How Not to Ski to Ostrander: A Classic Story of Misadventure

A few weeks ago, Matt and I set off on a trip to Yosemite to ski to the legendary Ostrander Hut with Elliot, patriarch and OG badass of the Fineman family. The plan was simple: fly into Oakland, drive to Yosemite and stay overnight at the Yosemite Lodge, then skin the 12ish miles up to the hut for 2 nights of alpine bliss, complete with bunkbeds, the snores of strangers, and a flask of whisky.

In a stroke of genius, Matt and I decided to book parking at one of the airport lots to save us the hassle of Ubering with our skis (shoutout to Krystin Norman and Evo for lending us a wheely bag, total lifesaver). We found a screaming deal online, paid, and left with ample time to park, shuttle to the airport, check our bags, and be on with it.

Or so we thought.

It turns out the address they sent us in a confirmation email lead to a random empty lot behind a fast food joint. With no cars or people to guide us, we googled a second address after failing to get a person on the phone. Twenty minutes later, we arrived at said address only to find that it too was not a parking lot. Frantic at this point, we decided to throw caution (read: money) to the wind and park at the airport because we were dangerously close to missing our flight. We plugged the airport into the GPS and BAM, the gas light came on.

Allow me to briefly interject with a story about a common issue with mid-90s to early 2000s Subarus: they are finicky AF about receiving gas. So, approximately 15 minutes later we acquired two gallons of gas, sufficient to make the drive to the airport and back to a gas station upon our return, and we were on our way!

We crushed the twenty minute drive to the airport in approximately 25 minutes (because traffic) and found a parking spot on level 8. Feeling triumphant, we grabbed our bags and rushed to the Alaska desk to check our skis. There, a very kind man informed us that while we could still make the flight, we wouldn’t be able to check our bags. Apparently TSA doesn’t take kindly to folks trying to carry on skis, much less full touring setups with beacons, probes, and shovels so we were SOL. Deflated, we headed to the customer service desk where an exceptionally kind woman took pity on us and promptly rebooked us on the next flight WITH NO FEES, WHEEEEE! We grabbed our things and headed back to my sisters house for a couple of hours of sleep before doing the whole thing over again, this time opting to just catch an Uber to the airport. Pro-tip: make sure you request an XL if you’re traveling with a ski bag and several large packs. I’ll spare you the details of wrestling our shit into the tiny boot of the cute BMW that arrived to pick us up at 3:45am.

We arrived in Oakland and promptly grabbed our checked backpacks, then waited for our skis to arrive at the oversize luggage department.

And waited.

And waited.

And waited.

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We finally gave up, and checked in at the baggage desk where they informed us that they had no idea where our ski bag was but they would find it. In the meantime, we were advised to try and find rentals. Feeling defeated, we headed to the Fineman house to regroup and research. I finally found a shop in Berkeley that rented touring setups (shout out to California Ski Co) so we packed up the car and hit the road. On the upside, the shop had a pair of Black Diamond Helios 95 for Matt, skis he had been eyeing for some time. On the downside, the skins for the setup I was renting were missing and the odds of getting a replacement set looked grim. At that point, Alaska called to say they had found our bag and it was en route to the Oakland airport. So, we drove back to Oakland, grabbed the skis, and FINALLY hit the road.

The drive to Yosemite is beautiful in places and between dozing off in the back and grocery stops, I was full of excitement. We pulled into the Yosemite Valley Lodge and checked in, then went on a short hike to Yosemite Falls, roaring into the (very grey) sunset. We grabbed dinner and drinks, then packed our bags for the morning and hit the hay. Once our party-hearty neighbors calmed down at 3 am, we got a few hours of shut eye and woke up far from refreshed but super stoked.

We made the drive up to the Yosemite ski area to check in with the rangers and park the car, then we were off! The skin up begins with a short section of climbing, then mellows out into a gently rolling groomed trail. Elliot took a little tumble early on, and a few miles in decided to call it. He felt great physically, but a little imbalanced and was understandably worried about taking a fall on the notoriously steep hills closer to the hut on the way down. Feeling sad, we made a new plan which involved Matt and I carrying on to stay at the hut for one night. We stopped to exchange certain items of gear, and I also removed the footbed liners of my boots, which were riding up the back of my foot and causing a lot of discomfort. We said our goodbyes, and carried on up the trail. A half mile later, I felt the tell-tale signs of a blister. I popped off my boots, applied moleskin, and kept going. A mile after that, it was worse. We finally reached the cut off for the final charge up the hill to Ostrander and at this point I was in a lot of foot pain. I popped off both boots to make a final assessment of my feet before carrying on to discover blood blisters the size of half dollars on both feet, plus varies other small blisters. I was perplexed, having never had problems with these boots before, and frustrated. I was also in a lot of pain. And, having cramps. THANKS BODY.

At this point, I realized that if we carried on I would be pretty miserable the rest of the day, not to mention the following day as we skied out. With trips to New Mexico and Nepal looming, I also wanted to make a smart choice for my feet. So, with one bout of tears I made the call to turn around. It sucked, big time.

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Before beginning our descent, I patched up my feet as best as I could and we fired off messages to Elliot to let him know what was happening. Then we began the painful ski back, each subtle motion of my feet sending fire up my legs. As we skied, we kept checking for a response from Elliot, but none came. We finally made it back to the trailhead to find the resort and ranger station closed, with barely a car in the lot. We limped to the lodge to use the bathroom and regroup, and started to face the reality that we might be bivvying in the parking lot, having no way to get down the mountain.

At this point, a staff member came outside and saw us. Curious, he asked what we were up to so we explained. He took pity on us, and offered to help. As he made his offer, an employee bus came around the corner. “Let me see if you can catch a ride.” he said. A few minutes later, we were loaded up on the bus, snacking on Joe Chocolates and peanut butter while the driver regaled us with stories from his time spent in the Denali backcountry. It felt like sweet, sweet success.

We finally reached the Yosemite Lodge, where we faced our next conundrum: with no responses from Elliot and no wallets, what should we do? We briefly entertained the idea of sleeping at Camp 4 but without a tent or sleeping pads and with my feet in need of some TLC, it was a grim prospect. So, I decided to approach the hotel staff and explain our situation. To my surprise and joy, it was the same woman who checked us in initially and she remembered us! She quickly got us sorted with a room using some sort of magic, and 10 minutes later I was showered, bandaged, and laying in bed.

We finally met up with Elliot, just in time to miss last call for dinner so we toasted marshmallows and ate housemate potato chips by the fire while we caught him up on our disaster. We all laughed, then went to bed. The next day we explored the valley, checking out some classic sights before hitting the road. Even though we didn’t achieve our objective, I’ll never forget the trip or the kindness of strangers that helped us stay safe and happy.

And that, my friends, is how to not ski to the Ostrander Hut.

Private Snowcoach Tour of West Yellowstone

Yellowstone National Park is an iconic destination, one I have had the privilege of visiting in the summer months when the wildlife is plentiful and the tourists abound. But, I had never visited it during the winter when a thick coat of snow coats the landscape, making for an ethereal experience with the thick plumes of steam dotting the horizon.

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In January, Nick and I had the chance to take a private snow coach tour of the park courtesy of Visit Montana* and it was an incredible treat! We walked through geyser basins, watched the bison play, caught Old Faithful going off two times, and enjoyed the comfort and warmth of the coach as we transitioned from place to place.

Things to consider:

  1. Your guide will check in with you upon entering the park to see what type of adventure you’re interested in having. It’s a good idea to do a little research before you hit the trail so you can prioritize your destinations, whether that’s strolling through steamy plumes, visiting Old Faithful, or getting a little further on foot for views of Grand Prismatic Hot Springs in the snow.

  2. Feel free to load up on layers and snacks. You’ll have ample storage inside the snowcat for backpacks and snacks so bring layers you can take on and off as you hop in and out, and snacks for the day. You can also purchase snacks and keepsakes at the Old Faithful lodge if you make it that way!

  3. To the point above, bring your wallet! Your guide isn’t responsible for purchasing additional items for you!

  4. If you’re lucky, you’ll see plentiful wildlife while you’re out and about. Listen to your guide and maintain a safe distance between you and any animals you come upon while visiting. This is for your safety and the safety of the animals. A long lens is recommended for snapping photos from the safety of the snowcat.

That’s the long and the short of it! Get out there for your own adventure and let me know how it goes!

*The Montana State Tourism Board sponsored the trip, but has not asked me to create this content. I had such an amazing time and the experience was phenomenal so I want to share about it a little more.


Winter Fly Fishing in Paradise Valley

I have long been enchanted by fly fishing. There’s something about the graceful arc of a line cutting through the air that speaks of peace and contentment. Despite my interest, I have never had the opportunity to give it a try until this year.

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On a recent trip with Visit Montana*, my friend Nick Lake and I found ourselves at the Montana Anglers office early one morning, steaming cups of coffee from Treeline in hand. That’s where we met Bill, our delightful teacher and guide for the day. He set the tone for the day by introducing himself as short in stature but tall in experience, an we immediately knew we were in for a blast!

After sorting out gear and licenses, we loaded up the truck with waders, boots, poles, tackle, and lunch and began our drive. Eventually we pulled into the gate to De Puy Spring Creek, a privately owned piece of heaven in the Paradise Valley. After checking in, Bill picked our first spot based on some sort of magical fish knowledge and we jumped in! Bill taught us the basics of casting, mending, presenting, and setting our lines so they floated naturally downstream in the hope of enticing a fish. We quickly fell into the rhythm, finding it peaceful and quite cozy in the bright sunshine.

Shortly thereafter, I CAUGHT MY FIRST FISH AND HOLY HECK I WAS SO EXCITED! I landed a beautiful rainbow trout, which Bill netted so we could gently disentangle it from the line. We snapped a few pics, making sure to keep the beautiful fish partially submerged, then set it free back into the crystalline waters of the creek. After a few hours of fishing, we nestled into one of the many warming huts on the property for a delicious lunch and chats with a local named Steve who regaled us with stories about his ducks and life growing up in Montana. When we were full and toasty, we picked a new location and got back to it. The rest of the day passed in a golden haze and when the sun finally began to sink below the mountains, we packed up and called it a day. Nick ultimately caught the most fish, with 5 to his name, while I caught the most salad. I left feeling pretty proud of my catches and I am happy to report that I’m currently planning 2 different fly fishing trips because I caught the fever, pun intended.

A few things to consider if you’re thinking of giving it a try:

  1. You’ll need to purchase a fishing permit. You can do it in person at Montana Anglers or online. We found it much easier to do in person truth be told!

  2. Bring layers! In the winter, it can get pretty chilly so you’ll want a solid base layer to wear under your waders to stay warm. I wore full body wool base layers, wool socks, down pants, and a down puffy underneath my waders with a baseball cap and thin beanie and I was set!

  3. Bring your camera! The fish are as beautiful as the surroundings and you may want to take a few photos before you release the fish back into the creek!

  4. Sunscreen, sunscreen, sunscreen! Make sure you get the backs of your hands and the underside of your sun to protect against bounceback from the water!

  5. Don’t forget your sunglasses, polarized if possible. You’ll want to protect your eyes and this will help you see the fish under the water!

That’s the long and the short of it! I hope you all have the chance to get out there and get after it. And, if you have other must-see fly fishing destinations, I am all ears!

*The Montana State Tourism Board sponsored the trip, but has not asked me to create this content. I had such an amazing time and the experience was phenomenal so I want to share about it and I can’t recommend Bill from Montana Anglers strongly enough.


Winter Ice Climbing in Hyalite Canyon

In 2013 I tried my hand at ice climbing a few times and absolutely loved it.  I found the experience exhilarating and wanted to give it another shot, but life got in the way. So, imagine my stoke upon seeing it as an option on a recent trip to Visit Montana with my friend and badass photographer Nick Lake. Spoiler alert: it was HIGH and yes, that’s a climbing pun.

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Nick and I filled our packs with snacks and layers galore, then headed to the Spire Climbing Center in Bozeman to meet up with Sam, owner and guide extraordinaire from Montana Alpine Guides. After borrowing some necessary gear and chatting about our objectives and skill levels, we hit the road for the beautiful drive into Hyalite Canyon. Hyalite Canyon is home to the largest concentration of naturally occurring ice in the lower 48 and it’s incredibly beautiful to boot.

From the parking lot, we hiked up the hill for about 30 minutes or so to Mummy 2/Scepter area. Sam went over some fundamentals with us, and shortly thereafter the fun began. Nothing makes you feel quite as badass as swinging tools into a frozen waterfall and hearing that refreshing “THUNK” when it sinks in. Pair that feeling of power with the ruggedly beautiful landscape and the occasional blast of spindrift to the face and you have my idea of a perfect day!

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A few things to consider:

  1. Montana Alpine Guides can provide you with all the technical gear you need, so don’t worry about flying with mountaineering boots or crampons. Save the luggage space for layers and room to bring back some souvenirs!

  2. While some familiarity with basic climbing principles (tying in, belaying, etc.) is useful, you don’t need a ton of experience to get out and have an amazing day. Simply communicate your skill level and experience to your guide and they will make sure to pick terrain that will be fun and comfortable for you!

  3. You will be responsible for bringing certain items of clothing! Your guides will send you a list, but I want to emphasize the importance of layers so you can bulk up when you’re done climbing to stay warm and dry! I also highly recommend bringing a thermos of some hot tea, soup, or broth. Trust me, you’ll be thankful for it!

  4. Winter Leave No Trace (LNT) ethics apply. That means packing out all food and human waste. If you’re not sure how to do the latter, check out my blog about how to do your business outside!

I hope you have the chance to get after some ice if you visit Montana this winter! If you do, I highly recommend a post-climb dinner at Bridger Brewing where the beers are gluten removed, the food is delicious, and the staff will take incredible care of you!

Let me know how it goes if you make it, I would love to hear more!

Note: The Montana State Tourism Board sponsored the trip, but has not asked me to create this content. I just had such an amazing time that I decided to spray about it via blog post because the experience was phenomenal and I can’t recommend Sam from Montana Alpine Guides strongly enough.


Memories Over Stuff: A Washington Experience-Giving Guide

We’re in the thick of the holidays and it’s a stressful time of year. Here in the PNW, the weather usually takes a turn for the bleak as folks scurry around, trying to catch up with family and friends while navigating the finances and norms of gift-giving.

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Whether you’re feeling strapped for cash or searching for the perfect present for the person who has everything, consider giving the gift of experience and memories over stuff this holiday season. I have rounded up a few of my favorite adventures below and encourage you to grab the ones you love for some quality time together outside this holiday season.

Snowshoeing, Sledding and Touring at Paradise

Paradise is aptly named. No matter the season, it’s a dreamy spot with a lot of options for the beginner adventurist and seasoned explorer alike. You can grab some sleds and hit the mini slopes to watch children and adults alike shrieking with laughter as they slide down the snow in the shadow of Tahoma, take a guided snowshoe tour with a ranger, or have a walkabout at your leisure, taking in the sights from Panorama Point to the Tatoosh and beyond.

Things to consider:

  1. A piping hot thermos of soup, hot cocoa, or tea will add some flair and magic to your day! Throw it in your backpack, then unpack when hunger strikes for a festive picnic in the snow!

  2. Be careful with timing. The gates to Paradise close each night for maintenance and safety issues. You’ll need to be down the mountain before then, or risk a hefty fine. The best resource is the MRNP Twitter account, which you can view here:

  3. Check the avalanche forecast! This applies to every winter adventure in the Cascades. Certain routes in the area pass through or under avalanche terrain. Make sure you check the avalanche forecast on NWAC before heading out, and stay safe!

Experience the Ape Cave Lava Tube at Mount St. Helens

Mount St. Helens is home to the longest continuous lava tube cave in the continental United States. At just shy of 2 miles, it’s a relatively easy tromp through a fascinating natural feature, though you do have to traverse the occasional rock pile and a few slippery water-logged features. Keep your eyes peeled for the natural windows, which provide the perfect opportunity for some dramatic photos and bring water and snacks with you! Pro-tip: I much prefer hiking to the far end of the caves, then returning under the ground!

Things to consider:

  1. You will definitely want headlamps and maybe even flashlights as it’s very dark inside! Consider backup batteries in the event that you want to linger!

  2. Wear a raincoat and layer up! It can be a bit chilly and drippy inside of the caves, so have a few layers handy and definitely bring a raincoat to stay dry.

  3. Grab some hand sanitizer and pack a picnic to be enjoyed after the caves! You’ll definitely get your hands a little dirty inside, so save the big snacks for a post-adventure meal if you can!

Head East and visit the Palouse Falls

Palouse Falls is a remnant from Ice Age and one of the most striking falls in Washington state! Water plunges 200 feet to a pool below, and the spines of a nearby ridge lend an ethereal quality to the spot! It’s a bit of a drive, but more than worth it to take in the views and hike around the area.

Things to consider:

  1. Early winter sunsets make catching the glow at the falls a reasonable winter adventure, giving you plenty of time to drive home and sleep in your own bed if you’re just going for a day trip! Grab a thermos of something hot and tuck in for the show.

  2. Be careful as you explore the area surrounding the falls. Waterlogged slopes can be more unstable so stick to the marked trails and take in the views safely!

  3. Check the pass before you hit the road if you’re heading over I-90, and go prepared! Safety first, friends!

Visit the Olympic Peninsula

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The Peninsula offers something for everyone. Looking for a spot to play in the snow? You can’t go wrong with Hurricane Ridge, Lower and Upper Lena Lakes, Mount Storm King, or one of the many other popular winter hiking destinations. Fancying some time in the hot springs? The Olympic Peninsula has those too! Itching for a little winter beach time? Check, check, and check! Grab your loved ones and hit the road for a memorable adventure!

Things to consider:

  1. Many of the coastal destinations on the Peninsula require that you purchase a recreation pass from the Makah tribe. Please respect all tribal rules and regulations as you recreate on tribal land, and honor the work they are doing to preserve these places.

  2. If possible, plan your route to include a ferry ride. Washington ferries are a fun, beautiful way to make your way around. Always double check the WSF ferry site before you go for schedules and seasonal closures. Bonus points: they serve local beers and wines on board so grab a designated driver and a glass of something delicious.

  3. Coastal weather is mercurial. Make sure you have layers and waterproof gear so you’re ready for anything the peninsula throws at you!

Catch Sunset at Artist Point

At 4 miles roundtrip, the trek up to Artist Point in the winter is moderate and incredibly rewarding! Skirt around the active resort area and climb toward Table Mountain until you’re greeted with incredible views of the Canadian border peaks, Mount Shuksan, Mount Baker (originally and most accurately known as Koma Kulshan) and other stellar views of the North Cascades. It’s a great spot to layer up and hunker down for sunset and if you’re lucky, you’ll be treated to gorgeous pink light washing over Shuksan as the sun goes down. Before you get too cold, strap on a headlamp and make your way back to the car, then head down the hill for pizza and burgers at Chair 9.

Things to consider:

  1. As with the rest of the Cascade locations, be cognizant of avalanche risk and the terrain you’re traversing on your explorations. Stay safe out there.

  2. The trail skirts around active ski areas. Respect the trail boundaries or you’ll run amuck of the Mount Baker Ski resort staff!

  3. Consider grabbing a spot at the Baker Lodge if you’re not interested in making the trek in a day!

What are your favorite adventures to share with loved ones in the winter? I would love to hear all about them!

Escape Adventures: E-biking through Utah

I recently had the opportunity to take an e-bike and hiking tour through Utah with Escape Adventures. It’s hard to sum the trip up in just one word, so here are three: fun, dreamy, and insanelybeautiful (I know, I know, I cheated)!

Jaylyn, Jen and Stacy leading the charge in Snow Creek Canyon, Utah. Ancestral lands of the Paiute People.

Jaylyn, Jen and Stacy leading the charge in Snow Creek Canyon, Utah. Ancestral lands of the Paiute People.

The trip began with a tour of the LEED certified Las Vegas Cyclery where we learned a bit about the company and their passion for biking and protecting the environment. After loading up on the essentials, we piled into the Escape Adventures van with Jen, Troy, and Merrick and hit the road! The van soon entered beautiful sandstone canyons and dreamy landscapes and the Escape Adventures crew made sure to fill us in on local lore and highlights. We stopped at our first departure point for a bike fitting and demo, and then the trip really kicked off!

Have you ever seen so many beautiful e-bikes?

Have you ever seen so many beautiful e-bikes?

Over the course of the next couple of days, we rode through wide open spaces and staggering canyons with sheer, red walls. The electric boost of the bikes kept us going strong on the longer climbs and Jen, Troy, and Merrick kept us fueled up on delicious food, coffee, and a whole lot of stoke. We ditched the bikes for some beautiful hikes through Bryce Canyon and Zion, marveling at the beauty along the way. I was especially blessed to bike with Jaylyn Gough, founder of Native Women's Wilderness, who shared the history and significance of the land as we passed through reservations and tribal boundaries. If you follow in our footsteps, I hope you’ll take a moment to honor the land and acknowledge the history of these places.

Jaylyn, taking in the views.

Jaylyn, taking in the views.

The culminating night of our trip found us eating grilled salmon and roasted potatoes at the Hatch Hut, a unique spot that Escape Adventures has been working on for years. The hut is constructed from upcycled cargo containers and beautiful in its simplicity and thoughtful design. It has a kitchen, bunk beds, cozy living space, and a lovely shower to wash off the dust after a long day on the trail. The first of its kind, it will eventually be connected to 3 other huts and over a hundred miles of bike-accessible trails. It’s the realization of a lot of hard work, evinced by the space itself and the passion with which Merrick, Troy and Jen shared it with us. Spending our last evening there was a treat and in some ways, it felt more like a new beginning than an end. I can’t wait to go back for more!

If you’re thinking of hitting the trail with Escape Adventures, here’s a little list of essentials to take with you to make it that much more comfortable and fun:

  1. Bike shorts

    I made the mistake of going without bike shorts and let me just tell you, you are going to want a pair! The ease of an e-bike doesn’t take away from having a sore tush!

  2. Polarized glasses

    Weather is variable and if you’re lucky, the sun will be shining! Snag a pair of polarized glasses to keep your eyes protected from wind, sun, and bugs as you hit the trail!

  3. Buff or Balaclava

    A crucial piece for chilly mornings that doubles as a sweatband if you turn off the e-boost like I did! Keeps your face warm while you bike and makes you look extra fly!

  4. Layers layers layers

    You will start chilly, warm up, cool down as you scarf on the scrumptious snacks the crew makes you, then warm back up again! You’ll want a nice light layer, insulating mid layer (I’m a huge fan of a vest), and windproof/waterproof layer just in case it starts pouring!

  5. Hydration pack

    A hydration pack is the easiest way to stay hydrated on the go. No need to stop and grab your water bottle if you have constant access to water! Bonus points: you won’t be using single use plastics or contributing to the garbage and recycling problem as you refill along the way!

  6. Sunscreen

    You’ll want sunscreen for your face and body at altitude, even on semi-cloudy days. Slather some on, then snag a selfie before you hit the road!

  7. Camera

    The Escape Adventures crew will take you to some jaw-droppingly beautiful places. Grab your camera, you’ll want to document the experience to remember for years to come!

Want to learn more about the different tours that Escape Adventures offers? Check out their website and drop them a line!



Autocamp at Russian River: A Luxurious Retreat

Saying my summer was busy is putting it mildly. It was a whirlwind of travel, moving, climbing, and sorting through life. When the opportunity to spend a few days at Autocamp at Russian River with my dear friend Paulina arose, I immediately said "YES!" 

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Nestled in the stillness of the redwoods, the Autocamp grounds are thoughtfully designed for maximum relaxation and fun. You can squeeze a fresh glass of orange juice each morning, play games on the lawn or sip a local wine from the Autocamp store without leaving the property. Each Airstream suite features luxe details, like Malin + Goetz toiletries, plush bedding and towels, and incredible lighting details that will have you contemplating moving in forever.

When you’re ready to hit the nearby town of Guerneville, there are plenty of options to keep you occupied! From oyster happy hour to paddling or floating the river to wandering the nearby Goat Rock Beach, there’s something for everyone! Paulina and I started each morning with a little feast, then wandered through the local shops and boutiques. We caught sunset at the beach, and made it back in time for s’more around the fire with new friends. It was the perfect way to spend a couple of days and I’m looking forward to the opening of their Yosemite location in February of 2019! Fingers crossed I can snag a spot for Matt and I to go visit

Trail Chat: The Dos and Dont's of Talking to Strangers

I’m hiking up the trail with my 65 liter pack on, relishing the tart huckleberries and fact that I’ll have my tent set up and a glass of wine poured just as alpenglow hits. In a state of sweaty bliss, I round a corner and bump into a group of men. “Hey guys!” I say. “Hey,” they respond. “You know the sun is going down soon, right?”

Nearing the summit of Mount Olympius. Feeling fine, thanks for asking. Photo:  Daniel Fineman

Nearing the summit of Mount Olympius. Feeling fine, thanks for asking. Photo: Daniel Fineman

Seconds later, my male partner bumps into them as well. “Hey guys,” he says. “What’s up, man? Great day!” they say.

Insert facepalm here.

REALLY CHAD, TIM, and [INSERT OTHER BRO NAME HERE]*? REALLY?

I wish I could say this was the only time I have had similar such encounters, but it’s not. Sadly, I’m not alone in this. Despite no evidence of injury**, despair, objective risk, or the zombie apocalypse, my presence and ability/preparedness on the trail is questioned virtually every time I go out.

This is problematic. Before you chime in with a chorus of “but it’s not because you’re a woman,” let me stop you. Deep down, we all know why this happens. Therefore, I would like to offer some scenarios with appropriate responses for future reference. That way, we all win.

Scenario 1:

You encounter a person on the trail. There is no evidence of injury or imminent harm. They seem reasonably prepared, with a backpack and other gear as needed to support their adventure.

What should you say? Try this: “Hello!”

Things to avoid: “Are you out here alone?” “Are you okay?” “That’s a mighty heavy pack for a girl.” “I love seeing women hit the trail.” ANY COMMENTS ON PHYSICAL APPEARANCE.

Scenario 2:

You encounter a person on the trail. There is no evidence of injury or imminent harm. You notice they don’t have the gear you deem necessary for the adventure, but you don’t know them, their experience level, their objective for the day, or anything else about them because THEY ARE A STRANGER.

What should you say? Try this: “Hello!”

Things to avoid: Pretty much anything but a neutral greeting, unless they strike up a conversation.

Scenario 3:

You encounter a person on the trail. There is no evidence of injury or imminent harm. They seem reasonably prepared, with a backpack and other gear as needed to support their adventure. You notice they are heading deeper into the backcountry and that daylight will soon end.

What should you say? Try this: “Hello!”

Things to avoid: Any comments about the impending sunset BECAUSE ANYONE WHO ISN’T AN INFANT KNOWS THAT THE SUN SETS EVERY DAY BUT THANKS FOR YOUR CONCERN.

Scenario 4:

You encounter a person on the trail. They are displaying evidence of distress or injury.

What should you say? Try this: “Hello!” Perhaps your perception of distress is merely the result of them pushing themselves to get that cardio in or hit a new PR. Perhaps they are recovering from an injury. Perhaps they tumbled and are a little sore, but otherwise fine. Perhaps they need help. Either way, the conversation should begin neutrally, then develop from there. If they ask for help, give it.

Things to avoid: “Are you okay?” right off the bat. Lectures. Condescension. Body shaming.

Scenario 5:

You encounter a person on the trail who is obviously injured or so ill-prepared that they are posing a serious objective risk to themselves and others (think shorts and tank top in a blizzard).

What should you say? How about this: “Hello!” Even in emergency situations, it’s important to keep your cool and communicate clearly and effectively with the folks who may need your help. Check in, introduce yourself, assess the situation, and call for help if needed.

Things to avoid: Elitist or ableist comments. Lectures. Someone in dire need of assistance is probably very aware that they made a mistake. There’s a time to teach, and there’s a time to STFU and take care of business.

There you have it, folks. My handy dandy guide to not being a presumptuous jerk in the outdoors. Happy trails!

*My apologies to the very sweet, feminist Chads and Tims of the world who would never dream of doing this. Sorry ‘bout your name!

**Actually, the one time I was visibly bleeding on a hike (on the summit of Mount Saint Helens in a sports bra and bare feet no less), the dudes who approached me proposed instead of offering me a bandaid. Shoutout to the woman on the trail who lent me some extras!

Yes, I am on the summit of this volcano in a sports bra and bare feet. No, I don't need any assistance but I will accept Nutella donations.  Photo:  Ryuhei Yokokawa

Yes, I am on the summit of this volcano in a sports bra and bare feet. No, I don't need any assistance but I will accept Nutella donations.  Photo: Ryuhei Yokokawa

Borneo Explored: 7 Travel Tips to Make the Most of Your Visit!

Have you ever been to Borneo? I had heard tales of how wonderful it was, but never been myself until this year. 

Such an amazing bunch of humans! Photo credit: Kristen Kellogg

Such an amazing bunch of humans! Photo credit: Kristen Kellogg

That's why I was so excited to visit Malaysia with Singapore Air and fellow adventurers Rachel Rudwall, Kristen Kellogg and Justin Walter when the opportunity presented itself in March! It was a delightful trip to the beautiful Island of Borneo, and I won’t soon forget the memories and laughs we shared there. If you haven’t considered Borneo for your next trip, I highly recommend adding it to your list!

Borneo is the third-largest island in the world and an absolute gem of an island. Sabah is one of the 13 states of Borneo, located in the North. With its lush, ancient rainforest, it’s critical habitat for many of the world's most amazing animals, including the the endangered Bornean orangutan. It is an important refuge for many endemic forest species, including the Borneo elephant, the eastern Sumatran rhinoceros, the Bornean clouded leopard, the hose's palm civet and the dayak fruit bat, many of which we got to see on our trup. More than that, it’s also home to some of the kindest humans I have encountered on recent travels, and that’s saying a lot! If you’re planning a visit (and if you’re not, you should be), here are 7 travel tips and ideas to make the most of it!

1. Packing 101

If you’re like me, the first thing you do when planning a trip to a new location is research what to pack! I always want to be prepared for whatever comes my way, which saves time and money on the ground! For the most part, you won’t need anything super specialized to visit Borneo unless you’re planning to trek through the jungle, in which case you will need a few special items.  If you’re sticking to river cruises and tamer walks like we did, these basics will see you through:

  1. Mosquito repellant. Bring your favorite brand from home and apply liberally whenever the bugs are out.
  2. An electrolyte supplement. It’s quite warm in Sabah so you’ll want to stay hydrated throughout the day.
  3. A reusable water bottle so you can travel responsibly. No need to worry about recycling or creating trash when you can simply refill your own bottle!
  4. Sunscreen and plenty of it!
  5. A hat
  6. Sunglasses
  7. A camera. There are so many amazing moments to capture, you’ll want to make sure you have a camera. If you’re aiming to capture the wildlife, check out this specific list of camera gear. Otherwise, whatever you have will do!

2. Food, food and more FOOD

The food in Borneo is delicious. Repeat after me: DELICIOUS! I’m always a fan of sampling local cuisine at little restaurants or markets and thankfully we found both to be abundant in Borneo! Whether you’re looking for a quaint restaurant or the more rustic food from a market, it’s ALL delicious. Pro tip: if you have Celiac disease like me, be sure to communicate clearly with your guide and companions before making selections. Malaysian food is rich with wheat-based soy sauce, but there are plenty of good options to be had! I definitely recommend using a food allergy translation app or service for added protection or if you’re heading out on your own.

3. Visit The Bornean Sun Bear Conservation Centre

When I heard we were visiting the Bornean Sun Bear Conservation center, I immediately hopped online and began googling these little cuties. With their small size and vibrant chest patches, they will steal your heart, just like they did for founder Dr. Wong. If you have the chance, visit the center early in the day when the bears are climbing to escape the damp ground in search of sunshine and snacks. You’ll be delighted to see them climbing!

4. Check Out the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre

Located just around the corner from the Sun Bears, the centre is home to to almost 80 orangutans of various ages. The centre focuses on teaching each animal the skills it needs to survive; whether in the nursery or by pairing a younger orangutan with one that’s more experienced with the ultimate aim of reintroduction to the wild! Make sure to stop by the nursery and prepare yourself for some adorable antics and if you want to increase your odds of seeing the larger orangutans, go during feeding time!

5. Go to the Sukau Rainforest Lodge and take a river cruise with Borneo Eco Tours

Founded in the 1990s, Sukau Rainforest Lodge is beautifully crafted with a focus on promoting sustainability from an environmental and social standpoint. They have implemented several different programs to achieve this, from hiring 80% of their staff from the local community to converting to energy practices that minimize their impact,  to helping reforest the local area. In short: it’s the kind of place that makes you feel good about traveling. Take a dip in the pool, enjoy the occasional sight of the resident Orangutan as you walk along the boardwalks, then grab a life jacket and hop on a boat for a river tour of the Kinabatangan river. Wildlife is abundant and if you’re lucky, you’ll see monkeys, birds, and even a crocodile or two while your expert guide fills you in on the local scene. It’s an experience that you’ll carry with you well into the future. When you finally leave, make sure you stop by the Gomantong Cave. Go early, the best light is around 9-10am and if you're lucky, the cave won't be crowded!

6. Shop Local at the Filipino Market in Kota Kinabalu

Located along the water, this market hums with life. Organized by categories of food, you can wander down the rows of fresh fruit, dry goods, spices, and fish and take in the sights, sounds, and smells. Sit for a minute and just take it in as the vendors call out their wares. I highly recommend sampling the local mangosteen and stopping for a tasty bite here and there. Double points if you grab an ice cold Milo as you walk around! There are options for every palate and it’s a sensory experience that you won’t want to miss!

7. Hit the Beach

Once you’re done exploring the markets and stuffing yourself with food, do a little beach hopping! No trip to Borneo would be complete without a boat tour of some local island destinations! Grab your swimsuit and your sunscreen, then hop onboard. Once you travel to the islands, you can snorkel, paraglide, and even do a zipline over the turquoise water. If relaxing is more your style, no worries. Sit in the sand with a freshly cracked coconut and watch the waves float by.

THANK YOU TO OUR TRIP SPONSORS!

A HUGE shoutout to our trip sponsors, who made this dream come true. Thanks to Singapore Air, for treating us to luxurious business class accommodations, including the use of the lounge during our layovers! We traveled in comfort and style thanks to you! I napped on my pullout bed, had access to endless gluten free snacks and drinks, and finally caught up on several movies and the entire first season of Handmaids Tale, all while being pampered by the kindest staff imaginable. 

 Huge thanks to Jeremy and the entire staff at the Hilton Kota Kinabalu for a feast fit for queens, and all of your kindness in taking care of us. I wish we had more time to spend on that rooftop pool! 

To Jeffrey, Dean, Sonny and all of the other fine folks at Sticky Rice Travel: you took phenomenal care of us and made sure we got the most out of every experience on the ground! From pharmacy stops to the best iced coffee to showing us the gems of the Island, you made our trip so special! 

Finally, to Sabah Tourism and Malaysian Tourism for hosting us so graciously and letting us see what Borneo is all about! It was an honor to visit and learn more about this special place and I am already dreaming up my next Bornean adventure!

Photo credit: Kristen Kellogg

Photo credit: Kristen Kellogg

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Winter Camping 101: The Basics

I love camping in the snow. There’s something about the snowy landscape that creates a quiet hush, as if the entire world is breathing deep. Plus, it opens up terrain that you can’t usually camp on by creating a thick, protective layer over otherwise delicate vegetation.

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That said, I recognize that it can be a bit intimidating to jump in. Do I need a 4-season tent? What do I wear? How do I pick a site? Will the abominable snowman eat me?

In the interest of answering some of these questions and getting more folks outside, I thought I would pull together some information for you to take a peek at. It’s not an exhaustive guide, but it’s enough to get you started!

Gear

This is probably the part that seems the most intimidating. Contrary to popular belief, you don’t need to go out and buy all new stuff to go snow camping, but you may need to get a little innovative in your approach. You can use your 3-season tent if winds are less than 20 mph and there's not a forecast for heavy snow, and you can supplement the gear you have for a fun, comfortable night out. Consider borrowing, layering, and renting if you do need to supplement but you're not ready to invest in new gear and take it from there! You can view a complete gear list HERE (shout out to Teresa Hagerty for her incredible work on this list)! 

Destination, Destination, Destination

If it’s your first time snow camping, I recommend waiting for a fair-weather day and selecting a location that involves a short hike in to camp. That way, you can test your skills and gear with the firm knowledge that if something goes awry, the car is just a short jaunt away. Wait for a weekend with temps hovering in the 20s to low 30s and a wind forecast that’s less than 20 mph. Make sure to check the avalanche forecast, and please only venture out if you find the risk acceptable and you’re comfortable assessing terrain for safety.

If you’re in the PNW, Mount Rainier is a great spot for your first attempt. You can snag a permit on the same day you arrive (unless you have a large group) and head out to pick a spot. Be sure to check the regulations and rules for your intended destination and be cognizant of important details like seasonal road closures.

Site selection

Site selection is critical for a successful snow camping adventure! When you arrive at your destination and begin your hike/snowshoe/tour up, you’ll want to keep your eyes open for the following things before setting up camp:

  • not under or above avalanche terrain
  • far enough away from any trees to avoid tree wells and tree “bombs” (hunks of snow that fall from the branches and run the risk of breaking your tent)
  • not above creeks, lakes, or water (with few exceptions)
  • avoiding terrain depressions which can trap cool air in your tent
  • at least 200 feet from any trails and water sources

If you’re below treeline, look for a nice flat spot with a lot of snow and vegetation that provides a windbreak. If you’re above the treeline, you have less vegetation to work with but look for natural windbreaks if possible and a nice, flat spot (though you can dig one out if necessary).

Okay, great! You did your research, packed your bag, and found the dreamiest site possible. Now what?

Digging time, baby!

First things first, walk an outline that’s the general shape and size of your tent with the fly on. Next, walk through the middle and try to tamp the snow down to make it easier to manage. In some situations, like when I know I have to dig a deep wind wall or the snow is very heavy and wet and compression will make my life harder, I skip this step. Then, use you shovel to cut out a nice, crisp “edge” or wall and start digging out the center. How deep you want to make it is entirely up to you but consider this: a deeper wall means more wind protection if it starts howling. Make sure to deposit the snow you’re removing outside of your wall to add extra height and to make it easier to deal with when you leave. Make sure you cut an exit path for yourself!

Once you have a nice, deep wall, even out the middle where your tent will go. Pro-tip: before you set your tent up, put your fly or footprint down and lay on it to test for slope or any random bumps. Once it’s comfortable, you’re ready to set up your tent!

Tent setup

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This part is pretty self explanatory but there are a few things to note:

  1. If there’s wind, set your tent at such an angle that the narrow side is facing into the wind, with your door facing the opposite directly.

  2. Don’t forget your footprint or tarp; this will protect you and your stuff from moisture as snow melts below you.

  3. Stake. It. Out. If the wind comes a-calling or snow comes a-falling, you’ll want a well-staked tent. This can present something of an issue in the snow. Utilize guy lines, snow stakes, your trekking poles, your ice axe(s), or whatever else you have handy to make “deadman” anchors and pull that baby taut. It’s more effort up front but you’ll be glad you did it.

  4. Once your tent is set up, dig out a foot trough inside of your vestibule but beyond the edge of your tent so that when you’re exiting, you can swing your feet out and down to put your boots on comfortably.

  5. Make sure to open your vents to help with ventilation and condensation control.

I like to spice my campsite up with some solar powered twinkle lights but those are totally optional!

Now your site is set up and its time to bask! If you want to get extra fancy, you can carve out a snofa (snow + sofa, get it) or spend some time traipsing around, taking in the views. Whatever you do, please be sure to observe LNT principles.

Things to consider:

  1. It’s very important to stay warm throughout the day so you’re not chilly when you get in your sleeping bag. I highly recommend a post-dinner walkabout to get your blood flowing. You can also enjoy a pre-bed snack which will warm you up.

  2. Ye ol’ Nalgene trick: if you boil hot water and put it in your Nalgene, you can slip that into your sleeping bag to act as a heater. Make sure it’s closed tight before you do so with no leaks.

  3. Hand warmers and other cool gadgets: you can adhere some hand or foot warmers to the top of your socks or other chilly spots to boost heat. You can also buy therapeutic heat pads that last for 8+ hours at the pharmacy and use one of those for a larger swath of warmth. I like the neck and back ones; they are large, have a gentle adhesive, and are safe to wear on your bare skin.

  4. Bring your boot liners, electronics, and water into the tent overnight to keep them from freezing!

  5. When you're ready to leave, fill in any wells or depressions you have created. Your site should be as natural and pristine as possible when you leave!

That's it! Grab some of your favorite humans, pack your bags, and get out there!

Out of Office: Gone to Switzerland!

I was walking into work one day when I got a text from my friend Emily. "Do you want to go to Switzerland?" she asked. I stared at my phone for 2 seconds before responding "YES!" The icing on the cake? We would fly there in SWISS Business with our friend Alex for a week of lady-powered adventures in the Lucerne region. I was stoked!

If I had to sum up our trip in just three words, they would be “nonstop, epic adventure” with a side of “more röschti, please!” If countries could be soulmates, Switzerland would be mine. The mountains are stunning and easily accessible, the people are warm and friendly, and the food is delicious. What more could one ask for? Rather than waxing poetic about every detail for pages and pages, I thought I would put together a list of my favorite activities and tips from our time there. Without further ado, here they are!

Light rays streaming through the Alps in Engelberg.

Light rays streaming through the Alps in Engelberg.

Take the train to Lucerne and immerse yourself in the city. 

Lucerne is a picturesque city perched on the side of a massive lake that offers incredible access to the neighboring mountains. The best part? You can travel to them by boat and sip a glass of wine along the way! You’ll enjoy amazing views of the surrounding areas and if you’re lucky, some sunshine and fresh air on your skin! Take in towering views of nearby Mount Pilatus, then stroll along the river and grab a drink or dinner when you return. Wake up early one morning and catch sunrise over the Kapellbrücke, then eat your way through the surrounding markets, full of freshly baked goods and locally made cheese. Visit a local castle, eat soft ice every day, and soak it all in. You won’t regret it; it’s picture perfect!

Hop on a boat and explore the areas surrounding lucerne.

Remember what I said about boats? Well, one of them will take you to Klewenalp-Stockhütte where you can wind your way up into the mountains for views that will take your breath away. As an added bonus, you can hear the musical tones of the bell-bedecked cows and sheep as you walk. Bring a picnic and enjoy it with your friends, then bask in the sunshine on one of the many ridges! Just be mindful of the time or like us, you’ll have to sprint down the slopes to catch the last gondola ride home! Yet another boat will take you to Bürgenstock, home to the highest exterior elevator in Europe and a lovely mountaintop resort. Hike along the cliffside path for gorgeous foliage and views back down to the city, then grab dinner at Sharq. You won't be disappointed as you look out through the large glass windows to the sparkling cities below.

Swim in the icy, refreshing waters of Lake Trübsee.

Trübsee is an iconic, aquamarine lake nestled high in the Alps over the town of Engelberg. Surrounded by glaciated peaks, it’s a dreamboat of a lake, complete with communal rowboats and picnic spots! I highly recommend loading up on some local sausages and white wine, then grilling up a storm! When you’re feeling full and a little bit sassy, take a dive into the lake. The cold will take your breath away but you’ll emerge feeling 100% alive and ready for whatever else your day will bring!

Greg , showing off his sweet diving skills!

Greg, showing off his sweet diving skills!

Watch the sunset from atop Mount Titlis.

Take the gondola to the top of Mount Titlis, an amazing treat in and of itself. You’ll float over crevasses and be treated to panoramic views of the surrounding peaks. Stop and grab a glass of wine or some delicious ice cream in the lodge, then throw on your layers and head outside for the cliff walk. It offers 360 degree views of the Alps and there are more mountainy layers there than I can describe. Bonus points if you stay for a sunset that will leave your soul feeling shiny and new.

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Paraglide in the Swiss Alps.

The instant you arrive in Engelberg you’ll see paragliders shooting over the mountains, bright spots of color above the dark stone. If you’re like me, the sight will instantly fill you with a sense of exhilaration and longing. Some people might think it’s crazy to run off of a perfectly good mountain, but I can guarantee you it’s 100% worth it and your pilot will make you feel safe and confident the entire time! The sensation is unlike anything else and you’ll experience a completely different view of Engelberg from the Brunni side. Bonus points if you biff the landing and give everyone a good chuckle when you burst into laughter!

That's me, coming in for a landing! Photo credit:  Alex Borsuk

That's me, coming in for a landing! Photo credit: Alex Borsuk

Do a Via Ferrata, or four.

Via Fer-What-A? Roughly translated as the “iron road” a via ferrata is a great way to experience climbing some steeper or harder peaks with minimal equipment and decreased risk! Brunni offers 6 different courses that will test your skills! Slip on your harness, do a quick intro course to familiarize yourself with the equipment and technique, and away you go! With routes that appeal to any number of ages and skill sets, we saw kids as small as 5 and adults well into their 80s hitting the trail. It's a great way to take in the views and a whole lot of fun!

Take the Cogwheel train to Mount Pilatus and stay a while.

Mount Pilatus is home to a beautiful mountaintop resort that looks out over Lake Lucerne. You can reach the top by boarding the steepest cogwheel train in the world which takes you through a beautiful series of forest and open meadows before depositing you at the top of the mountain. Take in the views, then choose an adventure! With rope courses, hikes, climbing, toboggan races, paragliding, and more, Pilatus has an activity for everyone. Whatever you do, make sure you gather on a terrace for sunset. As the sun begins to set over Lake Lucerne, something magical happens. Alphorn players gather and begin to play, sending beautiful tones ringing out over the hills as the sun slowly sinks, setting the sky ablaze. It’s the kind of thing that makes you shiver in delight and want to pinch yourself. It’s an experience I won’t forget anytime soon.

Go with people you adore.

As amazing as all of these experiences are, they are best when shared. Plus, you’ll need someone to back you up when you come home with photos so beautiful people will think you doctored them up! Grab some of your favorite adventure buddies, and start planning the trip of a lifetime. I know my trip wouldn’t have been the same without Alex, Jill, Greg and Emily and I will always treasure all the belly laughs and ridiculous memories we made on this trip! I can’t wait to head back to Switzerland to share it with even more of my loved ones!

HUGE shoutout to SWISS for making this happen, and to all the amazing humans and tourism agencies that took care of us while we were there. You all make dreams come true!

enchantments 101: the basics

Located in the Central Cascades, the Enchantments are the stuff of dreams. I put together a list of helpful information for anyone getting out there for the first time. Have fun, stay safe, and be sure to share photos when you return!

1.    Trailheads: Snow Lake vs. Stuart Lake

Though often referred to as a loop, the Enchantment Lakes trail (what people most commonly associate with the phrase “the Enchantments”) is anything but. There are two trailheads: the Snow Lake trailhead and the Lake Stuart trailhead, which are roughly 12 miles and 1,500 feet of gain apart.

Source: USDA Forest Service

If you begin at the Snow Lake trailhead, you’ll slowly wind your way up a long series of switchbacks before finally crossing Snow Creek and arriving at lower Snow Lake. From there, several campsites await, stretched between lower and upper Snow Lakes. Mosquitoes can be quite bad here so be prepared. Heading up this way adds about 1,500 feet of total gain to your trip but for those with a Snow zone permit or who would rather go down Aasgard than up it, this is the way to go. If you have a permit, consider bringing a day pack so you can make the relatively short trek up to the upper basin to scramble a peak or bask in the sunshine.

If you begin at the Stuart Lake trailhead, you won’t have to do that extra 1,500 feet of gain but you will have to contend with ascending Aasgard Pass. The trail up to Colchuck is relatively straight forward and moderate. Mind the fork that goes left to Colchuck and right/straight to Lake Stuart. Once at Colchuck, take a minute to bask in the turquoise waters and refill your water before you tackle Aasgard (also properly known as Colchuck Pass). At 1900 feet of gain in just 0.9 of a mile, Aasgard will have your thighs burning. Stick to the left of the pass, go slow, and be careful while navigating the boulders and talus slope. When you finally top out after climbing the pass, the upper basin will stretch out before you and you’ll mostly descend all the way through the core.

2.    Wildlife:

Though you may encounter the occasional black bear down low on the trail, they are few and far between and likely more scared of you than you are of them. However, once you’re in the upper basin there are goats galore. They are bold and well-habituated to humans, which can translate to rather aggressive behavior; don't be surprised when they follow as you leave camp to pee. Make sure to pee on hard rock or other durable surfaces as the goats will destroy vegetation in the quest for your salty urine. Also be sure to hang food and trash up in bags—those goats (and other smaller creatures) will try to eat right through your pack. I have even seen them gnaw the sweaty straps on a backpack. As with all wildlife, maintain a safe distance. Don’t try to pet or feed them, cute as they may be!

3.    Pit toilets:

There are several well-signed pit toilets located throughout the Enchantments and some of them offer mighty fine views. That said, if you can't make it to the toilet and you're pooping rather than peeing, I strongly encourage you to pack it out. Not sure how to do that? Don't worry, I have a blog for that! This is a delicate, heavily trafficked area and the better we manage our waste, the more pristine it will stay. If you have to pee along the way, make sure to pee on the plentiful granite along the trail or other durable surfaces to prevent goats from destroying fragile vegetation in their quest for salt. This also applies to any sanitary items. In the event that you’re menstruating while on the trail, make sure to pack out your sanitary items! 

4.    Aasgard Pass:

As I mentioned above, Aasgard is the colloquial name for Colchuck pass. It gains 1,900 feet in 0.9 miles and takes you up a series of switchbacks through a boulder field/talus slope before gaining the upper Enchantments basin. It’s a strenuous section of the trail that will have you high-fiving your team after you get to the top! If Aasgard is covered in snow, be aware of the avalanche risk and forecast. Go prepared with an ice axe, crampons and/or some other form of traction (you might be fine with microspikes but Yaktrax probably won’t be your best friend) and the skills to use them should you take a tumble.  You’ll also want a probe to check for hidden meltouts underneath the snow. When ascending, stick as far to climbers left as possible (see image below). There is a stream that flows down the pass on the right side that you’ll want to avoid. In the winter, a fall there can be fatal. Whatever you do, make sure you have enough water for the trek up the pass. There is a stream flowing down climbers right that’s deliciously cold but it can be tricky to reach for a refill pending conditions on the pass! Once you gain the upper basin, treat yourself with some water, a snack, and a little rest before carrying on to your destination.

Map credit: Ken Poore

5.    Bugs:

In my experience, bugs are the heaviest at Snow and Colchuck Lakes. I recommend bringing your spray of choice to keep the pesky critters away. You can also treat your tent and sleeping bag with permethrin which is an odorless treatment that won’t harm your sleeping bags, clothes, or tents but will keep away mosquitoes, ticks, chiggers, etc. If you have cats, make sure you treat your soft goods in an area they won’t get to as permethrin is toxic to cats in high doses.

6.    Fires:

As I’m sure we can all imagine, fires are not allowed in the Enchantments (unless it’s absolutely necessary to save your life). Not only do they leave unsightly scars, it’s also a very delicate environment and the surrounding area is prone to wildfires in the summer season. So, make sure you bring your backpacking stove and plenty of fuel to enjoy hot food and drinks on your trek.

7.    Car shuttling or the Loop Connector Shuttle:

As I mentioned above, the trail is often referred to as a loop but it doesn't connect, leaving through hikers with a logistical question: what do you do about cars? There is a Loop Connector shuttle that will save you some of the hassle of shuttling cars. Check their website for details! If you prefer to shuttle and have more than one car in your group, it’s best to drop one car at the trailhead that you will be exiting from and then cram everyone into the other car and shuttle to the trailhead you will be entering from. In the event that you only have one car, I suggest leaving it at the trailhead you will be exiting from and hitching a ride to the other trailhead in the morning. There’s likely to be more traffic in the morning and then you won’t have to deal with the hassle as you return to the car from your epic adventure. Some people also stash bikes at the trailhead they will be exiting from and make the 8 mile, 1500 feet of elevation ride backup to the other car. More power to you if that’s the route you prefer!

8.    Camping before you hit the trail:

Technically, camping is prohibited in the parking lots at the trailhead though many people lay a bag out at night and hit the trail at the crack of dawn. Just note that if the rangers catch you, they may ticket you. The safer alternative is to book a site at one of Leavenworth’s many other campsites or, if you’re feeling really luxe, snag a hotel.

9.    Car permits:

You will receive a permit for your car if you snagged an overnight permit and that will allow your car to stay in either parking lot overnight. If you’re planning to thru-hike and don’t have a permit, you must have a NW Forest Service Pass to park at the trailhead. At the Snow Lake trailhead, it’s easy enough to park outside the lot on the shoulder of the road but this isn’t an option at the Lake Stuart trailhead.

10. Water filtration:

Chances are, you won’t want or won’t be able to carry enough water for your trip. With ample water sources along the trail, you really don’t need to. What you do need is a water treatment/filtration system. In the Enchantments, you’re most likely to encounter bacterial and sedimentary contamination in the water. Any bacterial filter will safely remove that for you. Far less likely yet still possible are viral contaminants, which you will need a viral filter or chemical treatment to address. I personally use a Katadyn pump or BeFree bottle to filter my water and if I’m nervous for any reason, I’ll throw in an Aquamira tablet to seal the deal. A few drops of an electrolyte supplement and bam, I’m good to go. Whether you prefer a different brand of filter, iodine to chlorine, electrolyte supplements or not, make sure you have this all planned out before you hit the trail!

11. Classics scrambles and climbs:

The Enchantments are home to several super classic scrambles and climbs. From Dragontail to McClellan to the sweet summit block of Prusik, the views don't disappoint! Depending on your objective and the season, you'll need a rack, rope, crampons, axe, or just a good pair of trail runners. It’s possible to hit one or more of these in the same day depending on your fitness level, and you can tag a whole bunch if you got a golden ticket! Make sure you snag a topo map, do your research, and know the details before you go!

12. Campsites:

Because this is such a delicate environment, you are only allowed to camp in designated campsites. They can sometimes take a bit of work to find, but please respect this rule. All members of your party must stay in the same campsite, as there aren’t enough up there for people to branch out; they essentially give out the same number of permits as campsites. The early bird gets the worm, so to speak, so if you want the prime spots, get on the trail early! The Core often remains snowy into Early July which does open up a lot of terrain you can't otherwise camp on. Depending on your experience and preferences, that can be a blessing or a curse! Be sure to check conditions before heading up, and go prepared!

13. Distance:

WTA will tell you that the trail is 18 miles. Many people report that something more along the lines of 20-21 miles. Some of the discrepancy is due to wandering about, awestruck by the beauty of the place. I think it's best to be prepared for about 20 miles of hiking just in case. That said, if you are scrambling up any peaks along the way, your distance will increase!

14. Permit Season:

The permit season runs from May 15 to October 31. If you have a permit on the earlier or later end of the season, be aware of trail conditions and trailhead access. With deeper snows, the road to the Stuart Lake trailhead can be closed,  addind an additional 4 miles of hiking onto your trek. Further, in the shoulder season there is likely to be snow on the trail and in the upper basin (or below, depending on the year). Be prepared with the right gear and snow camping knowledge. The upper basin is STUNNING in a mantle of white but it does require additional gear, preparation, and navigational skills! Be especially careful around melting pools of water when there's snow, no one wants an accidental dip in the chilly water! Also be aware of snow bridges across/near lake outlets and streams.

15. Permit zones:

Permits are designated by a zone name, like Colchuck, Snow, Stuart, Eightmile/Caroline, and Core. You can only camp overnight in the zone designated by your permit. For example, if you have a Colchuck permit, you have to camp in the Colchuck Zone near Colchuck Lake, and then day hike in and out of the Core. The one exception is the Core permit, a.k.a. the golden ticket that lets you camp in any zone. Many people with Core permits will start their journey by camping at Colchuck or Snow Lake the first night, then push up to the Core for the remaining days/nights. The Enchantments are monitored closely by Rangers, and they often sweep through the entire area during a day and check for permits. If you do not have a permit, or are camping in the wrong zone, they can fine and expel you. Similarly, poaching (camping without a permit in any of the zones) will earn you a ticket to the tune of up to $5,000 and up to 6 months in jail.

In sum, the Enchantments are AMAZING. Stick to sound LNT principles while you’re up there, stay safe, snap a million photos, and treat yourself when you’re done. You will certainly deserve it!