Why, Thanks!

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WOW, well, I certainly didn’t expect that to happen! THANK YOU, WORDPRESS!! I’m totally humbled and honored (and yes, completely aware of how shameless my post was, but as many of you replied, “Ask and you shall receive”). Yesterday was, without a doubt, the best day of my blogging life. Thank you also to my friend Andrew, aka Ferg, who thought to tweet @wordpress to get it recognized, a little tip (my apologies, WordPress, if I’ve created a monster). Ferg will be compensated for his efforts, as he requested, with a plate of brownies.

No one has ever “liked” a post on my blog before, so little did I know that WordPress sends me an email every time someone chooses to like it. My gmail account easily had the most active day since the creation of my email address and waking up to 94 emails on my phone yesterday morning immediately clued me in to my short-lived fame. It was probably the most excited I’ve been to get up since Christmas Day circa 1992. Not that normally waking up to my daily Groupon and Writer’s Almanac email from Garrison Keillor isn’t equally as thrilling. By the end of yesterday, I felt a bit like author A.J. Jacobs as he obsesses in The Year of Living Biblically about his previously published best seller admitting, “I really, really must stop self-Googling.” Yesterday, I too, really, really needed to stop looking at my site stats!

Mostly, thank you to all the bloggers who shared comments of encouragement. They are so much appreciated!! And for those who chuckled, glad there were a few more smiles yesterday. A few hours on FP left me with (for those of you who inquired) close to 6,000 hits for the day, 400+ plus comments, and, yes, even an offer for a lunch date with an (unavailable) ex-boyfriend.

Those of you who choose to follow along, I will try not to disappoint, though I may have some trouble topping my own appeal.

The Enchantments, Part I

At the top of my list for my return to Washington State was a multi-day backpacking trip–since most of my hiking has been done outside of my home state, I thought it was time I actually got to know what I claim to be familiar territory. I am “funemployed” after all, I knew I had the gear and the time, all it would take was figuring out some logistics. I entertained the idea of attempting the Wonderland Trail, but with various plans falling through and only the hope of obtaining a day-of permit with a variable itinerary, I opted for a shorter, more convenient trip.

While I’m in transition from Alaska to whatever’s next and playing the role of “house-daughter” currently, I knew I was looking for a hiking companion with a similar “limbo” status. I just happened to mention my backpacking desires to Mr. Scott Hippe, a friend from Gonzaga,  who I met on the first day of our Outdoor Leadership class during my senior year. Scott happens to be playing the “house-son” role currently as he applies to med schools, and he enthusiastically suggested The Enchantments. One search on Google Images had me sold on the idea and the more I researched the trail, the more I wondered why I had never heard of it before. A description in one hiking book began, “Ahhh, The Enchantments . . . ” and proceeded to explain the splendor of Washington’s most beautiful hiking area. Despite not having a permit, Scott and I agreed to give it a shot.

I borrowed a stove, checked the Forest Service website for regulations, Weather.com convinced me the skies would be clear with perfect temperatures, and I spent the better part of the previous Friday night on a date with every employee of the REI shoe department tweaking my newly broken-in hiking boots. With that, on Monday night I drove to Scott’s home in Snohomish, my hiking gear compiled, but definitely not packed, in the back of my Subaru. Scott and I procrastinated getting organized by enjoying dinner with his family, but around 9 p.m. we thought we better think through “the plan” of leaving his house no later than 5:30 a.m. to drive to Leavenworth and be at the Ranger Station by 7:30 a.m. in time to enter the daily permit lottery.

By 10 p.m. the stove I borrowed was leaking fuel and despite Scott’s, his mom’s, and my persistent efforts to replace the O-rings where the fuel line connected, I had to make a last minute trip back down I-5 to grab a JetBoil from Annie in Seattle. In the meantime, Scott tackled our grocery list at Safeway. I successfully arrived back at Scott’s around 11 p.m., shortly before he did, but as his Civic careened down his cul de sac and bounced into his driveway before screeching to a halt in front of his garage door I knew the late-night shopping venture hadn’t produced the same ease I had gained by obtaining a working stove. His door flew open as he simultaneously killed the engine and announced,

“I spent a half hour looking for the God-damned raisins! Why would dried fruit be in the fresh fruit section?!”

I have never heard Scott swear this liberally and his exasperated tone coupled with his erratic approach to the garage left me keeled over in his driveway laughing. Oh yes . . . it was going to be a good trip.

After a midnight bed-time and a 4:45 a.m. alarm, we arrived promptly at the Leavenworth Ranger Station at 7:30 a.m. and pulled into the parking spot next to a Volvo with a couple also in pursuit of a permit. We lingered for fifteen minutes before Amanda, bless her heart (as Scott said), a grumpy ranger who clearly wished she was still in bed, opened the door and recited a rapid fire explanation of the rules to obtain a permit, but managed to leave out rather crucial details, such as, how many different permits you could enter the lottery for, in case your name wasn’t drawn on the first one. This didn’t affect us, but definitely screwed up the plans of another hiking duo.

While Amanda didn’t crack a smile, Scott began openly negotiating with the other hikers, asking who else was interested in hiking to the “Core Enchantments” and plotting to get all the parties on one permit since up to eight hikers are allowed in a group. The woman standing next to us from the Volvo said she’d been there the day before with her husband and had lost the lottery, but if we were the only two groups going for the one permit, she would put us down as a group of four to enter the lottery. We graciously complied with the offer and thus began our friendship with Rick and Anne as we teamed up on the same permit to hike into the desired territory. Amanda adamantly reminded us that we must camp in the same location if we were on the same permit together, so we nodded and pretended as though we would comply. The last minute addition of Scott and me to Rick and Anne’s permit registration blossomed into a beautiful trail friendship as we ferried each other’s cars to the appropriate trailheads, shared campsites 2 of the 3 nights, and traded cookies and fuel.

Scott and I were still a bit on the unorganized side so we said goodbye to Rick and Anne as they took off down the trail and, well, Scott and I monopolized the one picnic table at the trailhead.

Getting Organized at the Trailhead
Don’t worry, I totally have this under control.

But after a bit of work, we were off!

We're Friends, Stuart Lake Trailhead
Friends at the start . . . and the end 🙂

We strolled along the trail to Stuart Lake for lunch, four miles out of our way from our destination for the night, but it made for a great lunch break.

Scott at Stuart Lake for Lunch
Scott at Stuart Lake for Lunch

We worked our way up to Lake Colchuck for the night, and, following Anne’s advice, we hiked to the far end of the lake so we were conveniently located at the bottom of Aasgard Pass, where we would begin the hike up the next day. I was quite happy to see the little patch of beach that Rick and Anne generously offered to share with us at Lake Colchuck and promptly face-planted by falling off the log on the beach to end our first day! Scott and I set up our tent about six inches from the calm waters of the lake and, after a brisk jump in to wash off the the grime, we enjoyed a beautiful, quiet night on the lake.

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At Lake Colchuck the First Evening

We were greeted with Aasgard Pass on Wednesday morning and began the trek up after a bit of doctoring of blisters acquired the previous day.

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REI, why don't my boots fit right?!
Scott and Me, at the Bottom of Aasgard Pass, Starting Up
Oh Hello Aasgard Pass!

Scott was sporting a little-known hiking fashion that allows underwear that is still wet from the previous day of swimming in the lake to be air-dried while in transit. Not only is it an effective drying method, but it’s highly fashionable.

Scott Underpants Hippe
Scott Underpants Hippe

Though I wasn’t making quite the same fashion statement as Scott, I dedicated my day of hiking to Mr. Lucas Sharma, who wears polo shirts from J Crew while hiking, because I was wearing a collared shirt on the trail. Here’s to you, Lucas!

We made it to the top of the pass and entered quite a different world, the Upper Enchantments.

Scott and Me, Little Anapurna Behind
Scott and me in the Upper Enchantments

Scott took a drip in the frigid water while I pumped water and was, of course, there for moral support.

Scott Takes the Plunge
Scott Takes the Plunge

We set up camp on the moon-like landscape and were promptly visited by some Mountain Goats who wanted to check out the new neighbors.

Mountain Goats
Mountain Goats Exploring the Neighborhood

While they look cute and fuzzy, they are rather aggressive and strongly attracted to the smell of urine, which can cause an interesting/dangerous situation for the average squatting female. A fellow-hiker who was camped nearby warned that her friend had been gored by a goat the day before while she was peeing after the goat smelled it and came running toward her mid-flow. The hiker pointed to Scott and said, “You watch out for her while she pees!” then pointed to me and said, “And you, be careful!” Needless to say I was rather alert every time I popped a squat! And yes, Scott did sometimes stand guard.

After a little afternoon rest, Scott talked me into hiking up Little Anapurna, the mountain whose base we were camped at. Scott, being the ambitious outdoorsman that he is, thought it would be fun to take dinner up to the top of the mountain in time for sunset. I, in the meantime, had visions of us roaming aimlessly in the dark attempting to get down after sunset, but he assured me that with headlamps we would be fine and even offered to carry all the gear, so with that, I had little excuse to reject to his proposal.

When we got to the top, it looked as though perhaps we had arrived in the Scottish Highlands.

Scottish Highlands on top of Little Anapurna?
Are we still in Washington?

And we wandered our way to the random rock structures where we found a rather excellent place to take some pictures and have dinner.

Sunset Silhouettes
Sunset Silhouettes
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Yummmm, freeze-dried Lasagna!
Mt. Rainier
Did I mention there was a view of Mt. Rainier?
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And a rather EPIC sunset

Scott also had a little surprise in store. When we got to the top he asked what one material thing I wished I could have. Feeling content, I let him know that I didn’t think a scene like the one before us needed any material thing. But he insisted I answer the question, so finally I acknowledged that a Starbucks delivered to the mountain top wouldn’t be so bad. Or a cold beer. At which point he chuckled and said, “Ooooor, some whiskey?!” and he scrounged around to the bottom of his backpack pulling out the bottle of whiskey he had proudly shuttled to the mountain top.

We did, in fact, make it back down to our tent just fine, while utilizing our headlamps and Scott’s route-finding skills. Just as we had turned our back on the sunset and started down the mountain, we saw the moon rising bright red in the east. By the time we made it to our tent, the moonlight was overtaking the landscape and we captured the moonlit evening on camera.

Moonlit Night
Moonlit Night

The next morning we were off again for day three.

Packed Up
Packed Up

To be continued . . .

Farewell Sitka: Best of, Worst of a Year on an Island in the North Pacific

I packed my bags to the point of bursting seams and said goodbyes to the point of exhaustion. I shed a few tears as I said farewell to my co-workers from the last year and flew over Sitka one last time before the low-lying clouds obstructed my aerial view of town.

What a year.

So, I’m in my home in Seattle, where I grew up, sun shining without a cloud in the sky, and the thought of taking on a crowd of several thousand at Bumbershoot or Dave Matthews at the Gorge  over this Labor Day weekend is overwhelming. I guess I’ll stick a bit closer to home and present my “Best of, Worst of a year in Sitka” list! Though there were several other adventures throughout Alaska this year, I tried to keep the list mostly related to Sitka, with a couple of exceptions, naturally!

Best Holiday: Alaska Day, October 18

U.S.A. and Alaska
Alaska Day flag raising ceremony on Castle Hill

Best Catch (2-way tie): 20lb. King Salmon, June 6; 50+lb. Halibut (thanks, Tyler), July 17

Me and My Fishy
Me and my King Salmon

Worst Flight: November 1, trying to return to Sitka from Seattle, plane struck by lightning outside of Ketchikan, turned around to Seattle after being unable to land in Ketchikan, Juneau, or Sitka due to weather.

Best Beer: Redoubt Red, Baranof Island Brewing Co. Honorable Mention: Sockeye Red IPA, Midnight Sun Brewing

Best Party: Top Gun, May 28 with Juneau JVs and DJ Bone (thanks, Chris!)

Best Camping Trip: Salmon Lake Cabin, May 6-8

Salmon Lake Cabin
Salmon Lake Cabin

Best Concert: The Wicked Tinkers, May 21 Honorable Mention: Red Molly October 8

Best Sitka Community Event: Alpine Adventure Race, July 23 Honorable Mention: Girls on the Run 5k, May 14

Girls on the Run 5k Prep
Preparation for the Girls on the Run 5k

Best Weekly Ritual: Beer on the porch of the Larkspur Wed at 5p.m., post-staff meeting, pre-community night.

Best Community Night (2-way tie): making pretzels in honor of Lent, photo-scavenger hunt.

Most Random Run-in: Matt and Anderson from Alta, Utah at the Larkspur, September, Honorable Mention: Steve Demmert outside Crescent Harbor, in town for Herring fishery, late March!

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Captain Steve Demmert at work during a herring opener.

Best Housesitting: The Cunningham’s

Best Lunch at SAFV (2-way tie): Sushi Day December 23 thanks to Chris, Taco Truck Day, June, thanks to Vic!

Best Reality TV Show (2-way tie): Watching The Sing-Off with Nick (and sometimes Brandon), ABDC (America’s Best Dance Crew), Thursday nights with Chris and Brandon (“You always cease to amaze me!” -Lil’ Mama)

Best Bar Game: Shuffleboard at the Bayview

Chris and his Sing-alongs
Chris singing at the shuffleboard table.

Best/Worst/Only trip to the ER: July 2, after epic fall when an unknown curb suddenly jumped in my way while running.

Best Milkshake: Harry Race Soda Fountain, Medium Chocolate Shake

Best Failed Hike: Coastal Trail in Seward with Braden, January 15

Along the Icy, Snowy, Impassable Trail We Go!
Braden along the Icy, Snowy, Impassable Trail

Favorite Trail: Beaver Lake/Herring Cove

Best View: Top of Verstovia on a sunny day.

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View from the top of Verstovia, looking toward Silver Bay

Best Coffee Shop: The Backdoor

Best “Grind:” the Fiddle Grind, February.

Best Zags Basketball Viewing: the Westmark at the bar with Nick.

Best Burger: The Wade Brevick, Bayview Restaurant

Best Sushi: The Titanic Roll, Little Tokyo

Best End of Year Exploring: Walking all the public docks in Sitka with Brandon.

Best Night at the P-Bar: post-Coast Guard Christmas Party with Chris and C.G. friends.

Best Month of Weather: May, Honorable Mention: September, 12 straight days of no rainfall, new record!