Waterfalls and Rescues: The Descent to Mooney Falls

There are some things in life that, though painful or terrifying, we choose to do more than once, because the payoff outweighs the discomfort: childbirth, tattoos, the cost of Foo Fighters tickets . . . Time heals all wounds, after all, and climbing down to Mooney Falls was, for me, one of the “wounds” that had healed.

Mary was excited and had no idea what to expect. I’d told her about it–explicitly–but she either didn’t believe me or wasn’t paying attention. So, when we set out for Mooney Falls Mary was bursting with excitement. I, on the other hand, was mentally psyching myself up the entire way, because I was starting to remember exactly how terrified I was the last time I’d done this climb. It’s kind of like when I got to the hospital to deliver my second child. I knew I’d feel unimaginable joy when it was over and I had my son in my arms, but also I knew what I’d have to go through to get there.IMG_5386

Mooney Falls is a 200 foot waterfall, half a mile past the campground. The trail follows a “natural staircase” down the side of the cliff to the bottom of the falls. The first 100 feet or so are gradual, and relatively protected, finally passing through two narrow tunnels in the cliff side to a small observation area. Once you pass that point, however, shit gets real. The last half of the descent is virtually a vertical drop, climbing down old wooden planks, small jutting rocks, notches in the rock face, and a series of chains and rebar leading to the bottom of the canyon. The massive spray from Mooney covers everything in its fine mist, making the climb slippery and somewhat treacherous.

 

It was when we reached the first tunnel that Mary and I switched moods. I’d sufficiently pumped myself up and, upon seeing Mooney, was even more determined than ever to make that climb my bitch. Mary, on the other hand, was looking at me like, “are you effing kidding me?” She went from excited curiosity to horrified silence in a matter of seconds.IMG_5400

We made it to the halfway point and, though nervous, I was excited. Mary, however, looked like she wanted to die. I remembered all too well that paralyzing fear, debating whether or not you’re even willing to attempt it, and deciding you’ve come too far to turn back, even though you’re scared shitless. I was so proud of her when she kept going.IMG_5395

Despite my excitement, my body was physically manifesting the fear I’d been fighting to keep at bay. My knees were shaking so badly I had to stop several times to allow it to subside. One foot at a time, very slowly and carefully, we made our way to the bottom. When my feet finally hit the ground, knees still trembling, I had so much adrenaline coursing though my veins that I screamed like a lunatic, just to release some of it.IMG_5409

I turned around to watch Mary take the final steps, and when she let go of the ladder she burst into tears. “Why didn’t you tell me we were gonna have to do that?!” she cried. “I did tell you! Multiple times. With pictures.” I laughed back. I hugged her while she let out a few sobs, and then we both sat down for a second while our bodies calmed down.IMG_5415

The rest of our group arrived and we all dispersed, taking our time and exploring as we made our way to Beaver Falls. Mary and I stopped for a snack and a swim, and when we started moving again, we were met by Mark, who was coming towards us. His face and the urgency of his gait told us all was not well.

While we were having fabulous time splashing around in the river, Heather, a member of our party, had slipped while stepping into the water, and rolled her ankle. She’d barely made it a mile downriver, and she couldn’t walk. Mark was going for help. Fuck.IMG_5447

We reached Heather to find her sitting on the riverbank with an ankle that was purple and swollen. She’d brought a splint, but even with it on, she was unable to bear weight on the leg. The commotion had started attracting the attention of other hikers, including a nurse and her friend.

We sat with Heather for a while, until she insisted we keep going to Beaver Falls. There was nothing we could do for her at that point. Her friend, Randi, was going to wait with her. I think having all of us standing over her was making her feel worse instead of better, so off we went.IMG_5462

The hike to Beaver Falls took longer than I’d expected, but was absolutely gorgeous. We hiked through a valley that was covered in green foliage as high as our shoulders, climbed up and down hills, and through the river. At one point, we even saw two rams staring down at us from high above on a rock outcrop. I wasn’t sure if they were real until one of them turned its head, and I felt like he was looking right at me. They were so beautiful, and so intimidating. We kept as much distance as we could, avoided eye contact, and slowly continued down the trail.

We weren’t entirely sure where we were going. We knew we had to follow the river, but there were a couple different ways to do that. The route we took led us to a couple small ladders (though I’d promised Mary there would be no more ladders. My bad) that spit us out high above Beaver Falls, at a makeshift Ranger Station. To get down to the falls would’ve required another harrowing descent, so we opted to take a snack break and enjoy the view from the top.IMG_5501

Beaver Falls was beautiful; a series of cascading falls, surrounded by red rock canyons and lush green trees. They looked like the perfect falls to jump off of, if only we could reach them. I still can’t figure out how we ended up where we did.

On the way back, we’d barely walked past the spot where we’d left Heather when we came upon the rescue operation in progress. She was being carried out on a stretcher by two Havasupai tribesmen and several members of our group, all taking turns, and pausing for frequent rest breaks. We’d hiked for hours and poor Heather had barely made it a quarter of a mile back. This was going to take a while.IMG_5524

They’d inquired about a rescue helicopter. It’s the only way to access the village if not on foot or horseback, and one made daily runs to the Hilltop. Apparently it was, indeed, available . . . for $80,000. Talk about a good motivator to get out on your own.

The tribesmen helping carry her out were wonderful. I’ve never seen people more determined, more calm under pressure, more positive and upbeat in the face of countless obstacles, as Frankie. He was cracking jokes the whole time and totally confident that we’d get her back up to the top. It took 4 hours get her back to Mooney Falls, alternating between the stretcher, hobbling on a makeshift crutch, and floating her upriver, and he never once lost his can-do attitude or his sense of humor.IMG_5530

Mary and I went ahead and began making the ascent back up the cliff. I was more nervous about going up than I’d been about going down, simply because of how difficult it had been the last time (Uncle Mark had been above me, pulling on my backpack, while my dad was below me, literally pushing my butt just so I could climb up). When I took those first steps I expected it to be difficult, but it was a breeze. I was in great shape, and going up was nowhere near as frightening as coming down. I began to giggle, it was actually fun. My knees were steady, my body was strong, and I climbed up that cliff so fast I blew my own mind.IMG_5547 (2)

Mary still wasn’t loving the climbing, but she did better on the way back up. When we got out of the final tunnel and onto more stable, flat ground, she was finally able to breathe a sigh of relief and feel pride in having just conquered such a huge challenge.

Randi had come up ahead of Heather and was running back to camp to get her a change of clothes and something to eat. Meanwhile, members of the tribe had brought rope and harnesses, and after some logistical maneuvering (and the help of a fellow camper who happened to be an expert climber), they began to hoist Heather up the mountain.IMG_5559

A large crowd had gathered at the top of the falls to watch this all go down. Mary and I talked to a dozen different people, all of whom had seen parts of this rescue at one point throughout the day, and all of whom felt invested in the outcome. I was approached by a woman who told me she was a photographer, and that she’d gotten some really great shots of the event. She gave me her phone number and said she’d be happy to send them to Heather once she was able to laugh about it. The nurses from earlier were there, they offered pain meds once she made it to the top. There were even tribe members watching, just because they heard about it. I was amazed by how many people were coming together to offer help, or even just moral support.IMG_5566

After eight long hours, countless people helping, and an ATV waiting at the top to drive her to the village (where Mark, not wanting her to have to get in and out of her tent on a torn up ankle, had rented her a room at the lodge). Cheers went up when she finally emerged, and after gathering a few things from camp, Heather safely arrived at the Lodge, where she, I assume, slept like the dead.

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Heather and her Supai rescuers

Thanks for stopping by and reading about our Mooney Falls adventure! I hope you’ll come back for the next chapter in my 40th birthday Arizona Ladycation. And be sure to follow Ladycations to stay up to date on the latest trips, tips, and tales! Stay chill and keep hiking, my friends.

~Steph

Conquering Havasu Canyon: The Trail That Once Conquered Me

The main event was finally upon us! It was time for our ten mile trek to Supai. An extension of the Grand Canyon, but outside the National Park, Supai is located on the Havasupai reservation. This was what I’d been waiting for: to finally conquer the trail that had defeated me a decade earlier.

We were up at the break of day to get to the Hilltop. The sun was barely starting to rise, and the morning air was crisp and chilly. I’m not a morning person, never have been, but I was so excited for the adventure ahead of us, that I practically leapt out of bed when our alarm went off.IMG_5220

The four of us (Mary, Mark, Peter, and myself) stopped for breakfast (Mary and I having some shenanigans at the faux jail across the street before getting back in the car), then drove to the Hualapai Hilltop, where we met a group of Mark’s friends. There were eight of us total. Some of them knew each other, but we were mostly a motley crüe of random people, all connected through Uncle Mark.

Before we even bought our plane tickets Mary talked about wanting to ride a donkey. To hike with a donkey. To pet a donkey. To at least see a donkey. Despite repeatedly telling her they were horses and mules, not donkeys, and that they would not let her adopt one, she’d hear none of it. When we arrived at the hilltop the pack horses were IMG_5226corralled near the parking area, and that was good enough for her. Mary, as giddy as a schoolgirl, asked one of the caretakers if she could pet one, and when he said “yes,” her face lit up like a Christmas tree. As she pet and talked to him like he was a precious unicorn, he let loose the longest, most powerful stream of urine I’ve ever seen. I think a little bit of the magic died for my Mare-Bear in that moment, but it sure was hilarious to watch her expression go from love and joy to “WTF,” while she stepped out of the pee-path. I could not stop laughing.

After some introductions and group pictures, we loaded on our gear and began our descent down the Havasupai Trail.IMG_5230 The trail is 8 miles from the hilltop to the village, and another two miles from the village to the campground. It begins with a series of switchbacks that drop 1200 feet over a mile and a half to the bottom of Havasu Canyon, and IMG_5265follows the path of an old, dried up riverbed. The steep canyon walls rise up on either side of the often rocky trail, prickly pear cactus and other desert flora dotting the landscape.

There’s great benefit to starting this hike early in the morning. While it was chilly at the hilltop, the steep descent at the start of the trail means it gets very warm, very quickly, and there’s virtually no protection from the sun. It’s Arizona after all, so temperatures above 100 degrees are common, particularly in the summer months. But even late in October, we were feelin’ the heat.
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Around the halfway point we regrouped for a rest and snack break at a spot where the canyon wall opens up along the ground, like a long, shallow cave. It’s the perfect place to stop, crawl under the cliff, and cool down.

As we got closer to the village, signs of the natural springs that feed the waterfalls began to appear. The landscape got greener, and as we entered the outskirts of Supai, the dry, desert sand gave way to crystal clear, turquoise creeks. Mary couldn’t believe such an oasis existed in the middle of the such a desolate landscape. There’s something truly magical about hiking all day in the hot, desert sun, and coming upon the icy-cold, flowing creeks, and lush foliage surrounding the village.IMG_5317.JPG

“Can I touch it?” Mary asked as she pointed to the river, her face full of amazement. I laughed, both at her asking my permission, and because it’s exactly this enthusiasm for the little things that makes Mary who she is.

When we arrived at the campground there weren’t too many campsites left, but we managed to find a space large enough for our entire group. We got set up quickly, and Mary and I pulled out some protein bars and crackers for dinner. We were too tired to cook. IMG_5357

As the sun set, the temperature began dropping, and I was freezing. Just when I thought I would have to bust open a fourth hand-warmer, the strangest thing happened. An inexplicably warm breeze began to sweep through the canyon. It was like a giant space heater had been turned on. It reminded me of how it feels to walk through a warm spot in Lake Superior–except in this situation I wasn’t concerned that it may be due to someone’s pee. Crisis: averted. It felt like Mother Nature totally had my back.

I made the decision when I started this blog to remain apolitical in my stories. Social media has made it impossible to not know where everyone stands on everything. We look at Facebook and are bombarded by news, and the thoughts and opinions of everyone we know, on both sides of every issue. Everybody’s an expert, it seems, and I’m as guilty of that as the next guy. It’s on Facebook that I spew my opinions like someone actually asked to hear them (they didn’t).IMG_5300

In the 2016 US election, things got ugly. Suddenly, it felt like the entire world had lost its damn mind. Everyone was a “nasty woman,” or in a “basket of deplorables,” and the middle ground seemed to break open, creating a massive fissure between “us” and “them.”

With that being said, I had some nervousness about the trip. My family in Arizona falls squarely on one side of that divide, while I am passionately planted on the other, and if there’s one thing I’ve always been, it’s outspoken. I worried that discussions could get heated, I worried that the group of people my uncle invited (whom I presumed would align with him politically) would bring up an issue that I feel strongly about, and that I wouldn’t be able to hold my tongue. I worried my cursing would offend, I worried I’d make people uncomfortable when I busted out my cannabis. . . I worried.

Those fears turned out to be unnecessary. Apart from Peter, upon arriving at our campsite, jokingly gesturing towards the tents nearby and saying, “Have we met our neighbors? What do we know about them? Have we seen their voting records?” and me replying with, “Have you seen mine?” while my uncle gave Peter a, “please don’t get her started,” look, the subject of politics and current events never came up. We were just eight random people, all at different stages in life, all from different backgrounds, with different beliefs, and allegiances; united by our love of nature, hiking, and camping, and a desire to have a great time, in a beautiful place. The rest of it didn’t matter.IMG_5298

Unbeknownst to me, my uncle had informed everyone in our party that this trip was to celebrate my 40th birthday. So while I thought our traveling companions were making dinner, they were actually doing something far more amazing: deep frying dough to make birthday donuts. These people, these complete strangers that I’d feared I wouldn’t mesh well with, had brought the dough, oil, cinnamon, sugar, and even a candle to help make my 40th birthday adventure even more special. They didn’t care what side of the political fence I sat on, and they reminded me that we’re not as different as the internet would have us believing.

After a round of Happy Birthday that literally left me speechless and tearful, we had what I believe to be the most delicious donuts I’ve ever had in all my life. I was absolutely blown away by their kindness and generosity.

We were all pretty tired, and we had another big day of hiking ahead of us, so everyone started hitting the sack fairly early. Mary and I headed back to our little campsite and smoked a bit before we went to bed. We talked about the day, and how excited we were for the next, and about what fantastic people we had hiked in with.IMG_5256

My 40th birthday trip was turning out exactly as I’d hoped. Every mile we hiked, the built up stress inside me faded away. By the time I went to bed I could feel the shift in my spirit, the shadow of negativity that creeps in through the grind of everyday life fading away; light and positivity filling its place.

When I’d hiked the trail in my twenties I had gone to sleep with feet full of blisters, and legs so sore I wasn’t sure I was going to be able to move the next day. This time I went to sleep blister-free, and bursting with excitement for the adventure to come: climbing down the canyon wall to Mooney Falls, and hiking on to Beaver Falls, the waterfall I hadn’t been able to reach the last time. I had no idea as I climbed into my sleeping bag that the hike would turn into an all day rescue for one of the incredible people who’d just made me birthday donuts.

Thank you for stopping in to check out my blog! Be sure to come back for LadycationSunday to see what befell one of us hikers, and how the tale unfolds!

Follow Ladycations to stay up to date on the latest trips, tips, and tales! Stay chill and keep hiking, my friends!

~Steph

How I Decided to Spend My 40th Birthday: Family, Friends and Adventure

The big 4-0 was approaching. I wasn’t really sure how I felt about that. On the one hand, I always thought 40 was so old. On the other hand, I didn’t feel old. I’d always assumed I’d feel different at 40: wiser, more established, maybe a little boring. You know, a married homeowner, mom-jeans, much better cook. Yet here I was in my rented duplex, divorced and alone, eating a peanut butter sandwich, and watching Grey’s Anatomy on Netflix for the billionth time.

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My three beautiful children and I all dressed up for my stepsister’s wedding in Las Vegas.

My life definitely hadn’t turned out the way I thought it would, but I was happy with where I was. Aside from not having the romantic and material things I’d always associated with adulting, I was doing pretty well. I have three incredible kids who, if I do say so myself, are turning out awesome, I have some of the greatest friends in the world, and have had some absolutely epic experiences.

How was I going to mark the beginning of my 40’s? How did I want to commemorate the occasion? One thing was for sure, I didn’t want to do it in Cleveland. That seemed like adding insult to injury. An adventure was in order, something to challenge my aging body and renew my spirit. I wanted to be outside, away from the cacophony of traffic, sirens, and millions of other people in the city. I wanted to be in a place that took my breath away; somewhere warm, far away, and totally different than what I was used to, a complete break from my reality. I wanted to push myself and shatter the image of what I’d always thought 40 looked like.

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Amy, Dad, Uncle Mark, and a very heavy Steph before our hike to Supai in 2008

When I was in my late twenties I hiked part of the Grand Canyon. My friend Amy, my dad, and I flew to Phoenix where my Uncle Mark picked us up from the airport. After a family cookout with the whole Stohre clan, we got a good night’s sleep before heading to the Hualapai Hilltop. From there we set off for Supai village, at the bottom of the canyon, on the Havasupai reservation. I was a lot younger then, but I was also considerably heavier and very out of shape.

I made it to the village, where we had rooms reserved at The Lodge, and even down to Mooney Falls the next day, but I never made it to Beaver Falls, and was physically incapable of hiking back to the hilltop. It was such a defeat. I rode a horse out of the canyon–which was a cool experience–but it was a huge blow to my self confidence, and also a sad testament to my general health.

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Amy and I after reaching Mooney Falls in 2008

With that in mind, the decision was made. What better way to enter my 40’s than by conquering a trail that had conquered me a decade earlier? I would go over the hill while turning Over The Hill (I love puns). Supai here I come! And this time I was going to camp and not ride a damn horse out.

I recruited my neighbor and one of my best friends to come with me. Mary is like family, and she shares my love of nature, adventure, and hiking, in addition to bringing an added layer of fun to everything she does. I also emailed my Uncle Mark. He’s always down for a hike to Supai, and I don’t get to see my Arizona family enough. Plus, he’s the guy you want around on any trip, but especially one in Arizona. He’s like the Yoda of the Arizona wilderness.

When the day finally arrived I felt more like a kid on Christmas morning than a woman entering middle age. Excited doesn’t begin to describe it. I adore the Grand Canyon and hadn’t seen it in a decade, and I was still on a post-Bestieversarycation high from Lindsey and I’s Washington trip, still in the honeymoon phase with my love affair with backpacking. I was so pumped I feel like we could’ve fueled the plane on my adrenaline alone.IMG_4580

My aunt and uncle were having dental work done in Mexico (put that in the column of: Things You Don’t Hear in Ohio) the day we arrived in Phoenix, and my cousin Luke was working. That meant Luke’s wife, Kelly, was on Steph-and-Mary duty. She picked us up from the airport and drove us to their house in a beautiful gated community in Tempe, and Mary and I were finally able to smoke a cigarette (yes, I know, it’s a disgusting habit, and I’m working on it. Cut me some slack, I’m old now). Hours of airports, airplanes, and other people’s cars had left us on the precipice of full-blown nicotine withdrawal, and I could feel myself starting to get anxious and bitchy. We stepped into Luke and Kelly’s backyard and, as I took my first, glorious drag, I also took in my surroundings.

Holy crap. Their place was off the hook. That is what I pictured 40 looking like. It was a big, open, classically Southwestern home with the backyard of anyone’s dreams. The patio, that ran the entire length of the house, had an outdoor BBQ kitchen, a hot tub, and sun shades that descended from the ceiling at the flip of a switch. Mind: blown. There was a pool, palm and citrus trees, and the yard was entirely enclosed by a stucco privacy wall. It was gorgeous. I had a brief moment when I wondered if they wanted a live-in, housekeeping cousin.IMG_4599

When Luke got home we headed to the grocery store so Mary and I could pick up some camping food. Along with granola bars and mac-n-cheese, we got other important staples. . . like tequila. Once back at the house, Luke got to work mixing us up some margaritas. After all, we were in the Southwest.IMG_4589

We finished a couple margs and headed to dinner. What a great time it was getting to know my cousin and his wife! I grew up in the Midwest, far removed from the majority of my dad’s family who all lived in Arizona. I’d never gotten to know them except for a handful of visits spread out over four decades. Turns out, they’re totally dope. And they have awesome wives.

Between the pre-game margaritas and the wine at dinner, Kelly, Mary and I were pretty tipsy. Luke drove us to my aunt and uncle’s house where, I’m not gonna lie, despite my age, I still felt weird being drunk around my elders, like I was going to get in trouble. I think a part of me will always feel 15, no matter how old I get. But instead of judging, or sending me to my room and calling my dad, when my Uncle Mark and Aunt Cindy came home, Mark started making more margaritas. I remember thinking, these are definitely my people.

Luke and Kelly stayed long enough to celebrate the last moments of my thirties and help welcome a new decade before heading home. Aunt Cindy went to bed soon after, exhausted after having spent the entire day on international travel and oral surgery. Mary, who had stayed up way past her bedtime, was the next one to call it a night, and after a wonderful chat with my uncle, he was ready to hit the hay, too. There I was, alone, in a beautiful backyard in Phoenix, with nothing but the warm night air and four decades worth of memories to keep me company.

I reflected on my first forty years as I sipped the margarita Mark made me before he went to bed, and I let all the memories wash over me. I realized how many experiences I’d had, and how each experience had taught me something, brought me to where I was in that moment, made me who I was. As I sat there, I was grateful, not just for the moments of joy, but also for all the times I’d screwed up. Not a single misstep can truly be a mistake if the lesson it teaches makes us better people. So, despite my anxiety over turning 40, I found myself thankful for the experiences I’d had, and welcoming this new chapter in the story of Steph Stohre.IMG_4605

The sun was pouring through the windows when I woke up the next morning. It was hard to feel anything but bliss on a morning so perfect. It was warm, the birds were singing, the sky seemed bluer than usual, and I could smell the citrus trees as I walked through Mark and Cindy’s backyard.

Mark was getting some work done before we hit the road, and Cindy was in the kitchen cooking up my favorite breakfast: bacon (among other things, of course). God, I love bacon. I can’t imagine a better way to have begun my first day as a 40 year old. I’d worry about my cholesterol later.IMG_4615

After breakfast it was time to pack up the car and head to Sedona. In addition to breakfast, Cindy had baked chocolate chip cookies that she bagged up for our trip. She was one busy lady in the kitchen that morning! Could this day get any better? I was in Heaven. We all wished she could join us, but she had other obligations, so after some pictures and hugs, she waved us off, as Mark, Mary and I set off for our five day adventure in the Wild Wild West.

Thank you so much for reading! I hope you’ll check out some of my other adventures, and be sure to check back next week to read another chapter in my Arizona Birthday Ladycation!

Follow Ladycations to stay up to date on the latest trips, tips and tales! Stay chill and keep hiking, my friends!

~Steph

Curing My Nature Withdrawal

It’s been over 7 months since my last nature trip and I’m in full blown withdrawal. I need to be surrounded by trees and falling asleep in a tent under the stars. I flew to Vegas with two of my fellow ladycationers in March, and we were supposed to camp in Zion National Park for two nights before two nights of Vegasing, but our flight was cancelled and we ended up missing the first two days of our trip. Ever since then I’ve been a hot mess of a tightly wound woman, who desperately needs to escape reality and get her hike on.

Great Smoky Mountains

Funds are tight, a far away adventure is out of the question. I always want to go west when I travel. I love the West! The mountains, the ocean, the weather, the people; I love it all. But living in Ohio, getting to the western USA is no easy or inexpensive feat. So, I started looking for more reasonable, accessible options.

The Great Smoky Mountains are only a half day’s drive from Cleveland, and I’ve always wanted to hike on the Appalachian Trail, which runs through the Smokies. I started looking at a trail map and researching various trails in the National Park, and when I’d picked the perfect route I called my ladycationers.

Locked and Loaded

While you’re reading this (thank you, by the way), Lindsey and I are somewhere in the Great Smoky Mountains, probably getting rained on, if the forecast is correct, and loving every minute of it.

We’ll be hiking the Forney Creek Loop that begins and ends at Clingman’s Dome, the highest point in the National Park. We’ll hike down the Forney Creek Trail, then up the Jonas Creek Trail, before joining the Welch Ridge Trail, and finally turning up the AT for the final leg of our journey. It’s only about 20 miles, but from what I’ve read, it’s a pretty strenuous and challenging hike. There are multiple creek crossings that are said to get fairly treacherous;fFrequent rain causes the creeks to swell, making them difficult to get across. There’s also almost 4000ft of elevation loss and then gain, so this hike will test our limits.

Gatlinburg Great Smoky Mountains Tennessee

I can’t even begin to describe how excited I am about this trip. I’ve seen The Smokies before, but I’ve never hiked them. A group of girlfriends and I spent a long weekend in a cabin near Gatlinburg, Tennessee a few years ago. We had every intention of hiking, but ended up losing an entire day in the tourist-hell that is Pigeon Forge, never making it into the wilderness. So I’m pretty stoked about finally getting to explore the mountains, instead of the gift shops and chain restaurants in town, this time. We’ll be surrounded by green, passing waterfalls, climbing mountains, crossing rivers. . . It’s just what the doctor ordered (technically a lie. I’ll be having a bone scan the day before we leave to confirm that I have another stress fracture in my leg. I’ve been advised to cease all high impact activities, but I will NOT miss this trip, so it could be a very interesting hike).094.JPG

We’ll finish our hiking trip the way Lindsey and I always do: an AirBnb with a hot tub. Once we hike out of the mountains we’ll head to Asheville, North Caorolina, where we’ll clean up, check out the town, eat dinner, and retreat to the hot tub with a bottle of wine. No work, no kids, no responsibility; just me and my bestie on a long awaited ladycation.

I hope you’re all having a fantastic week and are planning a nature fix of your own. I can’t wait to see what stories and shenanigans this trip will produce, and share them with whoever is inclined to read them. For a sneak peak, follow Ladycations on Instagram where I’ll be posting a few photos from our adventure! Stay chill and keep hiking, my friends!

~Steph

Hiking to Lake George at Mount Rainier NP: Boring to Beautiful, A Trail’s Tale

We almost wished we had another day to relax at the Time and Again Cabin. Alternating between bed and hot tub all day sounded pretty damn nice. But, Rainier was calling, and we couldn’t wait to get all up in her. (That’s what he said.) We had reservations to camp at Lake George for two nights. Although we reserved our site well in advance for fear of it filling up, we were one of only two parties in the entire campground.

trail to lake george

We checked in at the Wilderness Center in Ashford to pick up our wilderness pass and, with it in hand, drove to the trailhead. I use the term “trail” loosely because it’s actually an old, gravel access road snaking up the mountain. It’s not very scenic for the first four miles. Every once in a while you catch a glimpse of Rainier’s peak, but compared to the hiking in we’d done in Olympic National Park, it felt more tedious than anything. Our fatigue may have been a contributing factor to our overall opinion of the trail. Had this been our first hike of the trip, I think I’d be considerably more forgiving in my assessment.

After a seemingly endless, and all uphill hike, we reached the final stretch of trail, which is just shy of a mile from the campground at Lake George. Although much more scenic, it was also a steeper, more strenuous climb. When we finally reached the lake we were ready to drop. We quickly found a site with a gorgeous view and immediately set up camp. Lindsey’s blisters had gotten exponentially worse throughout the course of our adventures, our bodies were crying out for rest; we just wanted to be off our feet.IMG_3619

I’d begun the hike in a tech skort and tee, but the higher we climbed, the colder it got. Once in the shade of the forest at Lake George, my heart rate slowing down (and soaking wet with sweat), I was freezing. All I wanted to do was take off my skort, my big, clunky boots, and sweaty socks; put on warm, dry clothes, and smoke a damn cigarette. I’d taken off my boots and socks, put my sandals on, had lit a cigarette and was just about to finish pulling up my pants (a challenge with my sweat-sticky legs), when I realized I never took off my skort. I had to start all over. Total fail. I wanted to cry. Any illusions I had about my prowess and badassery from hiking up the mountain vanished in that moment. Call me Kendrick, cause I felt real damn humble.

Our campsite was perfect. As we ate our dinner we watched the sunset on Mount Rainier; the color of her mammoth, glacier-capped peak changing from gray to orange to red to purple, until the sun was gone and the sky filled with stars. So many stars. Between the enormity of Rainier, the pristine, turquoise water of Lake George, and the infinite stars in the sky, the trek to get there is totally worth it.

I have literally never been anywhere so quiet. It was surreal. The only sounds we could hear at night were the occasional chipmunk scurrying around, and the breeze as it passed through the trees. During the day it was just the breeze and the soft hum of insect wings. It was so peaceful that hearing the occasional hiker passing through was almost jarring. I guess we’d become more confident and comfortable with being alone in the wilderness, despite our nervousness when we began.IMG_3689

Fires aren’t allowed that high in elevation in Mt. Rainier National Park. It was cold–and I mean cold–once the sun went down. I had on fleece-lined long underwear and two pairs of yoga pants, three pairs of socks (one of which was wool), a tee shirt, long underwear shirt, long sleeve tee, and a hoodie. I was still freezing. Lindsey, however, is a genius, and she brought a bunch of those self-heating hand warmers. It kept my hands warm while we star gazed, and when I went to bed I threw it in the bottom of my sleeping bag, which kept my feet nice and toasty all night long. I definitely regretted not buying the cold weather sleeping bag and tent, though.IMG_3687

In the morning we woke to a frigid, see-your-breath kind of day, but the sun was shining and I was excited for our hike to Gobbler’s Knob (yes, Gobbler’s Knob. Insert dirty joke here). Lindsey’s feet, however, weren’t hiking anywhere. Her blisters were now deep, open sores that were weeping and raw. They were a little alarming, to be honest. She needed to let them rest. We were both afraid she wouldn’t make it off that mountain if she didn’t.IMG_3853

I hated leaving her there, and had a little trepidation at going it alone, but she insisted. She knew how excited I was to finally see the place I’d been reading about for months, and I couldn’t fathom not going. So, with Lindsey squared away at the campsite, I stopped at the lake to refill my water and headed up the trail to the summit, solo.IMG_3628

The first thing I remember on the trail was the field of wildflowers in a small valley before the ascent to the lookout tower. The ground was covered in white and yellow wildflowers, and the air was alive with the buzzing of hundreds of bees. I was a little freaked out at first. I walked cautiously, but I soon realized they didn’t even notice me. They were too busy to care about who was passing through. It was an unexpectedly delightful experience.

The climb up to Gobbler’s Knob is no joke (despite it’s name). It’s steep and can be a little disorienting if you’ve got an issue with heights. Looking out over the edge at the massive peak of Rainier is mind blowing. I got dizzy on the trail when she came into view, and had to focus on my footing so as not to fall. I was relieved to look up and finally see the fire lookout within sight.IMG_3767

When I emerged from the trail on top of the mountain and saw the view, it literally took my breath away. I don’t even know how to describe it. I was completely oblivious to anything around me except the majestic beauty of Mt. Rainier. “Holy shit.” It just escaped my mouth before I even knew I was speaking, startling even me. That’s when I heard the couple on the lookout tower, whose romantic moment I’d just interrupted, laughing. I jumped, realizing I wasn’t alone, and apologized while I tried to get my bearings. I felt unsteady, I was shaking, and my knees felt weak. The view was unlike anything I’d ever seen, but my body was in total preservation mode, “Danger! Flee!” I’ve got a really bizarre Bucket List for someone who’s afraid of heights.IMG_3771

I carefully walked up the steps to the lookout tower, my knees shaking so badly it made walking something of a challenge. I had this irrational fear that the railing would collapse, and I’d fall over the edge, plummeting to my death down the mountainside. Once I was up there I gripped the windowsill for dear life. I wanted a selfie with Rainier in the background to commemorate the moment, but I couldn’t let go of the windowsill, even to take the picture. If you look close enough you can see the fear in my eyes behind the elation.

Volcano Selfie

I wanted to take a million pictures, but my whole body was shaking, so I couldn’t hold my phone steady and only got a few decent shots. I sat down to have a smoke to calm my nerves. Back securely against the wall, and after some concentrated breathing exercises, I was able to relax and just revel in Rainier’s magnificence. I couldn’t take my eyes off her. The only sound I could hear was the wind, which seemed to be her peak itself, whispering. I was transfixed, entranced, in absolute awe. Take me to church!

I was busting out my snack when I noticed the water filter in the side pocket of my pack. Oh crap. I had left Lindsey at Lake George with torn up feet and absolutely no water. Commencing panic in 3, 2, 1. . .

Mount Rainier

I frantically gathered my things, bolted down the tower steps, and hit the trail. Unlike my cautious hike up, the fear was gone, and I was running. I had this image in my mind of Lindsey down at camp, crying, cursing my name, and dying of thirst. I felt like the worst friend ever. I ran the entire way down the switchbacks (receiving a “Damn, you go girl,” from a fellow hiker along the way), through the field of wildflowers, and up to our campsite. When I arrived, sweaty and breathless, Lindsey was doing yoga; calm and collected, zen AF, and, upon seeing me arrive, said, “Oh, heyyyy, you’re back!” Once I caught my breath and was able to speak, I apologized. She laughed at my panic, and we headed down to the lake to sit in the sun, and get her some water. She was fine. Thirsty, but fine.IMG_3806

The lake was calm, and apart from when a breeze went through, was like a smooth pane of emerald glass. It was hypnotizing. There was no one in sight so we smoked a crazy, kief covered joint, and watched from the shore as the sun danced on the water. The sparkling drew us in, and we lost a good hour just watching the sun’s reflection twinkle and dance. The high from the joint we’d smoked was incredible. Cerebral, uplifting, and completely relaxing. The perfect sativa-indica hybrid to facilitate a full submersion in our surroundings.IMG_3834

When the sun dipped below the mountain it was time to head back to camp. It was another cold night on the mountain, but the solitude had taken us over, and we were consumed by its tranquility. It was our last night in the wilderness and we wanted to savor every single second, so we loaded up on hand warmers, and enjoyed the night, staying up well past dark to admire the stars. Living in the city, it’s easy to forget just how spectacular the night sky is when you get away from all the lights and smog. We even saw a couple of meteors!

This trip had brought Lindsey and I together on a level that, even as best friends, we hadn’t previously experienced. We’d gone through the trenches together, like comrades in arms, we’d had to rely on each other, to work together to achieve our goals. And we loved it. We knew, by the end of this adventure, that it was only the beginning of our Ladycations. And as we fell asleep on our last night in the backcountry, we dreamed of all the nights, in all the places, we’d venture to next. . .IMG_3632

Thanks for stopping by! I hope you’ll check out my other posts, and don’t forget to come back next week for LadycationSunday when the Washington Bestieversarycation continues in Seattle!

Don’t forget to follow Ladycations to stay up to date on upcoming trips, tips, and tales! Stay chill and keep hiking, my friends!

~Steph

O’Neil Creek Camp and AirBnb: Hot Tub, Cheese and the Good Samaritans

We wanted to shorten our hike out of the park on our last day, so we packed up camp and headed back down the East Fork Quinault River Trail to O’Neil Creek Camp the day before. Only a few miles from Pyrites Creek, it seemed like the shortest hike ever after so many days of mileage in the double digits. It also allowed us to get there nice and early, so the place was empty. We chose a large site along the river, surrounded by large, moss covered trees that provided both privacy and shade. It was like the Ritz Carlton of campsites: location, location, location.IMG_3539

After setting up camp we put on our bathing suits, grabbed our sleeping mats, and headed to the rocky island in the middle of the river to spend the afternoon. We rinsed off in the icy cold water and stretched out to dry in the hot sun. It was the most amazing feeling. There was no urgency, we were able to just be still; no responsibilities, really enjoying being in the present, appreciating everything that got us to that place, at that moment. It was like combining a badass adventure with a relaxing beach vacation, and a mountain retreat with gurus to guide you on the path to your best life. Only instead of gurus, we had weed.

Lit

We headed back to camp when the shadows moved in as the sun sank below the mountains, and made dinner. Being our last night, we were down to only the food we’d chosen not to eat thus far. So it was a somewhat depressing meal, and I was dreaming of hamburgers and mozzarella sticks, as I begrudgingly ate my vegetable beef soup.

A family from a campsite nearby asked if they could walk through our site to get to the river and, of course, we happily obliged. They were really sweet people, very natural, “granola,” if you will. They’re like the smart kids I went to high school with, who got graduate degrees and are now professors, or running science labs, and are always going on hiking and camping trips with their beautiful spouses and adorable kids. Talking with our new Nature Neighbors was like talking to my high school friends, but ten years in the future.

The Granola Dad laughed at Lindsey’s can of soup as he passed through, saying, “You guys must be going ultralight.” We kinda looked around at all our stuff everywhere and thought, “Huh?” It made us wonder what all he and his family had carried in with them.

O'Neil Creek Camp

Talking to our new friend about soup got us talking about other foods. Real food. We were craving some good, hot meals, but what we really wanted was cheese. Cheese and crackers and wine. We decided to pick some up on the way to our AirBnb after we hiked out of the park. The thought of sitting in the hot tub with a glass of wine and snacks, as we sat on the ground with our stiff backs against a tree, sounded positively orgasmic.

We were in bed early that night, and up early the next morning. When we were packing up camp, Granola Mom came over to greet us. To our absolute astonishment, she had cheese, crackers, and granola bars with her. She said her husband overheard us talking about being hungry and wanting cheese, and that they had leftover rations from the night before that they wanted us to have. I’m not kidding when I say we had tears in our eyes as we looked at her. These people were our heroes. It might have been the best damn cheese we’d ever had in our entire lives. It was some kind of smooth gouda that, in the backcountry on day 4, tasted absolutely decadent. That kind, beautiful family restored a little bit of my faith in humanity that day.IMG_3555

The hike out was about 9 miles, and our packs were lighter as we’d eaten all our food. We talked as we hiked about our favorite parts of the trip. One thing we both loved was the quiet, being so far removed from other human beings. While unsettling at first, we’d learned to cherish the solitude, and the connection it allowed us to feel with our surroundings. The few people we did encounter had as much reverence and respect for the forest as we did. We wanted more of it in our lives. We’d fallen head over heels in love with backpacking. But first we wanted showers. And wine. And more cheese.IMG_3564

By the time we emerged from the forest, we were definitely ready for a break, and we felt like we’d earned it; we were unbelievably proud of ourselves. We’d hiked over 43 miles in the backcountry, in 4 days, with everything we needed on our backs. The word, “badass,” was said more than once, but we were next level exhausted. We were so excited to do things like sit in a real chair, sleep in a real bed, flush a toilet, get water from a faucet. . . I love to escape the world, but there are some things I also love to come back to. Nature helps me appreciate all the advances in modern technology. . . Like indoor plumbing.

When we got to the car I noticed something was amiss. In all the excitement of embarking on our big adventure, I’d left the driver’s window all the way down. . . For the last 4 days. . . In the woods. . . Unattended. . . With hundreds of dollars worth of weed, and all the rest of our stuff inside. We just stood there for a second and exchanged an “uh oh” look before surveying the damage. To our relief, and absolute amazement, everything was still there. Someone could’ve robbed us blind, but our stuff was untouched. It was the second time that day that I’d been given hope for the future of mankind.

The few food items we’d left in a Target bag on the floor of the backseat, however, were another story. They’d been feasted on by some small, forest critter. There were tiny teeth marks in all the packaging, and the contents (mostly Lindsey’s dehydrated fruit, and granola bars she was saving for Mt. Rainier) were just gone. We inspected the rest of our stuff to make sure there were no more surprises, and were satisfied that whatever had been in there had moved on, so we did too. We would find out later, of course, that he wasn’t gone. In fact, whatever it was also drove to our AirBnb and then Mount Rainier with us. After two nights of hiking Rainier, and even though all the windows were securely closed, our food was once again gone, with more chewed up wrappers left behind. We never found it. Whatever it was, he was like some sort of tiny, forest ninja. We weren’t sad when we returned that rental car. At. All.

I wish I could remember the name of the pizza place we went to in Olympia. We were exhausted and in a post-nature daze, I barely even remember the drive to get there. What I do remember is that it was the most delicious Coke to ever pass my lips, and the cheesy garlic bread almost made me cry. Honestly, though, it probably wasn’t really that good. We were just overjoyed to not be eating granola or canned soup, so we were pretty easy to please.IMG_3596

After lunch we made a brief stop at Target for our wine and cheese, then made our way to our “home” for the night. The Time and Again Cabin is a little slice of paradise located in the middle of a Christmas tree farm in Cinebar, Washington. Dripping with charm in every nook and cranny, the cottage has a bedroom, a futon in the living room, a mini kitchen, private laundry and bath, and a giant hot tub. It’s the perfect stop between backpacking trips.IMG_3579

The hosts were a delightful couple who gave us a tour of the cabin and introduced us to their sweet, old dog, who would wind up keeping us company most of the night. They left us snacks, plush bathrobes, flip flops, and special mugs for the hot tub, then they left us to bask in the luxury of their guesthouse.

We showered immediately and oh, how glorious it felt! I honestly felt physically lighter when I stepped out, like I’d just washed away 30 pounds of dirt, sweat, and grime. After we were clean, we threw in a load laundry before pouring our wine and hopping in the hot tub.

Cheers!

There we were, stretched out in this 6 person hot tub, staring up at the billions of stars against the jet black sky. We sipped our wine while the hot water and powerful jets soothed away 4 days of hiking up and down the foothills of the Olympic Mountains. We were totally blissed out.IMG_3587

Clouds began to roll in just as we started getting a little hot, feeling like we may need to get out and breathe some cooler air. Then it started to rain. Just a light, drizzly mist that cooled off our faces enough to allow us to stay in the hot tub a while longer, relaxing as the water massaged us from head to toe. Absolute amazeballs. Even removed from the forest, Mother Nature still had our backs. Thanks, Mom!

After we got out, we switched our laundry and sat on the patio; eating our cheese, finishing our wine, and looking at the pictures we’d taken so far. The dog was by our side, sleeping contently as we smoked a joint, reminisced, and talked about the adventure awaiting us on Mt. Rainier.

We slept so good that night. I’m pretty sure I didn’t move a single muscle from the moment my head hit the pillow until I woke up to the sun shining through the windows, beckoning us to the mountains, in the morning. We were ready.

One thing is for sure, my next visit to Washington will include another trip to Olympic National Park, followed by a stay at the Time and Again Cabin. It was the most perfect mix of wilderness and luxury.

Thank you for stopping by! Be sure to check out my other posts, and come back next week to continue the adventure, when Lindsey and I embark on an all up hill hike in Mount Rainier National Park!

~Steph

Enchanted Valley, Olympic National Park: Mountains and Glaciers and Trees (but no bears), Oh My!

The morning air was crisp, cool, and moist with humidity. The birds were singing a cheerful song, as a woodpecker kept the beat, announcing it was time to start our day. We were a little achy when we climbed out of the tent (and I kinda wanted to strangle the woodpecker with my bare hands), but so ready to get exploring, and finally see the Enchanted Valley.

After a quick breakfast we hit the trail. The first obstacle came before we even left the campground: the bridge over Pyrites Creek had been washed out in a storm. We had to find our own way across. There were several places to get over the creek, but I managed to find the most complicated one, only to get across and see that they’d erected a temporary footbridge about 50 feet from where I’d crossed. Oops.

Behold!

We hadn’t gone much farther when Lindsey stopped me in my tracks with a, “Holy shit! Oh my god, are you seeing this?!” I was so focused on the path ahead that I was forgetting to look around. When I went back to Lindsey my jaw dropped. I don’t know how I’d missed it. It was one of the reasons I’d chosen the Enchanted Valley hike in the first place, and I’d almost walked right past it. It was what used to be the largest mountain hemlock in the entire world until it collapsed several years ago, and it was even more incredible than the pictures I’d seen. Its massive roots lie overturned next to the trail, its once towering trunk stretching out across the forest floor and disappearing down the riverbank. It was magnificent. I tried to imagine what it had looked like before its demise and wondered what finally took it down, but the size of the tree seemed to make the size of the thought too much to comprehend.

It Keeps Going and Going and Going

When we arrived at the narrow, one railing bridge over the ravine, I knew we had arrived. We entered the Enchanted Valley to find the clouds dipping below the peak of snow-capped Mt. Olympus. Everything looked a little gray, the sun only peeking out from behind the clouds sporadically and for brief periods, but it somehow didn’t seem dreary.

The Enchanted Valley

The Enchanted Valley Chalet was perched on the bank of the river, its simple facade humbled by its exquisite surroundings. The Olympic Mountains were lush and green, and waterfalls, fed by glaciers atop the peaks, tumbled down the mountainsides. It definitely isn’t called the Enchanted Valley for nothing.IMG_3488

We ate some lunch outside the Chalet and went looking for the outhouses (Priorities, people). They were rustic, to say the least, but I’ve never been so grateful for an outhouse, nor have I ever been in one with such a spectacular view. I hadn’t relished the thought of digging a hole, squatting, and burying my poo. It’s the one backpacking experience I’ve yet to have (and I’m in no hurry to change that, though I know it’s only a matter of time). I’d been holding it since we left civilization the previous morning, so this little shack, with a toilet seat over a hole, was a welcome sight. That it overlooked the valley, with its mountains, glaciers, and waterfalls, made it feel like the lap of luxury. I give it a 5 star and two thumbs up outhouse rating.

We’d met a couple of other hikers on our way into the valley. They gave us two bits of helpful information: 1. They’d just seen a bear, so watch out. That got us excited. 2. There’s a glacier with ice caves they explored down the trail and across the river. That made us positively giddy. So we went in search of a way to get across, while being watchful for bears (and trying not to step in their poop–which was everywhere).

Enchanted Valley Waterfall

I don’t know where these people were talking about, but we never figured out how to get across the river without going for a frigid swim. We were disappointed. We could see the caves, we were so close, we just couldn’t get there. We hiked a little over a mile farther down the trail, admiring the trees and the mountains as we went, before heading back towards the Valley.IMG_3510

Before going back to camp we stopped to refill our water. There was an island in the river that we had to reach in order to get to the faster flowing water, so we hopped over the little branch of river separating the island from the mainland and, as I was landing, I wanted to scream. I didn’t see it until it was too late: a perfect, pristine bear print in the sand on the river’s island. It was incredible. . . for the split second I saw it before my foot came crashing down on top of it like an inconsiderate giant. It felt like it happened in slow motion, and in my head, it did: me screaming, “Noooooooo,” in a slow-mo voice all the way down. This is my other regret of the trip (the first being when I neglected to get a picture with Ranger Blondie Buns). It was immaculate, even the holes from the claws were there, and it would’ve been such a cool picture. Alas, it now only exists in my memory.IMG_3521

In the end, the paw print and a whole lotta scat is as close as we came to any wild animals (okay, we also saw a tiny lizard, but that totally doesn’t count). Considering the extraordinary amount of bear poop we saw, I’m not sure how we didn’t see any actual bears. I’m also not sure if I’m happy or disappointed about that. Maybe a little of both.

We got back to camp, made dinner, and got our fire going as the sun began to set behind the mountains. Once it began to get dark Lindsey went to bed. We were exhausted. Our bodies were screaming, but the night was so peaceful and perfect that I couldn’t bring myself to go to sleep. There was only one other person in the entire campground and he’d gone to bed before the sun, so when Lindsey went to sleep, I was all alone in the wilderness.

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Naked in the woods selfie!

Since Lindsey was in the tent, I started changing into my pajamas fireside. I was rushing to get changed, fearful of someone seeing my nakedness, and then realized how stupid that was. The forest was so dark I couldn’t even see my hand in front of my face. There was no one around to see me anyway, so I slowed down and decided to sit in the woods for a while–naked. The cool breeze combined with the warmth of the fire on my skin felt incredible. To sit in the wilderness in such a natural state, listening to the crackling fire and the wind through the trees, staring up at a sky with endless stars, was unbelievably liberating. Part of me wanted to go running naked through the woods just for the hell of it. Maybe I have an unconscious desire to be a nudist hiding somewhere behind all my insecurities and programmed obedience to societal norms (and, you know, the law). Or, maybe it was just fun to sit in the woods, smoking a joint, all by myself and naked, knowing no one would see me. Either way it was an experience I’m glad I had. I was as bare and vulnerable as the trees around me, all of us submitting to Mother Nature together.

I was really glad Ranger Blondie Buns didn’t reappear at that particular moment. On the one hand, it could’ve made for an entirely different and sordid blog post (at least in my fantasy it would). On the other, it could’ve ended up with me getting a citation for public indecency (a far more likely scenario), and getting myself banned from all national parks for life. I’m grateful the night instead ended with me putting some clothes on and going to bed without incident. I was also glad for our upcoming Rest Day with only three miles of hiking. I was looking forward to a having a day to slow down, relax, and fully appreciate Olympic National Park before our hike back to civilization.

Thanks for stopping by! I hope you enjoyed the read! Be sure to check out my other posts, and come back next week to hear how our Ladycation backpacking in Olympic National Park ends! Stay chill and keep exploring, friends!

~Steph