Arizona Trail – Passage 1: Huachuca Mountains

I would like to preface this blog post by stating that I am no longer thru-hiking the Arizona Trail.  After hiking only 34.6 miles, I made the very tough decision to get off the trail and end my thru-hike.  Before leaving Arizona, I decided to spend time exploring the state with friends and family.  I plan to share my adventures along the AZT and journeys throughout the state over the next few weeks in segments.  Here is the story of my first three days on the Arizona Trail:

3 days, 2 nights / 22.5 miles / 3000′+ elevation gain/loss

IMG_8931.JPG

Looking back towards the Mexico border from the Arizona Trail near Montezuma Pass

Day one:  Montezuma Pass to Mexico border to Bathtub Spring

10 miles / 3000’+ elevation gain

Nervous is the one word I would use to describe the morning of my first thru-hike attempt.  All of the planning and organizing had led up to this moment, and now that it was here, I was petrified!  Scared as hell, yes, but also ready for an adventure.

I woke up before sunrise on the morning of my first day on the Arizona Trail.  I was nervous, but excited knowing I would have my aunt joining me as I hiked the first 50 miles over the next five days.  In many ways she has inspired me to find a love in backpacking, and I was happy to finally share that passion with her.  She and I set out early that morning to catch a shuttle to Montezuma Pass with 3 other hikers I had met online several weeks before starting the trail.  As a group we made plans to try and hike at least the first 120 miles together.  It comforted me knowing that I had connections along the trail, and I was thrilled to be creating new friendships.

IMG_8911

Our group ready to start our first day on the Arizona Trail.

After a drive up a long and winding gravel road, we arrived at the Montezuma Pass parking lot in the late morning.  Mile 0 of the Arizona trail starts 1.7 miles from the parking lot and retraces its’ steps back.  Since my aunt did not intend to thru-hike the entire AZT, she kindly opted to stay in the parking area with our backpacks while we hiked the first 3.4 miles to the Mexican border and back.  This was it – we were finally starting this incredible journey!

IMG_8917

Signing the National Registry for the Arizona Trail

IMG_8926

Sign near the Mexican border on the Arizona Trail

IMG_8922

The monument at the Mexican border for the beginning of the Arizona Trail

IMG_8928

Our group at the Mexican border at the beginning of the Arizona Trail

The morning was nice with mild temperatures, blue skies and pure sunshine.  The first 1.7 miles of the trail descent down towards the Mexican border, making it a fairly easy hike.  The next 1.7 miles back up towards the parking lot weren’t as easy since we were finally starting our ascent up the Huachuca Mountains.  By the time we reached the parking lot we were parched and happy to take shelter in the shade for lunch.

IMG_8921

Hiking back up towards Montezuma Pass from the Mexican border, Arizona Trail

IMG_8932

Spring flowers, Arizona Trail

IMG_8934

Cactus, Arizona Trail

IMG_8919

Looking south towards the Mexico border, Arizona Trail near Montezuma Pass

During our lunch break at Montezuma Pass we had the opportunity to meet the founder of Warrior Expeditions along with three of his warriors kicking of their hike on the Arizona Trail.  I was so excited to be starting my hike surrounded by so many people.  I was energized and ready to throw on my pack and really start this adventure.  My aunt took our first ten steps together side by side grinning from ear to ear.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

My aunt and I about to take our first steps on the Arizona Trail

We set out on the Arizona Trail with a goal of making it to Bathtub Spring that evening hiking 6.6 more miles.  Right away the climb up was tough – temperatures were warming and the trail was completely exposed.  All morning my body wasn’t feeling 100%, but I assumed it was just nerves.  As the day progressed I continued to feel uneasy, but was able to slowly hike on.  The next four miles of the trail gain over 3000′ of elevation as it makes its’ way up towards the spine of the Huachuca Mountains.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Looking south towards Montezuma Pass, Arizona Trail

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Arizona Trail near Montezuma Pass

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Arizona Trail

At some point my aunt and I stopped to rest in a rare shady spot, and one of our hiking partners arrived shortly thereafter.  He notified us that our other hiking partner was feeling ill after hiking a few miles.  She and her daughter decided to take shelter in their tent until feeling well enough to continue hiking on.  We suspected altitude sickness considering we started our hike at 6000′ and would be ending the day at just over 9000′.  We stayed connected using our gps devices communicating about potential camping spots along the way up.  Unfortunately, it wasn’t long before we all realized that the best decision for our ill hiking partner was to leave the trail as her symptoms continued to worsen.  By the time the three of us reached the highest point of our hike, we were exhausted and still had more miles to go.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Just after reaching our high point for the day on the Huachuca Mountains, Coronado National Forest

As we hiked along the ridgeline of the Huachuca Mountains, the sun was beginning to set which created an urgency to move quicker.  The terrain changed with every turn of a corner, and before we knew it the sun had set and all of that beauty had whizzed by. Thankfully, we stumbled into the area near Bathtub Spring with moments of light to spare.  We were even more grateful that  the warriors were camping in the area and happy to share the very tight quarters with our group.  I have never seen six tents in a smaller area!

With headlamps running, the three of us set up our tents in the dark of night.  Shortly thereafter I puked behind a tree nearby.  My body had finally lost the battle with altitude sickness and I was feeling awful.  It took everything I had to drink water, send out sad messages to my husband on my Garmin about how awful the night was, and try not to fall asleep with dried bananas in my mouth that I was forcing myself to eat.  It was a very crazy first day on the Arizona Trail.

But it wasn’t until the middle of the first night on the trail that things really started to get crazy.  It was very cold with temperatures less than 30°, and as the night progressed a fierce wind storm blew in.  All I could hear is what appeared to be the cracking sounds of trees swaying in the wind around me.  I continued to imagine myself being crushed by a giant tree inside my tiny tent.  As time passed into the early morning hours, the wind storm brought rain, that turned to hail, and eventually turned to snow.

Day two:  Bathtub Spring to Parker Canyon Lake trailhead

12.5 miles / 3000’+ elevation loss

I woke up on the second day in southern Arizona surrounded by a light dusting of snow.  I crawled out of my tent still feeling sick to my stomach with shortness of breath.  I forced myself to eat a hot breakfast and hurriedly packed up for the days’ long hike ahead.  Our goal was to make it to the Parker Canyon Lake trailhead where we would be dry camping for the night.

The morning was beautiful as we hiked along the ridgeline of the Huachuca Mountains heading north.  As we made our way down the western side of the mountain range, the trail switched back and forth descending through diverse terrains.  We started our day with a chill in the air walking through patches of snow, and ended the day in the warm desert.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

My friend hiking through patches of snow near Bathtub Spring, Arizona Trail

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

My aunt hiking down the western side of the Huachuca Mountains, Arizona Trail

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

A view of Parker Canyon Lake viewed from the Huachuca Mountains, Arizona Trail

As I hiked down into a lower elevation I began to feel much better and was able to hike at a pretty good pace.  The downhill trek was toe-pounding and by the time we reached the base of the mountains my feet were beginning to get pretty sore.  I welcomed the flatter section as we made our way through Sunnyside Canyon.  A small creek flowed, only a trickle at times, alongside the trail for nearly 3 miles.  Near the end of what we believed was our last water source for the day, our group stopped and filtered water.  I carried 6 liters of water for the last 4 miles of the hike, hoping it would be enough until our next water source the following day.  Funny thing was, we continued to see water almost the entire way in intermittent pools along Scotia Canyon.

By the time we reached our destination after hiking more than 12 miles, we were spent.  Well, my aunt and I were spent, but our other hiking partner was an experienced section hiker who was just getting started.  It was at this time my aunt let me know she couldn’t hike any further.  She was planning to hitch a ride from Parker Canyon Lake campground the following morning.

Arriving at our destination with little daylight to spare once again, we hurriedly setup camp and prepared a hot dinner before sunset.  After a certain point in the day, I stopped looking around me, stopped taking pictures, stopped enjoying the moment.  During the sunset on the second evening of my hike on the Arizona Trail I was able to stop and look around me and be in that “Kodak memory moment,” as my aunt would say.

That evening was emotional for me and I had a lot to think about.  Even though I knew my plans would be shifted as soon as I started the trail, I was panicking as it felt like everything was falling apart around me.  What started out as a group of 5 was now down to a group of 2.  My only hiking partner was a skilled section hiker with plans to hike 15+ miles each day; a pace I could never keep up with.  My options at this point were to either continue hiking the trail alone or leave the trail with my aunt and regroup.

On day 3 of my thru-hike attempt on the AZT I decided to get off the trail.  I hoped to reconnect with my original hiking partner and her daughter and get back on the trail soon.  It was a bittersweet moment that morning as we said farewell to our new friend who was continuing his journey along the Arizona Trail alone.  I was so proud of those people that could hike on, but so disappointed in myself for not being able to.

IMG_8939

Looking back towards the Huachuca Mountains from the Parker Canyon Lake Trailhead, Arizona Trail

IMG_8940

Parker Canyon Lake view from the Arizona Trail

Through the kindness of others and connections we had already made on the trail in only 3 days, my aunt and I found our way back to Patagonia Lake State Park.  It was here where I spent the next two days reconnecting with my original hiking partner and coming up with a new game plan to get back onto the Arizona Trail.  This adventure was not over yet.

Catalina State Park, AZ

Sunset view from Catalina State Park, AZ

This morning I woke up filled with anticipation to finally start making my way towards southern Arizona.  My aunt and I loaded up her RV preparing for our upcoming adventure on the Arizona Trail. The RV will be our base camp until we start our hike on Monday morning.  We left Cottonwood full of excitement for the journey we are about to take. After dropping off two re-supply boxes with a good friend in Phoenix, we arrived at Catalina State Park in the late afternoon.  We couldn’t have asked for a better evening in the Arizona dessert.  Once we had settled into our new temporary home, we took a stroll through the park watching the sunset over the mountains to the west. 

Santa Catalina Mountains, Catalina State Park, AZ

Alpenglow on the Santa Catalina Mountains, Catalina State Park, AZ

Alpenglow on the Santa Catalina Mountains, Catalina State Park, AZ

Alpenglow on the Santa Catalina Mountains, Catalina State Park, AZ

Desert tree sunset, Catalina State Park, AZ

Eastside Trail Thru Hike

Silver Falls

Silver Falls along the Eastside Trail, Mount Rainier National Park, WA

11 miles / 1000′ elevation gain

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Eastside Trail, Mount Rainier National Park, WA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Ohanapecosh River, Eastside Trail, Mount Rainier National Park, WA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Mushroom along the Eastside Trail, Mount Rainier National Park, WA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Waterfall along the Eastside Trail, Mount Rainier National Park, WA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Ohanapecosh River, Eastside Trail, Mount Rainier National Park, WA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Waterfall along the Eastside Trail, Mount Rainier National Park, WA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Eastside Trail, Mount Rainier National Park, WA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Suspension bridge along the Eastside Trail, Mount Rainier National Park, WA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Suspension bridge along the Eastside Trail, Mount Rainier National Park, WA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Ohanapecosh River, Eastside Trail, Mount Rainier National Park, WA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Grove of the Patriarchs, Mount Rainier National Park, WA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Silver Falls, Mount Rainier National Park, WA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Silver Falls, Mount Rainier National Park, WA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Silver Falls, Mount Rainier National Park, WA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Silver Falls, Mount Rainier National Park, WA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Silver Falls, Mount Rainier National Park, WA

Hot spring

Standing in a “hot” spring along the Eastside Trail, Mount Rainier National Park, WA

 

Kuilau Ridge Trail, Kaua’i Day Hike

5.5 miles round trip / 1381′ elevation gain

Kuilau Ridge Trail

Kuilau Ridge Trail, Kaua’i, Hawai’i

img_1601

Lemon/lime tree along the Kuilau Ridge Trail

img_1606

A message written on the picnic table along the Kuilau Ridge Trail

img_1612

Kuilau Ridge Trail, Kaua’i, Hawai’i

img_1653

Kuilau Ridge Trail, Kaua’i, Hawai’i

img_1620

View from the Kuilau Ridge Trail

img_1627

View from the Kuilau Ridge Trail

img_1632

The end of the Kuilau Ridge Trail

img_1633

Continuing onto the Moalepe trail

img_1635

Moalepe trail, Kaua’i, Hawai’i

The Lower Enchantments – Car Camping and Day Hiking: Part 2

After spending one day of hiking in the Enchantments, my husband and I knew we’d be back soon – little did we know it would be the following weekend!  With an extended weekend on the calendar for the Labor Day holiday, we knew it was the perfect time to get out and explore the Alpine Lakes Wilderness further.  We knew there would be challenges with getting a good camping spot during a holiday weekend, but created a plan to beat the crowds.

On Thursday morning I left Seattle on my own at 7:00 am with the car loaded full of camping and backpacking gear.  The plan was for me to go ahead of my husband and find a great camping spot along Icicle Road.  Then, he would take the train to Leavenworth the following day where I’d pick him up.  As planned, I arrived early enough to claim a beautiful camping spot in Lower Johnny Creek Campground just alongside Icicle River.  As I setup camp, the weather threatened rain but luckily it stayed dry throughout the morning.

That afternoon I took a trip into Leavenworth for lunch, grocery shopping, and a stop at the USFS Ranger Station for questions about hiking trails and backpacking permits.  We were hoping to possibly grab one of the first-come, first-serve permits for one night in the Enchantments during our trip.  After discussion with the park ranger, my husband and I decided it wasn’t worth driving back into Leavenworth so early in the morning for a very small chance of getting a permit.

As I headed back to the campground for the evening, dark clouds increasingly filled the sky.  I arrived at camp just soon enough to tie a tarp up over our spot before it began to rain.  After dinner, I spent the evening reading while enjoying the peaceful sound tapping of the rain on the tarp  above me.  As soon as it got dark, I climbed into my tent where I continued to read into the night.  I enjoyed the solitude of solo camping for the second time now.  The sound of the rain lulled me to sleep that night as I lay in my tent alone.

It continued to rain into the following morning.  I stayed in my tent as long as I could stand it, and finally climbed out and hurried to the car.  I decided to spend the day exploring Leavenworth as I waited for my husband to arrive on the train.  As I began my walk around town, I was greeted by  a mountain goat in a fenced area near the Enzian Falls Putting Greens.

img_1389

Mountain Goat, Leavenworth, WA

I always love exploring new trails, so I couldn’t resist a visit to the Waterfront Park along the Wenatchee River.  I spent part of the day hiking around the trails and reading during dry spouts in the weather.

img_6948

Bear Warning Sign, Waterfront Park, Leavenworth, WA

img_1402

Waterfront Park, Leavenworth, WA

After making my way to the end of the park and back taking various trails, I found a great spot in the rocks along the riverside.  I enjoyed watching a family fishing across the river, and noticed several fish jumping in all directions.

img_1410

Fish jumping in the Wenatchee River, Waterfront Park, Leavenworth, WA

img_1414

Fish jumping in the Wenatchee River, Waterfront Park, Leavenworth, WA

Of course while I was in Leavenworth I had to have a pretzel and a pint of cider.  I may have also spent a little time shopping at the various stores in town.

img_6949

Pretzel and a cider, Leavenworth Sausage Garden, Leavenworth, WA

While I certainly enjoyed my time alone, I was happy to pick my husband up at the train station that night.  The two of us stayed in Leavenworth long enough to have dinner before heading to our home in the forest for the next three nights.

The following morning, my husband and I woke up to a beautiful, sunny Saturday excited to go hiking in the Enchantments once again.  Since we hiked to Lake Stuart the previous weekend, we decided to explore a different valley in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness.  Our destination for the day was Eightmile Lake in hopes of finding a slightly less crowded trail than the more popular areas of the surrounding National Forest.

img_6956

Eightmile Lake, The Enchantments, Alpine Lakes Wilderness, WA

Eightmile Lake:  6.6 miles round trip / 1300′ elevation gain

The trail to Eightmile Lake starts its’ upward climb right away.  This section of the trail is the toughest having the steepest climb, so it was nice to get it out of the way early in the hike.  The sounds of the rushing waters from Eightmile Creek can be heard as the trail snakes along beside it.  After the first mile the trail becomes easier, gradually gaining elevation with the assistance of several long switchbacks.  At times we were surrounded by pink flowers that speckled the forested landscape.

img_6952

Eightmile Lake Trail, The Enchantments, Alpine Lakes Wilderness, WA

Even though the weather was nice in the valley, things changed as we climbed up in elevation towards the mountaintops.  The higher we climbed, rain became less of a threat and more of a reality.  We welcomed the cool rainy mist on our bodies warmed from the hike.  As we neared Little Eightmile Lake it appeared like a small, marshy pond from a distance.  This was a nice little spot to rest as we were lucky enough to have a small break in the rain.

img_1424

Little Eightmile Lake, The Enchantments, Alpine Lakes Wilderness, WA

The last half mile of the trail towards the lake was my favorite.  We picked our way through a large boulder field with the sounds of pika calls in every direction.  We were lucky enough to see a pika, and even pointed it out to a family passing by who were excited to see one for the first time.  Unfortunately, the weather kept me from taking my camera out, so the only picture is in my memory.  As Eightmile Lake finally came into view, the weather tried its’ best to hide it from us.  The weather was only successful in enhancing our experience as we stood beside the lake in the pouring rain watching the clouds dance with the sun.

img_6958

Eightmile Lake, The Enchantments, Alpine Lakes Wilderness, WA

As we rested and enjoyed the views around us, our once warm bodies were now chilled by the rain.  The frigid air urged us to move on not allowing us much time to linger.  After exploring the edges of the lake, the rain continued to increase pushing us to head back down the valley.  We quickly began our journey towards the trail-head.  We left the rain behind us as we neared the parking lot down below.  While the clouds still hugged the mountaintops behind us, the valley was filled with sunshine just as we had left it that morning.

It was nice to return to the comforts of our camp including dry clothes, warm food, and cold beverages.  After dinner, we enjoyed the warmth of a roaring fire and small glimpses of starry skies between passing clouds.  Late in the evening, we climbed into our tent and fell asleep to the sounds of Icicle Creek rushing by.

We awoke to another sun filled sky, excited with the anticipation of hiking to Colchuck Lake.  I was so thrilled to finally see the lake in person that I had only seen in pictures.  We made our way down the familiar forest road climbing up into the valley once more.  Just as expected, cars lined the side of the road over a mile from the trail-head.  This would add two more miles to our already 8 mile hike.

img_6975

Road to Colchuck Lake parking lot, The Enchantments, Alpine Lakes Wilderness, WA

Colchuck Lake:  8 miles round trip / 2280′ elevation gain

The first two miles of the trail were familiar from our hike to Lake Stuart the previous weekend.  We hit unfamiliar territory as we made a left at the trail junction towards Colchuck Lake, climbing up to explore a new valley of the Alpine Lakes Wilderness.

img_6977

Trail sign, The Enchantments, Alpine Lakes Wilderness, WA

Just like the day before, the higher we climbed the clouds increased and quickly turned into rain.  I’m not going to lie – this trail tested me!  As soon as it breaks away, the trail crosses Mountaineer Creek.  The log crossing was my first challenge, as it was a bit of a stretch for my short legs to reach.  Once we crossed the creek, the combination of the pouring rain while navigating the talus slope gave me a bit of anxiety.  This was the first time I almost turned around and quit the hike.  After resting in a dry spot under a tree near the creek, I was able to push forward and continue to make my way up towards Colchuck Lake.

At first the trail gradually makes its’ way up, but it wasn’t long before it became more and more steep and the rain continued to increase.  The higher we climbed, the trail became steeper, rockier, and wetter – a combination I am not very fond of.  I questioned my abilities several times during this stretch of the trail, almost turning around again and again.  It seemed like every time I reached what seemed like the final stretch, someone was there to tell me “it’s just a little farther.”  When Colchuck Lake finally came into view, the feelings of anxiety washed away as I took in the surrounding beauty.  I had made it!

img_6979

Colchuck Lake, The Enchantments, Alpine Lakes Wilderness, WA

The frigid air forced us to move along quickly and once again, we weren’t able to spend much time exploring.  I was mentally and physically exhausted, using the last bit of energy I had to make my way back down the steep, rocky, and wet trail.  Just like the previous day, the closer we got to the parking lot, the lighter the rain became.  By the time we reached the end of our long journey, the valley skies were clear and sunny just as we had left it.  The drive back down towards our campsite was bittersweet, as I knew that was our last adventure in the wilderness for the weekend.

Our last night alongside Icicle Creek was peaceful as we reminisced on the adventures we had just experienced in the Enchantments.  The following day my husband and I left knowing this would not be our last journey into the Alpine Lakes Wilderness.

As we made our way back over Stevens Pass towards Seattle, we stopped at the Deception Falls National Recreation Area for a picnic lunch and a short hike.  This was a great little spot to stop and stretch our legs while hiking along the Tye River and Deception Creek.

Deception Falls:  <1 mile round trip / 50′ elevation gain

img_1436

Deception Falls Trail, Deception Falls National Recreation Area, WA

img_1449

Deception Falls Trail, Deception Falls National Recreation Area, WA

img_1460

Deception Falls Trail, Deception Falls National Recreation Area, WA

img_1438

Deception Creek, Deception Falls National Recreation Area, WA

img_1457

Deception Falls, Deception Falls, National Recreation Area, WA

 

The Lower Enchantments – Car Camping and Day Hiking: Part 1

 

IMG_6927.JPG

Lake Stuart, The Enchantments, Alpine Lakes Wilderness, WA

As the summer was nearing its’ end here in the Pacific Northwest, my husband and I were itching to get outdoors a few more times.  Last month we woke up to a beautiful, sunny Saturday in Seattle with no agenda.  We spontaneously threw our camping gear in the car and headed east over Stevens Pass.  Our plan was to head into Leavenworth for a few supplies and go from there.  As we approached Leavenworth, we noticed smoke filling the skies above the city.  A large fire was burning alongside the hills to the northeast of town.  Helicopters were scooping large buckets of water out of the Wenatchee River to dump onto the fire and emergency vehicles were coming into Leavenworth from all directions.

After a brief stop in town for supplies, we stopped at a local coffee shop and asked our barista for camping suggestions.  She led us towards Icicle Road explaining that it was the best camping around.  Without knowing it, she had led us straight into the Enchantments for our very first time!  I have read about The  Enchantments online, and even applied for a backpacking permit in the lottery this year, but didn’t actually know where it was located.  The drive along Icicle Road is breathtaking as it winds its’ way through the valley along Icicle Creek.  Craggy mountain peaks surrounded us in every direction.  Out of curiosity, we stopped at a trail-head parking lot only to find we were at the entrance into the Enchantments via Snow Lakes.  What I have only read about until this point, was now directly in front in me!  I was almost giddy from the excitement of wanting to hike these trails.  I snapped a quick picture of the map at the trail-head before hopping back in the car.

img_6919

Trail-head Map, The Enchantments, Alpine Lakes Wilderness, WA

Our plan was to find a camping spot along Icicle Road and take a short evening hike as the sun set…but unfortunately, things didn’t go exactly as planned.  Every, single camping site was full (with the exception of dispersed camping which we weren’t prepared for.)  We made our way all the way to the end of the road stopping at each campground checking availability.  As we headed into one of the most beautiful areas on one of the most beautiful weekends in the PNW that morning, we were prepared for this.  Our backup plan was to head into Leavenworth and have a local brew and use the breweries’ WiFi to find a hotel to crash in for the night.  Before heading back out of the valley, we stopped at a quite picnic spot to enjoyed dinner beside Icicle Creek.  By the time we arrived back in Leavenworth, the sun had completely disappeared behind the mountains.

It was when we finally arrived back in town that our plan really started to fall apart.  The fire that had starting burning earlier that day had the entire city without cell service and WiFi.  After enjoying a quick pint at Icicle Brewing Company and discovering our latest challenge, my husband and I made our way around town on foot hoping to find cell signal or accommodations.  In one brief moment of cell service, we sadly discovered that every, single hotel room was booked in town.  Our last hope was to see if the KOA had availability or was even open that late at night, as it was nearing 10:00 pm.

We pulled into the KOA full of doubt, but to our surprise the campground was open and had plenty of availability.  There was one minor problem – the campground was on a Level 2 Evacuation because of the fire burning on the hilltops just across the river from the campground.  This meant we would need to be ready to evacuate within 15 minutes if notified at any time during the night.  Preferring not to make the drive back to Seattle at such a late hour, we set up camp and the Leavenworth KOA and called it home for the night.  My husband and I reminisced about our very first camping trip in WA during a vacation over four years ago.  Before calling it a night, we took a short hike down to the Wenatchee River that flows alongside the campground.  Across the river along the tops of the hills, the glow of the fire could be seen against the nights’ sky.

The next morning we woke up safe and sound, and were excited to head back into the Enchantments for a day hike.  After a quick breakfast, we broke camp and made our way into the mountains once again. Now that I knew I was going hiking in the Enchantments, I looked in my WTA backpack and found the hike description for Lake Stuart.  I have seen many pictures of this hike online, and now it was time to see it for myself.  We drove back down Icicle Road this time turning onto Eightmile Road towards the trail-head.   Our car climbed deeper into the mountains along a narrow, dusty forest road.  As we pulled into a mostly full parking lot, we were thankful to have arrived early enough to have access to a space to park our car.

Lake Stuart:  9 miles round trip / 1665′ elevation gain

It was the perfect day for hiking in the PNW!  We were filled with energy as we stepped into this new and unfamiliar territory known as the Enchantments.  The first two miles of trail are shared with hikers headed to Colchuck Lake, a much steeper hike up into a different valley.  We chose to hike to Lake Stuart in hopes that it would be a little less crowded since it is a slightly less popular destination.  The trail was packed with trail runners zipping by as they made they way back towards the parking lot from an unknown distance out of the mountains.  It was not our intention to run this trail, but the excitement of trail runners grinning as they ran by had us pumped to do the same.  We decided right away we would hike up to Lake Start and trail run our way back down.  We continued along the trail slowly climbing into the valley switching back and forth between trees and boulders.  At some point we stopped for a quick snack and watched a squirrel break for lunch as well.

img_1363

Squirrel, The Enchantments, Alpine Lakes Wilderness, WA

It wasn’t long before Lake Stuart came into view and dominated the landscape.  The blue waters reflected the craggy mountain peaks and the bright green grass along the shoreline.  I quickly ran to the edge of the water and took off my socks and shoes.  The cold water felt amazing on my tired feet from the hike up.  As I dug my toes into the sand, I noticed specks of glittery flashes reflecting from the sun.  With further investigation, my husband and I noticed tiny specks of gold like flakes all throughout the sand along lakeside.  I hate to make such a cliche statement, but it truly was an enchanting place!

img_1372

Lake Stuart, The Enchantments, Alpine Lakes Wilderness, WA

 

img_1367

Lake Stuart, The Enchantments, Alpine Lakes Wilderness, WA

 

img_1368

Lake Stuart, The Enchantments, Alpine Lakes Wilderness, WA

After a quick lunch, I slipped my shoes back on ready to explore the trail along the shoreline of the lake.  Perfect little camping spots were tucked beneath the trees along the edges of the water.  Large boulders jut out into the water creating the perfect viewing spots with mountain peaks in every direction.

img_1382

My husband enjoying the view of Lake Stuart, The Enchantments, Alpine Lakes Wilderness, WA

 

img_6929

A perfect day in The Enchantments, Alpine Lakes Wilderness, WA

We knew at some point we would have to leave the beauty of the lake behind us, but were excited about the adventure of running back towards the trail-head.  With our packs strapped on tightly, we headed down the trail filled with enthusiasm.  Since I had not been trail running on a regular basis, I cautiously picked each step between the rocks and tree  roots that covered the pathway.  As I gained confidence, I picked up my pace as the trail zigged and zagged its’ way through the valley.  Like the runners I had seen earlier in the day, I was now grinning from ear to ear myself – this was my happy place!  Just as I was feeling most confident in my footing, rocks suddenly slid beneath my feet causing me to dive forward onto the ground.  I quickly pulled myself up off the rocks as to avoid embarrassment from the nearby hikers.  I took a short glance at my right elbow and saw a stream of blood pouring down my forearm.  At this point, I thought it’d be best to ignore the pain and just finish the hike at a slightly slower pace.

It wasn’t long before the cars in the parking lot came into view, and our journey in the Enchantments was ending.  My husband doctored the few wounds from my earlier crash including two cuts on my arm, a small gash on my pinky finger, and a little road rash on my knees.  Even with my small injuries, the hike to Lake Stuart was one of my favorites to date!  I knew that was the first of many adventures I was going to have in the Enchantments.  As we headed back to Seattle, we instantly began making plans for the following holiday weekend to return to the Alpine Lakes Wilderness.

Return to Shi Shi Beach Wilderness Backpacking

IMG_6569

Shi Shi Beach, Olympic National Park, WA

3 days, 2 nights / 8 miles round trip / 200′ elevation gain

Last month my teenage nephew visited from Texas and I wanted to take him on his first backpacking trip.  I knew that Shi Shi Beach would be the perfect destination for a first timer.  We left Seattle as the sun was rising with hopes of arriving at the coast in the late morning.  As we drove closer to Neah Bay, the weather grew dreary with cloud filled skies.  The beginning of this journey was looking very similar to my first trip to Shi Shi Beach earlier this summer.  When we arrived at the day use parking area, I knew we’d be hiking in the rain once again.  After dropping off my nephew with all of our gear at the trailhead, I parked the car at the nearest private lot and walked back.

IMG_6548

My nephew and I at the Shi Shi Beach trailhead, Olympic National Park, WA

We hit the trail in the early afternoon and enjoyed splashing around the muddy puddles along the way.  It wasn’t long before we were done tromping through the mud before we arrived at the section of the trail that heads down towards the beach.  Even though I had hiked this section before, I was nervous about the additional weight I was carrying.  While I usually only carry around 25 pounds, this time I was carrying twice as much!  I powered through the anxiety and cautiously made my way down the trail.  All of my anxieties of the steep trail were washed away instantly as we stepped onto the beach.  The rain had stopped and left the sky filled with clouds.  The two of us hiked along the shoreline of the beach with plans to camp closer to Point of the Arches.  After crossing Petroleum Creek, we looked for a spot to set up camp on the beach close to our water source.

The sunsets at Shi Shi Beach are what called me back to visit once again.  I loved having the opportunity to share the experience with my nephew.  I spent over an hour of that evening attempting to build my first fire on my own.  All of the wood was soaked from the days’ rain, and it wasn’t long before I gave up.  Exhaustion from a day of hiking drove us to  the comfort of our tents early that night.

IMG_6572

My nephew watching the sunset on Shi Shi Beach, Olympic National Park, WA

IMG_6574

Point of the Arches sunset, Shi Shi Beach, Olympic National Park, WA

The next morning I was wakened by the sun warming my tent.  I let the teenager sleep in while I enjoyed my morning coffee and read a book.  I enjoyed the solitude, but was happy when my nephew finally crawled out of his tent.  I was excited to explore Point of the Arches and farther south down the beach.  After breakfast, we packed a lunch and headed out for a day of beach hiking.

IMG_6578

My nephew and I with Point of the Arches, Shi Shi Beach, Olympic National Park, WA

IMG_6579

View from beach south of Point of the Arches, Olympic National Park, WA

P1010279

View from Point of the Arches, Olympic National Park, WA

P1010292

Peace rocks, Shi Shi Beach, Olympic National Park, WA

P1010297

View from beach south of Point of the Arches, Olympic National Park, WA

P1010289

View from beach south of Point of the Arches, Olympic National Park, WA

P1010290

View from beach south of Point of the Arches, Olympic National Park, WA

P1010298

Point of the Arches, Olympic National Park, WA

After exploring the beach south of Point of the Arches, we headed towards a picnic spot in the shade near an arch.  As we were getting ready to unpack our lunch, we noticed an eagle flying along the beach.  It appeared to be fighting with another bird as it made its’ way along the shoreline.  It landed on a rock and we noticed feathers flying all around it.  That’s when we realised the eagle was preparing its’ lunch as well.  After we enjoyed our picnic, we took off our shoes and explored the tide pools in our bare feet.  The feeling of the cool Pacific Ocean and sand between our toes was welcoming on a hot, sunny day.

P1010309

Bald eagle, Point of the Arches, Olympic National Park, WA

We arrived back at our campsite in the mid afternoon, and we decided to relax beside Petroleum Creek in the shade.  I read a little more of my book while my nephew took a nap by the creekside.  Once he was rested, we played a few games including bocce ball and Pass the Pigs.  We finally peeled ourselves away from the shaded area among the trees and headed back to our sun filled campsite.  After dinner I was determined to make a fire after the previous nights’ failure.  I spent another hour trying to build a fire without success.  I had almost given up, but after one last try – I finally made fire!  As the sunset and the temperatures dropped we enjoyed the warmth of the fire into the late hours of the night.

IMG_6583

The first fire I have ever made by myself!  Shi Shi Beach, Olympic National Park, WA

IMG_6587

Sunset in front of a fire, Shi Shi Beach, Olympic National Park, WA

We woke on our last morning to a cloudy, misty day.  We decided to wait for breakfast once we got to the tree covered area of the trail, and packed up as quickly as we could.  As we packed, everything was damp and sandy.  Even though I was happy to hike under a cloud filled sky since the previous day had left me slightly sunburned, the rain was not welcomed.

IMG_6593

Crossing Petroleum Creek, Shi Shi Beach, Olympic National Park, WA

IMG_6599

A doe and two fawn, Shi Shi Beach, Olympic National Park, WA

IMG_6600

Looking down the trail back towards Shi Shi Beach, Olympic National Park, WA

We crawled up towards the forested section of the trail, and were happy to have our feet on solid ground.  Two days of hiking on the sandy beach had exhausted certain muscles in my legs.  The last two miles back through the muddy trail seemed to fly by, and in no time we were right back where we had started two days ago.  As we loaded up our gear into the car, the skies were opening up once again.  The drive home along the Pacific Ocean and the Strait of San Juan de Fuca was filled with blue skies and good conversation with my nephew.  I hope this is a trip he will never forget; I know I won’t.