Dirty Paws and Mountain Sound: The Northern Cascades

The early bird gets the worm, or so the saying goes. Up with the sun, the three of us girls, Libby, Kathleen and myself, were ready and excited for the hiking and camping that was ahead of us. We quickly packed up our packs, purchased bagels and coffee and headed to meet up with the boys at Dan’s place. The sky was cloudy and grey with the occasional rain droplets forming on the windshield. The weather had promised no rain for the weekend but I wasn’t about to hold my breath for that one.

Arriving at Dan’s, he passed out gear that we still needed then we were on our way. We split into a car full of girls and a truck of the three boys and Dan’s dog, Charlie. Setting out on the I-5 toward Everett we were cruising at a good rate until our first stop for gasoline. After one stop, it opens the door for many, many stops after that. We needed food for then night so another pit stop at the grocery store was a must. 3 more stops after that, the girls were starting to wonder if we would ever get where we were going. 03 - IMG_9197

One quick right turn, our phones suddenly dropped all service and we were technology-less, winding our way through the Northern Cascades towards Mt. Baker Lake. The stunning Pacific Northwest views had everyone glued to the windows as we curved through the trees. Sunshine peeking through the treetops, my thoughts were finally confirmed that indeed Washington and the PNW reminded every one a bit of New Zealand- which seemed fitting for this adventure. We carefully and slowly followed a gravel road; dodging large pot holes every few feet. Deeper and deeper we drove into the Cascades, passing trailheads and fellow campers.

When we pulled up to our trailhead, it was like stepping into the light. Surrounding us were the greenest trees I’ve seen in a long time. A thin layer of smoky clouds came half way down the mountain creating a cool effect of patters against the nature. Stepping out of the car, my legs were cramped from sitting for so long. The drive was only meant to take 3ish hours from Seattle, but seemed much, much longer with the pit stops. I was ready to get into the woods, set up camp, drink some wine and enjoy the company with my friends.

Dan took the lead, dividing up the food and supplies amongst the rest of the group. Even Charlie had his own pack in which he would carry his food, water dish and some Advil so that Dan could hear where he was when he went off exploring. The hike started off easily enough. Flat lands, as promised by the boys. They had previously told us it should be an easy 4.5 mile hike- no problem, we’ve done way more than that before! WRONG. Oh, so wrong. 08 - IMG_6479

The group started the hike together. Dan, Marissa and Charlie slightly taking a lead but for the most part we were all on the same page. Taking our time, enjoying the mossy overgrown, the fallen beauties and the contrast of the man made bridges against the rushing rivers of blues and greens. It didn’t take long before Kathleen and I were left in the dust of every one else. Within the second mile of the hike, we had somehow found ourselves, alone. It’s not like either one of us are especially slow humans, yet somehow, we are always left behind. It probably doesn’t help that one of Eric’s legs is as long as our entire bodies and that Dan is a trained mountaineer. We both knew it would happen so we just laughed and embraced it. At least we had each other!

Somewhere after 2 hours of hiking, we both began to complain. A lot. The 30 pounds of crap we were lugging around on our backs were making us uncomfortable- digging into our shoulder blades and thumping along our backsides. We were miserable. Why do we always think that this is something we can and should do? We want to be able to hang with the big hikers/campers so badly but we just can’t do it. The only positive that we could see at this point was that the weather was perfect. Sixty degrees was the ideal temperatures for the amount of hiking we were set up for that day. 04 - IMG_9214

Through the trees we went. Slipping and sliding around the wet and rocky terrain, knowing our way only thanks to the muddy paw prints Charlie left behind. Out in nature with my source of communication to the outside world, I found myself getting lost in my own thoughts. Sometimes too much freedom to think can be a bad thing. My anxieties were taking over- what was I going to do next, I need to add this and this to my to-do list, what if things don’t work out, how do I know I’m doing the right thing. Even when we are on the run from our brain, it can always find a way to keep up. Thankfully, Kathleen pulled me from my own thoughts and brought me back to the moment.

Back in my reality, I remember why I was checking out. Real life was awful. My legs were cramping, my back was spazzing and I was ready to just sit down. However, there isn’t another person I would rather be miserable, wet and outside with. Both Kathleen and I agreed that if we had to be miserable with someone else, we were glad it was one another. With the two of us, there is no fear of judging, we could complain as much as we wanted without the other casting judgment. Instead, we could share laughs about how miserable we were. Laughing back to how miserable we were during some of our adventures in New Zealand, I knew before we even began that this would be a memory and moment we would be laughing about years from now- similar to the downpour of Milford Sound.

The first time we saw Libby and Marissa we were so excited. Unfortunately, they didn’t hang long and soon were off again and we were left with nothing but paw prints to follow. The weather kept cool and we were shaded by the over grown trees. Exploring a small cave and recreating the drinking of the glacier water photo from New Zealand we entertained ourselves for moments at a time.

After what felt like at least 5 miles, we came to a fork in the road. One path led down to the lake and one continued up the mountains. All I could think was, please, my God, please let us take the one down to the lake. Standing at the top we both screamed out, “DAAAANNNN!!!!” and waited for a response. Through the trees we heard a man’s response, “What?!”

“Dan!! Where do we go?”

“I don’t know!”

“DAN! We are at the top do we come down?”

Silence

Dog Barking

“Charlie? Charlie, come here!” It felt like we were screaming for nothing. 12 - IMG_9295

The stranger’s voice we finally realized wasn’t Dan’s and the dog’s bark wasn’t Charlie’s. We half drudged on half-heartedly. We both thought we would have been camping by now and the last thing we wanted to do was climb up hill with no idea where we were going.

Soon, the path took us the opposite direction from the lake, which left us feeling a bit discouraged. Not long after that, the path grew very thing and soon become covered with plants, trees and weeds. WE started to joke that someone was pranking us. Is this seriously the hike we were on? There wasn’t a path anymore! How in the world we were supposed to know where we were going? We started to shout for Dan and Libby. Hoping that someone would hear us and respond. No luck. We joked about how at least wen we arrived, camp would already be set up for us and we could just bust into the s’mores and wine- wishful thinking on our end.

We finally thought we caught a break. We came to another fork in the road only this time; Eric and Paul were standing there with smiles on their faces. We had made it! Or, so we thought. They informed us the others went to start setting up fro camp. We smiled to one another, had our plan worked? Suddenly Charlie came running up, tail a’waggin and doggie smile on his face. We were so happy to see this pup we almost didn’t notice the other three come up, with their packs still on. Uh oh. Packs on the back meant that camp was not being set up anytime soon.

Onward march Dan informed us. Since it was Memorial Day, the woods and lake were growing crowded with campers, making it hard for us to find a space of our own. Another mile into the woods we went. Trying not to complain, at least there were four of us together so Kathleen and I didn’t feel so slow. Libby told us how she was feeling just as miserable- her pack was starting to bother her. We needed to take these dumb things off, set up camp and soon before we all started to get extremely irritable.

The next time we saw Charlie, again, we thought that we had made it to camp. Nope. The boys were just turning around. Back and forth we went, adding on mile after mille. After nearly ten miles of hiking we finally said enough. The four girls were exhausted. Dan and Eric could sense that we were feeling defeated and tired. 15 - IMG

“Why don’t you girls just rest here for awhile, take off your packs, bust into that bottle of Fireball. Eric and I will go ahead and find the perfect spot for us.”

Without any disagreements we all plopped down right in the center of the path. Kathleen and I immediately busted out the Fireball and the five of us began passing it around. About half a bottle in, the boys came back- packless and with smiles on their faces. FINALLY. They led us to our new home for the weekend. Leading us to a make shift path they had created, marked with a water bottle, we walked through the bushes and trees to a small clearing the in woods. Dan turned to us and said, “Ladies, this is what we like to call a fixer upper but it’s going to be great.”

Showing us around our new home, they had the three girls set up our tent in the softest land in the middle of the trees. Eric and Paul each set up their tents close by, up the hill a bit but in the woods. Dan and Marissa took the spot near the water. Everyone was happy, especially Charlie who splashed around in the water. I don’t believe I have ever seen a happier pup.

No time to relax, yet. Before we could completely unwind, we had to set up camp. Libby took charge and ordered Kathleen and I to come and help her. She was on to us. Back in New Zealand, Kathleen and I would be laughing too much to ever help; she wasn’t about to let us get away with that now. The three of us took one look at the tent and I immediately started cracking up. We had no idea what we were doing. No directions to follow, we just started clipping pieces in. Stepping back to admire our work, the three of us were laughing so hard. It was just all-wrong. The “tent” we had set up was about 3 feet high and had a lop-sided top. Nothing remotely close to what a tent should look like. Taking deep breaths to try to control the laughter, we tried again. This time, we managed to figure it out.

Back at the waterfront, the boys were trying to get a fire started. The ground, sticks and branches were damp from the PNW moist air and leftover rain residue yet they somehow managed. Bravo boys! Charlie was hilarious to watch. He would sit on the edge of the water, gazing into the mountains as if he was contemplating his dog life. What a cutie. Unloading the food was the next step. Brats and corn to grill over the fire was on the menu. Kathleen and I of course, also needed s’mores. We opted out of brats once we saw the smashed meat. It looked less than appealing. Libby managed to make them taste good. She found a nice stick and slowly roasted them one by one. Wrapping in a tortilla, we had home made camping sandwiches, none for me thank you.

Laughs and chatter consumed the night as the sun fell and the sky grew darker. We began to pass around our bags of wine, exchanging tales of the past four years and memories of our last gathering. For every s’more Kathy and I made for everyone, we made two for ourselves. Soon, we were filled with sticky goodness- so much for a proper diet.

Settling in, I couldn’t help but smile and feel very thankful for what was around me. As miserable as the day was, it was always so worth it. The peaceful lake and cascades in front of me, dark wondrous woods behind me and best friends beside me; there wasn’t a better way to spend Memorial Day weekend. My only regret in that moment was that we had allowed so much time to pass between our visits. The gang or ‘family’ as we called ourselves had made a promise that we would start to get together each year. Even though the weekend was just getting started, I was already sad that it would soon be ending. For now, I was just going to sit back, eat, drink and laugh while I had the chance. We spent the night doing just that.

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