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.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

The Longest Spring

Seattle has the longest meteorological spring in the country! So says atmospheric science professor Cliff Mass in a recent blog:

Astronomical spring is, of course, the three month period from March 20/21 to June 20/21. But meteorological/biological spring can greatly differ from astronomical spring. I like to tell folks that typically spring begins in western Washington the third week in February (let's say Feb. 25th) and ends in mid-July (local meteorologists like to use July 13th).

I love celebrating the summer solstice, but as a Seattle native, it always felt like summer reliably started right after the fourth of July. Here are some highlights to say farewell to the longest spring and hello to summer—whenever it may start for you.
Razor clamming on the Washington coast

Sailing in Puget Sound

Sunset at Carkeek Park

Nephew at Easter

Hanging out in the ghost town of Terlingua, Texas

Road trip to Big Bend National Park, Texas

Hiking with Mom and nieces

Camping and climbing in the Tieton River Valley

Climbing columnar basalt for my first time

View above Lake Crescent, Olympic Peninsula

Hiking up the middle fork of the Snoqualmie River
for a bachelorette party at a hot spring

Holding my newest niece a few hours after watching her be born

Attending a dear friend's wedding in Texas in the midst of
spring thunderstorms and flooding

River swimming outside Austin
It was a fabulous spring. Bring on summer!

Monday, March 7, 2016

Brother's 10 Birthdays with Brain Injury

Joe's birthday 2013
It's a strange thing to commemorate. But when my brother Joe turns another year older, I can't help but think back to how we almost lost him, and feel especially grateful that he's here. Today is the tenth birthday he has celebrated since getting hit by a car as a pedestrian when he was 14 and suffering a severe traumatic brain injury. A couple Seattle Times articles from that time are still online, like this one from two weeks after the accident: "Young crusader struck in Shoreline." At that point he was still in a coma in the Pediatric ICU at Harborview.

Though Green has been upgraded from critical to serious condition, doctors don't know what his future holds.
"Outcome is quality of life, not if you live or you die," said Dr. Randy Chesnut, director of neurotrauma at Harborview. "We know the extent of it, but we don't know the long-term consequences."
Green isn't following commands or interacting with people, but Chesnut hopes within a year he will be able to tell the full extent of the boy's injuries.
"We can't fix the brain; now it's up to him," Chesnut said. "He'll be a different person."
Joe in the PICU at Harborview, July 2005
Then, one month after he was hit, he started to wake up: "Hit-run victim, 14, opens eyes after nearly month in coma."

At that point, we had absolutely no idea what kind of recovery to expect. It was three weeks after waking up before he said his first word, and then it was months and months of rehabilitational therapies, including an intensive residential program at Children's Hospital, before he could walk or talk. Considering he had to relearn those basics during most of what would have been his freshman year of high school, it's pretty remarkable that he was able to graduate high school just a year late.

Doctors told us that with brain injuries, the most healing that happens in the first two years. My parents were diligent during that time to keep him in therapies and make as much progress as possible, and that intentionality continued long after the first couple years. Ten years later, I think he is still healing, learning, and improving.

He has come such a long way, and is extremely high functioning and independent. He is not able to live alone at this point, but takes care of himself physically, does his laundry, prepares food, and gets around by walking or bus. He is a sweet and gentle man, and still loves kids and animals as much as before his accident. He likes hanging out with his nieces and nephews, and enjoys making things with his hands, like carving the names of friends and family in wood to give as gifts.
In terms of his cognitive function, the biggest deficit is his short-term memory. Here's an example: A couple months ago we had a cold snap. I rent a mother-in-law unit from my parents (where Joe also lives), and came outside one morning on my way to work to find my car windows scraped of the frost. I looked around in confusion at the other parked cars, all with frosty windows. But mine were clear. Not knowing who did it, I sent a group text to my mom, stepdad, and Joe saying, "Thanks to whoever scraped my windows!" Joe texted back, "No problem! Have a good day." Then my mom texted me separately, "What? That was me! LOL! We'll let him think that though. :)" We were both cracking up.

But of course, issues with short-term memory cause more than amusing mix-ups. He might lose necessary items, forget he already bought something, or not follow through with something important.
Medically, the most debilitating result of the brain injury is his seizure disorder. For patients with traumatic brain injury, it's common to have seizures in the first couple years, as the brain is healing and forming new neuropathways. For Joe, his seizures have become more and more frequent. He takes medication which definitely helps--if he misses a pill, he will almost surely have a seizure. He is incredibly conscientious about NOT missing his pills. Even if we are going to the store together at 7:30, just running down the street, he'll look at the clock and make sure, "How long will we be gone? Should I bring my 9:00 pills?"

Even with taking the medication correctly, he still has seizures, sometimes multiple times in a week. I have no idea how many seizures I've been with Joe through-- maybe 30 or 40? They are incredibly common, and yet always frightening. I don't know how my parents do it. There is a constant vigilance required to be prepared and calm when something happens, but of course are always going to be taken by surprise or in a less-than-ideal circumstance.
Last summer the family was at Seabrook for a cousin's wedding. The night before was a huge group dinner in the warm night air, and I had a few glasses of wine over the course of the evening. My mom had gotten tired and gone back to the house, but the rest of us were still hanging out. I came into the host's house from the deck just as Joe began having a seizure and cousins were helping lower him safely to the ground. I bolted back outside through the thick crowd to find my stepdad. By the time we got back up the stairs to Joe, he should have been coming out of the seizure, but wasn't.

Larry looked up at me, "Can you get mom and tell her to bring the car?" We didn't have cell phone service, and who knew how long it would take for the nearest ambulance to get to this unpopulated stretch of coast. If Joe needed to go to the hospital, we'd have to drive him. Suddenly feeling stone-cold sober, I took off into the dark in high-heeled boots to run across the town of Seabrook. My mom and I drove back to the party, and thankfully the seizure had ended and Joe was stable by then. But the memory of the night is visceral for me; everything is okay until it isn't.

I used to take Joe hiking, but about half of the time he had a seizure on the trail and it was just too stressful. One time we were serveral miles back at Wallace Falls and I had no phone signal. Luckily it was a small seizure and he came out of it quickly and was able to walk shortly after. But what if it hadn't broken? What if he hadn't been able to walk out? What if he had gotten an injury as a result of a seizure? It was too much to think about.
This past New Year's Eve I was getting ready to go to a friend's wedding reception. I carefully applied makeup and twisted my hair into an updo--two things I rarely do. Appetizers and mingling were already underway and I was running late; I at least wanted to get there by 8:30 p.m. for the toast.

Just as I was about to change into a dress and heels, I heard shouting next door. It was a loud, grunting, "AH...AH! AH...AH!" I ran in my parents' house to find the front door ajar and Joe lying on the wood floor in the kitchen, seizing. Or rather, just finishing a seizure and in a very agitated postictal state, thrashing wildly. I sat cross-legged and put his head in my lap to protect his head from banging on the ground. I called my mom with shaking hands. It was everything I could do to keep Joe contained with one hand, and I could barely do it. "Mom, I think you should call the paramedics--I have to hang up now because I need both hands!"

Joe is a stocky, strong guy. He is about 7 inches taller than me and 70 pounds heavier. And the postictal state can bring out an almost superhuman strength. There have been times when we've called the paramedics and it's taken eight of them to get him secured to a stretcher to take him to the hospital.

It was physically everything I could do to keep him contained and safe in those minutes before the paramedics arrived. He would arch his back and kick his feet and slam me into the dishwasher, so hard that I was worried it would break the dishwasher door. His convulsive bursts were wracking my body and my lower back was aching. I knew I was okay and that he would be okay, but the violence of the constant physical assault was so shocking to my body that tears came to my eyes before I even realized it. It was scary trying to care for someone else while not knowing where the boundaries were of caring for myself.

Finally his convulsions started to slow just as I heard the sirens and saw flashing lights through the front window. After talking about Joe's condition, a paramedic looked at me and asked, "Are you okay?" I nodded and headed back home, my hair a mess around my shoulders, and my makeup in a black streak on my cheeks.
It's been 10 years now. We have gotten used to the new Joe. About once every six months I get an absolutely sick, sinking feeling when I think about him, indescribably angry and sad about how the accident changed him. I think about how much an average person his age might struggle to make friends, date, feel connection to others, find meaningful work, and develop an identity. And I can't even imagine how exponentially more difficult it must be for him.

But that feeling passes and I know I have to live in the moment. The accident happened, and for all the ways it has been difficult and changed our family, there is much to celebrate. Perhaps most of all, Joe is thankful for his life and still sees it as a blessing. He is grateful to be alive, even if it looks different than we may have imagined a decade ago. And I think that constitutes a very happy birthday.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Valentine Friends

I'm fairly neutral about Valentine's Day. For about a decade, as a floral designer, the holiday meant a frenetic seasonal rush at a flower shop. Now that those days have passed, what I end up doing is a toss up. I like that people can interpret the day however they want and do whatever sounds fun and romantic. What's wrong with a day all about love, indulgence, and showing appreciation and admiration? This year, as a single lady, I want to express my appreciation for some of my most beloved friends.
I've known Will since middle school, and we became close friends when we lived together for a year and a half in college. In those days he'd bake up a storm, and after morning classes we'd sit on the front porch together, drinking tea and eating homemade pear-cardamom bread, dissecting all of life's questions and talking for hours.

We don't have those long hours together anymore, but our friendship has evolved into something I could have never foreseen: writing and editing support. I've edited his writing projects and he has edited mine. It's pretty sweet to connect in a new way after decades of friendship and I'm so grateful to have him in my life.
I met Lindsey in high school English when I hadn't done my homework to come up with a topic proposal for History Day. I sat down by her about two minutes before the bell rang, feeling desperate. "Do you have a research idea? Can you add my name to your proposal and we'll do a partner project?" Thanks to her saying yes, we became great friends and created a rockin' dramatic presentation on Gandhi and India's independence movement that made us regional champions and took us to the state finals.

These days, Lindsey lives in Austin, but I talk to her as much as any friend in Seattle. I save my funniest, most outlandish stories from the week, with the goal of cracking her up on the phone as much as possible. She just got engaged, but is still the staunchest supporter of single ladies. "I went to look at wedding venues," she tells me. "This one at an old mill has a ton of walking trails on the river-- so many spots for my single friends to make out!"
Alex is a friend that I've barely seen throughout the past decade, but we both ended up living in the same neighborhood last year. We rebooted our friendship last summer when I took a week off to go backpacking, and all my friends were working. I has fine with going alone, but luckily Alex had some time off mid-week, and we spent three days backpacking in Mount Rainier National Park together. He was such a fun, easy-going, stellar outdoor buddy. Since then, we've started running together regularly, even early on Sunday mornings and even in the pouring winter rain. He's a great listener and strikes that wonderful balance between goofy and sincere.
Alice is my role model for being a good friend even while really busy and even in a relationship. I know it's hard to maintain close friendships in the flurry of modern, urban life, and especially in a new, exciting relationship. Many people drop off the radar, but somehow Alice is always there. She is a medical resident who often works 70-80 hours a week, and still finds time for canoe crabbing adventures, meeting at the climbing gym, making dinner together, teaching me to brew beer, or sending me random texts like, "Hey, come over for Swiss chard pancakes!"
Do you have friends you love who you are especially thankful for today?

Saturday, January 30, 2016

My Top 10 of 2015

In 2015 I wrote less on this blog than any other year since I started it in 2007. I have good excuses: I write full time! And I am working on a side writing project! But there were great things that happened last year that I want to share--better late than never. Here's a quick rundown of some of my favorite moments.

10. Spring trip to Mexico
My phone disappeared while in Mexico, and I lost almost all of my photos from that trip. But otherwise it was an amazing time-- I got to volunteer for a UN food security organization in the rural mountainous region of northern Puebla, and then attend the wedding of a dear friend.
Church in Ahuacatlan, Sierra Norte de Puebla

Traditional dress wedding
Boda de traje tipico

9. Visiting Denali National Park, Alaska
I was 100 miles back in the park, staying in a cabin, with opportunities to hike, bike, and canoe practically out the front door. Early in the week I had my first handful of grizzly bear sighting from afar, and later in the week almost walked into one. My friend and I were hiking, talking, and watching our feet, and by the time we saw the bear through the blueberry bushes, we were about 30 feet away. It was absolutely terrifying for a moment, but clearly I lived to tell the tale.
View from Polychrome Pass
A rare, clear view of the mountain

8. Hanging with nieces and nephews
I now have 7 nieces, 3 nephews, and 2 more on the way. They are all ridiculously sweet and fun kids, from the oldest who is almost 15 to the youngest who just turned 1.

7. Sister's Wedding
Besides the wedding in Mexico, I went to two in Washington and one in California. The first was my older sister's in Bellingham. This one was unique because in addition to making the bouquets, it was my first time officiating! I became a "reverend" online about eight years ago, but haven't had the chance to officiate yet. It was really special for me to play that role for my sister and awesome brother-in-law.

6. Cousin's Wedding
The next wedding was my cousin's out at Seabrook on the Washington coast. It's basically a small manufactured village, and a great spot for big family gatherings. We walked to other relative's houses, rode bikes, went to the park, played on the beach, cooked big meals together, and generally had a blast.
Playing with nieces on the beach
Putting together the bridal bouquet. Photo by Lisa S.
Thriller dance at the reception. Photo by Lisa S.

5. Friend's Wedding
Bless California, where you can have completely outdoor weddings and dance well into the night with the addition of a light sweater. I spent three days at the wedding venue in a neat ranch-turned-resort outside of Ukiah.
Outdoor reception set up

Day after the wedding to relax
4. Backpacking with Mom
This was our second annual mother-daughter backpacking trip. For almost never having backpacked, my mom is an awesome buddy. She's easy-going, appreciative of little things, not picky, and really loves being outside. This new tradition is going to continue as long as humanly possible.

View of Mount Baker from tarn below Park Butte

3. Three Fingers Lookout
I did a lot of hiking this year, but the highlight was in October when I did Three Fingers. You know it's serious trail when you have to bike 10 miles just to get to the trailhead, then hike, cross a glacier, scramble, and climb vertical ladders.
See the white speck up there on the middle peak?
Yeah, that's the lookout.
Sunrise from the lookout.
3 ladders at the end to reach the lookout.
Just a 1,000 foot drop to the glacier below.

2. The 10-Week Challenge
During the fall I did a 10-week fitness program offered through a local gym. It consisted of:

- Doing 50 workouts in 10 weeks
- Following meal guidelines and tracking everything I ate in an online tracker, in general cutting out sugar, alcohol, fruit, and wheat
- Doing fitness tests and body composition check at the beginning and end of the program

It was truly life changing. I got stronger, fitter, and just felt better. I thought that I already had pretty healthy eating habits, but this took my awareness to a whole new level of committing to cooking whole foods, at home, from scratch, for every meal.
After a bootcamp class

1. A personal writing project
I have been busy writing on a side project. I'm keeping the details under wraps for now, but I'm really excited about it and excited to share later this year.
Writing retreat on San Juan Island