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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

Itineraries / Indian Peaks Wilderness in Colorado - Day 2

DAY 2: LOWER CASCADE FALLS TO CRATER LAKE BACK TO LOWER CASCADE FALLS

I woke up early and spent the first hour or so soaking in the quiet holy presence of a morning in the wilderness. There is nothing quite like that kind of peace and solitude. It was frigid, so I wrapped myself in my sleeping bag and sat for a while sipping a cup of hot coffee. Simple things. 

Eventually, everyone started hatching from their tents and we nourished ourselves with homemade oatmeal and coffee.

Sun finally cresting over into our campsite. 

Sun finally cresting over into our campsite. 

Everyone still sleeping...

Everyone still sleeping...

Coffee with milk + sugar and homemade oatmeal

Coffee with milk + sugar and homemade oatmeal

We decided to stay at our campsite for another night instead of migrating at Crater Lake, so we left what we could and started our day hike at 11am (*gulp*). A bit late of a start, but things just take longer with more people, naturally. The hike was breathtaking and I said the word "gorgeous" a bajillion times. I meant it every time! 

A gorgeous  pee-rag sighting  in the wild! (Disclosure: I gave each of the ladies a pee-rag to try on this trip. They loved it!)

A gorgeous pee-rag sighting in the wild! (Disclosure: I gave each of the ladies a pee-rag to try on this trip. They loved it!)

There was so much to stop and look at. The views were spectacular! 

There was so much to stop and look at. The views were spectacular! 

So refreshing and rejuvenating!

So refreshing and rejuvenating!

Silliness ensues. 

Silliness ensues. 

Hike hike hike.

Hike hike hike.

Small bridge crossing en route to Mirror Lake. 

Small bridge crossing en route to Mirror Lake. 

WOW. Gorgeous.

WOW. Gorgeous.

We finally arrived at Crater Lake and hopped on this rock to enjoy some time before heading back to camp.

We finally arrived at Crater Lake and hopped on this rock to enjoy some time before heading back to camp.

Hiking back to camp.

Hiking back to camp.

Yes. These are the moments. 

Yes. These are the moments. 

Itineraries / Indian Peaks Wilderness in Colorado - Day 1

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I had a very fortunate opportunity to spend three days in the Indian Peaks Wilderness in Colorado. It was brilliant, gorgeous, and invigorating. The best parts? Getting to introduce the basics of backpacking to ladies completely new to it, and learning about their motivations and barriers to entry.

For many, their backpacking curiosity is piqued because they already love hiking and camping. Backpacking is the natural combination of those two activities. Yet the barrier to entry can still feel quite high. Most people tell me they don't know where to go and what gear to take. I also don't think most people realize how much planning goes into it. Planning definitely gets easier as you have more experience (like most things in life), but it's certainly a lot of work to get started. 

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Here's our itinerary for our three day trip. I highly recommend this backpacking trip. It gets the YESYESYES! stamp of approval.

TRIP SPECS

Wilderness: Indian Peaks Wilderness
Trail: Cascade Trail #1
Trailhead: Monarch Lake
Mileage: 14.8 miles
Start Elevation: 8,345'
End Elevation: 10,328'
Total Elevation Gain: 2,507' (1,938' gain one way)
Detailed Trail Description: From ProTrails
Trail Map & GPS Coordinates: From ProTrails
Ranger Station: Sulphur Ranger District, 970-887-4100
Permits? YES, Reserve a campsite at Crater Lake as early as possible. It's $5 and they also provide a parking pass
Nearest Town: Granby, Colorado
Downloadable Topo Map Here

ITINERARY

Day 1: Monarch Lake Trailhead to Lower Cascade Falls / 4.4 miles
Day 2: Day Hike to Crater Lake / 6 miles 
Day 3: Lower Cascade Falls to Monarch Lake Trailhead / 4.4 miles

DIRECTIONS

Check out the map here, from Dino Lots to the Monarch Lake Trailhead

  • From the Dinosaur Lots, take 70W
  • Veer (R) to the 40W
  • Turn (R) to 34E
  • Turn (R) to Hwy 6 (not super well marked, keep your eyes open)
  • Take Hwy 6 all the way to the trailhead

THE CONCERN FACTOR for June 26-28, 2015

  • Snow: We were expecting snow for the last two miles up to Crater Lake and thought we were going to have to posthole our way. Fortunately, the snow had mostly melted off and it was only muddy for the last mile or so.
  • Bears: Didn't see any; word of black bear(s) at Monarch Lake a week prior
  • Mosquitos: Definitely around and biting, especially bad on the hike from Crater Lake to Lower Cascade Falls
  • Ticks: Didn't see or get any
  • Water: Plenty of engorged creeks, waterfalls, and eventually lakes
  • Creepy men: Didn't see any; this trail is heavily used so there are plenty of people you'll come across
  • Lots of people: Surprised by how many people backpack to Crater Lake and day hike to the Lower Falls. If you're looking for solitude, this may not be the best spot for you
  • Elevation gain/loss: The ascent up to Crater Lake was difficult at times

GEAR

I ended up taking all of my usuals + extra water treatment, bear hang gear and tarp since we were a larger group, a robust first aid kit including a SAM splint, and extra pair of socks (in case my feet got wet from snow). Oh, and I took my big ole zoom lens. It definitely adds a few pounds, but it was great to be able to get shots I wouldn't have been able to otherwise.

I took a few more things than I would on a solo trip since we were a group of seven. Some new things I've added to my overall pack weight include: more robust first aid kit, survival kit, and 911 food. My pack was heavier than normal, but overall it was still quite manageable.

I took a few more things than I would on a solo trip since we were a group of seven. Some new things I've added to my overall pack weight include: more robust first aid kit, survival kit, and 911 food. My pack was heavier than normal, but overall it was still quite manageable.

day one: Monarch Lake Trailhead to Lower cascade falls

We had two cars with ladies from various parts of Denver, so we touched base at the Dino Lots (just outside of Denver) and then caravaned to Granby for a short restroom stop. We drove to the Monarch Lake trailhead, got our belongings together and started the walk. And by "we," I mean this lovely bunch of ladies. 

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We hiked about 4.5 miles to the Lower Cascade Falls and set up shop near the top of the falls. It was perfect. Close to a water source, pre-made fire pits and white noise lulling us to sleep after everyone's first trek carrying all that gear on their backs. 

Hike hike hike. 

Laura (L) and Rachael (R)

Laura (L) and Rachael (R)

Amy's pack gave her a pretty hard time, but she was still a trooper. (She said she was going to return the damn thing after the trip!) That's the benefit of renting gear...you get to try it out and see what you like and don't like about a backpack without the commitment. 

Amy's pack gave her a pretty hard time, but she was still a trooper. (She said she was going to return the damn thing after the trip!) That's the benefit of renting gear...you get to try it out and see what you like and don't like about a backpack without the commitment. 

Our campsite was next to the Lower Cascade Falls. What a breath of fresh air - literally! And, we got to fall asleep to the sound of this roaring waterfall. It was glorious! 

Our campsite was next to the Lower Cascade Falls. What a breath of fresh air - literally! And, we got to fall asleep to the sound of this roaring waterfall. It was glorious! 

Airing out my socks using little nubs on the tree. 

Airing out my socks using little nubs on the tree. 

Everyone collected wood and I taught them how to make a proper fire. Rachael (the one in that cute beanie) did an awesome job of stoking the fire and keeping it ablaze. We sat here to have dinner and relax after day one.

Everyone collected wood and I taught them how to make a proper fire. Rachael (the one in that cute beanie) did an awesome job of stoking the fire and keeping it ablaze. We sat here to have dinner and relax after day one.

OH, FYI...This event was brought together in collaboration with Niki Koubourlis, Founder of Bold Betties Outfitters. Consider renting your gear with her if you're interested in trying out backpacking. She has a nice selection to try. (Yes, this is an affiliate plug! If you rent gear from Bold Betties through my link, I earn a tiny bit of commission. Yay for passive income!)  :-) 

See more photos from DAY 2 & DAY 3