High Water

Wet Planet Whitewater
~4000 cfs, 8 miles, Class III-IV

Go Pro: meet Andy. Andy: meet Go Pro.

It has been a water year. Rain, rain and more rain. Snow in the mountains. And all this water has to return to the ocean sometime, somehow, some way.

Hello, White Salmon.


Swift Creek Ski Trail TO Chocolate Falls
Mount Saint Helens National Monument
~4.5 miles, ~1000 feet elevation gain

I have been suffering from numerous hike fails lately. Lingering, low snow levels combined with poor planning and research on my part have led to many a thwarted hike attempt. As such, I was getting itchy: restless for movement, for solitude and especially for the feel of the high country, that indefinable, elusive quality of the high alpine where I settle into a true calm, a sense of expansiveness, the character and nature of the world beyond comprehension, fathomless and absolutely breathtaking in its power and beauty.

In a need to conquer my itch-to-get-outside, I had ambitiously been planning for Andy and me to backpack the Loowit Trail, a thirty-four mile circumnavigation around the base of Mount Saint Helens, over the July fourth holiday weekend. We procured climbing permits for the fifth, the ideal trip being to explore the base of our lovely local lady prior to making a summit push (weather permitting) at the end of the loop.

All the SNOTEL readings and Forest Service warnings of snow, snow, snow! could not convince me that this trip wasn’t possible. Clearly I have no faith in the government’s ability to accurately forecast actual conditions in the mountains. And yet, I kept smacking my head against the proverbial Hike FAIL Wall. So, due to all those thwarted hike attempts and in an attempt to see what we were up against with conditions, reconnaissance it was.

We weren’t planning a long day so after a relaxed morning we arrived at the Marble Mountain Sno-Park around 12:30pm. Several people were camping around the parking lot and a conglomeration of returning climbers, a blazing sun, warm temperatures and absolutely no snow to speak of greeted us. Still, the gate just beyond Marble Mountain remains closed with rumor of high snow drifts still on the road. Climber’s Bivouac, the summer climb jumping off point for the Monitor Ridge Trail up Helen’s south side, also remains closed, and, according to a nice ranger I met, is still under about seven feet of dense white stuff. Huh.

Starting up the Swift Creek Ski Trail, bare ground quickly disappeared. I was humbled by how soon we hit patches of snow, which rapidly progressed into several consolidated feet of continuous snow. My hopes for the Loowit Trail this weekend were getting squashed. I actually rather enjoy hiking in snow, and I especially love the high alpine during this brief melt-off period, but backpacking and breaking trail in 34 miles of slush just isn't appealing. The Loowit Trail has a reputation for some rough sections anyway- aggravating the situation with difficult route-finding is just being a glutton for punishment. Damn.

still lots and lots of snow

About two miles from the trailhead, the route abruptly breaks clear of the forest near Swift Creek and Chocolate Falls at approximately 3,700 feet. Old lava flows, known as the Worm Flows, loom off to the side, while Mount Saint Helens rears up in front of you, Mount Adams and Mount Hood flanking her in the distance. No matter where I am or how many times I wander into the high country, I love that moment where the high country suddenly opens up before you, where you break out of the trees into seemingly endless space. There is a sense of being anchored only by your feet, a feeling of vertigo and of being very, very small against the vastness of the world. It speaks to me in a way other places do not.

Due to the exposed nature of the area, the snow was spotty, but still deep. My decision to ix-nay the Loowit Trail was confirmed during the unique experience of post-holing up to my thigh while traversing a still buried boulder field and losing my trail runner in the process. Between the snow snakes and lava rocks, my shoe was suctioned right off my foot. It posed an interesting problem: if I couldn’t get my shoe out, I was going to have to return the way I came, barefoot runner style. Last time I checked extra shoes weren’t on the list of Ten Essentials.

Lucky for me, my husband is blessed with extra-long monkey arms. Through much hissing and teeth-gritting, flat on his stomach in the slush and up to his armpit in the hole my leg had left, he managed to retrieve my shoe and gaiter.

Lesson learned. Tighten laces.

We spent the remainder of our time at Chocolate Falls, eating my new found Luna Bar flavor delight and chatting with the steady stream of climbers making their way down from the summit. Several climbers had a rip-roaring good time skiing down the mountain, and we heard them yee-hawing their approval of the day from more than a mile away. 

oh my goodness yummers

will look cute for cookies

Although our recon trip axed the Loowit Trail plan for this weekend, I hope our climb is as epic as theirs. Fingers crossed for lovely weather. It is summer after all. And yet there is always that truth that we are here only on the mountain's terms, and to maintain respect for this high world in all things. We shall see what next week brings. 


Outside of Portland, high above the Columbia River Gorge and perched on the edge of the Historic Highway, lies the Vista House.

Sometimes we just drive out to watch the sunset over the Columbia, on those long, still-spring evenings before we transition to true summer. 

Sometimes, it is the most simple and most quiet moments which will end the day on a note of absolute beauty.

Mi Ciudad

MADRID: Fri 27th – Sat 28th

Madrid. Ciudad de mi corazón. 

To explain what Madrid means to me would require a full length novel of words. For a seventeen year old from Marietta, Georgia, Madrid was a bright, colorful wonderland full of exotic, strange food, high heels and dresses, gorgeous Spanish men and women, buildings older and more artful than anything I had ever seen, cobblestone streets, histories laid upon histories, world class museums, Madrileños who never sleep and newly made, good friends, the entire atmosphere punctuated by that thick Castellano accent which made all of my high school Spanish seem absolutely null and void. 

I could write a book on my experiences here, the nooks and crannies I love, the art, the statues, the parks, my host family. We had two nights and a single day in Madrid. Not enough, not enough. We arrived at Atocha station via AVE, the high speed train; upon leaving the station I had to laugh at the sight of a bunch of Madrileños waiting for the pouring rain to pass. I suppose in most places it’s common enough to wait for the rain to pass. Having lived in Oregon for the last decade, rain is common enough. If you wait for it to pass, you’ll be waiting forever. 

Waiting for the rain to pass

Grandma and I met up with Natalia, José and Patricia for dinner that evening. After the initial, exuberant, two kiss greeting, it felt as if I had never left. There are people you meet and know in life where distances simply don’t matter. That is how I feel about this family- loud, gregarious, expressive, and jovial, they are an absolute joy, and I am thankful beyond words for them taking me into their home and sharing their love of family, food, country and culture with me. 

After dinner, we dropped Grandma off at the hotel, and my family and I went out to walk the old town. Passing old haunts along Las Huertas, Gran Vía, the Puerta del Sol full of la revolución, La Plaza Mayor always ghostly and beautiful no matter the hour. Borrachos, lovers, loud youth and refined adults crowding the streets. Madrid’s true face is the wee hours of dawn- the later you walk the streets, the busier the city becomes. 

A 7am wake up call comes early after a Friday evening in Madrid. The last day of the tour was primarily for my grandmother, as Madrid is a very intimate and well-known place for me. You just cannot see Madrid in a day- in any one of the city’s Triangle of Art museums it would be easy to spend an entire day, let alone seeing the central old city and eating at the myriad of tabernas. At this point my camera had died so no pictures of the Prado for me. Earlier in the week I toasted my straight iron crisper than dead (apparently the converter I brought didn’t habla español voltage) so I had been nervous to try to charge my one and only camera battery. Now that the camera battery was dead, I was willing to give it a go, so I rushed back to the hotel to squeeze about 20 minutes worth of charge into the battery for the rest of our day. 

For the remainder of the day, my grandmother and I toured the Royal Palace as she is completely enamored by old world charm and wealth. We then wandered the old heart of the city, traipsed along cobblestone streets, peered into windows and churches and took in the lunchtime crowd at my favorite, soul-searching corner of Madrid, the Plaza Mayor. 

El Palacio Real

La Plaza Mayor

street artists in La Plaza Mayor

There are people and places and moments in life that are dear and precious to us. We hold them close to us, for they sustain us. Among the myriad, secret places of my heart, Spain remains. 

That Southern Spanish Sun

SEVILLA: Wed 25th – Thurs 26th

Flamenco. A brilliant sun. The ‘frying pan of Europe’. Welcome to Sevilla.

When we arrived in early evening, it was 41˚C, or about 105˚F. A rather significant difference from Portland, where we only hit 60 degrees (15˚C) for the first time on March 31st, and where it’s barely grazed 70 degrees (21˚C) since. Thanks to Sevilla, I now have the beginnings of a Chaco tan.

On Thursday, grandma and I skipped the tour to spend time together and to wander Sevilla at our own pace. It is truly a gem of a town and best enjoyed by walking, exploring the numerous nooks and crannies, the little details which would otherwise be missed. 

The last time I was in Sevilla, I was a broke college student, recently finished with a term of study in Siena, Italy, and I was backpacking Europe with two good friends, Marci and Jessica. We were living on cheap wine, jam, bread, cheese, fruit and yogurt. 

charming details in Barrio Santa Cruz

But even then, with little to no money, when you go to Sevilla, there are specific experiences to check off the list. Drink sangria. Eat gazpacho. Try to find an authentic flamenco performance. And walk the Plaza de España, climb the Giralda, wander the largest gothic cathedral in Europe, and take in the stunning colors of the tile work and gardens of the Real Alcazar. 

gardens of the Real Alcazar

On a different note, a testimony to my grandmother- at 81 years of age, she climbed the Giralda. Later, while I was recounting our day, a waiter eyeballed my grandmother with newfound respect and stated, “Tio.” A former minaret of the mosque that previously graced the site of Sevilla’s cathedral, the Giralda tower is 343 feet and consists of a series of 35 ramps, wide enough for two horses to pass abreast, with a final set of 17 steps leading up to the bell tower. At about level 20, my grandmother turned around, gave me a measured look and asked, “How tall is this thing exactly?” I shrugged; she mumbled something under her breath, put her head down and kept going. I really do hope I got her genes. 

ceiling of Sevilla's gothic cathedral

La Giralda. In my defense, I didn't make my grandmother climb the tower

Later that day, after walking over six hours in the heat and finishing our day with the Plaza de España and El Parque de Maria Luisa, grandma would hail a horse and buggy tour to take us back to the hotel. The privilege of age, she says.  It was a new experience watching a horse change lanes in the middle of rush hour traffic. 

Sevilla's Plaza de Espana, as seen in Star Wars: Attack of the Clones

Merge for horses

CÓRDOBA: Fri 27th

I have fond memories of Córdoba. My host sister, Natalia, her novio, and I spent a few days in the city, dancing, drinking far too many mixed drinks, exploring the small alleyways and taking in the Mezquita, Córdoba’s principle site of interest.  

All roads lead to the mezquita

More than any other structure I have ever seen or experienced, Córdoba’s Mezquita really defies explanation. Originally one of the largest and most significant mosques in the world, after the Inquisition, it was converted into a cathedral. The cross-like naves and vaulted ceilings begin in the center of the old mosque. An eerie quality pervades the building, one of old, old histories, politics and the juxtaposition of religions competing side by side, attempting to dominate one another. 

Of Moorish Palaces & Hilltop Towns

GRANADA: Tues 24th

On a Granada hilltop sits the Alhambra, palace of the Moorish sovereigns and the last site of the Ottoman Empire in Spain to fall to the Christian monarchs during the Inquisition. There are few adequate words for it. It’s just one of those places you have to see.

La Alhambra

Façade of Comares

Chamber of the Ambassadors

My favorite: ceiling detail from the Hall of the Abencerrages

Hall of the Abencerrages

The Hall of the Muqarnas surrounding the Courtyard of the Lions

City of Granada and her Sierra Nevadas in the distance

RONDA: Wed 25th

Passing through the Andalucía countryside, the landscape dominated by olive groves, rocky outcroppings, and a sun bleached blue sky. Ronda is a ridge top, whitewashed town set high above El Tajo, a 328 foot deep gorge spanned by the 18th century el Puente Nuevo. We wandered Ronda’s quaint maze of streets and admired the ubiquitous tile work, decorated doorways and tiny courtyards so prevalent among Andalucía towns. 

El Tajo

El Puente Nuevo spanning El Tajo

Ronda's famous Plaza de Toros

Onward to Sevilla, heart of Andalucía, full of color, light, sangria, Fería and flamenco. 

Vale. Vale, vale, vale.

ESPAÑA. May 21-28, 2011.

Ceiling detail of La Sagrada Familia
Castellano is distinctly different from the Spanish spoken in Latin America. In particular, you will almost never hear anyone say bueno. Rather, everything, everything is vale.

In 1995, I participated in an overseas exchange program to Spain. I lived with a host family not far from the center of Madrid, and they are, to this day, some of the warmest, most wonderful, generous and loving people I know. Loud, animated, expressive and full of personality, I adore them.

He dejado parte de mi corazón en España.

I returned in 1996 and again in 1998 to live with the same family, drink the same café and dance until the wee hours of sunrise, but I haven’t had the opportunity to return to Spain since. Alas, life has a way of getting in the way. So when my formidable grandmother of 81 years young called me to see if I wanted to accompany her to Spain on a week long tour, I practically fell out of my seat jumping at the chance.

My grandmother arranged the tour through Tauck, and while a scheduled/set tour was an entirely new ballgame for me (I personally prefer more independent travel), this visit to Spain was more about spending time with my grandmother than about my own personal agenda and preferences. The tour was packing a lot of ground into a single week: Barcelona, Granada, Ronda, Sevilla, Córdoba and the city of my heart, Madrid.

BARCELONA: Sat 21st – Mon 23rd

We arrived a day ahead of the tour kick off in Barcelona, changing planes in Paris and walking through three additional security checkpoints, one in which I got felt up by a French security lady.

Yippee for security.

But, in Europe, you don’t have to take off your shoes. Go figure.

The combination of a nine hour time difference from Portland and over twenty-four hours of no sleep had knocked me for a proverbial loop, so when we arrived in Barcelona I was viewing the world in a sort of surreal daze.

Grandma insisted on her American coffee

I also knew from previous experience that the Castellano accent was going to toss me on my head. And, it did. To say that it sounds different is an understatement. Not only is everything ‘vale’ but all words with z, ce and ci are pronounced with a very distinct ‘th’ sound. The world was colorful and guttural and sounded like everyone was speaking with cotton balls stuffed in their cheeks after drinking enormous amounts of alcohol.

I loved it.

After a very short nap, Grandma and I wandered the heart of Barcelona- Las Ramblas and the Barri Gòtic. Anything and everything you could possibly want can be found on Ramblas, Barcelona’s beating heart, the street that never, ever sleeps.

Escriba has the most fantastic pasteries

Winding off of Ramblas, you enter the Barri Gòtic (Gothic Quarter), Barcelona’s original central core. Dark, winding streets, a veritable maze, where one is always searching for the right street to the lead to the cathedral. Punctuating the dark, narrow walkways are small plazas full of people, terraces, cafes, palm trees and dappled sunlight. 

Barri Gòtic

Barcelona's catedral
Rosette window of Santa Maria del Pi

Santa Maria del Mar

After our impromptu walking tour, I introduced grandma to tapas.

The Spanish traditionally don’t eat until 10 pm or later. If you’re at a restaurant looking for dinner at 7:30 or even 8:30, you’re either facing a closed door or finding yourself the only patron, while the waiters gift you with sidelong, curious glances.

That said, the Spanish certainly don’t starve. In any city, from the largest metropolis to the smallest pueblo, cafes crowd the city streets and offer up a bouquet of food. Tapas are small plates of culinary delights ranging from spicy, fried potatoes (patatas bravas), mixed salads (ensaladas mixtas), croquets (croquettas), cheeses (quesos) to a variety of meat and seafood dishes. The Spanish typically toma algo (‘take something’) around 7 pm, complete with a beer or a glass of wine, people watch and participate in animated conversation with friends. Grabbing a table at one of these outdoor terraces is often a free for all, although some nicer restaurants require a waiter to seat you. On this particular evening, grandma and I sat outside at one of these cafes, enjoyed the warm Barcelona breeze, and watched a traditional Catalan folk dance being performed in front of the cathedral on a Saturday night. I think we almost enjoyed watching our waiters more, who were continuously and good-naturedly barking orders at each other on what table to clean and who ordered what. 

Another thing I got to introduce grandma to: in Spain, the waiter will never, never, never bring you the check. 

Tortilla, croquetas and patatas bravas: first tapas

Sunday we would take in La Rambla del Mar, the waterfront district, and Barceloneta. We enjoyed watching the myriad of children and families out enjoying the day, the plethora of local street artists, and dodged the continual onslaught of city cyclists who seem to have a particular talent for weaving in and out of tightly packed groups of people. We took in fresh, mixed salads drizzled with olive oil and salt, perfectly cooked cod fritters and jamón, oh the jamón

On Monday, the first day of the official tour kick-off, we passed through more of the Barri Gòtic and the Boqueria, a diverse outdoor market full of culinary delights, including suspended legs of the delicious jamón ibérico.  Andy asked if I could bring some back with me. Somehow, I don’t think this fits in my suitcase.  

won't make it through customs
Then, Antoni Gaudí. Gaudí is Barcelona, and Barcelona is Gaudí. We passed through the heart of L’Eixample, the city’s modernista district: La Pedrera, Casa Batlló, and Sagrada Familia. Gaudí’s work is fantastically strange: organic lines, inspiration from the natural world and absolutely unique in its presentation. 

Nativity Facade of La Sagrada Familia

The Passion Facade

And I didn't get a good picture of the famous snail shell staircase winding down from Sagrada Familia's bell tower, but I had to put it here:

caracol staircase in Sagrada Familia
Aye, Cataluña.

Win some, Lose some

Hike FAIL. Even with the thermometer hitting 85 degrees today, a no-go on Forest Service roads still buried by late spring storms.