Category: Cascades

skiingforthesuckerholeHeavy weather didn’t wash away the colors of skiers skimming trails in the Methow Valley.  Occasional wet snow couldn’t dampen the teals and fuschias and yellows of modern outerwear. Petite teardrop packs rode neatly on people’s backs if they carried anything at all. Space age skis with optimized length and shape for easier turning painted the ground with a vibrant color palette.

oldfriendAnd there I was, in my red and black, 23-year old North Face shell, everything else black, carrying a black and green, 20-year old Arcteryx pack.  I wore my old Karhu half-metal edge, long, pointed skis. It’s not that I don’t own more modern gear. That gear hung neatly in closets, or slept quietly in a drawer.

Why would I reach for old gear when I have new?  It’s not stubborn thriftiness, because I already wrote the check to replace my well-worn gear.

And it’s not misplaced attachment to glory days of yore.  A long-ago manager taught me how that looks with tales of his youthful exploits as a Yosemite Valley climber.  As a new climber, I was very impressed with his conquering El Capitan, but after a few stories, I realized the throwback climber’s clothing and old stories he wore like a badge of honor were all that he had to offer.  I wanted to keep living, have new stories to tell.

No, the reason I keep my old gear has to do with memory and familiarity. That pack has traveled to New Zealand twice, Tonga, the Arctic, Costa Rica, Canada, Hawaii a couple times, the Southwest, and the Midwest.  It has ridden in airplanes, cars, and carts; hiked, scrambled, skied, and climbed.

Those skis took me on my first trip to Methow Valley 22 years ago, traveling hut to hut in the Rendezvous area, and many other places. The goretex shell- well, that’s been everywhere including the tops of volcanoes.

mazamawelcomeIn a time when powerful people want to turn the world upside down, we’re weathering one piece of bad news after another, and nothing seems steady or logical, we turn to the familiar.  My outdoor gear is my memento, my keepsake of a life lived as fully as I could considering I’m not a natural athlete, but naturally work too much.

The fabric of old jackets and packs holds our shape and memories, and worn though it is, provides a reminder that life can make sense, and can bring adventure and joy.  Times like these, you are afraid there will be no new memories to be had. You’re hunkered down wondering if you have to protect your finances to avoid future government catastrophe and worrying if you’ll make it through that ultrasound finding or weather your estranged brother’s death if the next stroke is fatal.


Wapta Icefield, in another old jacket

The memory of standing on a volcano, tired but triumphant, gazing at a sea of peaks, reminds you that there is a world, and that the ageless mountains will someday shrug off all of humanity in one big heave.  It makes the day-to-day anxieties small in relation to the planet. The looming monsters shrink to ants.


But romanticism aside, using old gear has its costs in a way that cradling a family memento does not.


The Clip Flashlight survives wandering grizzlies in Wyoming- but not the rain

My trusty Sierra Designs Clip Flashlight tent, the one edition that never had a long enough fly, just can’t keep out the rain anymore. I brought my new Mountainsmith tent on a Montana trip last year just in case.

No waterproofer will revive a goretex membrane that, upon examination under microscope, probably doesn’t exist anymore. I have a newer jacket that traveled to the Arctic with me, because that’s not a place that tolerates bad gear.


Water crossing, Auyuittuq Traverse- not the place to cling to old gear.

And when you beat the camber out of skis, they ride flat and slow on the snow, making you work even on the downhill.



Five years ago on these same skis, when they were only 17 years old

So maybe the trick is to keep making new memories with new gear, and memorialize the old in decorations like the ski fence I drove by on my way here.


There is much to love about the new.  The Methow Valley Ski Trails Association has worked hard to remain relevant and to engage new audiences.  They offer trails for kids, with illustrated StorySki boards about polar bear polka parties, and sassy animals tempting them to learn about nature and practice ski techniques.  I endured my first years of skiing on hand-me-down wooden skis in woolen army surplus knickers and layers of old logging jackets.  These kids wear light, warm gear and knitted hats with goat horns, and play all the way down the trail.  No grim determination needed here.


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There are trails for dogs, and the dogs are good dogs.  These aren’t the predatory pooches hopping on your skis and nipping at your calves as you careen downhill.  They run with their owners and only approach if invited- and I do invite them, because I love dogs.

methowdogheavenThere are trails for fat bikes, with beefy snow tires. Trails for skate skiers and snowmobiles.  Easy, medium, and hard trails. Trails that the neighbors decorate with crazy pink flamingos. methowtrailflamingos



A rare selfie, with stick-induced wound

This weekend is a new start on an old, dead tradition. Friends and I used to ski the Methow Valley every year on the holiday weekend because I share a birthday with dead presidents. Those friends are gone, or quit skiing, or became overwhelmed by life.  Heck with that, I figure.  I still ski. I still share a birthday with dead presidents who got us government workers a Monday off.


I skied unapologetically in my old gear, and didn’t bother to cover up the scrape on my chin where that argument with a stick ended with a win for the stick. The freedom that comes with not being beautiful is exhilarating, and a stick scab from a speedy maneuver into the woods is a hero’s badge. The memory of flight comes from poling hard downhill to gain speed when the snow is good and the glide wax is fresh.

But next year, maybe next year if I make it through and the country still stands, I’ll bring my new gear, that light gear in brighter colors, and make new memories on the pyre of old traditions and lost ways.




Garden on the Skyline Divide Trail. More pictures below!

Garden on the Skyline Divide Trail. More pictures below!

The day hike is a modern convention, dependent on the automobile and decent roads that allow us to leave our homes and return the same day, with a walk in between. If the trail is close, the roads are good, and the journey is easy enough for us to tackle, we can day hike and still have plans for the evening.  We all complain sometimes: “I drove six hours to hike six hours”.  By saying this, we forget that once, before modern cars or roads, we might have journeyed a week to our hiking destination and then had to stay while to make it worthwhile.

I prefer to camp outdoors over day hiking, making up a fraction of hikers.  It’s not the drive vs. hiking time that drives this preference. In fact, I sleep better in a tent with natural sounds than in a bed where my thoughts may become too noisy for sleep.  When life and work deny me sleep at home, I sometimes pitch a tent in the yard, which is beyond my neighbors’ worried eyes. I sometimes wonder how long it takes in the outdoors to replace dreams of being late for crucial meetings with dreams of raptors soaring on thermals.

But day hike we do, to get a break, to get some exercise, or to introduce our lovely natural areas to our friends, or visitors from afar.

Mt. Baker from Skyline Divide

Mt. Baker from Skyline Divide

In my case, I’m hiking this summer to get ready for a trip to the Canadian Arctic in late July and can’t always stay out overnight due to those obligations that haunt my dreams.  Washington State offers lovely day hikes for all sorts, and they have magical moments along with grand views. Two hikes that held something new for me are Lake Valhalla and Skyline Divide.  I have traveled to Lake Valhalla only in winter, when the avalanche conditions in Stevens Pass allow.  Summer is a new experience for me on that trail. I have never been to Skyline Divide due to its reputation for crowds. I hiked both during the week and enjoyed limited crowds of really nice folks, young and not so much so, clearly dedicated to relaxation and peace.

Anise Swallowtail at Skyline Divide

Anise Swallowtail at Skyline Divide

Both trails sparkled with butterflies, though the historic heat this summer has wilted the most exposed flowers early in the season.  I perched on the Skyline Divide ridge to catch a refreshing breeze coming up from the valley below while I ate lunch.  From my perch, I watched swarms of butterflies over a still-fresh meadow, chasing each other in multi-colored tornadoes when too many occupied the same verdant space.  At Lake Valhalla, I rested in the sand by the lake for lunch and watched many butterflies puddling, taking up mineral from the moist soils.  Before I even left the trailhead, I saw my first Parnassian

Believe this is Clodius Parnassian

Believe this is Clodius Parnassian

On both trails, I met a diversity of people that we never used to see 20 years ago outside of the national parks:  all skin colors, all ages, all walks of life.  Gone is the monotony of urgent looking white people ( the majority male) pounding down the trail in long johns with shorts over the top, bent on a destination.  Not only the car, but the guidebook and the gear store have made hiking accessible to a variety of people who come for the day, but may help to protect our natural areas forever.  This is not a bad thing- there will always be solitude to find, but unless a lot of people care about the outdoors, there will be no outdoors to celebrate.  Viva the day hike!

For an amazing variety of hikes throughout Washington State, along with trip reports, visit Washington Trails Association at 

The sign said

The sign said “Camp” but what it really meant was “Goat Camp”.

When I die, I plan on returning as a trail sprite.  When I hear hikers and backpackers having conversations about becoming a licensed engineer, the trials of office politics, or bad relationships, I will sprinkle people with amnesia dust, or cast a spell so that they can’t speak, and only hear the sound of wind brushing through pine trees, birds, drumming of woodpeckers, water, and the scratching of chipmunk nails on bark. I went on this hike to only the sounds of nature, and walked out a trail becoming crowded with weekend traffic to the sound of busy people like me just not letting it all go.

With a rare midweek break, I spent a couple nights under the spell of mountain goats at Lake Ingalls in the Teanaway region of the Cascades. I posted about the goats at Ingalls Pass a couple years back, and found they are just as pervasive as they were then.  A conversation with a passing (likely retired) long-time hiking couple confirmed my impression that the advent of fearless goats at Ingalls is a recent thing.  James Luther Davis’s “The Northwest Nature Guide” is already out of date after 6 years because he describes them as fleeting and hard to view, and doesn’t identify Ingalls as a place to see them.

A veritable gang of goats at my (their) campsite

A veritable gang of goats at my (their) campsite

From my short backpack,  I have about 300 pictures of goats, and learned a lot about goat heirarchy in a herd by the time I left.  I was chased away from a pee stop twice by goats that could hear me depositing a source of salt on dirt or rock, and 12-20 roamed through my campsite whenever I appeared.  I quickly realized that shooing them away was futile, and that they were patrolling, not confronting. Trained opportunists, not wild assassins.

We developed a sort of working relationship.  This was clearly their turf. The goats had a worn circle around the tent site and eating area, and they nabbed the best dinner spot on a big flat rock for goat repose. They walked that circle meticulously, alert to what I was doing but relaxed and impassive.  I could tell they were eyeing my gear, but only a couple adolescents looked directly at it, then ran away when I rattled my poles together. One lovely camping couple said they had to guard each other during bathroom breaks because they kept hearing the clatter of hooves on rocks the minute they tried to pee.

I kept a grizzly-clean camp and took my food with me when I day hiked.  Voila, no goat or rodent raids.  A hard sided food container might also be helpful, and I saw one campsite with food hung in a tree.

I haven’t been to Lake Ingalls in snow free condition in 20 years (usually I camp on snow and snow scramble), so I don’t remember the trail at all.  The last time I was there in summer, you could camp at the lake. The final approach to the lake seems different, more of a scramble than I remember.  People were missing the easy way to the first cairn because the trail looks like it continues, then ends and if you look up, there is the cairn.  I saw a couple folks who were going straight from cairn to cairn instead of winding around on the fragments of trail (easy to do coming up- the trail is more visible looking down than up). One woman was distinctly nervous and her partner didn’t look too confident in the route. On the way out, I talked to two women, one of whom remembered the final approach as “chaotic”.

“Watch for the rock that- pardon me- looks like a monkey’s butt, with two rounded protrusions at the top,” I told them. “You’ll see dusty footprints on the ledge to the left of that rock. Head for the first cairn that way, and look for fragments of trail on the way up.”

These are crazy directions for such a popular trail.

I spent Thursday wandering the basin and scrambling around the lake. Wildflowers in the seeps and wet areas were still pretty, with exotic colored paintbrush, some lupine, and a white umbel (haven’t found it yet).  Hummingbirds buzzed my pink headwrap. In one area along Ingalls Way, I saw mountain bluebirds hovering above the greenery, flapping their wings like harriers do, then plunging. A marmot lay stretched out on a rock below, listening and watchful.

Mountain Bluebird

Mountain Bluebird

Wednesday night, the winds started up.  Lying in my sleeping bag, I felt like a witness to the gods bowling with wind gusts that screamed past the face of the Stuart Range, rattling and shaking the tent. The winds died a bit at dawn, but Thursday morning arrived cool and breezy, especially at the lake.  Washington has been historically hot and dry, so I enjoyed the weather, especially with adequate clothing to stay comfortable.

What I do remember well are the wonderful scramble rocks around the lake- nicely graded orangey slabs with friction, cracks, and occasional splashes of shiny green serpentine type coating. I do remember the routes to North and South Ingalls peaks, and the way up them, but I didn’t do that- just scrambled and then lounged like a goat on a warm slab in the cool breeze.


Friday morning was windless and warmer- and then the mosquitoes appeared. Not too many, but I’m a bug magnet, so I was glad to be leaving.

But I’ll miss my campsite goats, though they are not as wild and fleeting as they should be.   They made an impression on me even in a couple days. There was Short Horn Mom, with one stunted horn and a small baby she seemed reluctant to nurse (it pooped one morning, so it’s getting something for food). The big, robust male had a scratch down his face from fighting, and pushed other goats around (but not babies, interestingly).  The teenagers were more brash toward older goats and me, but were nimble enough to get out of the way when they pushed their limits.  All were following people around waiting for that inevitable deposition of salt.

Mountain goat and baby, Ingalls Pass, copyright Monica Van der Vieren

Remember, fellow hikers~ a fed goat is a dead goat. While these mountain goats and their eight compadres were highly entertaining, they had clearly been fed or allowed to lick people for the salt in sweat. Ignore them as they patrol for your lunch and let them avoid getting in trouble that will inevitably get them “removed” by the services.

So would the Forest Service be mad if I posted a giant sign at the trailhead saying, “A FED GOAT IS A DEAD GOAT”? There is a sign at the trailhead warning people about dangerous goats with their lethal pointy horns, but no sign posted saying why the goats have gotten so aggressive. That would be us, my friends. More on goats later.

We decided to try Lake Ingalls on a day with promise of views of Mt. Stuart. In all the time I’ve been here, I’ve seen Stuart, and been up it on a clear day, but every time I’ve brought someone else, it’s been cloudy at the top. Not so today.

The parking lot was very full, but surprisingly, there were few people on the Lake Ingalls trail. Perhaps most were headed for Esmeralda Basin. The hike up was easy most of the way, crossing softening avalanche fans a couple miles up. There is a profusion of spring beauty flowers and some glacier lilies, meaning the real flower show is yet to come. It was a perfect day temperature wise, with a light wind to keep us cool.

Past the intersection with Longs Pass, the trail cuts into a basin that was snow covered for the most part. We picked our way up and stopped for views, only to have a goat leap past us and then circle around to a rocky outcrop. Two guys had just come down over the rocks, and three folks were on their way up, so we figured they had spooked the goat.

Then we got up to the camp area below the pass and there was an adolescent goat checking out four unoccupied tents. Another adult was wandering the snowfields. We proceeded up to the pass on snow to the area where people like to picnic and decided to stop and enjoy the highly unusual solitude and lovely views of Mt. Stuart and the basin.

Drop that granola bar!Suddenly, we saw a herd of 10 goats start up from Headlight Basin toward our locale. We were thrilled as they formed a line and ascended the slopes – and surprised as they came over the rocks toward us- and then we were scrambling to pick up our lunch as they streamed over the ridge right past us, pinning us to the edge. Two woolly babies bleated in protest throughout the promenade past us, but their mothers looked pretty determined to make us drop our granola bars.

Yes, they're cute, but their mamas have giant horns.

Yes, they’re cute, but their mamas have giant horns.

The goats made patrols and passes for over an hour, sometimes hovering on the rocks above. Clearly, they associate people with food. I have never seen this behavior, but after reading the warning from the Park Service about NOT LETTING THE GOATS LICK PEOPLE’S HANDS AND ARMS at Mt. Ellinor, I figured these goats had been corrupted like the red foxes at Mt. Rainier that get too many balogna sandwiches and then get smashed on the road hanging out for more handouts. We ignored the goats and they eventually dispersed, leaving us to rest in the sun and enjoy a light nap until- BAAA! There was a goat baby and mom right above us. Yikes. We watched some scramblers coming down the gully between South and North Ingalls peaks and finally shook ourselves out of our pleasant little spot, which not another person had visited in over two hours.

 So Ingalls Pass  is an excellent place to see mountains and  mountain goats, but please please please don’t feed them or let them lick your arms. Wildlife always pays the price for human indulgence in the end.