What We Carry – The Best Laid Plans:

Crater's edge
Crater’s edge

*I should note here that this hike was in September. Life has been challenging us a bit more than usual lately.  I’ll be sharing some of those challenges online with you – hopefully sooner than I was able to get to this post.

We had a grand plan to train for our Mt. St. Helens hike.  Sure; it was an escalated/abbreviated training schedule.  Yes; we should have started much sooner.  But we had a plan.  5 weeks, one big hike a week.  Nick Eaton was the first, then maybe Dog Mountain or Trapper Creek Loop, then Table Mountain to train for the boulder field, next Elk King Traverse for serious steepness and butt kicking, and lastly Tanner Butte for endurance.  It was a good (if accelerated) plan.  But the path to hell is paved with good intentions.  And so we found ourselves with only one hike under our belts for training hiking up Mt. St. Helens.  Yes; I know, that’s just crazy.  But it’s true.

We did, however, have nice gear.  I got a fabulous rain coat, new convertible pants, a base layer, and a hat with a little hole in it for my ponytail (Awesome Score!) at an amazing price at the Columbia Outlet.   We looked great!  And we had AMAZING snacks bought at our local Trader Joe’s!  I made an awesome trail mix the night before, (Roasted unsalted cashews, peanuts, and almonds, raw pumpkin seeds, honey sunflower coated cashews,dried cranberries, and a bag and a half of peanut butter m&m’s that my oldest step-daughter; Makala, thought to add in. She’s brilliant!) Cliff bars, an apple each, peanut butter pretzels, turkey jerky, roasted plantain chips, and 3 liters of water each.  I also got each of us an emergency blanket and whistle from REI just in case.  We had our phones for photo ops and rented;because I forgot mine, 2 sets of hiking poles.  (Makala and I shared a set for half the hike up.  I’m better without, so I gave her the one I was using and we both did better.)  Our bags were FULL.

The three of us met our friends Annie and Phil at the room we rented in Cougar, WA. We got there first to check in and bought a few things at the little store (candy and sunscreen).  As far as I’m concerned you can eat candy at zero calories if you’re hiking up a mountain.  And You Must Wear Sunscreen.  You are Closer to the Sun.  So, the room was like going to camp, No Frills, but ok. There was basically no cell service.  Craig and I shared the bunk-bed because Makala called the twin.  I got the top bunk. It was pretty fun.  I wore my headlamp to do a crossword before bed.  I was transported back to 6th grade for a moment. (pre-internet bliss) Annie and Phil have little ones, so they were a little stressed about not being connected though.

Wake up was at 5am. We were supposed to meet the rest of our team at 6. That didn’t happen.  One bathroom for 5 people created delay.  The drive to the hiker’s bivouac took much longer than anticipated and we almost missed our turn in the early morning dark.  We did make it – a little late – and didn’t even need our headlamps.

The first part of the hike in the woods is awesome, if short-lived.  It is much longer on your return because you are exhausted.  Layers are required.  We removed layers before we even left the forest.  We were down to tank tops for most of the hike, but the top is freezing.  Everything went back on and then some.  Bring gloves and a hat that covers your ears. The boulder field killed me.  My legs are short, so what was a step for most folks meant I was clambering up with arms, legs and butt.  I spent a lot of time figuring out a better path for myself.  I had a lot of time to think because I wasn’t doing a lot of talking.  I thought about the last time I made this climb and how young I was, the great shape I was in because I was training for the marathon and would find out a few weeks after I was pregnant with my son. I thought about how easy it had seemed then. I thought about the amazing women I worked with back then, how proud I am of the work we did together, and the things we were able to achieve.  They helped me grow in ways I never expected, and helped me form a stronger sense of self. I remember carrying a disposable panoramic camera with me to take photos that I had developed (in 24hrs) and snail-mailed to my Dad so he could see how breath taking it was.  I called him when I got home after that first climb to tell him about it too.  He was happy that I was living my dreams.  Making them come true. I thought about Annie and her father who had passed away about a month before and how he must be watching her with pride. I thought about our kids dreams, and how amazing it is that my son gets to have two sisters that he’s so very proud of. I thought about if there was an emergency while I was hiking how lucky I am to have a truly amazing Back-Up Mom.  I thought about indoor plumbing, and how it cannot be over-rated.

Boulder Field
Boulder Field

Meanwhile; while my mind is wandering down all these paths, my feet and butt and knees and hands are winding me up, and up, and up, and my pack is way too heavy. It should be noted here that I like to collect rocks, and that wasn’t helping. So, I discreetly left an unopened bottle of water along the path on the way up to be retrieved on the way back.  Sun Glasses are your friend in the wind for the last of the ascent.   Almost to the top all our cellphones chirped!  Annie and Phil called to check on the kids, and we all posted photos. Probably not the best idea in case someone wanted to rob the house.  (Though our dog; Jack, is a pretty amazing deterrent.) The top was epic!  Annie made it first. Last time it was really foggy and I couldn’t see anything.  This time it was clear, and it’s kind of scary how easily you could fall into the crater if you aren’t careful.  In those moments at the top when I wasn’t piling on clothing, eating, choosing another rock, and taking photos of Makala doing handstands (while praying a good wind wouldn’t blow her into the crater); I whispered to my Dad, “I made it again, Dad. Isn’t it glorious?”  I wish for him in All the best moments of my life.  I am who I am because he believed in and encouraged me.  My Dad passed away in 2007, and I miss him every day.  I looked at Annie, beautifully strong and a bit winded after muscling her way to the top.  I wished for her Dad for her too.

Craig & I at the Top
Craig & I at the Top
St Helens Descent
St Helens Descent

Down seemed faster early on, I remembered to pick up my ditched water, and it was painful in the boulder field (that did not stop me from finding a beautiful pink rock for my collection), but that last hike through the woods seemed to take forever.  Annie and Mak made it to the car first, Phil waited for Craig and I to wander in and Kate and Cory came out last – tired, dusty and happy.

At the car I looked in my pack.  Two-thirds of what I packed was still in there including most of the second bottle of water. We; thankfully, didn’t use any of the emergency gear.  And my little rock collection was just lovely.  We were prepared going up.  We took what we needed with us.  We had food, water, emergency  and good companions. When what we were carrying got too heavy, we were able to set it down, and pick it back up when we were able. We shared snacks, tools, and encouragement. We had networks of people taking care of what needed to be taken care of at home.  All these things allowed each of us to get to the top and back down and it was Awesome!

The next few days I was not as bouncy as usual.  Mak and Craig were perfectly fine. (I cursed them a bit while I carefully and painfully made my way down the stairs.) It didn’t last long though, and I can’t wait for the next big hike!




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