Self Care

Alpine Lakes Wilderness, Washington
~10 miles, 2500 feet elevation change 

No thermal regulation: Exhibit A (2007)

Even with a crappy camera, the best sunset I have ever seen (Goat Rocks, 2007)

No thermal regulation: Exhibit B (2009)

My friend O'C and I have something of a biannual backpacking trip. The entertaining part is that we didn't really realize it until last weekend. Heading up the Ingalls Pass Trail, we started reminiscing: friends for fifteen years but always living in different cities, in 2005 it was Surprise Lake; in 2007, we headed to Goat Rocks for some Perseid watching; in 2009, we visited Royal Lake in the Olympics in very Olympic-like weather. Out trips have become a cherished ritual of catching up on the time apart.

Several weeks ago, O'C tossed out the idea of backpacking over an October weekend while she was freelancing in Seattle. Initially, I refused to commit to an entire weekend because of school- I was still unsure of what the workload would look like and whether I could afford to kick studying to the curb for forty-eight hours. I did commit to at least a day- driving up Friday night and day hiking or just kicking it around Seattle on Saturday.

During lecture on Tuesday, I realized our professors had been sending out a very strong message from the very start of school. Remember yourself. Do what you love. Find balance between your personal life and your professional life. Without self care, without that balance, we forget to give of ourselves, can no longer give of ourselves, a critical component of the profession I will both enter and the profession I just left. I know this, have heard this message, and I strive to practice it as best I can because I have directly seen the effect on me in years past. Still, it is sometimes a tough thing to remember and actually do.

Inspired, I texted O'C and told her to cram her backpacking pack into her suitcase. I would bring the gear. You only live once. The response was enthusiastic. "AGGGHHHH! SO EXCITED!"

I then threw myself into enough studying for the week that by my Friday evening drive to Seattle, I was mental toaster crumbies.

My biggest concern for the weekend was O'C's lack of thermal regulation (see Exhibits A & B above). Living in Austin, she is no longer acclimated to Pacific Northwest weather, so when she was still gung ho to backpack on an October fall weekend, I thought maybe the Texas heat had fried her brain. Not quite, but she had forgotten it wasn't still shorts and t-shirt weather. So I loaded up rain pants, Polartec tights, hiking pants, gloves and wool hat, a fleece layer, a Smartwool underlayer, a synthetic underlayer, a down jacket and a rain jacket for her to wear since she no longer owns any of the above. I assumed I probably over packed for her. She wore all of it. Usually all at the same time.

Saturday morning we arrived at the trailhead to a veritable zoo. Welcome to the Puget Sound Human Superhighway: The Sequel.

There must have been over 150 people on the trail that morning. I parked the Subaru over a quarter mile from the trailhead, squeezing into an itty bitty space on the shoulder before jogging my way back up the road to where I had dropped off O'C and all of our gear. We were both dismayed by the sheer size of the crowd- entire groups of people were setting out from the trailhead, leapfrogging each other. I suppose I should have known though. We were less than two hours from Seattle, preparing to set out on a trail with a reputation for spectacular. The day was bluebird. The larch were turning. Oh yes, I should have known.

Mount Rainier over the Esmeralda Peaks

One heartening observation though: we were the only group with backpacking gear. Everyone else had day hiker written all over them.

In the end, we actually managed to find a little bit of solitude. By taking a relaxed pace and allowing people to jump ahead, we created a sense of space between us and everyone else. Surrounded by open meadows, fall-red huckleberries, and the Esmeralda Peaks to the west, it was an easy chore to meander ever higher, soaking in the views. The landscape changed with the altitude, transitioning from intermittent forest and long grasses to weathered pines, rocky slopes and tiny plants clinging for life along the hillsides. The views opened too, affording glimpses of Rainier and Adams in the distance. 

By the time we reached Ingalls Pass, we were in love. Upon cresting the pass, we simply stood, agape. Mount Stuart stood to the northeast and Ingalls Peak to the northwest, framing Headlight Basin below us. Larch clustered together throughout the basin, some still holding onto their summer color, while others stood draped in all their fall glory.

"Stuey" from Ingalls Pass

O'C meets Ingalls Peak

It felt like every hiker in the Puget Sound area was sitting atop Ingalls Pass taking a lunch break. O'C and I quickly made the executive decision to continue on, dropping into Headlight Basin, looking for a campsite with 'swell' written all over it to spend the night.

And did we ever find swell.

'swell' campsite & larch-ee-ness

Since no camping is permitted at Ingalls Lake, we set about making house, inhaling lunch, and then gearing up to set out for the lake perched amidst a rocky basin at 6400 feet. We traversed through Headlight Basin, the larches backlit with late fall light, mimicking a strange technicolor falsehood in the afternoon sun.

wandering around Headlight Basin

The trail wandered over and along creeksides, marmots and pikas whistling and chirping their displeasure with every footfall we made. The trail then stomps its way upward, ending in a relatively easy scramble, before dumping you out at the wonder that is Ingalls Lake. It is one of those places in the world that commands awe and silence and respect.

yeah. kind of an 'oh, wow.' moment

Ingalls Lake victory shot

That evening it went from just cold to below freezing. Our breath plumed thick and heavy in the air before drifting off into space.  O'C abandoned me for the tent and all her layers; I lay against the smooth rock surrounding our campsite and watched the moonrise over Mount Stuart and the clouds play peek-a-boo with the stars.

the only layers left are the down jacket and the rain gear

I need the mountains. Some people need sand between their toes, warmth, beaches and sun. I need the high places of the world. That almost primordial sense of being unwelcome, of trespassing upon a landscape that forgives little and gives nothing. Here, in the freezing high alpine, I feel clean, scoured out from the cacophony of life. 

Sometime in the night it began to rain and with it the temperature rose. Still cold, but at least no snow. We rose to a gray, gloomy dawn, low clouds teasing up against the slopes of Mount Stuart and rolling through the Ingalls Valley below.

Ingalls Valley below our campsite

Chatting away over coffee, O'C suddenly went round-eyed and silent; I turned to find this little guy joining us for breakfast.

He stayed with us for well over two hours, meandering in and out of camp, just checking us out.

do NOT eat my backpack

We named him Stuey.