Over the holidays my wife Claudia and I drove down to New Mexico for some desert time and to escape winter for a while. We spent a few days in Santa Fe, camped in the White Sand dunes, hiked in the Organ Mountains, explored the City of Rocks, and I even got to ride the famous ditches of Albuquerque!
In June 2016 my wife Claudia and I took off on a summer-long road trip. Over the next 3 months or so we drove over 12,000 miles (19,000+ km), from Colorado to Nevada, northern California, Oregon, Washington, the Canadian Rockies, Yukon, Alaska, and back. In order to keep costs down – and just for the fun of it – we camped as much as possible along the way; in fact, over the course of the three months on the road we rented hotel rooms only four times, and stayed with relatives twice. So, we ended up camping about 90 days in total, either in the back of our Toyota Tundra or in a tent while backpacking.
I made a point of taking a camping picture [almost] every day, and here are all these photos. Some of them are creative and some are purely documentary, but as a whole I think they give a good impression of how we lived over the summer, and how much outdoor time we enjoyed!
The trek to Berg Lake and Mount Robson is one of the most famous backpacking treks in the Canadian Rockies, and one that was high on our backpacking wish list. But when we drove through Jasper on our way north in July, we were disappointed to discover that the backcountry permits there were 100% reserved. Later in September after our trek in the Tombstone Range in the Yukon, we checked again online and were stoked to finally be able to reserve some available permits to backpack to Mount Robson. So after five days straight driving down from Dawson in the Yukon, we found ourselves back in the town of Jasper again, this time ready and able to go backpacking!
At 3954m / 12,972 ft., Mount Robson is the tallest peak in the Canadian Rockies. The mountain is massive, rising abruptly over 10,000 vertical feet from the trailhead, and over 7,500 vertical feet directly above Berg Lake. Robson and some its neighboring peaks are so huge, rugged, and glaciated that they wouldn’t be out of place in the Himalaya! We spent four nights out there below Robson — the first night at Emperor Falls campsite, then three nights at the Berg Lake campsite. From our “basecamp” at Berg Lake we did some awesome day hikes to Hargreaves Lake, Robson Glacier, and Snowbird Pass.
The Tombstone Range is a small but spiky mountain range located in the northern Yukon in Canada, almost up by the Arctic Circle. I have been dreaming of visiting and photographing these remote mountains since I first saw some photos of them almost 20 years ago. Because I’ve wanted to see these peaks for so long, and because this was the furthest point north we’d be traveling on our road trip, this trek would be both figuratively and literally the climax of our summer’s travels!
As I wrote about previously, rainy weather forced us to hang out for almost a week along the Klondike before we had decent enough weather for backpacking. But the wait was totally worth it; we enjoyed seven days of great weather, amazing sunsets, and lots of aurora activity during our trek!
In mid-August after looking at rainy forecasts in Alaska for weeks, there was finally a one-day window of sun in the weather forecast. We high-tailed it towards Denali and went on a quick one-night backpack trip up Kesugi Ridge, in Denali State Park just across the valley from Denali National Park. With clear weather the view of Denali from Kesugi Ridge is supposedly amazing; the question was, would the weather forecast pan out and the clouds clear enough for us to see the big peak?
After hiking up King’s Throne near Kathleen Lake, we were starting to get excited about the possibility of doing a backpacking trip in Kluane National Park. (Pronounced: “clue on ee”). Plus, we still had a pretty good weather forecast in the Haines Junction and Kluane area of southwest Yukon, while all of Alaska still looked rainy. So we headed out for a three night trek along the west side of Slim’s River to the Kaskawush Glacier and back. With all the grizzly tracks, river crossings, the glacial valley, desolate mountains, and trailless miles, this trek definitely felt quite wild. And although a week prior we had never even heard of Kluane National Park, our memorable trek here ended up being one of the highlights of our summer!
In July we drove over the border into British Columbia, Canada and headed east towards the Height of the Rockies Provincial Park in eastern BC. The trek I had in mind is a somewhat obscure one involving several hours of driving along dirt forestry roads to access a seldom traveled trail which eventually fades into a convoluted off-trail routefinding adventure, finally arriving at a spectacular series of high lakes in a rugged glaciated basin.
In mid July after having done two backpack trips on the Olympic Peninsula, we were excited to do some more in the Cascades; however, most of the treks we had researched in the central and northern Cascades were still snowbound on the higher passes and lakes. We studied the maps looking for a trek we could do under 5,000 feet elevation and concluded that the Alpine Lakes Wilderness fit the bill. This area boasts many interesting lakes and rugged peaks, and is generally lower elevation than the more northerly ranges. Plus, I’d never visited here before and was eager to check it out!
I realized that we could probably connect two intriguing lakes with one long triangular loop circuit: Spectacle and Spade Lakes. We planned on five days: one day hiking up along the Cooper River to Spectacle Lake, a rest day there, a long day over Waptus Pass to Spade Lake, another rest day there, and a final long haul out the Waptus River back to where we started at the Salmon La Sac trailhead.
We started by dropping our packs off at the Cooper Lake trailhead, driving back to Salmon La Sac to park the truck, and hitchhiking back up to Cooper Lake to save a few miles. The hike to Spectacle turned out to be more challenging than we expected; after Pete’s Lake the trail seems to be in complete neglect, passing through a burned forest with seemingly hundreds of downed trees to negotiate. The trail was obviously well engineered at some point in history, but now appears to be non-maintained, perhaps on purpose? We wondered if the powers that be decided that Spectacle Lake had grown too popular, and that they’d let the trail be reclaimed by nature for only determined hikers to tackle. Or maybe it’s just too much of an uphill battle (no pun intended) to clear out all the fallen burnt trees. Anyhow, after much unexpected frustration crawling over logs and bashing through wet foliage we finally stumbled over the ridge into the Spectacle Lake basin late in the evening, grateful that we planned a whole day to relax and enjoy the scenery.
We lucked out and had beautiful sunny weather during our rest day at Spectacle, wandering around the lake shore and enjoying several dives into the frigid water.
Day 3 turned out to be a tedious 11-hour march: back down to Pete’s Lake, up and over Waptus Pass, down to Waptus Lake, and up to Spade Lake. We were both feeling pushed almost to our limits by the time we finally dropped our packs and set up our tent.
Spade Lake seems to be a fairly seldom visited lake, despite the close proximity to the hordes in Seattle — likely because it’s such a trudge to get there no matter which way you go. The lake is ringed with huge granite slabs, with snow-clad Mount Daniel rising beyond. Campsites here are few and far between; we managed to find one single spot flat enough to place the tent on, using sticks and rocks as anchors. But what a view!
Again we lucked out with a bluebird sunny day for our rest day at Spade Lake! In the evening we hiked up a nearby ridge to get a fantastic view of the ultra-rugged Bear’s Breast Mountain.
Finally on day 5 we endured the long haul all the way from Spade out along the Waptus River back to our truck at Salmon La Sac. Never before have I experienced a backpacking trip with such a dicotomy of grueling, boring hiking and beautiful relaxation. 3 days of tedium for 2 days of bliss. Was it worth it? Of course! Would I do it again? Ummm, maybe not!
Mount Olympus is the king of the Olympus Peninsula in Washington; laden with thick glaciers, the 7,980 foot peak soars above the surrounding rainforest valleys. Some of the finest views to be had of this remote mountain are from the High Divide trail which follows a high ridge opposite the Hoh River valley — that is, when the notorious Olympic Peninsula rain stops long enough to see it. In early July right after our Olympic coast trek we spent 4 days backpacking a loop route from the Sol Duc valley via the High Divide in Olympus National Park, hoping to catch a view of Olympus.
After a first night at Deer Lake we hiked up to the High Divide ridgeline and relaxed for a few hours on the summit of Bogachiel Peak while waiting for the clouds and fog to hopefully lift off the next section of the trail. We were excited when the clouds started breaking up, revealing glimpses of rugged snow-capped peaks across the Hoh River valley. Each time we saw a big peak through the clouds we’d think “Wow! That must be Mount Olympus!” only to see another even bigger peak moments later! After a while the clouds fully lifted, revealing Mount Olympus and its glaciers in all their glory.
We enjoyed dinner and sunset views up on the High Divide trail, then descended to our tent at Heart Lake. The next day was socked in with fog and rain all day, which made us all the more grateful for the great weather we had during our High Divide walk the previous day.
So we spent the 4th of July tentbound at Heart Lake — no fireworks or parties, only rummy and mountain goats to keep us occupied!
Finally on our last day we packed up our wet tent in the rain and walked the last eight miles down the Sol Duc valley back to the trailhead, admiring the lush forest all the way.
At the end of June we did a 4-day backpacking trek up the wild coast of the Olympic Peninsula from Rialto Beach to Sand Point, in Olympic National Park. This was a fairly demanding hike with many rugged and rocky headlands that could only be passed at low tide, along with the ever present coastal fog and rain. The tough hiking and weather was rewarded with secluded wilderness beaches, picturesque sea stacks, tidepools, and the company of seals and bald eagles.