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-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.

A Hiking Adventure: Mount Si

Summer is FINALLY here in the state of Washington which means…it’s hiking season once again and this girl is over the moon ecstatic. To start off this summer, my friend Sydney and I chose to hike a mountain that rises sharply above the Snoqualmie River valley with views of the Cascades, Mt. Rainier, and Seattle in the far distance. Mount Si is a 4-mile hike full of steep switchbacks, has an elevation gain of  of 3150 feet (topping off at 3900 ft.), and at the end has a couple large rock formations.

Mount Si is a fairly common hike for many people within the city and can attracts anywhere from 30,000 to 50,000 visitors each year*. What was the most interesting part of this hike were the amount of trail runners running UP and down this trail. I struggled WALKING up this trail and couldn’t even imagine running 4-mile up the side of a mountain.

The first mile wasn’t extremely rough, but not an “easy” start to a trail. When I passed the mile marker, I was already feeling the burn in my calves and quads but was determined to push on. At about the 2 mile marker, there’s a location called Snag Flats, which is the location of an old wild fire that hit this Douglas fir filled area. Good thing about this location is that it’s a bit flat so it allowed for a little break in the climb.

Pushing on upwards for another 2 miles, the last of which was upward HELL, until finally reaching the summit’s basin, also known as the scramble. The scramble changes in terrain from the rest of the hike ,which is all trees/shrubs, to boulders/loose rocks. I say summit’s basin because the actually summit is a HUGE rock formation about 400ft above the basin, known as the Haystack, that requires a little bit of  rock climbing. We ended up forgoing this climb as our legs were already screaming at me and let’s be honest, the view was amazing where we were and didn’t really want to exert any more energy. After sitting at the top basking in the sun with a light breeze for nearly 2 hours, we decided it was time to venture back down the mountain. It was an amazing first summer hike to start the season and I’m ready to hit the trails again.

*Washington Trails Association

Snowy Owls in Washington

When the weekends role around, sometimes I feel prepared; other times I feel a bit scatterbrained. This was one of those weekends. I heard on the news that West Coast WA was going to have some pretty decent weather, meaning partly cloud and low 40s, and one thing was for certain. I would be spending time outdoors soaking up some vitamin D and kind of already knew where I wanted to spend the day.

Back in November, my friends/co-workers ventured out to Ocean Shores, a town located about 25 minutes west, and captured some pretty fantastic shots of snowy owls in their natural environment. I am not going to lie, I was quite jealous and knew my time was almost up (they only stay through mid-late February), so off I went with my friend/co-worker, Sydney, to Ocean Shores!

Hunting any type of wildlife is so thrilling and such an adrenaline rush. I can honestly say that never in a million years, would I picture myself creeping in these grasslands on the coast of Washington trying to get as close to Snowy owls as possible, without startling them. From afar these birds look like plastic bags washed up onto logs, and I really wasn’t sure what I was looking at when we first got there. But after an hour, we started to notice these white spots from a distance perched on beached logs, low to the ground. With each breathe stopping step and picture I took, the more my heart was pumping for more. I wanted a better angle, a better shot, more action. Keep in mind, I was not the only person at this location looking at these beautiful bird, but then again I don’t really think about anyone else when I have my camera in hand. It didn’t really matter in the end because all I know is at one point I was a mere 25 feet away from a wild Snowy owl.

To top off this trip, a bald eagle landed perfectly on a log no more that 200 feet away; allowing me as close as 75 feet before flying away! I felt like a true wildlife photography scoping out my prey hoping for the next big picture. You can bet I will be back again for my next chance at capturing the beauty of the Pacific Northwest wildlife!