I just got back from a three-day backpacking trip over Labor Day weekend with friends, two of which I went on a five-day all-women backpacking trip in July 2013. As I was cleaning out files and emails today, I found this trip report that I never posted and it reminded me of the good times we had. I thought I’d finally share. Forewarning, it’s long. 

August 2013

“Who needs to pump?”

This was a question often asked during my five-day backpacking trip in the North Cascades National Park recently. It was an all-ladies trip, and while none of us were anywhere near nursing babies, for some reason I couldn’t help but think, “Breast pump?”

(“Pumping” was for filtering water out of streams to prevent bacteria in our drinking water).

Ah, the all woman-trip. This was my very first one (unless you count the Mt. Rainier climb, which was just another beast in itself) and it was more than I expected but also less than I expected but in a very good way.

It’d been a pretty crazy few months prior to this trip, so busy that I felt like I couldn’t catch a breath. I needed some serious solo time so badly I was contemplating bagging out of the trip a week prior and just doing a road trip down the West Coast for five days. But, I’d made the commitment months ago and it was on a weekend that (shockingly) didn’t involve training or volunteering or family commitments.

Once I started packing, I felt much better. I had a goal. I had deadlines. I had to think about the various elements we’d be in (rain/snow/cold was minimal but always considered) and what food to bring (stuff that needed hot water only). Group gear to share with the others, did I really need to bring a baggie of electrolytes, shelf bra-shirt vs shirt & sports bra, shorts or capris, hiking boots or mountaineering boots, do I really need gloves, which hat, etc.

The dinners were an issue though. I usually carry in fresh food for overnight trips, which is heavy but I don’t mind. But this was my first multi-day trip in years, so weight was an issue. My digestive system doesn’t like the huge portions in the dehydrated backpacking meals from the camping food sections at the store but in the end, due to time, that’s what I had to go with. For some reason, my head was so determined that those meals had to be cooked in the foil pouches they come in, it wasn’t until 10 miles into the trip at our first camp site that I realized I could dump them out, divide them in half for separate meals. I did just that and, imagine that, my stomach wasn’t upset after eating half a package.

The itinerary – start at Hannegan Pass trailhead near Mt. Baker, hike 17 miles (over two days) to Whatcom Pass. Spend two nights there, attempt Whatcom Peak and/or visit Taptos Lakes, then hike out the 17 miles (over two days) to the car. Total mileage was about 35-40 miles with total elevation gained and lost, 10,000-12,000 feet.

The group consisted of five women, ages ranging from 30s to 70s. Some of us hiked faster than others, some of us enjoyed the destination more than the trek, some of us preferred climbing straight up instead of switchbacking, some of us liked to hike solo. At the end of the day, none of these things mattered as we sat around the camp stove sharing stories, advice (on both outdoor and non-outdoor experiences) and laughing at each other (like my 5 lbs. bag of oatmeal, which, ironically, I despise).

My favorite moment of the entire trip was the last night, after we’d set up the tents at Copper Creek Camp but weren’t ready for dinner. We were sitting by the creek, passing around the last of the pomegranate liquor. The trees were far-reaching into the cloudless sky, the creekbed was wide, but the rushing water wasn’t deafening. The water temperature was perfect for a quick bath and soaking our worn feet. I was thinking how a portion of civilization wishes they were doing this right now. It hit me how fortunate I was to have the strength, health and opportunity to be in this environment at this moment. I was in the company of some incredibly strong female mountaineers whose accomplishments I admired. Yet, at the same time, it was just five women hanging out as comfortably as we would in the backyard of someone’s house.

Highlights of the trip:

Hiking speed – yeah, I’m one of those who likes to zoom up the hill. After spending seven years of trying to keep up with 6′ tall guys, you kinda learn to step it up a bit, no matter the weight on the back. But this trip had no guys. And it had no speed. And we all got to the same place at the same time, no matter how fast any of us went. Some of us could have jumped ahead and said, see ya at camp, but what’s the fun in that? You miss out on conversations, laughter and learning from each other. I also used the opportunity to do what one should on a vacation (since this pretty much WAS my summer vacation) – slow down and purposefully wander toward camp.

Cable Car Crossing – Between U.S. Cabin and Graybeal Camp, the creek is too big to ford, so a cable car system has been set up to haul yourself and your pack a couple hundred feet above and across the creek.

Whatcom Peak – one of the “To Do” items on the itinerary was to climb Whatcom Peak, at the most northern end of the Picket Range, which has a reputation for being a beautiful area but difficult to access. As we hiked in and Whatcom Peak loomed above us, all I saw was the north side of the peak – a knife-edge ridge with thousands of feet of exposure. The idea was to climb it while roped up, using flukes for running belays on the snow and webbing and slings to hook around rocks as we climbed. I had an idea about the techniques but had never done this “hook around rocks” type of climbing before and was a little nervous. The whole time I had that north side of the peak in my view, I kept thinking, “Oh god, I hope we’re not climbing that and that we’re climbing the snow ramp on the south side of the peak.”

The night before the climb, we pulled out maps and explored our options: climb that knife-edge ridge or do the traverse around the peak to the south side, which involved climbing the Challenger Glacier, the latter of which I was definitely more comfortable.

When we started out the next morning, we decided to try the traverse first, but as we got closer to the glacier, the only safe place to cross it was completely crevassed. So we turned around and headed toward the knife ridge. My stomach started to drop. The hike up to the base of the peak was lovely, fun rock scrambling and a little snow travel. But the last half-hour toward our decision point, my stomach kept dropping. We finally stopped at the base of the peak, dropped our packs and stared upward.

Fay, the 70-something mountaineer who is regionally famous for being a bad-ass climber, looked at me and said, “Tiffany, tell me what you think, honestly.”

“Fay, for the past 30 minutes, I’ve been scared shitless.”

“Oh, good, then I wasn’t the only one.”

After a good 20 minutes of solid contemplation, what-ifs, if-onlys, and I-wasn’t-expecting-that-much-exposure discussions, we decided to call it and turn around. Beth joined Maria at Taptos Lakes, Fay and I climbed to an unnamed high point, after which I decided to call it a day and headed back down to the lakes (lunch, nap and lake time sounded awesome) while Fay joined Eileen on Red Face Mountain for a quick summit.

Then the five of us spent the rest of the afternoon napping at the lake until about 6 p.m., when we decided the black flies/mosquitos/no-see-ums at camp would have tapered down a little.

At that point, I decided that this trip qualified for the perfect vacation:

Luggage

Good food

Good beverages

Good company

Unique locale with amazing views

Away from home

Perfect weather

Adventure

Very little money spent

I later blurted out this list to Maria in the car and she said, “What? Where? Sign me up!”

“You just had that vacation.”

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