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!
Just as an update, a week ago we went on a 5-day backpack trip in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness of Washington — a big loop to Spectacle and Spade Lakes. After that we had hopes for a sunny weather forecast and another trek in Washington, but alas the weather deteriorated and the forecast for the next week was rain, rain, rain. Also if we wanted to stick to our loose schedule for the summer, the mid-July date said it was time to move on. So although there’s SO much more I had wanted to do in Washington, we hit the road again and are now in the Canadian Rockies! We’re in Fernie at the moment and plan to work our way north through the range for the next 3 weeks or so, of course doing lots of backpacking and hiking along the way.
As we continue traveling and backpacking on our big summer road trip, I’ve realized that it’s unfeasible to keep this blog up to date with my photos and trip reports. So, unfortunately, just as we’re starting to get into the more exciting backpacking trips, the photos and reports will have to wait until autumn when we’re back… or perhaps until some long rainy down days… but hopefully that won’t happen too often!
Now that I’m back home from our summer road trip I’m finally able to process my photos properly on my big monitor, so in the coming days and weeks I’ll be posting photos and trip reports from all our adventures!
This one is from July, on Sauk Mountain, a small hike with a big view over the Sauk River valley in western Washington state. I hiked up here in the fog with little hope for light, but right at sunset the clouds parted enough to let some through! The next day we drove over the spectacular North Cascades highway then up into Canada. I felt bad leaving Washington since there’s so much more hiking and backpacking I want to do in the Cascades, but with a weather forecast of just more and more rain, we knew we needed to keep moving on. I guess I’ll just have to return someday!
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.
After our great descent down Mt. St. Helens on Saturday, we drove over to neighboring volcano Mt. Adams, found a great spot to car camp, and slept in for 12 hours. The next day was mostly spent relaxing and fueling up on food next to the campfire, then at 4pm we set off with minimal camping gear in order to position ourselves better for the big 8,000 vertical foot ascent of Adams the next day.
By setting up a basecamp near treeline, we were able to knock off about 5 miles and 2,000 vertical feet from the approach (which was longer than usual due to the unplowed snowpacked road). Here’s a shot of Mt. Adams in the moonlight, 6,000 feet higher than the tent.
Though the mountain looks very steep from afar, we were actually able to skin up most of the way up the Suksdorf Ridge on our skis. We started the hike at 5am under perfect bluebird skies, but by the time we got up towards the top, some high clouds started moving in, adding a bit of anxiety and urgency to our hike.
The grueling 6,000 foot hike really started wearing us down towards the top. Due to icier snow up top, we switched to crampons for the final 1,000 feet and slogged up past a couple false summits until we were finally at the summit! The summit towered above all the clouds and we sat up there and enjoyed the panoramic vista, with Mt. Rainier and Mt. Hood off in the distances, both looming above the clouds.
Scott McCurdy skis down Mt. Adams. The hard and bumpy ice-snow below the summit soon gave way to softer, smoother snow, and we were able to carve progressively bigger and smoother turns.
Mt. St. Helens was our first goal on our northwestern volcano tour. After a night of camping in the rain, we started the hike at 5am in the gloomy mist, with little expectations other than perhaps a sopping wet “exercise” day in the fog and rain. After an hour or so of hiking, however, our hopes rose dramatically as the clouds above us started to show signs of clearing.
Sure enough, we popped out above the lower cloud deck and enjoyed a spectacular skin up within a cloud sandwich.
Scott McCurdy skins up a steeper portion toward the top. The 5600 vertical foot ascent was surprisingly easy going, and the summit ridge seemed to arrive quicker than I expected.
[+] Panorama from the summit ridge, looking into the steaming crater, which blew its top almost exactly 30 years prior.
Now the fun part! After relaxing on the summit in the calm weather for a while, we strapped on our skis/snowboard and dropped in, enjoying perfect snow conditions – about 2 inches or so fresh firm powder atop silky smooth spring corn snow. Skier: Scott McCurdy.
The skiable terrain on Helens is vast to say the least. We had untracked lines down a huge face that probably 100 skiers couldn’t even track up. The face emptied into a huge gentle gully which snaked down the mountain in one or two big sweeping curves. ~5000 vertical feet of cruisy wide-open terrain, in perfectly smooth and soft spring snow conditions… my dreams of snowboarding aren’t even this good!
Completely stoked on our surprise score on St. Helens, we headed to our next (and bigger) volcano: Mt. Adams.