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.