Into the wild

I read the book Wild last summer.

In case you’ve been living in a cave – this is the popular book by Cheryl Strayed (a fellow Portlander, no less) about hiking the Pacific Crest Trail. Admittedly this was a very atypical book for me to read as I rarely, if ever, read non-fiction.

I’m really more of a terribly shallow, painfully predictable, poorly written historical romance kind of a girl (which my inner feminist abhors). If there isn’t a half-naked duke/rogue/pirate/highlander involved, I’m not likely to pick the book up. But, I digress…

At about the same time, my friend Seaerra (who lives in Wyoming and is also the daughter of my very dear childhood best friend) also read Wild. We were both intrigued with the notion of traipsing off into the woods carrying everything we needed on our backs.

We decided to give it a try.

I hadn’t been backpacking in over 15 years – and even then I generally only did it as part of a large group on a Geology field trip in college. Seaerra loved camping, but had never really gone backpacking before. We decided to plan a trip to the Olympic National Park/Forest on the Olympic Peninsula in Washington State.

By her own admission, Seaerra has never really been an exercise kind of girl.

At times her daily activity might have consisted of heading to the kitchen between Dr. Who episodes to retrieve a box of Wheat Thins and a can of Cheez Whiz. She knew that if she wanted to enjoy these hikes she would need to make some lifestyle changes. And did she ever!

Seaerra started working with a personal trainer, began exercising regularly and changed her diet to one focused on health and nutrition.

She went to the gym regularly, started jogging (and, much like me, found that she really enjoyed it!), and did more squats than I’m sure she’d care to count. As of a few weeks ago she had run in her first 5K and was doing 12-mile training hikes up steep hills with a 30-pound backpack. She has lost nearly 30 pounds and is in the best shape of her life.

Seaerra (left) and her personal trainer - about to run her first 5K!

Seaerra (left) and her personal trainer – about to run her first 5K!

The Seaerra I picked up at the airport last week was completely transformed.

Not just physically, but mentally and emotionally. She is much more confident and is excited to try new things. For example, the day before we were set to leave on the backpacking trip we learned of an opportunity to do a 6-mile walk that included one of Portland’s large iconic freeway bridges that would be closed to cars and open to walkers and bicyclists.

The old Seaerra likely would have been cautious of such a spontaneous adventure and anxious about if she’d be able to physically do it. This new Seaerra immediately said “Hey, that sounds like fun!” and was excited about the prospect of climbing up and over that big bridge.


About to walk over the Fremont Bridge (it doesn’t look like it in the picture, but it’s actually a big hill to get up and over the bridge)

Over the past several months Seaerra has gotten into good enough shape to not only do the bridge walk, but to also hike nearly 50 miles through the Olympic Mountains. We had several days of hard hiking up steep terrain and Seaerra absolutely kicked butt. Who knew that an innocent chat about a book we had both recently read would lead to such a transformational experience? Maybe I should try non-fiction more often?

Seaerra hiking through giant spruce trees - reaping the rewards of her hard work!

Seaerra hiking through giant spruce trees – reaping the rewards of her hard work!

I’m so proud of her and all she accomplished in the last few months in preparation for our backpacking trip. I can’t wait to share more active adventures with Seaerra in the future!

Together with Glenn, we did two big hikes on our trip. One hike was 24-miles through the Hoh Rainforest – one of the largest temperate rainforests in the U.S. with a decidedly “Lord of the Rings” feel. The second hike was a 23-miler on the drier and more rugged side of the mountains in the Buckhorn Wilderness.


Seaerra, me and Glenn – ready to hit the trails.


The 24-mile hike through the Hoh Rainforest was beautiful. Temperatures soared on the first day – with the sun beating down on us when we weren’t in the trees and the dust from the trail kicking up beneath our feet.


The sun streaming through the trees along the Hoh River Trail.


Making our way across one of several creeks.


A sea of ferns.

About 9-miles into the hike we stopped to replenish our water supplies from a babbling creek before continuing on to our intended campsite. As we were filling our water bottles a man and woman showed up with a bit of panic in their eyes. They were hot, exhausted and dehydrated. They had been about 6 miles ahead of us on the trail and had to turn back because they ran out of water.

It turns out the creeks depicted on the map were dried up so they had attempted to filter water from the Hoh River. The Ranger had warned us not to filter the river water, as it is full of “glacial flour” – fine silt that is the perfect size to plug water filters. Unfortunately, this couple didn’t get the same message.


The Hoh River – light grey in color due to the “glacial flour.”

Their filter was plugged, they had no iodine pills and they were desperate for water. Fortunately we had both a working water filter as well as a SteriPEN (coolest invention ever), so we were able to treat enough water to replenish their supplies and get them through the night.


Glenn treating the creek water with a SteriPEN.


So easy to use – it smiles at you when your water is safe to drink.

Unfortunately, they were going to have to cut their multi-day trip short because they didn’t have a back-up system to their filter for getting water. A good lesson learned for us – always have at least two ways to get water!

Hanging our food from the bear wires.

Hanging our food from the bear wires.

On the morning of our departure we awoke to the sound of rain and thunder. We quickly packed up camp and started making our way back out of the forest. By the time we hit the main trail we were in the middle of a true rainstorm. And it was beautiful!


Hiking in the rain.

It is hard to explain – but the forest seemed to come alive in the rain. You could truly feel a sense of contentment settle over the landscape, as if all of the plants and animals in the forest collectively breathed a sigh of relief. “Ahhhh…rain!”


A black slug coming out to enjoy the rain. Unfortunately, this little fella is an invasive species in the rainforest.


The colors of the forest came alive with the arrival of the rain and mist.


As we made our way from the Western side of the Olympic Peninsula to the Eastern side, we stopped off in Port Townsend for a hotel bed — and a shower, some laundry and a meal that didn’t consist of dehydrated food in a bag!


Seaerra and Glenn checking out the beach.


Fort Worden State Park


The most amazing clam chowder I’ve ever eaten!

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Our second hiking trip was a 23-mile loop in the Buckhorn Wilderness – part of the Olympic National Forest. Although this hike included considerable elevation gain, we decided the steep climbs would be worth the effort because of the expansive vistas and views we would encounter.


Unfortunately, the same storm system that dumped rain on us in the Hoh Rainforest lingered around for this hike. As a result, we spent much of the time hiking in the clouds – imagining the views across the valleys and peaks we were traversing.

We started on the Upper Dungeness River Trail, past Camp Handy and up, up, up to Boulder Shelter where we camped for the night.


Upper Dungeness Trail


The Dungeness River


One of the few views we got between cloud breaks.


Seaerra crossing the Dungeness River before starting the strenuous climb to where we would camp for the night.


Seaerra scouting out a camping site. It’s fairly obvious why this site was called Boulder Shelter!


Our camp in the clouds at Boulder Shelter – where it rained all night!


Breakfast at Boulder Shelter – hoping the sun would come out for our hike.

The next day we made the steep climb up and over Marmot Pass (6,000 feet).


Working our way up Marmot Pass.


Seaerra on top of Marmot Pass – imagining the amazing 360-degree vistas we’d be seeing if not for the blasted fog!


We took the Tubal Cain trail down the other side of the ridge from Marmot Pass. Our destination was the Tubal Cain Mine where we planned to camp for the night.


It started pouring rain soon after we arrived at camp – but this amazing tree provided a nice dry spot to lounge about while we made dinner.


Seaerra making her way over a stream crossing made of old Tubal Cain mine junk.


Our camp at Tubal Cain – complete with old mining equipment as a sitting log.

Glenn had decided that Tubal Cain sounded like the name of an evil villain in a super hero movie – a charred, big clawed, red ember-eyed character that lived in the city sewers. He spent hours on the trail regaling Seaerra and I with tales of Tubal Cain, including the time Glenn met Tubal Cain at the crossroads and sold his soul to become the World’s best break-dancer…going on to become the champion on So You Think You Can Dance…and culminating in the remaking of the Electric Boogaloo movie – although it would be called Electric Glennaloo – before he had to return to the crossroads 10 years later to give his soul to Tubal Cain.


Glenn at the entrance of the elusive Tubal Cain mine shaft. (Insert scary music here…)

We definitely plan to go back and do this hike again when the weather cooperates so that we can see the views from Marmot Pass!

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4 comments on “Into the wild

  1. Hey Michele, great write-up and pictures!

    I don’t know what kind of water filter they had, but I’ve long carried (and love) the MSR SweetWater. It’s a very simple design, has a wonderful easy-effort pumping action (through a collapsible lever) and it’s super-easy to open up and brush it out to remove any build-up, including glacial silt – even if you’re dealing with it every day over many days.

    I’m not a big fan of SteriPEN: I much prefer the idea of removing my contaminants than merely kill them. 😉 And of course it requires batteries. For what it’s worth though, I don’t carry a back-up (unless in a big group): I hate iodine-treated water, and of course you can boil water. Besides, often wilderness stream water can be in better shape than many cities’ tap water, even lower giardia count – but it pays to know what’s upstream though! (Cattle grazing grounds??) But then it’s also good to remember that it’s better to drink untreated water than die of dehydration!

    • Thanks Chris. We have a filter too – it’s definitely nice to have multiple options at hand. Those folks we ran into couldn’t boil much water as they had only brought enough stove fuel for a couple of days of quick cooking. They were fine in the end, just bummed that they had to cut their trip short. I bet they’ll be better prepared next time!

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