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.


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


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!

Women and Wild Places: Get Your Hands off my Aesthetic

A few weeks back, I was chatting with one of my colleagues about what we like to do in our free time. When it was my turn to share, I revealed that I spend virtually all of my free time outside in the quest for perfect(ly free) rocks. With a puzzled look on her face, she said “but you’re too pretty” for all of that and my heart slowly sank.

That's me. Dirty hair, smoky clothes, lipstick and all. 

That's me. Dirty hair, smoky clothes, lipstick and all. 

Let me be absolutely clear about one thing: I recognize that in her mind she was giving me a compliment and I am by no means offended by her intentions or perception of my physical appearance. I’m not here to talk about the dynamics of beauty although that’s a very worthy conversation and one that cuts both ways. I simply want to take some time to reflect on an idea that we all seem to have absorbed in a million subtle ways: women are limited by their aesthetics.

We have all seen the blog posts on this topic. The author, often a woman, levels a critical eye on images of other women in the outdoors, deeming them "inauthentic" for one reason or another, often contrasting those photos with one or more of their own. But what does it mean to be authentic? We aren't handbags, after all, crafted from vegan leather. Too often, when the phrase "authentic" gets bandied about, what the author really means is "you don't conform to my idea or experience of the outdoors and therefore your depiction must be false." I have always been puzzled by these posts, finding them to be incredibly dismissive, inappropriate, and cruel.

I'm the first one to admit that I care about aesthetics and am no stranger to vanity. I like to dress up and feel fancy from time to time and have an abiding obsession with red lipstick, even in the backcountry. I have experimented with makeup, hairstyles and outfits and figured out what works for me, whether I'm inside or out. When I take photos, I do so carefully in an attempt to capture a moment that conveys both the physical and emotional beauty of what I'm experiencing. Does this mean capturing every drop of sweat on the trail? No. Does the lack of sweat-laden photos mean that part of my experience was erased? No. All of these things are facets of who I am, and that's okay.

That said, none of these things have any real bearing on my ability and fitness to participate in outdoor (or any other) activities and they similarly have none on yours. Nonetheless, it's a message that women in particular receive in any number of insidious ways: from "compliments" like the one above to blog posts questioning the "authenticity" of female athletes and adventurers based on their looks and attire to advertisements that are carefully curated to present someone else's idea of perfection.

Women come in all shapes, sizes, colors, and forms of beauty. Our individual aesthetics do not dictate our abilities or potential; our choices, background*, training, and substance as human beings do. Let's learn to recognize and appreciate the diverse beauty of the women around us as an interesting facet of who they are instead of a limiting factor. Let's dig a little deeper and grow to understand each other a little bit more. It's not always easy. We have to overcome our own insecurities and tendencies toward snap judgments. We have to fight against this insane scarcity model that has us believing one woman’s success is to the detriment of our own when in fact, we all shine brighter together. There are enough barriers to entry to the outdoors without women standing in the way of other women. We need to lift each other up instead of breaking each other down. The collective might and beauty of the women in this world takes my breath away and I don't want to be part of a culture that reduces us to anything less than the holistically beautiful people we are.

With that in mind, here are a few things we should say to women who are interested in the outdoors:

1.    Be safe. Whether that means taking clinics to acquire the requisite skills to achieve your objective, learning from friends, packing the 10 essentials, or filing a trip plan, do it. The mountains are inherently dangerous. Do what you can to minimize the risk, be aware of and accept the rest, and get after it. The sun won’t always be shining and the views won’t always take your breath away. You’ll have good days and bad days but I fully believe that the former will outweigh the latter and you’ll have the memories to prove it.

2.    Learn about sound outdoor ethics and use them. Leave No Trace is more than just a handy saying; it’s a philosophy and a lifestyle. In order to keep our wild places pristine for future generations, we have to employ certain safeguards. Learn about them, use them, and teach them to others. Become a good steward of the land, even if it’s inconvenient at times. Portray that behavior in your daily life and across your social media channels. Tell people what you did, and why you did it in a kind, empathetic way.

3.    Know that you are capable. Let’s say that again: YOU ARE CAPABLE. It’s easy to look at other people's adventures and become overwhelmed by them, saying “that looks badass but I could never do that”. Let go of that notion. We are all crushing at our own levels and it’s important to be inspired by others without using their accomplishments to demean our own. Some adventures take more skill and training than others and it’s important to recognize that and be prepared (see point #1). That said, you can do it. It may take time to develop the skills and conditioning for something that pushes your boundaries but that’s okay. Start small. Hell, start big as long as you meet conditions 1 and 2 above. The world is full of amazing places and I hope you can experience as many of them as possible before your time here is done.

That’s it. Be safe, be ethical, and know that you are capable. Now, get out there and share the love with others. There's an entire world of experience waiting to be found.

*This post doesn't even begin to touch the surface of systemic issues that prevent women, particularly women of color, from getting outside, from economics, to racial injustice, to lack of exposure and beyond. More to come on this topic. 


Filson Women's Weekend

A few weeks ago, I took a trip to the San Juan Islands with Filson and a group of powerful women. Looking back on it, I remember the little details. A wisp of smoke on the breeze, carrying the rich scent of roasted lamb. The soft sounds of rain, tapping on the roof. The delicate pink of a glass of rosé, sipped underneath the setting sun. The rich green of the PNW forests and the sound of laughter as we wandered around, cameras clicking as we captured each moment.

Flashback to sometime in April when I received a message from Emily at Filson, asking me if I wanted to spend the weekend in the San Juan Islands, learning more about the Filson brand with a group of like-minded women. Although I had no idea who would be there, I immediately said “YES!” After all, who says no to an offer as dreamy as that? Shortly thereafter, I found myself at the Filson HQ where the inimitable Aude Tabet was showcasing the Fall 2017 Women’s line. In true Filson fashion, it features classic lines, high quality materials, and drool-worthy pieces. I'm a sucker for textiles and touched every piece, savoring the rich feel of the fabric and the attention to detail and craftmanship that's evident in every piece.

Full of inspiration, we grabbed our bags and headed to Kenmore Air to catch a seaplane to the islands. There’s something magical about flying over the sound, watching the height reduce the islands to twinkling emerald gems set amidst the deep, slate blue sea. In the distance, the Olympic mountains twinkled in the sun, snowy sentinels of the Pacific Northwest. The flight was over too soon and we packed ourselves into the van, setting off after a miraculous 27 point turn thanks to our fabulous chauffeur, Caitlin! We arrived at Doe Bay Resort and promptly grabbed snacks and some drool-worthy views from our cabins before being treated to a rustic, delicious meal at Hogstone's.

The next morning dawned bright and early and found us on the ferry to Orcas Island, intent upon visiting the Westcott Bay Shellfish Company. We were greeted warmly by Andrea, Erik, and their pups for a tour of the space. They radiated kindness and the pride they put into their operation is apparent in everything they do. They patiently taught us to shuck oysters and later BBQed some up, using a delicious bourbon brown sugar butter and we had a picnic in the rain. It was an idyllic way to spend the afternoon and I highly recommend stopping by if you’re in Friday Harbor.

After our feast, we reluctantly got in the van and headed back to Doe bay after a little bit of shopping and some delicious ice cream, intent on some down time before dinner. It was great to chat with Emily and Allie about our lives and I loved having the opportunity to bond with them over shared experiences and adventures. Once we recovered, we headed to the Doe Bay garden to harvest some greens for our upcoming dinner. Jess Townsend, resident gardener and beam of sunshine, happily showed us around the beautiful gardens and even let us feed and hold the chickens. Once our harvest was complete, we headed to the fire where Executive chef Jon Chapelle created a beautiful, perfectly seasoned, farm-to-table meal for us complete with great wine and company. As we basked by the fire after our feast, I felt content and drifted off to sleep with sounds of wind and water in my ears.

Sunday came way too quickly and before I knew it, we were on our way to our last stop before heading home. Cascade Falls is a short but worthy hike on the way to the airport and I had a blast walking beside the river, stretching my legs while taking in some classic PNW views. Soon enough we were back on the plane—winging our way through the clouds and the rain. After a smooth landing, I headed home exhausted but excited about the weekend. I have spent many a weekend in the San Juans but this one was unique and I’m forever grateful to Filson for the opportunity. 



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!