Birthday Loop: High Above Ouray

When Katie was visiting earlier in the summer, we’d planned a long run high in the mountains above Ouray. Enjoying the run without running from monsoon thunderstorms meant pushing the run off until fall. Part of me was afraid to try it because it sounded like a ton of elevation gain and I was pretty sure it was going to hurt (spoiler: the uphill at mile 12 did hurt). Yet, Katie didn’t let it go and finally I agreed that it would make for a badass birthday hike-run.

It totally was.

We left Ridgway early and hit the trail in the dark. I love hiking through sunrise in the mountains: seeing the light hit the ridgetops and work its way down into the valley is really a wonderful feeling.

The colors were just starting to pop but fortunately, completely fooled us on how wonderful they’d be in a few weeks:

The uphill hike seemed to go super fast and I was surprised how quickly we found ourselves on the ridge. I’d looked at this ridge a million times but standing on it for the first time, I got to add to my mental map of local geography.

I also added several peaks to my list from up there within just a few minutes.

Then it was time to set off down the ridge. There were lots of ups and downs and we had to decide which peaks to skirt and which to climb (the only non-optional one was the ranked 13er on the ridge)

The ridgetop was pure giddiness. Including Mountain Prancercise…

This photo was taken on the shoulder of an unranked 12er bump on the ridge that didn’t, at first glance, have a clear cut route to the top. As we traversed around it I found a gully that I thought might go to the top. We carefully picked our way up the loose rock and pulled a couple of stout scramble moves and found ourselves on the top.

I think Katie and I would both agree that although the unnamed peak wasn’t our actual highpoint for the day, it was actually the emotional high point.

Just a few minutes after our unoffical climbing objective, we found ourselves on the actual highpoint of the hike.

These mountains, man. From here, if I’d have had binoculars I could have picked out my house to the north and mountains every other direction as far as I could see.

From there, we had a small (500′ climb) that felt like 2000′ and then the huge descent into town. After eighteen miles and 6600′ of gain, we were both worked. Quickly completing the car shuttle we hustled home to our crockpot dinner and devoured all the food.

Thank you so much Katie for going along on this dream adventure of mine! I had a blast!

Slacker Saturday 13ers: Canby and Galena

A few weeks ago, I had a friend offer to let me borrow her Jeep while she was out of town in case I wanted to tackle a big hike. I didn’t particularly have a big hike in mind but I told her that I would certainly come up with one.

I called Nadia and asked if she and Stella would want to join me for a ridge hike to some mountains.

It turned into the best ridge walk slacker Saturday of 13ers.

The weather was fantastic. The company was great. The views were mountains in every direction.

 

Colorado 13er: Golden Horn

Back in July, my friend asked me, mid-concert in the park, drinks in hand, if I would like to climb Golden Horn that weekend. I’m never one to turn down mountain adventure so I agreed, although I was slightly concerned about how slow I might be headed up the mountain.

After what felt like an early start (but not to shabby since we live close enough to wake up in our own beds), we found ourselves at the trail head cruising rapidly up towards Upper Ice Lake. Above the lake, I finally got to solve the approach question from Fuller Lake towards the ring of 13ers above the basin (I had a storm come in when I first attempted Vermilion from Ice Lakes).

I’d climbed Fuller Peak (on the left) and Vermilion (center) in 2015 and was very excited to head up Golden Horn (on the right)!

I’d almost forgotten how much I actually enjoy(?) relish(?) feel alive(?) when making my way up loose San Juan rock. The weather was perfect as we worked our way up the gully to the Vermilion-Golden Horn saddle.

Once we were on the summit, we were treated to a fantastic view of the Wilsons:

A gorgeous view of upper Ice Lake and all of the San Juans:

As we headed down, the sky got really moody and we felt an urgency as we headed down the mountain. The rain started just as we started descending the headwall into the lower basin.

I’m always so glad to hike with Nadia because she is totally willing to gush about these mountains with me the whole time.

I’ve seen Golden Horn now from several angles and every time, I think of this fantastic day and smile.

July Visitors!

While my project in Washington somewhat dragged on, I had events starting to pile up in Ridgway that I needed to get back for. My boss started calling to set up some summer meetings but more pressingly, Cindy had purchased plane tickets months ago and Katie was coming out for hanging out with people during the Hardrock100.

Since Cindy was only in town for a couple of days, we went out hiking on Sutton Trail. Although it’s steep, the views of the amphitheater are amazing. Plus, we got mixed up in another group of hikers that were actually a ton of fun. After our hike we drove over Red Mountain to Silverton and then headed back to my place for lunch and some wine and porch sitting.

The next day, we drove up to Telluride to check out the views and ride the gondola. Apparently I only Instagram storied my photos since I don’t have any! Again, we basically meandered back to the house and found ourselves catching up with pretty mountain views as old friends do.  It was so much fun to share my home with you, Cindy! I know I’m in the middle of no where but you win the award for first friend to buy a plane ticket to come!

Katie’s visit out this way for Hardrock events slightly overlapped with Cindy which was actually a lot of fun. After Cindy headed back to the midwest, Katie and I decided to head up Bridge of Heaven. This is one of those hikes I’ve wanted to do but was sort of dissuaded from because of all its elevation gain!

We started from the Dexter Creek side and quickly attained the ridge line and then pushed our way up to Bridge of Heaven proper.

By the run down, my legs were feeling it but it was a good way to start getting in some solid elevation gain again!

Alta Lake & Leavenworth

Mom and I both had hand-wringing moments of “should we go” before taking off to Alta Lake in eastern Washington for a couple of days. I was stressed out about the idea of not working on the house for four days and mom was basically … just stressed about the house. 

It was such a good choice to go!

First, I worked some packing magic so Sprocket has lots of room in the back seat. He basically cuddled with Shar’s foot the entire way to and from the lake. 

We stopped at the Twin Pines in Cle Elum. I used to stop here on the way to Ellensburg to visit my cousin Taylor at college! It was somehow more delicious than I remembered!

Sparkling wine flight to go with lunch at Karma Vineyard’s 18 Brix restaurant

There was wine tasting, dance parties, cornhole, evening cruises on the golf course, and relaxing by the pool and all the good food! I also read an entire book and a half.

Group photo at Tsillan Cellars

At the end of the weekend while we were driving home, we stopped for lunch in Leavenworth and decided to get in one last wine tasting at Goose Ridge Winery’s tasting room there. The wine was delicious but mostly I think we all just had a blast doing it!

Hanford B Reactor Tour

I can’t believe it’s taken me months to get around to blogging about this trip! When I decided to go to Washington to tackle the project at Mom’s house, I realized that I had a big stretch of time to try to get tickets to the Hanford B Reactor tour. Tours have been offered at the reactor since 2009 and in 2015 it was officially added to Manhattan Project National Historic Park. I tossed out the idea on Facebook and Kamel, the husband of my long-time internet friend Lauren, agreed to make the trek to the TriCities.

I picked up Kamel, who I had never actually met, and we headed out for a three hour roadtrip to the tour site. The drive was great! I totally morphed into my Tour Guide Barbie persona and pointed out lots of landmarks to Kamel who had never been further east on I-90 than Snoqualmie Pass! (Tour Guide Barbie is a moniker that I was given in high school both as a tongue-in-cheek Barbie reference and very honest commentary on my perhaps annoying propensity to spout historic, geological, and other random facts while driving.)

Once we arrived at the visitor center, Kamel and I both entered full nerd mode as we checked out the introductory exhibits. There was a short introductory talk about what the village of Hanford was like at the time it was chosen for the reactor site. By the time we got on the bus for the ride to the reactor, we were positively giddy. On the bus out to the reactor site, we got some more history and orientation to the area.

If you haven’t heard the story of the B-reactor, it’s actually pretty nuts. In just 11 months, the reactor went from a plan to producing the plutonium that was used in the Trinity Test and in Fat Man, the bomb dropped in Nagasaki. The tour is really informative about how DuPont and the Army built the plant and how ambitious the project actually was.

The first look at the reactor face is so incredible. Sitting in front of this massive piece of engineering, we had another short explanation of how the reactor actually worked and then, basically, we were allowed to wander around the reactor.

It was really surreal.

There were lots of really great vintage signs.

The access to the whole reactor complex is really impressive. While there were some areas clearly marked with radiation warnings that were off limits, we really got to wander around lots of nooks and crannys.

Kamel brought along his medium format camera to make some photos (although he told me he was too distracted by the building and its history to make good photos, I would beg to differ).

It had started to drizzle when we arrived and there seemed to be a little break in the rain so we went outside to check out the reactor area from outside.

This tour is free (did you hear me, FREE?) and it is fantastic.

Goat Mountain and Mt. St. Helens … kinda

Although I’d really been looking forward to climbing Mt. St. Helens, with the renovation at my mom’s house ever growing in scope, I didn’t prepare for this trip anywhere near as well as I should have. I ended up working with the plumbers the day that I’d planned to leave and things just got a little nuts. About the time I reached Centralia, I realized that I’d left my ice axe and crampons in Tacoma. Washington got a lot more snow than Colorado and my heart sank because that had basically already sealed not getting to the highest point of the ridge.

Traffic south of Tacoma sucks and I was slightly ahead of it so I definitely didn’t want to backtrack and sit in it so I decided to continue and take my chances. Besides, I had kind of a bee in my bonnet about using the evening to climb Cowlitz County’s highpoint: Goat Mountain.

Forest Service Road 470 was pretty washed out (there were ruts that were almost a foot deep) so I just parked at the junction with FS 8117 and walked up to the start of the southwest ridge. The trail was occasionally indistinct but overall, it was pretty easy to follow. Just below the summit I started to run into patches of snow and I had to brush away some sads about knowing I was going to see a St. Helens covered with too much snow for me to summit. The view though didn’t make me sad: it was totally gorgeous.

Rainer peaked out to the north, Adams was visible from the ridge and St. Helens was right there. I took some photos and then hustled down the trail to make it back to Ruth before it got dark.

My non-preparation continued when I got to the road to Climbers Bivouac. The road was closed because it was still covered with snow and I was directed to Worm Flows. I scrambed a bit because I hadn’t bothered to read up on on Worm Flows (or really any route, to be honest). I was just feeling a little beat up by this hike and I hadn’t even started hiking yet.

In the morning, still feeling demoralized, I decided to sleep in a bit since I wasn’t going to summit anyway. I made really good time to the junction with the standard climbing route…that was covered in snow. I decided to climb up a ridge to the east of the standard route because I was going to be much more successful climbing the ash and scree covered route than the steep snow with my (unprepared) light and fast gear situation. I knew my only summit hope was being able to maybe traverse along the rim versus going straight up snow.

Oh, my god it was steep. It was fun? But also, it was one of those things were as I expended energy, I could see the rim better and better and was realizing that I wasn’t going to be able to safely make the traverse. With 1500′ to go to the rim, I almost quit.

In the end, I’m glad I didn’t. The view into the crater was really impressive. I just desperately wished that I could make my way west but it wasn’t the right choice. Instead, I turned around and took my tired butt down the mountain.

Back in Tacoma (after getting first dinner at Burgerville with a BIG fresh strawberry shake) I met my mom (and my Sprockey!) at my grandma’s for dinner. I was exhausted—it’s been a long time since I’ve done 5000’+ gain in a day and I was ready for bed. I have unfinished goals down there though, guess I’m going to have to scope another permit for this mountain!

Summer Roadtrip 2018: Oregon to Tacoma

When we woke up the morning after summiting Steens Mountain, Sprocket’s paws were clearly hurting him so I knew that hiking that day was out of the question for us. We retraced our drive back down to the highway and continued north to Frenchglen, the northern terminus of Steens Mountain Road. I explored a little mini-interpretive trail on the edge of Malheur National Wildlife Refuge while Sprocket chilled in the Jeep.

Frenchglen is a tiny little town that is home to the Frenchglen Hotel, an Oregon State Heritage Site and a cute little general store.

As we headed north from Frenchglen, I did a quick jog at the Buena Vista Ponds Overlood and then we headed north to the Refuge Visitor Center. The grounds were so pretty. There were tons of flowers, really helpful docents, a nice lawn, and a lake for bird watching. I did a quick tour and learned that leashed dogs were welcome on the grounds so I went and grabbed Sprocket and my book and we spent some time relaxing together on the lawn.

In Burns, I had lunch while watching some WCWS and then had a beer at Steens Mountain Brewing. Sprockets sore paws didn’t bode well for a summit of Strawberry Mountain the next day so I called my mom and let her know that we’d probably be getting to Tacoma a touch early.

The next day, we headed north and made a stop in Toppinish for a walk around the cute little downtown (I should have had tacos!) and then another walk and internet moment in Yakima before deciding to just push on to Tacoma. Sprocket’s paws were clearly still hurting him and I just felt bad for him.

I have had one too many trips back to Tacoma sitting in traffic through Fife and I decided since we weren’t on a schedule we were doing something different. Highway 410 was closed but instead we passed over Chinook and Cayuse Passes and headed down into Mount Rainier National Park and over into the Nisqually River Valley. As I headed up Highway 410, I wished I hadn’t told my mom I would be there that day; we could totally have gotten up to some hiking in that corridor but she was expecting us that night. When we entered the Park, there was still tons of snow on the ground and after the dry winter Colorado had, it was kind of shocking!

It had been a long time since I’d had a view of the giant rock that is Mount Rainier and ohhhh man did I start to feel the itch to climb The Mountain (yeah, that’s what PNW people call Rainier).

At my mom’s, I ate food and settled in: the fun was over and it was time to get to work.

Harney County Highpoint: Steens Mountain

Waking up early in the desert, Sprocket and I headed for Fields, Oregon. Word on the internet had it that The Fields Station had some of the most killer milkshakes around. I love milkshakes and so it went on The List for this trip.

Fields Station was packed when I arrived; there was an experimental aircraft fly-in and a motorcycle group coming through. I went to go order a milkshake and they warned me it would be at least a half hour. I was resigned to waiting when one of the servers asked what kind I was going to order. My answer, as always, was vanilla. Turns out, they’d made an extra vanilla shake so I got mine really quickly!

The milkshake really was good! I didn’t hang around too long after I’d finished it although seeing the planes coming in was pretty cool. My goal was to drive up Steens Mountain and move on through Burns before evening.

The road was in really really good shape and just when I started to think that this was going to be an easy highpoint on a lovely backcountry byway, I came around a corner just on top of the huge summit plateau and found a gate.

According to my previously mapped route, I was still over eight miles from the summit but it really didn’t seem like it was possible for it to be that far away. I have no idea why I decided to doubt every other resource I had at my disposal and trust just my eyes guessing how far away it was but I did. Sprocket and I headed down the road in the heat of the day at about 2pm. As we went up, we found patches of snow where Sprocket cooled himself down with a good roll.

The road had to wrap way around Big Indian Canyon which totally explains the length of the hike. And on top of it being a long way, we still had to gain almost 3000′ to the summit of Steens! It definitely didn’t appear that way when we left the car.

Finally, we reached the junction where the road to the summit of Steens Mountain went to the south and the northern end of the Mountain Loop Road joined with the southern portion we’d been walking and the summit was still almost 2.4 miles away.

By the time we reached the summit, Sprocket and I were both tired and we still had about nine and a half miles back to the car. The expansive views of so much of the southeastern part of Oregon were really fantastic though!

After the quick summit photos, it was time to start carrying ourselves down to #RuthXJ as fast as our tired legs would carry us.

Whenever we found snow, I noticed Sprocket would get off of the road and walk in it. It started to occur to me that his paws might be starting to hurt a bit but we were still quite far away from the car and I needed him to tough it out as long as he could.

We made it over the last little rise on the way back to the car and I started to jog a bit. We were both done and it didn’t seem to matter how we did it, only that we got back to the car pretty quickly. Sprocket gamely jogged behind me and when we arrived at the Jeep gave me the, “Human, be an elevator please” face that I couldn’t resist.

When we got to the campground at the bottom of the hill, it was abundantly clear I’d asked the old boy to overdo it. His paws were raw and walking on the crushed gravel in the site appeared to be really painful. I fed him and tried to walk him in some pine duff before tucking the tired boy into the tent. Dogs in pain, especially when they’re getting old, is so sad. I felt awful but also a little delighted that he had made the 19 mile jaunt without complaint. (I’m so sorry  Sprockey-boy.)

 

Humboldt County (NV) Highpoint: Granite Peak

Leaving Kingston in the morning, I headed north, cutting through the mountains and had breakfast in Austin and then kept pushing north. Thanks to the long days of summer, even after a leg stretching stop in Winnemucca, Sprocket and I made it to our intended campsite by 2pm. Some quick mountain calculations lead me to decide to tackle Granite Peak right away instead of waiting until morning.

The road up to Hinkey Summit was in really good shape and passable by pretty much anything. Above Hinkey Summit, there were some pretty good water channels in the roadway that probably could have been negotiated in #RuthXJ but with any bad tire placement there would have been trouble so we decided to just park near the communication towers.

While it had been really hot down in the valley the weather on the ridges was great for hiking! Sprocket seemed very happy to be out hiking as we worked our way up the road.

Looking across the valley at Hinkey Summit
Granite Peak in the distance
Almost to the end of the road approach!

The walk up the road felt long but it was pretty easy. There was another set of foot prints going up and coming back down from the peak but we definitely had it all to ourselves! Once we reached the end of the road, we made our way up the sage and grass filled slopes traversing below the eastern knob of the ridge.

From the saddle between that eastern false summit and the much higher actual summit of Granite, we started picking our way up the rocky slopes. I didn’t want to climb too fast because the ridge proper looked like a bit much for Sprocket.

As we climbed, I think I got to perma-grin status. Granite definitely has a low alpine feel which was awesome considering its proximity to lots of desert!

As it turned out, Sprocket wasn’t able to make the last bit of the (super fun) summit scramble so he sat below me and made his displeasure known to the winds. With another hiking buddy I could have totally made this work for him (just like Fish Lake Hightop earlier in the week!) but solo, listening to him be mad was the best thing I could do for him. I snapped a few photos at the top and then downclimbed to him to take a summit selfie.

Since I’m prepared with a headlamp in my pack, I wasn’t too worried about being caught in darkness descending the road but as it turned out I was treated to a glorious golden hour drive down the mountain. Since it was still light, we headed a bit further to the west to find a camping spot in the broad valley.

Sprocket, by this point in the roadtrip was very into his tent cuddles and being tired from a nice hike only made him even more cuddly. Considering that the mosquitos were out in force, I happily crawled into the tent with him to delve further into Owyhee Trails, an older book about the Idaho-Oregon-Nevada territory—perfect regional reading.