WA Cascades: Redefining the Big Trip click images for large pics/nwest

While not Big in the length or depth department, this mid-August 2005 trip into the central Washington Cascades was Big for another important reason. My friend Lórien*, a woman who had enjoyed hiking but never tried backpacking, was about to take her first Big step into the wilderness. Three of us planned to go, and Kristine (from the 2004 Sierra trip) was spending a final night in Portland while Lórien and I finished our preparations - only to find that her backpack was Way too big for her! She was doubly disappointed since a former friend (and REI employee) had assured her that it was a great fit; it was not her first disappointment from him but definitely the last. I reluctantly called Kristine and told her that the trip wouldn't happen; it probably helped that I woke her at 10:30 to tell her this, so it hurt less at the time. After a night's sleep Lórien and I decided to try salvaging the trip by seeking another pack; we succeeded but at the cost of another day that we'd rather have spent hiking. Finally on Saturday we headed toward Stevens Pass and the Surprise Creek trail.

We arrived at the crowded trailhead in midafternoon and were underway on a hot, sunny day. Soon we were in the shade of tall trees, which was much preferred! The trail begins with plenty of plank stairs among the bogs, adjacent to huge but thankfully fragrantly-exhausted skunk cabbage. The trail crossed Surprise Creek on flattened logs and worked steadily uphill, passing through hot sunny stretches that were lush and buggy. We fought through several sections like this before the shady trees afforded us our breaks! On the other hand.. the lush areas were amazingly abundant with huckleberries, salmonberries and thimble-berries available every few minutes as we moved up the trail. The sun worked its way down toward the horizon as we ascended, and it set before we reached the lake; it couldn't be much further, but we found a small campsite adjacent to the trail and decided to set up for the night. We were now limited to a single night's stay, and were disappointed that we were short of the lake - but we knew it was a short day-hike away in any case, and wanted Lórien's first night of backpacking to be easy and not one where setting up was performed in total darkness. Well OK, we were also pooped and ready to crash, so that made for two good reasons to stop!
Once the sleeping quarters were arranged I went to work on dinner - that did not take long, since neither of the two lighters made an appearance!! I still have not found the primary one, and we later learned that the backup was safely stored at Lórien's home. I also searched without success for my headlamp; that was sitting at my home adjacent to where I type this now. I had loaned Lórien my backup light, so we were fine - but we would be eating our spare lunch-food for dinner. She accepted this without complaint, like a true backpacking veteran, and the error was a humorous event since we would not be going hungry (and breakfast would not require a stove). We soon were close enough to full and ready to rest up for the next day's work.

Sunday I awoke to a blinding, nausea-inducing headache, fairly reminiscent of my 1993 Sierra experience with altitude sickness. While waiting rather impatiently for the ibuprofen to kick in, Lórien took the lead and converted the soymilk powder into something vaguely milk-like and we munched our cereal while contemplating our options. She also pumped water and pampered me, suggesting that we needn't go higher to see the lake if I didn't feel like it - though it would be nice. I recovered a bit and we decided to take a day-pack and see the sights further up before retreating. Sure enough, within 15 minutes we could see we were at lake-level, and soon we were visiting Surprise Lake. We sat a bit on the shoreline while I pretended to feel better than I did, then headed back to prepare for the 4-mile descent. We packed in no particular hurry and began the trip to the car.

Let's be blunt about this: Lórien lived essentially at sea-level in low country, and other than staircases and some bicycling I had done little to prepare for this hike. We were soon feeling the pain of the descent, and Lórien's left knee began to ache. I gave her my spare knee-bandage that I bring to conquer the ache that often attacks my right knee.. and soon my left knee began to complain as well! [My knees never could get straight which was the bad one; on several Sierra trips one or the other complained and later I could never remember which was the cranky one.] As we neared the car our pace became slower, but at last the car came in sight and we managed that last steep pitch and stumbled to the comfort of the well-padded car seats. Lórien slept a bit on the way back home and I kept myself going with thoughts of the Mexican restaurant that awaited us near her home.

Despite the miscues and pains to head and knees, this was a successful trip. Not only did Lórien perform admirably, she had a great time - and the pain taught her the importance of better preparation and also closer scrutiny to the planned route. We had been planning a much tougher walk with Kristine, which would in retrospect have been a very miserable experience; while we missed her company, we know that next time we will be more careful and allow our knees to enjoy the entire trip and not just the uphill part!

* aka Tinúviel, from our first meeting at the 2004 Oregon Star Party