Why I Turned Around

My latest adventure took me to Seattle, Washington. Yet, another state I’ve gotten to check off the list!

I recently got in touch with a friend who lives just outside the city (Freemont), Aaleen (pronounced: Al-eeen). We used to work together many moons ago when we were in college, she completed grad school in Seattle and stayed after nailing a pretty great job. And though we haven’t talked too much, we still keep in touch via Facebook and Instagram {where I swoon over all her amazing photos, which you’ll get to see below}.

When I told her I was going to be in town and that I wanted to go hiking, she was ecstatic! She listed out a few places she hadn’t been but wanted to go. I left the hiking destination to her choosing:  Blanca Lake.

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Completing 0 research other than looking up the spot; I prepared myself {and my suitcase} for a moderate hike:

boots

leggings & shorts (incase weather or elevation change)

a flannel shirt

a tank top

sports bra

compression sport socks

backpack

platypus (waterbottle)

first aid kit

headlamp

quick dry towel

extra shoelaces

baby wipes

toilet paper

waterproof (shell) jacket- Patagonia

Pretty much anything I had taken on the hike to Zion- which has been the most strenuous hike I’d been on thus far in life {However, I forgot to take my walking sticks}.

It is very unlike me to not prep and plan before traveling. In fact, it never happens. I’ve been so stressed out with work and other matters in life that I had decided to let go of this one and allow someone else to take the lead.

By the time I arrived in Seattle I was off to the races!

mountain ranges
Views of Mt. Rainer (right), Olympic National Park (wing tip), Strathcona Provincial Park-Canada (middle peak-distant)

Quickly, I un-boarded the plane to pick up a rental car and dash over to pick up Aaleen and her friend Lauren (who was also in town for a wedding) to drive 2.5 hours North to Blanca Lake.

My flight left at 7:30 AM (central time); I arrived at 10 AM (pacific time), 3-4 hours of sleep, possibly 2 hours on the plane {which was a debacle in itself} and 1 donut later I was ready to get this trip started!

 

Once in the car and on the road, Lauren and Aaleen started to discuss the hike details:  “It’s a moderate hike, about 7.5 miles round trip.” Knowing that I’ve done almost a 7 mile hike before, I didn’t think to much of it but knew that it would be uphill for the most part. In addition to the hike, Lauren stated that we would have to walk to the trailhead because of the washout (2.5 miles). We weren’t really sure what a washout was but figured it had to be pretty disruptive to have to hike to the trailhead.

The girls were so gracious to pack the 3 of us snacks and sandwiches, a few cans of rosè wine and cute unicorn themed (lite) beers.

 

After getting a little lost off the grid and with no cell service, we had to figure out where exactly the trailhead was. Once we turned off Hwy 2 most of the road was gravel, which made driving a bit more challenging. Tucked waaaay back in the woods across several one lane bridges we found it! By the time we’d reached the parking destination it was 3 PM.

 

We gathered all our things, crossed the closed road signage and began the 2.5 mile trek to the trailhead. Here we found out exactly what a washout was and realized that “yep, we couldn’t cross this in the car.”

on the trail

At the trailhead, there is a small picnic table and signage about safety, etc. It heads straight into beautiful mossy forest filled with tall, tall pine trees and what looks to be some red woods. Within the first few yards we cross over a tiny little wooden bridge. The forrest is rather quiet other than a few noises from people traversing the trail.

 

The hike starts out pretty level with minimal elevation (starting at a couple thousand feet-2000 ish). Soon the elevation starts to kick in and then the switchbacks. Next thing you know you’re huffing and puffing your way to the next switchback at 3000 ft. then you reach 3500 ft within a mile or so.

killer switchbacks
Taking a Break

We take a few breaks along the way. Sit for a snack, water and a gatorade chew. Aaleen and I are having a hard time, while Lauren seems to be taking this very well. Flies are everywhere! They are buzzing around us the entire time we are sitting there.

{on our way up an older man stopped us and asked if we know how long the hike is and even asked if we were sure we wanted to try and make this hike at this time of day. We were pretty sure we’d be alright and kept trekking}

A few more stops along the way up with more water breaks, we take rest and contemplate on continuing. We all wanted to see the lake and Aaleen was very determined to do so, so we pushed on. I was starting to feel weak and knew that I didn’t have a lot of water left.

Several switchbacks and stops later I’d decided that I wasn’t sure that I could make it all the way up. I was pretty hungry and tired. With only a donut and a few hours of sleep under my belt, I was starting to think I wasn’t prepared for this hike.

Lauren handed me my sandwich. After a bite or two, I made up my mind. I couldn’t go any further.

 

My calves were burning and my legs felt tight. I was winded and weak but not wanting to let my friends down. It was then I told them I was going to turn around and head back to the car. Though Aaleen was tuckered herself, I knew she was determined. We decided to split ways but expressed I would be in the car waiting and that they should try to make it back by 8:30 PM (it wouldn’t be too dark at that time). If they weren’t back I (by then) would go back to town and ask for help to find them.

We split at 5:05 PM

I worked my way back down the mountain through the forest trail. It was so silent and a little lonely, but beautiful. Behind me I’d heard a few people making their way back down the trail as well. Relieved, I took my time incase if fell there was someone near by.

Quickly the trio of people passed me by in a hurry so they could get back to the car where they’d left their beer!

The downhill travel was rough on my knees. I stopped for some water and knew I’d be out before hitting the bottom of the trail. I’d heard water running and figured if i could access it, then I would fill my bottle. Behind me I’d heard some more people coming down the trail and after a few more switchbacks I found a running stream trickling down the mountain along some rocks and trees. I filled my bottle up about half way and observed the water before guzzling some of it.

The water was so cold and so refreshing. I had a small worry about drinking it, but decided that I would rather get sick than die of dehydration! I filled up a little more water in my bottle before continuing down the mountain. I now had 3/4 bottle of water and knew that would suffice until I reached the car where I had a Gatorade waiting.

[Meanwhile.. this was Aaleen and Lauren’s view:]

 

The canopy of trees made the trail darker than it really was out. Switchback after switchback, I felt like I was getting closer to the bottom. After climbing down and around trees, tree limbs and tree roots; part of the trail seemed to disappear. Hesitating on where to go, I looked for a brief seconds to see if I could place myself. I knew which direction I had come from but because of my lack of sleep and food I felt disoriented.  Continuing the the same direction down, I found the path only a few steps beyond a giant tree that I had to climb over.

I’d finally reached more level ground! Knowing that I was closer to the trailhead, I walked a little faster until I reached the small wooden bridge. At the trailhead the picnic table and a white bicycle that we saw heading in was a sign of relief, but there was still another 2.5 miles left to get to the car.

Trekking back to the car along the gravel road I started to wonder if the girls had made it yet to the lake and also worried about their travels back down. The trail was a little dark and I imagined that it could only be pitch black on their way. Aaleen had her headlamp, thankfully. We’d discussed that along the way. I’d reached the washout section of the trail and wondered how much longer to the car. When I finally reached a point where I could see the opening at the end of the road where the cars where glistening, a giant wave of excitement rushed up my body and the worry seemed to disappear (for now).

My legs were so tired but I walked faster to get to car so I could just stop!

It was 6:55 PM once I reached the car (2 hours since I’d left the girls). I didn’t know what to do with myself. I’d turned on the car, cranked the A/C on 2 and had a nice swig of Gatorade. I’d placed my backpack in the passenger seat and unzipped my bag to grab my sandwich. I sat in the A/C to eat my sandwich and small can of grab-and-go Pringles. It was great, except I felt disgusting!

[And while I was at the bottom, the girls had reached the top:]

 

Sweaty and sticky from the hike, I was surprised the flies hadn’t followed me into the car! After my sandwich, I grabbed my baby wipes from the trunk and wiped down my arms, legs, neck and face. It didn’t help much but it felt better and now I could try to lay down in the back seat. I set a timer for an hour-since we’d planned for them to get back by 8:30 PM.

Tossing and turning, I couldn’t get my mind to rest while I laid in the back seat. I’d heard a few more people coming off the trail and piling into their cars to drive home. I wasn’t sure if any of them were Aaleen or Lauren, but figured they would knock on the window had they made it down earlier. My alarm woke me at 8:15. I climbed into the front seat to turn the car on in hopes the girls would be down shortly.

[Aaleen’s photos from the lake:]

 

8:30 had come and gone and I was getting anxious. With no cell service, I knew there’d be no way to reach them and driving back into town would be an interesting task. Considering that the whole drive back was gravel and it was a bit of a maze to get to this point anyway; I wasn’t sure if I could get out and back to the same point without getting lost, so I stayed in the car and waited {anxiously impatient}.

9:00 PM and no girls.

9:30; no girls.

The sun was starting to set and dusk was dark here underneath the canopy of trees along the road where I wait. I’d been parked on the left side of the trail, making it difficult to see on coming people from it. A pair of girls had walked by and down the street to their Prius. There were only 3 cars left including myself; 2 of them being the last 2 groups of people I saw going up the trail as I was on my way back down.

{Immediately seeing these people going up I couldn’t help but think they were bunch of idiots, but also thought about the older man who contemplated the same about us nearly 5 hours ago}

I moved the car in front of the trail so that I could see when someone was coming down the trail. Knowing 2 other groups had gone up, it put my mind at ease (a little). But it was drawing closer to 10 PM and it was now dark. After rolling down the window several times to listen for human noises, my mind kept racing {what if one of them fell, what if they got lost along the trail, what if a bear got them, what if…} 

Finally at 10 PM I saw a fleck of light off in the distance along the trial’s path!

I’d rolled down the window and screamed out “Aaleen!? Lauren!?” Both girls hollered back at me with elation. They started hustling down the trail toward me. With excitement, I hopped out of the car to give Lauren a hug. We were all so excited to see each other, as if we’d been gone for a years’ time. The headlights on the car gave Aaleen a bit of an emotional response. It took her a minute to get to the car, but she too gave me a giant hug and was so overjoyed to see me here at the end of the trail!

They were both exhausted but they’d made it! I was so proud of them for it and even though I didn’t make it to Blanca Lake, it didn’t matter at that point. The trail (including the 2.5 mile trek to cross the washout) was a 12 mile RT journey; a much longer hike than we anticipated or even thought it would be!

One thing I learned from this:  Listen to your body!

As we drive out of the park slowly, they shared the rest of the hike with me:  Another hour of hiking after we parted, they’d reached the lake. “It wasn’t easy though,” they said. It was more switchbacks in elevation and then a steep decline to the lake. “Getting back up to the trail was the toughest part;” another steep incline only to decline the entirety of the mountain and then the 2.5 mile trek back to the car.

I was relieved that I didn’t have to put my body though an additional hour or worse make my friends carry me back at any point! There were points of self pity that I didn’t want to miss out on the beauty of Blanca Lake, but I tried not to let FOMO get to me. This was about the hike and not about the destination (though the destination was probably worth it).

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Below is a link to Aaleen’s Instagram (where you can find her amazing photos from around Seattle’s cutest coffee shops, record stores and on boats enjoying rosé!) I love her dearly for this adventure and I am so proud of both her and Lauren!

Instagram: Aaleen Cox

And incase you plan to make this trek to Blanca Lake, here is some good information. It also includes directions to get to the intersection where you can park to hike the 2.5 miles to the Blanca Lake Trailhead.

Safe Travels!

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