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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

Firsts / Lisa's first backpacking trip as an adult!

I got a chance to reconnect with an old colleague during my last visit to the Bay Area. Meet Lisa. She is the Partnerships and Communications Assistant at HopeLab (my last workplace), she has two teenage kids, and holds a curiosity and vitality about life I find irresistible!

Lisa was buzzing with energy while telling me about her upcoming backpacking trip with her friend Liz (not me, another Liz). This would be her first one since she was just a young lass. Lisa showed me the new hiking shoes she was considering (in her favorite color, purple, of course) and gear she was borrowing, and we gabbed on and on about what she was hoping for during this trip.

Well she went on her first backpacking trip recently and told me all about it! I laughed out loud, squealed, and related to her stories and pictures. I hope her story inspires you to go on your first backpacking trip. (P.S. Look at how adorable she is in her dress + hiking shoes!)

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Snowqueen & Scout: Tell us briefly about your background in backpacking.
Lisa: The last time I backpacked was about 28 years ago when I was 20! My very first trip was with the community center when I was in 3rd grade and I went a few times with my family while growing up too. 

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For this most recent trip, where did you go, how many days were you gone, how many miles did you hike, and what did you see? 
We went to Emigrant Wilderness, north of Yosemite. We arrived late Thursday night and threw up the tent in a random spot near a fire road. We started hiking on Friday and finished around 6pm on Sunday. In three days, we hiked roughly 24 miles total (including the "Oh Shit" four-mile detour which I'll talk about later). 

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You mentioned your hiking partner Liz when we chatted in a previous conversation. Tell us about how she was a partner to you both pre-trip and during your trip. 
After a group conversation about the movie “Wild,” Liz totally made our trip happen. I often say something sounds like a great idea, but don’t follow through with it. This would have absolutely been one of those things without Liz’s enthusiastic planning and follow up. She got input from one of our colleagues on the best places to go backpacking, researched it, got a map, determined our route, and called the ranger station to learn about permits and restrictions. The week of the trip she called the ranger station and made arrangements for our free permit to be left at a pick up spot since we would arrive after they closed.

During our planning phase she would check in with me and let me know what she was doing in terms of training and getting equipment together. That really motivated me to keep up and keep my own prep going!

During the trip she was a great partner because we kept a similar pace, had similar endurance and were on the same page about when to call it a day. We really had to work together to pick up the trail at certain points and to negotiate some of the stream crossings. She also had a lot of great ideas about food, equipment & hygiene that she shared. Liz created what I called the “Bidet Bottle.” I will totally try it on my next trip. It's a water bottle with a squirt top for cleansing yourself during bathroom stops. I thought it was brilliant!

Did you have any "OH SHIT" moments? What happened? 
We were fortunate that we didn’t have many of these at all. There are two that stand out. The first OH SHIT moment was after we left camp the first night. We missed the trailhead to Gem Lake and continued on a trail going to Wood Lake. Liz and I didn’t realized we were not on the right trail until we came to a river crossing and could not figure out where to go from there.

Up until then, there had been small stream crossings, but this was much bigger. We definitely did not want to cross it without knowing where to go on the other side. We didn't want to risk having to cross back if we couldn't pick up the trail, so we decided to backtrack. We finally ended up back at a familiar stream crossing. It was challenging for Liz to cross the first time so she wasn’t thrilled to go back across. But once we crossed the stream, we very quickly saw the trail marker we had missed. Not sure exactly how far that detour was, but it potentially added up to four miles to our total!

The second OH SHIT moment was when I stumbled and fell forward onto my knees. That wasn’t so bad, but the weight of my pack pushed me forward and I had to land on my right hand. I felt really powerless to stop the momentum and that was pretty scary. I was super lucky that I really didn’t scrape my knees or tear my pants. I came out of that fall with only a light scrape on my hand. 

What are two highlights and two lowlights you'd share with your closest friend? 
Highlights: I loved skinny dipping for the first time! I loved being naked outside in general!
Lowlights: My lady parts did not smell good by day two and I need to learn to dig a deeper hole for shitting in the woods. Also although Liz is not my closest friend, it was still fun talking about all of these things on our trip!

First breakfast on the trail. This picture doesn't do any justice.

First breakfast on the trail. This picture doesn't do any justice.

What would do differently next time? 
I would like to plan more time to stop and appreciate beautiful places and I would stop more frequently for small meal breaks. I would maybe play in the water more! And I definitely need to come up with a better hygiene plan as well. 

Was there anything you took that you'd definitely not take again? And conversely, is there anything you didn't take that you wish you had? 
I got such great advice on what to bring from Snowqueen & Scout and from a colleague who is crazy about backpacking so I don’t feel like I had anything that I didn’t need. The things I didn’t use are things that I think I couldn’t avoid bringing anyway (i.e. gloves, stuff to start a fire, a compass, most of my first aid stuff). I also brought sunglasses, two bobby pins and ear plugs I didn't use, but I would probably bring those again next time. I did have a small drinking cup that I left behind because it seemed unnecessary, but I'll take it next time. And did I already mention that I really want to try Liz’s idea of rinsing with water at potty breaks next time?! 

Describe those last steps out to the trailhead on Sunday night. What were you feeling? 
The last few miles Liz and I were both feeling sad that it was coming to an end. But by the time we were close to the trailhead, I started feeling better about the trip ending! When I saw the car, I knew there would be clean clothes and shower wipes available, and we would be on our way to a fast food meal! I was pretty excited about those things. 

But as we drove away from the trailhead, I felt a little sad again to be leaving the amazing quiet, peace and beauty. We drove with our windows down because we were already missing all the mountain fresh air. And although it was great to have no cell service on the trail, it was nice to be able to check in with our significant others after we finished.

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Would you go backpacking again? If so, what about it draws you back? If not, why not? 
I will absolutely go again! I loved the beauty and serenity. I loved experiencing all kinds of conditions and environments and I loved pushing myself when I was tired or hot. I loved getting to a new beautiful location or seeing some new spectacular sight or view. I loved the simplicity of not really cooking or washing dishes, not having to choose what to wear each day, not having to wear makeup or worrying about my hair. I loved the freedom of not having too many choices and decisions to make, not being tied to my phone, and being totally self-sufficient.

We were just in our bodies, feeling them work and really only had to worry about basic needs – food, water and finding somewhere to sleep. It was exquisitely awesome!

In what ways are you a different Lisa now, than the Lisa before you went on your first backpacking trip?
I’m different in that I love backpacking and can’t wait to go again! I would even go on a short trip by myself. I NEVER thought I would have any interest in that. I had never been backpacking without a man in the group. Being single after a 22 year marriage, it feels good to have the confidence that I don’t “need a man” to do things with me, particularly something like go out into the wilderness. In the past when we'd car camp, I was always afraid of animals like mountain lions and bears. I liked knowing my husband would be there to help or protect me.

It turns out that I’m totally ok on my own! I wasn’t afraid and I didn’t spend any time worrying about it. There wasn’t anything we couldn’t handle on our own. Feeling confident, self-sufficient and empowered is a great thing.

Anything else you'd like to share? 
Thank you, Liz, for all the great info and inspiration on your blog and in person!


Aww, you're so welcome Lisa! Thanks for sharing your story with all the ladies out there who are new to backpacking. I so appreciate your candor and reflections and I can't wait to hear more stories of future backpacking trips! #GoLisaGo

Chanell's Story / Starting at "I want to go backpacking"

FROM LIZ

I reconnected with a college friend recently and while gabbing on about what we're up to now, she said she wanted to go on her first backpacking trip...and go solo! I squealed internally and then we decided that we'd do this together: I'll give her info and guidance and she'll follow them. Basically I'm going to be her private backpacking tutor, if you will. 

I want to see if I can give Chanell the guidance she needs to get on the trail and we'll learn together about all the questions and barriers a complete newbie has to overcome to get from "I want to go" to "I can't believe I'm here!"

She'll be guest posting about her progress every other week(ish), so I hope you follow along! Here she is... #GoChanellGo


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FROM CHANELL

Hi Snowqueen & Scout Community!

My name is Chanell and I want to backpack in the wilderness. 

*Whew* That’s something that I've never shared publicly. Ever.

I know a lot of friends – and family – who would be surprised, even incredulous at that statement. And I completely understand. Over the years, I’ve watched friends journey into the wilderness and I've found myself looking at them skeptically too.

But recently I've found myself wanting to do something similar. OK, before I get ahead of myself, let me start from the beginning because some background will help give context…

Over the years, I’ve used many adjectives (and some nouns) to describe myself. Today, at age thirty-two, the most consistent ones seem to be: quirky, idealistic, spontaneous, and thoughtful. Also, African-American. I want you to know that I identify as a woman of color. [Note: Chanell will be writing sharing more about this topic of being a Black woman and what that means for being in the wilderness in an upcoming blog post. Stay tuned!]  I’m a military brat by birth. I was born in Fort Gordon, Georgia and moved around the mid-west until I was ten. But I’ve been in Northern California for twenty-two years so I’m officially claiming “Californian."

It's safe to say that as a child, my family was definitely NOT into the outdoors. We didn’t go camping or hiking. While we spent a lot of time in the county (rural Mississippi to be exact) and went on a good amount of cross-county road trips, we weren’t the type of family that was going to pitch a tent and hike around the mountains. In fact, there was a healthy (or strong?) fear of the wildness. It was bit like, "Why would you go walk around bear country and wonder why the bear ate you?" kind of mentality. The logic was basically: the bears and ticks and God knows what else could have the wilderness, we’ll take the roads and streets and suburban tract homes. And I was A-Okay with this logic.

Even when I attended the University of California, Santa Cruz in 2001 – which was literally living in the redwoods – I had NO desire to explore anything. In fact, I spent a good amount of time complaining about how many hills and trees and (fear of) mountain lions I had to deal with just to get to class. I had a number of friends who couldn’t stop talking about the natural beauty of Santa Cruz and offered to take me on hikes through the campus. I remember thinking, "Hmm, do I want to hike through God knows what or take the asphalt path to the coffee shop?" For me, it was a no-brainer! Coffee shop wins every time! After Santa Cruz, I moved to very urban places filled with transit, buildings, and concrete. That was an intentional decision: I didn’t want to live in suburbia but I didn’t want the rustic lifestyle either.

Fast forward – right around 2007 – my life was pretty difficult. I was living in San Jose but I felt so confined by my profession, my (perceived lack of) choices, and the tension between how people saw me versus who I wanted to be. I remember the tears and pain around being silenced, not being supported, and not being able to find my true self in my current situation. An old friend invited me to North Lake Tahoe in the midst of this difficult time and I happily accepted.

In my ten years of living in Northern California, I had only been to Tahoe once. And it was an extremely short trip in the middle of summer. So when I drove up this time, I took my time. I wanted to experience something different from my current life and Tahoe exceeded my expectations! It was winter and the landscape was stunning. I was driving in snowstorm and I remember feeling such excitement at seeing Mother Nature at work. I remember pulling over and walking through the storm. I felt such childlike delight at the flurries, the blinding whiteness, and the rough bark of the trees. For the first time, I could breathe. I felt free.

My friend lived a very rustic lifestyle and for the weekend, and I was a part of that lifestyle. When the weekend ended, I told my friend I wish I could stay up here. But I didn’t. I went back to my life in San Jose. I know that trip sparked something inside of me: a deep appreciation for nature – in its many forms – and a strong sense of wanting to live my life in a way where I felt free.

Eight years later, I’ve made a lot of strides to becoming who I want to be, who I am meant to be, and - most importantly – who I feel called to be. But life is a journey and things don’t happen overnight. As I get older, I am more and more humbled by that knowledge. As I stay on this path for my own journey, I am embracing the knowledge that I want to spend more time in nature.

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Over the years, I’ve seen friends do the John Muir Trail (JMT) and felt an urge within me to do something similar. I’m looking for a transformational experience within myself. When I was in Tahoe in 2007, I was on my own for parts of it and I was free from the distractions of my life to really grapple with my sadness, my frustration, and my heart.

I’ve found Henri Nouwen’s The Way of the Heart to be magical in its teaching. It is a religious text but the knowledge (at least in my mind) is universal. He states, “Solitude is the furnace of transformation.” And that’s what I’m ready to experience on my first backpacking trip in the wilderness.

I hear the call for me to be in the wilderness, to release myself from distractions, to appreciate the simplicity and beauty, and to see myself for who I was, who I am and who I want to be.

But in the midst of this call, I’m realizing I have no idea where to begin!

These are my top five questions on my mind as I think about my first solo backpacking trip:
    1.    What do I need?
    2.    How do I find where I want to go?
    3.    Where do I get what I need at a reasonable price?
    4.    What am I missing?
    5.    It can’t be this simple – what else do I need to be asking?


BACK TO LIZ

Part of what I admire about Chanell's story is her background. Having not spent much time outdoors or even desired to, I love how she's walking towards this new challenge. 

What do you resonate with about Chanell's story? I'd love for you to share your thoughts! #GoChanellGo

Firsts / Taking the Plunge

Written by: Stephanie Baker of The Dancing Wind
Stephanie is the Office Manager at Earthfire Institute Wildlife Sanctuary and Retreat Center and an phenomenal artist. Reflected in her photography is her love of the wilderness, wildlife, backpacking, skiing, hiking, snowshoeing, reading, peace and quiet.

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My first backpacking trip was the Agate Creek Trail in Yellowstone National Park. I enjoyed hiking so much that I really wanted to experience the temporary autonomous zone of being in the wild for a longer period of time without having to worry about getting back home by dark, or any of the demands of civilization. I wanted to get out there and just be for at least a full weekend. The Agate Creek Trail promised just that – it was a short (but steep) trip that would be a good introduction to backpacking. Two days, one night.  

The biggest obstacle to getting started with backpacking for me was carrying the weight. I remembered my brother having to carry a 45-pound backpack for a Boy Scout backpacking trip that he went on, and that just seemed so insurmountable. Backpacking must not be for small people, I thought. How am I supposed to carry a pack that is nearly half my body weight? It didn’t sound possible, and it didn’t sound fun.

In researching how to make carrying my pack possible, I discovered the world of ultralight backpacking. What a brilliant idea! It would take me some time to be able to afford a full set of ultralight gear, but I was able to start off by purchasing a backpack that weighed only 2 lbs, 6 oz to use for my first trip. I had to make do with the heavier standard camping gear that I already owned for everything else, but an ultralight backpack helped. I also pared down my list of what I intended to bring to only the pure essentials to keep my pack weight down. My husband did the same, and also purchased an ultralight tent, which he carried.

The trip itself was an experience I’ll never forget, and one that had me planning my next trip as soon as I got back. The views were stunning. The trail was sometimes hard to follow, with bison trails branching off here and there, adding to the adventure. When we stopped for lunch, a herd of pronghorn with their fawns appeared in the distance. They galloped across the vast open range in a line, which was amazing to witness.

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Later that day some biting flies joined us for the hike, and I learned that carrying bug spray would have been worth the weight. I also learned that my organic, non-toxic roll-on bug repellent was unfortunately not effective. The final portion of our hike to camp was very steep, dropping over 1,200 feet in 1.8 miles, with some of the trail covered in loose rocks during this descent. As I found my feet flying out from underneath me and landed on my butt, I wondered how I was ever going to get out of there the next day
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But once I was at our stunningly beautiful campsite next to the Yellowstone River, the struggle and the sore shoulders were all worth it. This wasn’t a place that I would just be stopping at for a quick break to enjoy the view before needing to get back to the trailhead again; I would get to sink in and enjoy this place overnight.

Mother Nature decided to test that sentiment by sending an ominous-looking thunderstorm our way quite promptly. We had just enough time to set up the tent before the torrential rain began. Fortunately, we were too tired from our day of exertion in the July heat to eat dinner anyway. There was something soothing about the sound of the rain on the tent and the roaring of the river next to us. And something that made us both have to wake up to pee in the middle of the night. Nervous about stepping out into bear country in the pitch darkness, we stuck together with headlamps furtively beaming around, and made haste of the situation. Note to self: less hydration before bed next time.

In the morning we were treated to a magical misty sunrise. The hike back up that 1,200 vertical feet in 1.8 miles was steep, but I didn’t fall again, and I felt a huge sense of achievement at the top. The rest of the hike back seemed like a breeze in comparison, and we were treated to a visit from some bighorn sheep and another pronghorn on the final leg of our journey. After this trip I was hooked, and couldn’t wait to backpack again.

Follow Stephanie on Instagram for some serious inspiration.