stories

Gear / REI Flash 60 Women's Backpack / The sophisticated big sister to Flash 52

Summer in western Montana is when I love roaming trails when wildflowers are bursting all over, while big fluffy clouds float across huge blue skies. Right now in early spring, the hills are at the cusp of turning fully green. I have to pay close attention because everything is bursting into life!
 
This summer, I’m looking forward to getting to know the wildernesses around me more intimately. Have you heard of the Bob, the Missions, the Rattlesnake, or the Absoroka-Beartooth wildernesses? Most of those aren’t famous like Yellowstone or Glacier National Parks, but they hold understated wonders I want to explore at a slower pace, to soak them all slowly in.
 
REI sent me a new pack recently, the Flash 60. I like to call her the more sophisticated big sister to my previous Flash 52 because of some feature improvements. I’m particularly looking forward to using the pack because it’ll make my trips more comfortable. Let me give you my REI Flash 60 Pack Laydown and highlight a few features I’m pretty stoked about.

First, I’m a major sweaty back girl, so put a pack on it and I instantly get a mini waterfall down my back every time I go backpacking. The new ventilation system in the Flash 60 is going to be a rock star in keeping my sweaty back drier (finally!).

Then there are two simple design changes I adore: (1) slanted side pockets for easy access to my water bottles without having to take off my pack, and (2) small cords to strap on my hiking poles to my pack and the small inserts where I can hide the cords when not in use! As a designer, these are both simple design solutions I really appreciate. One makes it easy to access my water bottles without hassle and the other satisfies my desire for organization. ;) Lastly, I’m stoked to find that they’ve increased the size of the hip belt pockets to fit my smart phone and lots of snacks. (I love snacks!)

These practical changes in the REI Flash 60 make life on the trail a little more comfortable and a littler easier so you can forget about the gear and focus on what the trail’s connecting you to. Perhaps some wildflowers, fluffy clouds and big blue skies await you too.

Disclaimer: This is a sponsored post, in partnership with REI.


Wild Sage Summit / Women Backpacking in the Bitterroot Mountains / Part I

PART I

Jaymie whispered "Liz!" while nudging me awake. I could hear the fear in her voice even through my ear plugs. As I removed them, sound oozed back into my ears, and I realized everyone was awake through the eerily palpable silence. 

Then I heard it too and I froze. It was 5:56am on our final morning of Wild Sage Summit and I had naively thought: Finally we would have an easy day. How could this trip possibly get any harder?

...

 Everyone was sent wild Montana sage with a question to reflect on prior to coming.

Everyone was sent wild Montana sage with a question to reflect on prior to coming.

When Alyx and I began dreaming up the first ever Wild Sage Summit, we thought, "Gosh, wouldn't it be awesome to gather a group of women to backpack through the rugged Montana wilderness?" I remember throwing in that word "rugged" because it felt appropriate for the kind of wilderness you find out here. But I didn't really think it would be RUGGED, like "full of hardship and trouble; severe; hard; trying." I guess that's exactly why every time I think of the Wild Sage Summit, a huge smile still forms on my face and I feel seated in contentment. Because overcoming hardship with people (in the flesh) bonds them. It does to our connection what digital double-taps and emojis can't.

So we came together to spend a few days steeped in the Bitterroot Wilderness. We had no idea what would unfold. We were simply journeywomen saying "YES" to an invitation, allowing our curiosity and passion guide us. 

Five women connected through our love of the outdoors met together for first time in Missoula, Montana. We knew each other through social media, but we had lacked the experience of meeting face-to-face. That kind of in-person connection really forges something that's impossible to create through screens. 

I remember picking Jaymie and Korrin up at the airport, our energy abuzz with excitement and the slightly awkward feeling that comes with meeting someone for the first time. Then Steph arrived, better known as @thedancingwind, fresh off her six hour drive from Idaho. Then Alyx. We were complete and the packing could begin!

 At the trailhead.

At the trailhead.

We packed our new ultralight Gossamer Gear packs with our sleeping bags, pads and tents and shared what we'd be taking or not (like how many pairs of underwear we need for a 3-day trip). I shared that I only take two and trade off between the two and how eager I was to try a new pair of Dear Kates. Then there are all of our cameras. I latched on my new backpacking camera clip and hoped it would keep my camera secure. And of course, the food. We split up our Good To-Go meals, salami/cheese/pitas lunches, made our oatmeal selections and threw in a variety of Epic and Rise bars. Around midnight, we finally went to bed to get some rest before our journey the next morning.

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Our first day was spent climbing, and then climbing some more. We stopped to take an snack break underneath some aspen and pee in the woods. For some of the ladies, it was first pee-rag experience. (Yes! It's a game-changer ladies.) The rest of day felt particularly long as we hiked along an exposed mountainside, the sun beating on our bodies. And when it felt like "we should be there already"...we realized we finally were. All we had left was to crest the dam and find a campsite.

After seeing Bass Lake with first eyes, I sighed in relief. It always feels so good to arrive, doesn't it? Every time, it's the same feeling of a day well spent, of a weary body ready to rest. It's that feeling of coming home.

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We washed up at the lake, devoured our mushroom risotto, marinara pasta, and thai curry and made camp. Not before sitting around a fire and sipping hot chocolate. Of course. (It's a small luxury no group of women should go without on a cold night if they can help it!) Our site was fairly small so we decided to cowgirl camp and let the star-filled sky blanket us.

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In the morning, we realized the millions of stars evolved into a million drops of dew. My cold soggy sleeping bag woke me up earlier than I would've liked, but between my long blinks, I caught a glimpse of this early morning light. Thankfully sunshine dries wet things and all things are forgiven when you get to wake up to exquisite natural glory! We were looking forward to getting to our next destination (Kootenai Lakes) to swim and relax lakeside. The plan was to arrive while it was still nice and warm so that a jump into the alpine lake would be welcome. Ahhh....I was SO looking forward to our chillaxin time. With that hope in mind, we ate, made sure to pick up all of our trash (and micro-trash!) and started the trek. The views looking back at Bass Lake were fantastic and my heart kept yelping, "Wow!" I was feeling so grateful to be on this journey with these women. 

 Jaymie is sporting her Gossamer pack with the  Goal Zero solar charger . 

Jaymie is sporting her Gossamer pack with the Goal Zero solar charger

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Our route was to be a short climb up to the pass, long hike down the valley and another short climb up to the lake. I knew this trail wasn't going to be as clear as the one we took up to Bass Lake, but the book I read made it seem straight-forward enough. We made it to the pass and took a moment to soak in the view. I remember saying, "If you had any doubt we were in the wilderness, we most certainly are" as I looked out into the expanse. 

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In that moment, I felt so grateful to be in the company of new friends standing thick in the wilderness.

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And when it wasn't all "oohs and awws," Jaymie stood on her head, on a rock! (That girl!)
(PS. If you like her shorts, use WildSageSummit30 for 30% off at Dear Kate!)

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On our way down the valley, the trail became more narrow, steep, and challenging to follow. Our trust grounded in the next cairn, well, until there were no more cairns. "Uh oh." I remember this exact moment looking south and knowing that was the direction we needed to go, but all I could see was a 7-foot wall of brush we'd have to get through. Could we really be in this predicament? 

Wild Sage Summit / Women Backpacking in the Bitterroot Mountains / Part II

This is a 3-part series. If you haven't yet, here's Part I. Enjoy!

PART II
"Here, take two," I said.

I offered some magic beans to each person. They're really just caffeinated Jelly Belly's, but they work wonders for when you're stuck deep in a forest and getting to be really low energy. (You know, the usual.)

After everyone took their share there were none left for me, but I didn't care. I was already heavily adrenalized and I didn't need an energy boost. I just wanted all of us to make it out without being too horribly traumatized from this hike-turned-bushwhacking expedition. 

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 There were all sorts of terrain we had to navigate through. Going over deadfall was among the top. Korrin is leading the charge here. 

There were all sorts of terrain we had to navigate through. Going over deadfall was among the top. Korrin is leading the charge here. 

 No kidding. We were making our way through stuff like this.

No kidding. We were making our way through stuff like this.

While the ladies were finishing up filtering water, I scouted out a "path" and lead the ladies over a really large boulder, deeper into the brush. Hours passed of this cycle of ducking under branches, stepping over deadfall and having our legs cut by a thousand dry branches. Then we finally saw it. One single cairn. Huh...??? I wish I took a photo of it. 

I was 100% perplexed. Aren't cairns supposed exist as a string of them? 

Steph cracked a joke about how someone was like, "Yeah, I'd take this trail again" and decided to build that single cairn in the middle of nowhere. We all bursted into laughter as we continued on. Humor has such a way of diffusing heaviness and lifting our spirits, doesn't it? I felt so grateful for the gift of laughter and the extraordinary attitudes each lady had through all of these uncertain hours.

 Taking a break.

The joke(s) and positive attitude of each person gave us the boost we needed to keep marching onward even through the roller coaster of a false bridge sighting, super rugged terrain, and a bear (OMG!) that was probably more alarmed by our presence than we were by his. Until finally. FINALLY, after about 10+ hours of bushwhacking, we arrived at the intersection of Kootenai Creek trail.

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I finally felt like I could let my ultra-heightened guard down for a moment, while recognizing we weren't finished. We still hadn't arrived yet. The sun was setting and we had 1.6 miles uphill to get to the Middle Fork Lake. Maybe one more hour or so to go I imagined. 

Up, up, up we hiked while learning new cheers, singing call-and-response songs, and playing a storytelling improv game. All of us contributed to that sense of play and positivity those last couple miles. Meanwhile, I was just relieved no one was badly injured.

It was pitch black and five headlamps illuminated our path when we finally reached our campsite after 10pm. (I'm usually asleep by 8:30 in the backcountry, so this was a record late arrival.) We put down our packs and someone called, "Group Hug!" Like magnets our bodies drew together, arms wrapped tightly, my head touched another head and immediately my eyes welled with tears.

We did it. A five or six hour (max) hike turned a whopping 12 hours through the most rugged terrain I've had to navigate. But we made it home. Safe at last. 

I thought we would crawl into our tents and pass out with empty stomachs, but to my surprise, Jaymie, Alyx, Korrin, Steph and I all sat around eating dinner and recounting the day. Our achey feet and weary bodies didn't stop us from re-living our journey. We laughed and laughed at what we had just overcome and I finally felt like I could sigh in relief. This late night time together was salve for my previously fear-ladened soul. 

 If you turn on your red light on your headlamp, and point it at the  Good To-Go Thai Curry  pouch, the white text disappears and you get this. HAHA, Very clever and fun to find! It's also the best backcountry meal currently on the market.

If you turn on your red light on your headlamp, and point it at the Good To-Go Thai Curry pouch, the white text disappears and you get this. HAHA, Very clever and fun to find! It's also the best backcountry meal currently on the market.

My eyes grew heavy as we sat looking at the stars reflecting in the blackness of the lake. It was time to finally lay my weary head to rest. It felt EXTRA GOOD to be horizontal! 

I fell asleep to the thought of being only 10 easy miles from the trailhead. Then we would be home. 

"Good night everyone!," I said cheerily through my thin tent walls. It was the deepest slumber I'd fallen into in the wilderness, ever, when I suddenly felt a nudge. 

Wild Sage Summit / Women Backpacking in the Bitterroot Mountains / Part III

This is a 3-part series. If you haven't yet, here's Part I and Part II

PART III
You could slice through our collective fear. It wasn't quite 6am, the light barely able to break through the forest. We had only one idea what that very large wild animal sound could be. Well obviously,...A BEAR!

I cued, "1, 2, 3, XENA!" and we all shouted our loudest, sharpest Xena call we could muster.

Silence. It must be gone...

It started again. Thumping and huffing.

I cued, "1, 2, 3, HEY BEAR!" followed by our collective "HEY BEAR!!!!""

Silence. 

Thumping and huffing continued. 

If there was any part of me still asleep, I was now sitting up wide awake. I could feel my tent mate Jaymie's heart thumping out of her chest. We Xena and "Hey bear-ed" a few more times, but this mysterious creature was never phased. (Why is everything so much louder and scarier inside a tent?! It's just a thin piece of fabric!)

Of course by this point, I had run through my mind the scenario of me jumping out of the tent and confronting the grizzly face-to-face before it could attack the ladies. It went something like: I jump out of the tent (you know that this is impossible to do from inside a small backpacking tent with any sort of ease), spray it with bear spray, then it bites off my arm. The bear eventually goes away and I'm bleeding profusely, talking the ladies through how to bandage me to stop the life-threatening bleed. We then calmly proceed to develop an evacuation plan.

:) Totally ridiculous, right?

I rehearsed it over and over during those moments of silence while IT huffed and thumped around. It helped me build the courage I would need if I actually had to act.

 The forest waking up.

The forest waking up.

It seemed time wouldn't move fast enough, or more accurately, that the creature wouldn't move on fast enough. In the silence, there was finally a voice. She said to me, "I have to pee." (Really? Right now?) LOL. (I wasn't laughing in the moment.)

Jaymie and I crawled out of the tent and while she peed, I stood guard with bear spray in hand. Then Alyx and Korrin crawled out of the tent to go pee too. I guess everyone had been holding it during our "bear" episode or triggered by it. Either way, everyone was now relieved and the light began to illuminate the place we couldn't see before, the place that held such frightening mystery. It was actually quite calm and beautiful, full of stillness, an obvious contrast to the wild chaotic story of my mind.

As the wilderness woke up, I sat wrapped in my sleeping bag outside, unable to shake the early morning adrenaline rush. Everyone else rolled back into their tents. The episode was over. That big scary creature was gone and we could sleep in peace.

[Side note: If you're wondering what the "bear" actually was - thanks to YouTube - we learned it was actually a moose. Moose are still quite a threat in the wilderness. (In fact, more deaths are caused by moose than bears and wolves combined).]

The hike out felt easy. The trail, clear -- perhaps a bit too clear, too obvious. It was a welcomed respite from the day before, but my spirit didn't feel as alive as it did when we weren't sure where we were...when we had to pave our own way. Could it be that I actually preferred the wild bushwhacking adventure from the day before?

...

A journey like that doesn't just end when we all say our goodbyes. All it does is illuminate our deepest desire for community, depth of relationship and experiences, and our longing to meet again.

Now when branches reach out and brush against my legs (which still makes me cringe a bit, by the way), I'll remember those hours we bushwhacked, and I'll remember the way I felt in the company of new friends, of my trail sisters.

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All my love to the women of Wild Sage Summit!
Lizzy


Itineraries / Indian Peaks Wilderness in Colorado - Day 3

DAY 3: LOWER CASCADE FALLS TO MONARCH LAKE TRAILHEAD

It was another 4.5 miles back to the trailhead where we took those first steps. The hike out was easy with its gradual downhill. It was especially easy to do with our lighter packs and full spirits, at least that's how I felt. I am always nourished by the wilderness...all the unspoken sacred moments: the moonlight sparkling in the creek, the moments of aw and silence, the mesmerizing moments staring at unique dance of flames. 

We had another oatmeal and coffee breakfast, packed up and headed back to the cars. As we got closer to the trailhead, we saw more and more day hikers sprinkled on the trail. It reminded me how special it was that we got to steep ourselves in the wilderness for three days, like we had become a cup of wilderness tea.

 All fed, packed and cleaned up. I believe our goal as backpackers is to leave the wilderness in better condition than how we found it.

All fed, packed and cleaned up. I believe our goal as backpackers is to leave the wilderness in better condition than how we found it.

 Nancy. Aww... sweet girl. 

Nancy. Aww... sweet girl. 

 There is something so beautiful about a group of women backpacking together. It's one of my favorite sites in the wilderness.

There is something so beautiful about a group of women backpacking together. It's one of my favorite sites in the wilderness.

 Thank you Indian Peaks Wilderness. You've left quite the impression. 

Thank you Indian Peaks Wilderness. You've left quite the impression. 

If you missed Day 2 photos, they're waiting for you here. Enjoy!

xo