Washington Road Trip(s)

A few weekends ago Adam and I made our first trip back to Mt. Rainier since moving home to Oregon. I don’t know if we realized it at the time but we ended up hitting it at the absolute pinnacle of wildflower season on the south side of the mountain. Last year when we first moved to Seattle we visited Rainier a few weeks after all of the wildflowers had already come and gone. The park rangers said to us, “oh you should have seen it a few weeks ago!” but we hardly paid that any mind because being in the park for the first time was mind-blowing, even without the flowers. We spent numerous weekends there throughout the fall and winter when we lived in Seattle. Fast forward to the first weekend in August this year and we couldn’t have timed our return better. This is what it looked like:

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When we initially pulled into the campground the dreaded “campground full” sign was out but we decided to ask the ranger anyway. (I’m sure they love that). What do you know, a space had just become available! We were so happy and proceeded to have an epic weekend camping, hanging out with marmots, and walking through alpine meadows at sunrise.

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Now with wildflower season being so short, we wanted to go back the following weekend. We packed up the car just as we had for the weekend prior and headed to the park on Friday, a five hour drive from home. As we approached the entrance we decided that if we could not get a camp site, we would take it as a sign that we were supposed to do something else even more fun. We were in such good moods and feeling positive vibes all around. Low and behold, the “campground full” sign was out and there were no miracle openings. We started driving and brainstorming. 

We definitely could have found somewhere near the park to camp, but instead we thought, “Where have we been dying to go in Washington?” and “What the heck are Madi and Sulee doing?” Sulee and Madi were our first friends in Washington as well as fellow Mountain Chicks ambassadors. As we drove back towards cell service we got in touch with Madi and told her we wanted to go camping somewhere. She had just returned from a road trip down the west coast and just so happened to be free. She suggested a place we could backpack to in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness and we jumped at the idea. It was one of the places we had been dying to see. She also had a few items for backpacking that we had not brought with us on our would-be camping adventure, thankfully. Adam calls Madi the human Swiss-army knife because she is always that well equipped. Thats a trait we look for in adventure buddies-preparedness! 

We headed another 2.5 hours North to Madi’s house and made sure we had all of the necessary supplies. We hit the Snow Lake trailhead around 6:30pm with the hopes of reaching our camping destination before sunset, but no such luck. Madi and I had spent too much time chit-chatting at the house beforehand. We got to a camp site just after dark, but it was perfect! Madi hung her hammock and we pitched a tent next to her. We spent a few hours talking, listening to music, and taking photos. I was the first to pass out but Adam and Madi soon followed because we wanted to shoot sunrise in the morning!

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We woke up around 5am on Saturday, packed up our camp, and started hiking around the lake. This was my first real chance to see the place we had hiked to the night before. It was absolutely breathtaking. We were able to hike about another mile around the lake when the fog started rolling in heavily. We stopped to make coffee and breakfast in the hopes it would clear up. We did get some breaks in the fog which made for great photos, but soon the rain started and we decided to hike out. In hindsight this was the best decision because I cannot overstate the superhighway of people that were hiking in as we hiked out. This is a very popular trail and probably best enjoyed during the week or early in the morning. Information on the trail can be found here. This trip was a good reminder to always have a waterproof layer, even if he forecast calls for it to be dry! We could all take a lesson from Madi the human Swiss-Army knife, being prepared is cool!

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Sulee was resting this weekend so she didn't backpack with us but she did come to hangout at Madi's house on Saturday so that we could all catch up and get some cute photos of her and her baby bump! Mountain Chicks reunion!

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You can also view our latest YouTube video that contains lots of clips from this trip and our last trip to Rainier here.

All images shot by Adam Cheek and edited by Jessica Steinhilber.

Summit

One year ago today I laid eyes on the Three Sisters volcanic peaks for the first time. Adam and I had planned a trip to New York and then Oregon to see our families after dating for a few months. We had been living on the Big Island of Hawaii at the time and up until then Northern California was the only area I had seen on the West Coast. That’s why my eyes lit up like a kid in a candy store when I saw Oregon in the summer for the first time. We drove from Sweet Home to Sisters taking scenic, seasonal byways and soaking in the wildflowers, ferns, and crystal clear rivers. We stopped at the Dee Wright Observatory and snapped some photos looking towards the Sisters. 

 July 25th, 2016

July 25th, 2016

We did some hiking on our visit but kept the mileage pretty low because as you can see, we were not in our best shape at the time. We headed back to Hawaii after ten days in Oregon, not knowing that we would be returning within a month to stay permanently. Fast forward to this year and we are two totally new (and improved) versions of ourselves. When we initially arrived in the PNW we lived in Seattle for work. Realizing that we were not city people AND that moving from sunny Hawaii to rainy Seattle in the winter could be kind of depressing, we decided to make our primary focus our health. We hiked every weekend rain, snow, or shine. We eliminated alcohol except for a beer once every few weeks and transitioned to a fully plant-based diet in January. We focused not just on our physical health but also our mental/emotional health by pursuing an art that we both love, photography. I spent months listening to books on spirituality, intuition, manifestation, and our infinite power as humans. 

It has been a slow transition to take us from smoked meat-eating Netflix binge watchers to volcano summiting vegans. I have had to overcome serious fear of falling to my death. I still experience it on steep slopes and cliff edges, but the intensity of the fear subsides every time I challenge it successfully. Summiting the South Sister definitely challenged me, but in a way that was not expected. Leading up to the hike I didn’t really think twice about my physical ability to get up to the summit. I knew it would be hard, but that I could do it.  I was more concerned about how “sketchy” the trail would be, as in, what are the chances I could slip and fall to my death? Once I was a few miles in and above the tree line, I could see that I wasn’t going to be cliff dangling, but I would be climbing uphill on loose ground for the rest of my life. 

I’ve been hiking with about 25 lbs on my back for every hike to prepare for extended overnight backpacking trips, with my dream being to thru-hike the PCT. Carrying the pack definitely made every step a bit slower and more thought out. This is probably the first time I’ve done a hike where I would say trekking poles were a requirement with a heavy pack. It was interesting getting to use them to climb up and over rocks and along narrow paths. I said about 500 times along the way, “these trekking poles just saved my ass!” 

The entire way to the summit from the trailhead is uphill, about 6 miles total. About 5 miles in we arrived at Lewis Glacier, probably my favorite part of the trail. It was such a reward for the hard work we had done so far. Teardrop lake is fed by the glacier and I did not know this until afterwards, but it is the highest lake in Oregon! The color of the water is just breathtaking. The five of us on this journey stopped to take photos, hangout, and drink crystal clear glacier melt. 

 

Speaking of our crew, can I just say how over-the-moon I am to have met so many wonderful people thanks to Mountain Chicks. My fellow ambassador, Logan, Kellie, and Emily made this trek with Adam and me and I feel so lucky to have had them there to share this memory with. 

The last leg of the journey was by far the most difficult. One mile and nearly 1500 feet of elevation gain on slippery, loosely packed gravel (for lack of a better term). It was hard. That was another thing I said a lot along the way. “This is hard” was about all I could muster. I would go 10 steps if I was lucky and then had to stop and take a deep breath to stop my muscles from not wanting to work. I felt the air thinning with the elevation gain. The other girls powered ahead and Adam stayed back with me, never making me feel like I was going too slowly. He would, however, make me smile for photos through my gasps for air. This annoyed me at the time but at this point I know to just cooperate even when I’m not feeling it.  Even though I was struggling, I was happy and now those are some of my favorite shots. 

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It felt like that last mile was going to drag on forever, but good news: I made it to the top! I was so exasperated when we first got up there that I had to have a few minutes on my own to gather myself. A mixture of exhaustion, accomplishment, and emotion, I walked to a place where I could sit on lava rock and stare at Broken Top and Mount Bachelor. I have never been so proud of myself, yet so incredibly humbled. I couldn’t help but cry. I didn’t feel like I kicked the mountain’s ass. I felt like it reminded me who I am. I am an infinite being living on earth in this female form to experience it as such. I am a living and breathing part of this place just like every other being, including the earth itself. Being on that mountain top made me feel small, yet reminded me that I am not surrounded by the universe, I am the universe. I wish for you reading this that you get to experience this feeling if you haven't already, whether it be from climbing a mountain or just conquering this day. You have more power within yourself than you know. Feel it.

 

The best place to make new friends... in the woods!

On Sunday I went on a group hike with a bunch of ladies from Women Who Hike. I had never met anyone in the group until I showed up at Mt. Rainier National Park that morning. This made for some nervous butterflies in my stomach leading up to the event, for sure. But I knew for some reason that the experience of hiking with a group of women that I had never met would be important and impactful. So, after spending the night in a cabin outside the park, Adam and I parted ways and I joined the WWH ladies for an afternoon of snowshoeing.

 There was some crawling involved. 

There was some crawling involved. 

I found my people here in the Pacific Northwest.

During the next several hours I had the opportunity to hear the stories of people who get it.

They get me.

These women understand the power of getting outside. They have experienced true happiness. Not the kind of fleeting excitement that you get from buying a new jacket or getting lots of likes on your Instagram photo. The kind that you experience when you are living 100% in the moment and are not burdened by concerns of past events or future ideas. The feeling of complete freedom as you hover over the snow, skiing down a mountain that you just hiked for hours to summit. The feeling of looking up at a tree that is older than any living thing you have ever seen. The feeling of starting a hike a with strangers and ending it with friends. 

 ...but it was worth it. 

...but it was worth it. 

We spent the afternoon laughing, sharing stories, learning, and playing in the snow. The mood on this hike was pure magic. Free from distractions of our normal environments, we could all just connect over our shared love for the outdoors. We talked about some of the worst things that have happened to us-hiking or otherwise-and how we got through them. We talked about how much getting outside has changed our lives and given us a source of peace AND adventure. Between conversations I ran around trying to capture these moments with my camera. They didn't think I was crazy...or weird. They just accepted me. 

It is always interesting throwing oneself into a situation that is unfamiliar. Meeting new people can be fun, yet intimidating. Even though I was nervous about meeting new people, I felt drawn to the experience and so I went. I realize now that I was drawn there because I have been wanting women in my life that I can go on adventures with. I wanted friends here in Seattle that understand that there is more fun to be had outside of cell phone service than in the city. I wanted to find women who are setting goals and accomplishing them and want each other to do the same.

 

I am even more motivated now to continue “maximizing” my comfort zone by pushing my limits. Facing my fears. Doing what I think might make me uncomfortable. Now I even have a group of badass women to join me in my adventures.

Check out womenwhohike.com if you want to become a member and find a group in your area.