Monday, August 22, 2011

Joy & Pain: The Hike to Lake Caroline

By Amy Baranski

Three of us felt a kid-like exhilaration heading out of Seattle. That left one in our group stewing in, what I can only imagine as, dread-like anticipation. Melissa was good-humoured though and it lifted my spirits. All month Melissa had expressed her concerns and worries over the trip. I felt slightly encouraged by her last few blog posts, choosing to believe that she held some excitement for the adventure. Melissa picked hiking and backpacking month for the blog this year. But she wasn't sure why and after airing her doubt and uncertainty I wasn't sure either. We both held out hope for another "Moss Moment".

Fire in Tumwater

Clean and buzzed. Photo by Bob Redmond.
The closer we got to Leavenworth the quieter my friend got. I knew what weighed on her mind. But she hadn't canceled the trip and for that I was thankful. In my own preparation I realized I needed to be certain and reliable on the mountain. I didn't want my own fears to fuel any that Melissa was experiencing. And I wanted to have a good time. Backpacking and hiking is an activity I've always enjoyed and something my husband and I have loved to do together. As we approached Leavenworth, a 100 acre fire (now 200) in Tumwater Canyon detoured us through the town of Plain. Smoke filled the valley and I wondered where the burn headed. Once to Leavenworth we learned from the Ranger that the blaze was North of us, and it wouldn't obstruct our views from Lake Caroline. We decided to pit stop for lunch and hit the trail in the late afternoon. That's when we met the man named Valente.


Our people. Photo by Bob Redmond.
South, is a Mexican restaurant in Leavenworth with Bavarian sausage on the menu. The pints are cheap but the pitchers are not. We ordered some cold ones from our server, the man named Valente. We must have been charmingly inappropriate as Valente returned to the table with four complimentary double shots of Jimador tequila. He heard one of us say we were hungover, he'd been hungover for two days. In turn, we lifted our glasses to the man named Valente. Awhile later he refilled Jamie's beer, on the house. We were buzzed and about to go hiking and gain 2,000-3,000 feet elevation. It was perhaps a little stupid.

Buzz Kill

Wearing 30-45 pounds on your back and heading uphill in the dry heat is, and in no other words, a buzz kill. However, I found the trail, although uphill, to be relatively breezy. We made it three miles into Little Eightmile where we regrouped. We had a choice to head to big Eightmile and set up camp, or push for Lake Caroline, which would be grueling but put us closer to the approach for Mt. Cashmere. I offered that we push on. Everyone seemed in agreement, although I saw an ambivalent look on Melissa's face. Her spirits seemed high enough at the time and physically she hadn't been struggling. I was the slow one in the pack. I hike better if I don't have to stop. If I can just keep moving I'm more likely to go on and not give up with the going gets tough.

Shoulder Pads

Burns from my backpack. Photo by Bob Redmond.
But when we stopped at Little Eightmile I noticed some chaffing on my shoulders from my backpack straps. The mountain air stung against my burned skin. I also felt a blister forming on my right heel. I had an extra pair of wool socks stowed in my pack and slipped them under my straps against my shoulders. It was not the best look but I was afraid I'd start bleeding. We headed up the steep incline. When you're hiking uphill there's a lot of pressure on the backs of your heels. I could feel the ineffectiveness of the moleskin on my right heel but there was nothing I could do to prevent the blister from forming and eventually bursting. It quickly became the size of a quarter, and then a fifty cent piece.

Mountain Beauty

Beautiful wildflowers. Photo by Bob Redmond.
The climb to Caroline was uphill and into the setting sun. It was painful. And it became obvious that Melissa was having an internal struggle. I could tell by the way she was talking to Jamie. There was frustration and anger in her voice. She cried at one point saying she should have spoken up at Little Eightmile when we decided to head to Caroline. But she wiped off her dusty tears and hiked on. We kept going up and up. My legs hurt, my back hurt. I haven't gone to yoga in quite some time and was feeling that perhaps this hike was overly ambitious. I was feeling the ill-preparedness of my body under the weight of the backpack. But still, I was eager to get to the top and set up camp before sundown. Melissa let me pass her and I was now hiking below Bob. We had hiked out of the burn and had entered some beautiful alpine meadows with streams of Indian Paintbrush and other wildflowers abloom. This was the best wildflower show I've seen and, while beat, I felt blessed.

The Big Breakdown

Alpine meadows. Photo by Bob Redmond.
I believe it was after Melissa's first cry that she said "I have no joy." We may have been a little above 5,000 feet at that point, and I think it was dawning on her that whatever work she had done before that point she had to do over again to get to the camp. She was walking in front of me and I was glad that she couldn't see the expression on my face. It was a mixture of disappointment, fatigue, and happiness. I wasn't happy that Melissa had no joy but I was happy that she was standing, although begrudgingly, in such a spectacular location. Even though she couldn't see the beauty that surrounded her, Melissa was nonetheless there and working hard. I didn't know what the payoff would be, if it would come that night or perhaps when we all returned to the city. But I knew that whatever this moment was, it was significant. The fact that Melissa had gone this far on her first hike was incredibly impressive.

It was about 500 feet below the lake when Melissa had her big break down.

Things I Won't Lie About

Grimacing from the blisters. Photo by Bob Redmond.
The sun had gone over the last ridge visible to us and I wasn't sure how much light we had left. Melissa needed to stop, and although worried about the waning sun, I welcomed the break. I can't  remember, or couldn't make out what Melissa said. Her face frowned, and I mean deeply frowned, and she sobbed. Her pack was off and it didn't look like she had it in her to put that pack back on. She wanted to know if we going over the ridge in front of us. I thought for a second how to respond. I really didn't know the answer to her question, but I did know that, in my experience, when you're tired and feeling weak and losing motivation, the very worst part of the climb is always in front of you. I didn't want to give her a 30 minute hope when it could have been a 90 minute reality. So I refrained from telling her we were almost there and just gave her the facts. We were going over that ridge and it was going to feel like hell.

Bugs Bite

Biting flies and mosquitoes were everywhere. The only good thing about them was that they kept you moving. Bot mostly there was no good thing about them. Moving was the only relief we had from their spiteful attacks. Not too long after Melissa's breakdown we reached the last part of the climb and were now headed down to the lake. The bugs intensified as we got to camp. It was awful. My inclination, since the sun had set and its last light waned, was to set up camp quickly and take refuge in our tents. It was impossible to stand still without having 30-50 mosquitoes on your body, biting, flying up your nose and in your ears. I became increasingly irritated at my husband who was complaining about the bugs. I didn't like them either, nobody did, but there were things to be done at camp. After pitching the tent, pumping some water, and realizing there was no place to hang our food (and snapping at my husband all the while) we settled in for the night.


Our camp overlooked a valley to the East. We watched an egg-yolk moon seemingly stretch and rise over the Eastern ridge like an incandescent bubble in a lava lamp.

Under the Stars

And beneath the stars we nipped on bourbon and watched the sky shoot her stars.

I woke up feeling the weight of my invisible backpack and scrunched to one side of the tent. Too tired do anything about it I closed my eyes and pretended to sleep.

Descent to Joy

On the way down. Photo by Bob Redmond.
The first order of business to the new day was to leave. We weren't going to climb Cashmere, or even make it to Windy Pass. The bugs had sucked our spirit to climb, and everyone wanted to leave. My body wasn't disappointed at the decision, as my feet were fucked with blisters, and I wasn't confident I could ascend further. But I did feel a little sadness at not going for the summit.

We headed down, and the going became very painful to me. I dropped way back from the group and cried a little. As we were switchbacking through the alpine meadows Melissa said, "I don't remember it being this beautiful on the way up." I was happy to see everyone enjoying the view. 

Melissa and Jamie blazed down the trail. I went slowly and Bob hung back to make sure I was OK. I could hear the moment Melissa hit the end of the trail and she let out a very joyful hoot. I too was glad to be back and really happy at how hard we had all just worked.

You can check out more photos from our trip on our Facebook page.

No comments: