Tuesday, August 15, 2017

The Enchantments

Early risers get the best camp spots.

Eightmile Lake, aka Utah, Washington

 Finally, the day arrived! Last Sunday my dear friend Jasmine (literally one of my longest standing friends, I ADORE HER) and I headed to Wenatchee to hang and wake up ass-early for our hike into The Enchantments.

If you don't know what The Enchantments are, please Google them. This isn't pure laziness on my part; There is just no way to verbally explain what they are to strangers. You need to see the photos to understand their legendary, captivating beauty. Here in Washington, they are considered the top tier of hiking. The Enchantments, Mt. Rainier, and the Pacific Crest Trail are basically  the top three challenge destinations out here. Camping in the protected Alpine Wilderness-which is necessary unless you trek the full Enchantments loop in one day- is restricted May through October by a lottery system for highly coveted permits. I think every year 10k+ people apply for these limited spaces and the number keeps growing.

Rewinding: Last year I applied and was granted a permit for the very first weekend of seasonal camping. A week before our scheduled trip, I fell on wet rocks while crossing a creek bed (hiking solo, without phone service) and dislocated my knee cap, simultaneously ripping a ligament and my quad. Needless to say I was on crutches for weeks, lucky to escape surgery, and nowhere near capable of hiking this 18.5 mile through trail..

In hindsight, Jasmine and I agreed this was a blessing and nothing to cry over. We weren't really prepared to hike the Enchantments at that time, let alone in the very beginning of the season, when weather conditions are drastic and sometimes call for ice picks just to reach the higher elevation peaks. We're not rock climbers and we don't have the experience or confidence needed to take on back country ice-picking, so instead we rented an Air B'n'B in Budd Inlett for the weekend and got drunk on a row boat. It was NOT a bad time!

This year, a group of us applied for Enchantments permits and were super disappointed that none of our names were pulled. However, there is one single day in April where the Rangers office opens up leftover dates that people who won permits did not pay for in time. Jasmine hopped online at 6am that day and scored a leftover permit for the Eightmile Lake/Lake Caroline zone! 

She gathered a group of six people including the two of us to make the trek in. We sort of failed at planning in advance and probably would have had a tad more success at the whole process if we had met up sooner than the Friday before leaving, heh, which is when we first realized that our zone was the only permit camping that is not specifically on the Enchantments loop.

Translation: Our camp spot, where we were required to sleep every night of our permit dates, was not connected via trails to any other part of the Enchantments. Therefore, in order to access the core loop, we had to hike our from our site (about 3.8 miles from where we camped) to its trail head, drive or walk to the other trail heads, hike what we wanted, then return hike back into our zone before nightfall. 

This was a doozy. First of all, this was the very first Backpacking any of us had ever done. Secondly, it was pretty damn hot and sunstroke was a real concern. Thirdly, there are only so many hours of daylight...

We made it to our campsite at Eightmile and some made it to Lake Caroline nearby the next day. All of us hiked out and then into Colchuck Lake, which is definitely the most scenic lake of the Enchantments outside the the inner core. Colchuck is a 8.2 mile, 2500 ft e.g. hike in and of itself, and I honestly found it very challenging after hiking out from Eightmile with my pack on. The heatttt! The smokeeee (from nearby wildfires)! It was a rough but rewarding day.

Long story short, we did not permeate the inner core of the Enchantments due to our assigned campsite and physical restrictions. Still, the trip was absolutely gorgeous, challenging, and a very good Rough Draft to the Enchantments experience. We learned a great deal about the process that we would not have been able to foresee without experiencing it first hand. Next year, we will have a way better handle on the process and will hopefully be just as lucky with the permits. We will also apply specifically for a camping zone that sits on the Enchantments loop so we can more easily access the core basin! Or, we will actually train in advance and simply through hike the entire thing in a day.

Despite all of this, I want to note that I really loved Eightmile Lake. Visually it was a strange, scenic hybrid of Washington and Utah. There were giant red-rock boulders that I have never seen anywhere else in the Cascades. I googled all over trying to figure out the story behind these rock formations, unique to this lake bed. As you can see in the photos below, it was also a wonderfully peculiar trail hiking in. A bad wildfire ravaged through this zone about 6 years ago, leaving miles of burnt alder trees. In the midst of their decay, tons of tall fire weed and other wild flowers have proliferated the area. Black, burnt trees that look like large snakes shedding their skin paired with bright pink and red fire weed was a strange but  magical partnership. In comparison, you can see from the Colchuck photos I included that the gray boulder gardens and granite mountainsides of the Enchantments rim were vastly different from Eightmile.

An extremely smokey, hazy first sighting of the lake

Jasmine in the Eightmile Boulder Garden

First Sunset at Eightmile

The following photos are from the hike out and then into Colchuck Lake:

Colchuck Boulder Garden. Drastically different rock color and size from Eightmile

Crossings like this making me nervous since knee-dislocation '16

Plethora of impressive, man made water crossings on the Colchuck Trail

5700 Feet Up; Finally some smoke relief!

Honesty Hour.
I had to confront and contend with some deep seated issues in my feelings about this trip. I jumped through some last minute emotional and financial hurdles the week before we left in order to make the trip happen as planned, which only heightened my expectations. It was already a long time coming and very built up goal in my mind because of what happened the year before. Because of this, and my longstanding personal problem with expectations in general (see previous post for more on that), I suffered from some delusional disappointment over the zone situation and our limited access to the core. I was extremely attached to my expectation of seeing the inner core, even if it took a few days. I didn't logically understand until the end that this wasn't going to be a possibility given our camp zone and physical limitations. Not to mention my own lack of preparedness! Before leaving, I told myself I would make it happen one way or the other, period.

Well, I didn't. And that shit was hard. I was itching to see Aasgard Pass at the very least. The morning I left camp and hiked into Colchuck, I told myself I was absolutely going to beast mode the day and make it to Asgaard and back. For reference, this would have been 12.5 miles and 4500 feet of e.g. after hiking  roughly 4 miles out of Eightmile with an elevation loss of 1300ft and my backpack on. When I finally made it to Colchuck, I wanted to cry. I felt like a baby. I was already exhausted and the hike took me much longer than it has in the past. Air quality from the smoke? Heat exhaustion? Tired from three nights in a row of bad sleep? Who knows. But I honestly felt like a failure while I sat staring at this perfect Alpine Lake. I knew I was going to be lucky if I just made it back to the car before it got dark.

This "failure" so to speak has been really revealing to me. Within about a day of getting home, I realized how much I had actually achieved, rather than obsessing over my unmet and ultimately unrealistic expectation for myself. I waded through emotional hell the week before going and almost wasn't able to make it, yet somehow I did! I hiked 13 beautiful miles in a day, a year after suffering from a serious knee injury! I successfully backpacked! I camped next to a glorious alpine lake and went skinny dipping with one of my best friends! Why the hell did this not feel good enough to me at first?

My self worth is always riding on my ability to bag a peak. I have a deep need to be successful, and to GET THE JOB DONE. I literally can't stand starting things that I don't know if I will finish. Even if I'm reading a book that peters out half way through, it's incredibly hard for me to go against my inherent need to finish what I have started. I can only think of maybe 3 hikes that I have turned around on without completing (usually because of weather conditions obstructing safety or the trail itself).

I'm realizing that through fear I have shamed myself into focusing on success rather than the action of DOING. I construct parts of my life from the point of view of what I can do well and succeed at, rather than what I want to try. 

When I delve into something new or decide to try on a new hobby, I want to be good at it immediately. If I'm not, I usually give up really quickly. I walk away from challenging things because I fear that I will never be good enough for them to matter. My mind gets caught up in the story of my perceived failure or more specifically, wasted time. Rather than trusting myself to get better at something or to believe in the process of practice, I react with the habit of abandoning ship when I seemingly suck at something. Perfectionist problems, much...

I have to stop running away from things that are hard and things that I suck at. I have to cultivate a belief in the purpose and process of practice. Ironically, hiking is usually one of the only things that I stick with...in fact, I think its the only hobby I have ever held onto for this long. The thing is, I'm really strategic about it. I pick trails that I know I am capable of doing, or that are just outside my proven physical ability. Then I commit to finishing them, no matter what. The comfort of that peak topped and the feeling of success that comes with it is probably what has kept me coming back, over and over again. Yet in order to get better, and to be able to do something like through hiking the Enchantments, I'm going to have to set my sights outside of what I already know I'm capable of. I'm going to have to actually commit to the process of trying and the reality of FAILING from time to time.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

The Hole In Our Hearts

“...for my greatest skill has been to want but little.”-Thoreau

I think a lot about a concept that I call 'the hole in our hearts.' I think of this aching absence as one of the inviolable truths that make the human experience what it is, categorically unique from other life forms and intelligent beings. We are undeniably insatiable creatures. There is simply always more to be wanted and achieved. Happiness is painfully transient, especially in the world we find ourselves in today. The hole only seems to grow deeper and more treacherous as technology progresses and our basic needs are so easily met. My grandma would say something here about too much free time and idle hands being the devil's playground.

Life is a constant pendulum swing between valleys and peaks, grief and joy, beginnings and endings.
Each of us has an innermost hole that shows itself in our thoughts, feelings, and actions over time. We crave and use different things to fill or plug the hole temporarily. Relationships, attention seeking behavior, numbing agents like drugs and alcohol, food, seeking monetary or professional success, adrenaline junkies, going on spiritual quests, religion itself...

In my generation, I see a recurring theme of people wanting to abandon their lives in totality, sell all of their shit, and escape to an adventure to some island or far off land where everything will definitely, suddenly make sense to them and they will find a permanent fix to this hole inside themselves. Yet, despite the glorification of travel or adventure as the key to happiness, the inner longing never goes away indefinitely..

I'm not judging the sentiment of seeking escape. I can't tell you how often I have felt painfully unfulfilled in my life; How many times I have used gratitude practices to try and remind myself of all the beautiful things I have experienced or achieved. The progress I've made, the love I've experienced. Even in the midst of good things happening, sometimes we feel a quiet voice inside ourselves asking is this enough? Is this all there is?

Besides relationships, I think I have used hiking and outdoor adventure as a usually-satisfying, temporary fix over the last couple of years. It's the only hobby I have ever held onto for this long without losing all interest. My friend Mark wrote a great blog about craving adventure recently, and he used the phrase "the rat that gnaws inside", which I loved as a synonym for the hole in our hearts. * Check out his awesome blog-https://boxcanyonblog.blogspot.com/ *

Throughout our time here on the third planet from the sun, we are blessed with experiences that fill us with extreme joy and satisfaction, and moments (if not months) that charge our energy and make us feel vibrantly alive. Falling in love is a perfect representation of this, as well as the inevitable nature of change and the pendulum swing that life goes through. Not all love ends, but it often changes drastically and sometimes gets set aside in the pursuit of something, or someone,....else? different? More.

I recently started delving back into a past interest in Buddhism that (like most things) has waxed and waned for me. Something that really resonates with me though is the concept of the Four Noble Truths. The idea of insatiable desire as suffering makes sense to me in many ways. I'm going to share the basic tenants below.

[Disclaimer: There are monks who spend a lifetime disseminating these four ideas and the eight-fold path as a method for treatment so to speak, and I am merely an investigative and curious human breaking down the simple and straightforward concepts that I find most interesting.]

The Four Noble Truths:

1. Life is "Suffering" -Dukkha- Happiness is transitory. Psychological suffering is especially prominent in our human life. Ultimately life is fleeting.

2. The cause of Suffering -Samudaya- is desire, craving, attachment, and holding on to things and  experiences that are impermanent

3. The cessation of suffering -Nirhodha- through relinquishment of desires and cravings

4. The method, or path, to end Suffering-Magga

There is a lot of modern discussion about the context and translation of the first Noble Truth. I certainly don't mean to argue that all of life is constant suffering. More that absolutely everything-good and bad-is impermanent, and this is a harsh fact that takes so much time (lifetimeS?) to accept. Transitions and endings are inescapable. As with most difficult truths, I think it's a three step forward, two steps back quest to acceptance. You can think you've made peace with this until a job, or friendship, or even a life abruptly and injustly comes to an end.

Honestly the fucking best we can do, little by little, is to aim for less attachment and expectation. It just happens to be one of those things that is easier said than done. Still...our will is so powerful, and If I didn't believe that the long, slow road of improvement was possible, I would have no reason to seek the highest version of myself.

"The student eventually finds there is no way at all to not desire. Even desiring not to desire is desiring. Even trying to accept oneself is a way of trying to escape from oneself because one hopes psycho-therapeutically that by accepting yourself you will get rid of your nasty symptoms. So you are not accepting them." -Alan Watts

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Lady Rainier

Our Lady

I'm at a literary loss for words when I try to describe the experience of hiking to Tolmie Peak in Mt. Rainier National Park. Scenic, picturesque, breathtaking, dramatic, striking, spectacular...Applying these adjectives to portray it is the same as taking photos of nature when you're out in it; Good, maybe great, but never a true representation of the experience. Never wholly reflective of the light, the mood, the sensation.

The arresting views started early on in the 7ish mile hike and never ceased. Before hiking this trail on Sunday, I had never seen giant fields of avalanche lilies, let alone entire mountainsides covered in bear grass bloom. The ever present, archetypal mountain Rainier loomed not overhead, but almost parallel to us in our ascent up the trail. It is the closest I have ever felt to this beautiful Lady.

The amount of people on the trail I overheard stopping to exclaim "Oh my god" over and over again was pretty incomparable to anything else I've hiked. I did a beautiful hike in Rainier last summer called the Summerland Trail, but this trail topped it and everything else I've seen since then. Maybe since before then. I don't really play favorites per-se when it comes to this outdoor, back country life, but nonetheless this trail stole the show and is probably going to live in infamy in my recollection for a long time to come. 

So much beauty in this world, but nothing ever touches me the way reflections of mountains in alpine lakes do. Feels like coming home.

Looking down on Eunice Lake
You can see why this park is so damn crowded 24/7/365...

Approaching Eunice Lake
An edge of Eunice Lake
Lilies upon lilies
Jasmine on the ridge line

Views for days
Oh, Bear Grass
Tolmie Peak Fire Lookout
You can see the fire lookout that we hiked to at the tip top of this ridge

Friday, July 14, 2017

Bumping Lake

Bumping Lake is unabashedly serene; It's my favorite place to swim in Washington. The water is shockingly warm for how large the lake is and its close proximity to the Cascade Mountains, including Mt. Rainier.

I don't know why but I've always considered Rainier to possess a divine feminine energy, and I like to call her Lady Rainier. Sometimes I blow kisses her way when I'm driving south to work in the morning, since I get a lovely view of her from I-5 on clear days. Rainier can actually be seen from a crazy far distance, as far north as Vancouver BC and as far south as Corvallis, OR. I've learned a lot about her the last few years from reading hiker anthologies and visiting the national park. It's just a mystic, tranquil volcano set in the middle of a gorgeous mountain range that is so drastically different from the East to the West sides. The native tribes here called her "Tahoma" or "Tacoma", which means Mother of Waters. So I suppose her feminine wiles were picked up on by attuned inhabitants early on.

The view of Rainier from Tipsoo Lake, right off Highway 410
I love heading East of the mountains, even if it means hot ass weather. Luckily this past weekend was perfect and I can't complain a bit about the weather we had while camping at Bumping Lake. No traffic either way, no sun stroke, no drunk idiots at the campground, not too crowded...sometimes it feels like the Universe truly has your back when you need it most. Thank you!

I headed over early Saturday morning with Josephine and her pup Luna. Could not have had more fun with this oddball of a dog. She was extremely easy going and did everything with us; a seasoned sidekick. From camping to hiking to playing cribbage to kayaking for her first time, swimming, and skateboarding (kinda...), she was very much in the mix. My lovely neighbors who I adore came out to meet up with us Saturday evening. They are just about the coolest, kindest couple and I really enjoy them both.

On Sunday I woke up in the back of Josephine's built out Honda Element having to pee exactly as sunrise was cresting over the mountain range. Perfect timing, body! I walked down to the lake and had the entire thing to myself. I was surprised that no one was out fishing since its an extremely popular fishing spot. No boats, no kayaks, and ahhhh, no kids. I walked the shore to the boat launch and sat on the dock for awhile. I love watching sunrise so much. The golden bath of speckled light and the immense silence never fail to provide powerful and restorative soul-medicine. After the sun was situated high in the sky I walked back to camp and retreated to the car for a short nap before we all got up for some early morning kayaking.

Another highlight was the utterly random hike we did to Twin Sisters lakes. This required driving down a longgg pothole ridden dirt road within the William O. Douglas wilderness area (author of that book Of Men and Mountains that I recently wrote about on here). The Deep Creek trail head was a sight for sore eyes & backs, and the path itself was impressively maintained for being in the middle of nowhere! It was a short and steep hike up in the heavy afternoon heat. The lake was gigantic, one of the biggest alpine lakes I've ever seen. Bear grass was everywhere, along with bluebells and other small wildflowers. The only bummer was that within two minutes of being at the lake, we were covered in SWARMS of mosquitoes unlike anything I have ever experienced. I cannot over exaggerate the size of this mosquito colony. All four of us got eaten alive and we quickly retreated back to the meadow surrounding the lake. Pretty unfortunate because it would have otherwise been a perfect place to spend the afternoon. A quick look on the topographical map later showed that these lakes border an area known as "Mosquito Valley" hah! Dozens of ponds, lakes, and waterways within this wilderness area apparently offer the perfect breeding conditions for bug life in early Summer. Duly noted for next time...

Evening at the lake front

Trevor Fishing

Kayaking in the early morning light

Luna's first kayaking experience!

Ah, peeing in glorious nature

Hanging with Trevor and Luna at the campsite

One of the coolest pups around

Approaching Twin Sister Lake

Bear grass abound at Twin Sisters

Gone Fishin'

My lovely neighbor Kalee

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Literary Vibes

Reading nook at Kex Hostel in Iceland

Books that helped and continue to help shape my spiritual self:

*The Motivation Manifesto -Brendon Burchard

*Autobiography of A Yogi -Paramahansa Yogananda

*The Spontaneous Fufillment of Desire -Deepak Chopra

*The 4 Agreements -Don Miguel Ruiz

*Creative Visualization -Shakti Gawain

*The Kyballion -The Three Initiates

*How to Practice: The Way To A Meaningful Life -Dailai Lama

*A New Earth -Eckhart Tolle

*The Tao of Wu -Rza

*Medical Medium -Anthony William

*Emotional Chaos to Clarity-Phillip Moffit

*Ayurveda: The Science of Self Healing -Dr. V. Lad

*The Tao of Poo -Benjamin Hoff

*Codependent No More -Melody Beattie

*The Power of Intention -Dr. Wayne W. Dyer

& My absolute most favorite fiction:

*The Sirens of Titan -Kurt Vonnegut

*Everything Matters -Ron Currie Jr.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Of Men and Social Media

I'm reading a magnificent book right now that is chock-full of amazing quotes and insights. If you have never read Of Men and Mountains by William O. Douglas (former justice of the United States Supreme Court), I highly suggest you put it on the top of your list. It was recently recommended to me by one of the most voracious readers I know, my friend Barb. I'm actually only partway through the book myself, but it has literally brought me to tears twice already. The way Douglas writes about nature is extremely endearing and contagious. It helps that he is a Washingtonian raised in Yakima, so many of the places he writes about touch on familiar memories. Ah, Nostalgia. He writes at length about one of his childhood favorites, Bumping Lake, which is an absolutely magical place that I stumbled on a few years ago. I had never once heard of it before then, and no one I ask about it has either. It's located on the east side of the Cascades in the Wenatchee National Forest. Getting there from Seattle requires driving through a portion of the Mt. Rainier Ntnl. Park on scenic highway 410. Every single time I drive down this highway I think about how much I want and need to get my motorcycle license. 410 was made for bike touring.

In the book, Douglas devotes an entire chapter to Jack Nelson and his wife, who were the first gatekeepers of the Bumping Lake Dam. These two managed the site for something like thirty years. I'm excited because months ago I made a campsite reservation at Bumping Lake which is fortuitously set for next weekend, the 7th-9th! (Just please Universe, no 100 degree weather forecast)

The book is an endless collection of poetic writing and historical facts, but I read a certain passage the other day that spoke volumes to me. It eloquently sums up my views on social media, and why I try my best to keep a healthy distance from it. Keep in mind that this was written in 1950, long before the internet, so I'm merely using it to express my own opinions on the matter:

"Perhaps man was losing his freedom in a subtle manner. He was becoming more and more dependent on other men. Part of that dependency was necessary, since man had to look to others for his food and fuel and essential services. But he had also become dependent on others for his entertainment and his ideas. He looked to people rather than to himself and to the earth for his salvation. He fixed his expectations on the frowns or smiles or words of men, not on the strength of his own soul, or the sunrise, or the warming south wind, or the song of the warbler. Once man leaned that heavily on people he was not wholly free to live. Then he became moody rather than self-reliant. He was filled with tensions and doubts. He walked in an unreal world, for he did not know the world from which he came and to which he would return. He became a captive of civilization rather than an adventurer who topped each hill ahead for the thrill of discovering a new world. He lost the feel of his own strength, the power of his own soul to master any adversity."

Monday, June 26, 2017

Deception Pass

I've been so painfully uninspired lately; Unmotivated to do even those things that I love the most, that usually save me from all the other things I don't want to do at all. I've had zero inspiration to write or even hike. Even in pulling myself together long enough to do these things or other forms of self-care, I'm not reaping the usual benefits.

I was going to drive down to Hood River on the Columbia River this past weekend to check it out more in depth as a possible destination for moving, plus to hike a few trails I've had on my list forever, but the extreme weather warning (105 down there!) held me back. I'm not built for all that. 92 degrees and humid in Seattle was bad enough and honestly would have been unbearable yesterday if I hadn't squatted in my mom's air conditioned apartment. I did at least escape to Deception Pass on Saturday to feel some ocean breezes. Hiked through and around the crowds to find a moment of peaceful solitude on some lichen covered rocks by the sea, but it didn't last nearly long enough.

We all have times like this where nothing feels right and nothing seems to fit. Where the veil of funk refuses to be lifted and daily life just kind of stinks. I know it's not forever. Depression itself is a deception that tricks us into fearing our feelings of emptiness or foreboding will be permanent. This always proves untrue eventually, but wading through the interim sucks none the less.

Forever being reminded time and time again of how much I rely on nature and exercise to make me feel better. I know it's a tough time when even those things aren't getting through to me.

 "Feelings are just visitors, let them come and go." -Mooji