A Hiking Adventure- Winter Edition: Lake Valhalla

Here in Seattle, winter can be well…wet and grey. I try my hardest to not let it affect me much, even though it’s completely opposite from Arizona winters. The wet and grey never really stop me from doing anything outside because it is just rain. Last year, I trained for running races and did a few non-snow hikes in the rain and cold. This year, however, I decided it was time to venture out into the mountains and to the snow.

Every since leaving college in Cedar Falls, IA and Flagstaff, AZ, snow hasn’t really been something I seek out for fun and enjoyment. It’s cold. It’s wet. Did I mention it’s cold. I didn’t really enjoy it much in Iowa, though I had more sleet and ice storms than snow storms, and I only did 1 day worth of snowboarding during my 2-years in Flagstaff. To be honest, I only remember a few (<5) times where my family ventured into the snow; skiing in Utah and sledding in Prescott to name a couple. I mean, after all my parents did move AWAY from the snow and cold when I was only 6 months old.

So why did things change this year and my new found love for the snow? Well, first off, Seattle is only 45 minutes from the western boarder of the Cascades Mountain Range, and the beginning of winter included MANY feet of fresh powder, which was something we didn’t get the past couple of years.  Several of my friends started posting pictures of their snowshoeing and snowboarding adventures with beautiful white snow capped mountains. The more they posted, the more I became intrigued and eager to explore.

After talking with my friend Chris, we set a date to head eastbound and have a little snowshoeing exploration of an area just east of Stevens Pass, a popular snowboarding/skiing destination (Chris did the destination planning). I was able to obtain an inexpensive but sturdy pair of snowshoes prior to this adventure, which was a great decision to purchase instead of renting. Renting snowshoes from REI can cost around $40 and I was able to snag mine for $70 at Costco. I didn’t feel like spending more as I wasn’t sure if I’d like snowshoeing or not, but I also didn’t feel that the $30 difference was worth not purchasing.

It was finally time to head off towards the mountains and the sun was shining though the weather was FREEZING. When we arrived at the trailhead (or roadside), Chris’s car temp gauge read 2 degrees. I cannot tell you the last time I was in 2 degree weather, let alone 2 degree weather starting a HIKE.

Chris choose a trail to a place called Lake Valhalla, a known nordic location for cross-country/downhill skiers. Before we got started, Chris spent sometime getting me up to speed on my snowshoes and it took a few steps before I was feeling comfortable (though my poor hands were freezing).

For the next couple hours, we shoe’d our way upwards, stopping occasionally for some pictures and eventually found ourselves at a flat surface, but no lake was located. We continued snowshoeing downwards before turning back towards the flat. It was at this point that we discovered the lake was off to the side of the flat surface but completely covered in snow.  I guess we should have known it’d be cover as the mountains got about 4 feet of snow. After we learned this, we stopped for a short snack break completed with tea and coffee!

These hours spent in the mountains, consistently took my breath away. With the amount of snowfall covering the mountain peaks and treetops, the overwhelming white was beyond perfection. My heart and soul were filled with happiness, peace, and love for the snow. It was this trip that I could truly say, I love the winter and I love the snow. The pictures don’t even do this trip justice.

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Redneck Extravaganza

Have you ever had a weekend that filled your heart with so much happiness, gratefulness, love, laughter, and faith? I experienced one of those weekends less than a month ago and have had so much love in my heart since. I’ve been battling personal struggles for the last 9 months and this weekend showed me that I’m on the uphill climb to a new and better me. It’s possible to feel as though you’ve got nothing left but still grow in relationships, make new relationships and reconnect with our Savior.

My Redneck Extravaganza weekend was spent with 5 other Christians, who are so kind-hearted, grateful, loving and all around wonderful humans, who I am lucky to call friends. The weekend didn’t start off as planned, as we were initially planning on climbing to a fire tower through forest and snow. However the day before, Washington’s weather took a turn from sunny and 75 to raining and thundering. Not quite the ideal weather to summit a mountain. Instead, one of the guys, Ben, put an idea out there for camping over in eastern Washington near a popular destination called Mosses Lake. As I didn’t have any knowledge of such place, I was all in, regardless of the decision. And the decision was to postpone the fire tower climb and head east to camp.

We met as a group bright and early Saturday morning, enjoyed a wonderful breakfast and loaded up Big Blue or Diesel. The men (Ben, Paul, and Jonny) had this vision of how the truck needed to be loaded because we had 3 kayaks, 6 bikes, fishing gear, and all of our stuff. Us girls (myself, Brittany, and Angela) really did try to help them, but let’s face it when men have a vision, it’s really better to just let them do their thing. When the truck was finally loaded, we piled into the truck (all 6 of us) and began our road trip.

I selected the middle of the back seat (not sure if I actually selected it or if that’s just how it worked out) but I didn’t mind. It was fun to be between everyone during the drive through the city and beyond to the I90 corridor, as I began learning about many other adventures and stories the group has shared together, more specifically the men’s stories.

We made several pit stops, which all included very random and very hilarious extra activities. Those included random running/sprinting to a pole, group circle push-ups, running through a corn field (resulting in me getting smacked in the face from a corn stalk) and an apple orchard during a MASSIVE wind advisory, and stopping at Wal-mart for a very important purchase, wife-beater tank tops.

The actual location of camping was outside of a town called Othello, in an area called Columbia National Wildlife Refuge/Seep Lakes State Wildlife Recreation Area. A bridge separates the refuge from the recreation area and we decided to take a break there and it turned into the first photo-shoot opportunity. It involved me standing on a truck, the group striking posses on the bridge, and climbing on the sign. We continued on before making our first selection of spots to camp, which turned into our second photo-shoot opportunity, but not our actual camp site.

We piled back into the truck and continued on our way finding a line of rocks blocking a washed out road. This location was our 3rd photo-shoot opportunity and was the start to a good 2-3 hours of off-roading adventure with more random episodes of fun. Us girls started to get restless and we decided to turn back to where the rocks were, but not via truck. The 5 of us, minus Jonny, who drove, jumped onto our bikes and did a little mountain biking.

We finally selected a camp site located near the edge of the lake on a small cliff. It was absolutely breath-taking when setting up camp with the sunset on the horizon and a beautiful, clear sky. Once camp was set up (thank you men for putting up the tents), we enjoy a delicious dinner and some after dinner entertainment with a super moon shining light on us. Nighttime kayaking occurred for Ben and Paul, who went out to fish, and Brittany and Jonny, who took the singles out of the smooth and quite lake. Angela and I stayed behind; I was having too much fun with nighttime photograph trying to capture the stars.

When the group came back from kayaking, I introduced them to something called “Flashlight Nighttime Photography” and we spent a solid 2 hours tracing each other and playing Pictionary via the camera. This was followed by bedtime.

I was the first awake and I woke up to rain dropping down on the tent. Us girls were toasty warm in our tent, but that wasn’t the case when I exited. The rain wasn’t too hard, but it was a bit chilly. I don’t do well just sitting and waiting, so I took off on a hour + bike ride and when I was returning to the camp site the other women were on their way to the restrooms.  Before the men awoke, I got to spend some quality heart to heart with the girls, which whenever you can have girl-time is a special time.

We had some breakfast including coffee and spent some time in worship. I don’t think I’ve been that open and honest with people in sometime. I never felt judgement about my mistake/miss-comings  that I always think I would. I felt loved. I felt friendship. And I felt God again. These 5 people brought back the one thing that was missing during the last 9 months. They brought me back to Him, my Savior, my Heavenly Father.

During worship, it went from cold to super sunny, which we knew meant it was time to hit the water. The men spoiled us and offered to break down camp as we took off on the kayaks towards the canal. We gathered back together, 4 people in kayaks, myself and Ben on the inter tube tied to the double kayak.

This is when our day gets a little spontaneous. We hit the canal, which is a free flowing body of water so we didn’t have to do too much. That was until we hit the bridge. Yes, I’m talking about the same bridge from the day before. Want to know why we stopped? Well, because we (the guys mostly) wanted to jump off the bridge AND designed a rope swing. Why not? I have no fear in heights and honestly have loved “cliff jumping/bridge jumping” when I’ve done it. Every time something adventurous comes up and I’m with Ben, he tells me “Do it for Mapless Adventures”. It’s hard to say “no” to that (though I don’t usually say no) and so that’s exactly what we did. I jumped off the bridge twice and tried the rope swing, but wow of wow did that not feel good. Brittany and I some how really hurt our hands and fingers from the release off the rope (I actually ended up breaking my top knuckle on my middle finger) but it was still a blast. We ended our trip, after Angela and Ben continued down to the bikes and Jonny and Angela rode onto the truck, with one final photo shoot opportunities with the sunset in the back ground.

It was another eventful road trip back to the city and am so thankful that Jonny was a wonderful driving with the amount of rain we hit through the I90 corridor. Our arrival home was past midnight, but with the amount of laughter and adventure that endured I didn’t mind getting home so late. We called our weekend Redneck Extravaganza, but it ended up being “Chasing Sunshine” because that’s exactly what we did. This one is diffidently one for the books!

A Hiking Adventure: Spray Park Trail

Another successful trip with The City Church Outdoors Group under my belt. This trip was a photography based adventure located at along the moderately difficult Spray Park Trail within Mount Rainier National Park. Spray Park is located on the northwest corner of Mount Rainier and is one of the three main stops for the Wonderland Trail.

Spray Park Trail is a7.5 mile, 1,600 feet elevation gain trail that ends at 6,400 ft above sea level and has perfect views of Rainier on every turn and the reason for this photography based adventure. The trail itself starts at Mowick Lake and connects to part of the Wonderland Trail. At this point you walk steadily upwards through sun-filled old growth forest before opening up to a beautiful view of Spray Falls. At this point, you are required to perform a little bit of back country style hiking before reaching the base of the fall. On a hot, sunny day like this day, the base had a bit of a splash zone and cooled us off just a little.

After Spray Falls, we continued hiking upwards through switchbacks until ending at large open meadows with boulders, flowers and Mt. Rainier- views every photographer would die to see. Even Washington Trails Association know the uniqueness of  Spray Park. Here is how they put it into words: “In many ways, you never recover from your first walk into Spray Park. The trail isn’t difficult to follow. It’s just difficult to forget.” This statement sums up my experience with the trail itself and it’s diffidently not one I will ever forget. Plus, I got to spend this adventure with amazing friends, new and old! If you don’t believe me, click here for pictures.

A Hiking Adventure: Little Bandera Mountain

Two weeks ago my life went from routined to busy and full of new adventures and it all began when I joined my new church’s outdoor group. This group sets up various outdoor adventures throughout the year and last weekend they planned to head to the southern Cascades for a moderate (or difficult) hike at Bandera Mountain. Since moving the Washington, I have became very interested in researching places I’m going and this was no exception. What I learned about Bandera Mountain wasn’t nearly enough to prepare me for what I was about to experience.

This hike, Little Bandera Mountain, located in the Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest (Snoqualmie Pass Corridor-West), was a 7-mile round trip with a total elevation gain of approximately 2,850 feet, totally at 5,050 feet above sea level. Below is a quick summary, click here for more information.

Little Bandera Mountain tricks you at first with a gradual elevation gain/incline on an old logging road through the trees, but slowly turns into a steeper path. As you continue to climb, the scenery becomes less dense turning from trees/forest to meadows and flowers before hitting the point of no return- the 2-mile marker. Here is where the fun begins. The meadow/boulder-like trail runs right straight up the side the mountain to the ridge compiled of granite boulders, which you have to physically climb over at times (well, I did. Camera in hand too, mostly). At the summit of Little Bandera, you can enjoy panoramic views scanning the Cascades and an overview of Mason Lake, which is a break-off trail from Bandera. And if you think I’m joking about the “side of the mountain bit”, go check out the photos here.

Besides the amount of effort this trail took, one of the best parts to this hike was that I wasn’t alone. I was joined by 15 fellow Christian hikers, who I learned more and more about as the day went on and a few who became good friends. It was a different experience for me to hike with that many people but it felt pretty wonderful having others to share in the beautiful of Mother Nature and experience some of the beautiful land God created for us to enjoy. We all might have had different levels of skills and endurance, but the final destination was the same. Hiking alone might be something I’ve done in the past, but I quite enjoy the company and am excited for another Outdoor Group adventure.

A Hiking Adventure-Birthday Edition: Kendall Katwalk

Moving to Washington wasn’t too tough of a decision for me to make and I can honestly say it was the right move. I have grown in my faith and learned quite a bit about myself, including the fact the I love HIKING. I could spend hours reading hiking books trying to figure out where I want to go next and how far or high I can push myself. And realistically, it’s nice to know that when nothing is set in stone for a Saturday, the Cascade Mountains are a quick 45-60 minute drive.

Over the 5 weeks, three have been spent on the top of a mountain (you can read about Summiting the Si here), including the day I turned 27. Since I had recently moved to a new city, I didn’t know a lot of people, so celebrating my birthday the “usual” way (as in going out to a restaurant/bar) was kind of out of the question. I wasn’t too heart broken about it because I knew the mountains would, and will always be there, to help me grow another year older. And that’s exactly what they did this year.

I decided on a hike, known as Kendall Katwalk, which is a portion of the Pacific Crest Trail. If you don’t know anything about the Pacific Crest Trail, a.k.a PCT, here’s a brief summary. The PCT is a 2,650 mile trail that runs along the west coast, connecting Mexico to Canada running through California, Oregon, and Washington (more details, click here). The portion of the trail I completed is located in the Snoqualmie Pass area; approximately 75-minutes from my home. It totals up to about 11-miles round trip with an elevation gain of 2,700 ft, ending at 5,400 ft above sea level and is rated at a 4/5 for difficulty.

This hike starts out at a moderate pace through old-growth forests, thinning out to meadows, before becoming a large boulder filled area, blasted out of the side of the mountain. This was my favorite part, because little did I know, that hitting the boulder filled area would mean a perfect view of Mt. Rainier. It took me by such surprise that it took my breath away. Of course this wasn’t the end of the trail. From this point, I still had another 1.5 miles or so to go.  The trail continues to climb high, wrapping along the west side of the mountain and ultimately ending  up at broad shelf on the east face of the ridge, known as the Katwalk.

It’s hard to explain the beauty of this particular landmark or to the flood of emotions and pride I was feeling when reached the Katwalk, as this was (and still is) my longest hike I’ve completed, but I can say this…it was breath-taking. This hike was exactly what I needed to start my 27th year off on the right food and I felt nothing but blessed overlooking valleys with mountains all around. God continues to amaze me with this beautiful land we call home and each lesson He knowingly/unknowingly placed into this world.

What lesson you ask? I’ll explain. While standing on the edge of a cliff looking into a valley, I realized that life is like a mountain range. You might feel that nothing is going right, you’re at a low point (e.g. in a valley) and that life has all these challenges (or mountains) preventing you from moving forwards. But nothing is what it seems. God places these “mountains” in our path, not to discourage us, but to make us stronger and wiser, to teach us and to guide us to Him and His love, as with Him anything can be overcome and conquered. I wander what He has planned for me next. Stay tuned to find out.

Pictures from this adventure, click here.