One week in the mountains

This past week we we spent 7 nights camping in the Carson Pass area south of Lake Tahoe. Hiking to Lake Winnemucca southbound on the PCT, we intersected many thru hikers. This prompted us to reflect on what life is like now compared to 6 years ago when we were thru hikers.

We are no longer the hiking duo with the goofy hats who would hike 20+ miles per day. Instead we are now parents of 2 little ones (Miles 3 years and Ani 3 months) who celebrate hiking 8 miles in 2 days! We still wear the goofy hats though 🙂

Our life is certainly different and we feel it more when in the mountains than at home. We can no longer expect to wake up early, hike all day to an alpine lake nestled in the Sierra at the start of a week long backpacking trip. 

Instead of planning backpacking trips near and far we are planning for Miles going to preschool, what we will put in his lunch and who will care for Ani when we’re working. 

We miss our long day hikes, moments or hours of quiet reflection and grand backpacking trips, but the joy of seeing Miles climb up a rock by himself, rattle off wildflower names or hike past us with a huge smile makes this all worth it. 

Ani is too young to tell us what she thinks but she quiets down when outside, stares at trees and sleeps for longer intervals in the camper than at home.

Having 2 small kids and attempting even small scale backpacking trips is humbling. On this trip we packed in a mere 1.5 miles, had camp all set up by 11am but felt like we had to abort at 7 pm after Miles had an hour-long meltdown. Refusing to eat dinner and having not taken a nap the past two days, we knew we were in for a long night if we stayed. When Ani started crying we threw in the towel and hiked out.

Adjusting expectations and letting go of dreams to sleep under the stars is hard. For us it is one of the toughest aspects of parenting – letting go of the things we love. We aren’t giving up though. We hope to learn from what happened, make a few adjustments and try backpacking again in August.

Life is certainly different and a lot less quiet than it was 6 years ago when we hiked the PCT, but we are grateful that time in nature is still a part of our lives. And that it helps calm the kiddos, even if it’s for a millisecond. Because that makes it completely worth all the trouble, the frustrations and feelings of inadequacy.

Tonight we are grateful for short hikes and our ability to adapt.

Lake Winnemucca
Crater Lake (Hope Valley, CA)
Super mama carrying her two cubs

Backpacking in Vegas – Day 2

Bushcamp to Trail Canyon Trailhead

Miles: 13.4

Elev gain/loss: +3307 ft/ -5309 ft

We woke up around 6am feeling rested. Knowing it was going to be a long day, the night beforewe had decided to get up early and be walking by 7am.

Like on the PCT, Andy got out of his bag first, retrieved our food and cooked breakfast while Laurie snoozed a few moments longer.

As the sun rose, we savored its warmth while packeding the final pieces of our gear and continued on the switchbacks at 7:30am.

When we reached the saddle we choose to bag Griffith Peak without our packs. We stashed them down the hill, chugged some water and hiked the half mile to the 11,060 ft summit.

Five years ago the Carpenter 1 fire burned a sizeable chunk of the Spring Mountains, including much of the west side of Griffith Peak. Ten years ago when Andy had been there the forest was lush. But the burnt landscape had no effect on his satisfaction for being there with Laurie.

It was windy atop Griffith Peak so after taking a few photos and signing the register we turned around and went for Charleston Peak. We exchanged pleasantries with the only other human who camped on the mountain the night before and continued along the ridge through the burn area.

Andy loved looking toward the west and into Death Valley.  He knew Mount Whitney was out there, in the distance beyond Death Valley but it was not visible in the haze.

We stopped for a snack a few miles from Charleston Peak, then continued along the burn area. The trail runner who had passed us early in the morning was now on his descent. He informed us that the weather to the peak was stellar from here on out. That was good news as the winds can be quite fierce in this range.

After crossing the last of the burn area we were able to see Charleston Peak again. “It looks so far away” Laurie said dejectedly. Andy reassured her that with no switchbacks we were less than 2 miles away. All we had to do was keep truckin’ along.

“Slow and steady.” That is the motto that Laurie’s mom used when taking her hiking as a kid. Whenever at elevation or feeling sluggish that is what repeats in Laurie’s mind.

We came to the site of an old plane crash. Laurie continued on the main trail while Andy took some time to investigate.

Apparently the plane crashed in 1955 with 14 people on board who perished instantly. Andy later described walking around the debris as very eerie. He found it strange that major components of the plane have just been left on the mountain for so long.

We kept chugging along until we reached the top of the 3rd highest peak in Nevada! We felt proud and accomplished. Andy soaked in the views while Laurie took off her pack and took a break inside the man made wind-protected shelter.

It was so well insulated she became too warm and came back out a few moments later. We snacked, took a few photos and briefly chatted with two day hikers who arrived a few minutes after us.

Before noon we shouldered our packs and began our descent to the Trail Canyon Trailhead via the North Loop Trail. Long switchbacks cutting into the mountain above treeline are still one of Andy’s favorite features.

After the switchbacks we found ourselves back into the trees and on a VERY long traverse. The drop offs along the cliffs on the north side of Charleston Peak are so immense that the trail traverses north for 4.5 miles to a saddle where one can continue on the North Loop Trail or down to the town of Mt. Charleston via Trail Canyon Trail.

Laurie lost steam as the trail wound on and on. The views continued to be spectacular and the drop offs in a few spots were downright frightening for Andy, but the heat and the long miles were starting to wear on us both.

We quickly forgot about our tired legs and the heat as we once again crossed through the beautiful orange and yellow quaking aspens. We could see this patch of color from the trail the day before and thought it was beautiful then, but it was so much more magnificent up close.

After walking through the beautiful aspens, we took a shoes-off break at Cave Spring – which still had a steady flow. We snacked, drank more water and continued onward, knowing we were only 2.7 miles from the car.

After a relatively uneventful downhill we reached the trailhead and our car.

Andy really enjoyed sharing this experience with Laurie. These mountains held some special memories for him and he was delighted to have the opportunity to come back here so many years later and experience the beauty of these mountains again – only this time together.

Today we are grateful for ‘healthy’ Pringles and downhills that eventually end.

Griffith Peak (Elev 11,060 ft) and The Strip in the distance

Looking for Telescope Peak in Death Valley

Charleston Peak – Elev 11,916 ft

Backpacking in Vegas – Day 1

Laurie hates Las Vegas. She’s been there a few times and has never left The Strip.

Andy however, knows where to find the magic.

The Spring Mountains are located 45 minutes west of the hot, bright and insane city of Las Vegas. Andy’s last trip to this beautiful mountain range was about 10 years ago when he hiked to Griffith Peak. A lot has changed since then.

The Spring Mountain National Recreation Area – and more specifically Mt. Charleston – is no longer a quiet place only a few visit.  It is a mecca for all who seek respite from the oppressive heat of the desert and for those seeking stunning nature.

When Andy hiked to Griffith Peak he promised to return one day and hike the daddy – Charleston Peak.

We finally made the time to hike that mountain together. And this made the hike even more special for Andy.

Day 1 – Trail Canyon Trailhead to bushcamp

Miles: 4.3

Elev gain/loss: +2091 ft/-41 ft

Our day started at 5:40am. We jumped out of bed after snoozing for an extra half hour. Thankfully we were already packed. Andy showered, we shouldered our packs and went downstairs to meet Joanna – who was ready and waiting to take us to the airport. Thanks Joanna!!

We checked in, went through security and got on our plane on time but sat on the tarmac for over two hours. Las Vegas airport was having issues with their refueling systems so we had to fill up with enough fuel to take the plane all the way to Detroit. 

Unfortunately with more fuel our plane was too heavy. They offered $600 travel vouchers to each person who agreed to take a later flight.

Laurie had fallen asleep with her head in Andy’s lap. She woke up to the words “$600” but was too groggy to put up a good fight. Andy wanted to get to Vegas, but Laurie couldn’t stop her mind from wandering to all the places we could go with $1200. 

With every announcement the temptation in Laurie grew but Andy felt strongly that it wouldn’t be safe to arrive to an unfamiliar mountain range near dusk. His logical reasoning won out and we stayed in our seats waiting to take off.

After a few hour delay, we finally departed around 9:30am for Vegas. Tired, hungry and delirious, we landed in Vegas, picked up our rental car, drove to a sporting goods store for fuel, and a supermarket for extra rations. This is when Andy hit his wall. It was 1:30pm and be hadn’t eaten anything.

In-N-Out was a stones throw from the supermarket so we grabbed a burger each and drove to the mountains.

Andy’s jaw damn near dropped as he gained elevation on Kyle Canyon Road into the small town of Mt. Charleston.

There were roundabouts, a visitor center and multiple levels of parking areas for the main trailhead.

This must be what happens when an area and a trail are designated National Recreation Area and National Recreation Trail respectively.

It’s also probably what happens when there is a finite area for those who live in the urban sprawl to go and play in the summertime.

We parked our car at the Trail Canyon Trailhead and walked 1.3 miles on a shoulderless road to the South Loop Trailhead – or so we thought.

Things have changed in 10 years. There was a large fence around the parking area, stone benches and at least 50 people milling around. Andy remembered a small parking area that could fit maybe 10 cars. We weren’t sure if we were in the correct spot.

Laurie took off her pack and sat on the ground while Andy explored the area trying to jog his memory and figure out which trail to take.

Really there was only one trail but it was labeled as Cathedral Rock. There were many use trails from people ignoring signs and walking wherever they pleased.

Eventually after talking to some Forest Service Rangers and various maps we realized that our trial would branch off shortly up the main trail.

So we set off- hiking uphill around 3:30pm with 9 liters of water between us. The towering cliffs above us shaded the canyon. 

It was very overwhelming to be around so many people, especially when we didn’t expect it, but we took comfort knowing we’d see less and less people as we hiked further into the Mt. Charleston Wilderness.

We took many stops for water as we stumbled forward. Andy had a slight headache and Laurie kept burping up her In-N-Out burger. Plus we were starting at 7,650 ft and walking uphill from the get go. Needless to say, neither of us were feeling awesome.

We both forgot about our discomforts as the trail wound through a hillside of yellow and orange Aspen trees. Even though it was still 100° in Las Vegas, Fall had arrived in the hills of the Spring Mountains.

We smiled as we continued to hike up the rocky trail. The fall colors were an unexpected, yet welcomed surprise.

After slowly climbing up 30 or so switchbacks we began looking for camping spots. We knew we wanted to stay in the shelter of the trees as the wind bellowed at  every mini saddle we came upon.

We stopped at a nice spot that overlooked the town of Mt. Charleston but it was a bit too windy, so we kept going.

Two switchbacks up the mountain we spotted a nice, flat spot reasonably well protected from the sharp, cold wind.

We set up camp and Laurie quickly got in the tent to make home while Andy tried to make mac & cheese without making a complete mess of it as he had done multiple times on the PCT.

He did an ok job and crawled into the tent to eat with Laurie after putting up the fly. It had potential to be a cold night and the fly would bear the brunt of the wind better than the inner portion of the tent.

After we ate Andy tied our Ursack to a tree, came in and immediately fell asleep. Laurie read her book for a little while longer before crawling out of her comfy cacoon for a final pee before bed.

It was an exhausting day and we were both grateful to be in our tent – cozy and warm.

Laurie faded off to sleep under a big and bright full moon, her head supported on a new glamping style pillow.

Tonight we are grateful for switchbacks and fall colors.