Saturday, November 12, 2011

October on the Mountain

October has been about Mt. Adams for our family. With the backpacking season appearing to wind down, our attention turned to the mountain we see everyday. We live 45 minutes from the climber's route up to the summit and have been dotting our map with GPS points taken all over the mountain. The photos in this post are from all three different trips up.

You have a 2 mile hike in (from 4,500 feet to 6,000) and then the trail disappears.

You are on your own up the next 3.8 miles and 6,276 feet. At 12,276 feet, Mt. Adams is the second highest peak in Washington.

This has been quite the month for me. I have attempted to write about it numerous times but, as always when things become emotionally vulnerable, I've been unable to get it all out in any coherent fashion. Normally the thoughts are all penned up in my head while I mull over them. Lately, this hasn't worked quite as well. Rather than feeling out of it while my brain sorts through all that troubling emotional baggage, I've been sorting through it all full frontal and messily. Perhaps it is progress, but I preferred being a bit more emotionally detached.

I like thinking out on the mountain. Everything seems calmer and much more simple. If you click on the image to enlarge it, you will see Mt. Hood in the background.

In short, sometimes you just have to climb a mountain. There just isn't another option. You recognize you are at a point in your life where the commitment level requires you to be all in - regardless of inclement weather, odds, previous tragedy, and difficulty. You plan ahead, pack carefully, and then throw yourself at it with all you've got.

Get out your crampon's people; let's get serious!

I've found tackling emotional conflict works best when you tackle physical conflict as well. You can leave yourself all out there and come back to your regular life feeling much more refreshed.

Look at that cute little alpine terrorist! The kid did great. No altitude sickness. No whining. Just wanted to pound more mountain.

The first two times we went up the mountain we did it in sneakers. Crampons are something we did not wish for the Barracuda to wear until he was older. They are just too darn dangerous. We wanted him to be able to read the snow, to know how to chop steps, to understand the mountain intimately before using technology as a quick fix. He's been learning French and American style climbing for the last two years, and has done much work with his ice ax, but front spikes can permanently destroy your ability to walk if misused. If you step wrong you can slice your Achilles tendon, if they catch when are self arresting you can rip your ankle/leg clean the wrong direction. I didn't want to risk that.

The wind whips though and blows the moisture against the exposed rocks. It is so cold the moisture freezes on contact. Even in full sun, the ground and rocks don't melt free. The extreme contrast of the snow and rocks, the sparkling ice, the color of a sky at 11,000 feet.... Ansel Adams would have had a field day up here.

However, like most everything else in our lives, The Barracuda had other ideas. When you get up to 10,000 feet the first false summit (Piker's Peak) becomes coated in solid ice. If the kid wants to really climb 14'ers that means he is going to have to have crampons. So, with complete abject terror, we ordered him a pair on eBay. Three sets of 12 point, front spike, mountaineering crampons now grace our walls (yes, we hang our gear up on the walls). He did fine, but I'm going to have to upgrade the child's gaiters - at this point he needs Hypalon and Cordura.

The Barracuda isn't levitating, he is walking on 3 inches of solid ice. Though treacherous, the entire world glistens with an ethereal quality you can only get at extreme altitude. It is worth the risk if he gets to see these things. How can you adequately understand global warming if you have never seen what you are destroying?

Training on Mt. Adams was great mental work for me, but was even more important as training. If we are going to tackle the Sierra Nevada mountains in what is apparently planned to be quite the snow year, we better have our groundwork wired tight. There were multiple times of flinging the kid down a slope for self arrest. You have to practice from multiple different angles and places. If you roll wrong, you can impale yourself on the ice axe or hit yourself in the face with the adze. It is better than dying, but not the preferable option.

Chopping through fresh snow is quite the adventurous feeling. However, it is exhausting. Jules and I took turns working out way up the mountain.

There were also steps to practice chopping. When you don't use crampons, you have to chop steps in the ice, balance up, chop another, take a step, lean forward and chop another, etc. It is slow going, but it gives you a severe appreciation for elevation. Since we won't be taking any crampons through the Sierras this was an incredibly important part of the whole adventure.

Weeee! Even Jules and I glissade as much as possible on the way down. Glissading means that going up the mountain takes a good 8 hours, but coming down takes a little more than one.

But the best part, as far as The Barracuda is concerned, was the glissade down. A glissade is a controlled slide down some serious elevation. He has been practicing glissading while standing up to control his balance. He now got to apply that knowledge to a full on glissade sitting down using his ice axe. The point of the ax is driven into the snow to control your direction and speed as you slide down on your butt a few thousand feet in elevation. It's a serious rush. Think sledding times a thousand.

Coming from Georgia, there just aren't mountains like this within an hour of home. It wasn't the reason he agreed to move way out here in the sticks, but it is pretty darn rad.

The best part as far as Jules is concerned, is just being up on the mountain. Being able to expose The Barracuda to real mountains and scaling the earth is quite a nice perk to this whole parenting thing. It is very obvious that The Barracuda sees this as major guy time. I will often hang back and let the two of them walk off together talking about one testosterone filled idea after another.

We have really enjoyed learning the contours, ridgelines, and various snowfields of our closest mountain. Since we look at him everyday, rely on him for our heat, and watch him control our weather patterns, it is kind of nice to have a more intimate connection. Behind the snow smudge is Mt. Hood.

I'm just glad to get my head on straight. Though both Jules and I dropping 20 pounds has been a nice addition. We're both back to pre-college weight and remembering what it is like to be at the bottom of the body-mass-index.

I don't know of many other ways to take yourself completely out of the normal world, yet sleep in your own bed at the end of the evening.

We are up at 4 am and hiking in in the dark. We come home as the sunsets and the snow is turning pink. By the time we get to our car it is dark again, much like when we came. The days are long and full, but very well worth it. We see incredible things, experience great feats, and practice valuable skills together.

After all, isn't that the point of this whole family thing?

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Homeschool Curriculum 2011-2012

Outside of "How do you live in only 380 square feet in the middle of nowhere?" the top three things I am most asked about are backpacking, canning, and how we homeschool. Though we talk quite a bit about the backpacking and canning, very little has been covered on our homeschooling. So, this year I thought I'd hit it a little harder than before. By the third year, we are starting to have a pretty good thing going and I feel comfortable enough to talk about it.
The Stats
The Barracuda is 7 years old and technically enrolled in second grade. For many of his subjects he is enrolled in 4th grade having completed/tested above the second grade standards. He is an incredibly intense student and we have learned not to restrain this, but to provide it knowledge as best we can. When restrained, he gets bored, naughty and generally becomes a butthead. Either that, or he decides to learn it for himself and some conclusions are a bit strange. (Did you know that Islamic berqas make it so that women can't see? I didn't realize this, but after some discussion I quickly clarified that berqas are meant for women to not be seen instead of being blind.)

Due to his intensity, some of this might look a little hardcore for his age. The topics are of his own choosing and he continually expresses what is working and what isn't. For the most part, if it isn't working we change it or drop it. Throughout this post I use the term "we" to mean us as a family and most specifically The Barracuda and I. Since we are in this together, we are learning together as well. Homeschooling is a family endeavor, there are just no two ways about it.

We would be considered structured unschoolers, in that The Barracuda gets to make a good 85-90% of his own learning choices, time commitments, and school structure. Due to his perfectionism, and the lack of personal knowledge he has some places where we insist he broaden his horizons (examples include, guiding him away from singular projects he is fixating on in unhealthy ways for weeks and weeks at a time, providing academic reading lists or books, requiring him to write even though it was difficult for him initially).

By October, most of the sand has been shaken out of our curriculum choices and we have found the rhythm of what is going to work. Like many homeschooling families, that which looks great on paper in August, doesn't necessarily turn out the same a couple months in. By now, we have a focal point in all our studies and a general backbone of where we are headed.

Curriculum for 2011-2012

Reading: The current goal of reading in our family (beyond just enjoyment and fluency) is to develop conversations in multiple forums about books. The Barracuda therefore will not only write his thoughts about books in report fashion, but also have discussions with adults and peers about different aspects of literature.
Personal Reading: Harry Potter series with book reports for each completed book. He will often choose fluff reading books here and there that he can just pound out like candy when he wants them.

Group Reading:
Going through the Top 100 Classic Books Novels list (the list gets reviewed every 10 years or so and you can find out more about where it came from here). These books are read by both The Barracuda and myself and we do Socratic discussion as a family.

Peer Reading:
Our homeschool group has a Literature Circle. A children's novel (Ms. Piggly-Wiggly, A Cricket in Time Square, etc.) is read independently, the kids discuss their thoughts about it in a Socratic seminar, and a project is completed about some facet of the book.

Writing: The major focus of this year's writing is to create cohesive essays which are constructed and revised with purpose. A focus on not only conventions, but cohesion and organization of ideas is the major goal.
Copywork: The Barracuda does regular copywork as he is trying to learn cursive writing something fierce. He picks a book of his choosing (right now The Arabian Nights), grabs a passage, and writes for a while.

Daily Paragraph Editing: The boy loves this stuff!

Essays: The Barracuda also completes shorter (only 5-8 paragraphs) essays on various topics he has learned about in science, history, or math. The focus is on thesis writing and clear exposition.
Social Studies: We do not do revisionist history or watered down current events in our household. We talk about smallpox blankets, not Pilgrims and Indians sitting down to eat turkey. My son listens to NPR, The Daily Show, and the Colbert Report with us and we answer his questions honestly. Sometimes it gets turned down a bit when talking about raping small children or equally graphic issues, since the point is to make him aware not scar him.
United States History:
We are doing American Literature and literary periods as they correspond with historical events. We try to read first hand accounts of literature (On Plymouth Plantation, The Declaration of Independence, Nature by Emerson, Civil Disobedience, etc) and discuss their common threads to create a cultural understanding of the time period. We mainly use "Elements of Literature: Fifth Course" (Holt, Rinehart, and Wilson). This is supplemented with Joy Hakim's "Freedom: The Story of U.S." and "Creating America: Beginnings through World War 1 Online Addition" (McDougal Littell) for maps, charts, graphs and pictures.

Geography: The Barracuda has decided he wants to learn the countries of the world as well as the mountain ranges, rivers, and other physical geography. This is taking the place of our world history for this year. We found this foundation to be essential since most of the books we have read are either ridiculously watered down, very stereotypical, or already assume you have a general idea of the regions geography. We are using "World Reference Maps and Forms" (Evan Moor) along with the great computer games at Play Kids Games (scroll down for the Geography games).

Local and Regional History:
The Pacific Crest Trail hike we are planning has become the largest source of our local history, geography, and social studies. The Pacific Crest Trail: A Hikers Companion by Berger & Smith is quite wonderful.

Civics: 7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens and discussing how to implement the strategies in our lives.
Science: The goal of science in our household is for The Barracuda to understand the interconnected nature of everything around him. From his body to biodiversity and sustainable practices, we try to foster the idea that you must think about the minute details as well as the big picture.
Physical Science: Beakman's World is the jumping off point for many of The Barracuda's science questions. He is then allowed free reign on the Internet to Google topics and discuss what he finds. We also use Thames and Cosmos Physics and Solar Physics Workshops, build catapults and ancient weapons, and are a voluntary simplicity household which uses many simple and compound machines.

Earth Science: We hike and we hike and we hike. Most earth science is done through active discussion and participation. The Barracuda also keeps a Nature Journal where he draws, catalogs, and identifies most everything he sees (rocks, birds, bugs, fungus, plants, you name it).

Life Science: This is probably the most multimedia approach we have to any subject.
Puzzles: Melissa & Doug Human Body Floor Puzzle
Songs: Lyrical Life Science volumes 1, 2, 3 by Doug Eldon
Movies: Thank you NetFlix!
Books: The Incredible Machine by Robert M. Poole , Atlas of Anatomy by Anne M. Gilroy, Human Anatomy and Physiology by Spence and Mason (3rd Edition)
Art:The only time The Barracuda has ever asked to go to public school was to be able to have art class. I wasn't taking his desire for art seriously enough. So now we study a period of art, learn the historical/cultural significance, recreate great masterpieces from the period, and study the artist's technique and their lives.

He is a perfectionist and many of the paintings take him 6 or more weeks to complete. This is one area we have to "talk him down" from being neurotic and gently guide him forward. As far as he is concerned, Van Gogh's "Starry Night" is not completed yet and the city needs greater detail.
Materials: Acrylic Paints, PrismaColor Pencils
Books: Gardner's Art Through The Ages along with the book companion website
Time Period:
Currently Post Impressionists.

Math: Most of our math is discussion based. We incorporate our daily activities into mathematical practice. This year the focus is on multiplication, division, fractions and decimals. Currently The Barracuda is working with least common denominators and conversion of fractions to decimals. I expect wrapping his brain completely around this concept (not just being able to do it) will take most of the rest of the year.
Drill and Kill Practice: Math Connection 4th and 5th Grade (Rainbow Bridge Publishing)
Enrichment: The Barracuda picks these things all by himself. The only time we put a halt on enrichment activities is if they will actively complicate other things he has already desired to learn. He would like to begin both Latin and Mandrin, but he has to learn Spanish first. He cannot start the formal dance academy since we will be leaving to hike the PCT in April. By next year we will begin both dance and Latin.
Spanish: Rosetta Stone and Dos Mundos (McGraw-Hill)
PE: Rock Climbing/Mountaineering and PCT Training
Music: Absolute Beginners Guitar Course
Sunglasses are essential for being a rock star and for learning guitar.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Artist At Work

So, what do we do without television? We paint! The Barracuda recreates great masterpieces and learns a lot about the time period, technique, and the artist themselves.

It is quite fascinating to watch a work of art slowly appear. The Barracuda's perfectionism and attention to detail can come out full force. Even if some paintings take him 6 weeks or more, he is always very proud of himself by the end.

Monday, October 10, 2011

The Big Loop around The Three Sisters

There are a few versions of this loop depending on where you enter and which side trails you follow. It is all essentially the same, depending only on where you want to shave miles off as an ultra-runner and where you want to get your water. We parked at McKenzie Pass, followed the PCT the entire way down and then Green Lakes back up to Scott's Pass. If the LeConte Crater Trail still exists, we missed it completely, and that put us at 57 miles exactly. A 43.7 mile version is available here. Be aware that the Volcano Running itinerary uses a different entry point with a smaller parking lot.

When we returned home from the Loowit, school was officially starting. Due to Jules being a public school teacher, our homeschooling follows much of the same schedule. We don't really do holidays or anything, but we generally get a bit more lax in the summer and then pick up more standard work stuff around September. We figured we'd give a couple of weeks to finding school again before we took off on another hiking trip.

The third weekend in September seemed good. It was enough time given to schoolish pursuits for it to seem like we kinda cared, but not so long that the season had ended. Jules took off Friday, and we picked him up Thursday after school to make the long drive down to central Oregon.

The Three Sisters Wilderness is the second largest wilderness area in Oregon and is flanked on three sides by other National Forests. It allows for one rather giant expanse of "middle of nowhere" feeling. With the largest concentration of 10,000+ foot peaks in the entire Cascade Range, the Three Sisters Wilderness sports the only three triple peaks in the nation. They are also the third, forth, and fifth highest peaks in Oregon. The North Sister (Faith) is the oldest of the three and also the smallest. She is an extinct shield volcano held together only by a system of lava dikes and a large plug dome. There is no hope of The Barracuda ever summiting her as she is quite derelict. The Middle Sister (Hope), however, has an untrailed "Climber's Route." Though not exactly a walk-up, it looks like a good one for our Summer of Summiting in the future. Being an extinct stratovolcano she is quite solid and doesn't appear to be going anywhere, anytime soon. The South and final Sister (Charity) has a well established trail to the summit. It is brutal, but a walk up day hike. It was hard for The Barracuda to walk past the trail marker leading to the South Summit, but we had miles to go before we slept and it wasn't going to happen this year. She is a stratovolcano perched on top of an old shield volcano. Though this made her interesting for geological geeks, it wasn't until 2001 that people really took notice of this peak. In 2001, the South Sister began to awaken. By 2004 earthquakes were appearing and vulcanologists were getting excited. In 2007 things began to cool down, but her status has been upgraded to "Active" and eruptions might occur within the next 10 years. This knowledge made the hike even more exciting. The Barracuda versus the Volcano has become a rather interesting thought for our son.

Day 1 - McKenzie Pass to Linton Meadows - 15.2 miles

The North Sister and the smallest bit of the Middle Sister call you forward in the distance when you start at McKenzie Pass. The South Sister is still too far away to see. The weather was incredible all but the last day, and by that time, the rains were a welcome change.

We have never had a whining child. Even as an infant, he didn't whine or cry much. When hiking he has always been happy and ready to go. Imagine our surprise when less than 5 miles in, on level terrain, the child breaks down in tears exclaiming he cannot go on. I mean, complete freak out. We discussed it, he calmed himself down, continued less than 20 yards and more break downs. He said he wanted to quit, we turned around, less than 20 yards and he wanted to continue. To use the word "agitated" would not adequately describe the level of frustration Jules and I were feeling. On the last, "I can do it" it was decided that hell or high water the boy was going to walk. So we walked.

Thankfully, by the middle of the first day he had rallied and we pulled out 15.1 miles. Not what we were hoping for, but it didn't put us too far behind. (Shortly later he began to sniffle a bit. Ever since he has been on the edge of a possible cold whenever he gets tired. We think this might have had something to do with it.)

The alpine meadows in the Three Sisters are home to some of the worst bugs on the entire PCT. However, if you go after August, there aren't any. We found the meadows some of the greatest and most beautiful we had seen.

Living amongst the Cascade Range you see mountains all the time. In fact, fellow homeschool moms and I have often laughed at real estate agents calling something a "view lot." Around here you are either looking at a river or a mountain from some angle on your property. Everything is a view lot. However, the mountains in the Three Sisters are different. They have been formed lower on the tectonic plates than our mountains. This means they are in the middle between the granite peaks of the High Sierra and the composite volcanoes of our Northern Cascades. The granite substructure still exists, but the upper layers of more mailable volcanic rock are exposed. When the last Ice Ages came though, the entire state of Oregon was covered in glaciers. These glaciers ground away the upper structures of the softer volcanic material. What is left, are the crumbling remains of once giant volcanoes. Rather than the basalt we are used to, the ground is covered in red, porous extrusive volcanic rock which blew out of the last eruptions from the area. Acres and acres and acres of it. Every once in a while there will be a small, scraggly, misguided tree trying to eek out existence, but not much. Unlike the small, soft pumice we walked along at Mt. St. Helens, this rock is jagged, hard, and dense. It has the tell-tale bubbles of most lava rock, and is just as annoying to walk on, but adds a much more severe quality to the landscape. Rather than stark, the area looks brutal. Think Mordor from The Lord of the Rings.

Lava rock, lava rock and more lava rock. After the first mile and a half a trail emerges, but for much of the first day we were either walking over, or surrounded by lava rock. Here The Barracuda is descending down Yopoah Crater and the subsequent lava flows surrounding it. The lava rock really works the lateral muscles of the feet on all the uneven terrain. It cuts into your shoes, your pants, your skin and anything else it happens to scrape against.

These lava rocks were created from the flows of the North Sister's lava dikes. They protrude out the front end of the mountain to hold it together. By mid-day we began to pass the North Sister and into the saddle-like structure of her Middle Sister. Here the shield volcano status of the North Sister really shows through. The Obsidian Cliffs were a highlight of this trip. The trail is not only littered with obsidian rocks, but huge boulders of it make cliffs which shine in the sun. The rocks were everywhere. Their beauty was both stunning and dramatic with how prolific it was. Conversations quickly turned between geology and the native practices which valued the rock so much.

Day 2: Linton Meadows to Red Meadow - 24.7 miles

When the sun shot out and over the Middle Sister in the wee morning hours and illuminated the meadow in front of me, I was reminded of why we pack up before the sun and start hiking when it is still freezing outside. The beauty of moments like this is why we backpack.

We were moving by 6:30 and got to watch the sun rise over the mountains. I much prefer sleeping in places of exposure to watch the sun come up. At this point, when both Jules and I are there, we have figured out our morning packing up routine. Everything in our backpacks has only one place in the tent. Each person unpacking the tent has only one role. It all moves with a level of precision which allows us about 20 to 30 minutes from waking up to dressed, packed and moving. For someone like me who hates surprises this is a soothing and quite enjoyable experience. The Barracuda knows exactly what to expect as well, and this has greatly helped with the process. He knows his jobs, he knows the expectations, and there needs only minimal instruction. It gets the day off to a good start.

We filled up water at Reese Lake and began moving briskly to beat out the morning chill (another added benefit of an early start). It wasn't too long before we left the Middle Sister completely and began once again seeing evidence of obsidian. The South Sister is an old shield volcano, with a stratovolcano perched on top. Now the obsidian was in giant rubble style piles. Huge moraine mounds of obsidian followed us down from the meadows of the Middle Sister to the barren plains of the South Sister.

At this point we were supposed to take a short-cut side trail called the LeConte Crater Trail. It runs between the various rock outcroppings, craters, and mountains in this barren stretch. We completely missed it. If it exists, it cannot be signed well or marked as far as we are concerned. The trail stretches out for miles in front of you and no side trail could be seen.

The obsidian was a highlight of this trip. The entire pile of rock on the left side of this picture is made of obsidian - huge boulders of it. The trail is littered with obsidian. It is everywhere. The Obsidian Cliffs of the day before were not piles of rubble such as these, they were sheer walled towers. Talk about a geology lesson. The entire family was entranced with the beauty of this rare place.

The first trail sign we came to was Wickiup Plains. Normally the whimsy of this bent sign post sporting three or four different trail markers all heading in different directions would have produced a fond smile from me. It looked very much so like something out of a cartoon desert scene. However, in this instance it meant an added 4.4 miles to an already long day. The plan was to do 2 twenty mile days and a leisurely walk out the third to drive home. With the bizarre, stunted behavior of The Barracuda on the first day, and now this, that just wasn't looking like it was going to happen. It was a bummer coupled with a shocking surprise for me. My stress level shot up a bit. I wasn't a happy camper, but what are you going to do? You just have to keep walking.

By the time we rounded the South Sister and headed up the backside of the mountains we had begun to see day hikers and weekend warriors again. The eastern side of the Three Sisters is where most of the action is at. With both the South Climb walk up summit and the Green Lakes area, this is the most heavily populated of region. Before this, we had only seen dirty PCT hikers trying to pull out their throughs before the season closed in. Though The Barracuda greatly enjoyed these encounters, they were only a handful. Most of the pack had moved through the area and we were only getting the tail end. The Green Lakes area was a highway compared to the rocky, barren west side.

When we rounded Green Lakes the warm rain began to fall and the storm moved in. Though we were getting wet, the scene was enough to keep us happy. The rain pelted the water, the sun still cut through the storm and played up the colors on the shore. All the while, the backside of the Middle Sister looked on.

Spirits were lifting as we hit Green Lakes. We were obviously making good progress, regardless of the detour. The weather was looking a little treacherous, but we had managed to out hike the storm this far which added to our feelings of accomplishment. When the rains began to fall in sprinkles they were warm and we just kept pushing on. If it had to rain, it was a beautiful place to do it.

We were well past Green Lakes when the storm finally cracked above us. With thunder claps and pouring rain showers, we dawned jackets a laughed at our now familiar mantra of wet hiking, "At least it isn't New Mexico!" It all passed quickly enough and within a little over an hour we were dry again. By now we were meeting back up with a couple of people we had seen from the other side. One older gentlemen startled us with the comment, "You guys have come a long way." It took us a minute to place him before we responded with the same. He had been doing the same hike from the opposite direction. His starting place was south and clockwise, we were north and counter-clockwise. We shared trail conditions, water, and good tidings before pressing on. Much like the PCT hikers we saw the day before, this encounter raised The Barracuda's confidence a bit. He greatly enjoys seeing others who hike like we do.

By the time we were ready to find a campsite the day had been long and tiring. Though we had eaten lunch, our normal snacks weren't munched upon with the rains. The tent was pitched and food made as I went into sugar shock. I hate sugar shock. It sneaks up on me and really throws me for a loop. The Barracuda's blood sugar sensitivity comes from me and my side of the family. Jules forced food into me (almost literally since your body begins to feel extreme nausea and gag) and I sucked on extremely concentrated Gatorade before going to sleep. By morning all was well, but it worries Jules every time.

No mileage had been added up since we were slightly worried what the result might be for the last day. Jules had to make it to work the next morning regardless so it didn't really matter. It was only after coming home that we realized The Barracuda had reached another milestone. It was nearly a 25 mile day.

Day 3 - Red Meadow to McKenzie Pass - 17.2 miles

The trail was so very different from the backside of the North Sister. Gone was all the lava rock and open meadows. It was replaced by glacial sand and scrubby evergreens nearly the entire rest of the way.

Somewhere around day 2 or 3 the food conversation begins. This is about the time Jules and The Barracuda start in on what they want to eat. These discussions torture me even though I am often dragged into them. Why on earth do I want to think about the tastiest thing I could imagine when I can't eat it right now?! That just seems brutal. However, they love it. Discussions usually go something like this:

Jules: "You know what sounds really good? Taco Del Mar with a mocha and some Thai food."

The Barracuda: "You know what sounds really good? Dairy Queen blizzard with a side of steak and some pizza! We should go to Izzys!"

Jules: "Oh, you know what sounds so good? Los Reyos and some sushi!"

The Barracuda: "CHICK-FIL-A!"
By this point in time The Barracuda is practically squealing with delight. Jules is trying frantically to outdo him and they are both giddy. They begin to groan and moan in joy as if they are pleasurably eating the food right there in front of them rather than staring at miles more trail. I hike behind them thinking that many of these ideas sound really good. My mind begins to wander into territory of what I would like....a giant salad bar from Sweet Tomatoes....a really good breakfast skillet and some pancakes from the Hot Cake House or maybe a giant burger with a side of pancakes (a very hard decision even under normal circumstances)....a steaming hot bath with tea and cookies.....some Gorge Juice or maybe a Jamba Juice or maybe a peppermint latte..... It is a level of masochism that borders on psychotic. I don't know why hikers do this to themselves.

The last day of hiking a loop is often times the quickest and easiest. Somehow the terrain is never bad, the weather seems easy, and you are pressed on by the thoughts of either food or a warm car. This day had by far our worst weather. By the end of the day we were all in rain gear and cold with wind screaming by. We had moments of great weather, but nothing that would count as warm. The last few miles we were hiking to just stay warm and keep our resolve to make it to the car. It had the worst elevation. Scotts pass was 2 solid miles of unrelentingly steep uphill switchbacks. Every once in a while you would get a tenth of a mile of slight uphill only to once again tilt dramatically skyward for another long stretch. It had the most uncertainly. We didn't know what time we would be driving home, or how late we might be driving to get Jules to work the next day. There were also a couple of sections that seemed unusually long prompting Jules and I to shoot uncertain looks of "did we miss the sign?" Yet, it was by far our easiest day. We pounded out 17 miles before 3 o'clock and were hobbling into McDonald's before 4.

The whole family at McKenzie Pass just about a mile before the car. Don't let those smiles fool you, we are freezing! Guadie is sporting her backpack, and that giant, sad looking dog is Optimus. I have not formally introduced Optmius Prime yet. He is our family's 200 lb British Bull Mastiff puppy. He is still little and will probably gain another 20-50 lbs. This was his first long distance hiking endeavor so he didn't have to wear his backpack. He wasn't too sure he liked it, but he did really well.

Jules has been wanting to hike the Sisters since he lived in Georgia. It is a hike he would have flown across the United States to do and I was very glad we were able to complete it together as a family. It was a great ending to the backpacking season this year. With snow now moving in, our weekend/overnight trips might have to simmer down a bit, but there are still plenty of mountains we can summit all the way through October. Our move has pushed us to begin thinking about what is possible. We live close by and we've got gear so now all we have to do is make time!

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

The Loowit Trail around Mt. St. Helens

Mt. St. Helens was the first of our training hikes for the PCT. Two weeks after returning from the Timberline Trail, The Barracuda and I hit the road for Mt. St. Helens. With school about to start and dogs not allowed on over 10 miles of the trail, Jules stayed home with the puppies and planned curriculum.

The Loowit Trail is unique for a couple of reasons. The first one, and most obvious, is that it surrounds an active volcano. So active, in fact, that steam vents from the crater even as I write this. It is estimated that within the next 100 years the lava dome will have completely rebuilt itself.

The second reason is the restricted area. Ten point eight of the 29 mile hike is referred to as "The Breach." It is the section which blew out in 1980 and is still being studied. Absolutely no camping is allowed. No dogs, No picnicking, no restroom use. Yep, that's right, you aren't even supposed to stop and pee. it is one straight shot of solid movement. Believe it or not, it is heavily enforced with a minimum fine of $100. The area is being studied so heavily by scientists that not only were helicopters flying over, but we ran into three scientists. That is 3 more than the other 30 miles of the Loowit (counting the out and back to get to the trail) and the 50 miles of Mt. Hood combined! They are trying desperately to keep the area as "freely natural" as possible. Apparently urine doesn't count as natural.

The third, and potentially lease unique aspect of the trail is the water conservation. Due to having blown up, there is very little water on the mountain. Keep in mind that we were traveling during the late summer, and thus the driest part of the year, but even during the wetter months the water level isn't as high as it would be other places. The ash and pumice which blew out don't hold moisture, so it all runs off quite quickly. Though water could be found every 8 to 10 miles on the south (reasonably intact) side the north side was much more sparse. Only one small trickle of murky, ashen water existed. Since most all of the trail is above treeline, it means 100 percent exposure and no water sources. All that adds up to a lot of water carrying and conservation. All in all it made for both a great training hike and a pretty amazing learning opportunity.

There are many entry points to enter the Loowit, but no roads actually cross the trail. We chose to enter at Windy Pass and walk from the edge of The Breach (the blast zone) though the intact South Side and back around through the desolate, northern volcanic expanse. In my mind, this would give The Barracuda upclose contact with full magnitude of the volcanoes power. Somehow I thought he might miss the impact. Sometimes, I'm a duphus. If The Barracuda somehow missed the magnitude, I'd have to check him for a pulse. There is no way to not stand in complete, humbled speechlessness as you look to your left and see Old Growth trees and then turn to look to your right and see what looks like a desert. Then you add in that it has been over 30 years and you are just leveled in your tracks. It was pretty cool.

Day 1: Windy Pass to East Dome/Shoestring Glacier - 10 miles

The Plains of Abraham dump ash into your feet, climb relentlessly in a few places, and leave you feeling as small as an ant. They were INCREDIBLE!

The 5 mile hike in is first on an access road and then cairn hopping through what appear to be sand dunes from a distance. Only when you get closer do you realize that they ware really giant mounds of gravel-sized pumice. Pumice was quickly added to The Barracuda's list of "Things I Dislike Hiking On."

Once on the Loowit you head through the Plains of Abraham. These cliff faces and long stark landscapes of devastation were incredibly exiting for the science geek in me. Out here almost nothing can grow. Even after 30 years there isn't enough soil and water to support life. A few seeds have been brought in on the mountain bikes that frequent the area, but mainly it is a lot of tan and grey. The cliff faces that weren't shattered were blasted by sand, pumice, and hot gas to create scenes so different from the normal water/erosion look. They are slab rocks where any crags have been polished smooth.

Up until this point I's never really thought about how much trails aren't graded for small legs. My leg span is small (only 28 inches), but The Barracuda is so much tinier yet. Multiple times his rock climbing experience came into play as he slab climbed sections of extreme exposure. Trail maintenance crews were doing their best, but with erosion and not much to work with they had their hands full. What was a long leg stretch and balancing act for me, became total free soloing for The Barracuda.

We filtered and filled up water at what would prove to be our only river crossing which wasn't dry, and continued on through multiple gullies and ridgelines. As evening approached, vegetation began to come back. First Lupin, then Indian Paintbrush, and finally hill after hill of wild huckleberries. We camped in a flat-ish, open meadow and ate huckleberries till our hands were stained. they were huge and lush and couldn't be passed up.

That night the open exposure and katabatic winds beat on the tent mercilessly. The rocks piled over and around the stakes kept the guylines up, but it was the first time I can ever remember being scared of a wind storm.

Day 2: Huckleberry Hill to Sheep Canyon - 10 miles

Many of the hillsides were covered in the purple lupin flowers and dotted with red Indian Paintbrush. Though chilly and foggy, when the sun came out to shine down on them the area smelled divine.

The plan was to do a 10 mile day and two 15's. Due to some extraneous circumstances that didn't exactly happen. What did happen was a most incredible sunrise, a frigid morning, and quite an enjoyable afternoon of boulder hopping.

There literally was no trail. Cairns were held in place by boulders for mile after mile all along the rubble which and been blown out of the mountain. Every so often a bit of moss, but mainly a stark moonscape of jagged pumice. By late afternoon we were back to ridgelines and even steeper gullies. The fog burned off, the sun came down full blast, and we could see for miles. Rainer could be picked out, Adams, Hood, and faintly the Three Sisters were all visible as well. As we began to circle around the mountain the views of each would come and go, but they were all a welcome sight as we are getting so familiar with them now.

When we went to bed at the edge of Sheep Canyon a sinking feeling was building in my stomach. The actual Loowit Trail is only 29 miles, but with the added 5 miles in and out that made 40. With only 20 miles covered and the restricted area ahead of us, we had a 20 mile day we would be forced to cover. There wasn't any way out of it. The Barracuda had only done 15 mile days at that point, and with only the two of us his pack weighed 10 lbs. I honestly didn't know if he could do it. Before the trip, Jules and I had discussed points of entry and one would have required a 17 mile day. Both of us felt that was asking far too much and dooming The Barracuda to fail. Here we were faced with a 20....

Day 3: Sheep Canyon through The Breach - 20 Miles

This was the most well marked trail I have ever hiked. You were never worried you had missed something. Every where you looked were cairns. They were coming out of the pumice, out of the boulders, flagged in the gullies, everywhere.

We were up early and moving by 7 am. The Barracuda had been briefed on our status and though you could tell he was a bit scared, his stoic nature quickly took over. As long as we kept moving it would be fine. It was decided that it didn't matter how much he slowed down on the uphills of the gullies, as long as he moved as fast as he safely could on the downhills and straight-aways. One foot in front of the other.

Miles were flying for the first part of the day. We had to hike downward (our only sustained downward of the entire hike) about 2 miles to get to the Touttle River. We had heard from other hikers that this might be a doozy of a climb up the riverbank on the otherside. Manned with parachord to rope The Barracuda up I felt confident. That was, until we began to get close to the river. The Toutle River produced the largest debris landslide in recorded history when the mountain erupted. The entire riverbed is gouged out from the mud and debris flow which tore down the mountain. The view was intense. Luckily, we had just finished hiking Elliot Glacier on the Timberline. The Barracuda was highly confident.

It is time to confess that I hate getting my feet wet. I really dislike hiking in squishing shoes. More than a couple times I have completely taken my shoes and socks off, rolled up my tights, and then crossed the river. I will walk up and down a bit to see where the best place is as well. Once we found where we thought we could cross, I hopped over and then stretched dramatically to help The Barracuda. I then promptly dropped him and myself into the water. No one was hurt and it is now joked about, but it has gotten me over wet feet. They are much better than completely wet self.

I filtered our last water of the day while our clothes dried and we ate a snack. Twenty minutes late we were climbing hand over hand up the vertical slope of the Toutle Riverbank. Again, The Barracuda's previous climbing history shone through and we passed the sketchiest section. The only thing holding us back now, were the miles.

The Breach is basically an open desert-like space with a few tufts of grassy stuff here and there. The trail was constant cairn hopping, exposed dune walking, and dry gully after gully of run-off. There wasn't a better place to have tried to pull The Barracuda's first 20. Due to how well the trail has to be marked (since you are in complete desolation) the concept of millions of small goals is right in plain view. All you have to do is get to the next cairn. If you think about it as 20 miles, you are shot. The overwhelming nature of the task was too much for him. However, he could walk 1/4 mile, he could walk up switch-backed hill, and then he could find the next place to go from there.

The morning was foggy and frigid, by the end of the day the sun was in full strength and layers were shed. We couldn't down water like crazy, since there wasn't going to be any more, but we could talk as we hiked. The talking is the best park of hiking with The Barracuda. We will invent games, discuss how we feel about things, he will let me in on little insights he has been pondering. More often than not, I am completely impressed by the depth of his thoughts or the complexity of his vocabulary and knowledge. Our talking during the school day is different. With so many other things to focus on, we don't get to have completely uninterrupted conversation for large stretches of time. Moreover, when we hike with Jules, The Barracuda doesn't communicate in the same way. It is a special personal time for us that is quite wonderful.

And so we walked, and we walked, and we walked. A peripheral male elk wandered by quite frenzied looking for water. We passed the Johnson Observatory way up on the hill. We watched as Spirit Lake got bigger and bigger in front of us. With us both having hydration bladders, there was no reason to stop, so we just kept on moving. With there being nothing distinguishing about one place to the next, the map wasn't helpful so it stayed put away. About 2 o'clock we came across the most bizarre half mile of red, volcanic, pumice rock. It appeared completely in the middle of nowhere, and we later found out, ended just as abruptly. The Floating Island Lava Flow. For the first time we could see where we were and find ourselves on the map. Out came the map, out came The Barracuda's finger to find us, out came my fingers to measure how many miles we had left to hike. Low and behold, we were only 6 miles from the end. Six miles! We could do 6 miles; it was only 2 o'clock. With spirits lifted we hiked on.

Soon we began to see day-hikers and weekend-warriors decked out in their cotton and clean gaiters. We were far from clean at that point. The dust of The Breach had covered us and filled our shoes. We had awkward tan lines from the last couple days of sun. We merely nodded at most of their horrified looks and kept moving. We are hiker trash and we know it. At 5:13 we rounded the edge of the Loowit Trail. The sign caused jumps of glee from The Barracuda. The last few miles had been all uphill and he was getting tired at that point.

The last five miles of access road hiking just, plain sucked. To make matters worse, three science trucks drove right past us and didn't offer rides. We'd step out of the way and the truck would charge past, waving no less. Every bend in the road seemed like it just had to be the last one. By the last three miles it was getting dark and windy. They mean it when they call it Windy Pass. Sometimes you had to lean in quite dramatically to keep from being knocked over. We were getting cold in the shade and our feet were down right hurting. Up until then our pace had been quite good. Now, not so much. Just after 7 pm we hobbled into the Windy Pass parking lot. We made it! Dirty, sore, and stinky, the tourists sort of parted and stared as we moved to our car. The Barracuda made a celebratory call to his father and both our shoes and socks can off right away. We drove home excited with not only another item off of his Life List, but a major milestone packed away.

And so it was that The Barracuda pulled his first 20 - with water conservation, a 10 pound pack, and no lunch or dinner for the day. It took us just over 12 hours, but he did it. Sitting in his booster seat, munching a Pop Tart and a hunk of cheese, The Barracuda spoke up as we pulled away, "See Mom, I can do the PCT. I know I can do it. You shouldn't discount me because I'm small. It is just a million tiny goals."

Well said, Little Man, well said.

Monday, September 26, 2011

The Pacific Crest Trail

The Barracuda has decided he wants to do a Pacific Crest Trail attempt this coming year (2012) and break the record of the youngest thru-hiker. We are actively preparing. Though this came as a bit of a shock to his father and I, when we sat down and thought about it he has gained many of the skills necessary to be able to have a successful shot this next year. Throughout the post you can see pictures of him learning various skills over the past year and a half.

The Pacific Crest Trail has been on my life list for quite a while. I've wanted to thru-hike it; to really finish it and have the accomplishment of knowing it was all done at once. Quite a bit ago the Fimby people (as they're family is known in our house) sent us the book Zero Days from their outdoor blog. It describes the trip taken by 10 year old Mary Chambers and her family hiking the Pacific Crest Trail. She is currently still holding the record of the youngest thru hiker of the trail. We read the book together, and though The Barracuda was completely baffled by the way they hiked (as it is completely different from how we backpack), he was a bit taken by the fact a kid had completed such a famous trail. At that point, we weren't doing much by way of complete trails and were focusing more on just hiking around. The thought stewed with him a while. You could see his little brain a workin'. Sometime later, he decided that he wanted to try it. He would hike The Pacific Crest Trail; let's put it on his Life List. This was highly pleasing to Jules and I since we had wanted to continue long distance backpacking and hoped our son would one day join us.
That was it for quite a bit (almost a year). The intent had been declared, nothing else to it. When we began to really backpack in earnest, with miles flying away at the waysides, The Barracuda began to ask a few more questions. How many miles a day would you have to hike? How many miles had his father hiked on the AT? How did his dad carry all the stuff? How much did his backpack weigh when he thru-hiked? Long distance backpacking was becoming a reality he could really grasp.

Learning to read elevation change on topographical maps. This is the precursor to learning compass bearings and route finding skills. We have also actively been working on the math and visual/spacial skills while homeschooling.

While hiking the Timberline Trail this summer, The Barracuda made his intentions clear. Next year he wanted to thru-hike the Pacific Crest Trail. He would be 7 then, a full three years before Mary Chambers. He wanted to be the youngest and he thought he could do it. If he could hike 50 miles around a mountain, he could hike three states. He was homeschooled and thus wouldn't have to miss class. We already had all the gear. I already knew how to make the food. Guadie could already put that many miles on her paws. His reasoning continued and soon his father and I became a bit convinced. He might actually have a crazy is that?!

Learning to glissade (and levitate apparently). Before ice axe use, you learn to glissade just with yourself for better balance. Once you can balance during the slide, you can add the ice axe for steering and speed control.

After arriving home, Jules and I sat down to talk. The kid had put in his time. He could hike the miles, he can read a map, his snow skills are good, his perseverance is higher than many adults we know. He needed to increase his daily miles from 14-15 up to 20-25, he would need an ice axe and we'd have to work on a boot belay for the Sierras, we'd need a smaller tent and to find a decent kids backpack (I'm going to have make one, they just don't exist with small enough torsos and enough carrying capacity for a kid to actually backpack). Alright, Jules agreed; we could do it.

The kid is just fit. There is no getting around it. Even the sports therapists all agreed - he's in incredible shape. Now all we have to work on is modesty :)

The details needed to be attended to. We had been planning on doing the PCT with The Barracuda, but not exactly this soon. He is still under 48 inches tall. Those little legs of his are so tiny he isn't allowed in the pool by himself, let alone hiking that many miles. So after checking with a sports therapist (or 3!) to make sure he could physically do it without blowing out his body, and after looking into gear costs to make sure we could do it without blowing out our wallet, and after looking at timelines to make sure we could do it without blowing out our state homeschool funding, I said yes.

Evaluating river crossings and learning technique with the Leki poles. I dislike Lekis but The Barracuda seems to be interested in carrying them and they make great tent poles to lighten our load.

The Barracuda then figured out a training schedule within 2 days of being home. (He is so organized it is disgusting!) He wanted us to walk 10 miles a day and increase by 2 miles each week. While increasing in miles we would increase in Nalgene bottles of water to add weight. On weekends we would then go out and backpack the forest to train. He and I would carry everything and Jules would get to carry only his stuff. The kid is determined. He didn't have any details of where this was all going to happen, but that was for us parents to figure out. More and more I am impressed by how much thought this kid can put into goals. It is definitely a skill I don't must be attached to his Y chromosome somewhere.

Testing the depth of the ice. The Barracuda gets to actively use an ice axe (in fact he got his own for his birthday) because crampons are still far too dangerous. He needs to practice self arrest rolls to be sure he can stop from a multitude of angles, but we figure a few summits this coming fall will help with that.

We now walk at least 1o miles a day. We are trying to get in 15 miles a day, but that extra 5 is proving hard to schedule in. Luckily, the dogs can help us remember with constant nagging. The walk is just up our road with nice elevation changes and good scenery. At 5 miles total (we clocked it in the car) we hike every morning and every evening. So far, so good. The dehydrator has been going almost non-stop and the weighing/packaging of meals is well underway. At this point, the only issue we are having is where to put all of it. One-hundred and forty-six days of food is proving to be quite a lot. Clearance has been given from our virtual school and homeschooling from the trail is still acceptable. In fact, The Barracuda's advisor is a bit excited about it. We are looking for pen pals from the trail (gotta love backpacking while homeschooling) so if anyone out there wants to send and receive letters, comment away. We are compiling a list of good post offices and town stops which we can post in the future. As it currently stands, we will leave April 30th and return September 17th.

Some days are long and exhausting. A couple of times dinner has consisted of cheese and tortillas eaten inside sleeping bags. But, he hangs in there. The Barracuda is always ready to go the next morning, always blazing the trail ahead of his father and I, always eager to climb a talus slope, play in a meadow, or throw rocks into an alpine lake.

The Barracuda's Thoughts on Our Pacific Crest Trail Attempt
When asked to say something about the trail, this is what The Barracuda had to say.

I think it is big and it is long. It has so many miles in it. 2,658 miles is a big number. I have no idea even how long that is. I mean, I look at a map and it is from Mexico to Canada. I can move my finger, but I can't really know how long that is.

I am nervous, but at the same time, it makes me feel excited. The reason I am nervous is that it is so far away from everything I've known and it is so long. It will be weird not seeing different things in different places. What I mean is like, how I've never seen El Campo before or Kennedy Meadows, and I'm going to see them on the trail. I'm not going to drive up or drive through, I'm going to walk. When you drive you feel like you are going fast. You look out the window and think "Look at that" then it disappears. When you are walking, you actually get to see it. It lasts for a while and you are there with it, not just in the car by yourself.

I think it will be fun to do because we will be seeing new plants, and being in hot deserts, and new ecosystems and everything. Sometimes it is going to be hard to do 20 miles at the same time. The first day and the last day will be the hardest parts of the entire hike. The first day will be the hard because we are just starting and have to leave my dad. On the last day it will hard because we have to leave the trail.

I think that breaking the record will be exciting and I feel like I've accomplished something. It will be fun to be able to say that I broke the record.

Sunday, September 04, 2011

The Timberline Trail

After coming home from Rainier, we decided to go out on the Timberline Trail (#600). The Timberline circumnavigates Mt. Hood in a 38 mile loop. As always, when we go to Mt. Hood we try to get up to Yocum Ridge. This side trail turned it into a 48 mile loop by adding the extra 10 miles, out and back. The entire trip took us 5 days (4 full days and 2 halves) and we averaged about 12 on our full days (yes, I promise it is mathematically possible if you count the epic encounter). More than anything, we wanted to see just how far The Barracuda could hike over some difficult terrain.

More and more, our son's appreciation of mountains is becoming apparent. He now knows the order of the Northern and Central Cascades and can identify most by silhouette. He is becoming transfixed with mountains.

Day 1 - Timberline Lodge to Paradise - 4 miles

We had no less than 4 separate tourists take our picture. Apparently there is something very interesting about a dog with a backpack and a family all geared up.

Since we got out later than expected (doesn't that ALWAYS happen?) we didn't arrive and get walking till about 3 in the afternoon or later. We hit the trail, hiked for an hour and a half or so, ate, and hiked another mile to begin looking for a decent campsite. We have begun experimenting with ways to make more milage in the day. By eating and then putting in a few more miles before the end of the day we can add 4 or 5 miles to the day without much issue and stealth camp without the need of food prep. We can't quite tell if we like this yet.

Day 2 - Paradise Park to Yocum Ridge - 11 miles

The Timberline crosses a good 3-5 rivers a day as you work through the gullies and melt waters of the mountain. The Barracuda is becoming quite good with Leki poles and can ford most rivers now by himself with the occasional help of hand through some extreme leaps. Guadalupe, however, HATES water and must be manhandled carried over most rivers. She finds this most undignifying!

Yocum Ridge is one of our favorite places on Mt. Hood. It was discovered by Jules when he did his first hike of the Timberline Trail a year or so before I met him. The 10 mile (total out and back) side trail is a brutal uphill of almost continuous switchbacks, but you are rewarded with a personal alpine meadow and an awe inspiring view.

Day 3 - Yocum Ridge to Carin Basin - 14 miles

Muddy Fork runs through Cathedral Ridge. Before the first snow, we will hopefully take a weekend trip up to the actual ridge line instead of the valley.

We were up and out of camp by 7 and pounding miles. Today brought us past Cathedral Ridge and a new place to explore. Though there is a fondness within us for Yocum, Cathedral's towering rock formations and three beautiful waterfalls surround you from all sides. It has a very different feel from Yocum's expansiveness.

Every real backpacking trip has a moment where you think, "This is completely insane!" It is a commitment moment where you have to decide once and for all, are you in? This river crossing would be it for the Timberline trail. As I watched my son slowly wiggle across three haphazardly strewn (and seemingly flimsy) logs, slip twice due to there being no bark on the logs and a gushing torrent of rocky rapids beneath him, and then reach out trying to grab his father's outstretched hand, I couldn't help but have a moment of "What the hell are we doing?!" To make matters worse, the logs were not tied together so as The Barracuda began walking they shifted to and fro beneath his weight.

Day 4 - Carin Basin to Cloud Cap - 14 miles

The dog was horrified; The Barracuda thought it was beyond awesome!
Click on the link below to see the washout in real time via YouTube.

This was an epic day. All went well until we hit the washout at Elliot Glacier. Everyone on the mountain we met was talking about Elliot: "How are you going to get around Elliot?" "Why aren't they fixing Elliot?" "Aren't they supposed to have a bridge over Elliot by now?" There are stacks of pictures and talk on the Internet about Elliot. Everyone just needs to get over it! In the floods of 2006, the winter here was brutal and Elliot Glacier took out the entire trail. It literally drops off in a sheer vertical down to the river. The vertical is over 150 feet high and requires a cross country (not skis, but unmaintained) backtrail and then a technical scramble down an arete, and then getting to a rope to back down to the water. Once down, we forded the river three or four times, crossed the talus and scree for a good 2 hours, and then tied both Guadalupe and The Barracuda up for the vertical climb (no rope provide this time) up the other side. It was exhausting and got us no closer to Cloud Cap. After some bushwacking and route finding, we discovered an old fire road (thank goodness for the Cloud Cap fire a couple years ago). Another unmaintained vertical climb up a fire slope with only water bars to hold the soil in and a quarter mile walk following the smell of campfires took us to a road. We must have looked like Sasquatch scrambling up to the road from the forest. The road lead to Cloud Cap Campground. Needless to say, taking the dog down and then up scree, talus, and places where she was tied together with climbing webbing wasn't Guadie's favorite activity. Her paws were split open by the end and she was drooling uncontrollably, but she followed through in Stickeen fashion and has now permanently won Jules' love. The Barracuda began to go into sugar shock from lack of solid food (he is extremely blood sugar sensitive) about half way through, but pulled it together enough to make it to camp. There were some sketchy moments and I'm sure we looked horrifying when we stumblied into Cloud Cap by nightfall.

Day 5 - Cloud Cap to White River (10 miles)

Walking around the mountain gives the peak a highly personal experience because you get to see it from every angle. Rather than a veiwpoint and only one side, you see them all and you witness them change from one to another. Though I have grown up watching Mt. Hood, I feel like I didn't really know much about it at all now having walked around it.

Being homeschoolers, the lines of education versus life become very blurry. These learning moments are one of the things we enjoy so much about the homeschooling process and a large part of why we take our son hiking so much at such a young age. There have been many amazing learning moments over the last couple years, but one of the greatest happened going from Cloud Cap through Cooper's Spur. From up that high you can see one of the largest expanses in Oregon, but most interestingly, you can physically watch the rain shadow effect and the tectonic plate line come together. The hilly, green expanse in front of you becomes a ridge and then a flat, brown space on the other side. The mountains of Rainier, St. Helens, Adams, Hood, Jefferson, and the Three Sisters all line up and directly before you the puzzle pieces of the Earth's crust become real. The Barracuda has studied volcanoes, subduction zones, the Ring of Fire, and all that jazz but here he could literally see in front of him how it all worked. I realize I'm a total science geek, but it was pretty rad.

Day 6 - Mitchel Creek to Timberline (3 miles)

The ridgelines of Mt. Hood are one of the predominant features of the Timberline Trail.. There is a combined elevation loss/gain of over 12,000 feet on the Timberline Trail (not including Yocum Ridge) so you are rather constantly either going up or down.

We slept in, woke up low key and were moving by 8. We had been warned by another hiker that it had been washed out to the point she was turning around. The thought of another Elliot Glacier crossing wasn't pleasant, but all that was keeping us from Timberline and we were committed. We hiked down to White River to view the damage, and sure enough, total wash out. Notes were posted of other groups heading back. Much like Elliot, we headed down to a nearby arete and were determined to make our way down. Surprisingly, we caught the trail on lower switchbacks. Apparently all that was washed out was the upper portion of the trail. Less than a 5 minute bushwhack and we were back on track. It was a very quick out, even with Timberline teasing us in the distance while we cairn hopped, hiking uphill through glacial silt. A stop by the gift shop to pick up a patch for The Barracuda and we were driving away to Dairy Queen before 11 o'clock.

It was a great trip and a significant victory for The Barracuda. He can check the first item off of his Life List and solidified his confidence about pulling larger mileage in succession. We knew he could do it, but he needed to know.

When we came home, we were suprised to find out that The Barracuda is the youngest person to have ever finished this hike. Apparently a 7 an a 9 year old boy finished the trip with their family a couple years ago, and had claimed the record until now. Our son doesn't much care about that, all he really wanted was a Blizzard ice cream treat.