Saturday, August 16, 2008

Night Hike Angel's Rest

Last night I completed Angel's Rest by moonlight. It was an amazing adventure that I won't be repeating very soon.

I had originally heard about night hiking from one of my co-workers, and I thought it'd be really exciting. Truth, that. I convinced Loni to give it a try, but last night she was still hurting from our St. Helens adventure, so she passed. She also didn't feel the same level of excitement about trooping through the woods in the dark, and that's okay too.

I was worried about doing it solo, but that's a really popular hike so the longest I'd have to lay broken at the bottom of a hill would be maybe 8-10 hours, right? It was a full (or almost-full) moon, which was both good and bad. Sometimes it was so bright that it took away my night vision.

I picked this hike for it's familiarity, the bright moonlight, and the relatively short distance. Round trip, this is less than 5 miles, and a 2/10 on the boot scale. At night, however, it turns into a heart-pounding and breath-taking trek.

Loni bought us both some very cool headlights to have for this trip, although you aren't supposed to use artificial light if you can avoid it - it really takes away from the adventure. I forgot mine in the car so I completed the entire trip with moon illumination only, with the plan that I'd turn around if it got too dark to hike safely.

Good news for other night hikers: Once you have about 20 minutes on the trail, you can see most everything given even a little bit of ambient light.

I cruised to the top of the mountain, gave myself a few really good "cat scares" from creatures scrambling out of my way, and arrived at the top strung out and dripping sweat. The 104 degree heat from that day made all the rocks on the trail radiate heat well into the night. Time to top was about an hour and ten minutes, and I arrived just after midnight. I sat on the bench overlooking the river and drained my entire liter of water. I really wished I'd brought my hydration pack and hiking stick, because they would have made this a much more comfortable trip.

The moon was amazing, with little patchy clouds drifting over it like a mosaic. When the clouds covered the moon it made it slightly less bright and therefore better for hiking.

Which brings me to my next regret, that I didn't bring a camera. My cell phone simply doesn't do justice to the city lights, or the river by moonlight, or the spooky strands of burnt trees, or the eerie light artifacts the moonlight made on the trail.

I also regret that I didn't have company for this trip, because there were times when I got a little spooked. It's a little unnerving when you're walking through a very loud bug-ridden section of forest and it all goes silent. Instantly. I'm not sure what makes bugs do that, other than to fuck with my mind... Are there big cats out there? I hope not, because I didn't have my giant shish-kebab skewer with me.

Time back to car was an hour and fifteen, because of said scary sections where I walked really quietly waiting for something to pounce. The upper section of scree was a little challenging, because I missed the trail and had to climb down a ways, but I found the exit with no difficulty. My body is just as sore as if I'd done a much longer hike, because you use different muscles when you can't pick your footing as carefully.

Overall, a FANTASTIC adventure. I also know now what will make future night hikes better and safer, and I look forward to the next one.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Mount St. Helens

I hiked Mount St. Helens on Monday with Michele and Loni. It was the best hike I've done so far, by a large margin. I was up at 4:00AM and caught a ride with Loni to arrive at the MK's house around 5:00. She drove, because she's got a hybrid that gets decent MPG. We signed in down at Cougar, and headed up the hill to Climbers Biouvac.

We were on the trail at 7:05 AM, and above the treeline about an hour later. That's when shit got tough. There are some fairly long stretches of non-boulderized hillside, but mostly it's scrambling. My giant new pole was very helpful for stability, and I avoided any major falls this whole trip.

This mountain gives you a choice: You can either scramble straight over rocks, which is pretty harsh on your quads, glutes, and triceps or you can slog up the "trail" which is loose gravel, sand, and ash. The trail is really, really hard on the calves, so I split the difference and switched back and forth.

We didn't follow the poles that mark the trail very closely, because it seemed harder to take that route. Instead, we ran giant switchbacks up either side of the ridge,
which took longer but wasn't quite as harsh on the body. I was breathing
hard most of the way, probably from overall lack of fitness combined with
the decreased oxygen at elevation.

Both Loni and I had some mild hypoglycemia, although I managed to mostly keep up and avoid the crash. We fueled with the PowerBar Gel Packs, and they were not nearly as offensive as I had expected. Next time, we'll eat more packs, more frequently.

The hardest part was the last 1500 feet, where it's just loose ash and gravel. It's about 75% efficient to hike, which means every step you sink or slide back a quarter step. It's just grinding out the steps, and it feels like forever! Eventually, you get to the rim and can see the glory that is a giant pit. The new lava dome is cool, and actually seems surprisingly large. Hopefully I'll get to be around for the next eruption and it's at least as big as the last one. Keep your fingers crossed.

I didn't use my new gaiters - my boots never collected ash or rocks, so there wasn't a need. Oh well, I'm sure they'll see use this winter on some snow hikes. Some things I need to invest in are better sunglasses - it was BRIGHT up there. Maybe some goggles. Also, I need warmer and more breathable layers. My fleece was a lifesaver, but I could've been more comfortable during parts of the hike.

Some highlights of the trip:
Little puffs of smoke coming out of a vent on the lava dome.

Giant eagle soaring directly over our heads. Probably a bald eagle, although we initially suspected it was a golden eagle. Since it didn't have the blazes under the wings and we had previously seen a bald eagle on the way up, that's probably what this one was too. Loni and I each saw a hummingbird, too.

Short glissades down the snow field - I sat on my heels for the first one, but it was super sketchy trying to keep my balance. I stood and skiied in my boots for the second, using my pole as a brake/balance tool. It was super fun and I made fantastic time. I wish I'd been braver and done it from further up on the mountain.

Showing assholes up. Loni and Michele had a little "chat" with some "experienced mountaineers" on the way up. They were loaded down with full gear, ropes, ice axes, the whole shebang. They laughed at the little girls (and me) with their little hydration packs, and made some comments about them not knowing what they were doing on the mountain. Just kinda know-it-all jerks. We passed them again on the way back down, and I heard Loni make a comment about "_WE_ didn't need a belay..."

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Second Taco Stand (145th & Stark)

I went shopping with Loni yesterday, in preparation of the St. Helens hike tomorrow. We picked up my gaiters at REI and she found a very good deal over at Sportsman's Whorehouse (Warehouse.) Now all I have to do is figure out eye wear...

We had a late lunch at another Mexican/Cuban food cart, this one outside the "MERVYN'S CLEARANCE OUTLET" at about 145th and stark. Right across from Bob's Rental with the nice new bright blue paint scheme.

I was excited to try this place, since they offer tortas, which are basically giant sandwiches. Loni tried both the al pastor and pollo tacos, which were delicious but excessively greasy. The onions and cilantro on top were sort of chopped up together. They did provide adequate portions of meat, as well as very good salsa. The green salsa was brighter but not as hot as the remains of my previous taco cart salsa from the night before. Their red salsa was nicely smoky but not really all that hot.

Let me tell you about the grande tortas cubanos I got.
Layered between a slab of bread probably 14"x7" (man-inches, so you can figure the appropriate calculation) were the following ingredients:
Sliced ham
2 butterfly'd hot dogs
Fried eggs
An ocean of melted cheese
Tomato slices
Jalapeno slices
Sauteed white onion slices
Avocado slices
and some thin gray leathery meat that I still haven't identified. This bothers me a little bit, but it was delicious so I try to shut that part of my brain up.

I only managed to eat half my sandwich before my blood started to gel from all the cholesterol and fat... So I finished the job this morning.

When I finally rolled out of bed and opened my fridge, I looked at the sandwich and saw...a good start. Unfortunately, all the meat flavors tended to blend together, so I thought it needed a different focus. My basil plant yielded plenty of leaves so I layered the entire sandwich. I also hadn't really noticed any mayonnaise on the bread the night before, and I thought it needed something to kick up the flavor besides the jalapeno. I layered on some wasabi mayonnaise from Trader Joe's, and threw the whole thing into the microwave for a few minutes. Perfection!

Eating this sandwich in either of it's forms: lunch/dinner or breakfast, was a really good experience. Despite the size of this beast, you never get tired of eating it. Each bite brings a new combination of the flavors from all the different ingredients. The hot dog was novel, and I gave a taste to my cats. I'm curious if that is what is referred to by "pork cheese" that was listed on the sign-board for this sandwich. It must be, and that's the best word for a hot dog I've ever heard of.

I'm eating an apple now, in the hopes that I don't carry 5 lbs of undigested meat in my colon (as the average American is said to have...) up and back Mt. St. Helens tomorrow morning.