Weekly Peakly: Volume 3
Finally, back on those mountains! Sorry about all the missed weeks for this Peakly chronicling, but I was out of commission for a weird neck injury that was a monster of my own making. I’ll have to make a post about it sometime later, but for now you can know that I’m recovering and was officially cleared by my doctor to get back out there with running and hiking, which is immediately what I did.
So, where I went is a bit of an interesting question this time around, which I’ll explain more about later. What I can state with absolute confidence is that I parked at the Sky Country Trailhead. To the best of my ability to ascertain this information, I then took a path that went along parts of the following trails: Old Man’s Trail, Cave Hole Trail, Clay Pit Rd, Fred’s Railroad Trail, Shy Bear Trail, Quarry Trail, Coal Creek Falls Trail, back to a different portion of Cave Hole Trail, and Nike Horse Trail. IT WAS AN ADVENTURE.
I started out in absolute high spirits. After weeks of being laid up in bed, unable to move at all, I was ecstatic to be up, moving, and doing something that I greatly enjoy. I was so much in this exuberant mindset that I was ignoring the tempestuous weather, which was windy and rainy.
Windy doesn’t sound like much of an issue to folks who live in other places. Living in Seattle, however, surrounded by enough trees that everyone is assigned their own personal forest when they move here, wind can be a lot more terrifying. There's a visceral kind of fear that grips you when you hear the wind howl and you look up to see the sky full of branches whipping back and forth against each other.
This weekend, the wind had decided to come out in full force. As I drove across the I-90 bridge, the water from the lake was being buffeted so furiously that it was splashing up over the edge of the highway. There was something ominous about my windshield getting splattered with lake water, thicker and sloppier than the rain, as I drove to my destination. I think most sensible people would have looked at that weather and thought that perhaps today was not the day for hiking. Perhaps it was a day for warm socks, cups of tea, and a good book.
If you haven't realized it by now, you will soon: I am not a sensible person.
I saw the weather as more of a challenge as anything. The grey, dour sky and the slated rain, the wind that nipped at the edges of my ears after whipping my hair to the side. All these things seemed to be looking at me and saying, “I dare you. I dare you to go hiking today.”
I, like a daredevil with a self-imposed short lifespan, looked the weather head on and said, “Challenge fucking accepted.”
Believe it or not, the weather wasn't one of the things I would put on the list of mistakes and regrets. It rained, which got me pretty wet, but I didn't really notice until I was back in the car. When I'm out there, the exertion is keeping me warm enough that I don't realize how cold and wet I am. I also tend to not realize just how tired I'm getting, which is something I'm going to have to figure out how to be more aware of. For the most part this wasn't a huge issue, but because I wasn't able to gauge things very well the last mile of my hike was agony.
What the weather did do was create some interesting atmosphere. The sounds alone were something that I could write paragraphs about trying to describe them. Out there on the trails, the wind doesn't seem to howl so much as roar, crashing into the barren tops of the trees and smacking them about. It boomed through the woods and the trees shuddered in response, and every time they moved they creaked and croaked while their branches clacked like the antlers of warring deer. Every now and then something would fully snap and a bough would come tumbling from above to bounce into the thick brush below. A full try did come topping down about ten feet from where I was standing, prompting me to shake my fist at it and yell, “You fucking missed!” I tried to get a decent picture of it, but once it had fallen you couldn't tell it had ever been there. The tree itself landed well off the trail, so the bushes consumed it, and the stump didn't leave much that could be seen by my camera. Still, be pleased in the knowledge that I yelled at a fallen tree as though it were a failed assassin, because that's the kind of idiot I am.
I was so intent on hiking despite the weather and so keen on being outdoors again, I made what is probably the dumbest mistake in the hiking book. I reached a trail marker that listed trails that were not the ones I had intended on hiking when I set out. Instead of stopping to check a map, I just picked a direction that felt right and stomped onward. The problem with this plan, my dear lovelies, is that I have the worst sense of direction known to man. Even with a map I tend to get turned around and lost if I'm not double-checking my steps, so it was lunacy to think I could navigate the webbed network on this mountain without a point of reference.
It shouldn't come as a surprise that I got lost. Not only that, but I didn't realize I was lost until I ran into some other hikers, who stopped me because they wanted to see my camera (I'll talk about that below, as well). They were going the opposite direction that I was, which set off alarm bells in my head when they asked me how the falls were. You see, the falls were my destination. That was where I was going. If they were not going the same direction as me, then perhaps I had made a wrong turn at some point. I laughed it off, telling them that I must have hiked around them, and then we waved goodbye.
I stubbornly headed onward for another 15 minutes before the anxiety of their comment got to me enough that I pulled out my map. Sure enough, I was on the entirely wrong trail. If I had kept going in the direction that I was headed, it would have taken me about 7 miles further out than I would have intended to go.
I turned around, this time using the map to navigate my way to where I was supposed to go. I think part of my problem was that there was supposed to be a point where I was going to turn left, where one trail was supposed to connect to another, but for some reason I couldn't find that connection in reality. I don't know if a witch had cursed it to be invisible or if there was a secret portal blocking it from view, but for whatever reason it just was not there. The trail that I needed to be on was visible from the one that I was currently on, though, so I did what you're not technically supposed to do: left the trail and hiked straight up the side of the mountain. It was only about 5 or 10 feet, and both trails were within my line of sight the entire time, so there was no chance of getting lost, which is why I went ahead and did it. I had to be careful about foot placement, as the ground there was a lot more unstable and overgrown. The leaves and things hid a lot of strange dips in the ground, so often I would brace myself against a tree trunk, take my step and wait to see how far down my foot would go before my weight was supported. Rinse and repeat.
My poor navigation took me about 2 miles off track, but once I knew where I was going I was able to make my way to the falls. Coal Creek Fall is a really lovely destination, and a popular one it would seem, as there were a handful of people there that had come out to see it.
I got a deep and resonant sense of victory as I looked at it. I had gone where I had set out to go, making it there over all obstacles thrown at me. This was a day that marked a real, tangible achievement for me. A year ago, in 2017, I was laid up in bed recovering from a concussion. I wasn't able to read or write, so I did nothing but play video games and wonder what it was I really wanted to do with myself, what it was that I wanted to do with my life, and who I really wanted to be.
Even if I hadn't been in recovery, I wasn't in shape to do a lot of the things that I wanted to do. I had been hiking so many times when I was young, but after my abusive relationship I was so out of shape that something so physically active was out of the question. Now, though, I found myself at the foot of a waterfall that I had hiked to with my own two feet. I had gotten here with my own determination, and that had started many months before my arrival at the trailhead. It started in April of 2017, when I picked up a measly set of 10lb weights and decided that I wanted to do things with my body, not just carry it around with me.
It has taken months, but now I'm at a point where I don't have to dream about the day where I can do things. I can just do them. I can train up to the harder things, and with enough belief in myself I can hike through the woods to find a beautiful waterfall.
I spent a few minutes crawling around the area, savoring my pride at having come this far. I even clambered up one of the rocks next to the creek and dipped my hand in the water, which was delightfully cold.
I will say, I had a small pang of regret that I didn't have someone there with me to take pictures with. It would have been nice to have someone take my picture next to the falls, like I saw a lot of the other people there doing. Then again, hiking alone is a bit of a religious experience for me. I feel like I get in touch with parts of myself that are often quiet around others. Especially when I know I'm the only one on the trail, knowing it's just me and the trees. And I'm not sure I'm ready to give that up to hike with a group yet. Maybe I never will.
After I left the falls I made my way through the second part of the big loop of trails. I saw one jogger pass me at one point, but other than that this area was really deserted. The brush around me was alive with wind, and above that I started to hear a strange chittering noise. I know it was probably a bird or badger or something, but the clicking that it made sounded exactly like the noises the velociraptors in the Jurassic Park movies make. Every time I walked forward I would hear it, and if I stopped for long enough it would get quiet. If I started moving again, the sound would start back up, and it was most definitely following me.
Fam, I was tired. My legs had started cramping because I'd been out for nearly three hours by this point (and was about 4 miles in to what turned out to be a 5 mile hike). I don't know if it was the creepy wind or the fatigue or the tree that tried to kill me, but when I started hearing this fuckin' sound I was convinced I was about to die. I had stumbled into the secret passage to Isla Muerta and ol' Blue was coming for me. Listen, it sounds crazy, but if anybody is capable of dying by random velociraptors, I'm the one to do it.
I don't know what was making the noise. I never did see it, only heard it rustling branches and making sounds. I've decided that it was either the most chill velociraptor known to the eons, or it was a mischievous woodland spirit that just wanted to tag along through the last leg of my adventure. In either case, it doesn't seem to have had ill intent, since I made it back to my car unmolested.
I got back and headed to civilization, where I had a massive plate of Lobster Mac n' Cheese for lunch before treating myself to Black Panther (which is EPIC and everyone should drop what they're doing and go see it IMMEDIATELY).
All in all, it was a good damn day.
Mistakes and R E G R E T S:
MAPS. FOR THE LOVE OF GOD USE MAPS. This is probably like, the first thing any seasoned hiker would tell you, and anybody who hikes often is probably already cringing at my description of getting lost above. It was definitely a big mistake to think I knew what I was doing without a map. Even if I had been sure, it wouldn't have hurt to consult a map to double check. In the future, I'm going to make damn sure I have not only a printed map, but a map downloaded to my phone. I don't want to get caught out there with no way to navigate and no idea where I am. For those interested, I definitely recommend a map on your phone or another navigation device. With my phone, I was able to turn and see which direction I was facing, which helps exponentially for someone like me who has no sense of direction. A paper map would work in a pinch, but only before you get lost. Once you're lost, you're already turned around, so the paper map might not do you much good. Still, it would be better than nothing.
Take a fucking break! Knowing that I function like some sort of endorphin addled adrenaline chaser while hiking, I should also note that I am not a good gauge of how tired I am getting. This is fine in most cases, but if I happen to push myself right up to that limit, I'm not going to realize it until it's too late. That's why I didn't think it was a big deal that I had gotten lost, until the last mile of the hike, where my legs were cramping so badly that I was wincing and whimpering with every step. For about thirty minutes, an amount of time that is idiotically too long, I just tried to power through it by stretching and stepping onward. It wasn't until I stopped for a second that I remembered I used to get terrible leg cramps when I first started running, and those would always resolve if I stopped and rested for about thirty minutes. So, I found my ass a log and sat on it, heedless of the fact that it was soaking wet. I pulled out my trail mix and munched on that, giving my legs a much needed rest. After about 30 minutes I got back up, and while there was still some soreness, indicating I was definitely a bit outside my comfortable physical limits, I was functional again, and made it back to my car without my legs falling off in protest to their unfair treatment.
Cameras, even action cameras, don't take great pictures while moving. I don't know why I thought an “action camera” would be capable of taking pictures while I was walking, but it super, duper wasn't. I took roughly 700 pictures while on this hike, and the only ones that turned out alright were the ones where I had stopped to take the shot. This is probably common sense to most people, but as we have discussed before, I am not a sensible person.
Hot Takes for Hikers:
A Picture's Worth 1000 Words
This hike was the first one that I got to take with my fancy new camera! I had planned on getting a Go Pro, as those were recommended for both making videos as well as taking pictures outdoors, but the price had me hesitating to click that purchase button. They sound amazing, they really do, but I don't make enough that 300-500 dollars is something I can spend on many things. After a lot of hemming and hawing and a fair bit of research, I found an alternative that was supposed to be just as good but has a much reduced price tag.
I settled on the Yi 4K action camera, and I paid about 143 for it during a sale. This little buddy is amazing! It's easy to hold, fairly water proof as-is, and takes phenomenal pictures. The battery life was pretty good, too. After my 4 hours of being out and about, it still had about 1/4th of the battery life left. It charges by USB, as well, so if you get a portable battery pack to carry in your hiking bag as a back up power source, you can recharge it on longer hikes. I must say, I'm quite pleased with it so far, as it did way better in the lower light conditions than my phone did. The lens did fog up a couple of times, but I was able to wipe it off with the inside of my jacket to fix it.
I highly recommend this good snappy boy if anybody wants a cheaper alternative to the Go Pro. You can find them easily enough on Amazon. The only real downside that I have is that it doesn't zoom in or out. I don't know if the Go Pro has that functionality or not, but I was a little bummed that this one doesn't. Still, the pictures are detailed enough that you can crop and zoom pretty well after the fact, which is nice.
Capitalism Lies About Trail Mix
Okay, so I know in my last entry I mentioned dried banana chips being the most delicious thing ever after a hike. I was looking at my 8-dollar bag of trail mix, which really didn't have many servings, and I was noticing that most of it was peanuts. I am not the biggest fan of nuts, because the serving sizes don't to much to fill me up. I would have much rather had a trail mix that had more dried fruits and perhaps granola.
After some cursory shopping, I realized that not only was there not much trail mix out there that offered what I wanted, but it was all very expensive. I solved this problem by making my own. Not from scratch, mind you, as I am not a human who has that kind of spare time. What I did was go to stores that had those bulk ingredient bins, where you can get like rice and beans and nuts and bag up however much you want and pay per the pound. Most of these places will have not only nuts on offer, but all manner of dried fruits. For my mix, I went to Winco and got the Tropical Mix of dried fruits, dried banana chips, and then I bought a box of Nature's Valley crunchy granola bars (the variety pack, for about 2 bucks). I took the granola bars from their packages and took one bar to break up and add to each little bag of trail mix I made, then put in a serving of each of the fruits.
In the end, I got about 12 bags of trail mix for roughly 8 dollars. That's about twice as much as prepackaged mixes. So, if you're not a fan of nuts, or just want a mix that's customized for exactly what you want, I recommend just buying the bulk components and mixing it up yourself.
Song of the Hike: Waterloo Sunset by Def Leppard. That song is one of my favorite by them and it just fills my heart with good feelings, much like a lot of this hike, so I was thrilled when it came up on the playlist.
Animals Seen: 8 good, good doggos (I tried to get pictures but none of them came out clearly so I'm crying that I can't share my good doggo friends with you!), 1 tree shaped like a smooth friend, an unknown number of secret velociraptors/woodland spirits.
(seen above: A Smooth Friend! This tree was definitely a happy lil' brachiosaurus in a previous life. BEFORE THE VELOCIRAPTORS GOT HIM.)
Mood: A deep sense of accomplishment along with an acceptance of my own shortcomings and a willingness to overcome them.
Trail Rank: Excellent cave holes, majestic waterfalls, many plants shaped like friends, the tiniest pine cones I have ever seen in my entire life, and definitely dinosaurs or witchy spirits. Would risk life and limb to get lost again.