancheros of my life. Then we ventured up the coast to explore the town of Mendocino.
It was still foggy, so we drank hot chocolate, checked out cute shops with local goods, wandered around the headlands over the beach, and then drove back to Ukiah... where it was as hot and sunny as we had left it. We had a mellow, post-wedding recovery day of hanging out. I read on the deck and ate fresh figs off their tree while Eli's husband harvested grapes from the yard. Then Eli whipped up a delicious dinner and I got ready to fly home on Monday.

Big congrats to Adam and Ashley, and big thanks to Eli for the wonderful visit!

Friday, September 30, 2016

An Olympics Trek: Dodger Point Fire Lookout

Last weekend I headed out to the Olympic Peninsula in search of one of the most remote fire lookouts in Washington and the only one remaining in Olympic National Park. Here's how the pre-planning went:

Me, in June: I want to get out to Dodger Point later this summer!

Ranger: Cool! But there was a road washout on the road in that is impassible to cars. You have to park about six miles before the trailhead and either walk in or bike in.

Me, in August: Cool! I'll plan to take three days total and bike in to the trailhead before starting the 14-mile backpack.

Ranger: Actually, they just started repairing the road, so now it's completely closed to all public access until October.

Me: ...

Ranger, in September: Now the road is only being repaired on weekdays, and is open to foot traffic on Saturdays and Sundays.

Me, to two friends: Hey, you want to cover 40 miles in two days to get to this lookout?

Friends: We're gluttons for punishment. Sure!

So that's how Max, Gretchen, and I ended up loading three mountain bikes onto Max's tiny Scion xA before catching a Friday night ferry to Kingston. We stopped at my friend's house in Port Angeles to borrow a bear canister, and he and his partner graciously invited us in for a late dinner. We feasted on tacos, homebrew, and homemade cider before stopping by the Wilderness Information Center to self-issue backcountry permits. We needed to get an early start and wouldn't be able to get to the WIC during business hours. By the time we set up camp, it was nearly midnight.

Early Saturday morning we drove to the Madison Falls trailhead (where the road closure began) and hopped on our bikes. The first mile and half is flat along the paved Olympic Hot Springs Road, but then we turned onto the Whiskey Bend forest service road and begin climbing up, up, up on the gravel.
Biking in with packs on the Elwha River Road
It was a tiring but pleasant ride to the completely empty Whiskey Bend trailhead. We ate some snacks and locked up our bikes before starting the next leg of the trip. The trail runs high above the Elwha for a few miles before dropping you down to a large suspension bridge to cross the river. Then the gradual but steady climb begins, around 5000 feet over the next 10 miles.
Crossing the Elwha before the
climb up to Long Ridge

Hiking up through the trees and the mist
The forest is lovely, but it's looooong way through the trees. We occasionally caught glimpses to the east of Hurricane Ridge, and could even see the road. The trail was in decent condition, but there was a bit of debris and blowdowns to contend with.
Climbing over a big cedar that
smashed a little bridge
The long trail of switchbacks made it all the more rewarding when we finally broke out into the clearing of subalpine meadows. It was cloudy, but the clouds were high enough that we had great views of surrounding mountains, and it was a very comfortable temperature. We could see Mount Olympus, the Bailey Range, and numerous glaciers.
Enjoying the views from the subalpine slopes

Reaching our destination: Dodger Point lookout!
We made it to the lookout at 5750 feet in the early evening. It is closed to the public and used on an as-needed basis by the park service. We relished the view from top, sipped whiskey, and watched the clouds hint at pink before descending back a half mile to set up camp and make dinner.
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It rained on and off during the night, and we awoke to a thick fog. I was so happy that we had gotten nice views the day before. We fueled up on coffee, refilled water, and layered up to tromp through the wet, dense salal and blueberry.
Starting the hike out

Mist in the Long Creek valley
It got steadily warmer and drier all morning, and by lunch time we were sitting in patches of hot sun, drying out our socks. In the last few miles of trail there is a small loop hike option, so we took the section that we hadn't taken on the way in. It passed by a couple homesteader cabins from the turn of the century. They are a little grimy but sturdy and in good condition. And the highlight? You can barely see it, but in front of this cabin is an apple tree. It had little apples on it and I enjoyed one with delight, as it's not often you get to eat decades old apples from a historic homestead in the middle of a national park. And with not a single other person to be seen. We hadn't passed anyone in two days.
Turn of the century homesteader cabin
We thoroughly enjoyed the downhill of the bike ride out, though on the slightest bit of uphill, my quads were screaming. We made it back to the car in one piece, and stopped on the way to the ferry to wolf down dinner. I wish we had been able to spend more time there, and just soak in that part of the Olympic backcountry without having to hike out immediately. It was a ton of ground to cover in just over 48 hours, and I hobbled up my stairs and into a hot shower in contented exhaustion.

Friday, September 2, 2016

An Outdoor, Offline August

I had the privilege and pleasure of taking the month of August off from my day job to finish a bunch of hiking research for a side project that I'm working on. It was productive, exhausting, and a total blast. I did some day hikes and a handful of two- and three-day backpacking trips. In northern Washington I went west to Orcas Island and east as far as Tonasket, as far south as the Columbia River, and many spots in between.
Three-day trip up the Suiattle River to Miner's Ridge,
with views of Glacier Peak
Spotted many grouse, especially in eastern Washington

Went over the Entiat River Valley for my first time.
So pretty over there!

Sometimes I hiked solo, and sometimes with friends.
Did an overnight and two day hikes with Alice!
View from Monument 83 in the Pasayten Wilderness
On the days in between hiking, I came back to Seattle to do laundry, grocery shop, eat a big salad, repack, and catch up on city life.
I got to hang with a couple of
my sweet little nieces.
Elliot Bay sail boat race with friends.
Work team building event--sailing cruise!
Swam in Lake Washington on a
warm night as the sun set, then
watched the moon rise over the water.
I'm sad that the month of playing outside is over, but I'm slowly getting used to the idea of fall being here. Happy September!

Friday, August 5, 2016

This Digital Content Writer Goes Analog

I love my job as a digital content marketing writer. It's been more than two and a half years, and I'm grateful every day to go to the office, dive into the work, be around brilliant coworkers, and challenge myself.

But all my work happens online: case studies, infographics, e-books. It's rare that anything gets printed. My whole day involves being inside a building and looking at a computer screen. I gaze briefly out the window at the wind rustling the trees, the waves on Puget Sound, the burning sunsetsand then return to my screen. My brain thrives on the research and writing, but my body wants to interact with something more concrete and organic.
Image from here
Friends, I'm taking a break from my regular digital world to work on a side project that involves a lot of hiking. I'm signing off for a few weeks to spent time in the Cascade mountains, be outside, quiet my mind, and thoroughly tire out my body.
Love this little dish. Thanks, Tena!
I'm looking forward to thinking about trails, plants, and wildlife instead of the typical jargon of technology marking. The only gated content I'll consider is when there is a physical gate, blocking a forest service road. My integrated solution will be mixing my packets of Via and hot chocolate. The only bandwidth I'll ponder is the thickness of my backpack straps.

I will continually optimize my strategy for navigating scree fields. My real-time data analysis will including looking around at, you know, everything I can see right there in real time. My powerful tool for improving decision-making will be checking the weather forecast. My legacy solution will be my old tent that I've been meaning to upgrade for years. My centralizing of data will be putting maps and a compass in the same Ziploc bag.
Goodbye message from coworker. Thanks, Mia!
I will be filled with glee over the intuitive and user-friendly interface of my backpack. The only dashboard view will be the one in my car. My workflow steps will involve a boot hitting a dirt trail. My simplified information storage and retrieval procedures will involve keeping things in the lid of my backpack. I will marvel at the seamless intereroperation of my pocket rocket stove and its gas canister. The only cloud storage that matters will be the amount of moisture in the ones overhead. And the only omnichannel solution I'll leverage is to capture a vista with my eyeballs, binoculars, and camera.
I'll take notes on paper, sing instead of listening to digital music player, and wake up with the sunrise instead of an alarm. I hope you have a fabulous and fun August, and do whatever feels summery and relaxing to you. Catch you on the flipside!

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Methow Valley: Hiking and Visiting an Earthship

I was 18 the first time I went to the Methow Valley, and it was also my first time hiking in the North Cascades and staying in an Earthship home. I went back a couple times in college, and earlier in July had the chance to go again. I packed a three-day weekend to the brim, starting with hiking by myself near Mazama, Winthrop, and Okanogan.
First Butte fire lookout near Winthrop

Hiking views

Woke up to a double rainbow while camping, around 5:30 a.m.

Morning light driving east on Highway 20
Hiking in the Okanogan National Forest is different from being on the west side of the mountains because there is a lot of grazing cattle. I would see a black mass in the trees and think it was a black bear, only to realize it was a cow. I also saw a ton of deer on the forest service roads.
Part two of the trip was meeting up with my dear friend Lindsey to visit her family friends at their Earthship home near Carlton, in the southeastern part of the Methow, where she took me when I was 18. What's an Earthship, you ask? It's a type of sustainable, green building that is partially built from recycled materials, uses passive solar, uses its own greywater, among many other things. Check out The website talks about Earthship homes addressing these five areas:

Water: From the sky (rain & snow melt). Uses it four times.
Electricity: From the sun and the wind stored in batteries and supplied to your electrical outlets via a prepackaged power system.
Sewage Treatment: Indoor and outdoor treatment cells contain, use and reuse all household sewage (greywater and blackwater). Use any kind of flush toilet.
Comfort in Any Climate: From only the sun and the earth. Maintain comfortable temperatures all year with no fossil fuels.
Food: Healthy and free, grown from interior and exterior botanical cells. All plants are highly functional and play a direct role in taking care of you.
In front of the Earthship entrance
with Lindsey in 2003
Staying at the beautiful, off-grid home with awesome hosts as a high school student was very influential for me. It was a springboard that got me interested in sustainability, permaculture, green buildings, and farming when I got to college.
Lindsey now lives in Austin, so it was doubly great to see her in the Methow. We hung out on the shady patio, drank wine, read, ate veggies from the garden, and slept in the yard near the chickens.
Big thanks to our hosts for having us!

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Glacier Peak Climbing Attempt

I've wanted to climb Glacier Peak ever since spending six days hiking through Glacier Peak Wilderness on section K of the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) two summers ago. I got up close to the western flank of the 10,541-foot volcano and got to marvel at its imposing presence and shimmering glaciers. Fast forward a couple years, and the opportunity opened up to join a rope team with four awesome folks who I met through the Washington Alpine Club basic climbing class.

I am in relatively good shape, but I haven't done any mountaineering or big backpacking trips recently, so I spent the month of June in pretty focused training for the climb. First, I cut out all wheat, sugar, and alcohol from my diet to maximize whole foods, veggies, and protein. I continued going to my gym workout classes at 2.0 and also started doing some pack training with a heavy backpack on day hikes and on stairs.

Glacier Peak is Washington's hidden volcano. Even though it's just 240 feet lower than Mount Baker, most Seattleites couldn't tell you where the mountain is. That's because it's the most remote volcano in the state and the only one that is not visible from a highway. That also means that it's considered more difficult (though less technical) to summit than Mount Rainer, simply because it's such a long and exhausting approach to get there.
Image from here
We did a good bit of group prep for the climb: two in-person meetings, a massive gear/logistics/emergency contacts shared spreadsheet, talking to other friends who have climbed, and checking weather and trip reports online. We planned to go over the fourth of July so that we'd have a three-day weekend without taking time off work. We checked multiple weather websites on Friday morning, and they varied a lot, from pretty much clear to cloudy, windy, and 40% chance of rain on Sunday. The forecast was iffy, but not terrible. We decided we'd rather go and know for sure what the conditions were than to not go based on speculation.
Sweet note from coworker who came to bid me
farewell when I was away from my desk
We left Saturday morning from Sloan Creek trailhead, hiking the flat trail along the North Fork Sauk River. After several miles, the trail started to climb, and we emerged from the trees into the hot summer sun as the trail switchbacked up and up.
Resting at White Pass
The trail joined the PCT briefly on a beautiful traverse before depositing us the White Pass junction, now 8.6 miles from the trailhead and 4,000 feet higher. From here we split from the PCT, continued traversing, and hit many snow patches on the way. We made it to right before the White Chuck Glacier and decided to stop for the day. We found a beautiful campsite and running water, so it was the perfect place to stop.
View looking up from camp: Can you see the mountain goat?

It was a gorgeous evening. Later, as we ate dinner and drank tea, some clouds began to roll in. We made a game plan for the next day: what time we would wake up, how long we would need to summit and return, what our bad weather limits were, what our turnaround time would be, etc.

I woke up many times during the night to huge gusts of wind. When the alarm went off at 4 a.m. we looked out the tent door to find complete white-out and howling wind. Then it started to rain. We decided to try again at 6 a.m. to see if anything changed. It continued to rain and wrack the tents with 40 mph gusts until after 10 a.m.  Hannah braved the weather and finally left the tent to heat water for breakfast. By that point it was far too late to start the summit attempt.
We were all disappointed, but had known this was a possibility. We laughed at how we thought we were going to have a grueling day on little sleep, but instead we got more sleep than we had in years and felt super rested as we hung out drinking coffee in our sleeping bags. Unfortunately we could not stay an extra day because of having to be back to work on Tuesday, so there was nothing left to do but hike out. As morning turned to afternoon and we packed up camp, it was still pretty windy but cleared up a little.
Marmot says hello. One of countless many that we saw.
Hiking out
The weather was a let down, especially because it had been so nice right before and right after we were supposed to summit. But we stayed realistic about the possibility of bad weather, and we put safety first. We kept positive attitudes, had a blast being in the backcountry together, got a great workout, and still practiced some mountaineering skills. And Glacier Peak will still be there in 2017.