Sunday, July 19, 2009

Music in the Mountains

A relaxed trip was how it was advertised. A 2-day backpack into Bean Creek Basin in the Teanaways at a leisurely pace; I was concerned I would have too much experience to fit in. At first, that was true, as the people I talked to were on their first or second overnight trip. We waited well past the meet up time of 8:30 at the Park & Ride in Seattle, then did the same in Issaquah. If this had been a piece of music, the tempo would be Largo, molti Largo, as in- as slow as you can get. It was just a little frustrating as my Type A personality (and other's, too) tried to relax and just let things happen but the conductor in me was falling asleep at the podium, baton falling from my hand.

We finally got on the trail some time after noon. The way was very hot and dusty and steep in spots. But we took breaks, lots of breaks, although we moved at a decent pace, picking up to andante. Once in camp, at a lovely setting next to Bean Creek, we all set up camp, filtered water, photographed flowers and prepared for dinner. When Jack, the leader, announced his plans for a sunset scramble up to the ridge, the tempo started to pick up more syeadily, which is not to say that we were rushing, but at least we were setting goals within time constraints, moving into the moderato tempo.

On the trail, it felt like the tempo was Allegro; or maybe that was just my heart pounding in my chest. I hadn't scrambled in a long time and had only been on one other backpack trip this year, not giving my legs enough time to transition from cycling. Jack was a good leader, as he stopped at regular intervals so we could regroup and rest shortly (presto), before setting off again. Up a steep section with loose rock we went and soon (gasp!) topped out on the ridge, with the sun and wind beaming down on us while a knock-dead view of Mt Stuart and the Stuart Range lay ahead.

In the morning, it was time for another adventure after breakfast and we took off toward the ridge near Earl Peak. From that ridge, we were able to see more of the Stuart Range and those who wanted to go higher did. For me, the day's attitude was moderato and so I lingered on the ridge, soaking in the views. After the knee-shaking descent (I often sing to myself while descending), we were back in the flowers and packing up to break camp. On the drive out, we stopped at Jack's fave post-Mountaineer trip restaurant in Cle Elum, Los Cabos, tucked away behind the Safeway on the edge of town where I didn't pay any attention to the conductor or my baton; I just enjoyed the coolness of the a/c and the good food and companions.

The star flower of the weekend was Scarlet Paintbrush. For photos of that flower, many others and our fabulous views, go here.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Marmot Pass Backpack

Cast of Characters: 11 Mountaineers
Location: Quilcene River to Marmot Pass on the Olympic Peninsula
Time: Fourth of July Weekend in brilliant sunshine


Act One
Scene One
The whole party readies themselves for the hike up the Quilcene River trail on a hot day, then revels in the shade of big trees along the route. At the first camp, the party rests and two take advantage of a mountain see-saw while others cool off in various stages in the river. Further up the trail, the flowers take center stage, as the group notes gatherings of Columbine and Indian Paintbrush (sounds of delight). Camp Mystery is chosen for the two nights of camping and tents go up at various rates of speed, transforming the area into a small village. This is followed shortly by copious amounts of food cooked and passed around by each member of the party- a veritable smorgasbord. When the food must be hung in a tree, a couple of women make futile attempts, then ask one of the men, who swiftly and accurately throws up 4 lines over a high branch.

Scene Two
On the second day, everyone gathers up their day-hiking gear and sets out for Marmot Pass at 6,000', enjoying views and flowers on the walk. At the Pass, there are decisions to be made about the party's dayhike destination and so 3 delegates are elected to lobby for each of their chosen destinations. Views and an easy-to-attain lake are chosen and the group sets off for Buckhorn Lake.
Swimmers, in various stages of undress, interrupt the fisherwoman floating around the lake in an inflatable raft. One of the guys holds the record for longest swim.

Act Two
Scene One
One of the women is dissatisfied with the quality of the food bag rope in the tree and makes attempt to refine the way it hangs. A crowd gathers to watch the woman. The rock clears the branch but does not drop down low enough for even the tallest of the women to grab. Attempts are made with a large branch to pull the rock down, with mixed results (laughter). A different woman uses the branch with success and, in trying to put the branch down on the ground, pulls the opposite end of the rope so the rock rises back to its original height. One of the spectators falls on the ground, laughing and panting. The remainder stand and laugh but give a cheer when the pair of women have success with their rope/rock scenario.

Scene Two
The date is the Fourth of July and a few of the party talk of going up to Marmot Pass to watch fireworks in the distance. After some peer pressure, 4 women depart up the trail, with warm clothes and headlamps. The fireworks are very small and short of spectacular but it is a beautiful night. While descending toward camp, the women hear a noise behind them and presume it is an animal but keep hiking. The woman in front turns arounds, claims she sees an animal's eyes and strides off down the trail, leaving the other three to fend for themselves. Shortly thereafter, a man with a dog and no headlamp passes them in silence.

Act Three
Scene One
The group packs up their gear to hike out to civilization. It is only then that a few make the revelation that, against the wishes of the trip leader, they each made an excursion up to the Pass for another view. The leader is happy that they all made it back without incident and shows no emotion. The party hikes out, making one more stop at the lower camp to cool off in the river. At the trailhead, there is much transformation, as most people brought a change of clothes. Hugs go all around as everyone says goodbye and gets into their cars.

Scene Two
One car of five women gets stuck in traffic 20 miles from the ferry. By the time they reach the ferry ticket booth and the attendant tells them they will get on the next boat, they cheer and clap, just likethey did when the rope was freed in the tree. This time, though, the attendant takes a bow.
For more photos of this drama, go here.