Solitude by the Weber River

Hopefully everyone is staying safe and well during the pandemic. Through the shut downs and quarantines, we were still allowed (and indeed encouraged) to get outside for exercise or a drive here in Utah. It’s not hard to be socially distant here if you take the back roads, avoid the popular canyons and parks, and generally just want to explore. A couple weekends ago we wanted to go poke around the Uinta Mountains (strangely the tallest east-west running mountain range in the lower 48 states). We (rightly) assumed the Kamas Mirror Lake road entrance would be crazy busy. So we went in the Evanston, Wyoming route.

weber-river-3-wm

We found a beautiful spot on the Weber River (we were back in Utah at this point). Still running high and cold from snow melt (and yes, that’s still mountain snow!) but so clear and beautiful. We are always looking for things we can see with small hikes or from back road driving. I know, I know. Ideally we would be hiking further, etc. BUT, I have a chronic illness (or two. Or three. It’s all speculation at this point) and sometimes I just can’t go far. Some days I can. This was a “high pain” day. But dammit, I’m still going to travel, explore, and see what I can! This was a mostly driving excursion with some sort hikes to break it up (and heated seats to help sore muscles after).

weber-river-wm

We only saw a handful of people, most were out jogging or poking around their yards. If you don’t mind a drive (and FYI the back rural roads in Wyoming have a 70mph speed limit!) and want some solitude, I highly recommend exploring the Wyoming entrance to the western Unitas.

weber-river-4-wmAlso found this old railroad bridge (Union Pacific!) that is now a back forest road. I was shocked it’s not been graffitied. That’s my Detroit side showing, I guess!

Stay safe and healthy, all. We’re all in this together. 💜

 

 

Justified Derby Day Dandelion Mead (and a blood orange mead)

I’ve been brewing for about 5 years and for some reason I just realized how easy meads were to make last year. There’s no boil, no hopping (well, maybe for some meads like Viking’s Blood), and it’s a really fast process. My first mead was a blood orange vanilla called “Blood of my Enemies.” It. Was. Amazing. (Skip down a paragraph for basic mead recipe, skip to the bottom for the Blood of My Enemies and Justified Derby Day Dandelion recipes).

If you want a recipe, here’s one: https://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/basic-mead-201058.

I do an even easier variation for a basic mead:

  1. Sterilize all equipment (carboy or even a growler for an adorable tiny batch). I use Star San.
  2. Dump in honey. I use around 5lbs for a 2 gallon batch. Any honey will do (make sure it’s actually honey). Different honeys will give different flavors. For my Blood of My Enemies I used a super dark honey I found at Whole Foods.
  3. Add water. I use distilled water, but really for mead the honey will work well with tap water. If you’re paranoid about contamination, use distilled or boil your tap water.
  4. Add yeast. Champagne yeast or mead yeast are the recommendations. If you’re super lazy (like me) there’s always bread yeast. For the purists, this is a no no. But, it worked just fine for my Blood of My Enemies mead. For my Justified Derby Day Mead, I used champagne yeast.
  5. Add in any flavors you want: fruits, spices, etc. For basic mead, add nothing.
  6. Put the airlock at the top, label your mead, and wait at least a month. I usually bottle at 1-1.5 months ( to bottle, sterilize following home brew instructions: http://howtobrew.com/book/section-1/brewing-preperations/sanitation/sanitizing-your-equipment). The longer the mead sits, the better it seems. It will change flavors and mature.

You have mead!

My Justified Derby Day Dandelion mead came about from me staring out the window at the dandelions. So. Many. Dandelions. My chickens (Nugget, Cutlet, and Giblet, all pets, not food) eat some of them but not all when they free range during the day.

My goal, since moving to Utah where we have so many fruit and edibles in our yard, is to make beer, mead, cider, etc with our very local ingredients. Dandelion seemed like a perfect spring selection. I picked a bunch of them and separated the petals (anything green will add a bitter taste). It will stain your hands, as I learned.

Next I made the basic mead recipe and added the petals and one split vanilla bean.

IMG_20180505_115528857 Unfortunately, I realized the petals stick to the honey in the carboy. I sterilized a chopstick and used it to poke them down. Next time, add petals before honey.

And that’s it! I’m just bottling it now, so the verdict is out on the taste. Since I made this on Derby Day, it had to have a Derby name. And since my horse loved dandelions, I assumed Justify probably does too. I had no idea on that day he would become a Triple Crown winner! What a good boy. (My Imperial Stout was brewed during the Stanley Cup playoffs, and I always intended to call it Ovechkin’s Imperial Stanley Cup Stout whether the Capitals won or not. However, now I think my brews predict winners! Recipe on that one to come soon).

Recipes: 

Justified Derby Day Dandelion Mead 

Add to basic mead recipe (for a 2 gallon batch, adjust as necessary):

2 cups dandelion petals and 1 split vanilla bean

(I used a lighter honey for this recipe and Champagne yeast)

 

Blood of My Enemies Blood Orange Mead 

Add to basic mead recipe (for a 2 gallon batch, adjust as necessary):

Juice of three blood oranges

Peel of one blood orange (this can add some bitterness, can be skipped)

2 split vanilla beans

(I used a very dark wildflower honey for this recipe and Red Star bread yeast)

 

Newest Edition!

Last week I traveled to Seville, Spain, to work with some Spanish Greyhound (Galgo Espanol) rescues (more to come on that in a later post!).

In one of the larger rescues I walked by literally hundreds of dogs my first day with another volunteer. I wasn’t looking to adopt, unless one made a strong connection. Well, this little one wormed her way into my heart. I just stopped at her run and said “I like this one!” I took her out for a walk and she was incredibly sweet. As I was in the main office talking to the shelter coordinator about our project dogs for the week (volunteers work with timid or scared dogs to socialize them and I helped a bit with veterinary matters too) the galgo I had out, Reina (meaning “queen”) climbed on to my lap. OK, manipulative! I knew I would be bringing her home then. She will arrive in May!

Reina

Reina

Foster Story: Andy and Stella

About a year ago I started fostering. It started with a cat that was going to be sent to a high-kill facility because she “didn’t get along with other cats.” She turned out to be fine with my 5 cats (and 3 dogs) and ended up being adopted by a fellow goalie and his family. My husband was wary of me fostering as my Galgo, Cedric, was supposed to be a foster (that lasted for about 4 hours).

I started fostering to help our local Animal Control which recently went to being a no-kill shelter, which overjoyed me. In Michigan there were so many no-kill rescue efforts I took it for granted. Come to find out it’s a relatively new concept in Iowa. I am so glad it is being embraced.

Anyway, the call went out for fosters with bottle-baby experience. Well, being a former vet tech of 10 years, I have an excess of hand feeding little ones (including wildlife). So, of course, I said I could help. I got two little ones at different times. Fortunately the rescue network found some nursing mothers to place the kittens with after about a day for each. Kittens do better with feline mothers (antibodies, social skills, etc) so it is best to place them with nursing moms if possible.

The first to show up was Andy (so named because our Waterloo Blackhawks junior hockey team won the Anderson Cup about the time he showed up).

Andy

Andy

He stayed about 2 days and did really well. He looked to be about 10 days old (rough estimate) as his eyes were open.

andy bob

Our adult cats either ignored him or were really interested. Sepia, my black cat, was a rescue from Detroit that had a litter of kittens with her when she was brought into rescue. She is a good mother and will help me out with the babies (grooming, snuggling). Bob, our youngest cat (orange male) also seems to love kittens. Not so much grooming but wanting to see what they’re doing. Both were really good about watching over little Andy in his carrier and being concerned when he would cry (bottle babies get moved around the house with me in carriers with heating pads underneath so I can keep a close eye on them, but it’s great to have the cats double checking him for me!)

Kitten in the hoodie selfie

Kitten in the hoodie selfie

Of course, I snuggled with him too. Andy really liked hoodies…

After Andy, Stella was picked up by animal control after being found in a baseball field. She was even tinier. Eyes not open, but wow, she was a fighter. The little thing screamed the entire way home when I picked her up. Hence the name “Stella” from a Streetcar Named Desire. All I could think was “STTTELLLLAAA!” She was obviously female because of her torti coloring (males can be calico or torti but that would mean they are XXY rather than XY. The genetics related to torti and calico coloring is related to the XX genotype).

Stella!

Stella!

Cute little Stella and Andy went to a rescue in Iowa with a nursing mom to care for them until they were weaned. Last I heard both were adopted! Yay for fostering and no kill rescues!

Helping Outside Cats and Dogs in Cold Weather

Baby, it is COLD outside. Bitterly, bitterly cold. With -40F wind chills predicted here (north-east Iowa) my thoughts always turn to animals stuck outside. Miss Moose is extremely happy to spend her second winter with us as an inside dog (I found her on a highway in a blizzard, she smelled like a cow and we found out her owners moved and left her).

Hello? Yes, this is Moose.

Hello? Yes, this is Moose.

My horse even gets to stay inside on very cold days at his barn. But with cats still coming in to our local (no-kill!) Animal Control I feel for those left to fend for themselves.

Cats especially have it rough. I see so many with ears scarred by frostbite. One way to help feral or lost cats in your neighborhood is by putting together a simple box. I made one similar to this one: http://www.petadoptionnetwork.org/?cat=1

Shelter for feral cats

Sorry I don’t know who to credit for this picture! I found it here: http://www.petadoptionnetwork.org/?cat=1

 

I took a rubbermaid  tub, lined it with foam board insulation, and put some straw inside. I cut a small (cat-sized) hole on one side. If you have animals that may trap a cat in the box (Coyotes, etc) an escape hole on the other side is a good idea. I usually put a bit of cat food out on top of the box on very cold days too. I imagine some raccoons or opossums may benefit from that, and I am OK with that. They need help as well.

Water sources can also be helpful. I have a small pond that I keep a bird bath heater in so there is some unfrozen water critters can get to. I didn’t think it mattered, but last winter (record lows here for weeks!) I kept seeing a little Maine Coon drinking from it. I thought she was another neighborhood feral that I would trap and neuter and release, but one day I saw her sitting on our patio shivering. I went out to feed her and she jumped into my arms. After some Facebook networking through my vet it turned out she was a beloved family pet who got out in October (we found her just before Christmas). I was so happy to see her reunited!

Fleury (named for the hockey goalie and because it was snowing when we found her). Her actual name turned out to be Trixie. I like Fleury...

Fleury (named for the hockey goalie and because it was snowing when we found her). Her actual name turned out to be Trixie. I prefer Fleury…

Dogs can also be in trouble in cold weather. I found Moose just before a blizzard hit, she is one lucky girl! This post from Lost Dogs Illinois on Facebook shows one way to help pups in need:

Obviously, if you see a dog tethered outside in extreme weather with no shelter please call your local police department or animal control. No animal needs to live like that.

Also be sure to tap on your car hood before starting it, kitties like to crawl up near engine blocks for warmth. And if you use salt, use pet-friendly kinds.

Your indoor pups may like a coat when going outside in frigid weather. Our husky-mix Kailie is built for cold weather (though we don’t let her stay out in it long).

Kailie in Utah

Kailie in Utah, the Kaprys Photography watermark is from my other blog

However, short-haired dogs like greyhounds and the like need coats in cold weather. The greyhound rescues usually tell new owners “If you need a coat on, your dog does too.” Here Cedric, my Galgo Espanol (or Spanish Greyhound) and Marigold, my ex-racer (RIP sweet girl) model their coats my mom made for them.

Cedric and Marigold in 2012

Cedric and Marigold in 2012

If you don’t have a specially fashioned coat or need a quick one for a lost dog, use a sweatshirt. Put the legs in the arms and clip the sides up on the back with a safety-pin.

I hope this post helps some animals in need. Stay warm, friends!

George the Pelican

I have volunteered for a raptor rescue for about 6 months or so now. I started off feeding and caring for our “display” birds, or birds that live in outdoor enclosures that cannot be released because they were imprinted or injured. I then started helping out in the clinic, which houses injured birds that need medical treatment. Most of the clinic birds are released into the wild. I am now trained on clinic duty, so for one weekend a month I get to take care of the outside birds, treat the indoor clinic birds, and take care of and assess any injured birds that come in. Last weekend was my weekend caretaker training. As I as driving down I got a call from the clinic assistant director. He mentioned he would be a few minutes late as he had to get fish for “the pelican.” Huh. Ok. we do get waterfowl in addition to raptors, but a pelican? Really?

Well, the pelican ended up being a juvenile pelican that had fallen out of his nest. Some people had fed it fish to help him out, and he became imprinted  (he thought the humans were his parents). Once imprinted a bird cannot be released into the wild. George will be looking for placement in a zoo or similar facility as we aren’t set up for pelicans long term. He is adorable and very social. It was amazing to watch him eat his fish! He’ll be a big hit wherever he goes.

Here are a few pictures. His wing span is already bigger than a bald eagle’s!

george 3 george 2 george

Travelling Long Distances with Dogs

So, I will start out by introducing you to the dogs we travel with. We have 3, Kailie a husky-shepherd mix, Moose a bully breed-hound mix (we call her a toy mastiff), an Cedric a Galgo Espanol (Spanish greyhound. To learn more about galgos go here. I will get into detail on them in another post). So, you see, they are all big dogs. Kailie is smallest at 55 lbs and Cedric tops out at about 80-85 lbs (and he is ALL legs!)

It's hard to get all 3 dogs to cooperate...

It’s hard to get all 3 dogs to cooperate…

Look at the camera! With the Teton Mountains in the background.

Look at the camera! With the Teton Mountains in the background.

 

We used to travel in a Honda Element, but it was getting to have a lot of miles on it. No problems yet, but since we regularly drive cross country we wanted something a bit newer. The Element was great because the dogs had most of the back to sprawl. With a rocket box we had enough space for most stuff. But if we added anything like a crate in (strapped to the side with the seats folded up) it encroached on dog space.

We now have a Toyota Tundra pick up to travel in. It’s perfect with the cab for us and the bed for camping stuff. We also have a rocket box to be bear country compliant and for more storage. We usually camp in the national parks at established sites, but we do also do some back country camping as well. Dogs ARE allowed in national park campgrounds.

The pups by the tent in Yellowstone

The pups by the tent in Yellowstone

We have a hammock for the dogs in the back seat. It’s similar to this one. It is so nice because it adds extra room for the dogs and we can put things in the foot wells under it that we can reach from the front but the dogs can’t reach. We usually add a thin dog bed on top of the hammock for extra padding. Cedric is 12 and has some spondylosis in his spine (fused vertebrae, a study I read says almost 100% of dogs will get this if they live over the age of 10-12 years) and Kailie is 11 (no signs of arthritis yet but she is of that age). With this set up all dogs can comfortably lie down or look out the windows (yes, even Cedric can comfortably lie down!).

We stop every few hours to let the dogs stretch their legs. They seem to sleep really well in the truck. We keep gallon jugs of water in the bed of the truck (along with our larger jugs of potable water for camping). The Outward Hound Bivy bowls work really well for water and food. They squish so we keep them in the dog’s dry food bin. I have noticed the dogs do not eat as well as at home on the road. We make sure to offer food frequently and also let them have table scraps. Cedric eats best with canned food so we do bring that along. We try to not get the really smelly stuff as we don’t want to encourage bears to visit our camp sites.

Cedric loves Grand Teton!

Cedric loves Grand Teton!

We also make sure to bring extra meds and a first aid kit. We haven’t needed any of that yet fortunately. But Cedric did pick up an intestinal bug last year out west. He had diarrhea and urinary infections on and off for several months after we returned and we had a hard time keeping it under control. It finally took a double dose of antibiotics for a few weeks. We really try to keep the dogs out of puddles and to not let them drink out of anything but the water bowls. But, things happen. This year our vet suggested bringing extra metronidazole and pain meds just in case. We obviously have the dogs on Frontline and heartworm pills too. We developed tie outs from mountaineering rope and carabiners to use at our campsites so we could cook without having to hold on to leashes. We always have an extra leash and collar, extra beds, fleece blankets, and dog coats. We encountered temperatures in the teens while tent camping in Yellowstone and both Moose and Cedric loved their coats. Space blankets also helped keep everyone toasty!

The pups and our eating shelter. Cedric is wearing 2 coats to keep him warm. Brrr!

The pups and our eating shelter. Cedric is wearing 2 coats to keep him warm. Brrr!

Overall the dogs do really well. The challenging thing is that dogs are not allowed on trails or in the back country in National Parks. Pain in the butt. So we drive around and look at as much as we can. For hiking with the dogs we find National Forests. They are usually right next to National Parks and dogs are allowed in the back country. Some state parks also allow dogs. Always check before you venture out, the fines for taking dogs where they are not allowed are steep ($200-300).

Also be prepared to talk to TONS of people. Since most people do not bring their dogs to National Parks because of policies, they will be totally attracted to your dogs! Having one that looks a bit like a wolf helps too. “Hello, Wolfie!” “Why do you want to go to Lamar Valley to see wolves, sweetie? There’s one on a leash right there!”

Our Little Wolf Kailie

Our Little Wolf Kailie

One other thing to beware of is how protective your dogs are. Cedric is pretty much oblivious to most things. He is content to be with us and walk around. Kailie is very smart, but knows when there is real danger and when things are fine (she does not growl or bark unless she absolutely has to). Moose, on the other hand, is very protective of me. We were camping in the Madison Campground (just before it closed for the year!) and it was rutting season. If you have ever heard elk bugling it is the creepiest sound ever. Listen here. It sounds like children screaming or, well, I have no idea how to describe it. So we heard elk bugling at night. OK, I have heard it before. I can handle it. But then the coyote packs started (listen here, it is amazing!). I had heard that once before. From the porch of a cabin in West Yellowstone. But never from a tent. It made me really nervous. I knew they were probably far away as it was a cold, clear night and sounds travel. But I did not like it. Moose picked up on that. She sleeps right next to me in the tent (with her face shoved into my sleeping bag!). So Moose sat right up and growled at those coyote packs. My little protector! (Little as in 70lbs and as thick as, well, a moose).

She also almost got us in trouble with a buffalo herd. We were in a regular Yellowstone Buffalo traffic jam. Moose loves cows for some reason (I found her on the side of the highway in a blizzard and she smelled like a cow. No one claimed her and I found out from a vet tech at the clinic on her rabies tag her owners moved and left her, so we kept her). So Moose saw the buffalo and started whining. The lead buffalo was not happy about that and began snorting and stomping. We quickly closed up all the windows and he was OK. Still, Moose could have gotten us in trouble. Something to keep in mind while hiking!

Head buffalo snorting

Head buffalo snorting

 

 

Yellowstone Coyotes

This is a post about a coyote we saw in Yellowstone last fall. I originally posted part of this on my photography blog (that I don’t update very much) here. Anyway, on to the coyote and some wolf info in Yellowstone.

We were driving into the park and saw some elk. A ways in, near some hot springs we saw a bunch of cars stopped. We pulled over to a turn off where everyone else was watching a grazing buffalo and noticed this little guy in a field near our car:

Coyote in Yellowstone

We had our husky mix, Kailie, with us on the trip (who, incidentally, does look like a white coyote. A large white coyote. Because Kailie could easily be mistaken for a wold OR coyote, she gets a red vest or her red backpack on her while hiking in areas where coyote hunting is allowed) Don’t EVEN get me started on that poor malamute that got shot in Montana while WITH his owner and 2 other dogs. RIP Little Dave.

Anyway,  his is our Kailie in Utah (at Golden Spike National Monument, no hunting there) this past January, looking rather majestic:

Looking more like an Iditarod dog than coyote here...

As soon as Kai caught scent (and sight) of that coyote she started howling. As in we had to ask our friends in the car if it was her or the coyote making the noise. They assured us it was coming from the back hatch of our Element (which is an awesome travel vehicle by the way!)

Despite Kailie’s attempts at friendship or whatever she wanted, the coyote ignored her and proceeded to hunt. While we watched he caught at least 3 mice in quick succession.

Yellowstone Coyote HuntingI never realized before that the coyotes I’m used to, eastern coyotes (at least as far east as Michigan) are much larger than western coyotes. I read that this is because eastern coyotes interbred with Canadian wolves and developed a larger subspecies. In fact most coyotes in Ontario (close to where we lived in Michigan) have been found to be hybrids with wolves genetically. The coyotes I saw in Michigan were roughly the size of our Kailie, about 40-50 lbs. The western ones I saw in Montana were much smaller, probably 30 lbs and looked more fox-like. Coyotes do not interbreed with foxes as they do with wolves and even domestic dogs and will actually kill foxes as they occupy the same ecological niche.

Coyote in Yellowstone

He was really interesting to watch, and looked gorgeous in the afternoon sun. He put on a great show of hunting, so much more interesting than watching a buffalo graze. We did see his bigger, shier cousin later that evening. I apologize for the picture, this guy was SO spooky.

wolf in Yellowstone

We turned a corner near Yellowstone Lake and there he was. He looked at us for less than a minute then disappeared in the woods. I was hoping to see a wolf in Yellowstone, and after 2 disappointing evenings scoping out the Lamar Valley (where there are several active wolf packs) I was beginning to think it wasn’t going to happen. But, then, this wolf appeared when we weren’t looking! I believe he was a juvenile. I wasn’t actually sure he was a wolf, but we showed the picture to a ranger who confirmed. He was quite a bit bigger than the coyote we saw. We did hear several wolf and coyote packs at night in the mountains near our cabin outside West Yellowstone. An amazing sound for certain.

We did also see, later in the week, a wolf hunting elk. We spotted 2 elk herds running in circles and making horrible noises. They circled the juveniles and protected them at the center of the herd. 2 male elk then gathered at a tree line (it was rutting season and they weren’t sparring so we knew something serious was going on) and we saw, briefly, what appeared to be a large black canine circling them. These were large, probably at least 12-point male elk. The wolf (I am assuming here) was in and out of the tree line so he was hard to see. It was dusk and our binoculars didn’t help to see much. After about 20 minutes or so the males rejoined their herds and wandered off so I think the wolf gave up. This did happen in the Lamar Valley which is THE place to see wolves in Yellowstone. It was also near where we saw 3 grizzly bears (more info coming in a later post!)

Here is some info from the NPS on the Yellowstone wolf packs: http://www.nps.gov/yell/naturescience/wolves.htm. Our sighting was near the area of Mollie’s pack. Sadly, this winter I heard an alpha female was killed outside the park, the ’06 Female.  I don’t understand myself why people hunt apex predators to the extent they do. OK, hunt an elk and use its meat so it didn’t die in vain. Kill a wolf, you get a pelt? What’s the point?

Mailbox Peak Hike

More snow

More snow

So let me start the story with the following; the hike was a 6.4 mile roundtrip with a 4200’ elevation gain, no I didn’t die, yes my legs almost fell off, and the recovery time was three days. Warning: all pictures were taken by my friend with a cell phone so they

 

We were planning a trip to Seattle to visit some friends of ours and the husband and I were planning a one day hike. Two days before we arrived, we were discussing options and he mentioned that he had two options; both were about a 6 mile round trip but one was a lot harder than the other. Naturally, I requested the harder of the two since I love a good death march. We were going to climb Mailbox Peak.

There’s a bit of background that’s important here. My friend Adam is in training to climb Mt Ranier this summer (He’s raising money for the National Park. Go here to donate and here to pick up a t-shirt or sticker) and is in fantastic shape. To quote Archer, “Someone get some duct tape, because this guy is ripped!” I should also add that I happen to be a tubby guy (round is a shape!) and I may have been suffering from delusions of grandeur. On the drive out for the hike he mentioned that he was excited that I’d chosen to climb Mailbox Peak since it’s considered the best hike to train for Mt. Rainer because of how steep it is. That should have been more foreboding than it was but all that occurred to me was that Mt. Rainier must be an easy 14000’ mountain to climb. We stopped at a grocery store for supplies (sunflower seeds and granola bars for me, Ramen for Adam) and then finished the drive to the parking area at the base of the trail. We shouldered our packs in the 41 degree rain (hey I did say it was the Pacific Northwest, right?) and headed up the trail.

Things started off easily enough. There was a constant but modest incline and a lovely stream that we were following. The buds on the vines and trees were just starting to open up and the waterproofing spray I’d applied to my jacket was doing its job. That was the first ten minutes. After that, the trail got narrower and steeper. The rain wasn’t too heavy so footing was good and the trail was well graded so the slope was constant. After 40 (hard) minutes of hiking, we took a quick break to eat a granola bar and check our progress on Adam’s trekking app. The report was 0.8 miles. The general consensus was that the app must be broken. As hard as we were working, there’s no way we’d only been averaging 1 mile per hour. More confident in our ability than our equipment, we continued.

Trees

Such trees. Wow.

 

After that, the trail steepend. We kept running across places where erosion had created big steps where tree roots had stabilized the soil above but not below them. The bright side to these steps was that my quads started to burn from the frequent, irregular, two foot high steps instead of just my hamstrings burning from the slope. 20 minutes later it was time for another food and water stop. Another check of the app reported that we’d only covered another 0.4 miles. We *knew* that the app had to be misreporting things at that point.

 

It was at this point the hike started to get harder. Those tree steps became almost constant. The places between those tree root steps turned to soupy mud. How mud stayed attached to a 45 degree slope is beyond me. The trail also became less distinct. Fallen trees had trapped some of the mud from sliding down the hill and covered the trail. We meandered around a bit randomly (well the left and right were a bit random but we kept heading up) while looking for the white blazes that marked the trail. We’d site one and head over towards it. Sometimes we’d pick up the trail for a little while and sometimes we wouldn’t. The one constant is that we never went downhill, not even for one step. The trail just kept going up. There some sections that only had a slight upslope. When I hit them, it felt like I was floating it was such a relief.

 

After a while, I noticed that the blazes had little messages written on them. I only remember a few of them. About halfway up, one read “This is a no quit zone” and then about two blazes later, one read “The Flying Spaghetti Monster Believes in You!” With the Flying Spaghetti Monster on my side, I knew I could make it!

A note of encouragement?

A note of encouragement?

Then it started to snow. The flakes were big, fluffy, wet, and numerous. And they were sticking. As we climbed, the snow started to blanket everything off the ground in a lovely layer of white and we started to encounter patches of packed snow/ice on the trail. We saw some smart hikers going up and down who had thought to bring yak-tracks so they could actually walk up the slick surface rather than flailing wildly and clawing your way up the slope. My jealousy knew no bounds.

...and so it begins.

…and so it begins.

Rain, sleet, snow...

Rain, sleet, snow…

Luckily (sort of) after 15 minutes or so of struggle, the falling snow got deep enough that the icy layer stopped being a problem since we were slogging through 6 inches of snow instead. When there would be a break in the trees, we were able to confirm that the wind was howling and there wouldn’t be a view from the top.

Best view we're going to get...

Best view we’re going to get…

The trail continued relentlessly until a big change finally happened. We came out of the trees and into the boulder field that was mentioned on the hike review I’d read before we left the house. That meant that we were near the top (good) but that we were also leaving the shelter of the trees and stepping out into that wind (bad).

Lovely.

Lovely.

And it thickens!

And it thickens!

Up the boulders we went. The combination of snow and wind prevented us from seeing much the trail so we couldn’t judge how far we were from the top but we were constantly sure that we were almost there. The snow was so heavy that I has to frequently clean my hat off because of the build up.

It's how much further?

It’s how much further?

A few hardy souls passed on the way down but there didn’t seem to be anyone behind us (at least no one else who was in good shape and moving fast). We even saw a couple of pooches heading down. The first couple looked relieved to be heading how but there was one hardy dog who looked ready for more.

Cute little guy!

Cute little guy!

Finally, after 3.5 hours of struggle, we sighted the peak and headed up to the top. The snow was up to knee deep in places and it was clear that winter hadn’t left the mountain yet.

The summit

The summit mailbox

Summit

Adam added our names to the record book (I was too tired to write) and we turned and headed down the mountain again. I know that most of the time heading back down a hill is way easier than faster than climbing it but in the case, I think it was harder for me going down than going up. I tried to always keep my knees bent to avoid the impact of descending on my knees and my legs were quickly protesting. On top of that, without the work of climbing, the wind quickly numbed my hands and ears so I stumbled as quickly as I could to get back down to the tree line and out of the wind. That took about 30 minutes….

The trees shielded us but it took a long time to warm up as we slipped and slid back down the snow-covered slopes. I kept having to grab onto the ice covered tree trunks and prop myself up on the snow covered ground. Those are really cold when you don’t have gloves!

It kept warming up as we descended and the air got noticeably thicker and dropped below the snow line after a little while. We found a spot next to the trail that was sheltered from the still falling snow and Adam whipped up a batch of Ramen while I munched on sunflower seeds. It felt good to hold that cup of near boiling water in my hands and I finally warmed up a bit. Adam dumped the water he’d been carrying as ballast (he’s serious about training for his Mt. Rainier climb) and we resumed our hike. We left the snow behind and went back to enjoying the rain and the mud.

After a while (maybe 45 minutes) we were passed by someone heading up the mountain even less prepared for the weather than I was. It was an Asian girl shorting calf a light jacket, calf length yoga pants, and mesh running shoes with no socks. I shook my head and mentally wished her good luck and kept trudging.

By now I was really hurting. The muscles/tendons connecting my knee caps to my shins were on fire. Stopping to rest didn’t really help since they would start twitching and I would almost fall over. I was able to walk but it HURT! I kept my legs moving as best I could and we kept going. Eventually those muscles went numb (which was an improvement sort of) and mostly stopped responding to my requests. My legs just kind of flopped around and gravity pulled my feet down the hill but at least I was able to keep walking. I told Adam that if my legs fell off he was welcome to roll me the rest of the way down the hill.

It was about that time that we started to hear a stream. That meant we were starting to get close to the bottom. To celebrate, we stopped for some water and a granola bar. That was when the unthinkable happened. The girl who I was worried would get frostbite an hour before came into view above us. She wasn’t just walking faster than us, she was running; actually running down the trail. We watched as she came down the switchbacks above us, passed us, and continued down the trail, around the switch backs, and disappear out of sight. I can’t remember the last time I felt so unmanly. Adam consoled me by telling me she probably hadn’t gone to the top (and considering her outfit he was probably right) but it wasn’t especially helpful at the time.

We resumed our march as the stream got louder and louder until we could see it again. It came into view as a lovely little waterfall and was a sign that we were down to 30 minutes of hiking. The trail started to level out a bit and the going started to get easier.

The rest of the hike was pretty boring so I’ll spare you the details. We made our way back to the car and headed back to Adam’s out. The wife and I made bacon, prosciutto pizza for the group and I introduced Adam (a big peanut butter fan) to the joys of cookie butter. The next day we went to the REI flagship store and I got lots of confused looks as I staggered up and down the stairs like a 100 years old man. Once I explained that I had climbed Mailbox Peak the day before, a wave of understanding washed over the faces of all of the people I talked to.

Anyway, the hike was fantastic and I highly recommend it if you’re into death marches especially when you can see the view from the top (I’m told it’s nice). I might even climb it again the next time I’m in Seattle. Don’t forget to support Mt. Rainier and the National Park and grab a t-shirt or some stickers by going here!