Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Cross 2 Ross {Day 4: Beaver Pass to Big Beaver on Ross Lake}

Caleb's picture, featuring Zac and the old growth along Big Beaver Trail

Waking up in the pre-bug hours, we were all hoping to get outta dodge before the impending flying pestilence activation.  As crew leader, Joseph attempted to enlist his younger brother in an important camp chore at daybreak, "Peter, I have a very important task for you... are you ready?  Go wake up Zac!"  Apparently not up to the monumental challenge, Peter replied, "No, that's your job as crew chief."
Science of natural destruction
With 14 miles to log and Ross Lake waiting, we departed Beaver Pass Camp in bursts, bright and early as planned.  Some spirits higher than others, but each one of us set out determined to reach Ross Lake in time for an afternoon bath swim.  Our first unplanned stop along the route involved climbing over a downed tree and staying a while to study the scene of the fall.  It appeared that the cascading tree hit another with such force that it snapped in half, shattered and crashed to the ground in a "v" formation.  We saw hundreds of fallen and broken trees over the miles, but this one especially captured our attention with its powerful story sketched on the forest floor.
A close-up look at the impact zone; apparently the force of the fall cracked the giant tree in half
The ten mile section of trail along Big Beaver brought us into a wonderland of old growth trees, a few of which just couldn't be passed by without a visit.  The guys attempted to measure the base of one old growth cedar tree, and it topped out beyond the 35' mark.  The forest floor was littered with tiny brown and green toads.  Another wasp attack forced a first aid stop on a bridge to treat Judah's first and Caleb's 5th or 6th.  Only Enoch remained un-stung.
Just another trail-side attraction (near 39 Mile Camp)
Joseph on water filtration duty at lunch stop along Big Beaver Trail
Pure fun on the pier at Ross Lake's Beaver Pass Camp
The sight of Ross Lake gave us great joy, which we experienced in waves as the 14 mile hike took longer for some (me) that for others.  Judah selflessly added about an hour to his day's hike to double back and offer me a hand for the final stretch.  Although the guys assisted me on most approaches during the 50 miler, this one seemed especially meaningful, as Judah barely caught a glimpse of Ross Lake before turning around in a generous effort to be helpful.
Tim and me, captured by Zac from the pier at Beaver Pass Camp on Ross Lake
Ross Lake offered a refreshing, cleansing break from the ordinary day's end routine.  The tiny fish swarming around the pier nibbled on us as we swam.  A few in the massive school did not escape the clever fish catching contraptions rigged up by the boys and these unlucky ones were fried up for dessert.
Sunshine after a refreshing swim
Ross Lake: a fine reward after 42 miles and 4 days on the trails
Back at camp after his swim, Zachary noticed a small forest fire in the hills across the lake.  With Great Grandpa Tony's binoculars, he zoomed in on the site and studied the situation.  A fellow camper strolling along on a firewood gathering mission mentioned that the rangers were aware of the fire, and described it as a 'smoldering fire, not of concern to campers.'  Thankful for that bit of news, the fire still captured our attention, especially at dusk when its bright red flames could be seen illuminating the dark sky.
A smouldering forest fire burning away across Ross Lake from our campsite
Zac's bedroom at Big Beaver Camp
Another satisfying supper featuring freeze dried vittles was followed by the (optional) fish fry, and rounded out with fellowship around the campfire and a raspberry-crumble-fest.  Various antics employed to collect and haul firewood resulted in at least one minor injury, but the general mood around camp on this final night could best be described as joyful and pleasant.
Caleb and Joseph in the kitchen at Big Beaver Camp on Ross Lake
First dessert (optional)

Monday, August 26, 2013

Cross 2 Ross {Day 3: Whatcom Camp to Beaver Pass}

Morning exercise before hiking about 11 miles with 4000 (+/-) vertical gain/loss

At daybreak on day 3 of our 50 mile trek through the North Cascades, I rolled out of the tent, slurped down a serving of runny oatmeal delicately seasoned with almonds, olive oil, raisins and brown sugar and licked the bowl clean.  I washed down my morning Ibuprofen dose with instant coffee, and quickly changed behind a cluster of trees from my warm, dry morning layers into the still damp hiking clothes from yesterdays' sweat and sprinkles.  Tim reminded me that it wouldn't be long before I might be wishing for the relief of cool, wet clothes, and he was right.

As miserable as this may sound, and with full disclosure that indeed, myriad discomforts followed our every mile, please understand that the spectacular environment, wonderful crew, solid prayer routine, and Ibuprofen all made this experience in the wilderness much more than bearable.  Rather tremendous, really.  Admittedly the weakest link in our crew, my repeat participation in this high adventure trek primarily hinged on the fact that the other Scouts' dads couldn't come due to work conflicts.  I joined the crew to fill the required second adult spot, knowing that my physical strength could not match that of the guys.  The guys regularly offered to carry some of my weight, and I humbly accepted their kind and chivalrous offers of assistance. 
11 push ups preceding an 11 mile day
In the pre-departure gathering after breaking camp at Whatcom Pass, someone suggested a loaded push-up competition as a warm up to the day's adventure.  Those who participated put up impressive double digit numbers, but to the untrained eye, these calisthenics resembled pure and simple insanity.
Challenger Glacier from the top of Whatcom Pass
Although anticipating many hours on the trail to Beaver Pass, the 360 degree views of Little Beaver Valley, Whatcom Peak, Mount Challenger and a close up view of Challenger Glacier were reason enough to pause and enjoy the scenery before setting out with full force.
Extreme descent down Whatcom Pass
Descending Whatcom Pass, we dropped some 2000 feet (+/-) in 3/8 mile.  The tight switchbacks were rocky and very steep, and the boisterous waterfalls cascading from the Pickets above to the valley below grew louder and louder as we dropped.  The crew hiked intentionally well spaced, to avoid kicked or loosened rocks from above colliding with heads below.  On high alert, Tim heard a dislodged rock bounding down, yelled "rock!" to warn the guys below and watched as it shot past him at eye level.
On alert for flying rocks
Switchbacks on Whatcom Pass
Grinding downhill course

Miles of bushwhacking along uncleared trails
From the phenomenal vistas atop Whatcom Pass and along the steep descent down to Little Beaver trail, we crossed a giant rock bowl and entered a very bushy series of trails.  The heavy dew sprinkled us thoroughly on this refreshingly moist morning jungle hike, as the roar of countless waterfalls serenaded our steps.
Crew break following Whatcom Pass descent
An avalanche area along Little Beaver Trail resembled a war zone when Zac and I trekked through on Zac's second "X2R" (Cross 2 Ross) in 2008.  Downed trees and debris nearly completely obscured the trail in '08, but pink tape marked the general direction of travel to aid hikers.  Evidence of that massive slide still remains along the sides of the trails today, but the route is clear save the occasional downed tree awaiting removal by forest crews.
Caleb, at rest
Stream crossing with care on a slightly broken bridge
Water filtration and sock laundering stop along Little Beaver Creek, near Stillwell Camp
Bros on a bridge (over Little Beaver Creek)
The final section of day 3's journey to Beaver Camp included climbing 1500 feet (+/-) in about a mile, with swarming flies for company.  Warned by friendly hikers coming down from Beaver Pass about the extreme flies and wasps above didn't exactly elevate our hopes for a nice evening at camp.  Sure enough, the place was literally humming with all the insect infestation.  Head nets on, the guys set right to work building a fire in hopes that a smoke screen might deter some of the flying predators from feasting on us.  Not much measurable success in bug repellant efforts could be found with natural or chemical strategies, but there was an entertainment value in the desperation and hyper reaction to the ever present, aggressive flying force.
Enoch and Peter on fire duty at Beaver Pass Camp
Memorable quotes from Beaver Camp:
"I'm kinda creeped out by the wasp that's eating flies off Peter's back!"
"If the swarm comes, we're in trouble!"
"We should interconnect our tents and play cards."

Friday, August 23, 2013

Cross 2 Ross '13 {Day 2: Copper Creek to Whatcom Camp}

Day 2 departure for an 11 mile trek to Whatcom Camp from the rocky shores of Copper Creek
Day 2 began with an early wake up call at 6AM, but one devout Scout arose each morning half an hour earlier than the crew for quiet prayer, an inspiration to all of us and surely a link to great aid and grace from above in our daily trials.  Community prayer before our daily departures and grace before meals punctuated our daily routine, and we enjoyed ample opportunity for prayer and meditation during the day-long treks.  With the grandeur of creation all around us, our thoughts turned to God quite naturally along the way; severe physical challenges also brought a desire to seek help from above.  Knowing that many at home were lifting us in prayer gave me great solace in trials and extra endurance to push through the pain.
Joseph, Caleb and Peter enjoy a second (or third?) round trip crossing of the Chilliwack River aboard the cable car.
Our second day on the long trail toward Ross Lake offered a recess of sorts.  After a short and relatively easy three mile hike we reached the cable car crossing of the Chilliwack River.  A ladder's climb to the take-off spot required careful negotiation with loaded packs and hiking poles.  Team effort allowed for the safe crossing of all our crew, our gear and a few extra round trips just for the fun of it.  Extra long stops at the center point offered those of us without height phobias to extend our view enjoyment and relax in something resembling a chair for a few extra minutes.  Bouncing was highly discouraged, but oh-so tempting for some lofty travelers.
Peter, powering the cable car over the Chilliwack River with his dad as the sole passenger.

Cable car passenger, treated to a long view-stop right in the middle of the expanse.

Science in motion

Without time constraints, some of us could have spent hours at the cable car crossing.

Joy riding high above the river, hoping to spot spawning salmon (which hadn't reached this area just yet).

Peter and Joseph ~ happy repeat customers

Perhaps a view of Whatcom Glacier through the clouds
A calculated move to reach Whatcom Camp on day 2 rather than stopping at the lower elevation Graybeal Camp meant that a ridiculously strenuous climb to reach Whatcom came in the final miles at the end of a long day's trek.  Another ground wasp attack left Zachary with 3 hits below the knee and subsequently, those of us in the caboose 'sprinted' up a set of three switchbacks to avoid further injuries.  Zachary doubled back to carry my pack on the breakneck uphill race to beat the wasps.  Successfully avoiding a second onslaught, we stopped to administer first aid to Zac's stings on along steep trail in a light mist.
Tim navigates through a giant slide site, attempting to stay on the 'trail'
The final miles of uphill trudging into camp seemed to take forever; the trail endless and brutally steep.  We nearly unanimously recall this particular section of the 50 miles as the most difficult of all.
Reports of high bear activity were confirmed within minutes of our arrival when Enoch met a couple at the water hole who indicated that a bear had been spotted in our campsite a few hours earlier.  A good place for bears to visit indeed, as the blueberries were bountiful.  We kept a clean camp, and took extra precautions with hanging our food and scented stuff before dusk.

First aid stop for sting relief on the steep Brush Creek Trail leading to Whatcom Camp.

Zachary sets up the kitchen, perched under Noah's Tarp at Whatcom Camp.

Judah, Enoch, and Peter set up camp at a rainy Whatcom Camp.
Judah, Enoch, Tim and Peter work together to hang the food out of bears' reach at Whatcom Camp.

About 40-50 pounds of crew food, hanging safely out of bears' reach for the night
Forgetting the strenuous day's journey, a few Scouts ventured out after dinner for an evening stroll to find a nearby lake armed with map, compass and camera.  The lake remained elusive, but the hikers found plenty of extra adventure and sweeping views from lofty heights at nearly sundown.  By the time we called it quits, the moon offered tremendous illumination over Whatcom Peak across the way from camp.  Outrageous beauty, well worth the cost of such a difficult end-of-the-day ascent to camp.
Can you spot Joseph in red and Caleb in orange on their evening stroll?
Peter and Enoch enjoy the evening's entertainment: watching Joseph and Caleb scamper on the rock face.

Cross 2 Ross '13 {Day 1: Hannegan Pass to Copper Creek}

Zac, me, Tim, Caleb, Peter, Joseph, Judah and Enoch at our Hannegan Pass departure for Cross to Ross 2013
Our 6AM departure for Cross to Ross (C2R'13) came early, especially considering that half of the guys on our crew recently returned from various international mission trips and scholastic adventures: Judah from Zambia; Caleb from Nicaragua; Zachary from Germany.  But this BSA high adventure trek, in the works and on the calendar for the better part of a year, has been so highly anticipated that the hour of departure was a cause for celebration rather than consternation, despite the oh-so-early alarms.

All of our preparations and planning finally paid off, and the journey began in earnest with a bumpy, windy 5.2 mile stretch on a mountain road with Mr. B at the helm of his good old 15 passenger van.   Mr. B's shuttle to our departure and Mr. H's pick up at the end of our trek meant we did not have to leave any cars parked for days at the trail heads.
In lieu of sweeping panoramic vistas, we spotted a phenomenal rainbow reaching out from the rainclouds above.
Enoch, Peter, Judah, Zac, Caleb, Joseph and Tim at the one-mile mark
With pack covers on to guard against the sprinkles, the guys head toward Copper Creek Camp; a 7 mile journey.
The early 'gentle climb' gave way to a more grueling stretch, but before long we had ascended Hannegan Pass and stopped for our day one lunch break featuring salami and mozzarella chunks, with freshly picked wild mountain blueberries for dessert.  In those first few miles of our 50 mile trek, the two most sensitive to stings (Joseph and Tim) took the first of many yellow jacket 'hits' each suffering three stings below the knees and requiring topical salves and Benadryl tabs before lunch.  My Eagle Scout back-trekked to meet me along the final ascent to our first break at Whatcom Camp and carried my pack for a stretch, a habit soon emulated by Judah, Joseph and Enoch, who regularly aided my approaches.
Harvesting dessert, the boys pick away at the delicious blueberries along the trail.
Alternating between pounding rocky trails with sweeping valleys of endless wildflowers and winding woodsy trails with the occasional fallen tree to negotiate, we reached our designated campsite at Copper Creek before 3PM.  Soaking my sore feet in the icy creek, I missed the side show featuring Caleb attempting to ascend to a hilltop kybo (outdoor toilet) along a very steep off-trail 'route' on a timed challenge with Peter at the stopwatch.  Unfortunately for Caleb, the wasps scored the victory, stinging him five times below the knee.  Caleb's descent to flee the wasps was apparently very impressive.  I was called in to administer the salve and heard the play by play from a few different angles during the first aid session.
Zac and Joseph check the map at the entrance to North Cascades National Park.
Tim and Zac set up camp along the banks of Copper Creek.
Peter and Enoch scope out the water supply and look for the best area to hang our bear bags.
The Copper Creek campsite we claimed could rightly be deemed 'intermediates only,' given its hilly terrain and tricky creek access for water collection/filtration.  But the kybo (latrine) would easily earn a double diamond 'experts only' rating.  Steeper than an old fashioned playground slide, and about as long as a double escalator ride, the 'trail' to the toilet required proper footwear and a hiking pole or two.  This rugged loo was certainly not constructed for use by the faint of heart or anyone with altitude issues.
Burn ban lifted; fire building season begins
Enoch at the campfire on night one
A Mountain House (freeze dried) feast followed by a simple campfire rounded out day one of our five day adventure.  Most of us were sound asleep and cozy in our sleeping bags by 9PM, with one exception ~ our Eagle Scout ~ whose ultra light sleeping system did not measure up to the expected degrees of comfort.  Zachary's first night, therefore, was less than optimal in his hammock with foam pad, liner and bivy sack, but he survived.

Day 2: Copper Creek to Whatcom Camp follows.