Thursday, August 16, 2012

Damn Cat

When we came home from climbing Mt. Adams, Jules called The Barracuda outside for something and I paid no attention. I went inside to use the bathroom.  That is what moms do when they come home.  It is a rule.

Apparently, there was quite the adorable Siamese cat just milling around the woodpile and Jules wanted to show it to The Barracuda.

Now, is there a single mother in the entire world that doesn't know how this story is going to end?!?  

Meet Kitty Kitty.

Kitty Kitty doesn't have a formal name yet.  She just has a 7 year old boy's complete adoration.  He made a "house" for the cat.  He insisted food be purchased for the cat.  When Jules and I went to the store, he stayed outside, in the dark, just to talk to the cat. He didn't sleep much worrying the cat might be eaten or run away.  What is more, he has the undivided attention of this feline and she tends to have chosen him as her person.

Jules appears to be a bit hooked as well, since Kitty Kitty bears striking resemblance to a long lost pet from years previous.

....Remember that whole long distance backpacking thing?

...Pacific Crest Trail?

...Vicious Doberman named Guadalupe?

...Obviously loved cat whom someone lost and might miss?

Yes, Barracuda, we can teach Kitty Kitty to climb the ladder so she can sleep with you.  How can I say no to this face?

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Mazamas Here We Come!

Some people react quite extremely to poison oak while others get only mild irritation.  I'm a mild irritation person when it comes to poison ivy and sumac.  They are annoying, but no biggie.  Apparently, not so much when it comes to poison oak.  Somewhere around 1500 miles, I came into contact with this dreaded plant.  I didn't know it until approximately one week later when I awoke with over half my leg blistered and continuously weeping.  It went down hill from there.

Don't worry, no nasty pictures.  Just a pretty Mt. St. Helens shot.

We decided to take a train home from the California/Oregon border and go directly to Urgent Care.  The lady at the hospital was very nice.  She grimaced at my description of the problem, flagged my chart, and told me she would put me on "fast track."  This is the nice way of saying 'stand aside and wait patiently without sitting on, touching, breathing near, or in any way potentially infesting anything so we can get you out of here as quickly as possible.'  I was also periodically informed to stop scratching and to wash my hands.

The doctor was also very professional.  He only recoiled once.  He did a very good job of concealing his disturbed shock when he asked how long it had been this way, and I responded, "Only about 4 days."

I was put on 2 oral steroids, one hardcore topical nerve suppressant, and oatmeal baths.  The doctor then began the directions:

I'm not allowed to get hot, sweaty, or irritate my skin.  No scratching. Regular bathing with special soap and a return visit if it doesn't begin to seriously clear up in 4 days. Anymore blisters aren't okay.  Any full coverage spreading (not tiny little bumps) isn't okay.  Any facial breakouts or crotch issues, aren't okay.  Wash everything you own. If it isn't important or it can be replaced, just throw it away. Most importantly, NO HIKING.

My face must have foretold my dislike of this last edict. I asked about short, 3 or 4 day hikes.  

 I asked about day hiking. 

Weekend Warrior style? 

Car camping? 

I was not pleased.  I tried to explain about the closing of the season, about the snow in the Cascades.  I tried to talk about The Barracuda, 1700 miles in.  The problem of losing momentum.  The issue of each day lost being almost 30 miles, how that really tends to add up.  

 He was a very nice man, but wasn't having any of it.  In a quite authoritative voice he began to explain:

When infections begin to cover 80% or more of your body they reach a point of no return and must be treated like an invasive Staph infection.  I was at 75%.  Though only one leg, my butt, and my lower back were completely blistered and weeping now, in less than 2 days my entire torso was likely to become infected. Soon after my other leg would have symptoms.  The symptoms take about 3 days or so to appear and the reaction was too extreme not to have spread.  I was hiking in 100 degree temperatures, sweating, not bathing, using the same infected clothes and gear for days and generally doing everything possible to spread the poison.  NO HIKING!

 I did everything I was supposed to for 4 whole days.  Do you know how hard it is to go from moving all day long, to sitting your itchy butt all day long?!  We picked a gallon of blackberries.  We sorted through all the clothes The Barracuda had outgrown.  We sorted through all the clothes that we should give to the needy box at church. We did a trip into the city for a Goodwill run to find gear for eBaying.  We tried being lazy, getting coffee, and reading magazines.  Jules watched an entire season of Breaking Bad on Netflix.  The Barracuda read an entire chapter book in less than half a day.  We were going crazy.  There had to be something I could do that wouldn't irritate my skin, cause me to sweat or be overheated, but still meant we could do something.

Plus, I need to do a trial run to see if I could realistically hike anytime soon.  Things seemed to really be getting better. The infection was clearing up dramatically (though the doctor was right about the spreading).  I had been through almost all of my major steroid and gauze pads weren't necessary any more.

 So we went mountaineering!
Yes, the dog goes too.  She has a sweater, boots, and I'm working on fitting some microspikes.

Mountaineering met every qualification.  The air is cold, no overheating.  With adequate layering, you don't really sweat.  It was close enough to our house (less than an hour drive) meaning we didn't really need to go camping. I could take my required shower and regularly bathe since it was only a one day thing.  You are covering so much elevation that the pace is so slow you definitely couldn't be considered hiking.  Even better, you get up at 3 am, work all day long, and don't get home till after 7pm.

There is something quite wonderful about getting up before the sun and watching it slowly crest the top of the mountain.  The contrast between the snow, the sky, and the rock is always so striking.

The Barracuda is developing quite a thing for mountains.  After summitting Whitney, he is rather determined to take on more than a couple 14ers.  Mt. Adams has been a frequent playground of ours and his skill level is high enough now that we don't worry much.  This was mostlikely the last trip we will bring the harness and ropes for, and the pickets were left at home completely.

See, this is not hiking.  This is walking in the snow.  We were merely walking in the cold, cold snow.  No overheating. Totally acceptable.

People don't exactly know what to do when they meet a small 7 year old clad in mountaineering pants, steel 12 point front spike crampons, and wielding a very flashy ice-axe.  They are even more baffled when the see the dog.  So much of the time people tend to think of these sorts of activities being out of reach when you have a family or a pet.  Kids and dogs can climb 6,700 in less than 6 miles - think about it, that's only about a thousand feet per mile.  It is steep, and it takes determination, but it isn't un-doable.  Don't underestimate yourselves!

The boy has some unfinished business with that mountain.  Rainier is calling him. 

This next year's homeschooling curriculum is going to be dealing a lot with rope work, protection, and the math/physics/geological issues which come into place when mountaineering.  He has enough technique down the crampons no longer worry me, and his ability to Prusik out of a cravass far surpasses mine.  At this point he merely needs enough knowledge of alpine environments to work on his judgement calls and knee-jerk reactions in dangerous situations.

Yes, I climb mountains in a bikini.  It helps with that whole no-sweating thing.  Plus, the giant disgusting rash concealed by The Barracuda's head and my mountaineering pants make it far less attractive.  Generally, though, it is the most comfortable thing I've found to wear with all the sun exposure.

Mt. Adams stands at 12,326 feet and is the second highest peak in Washington, the third highest in the Cascades (Rainier and Shasta stand taller).  Sporting 11 glaciers it qualifies our family to join the Mazamas and makes The Barracuda one of the youngest official members to not be grandfathered in by a parent.  He was very specific that this whole "family membership" thing wasn't going to cut it.  He wants to take Intermediate and Advanced Climbers Education classes and Jules wants to learn ski mountaineering.  The Mazamas are sort of the top of the line for learning that sort of thing.  I kinda like the idea of weekends at the private, alpine lodge and the rescue/body recovery/life-flight insurance, but maybe that is just me.

Oh it is terrifying, completely insane, and really does feel like you are going to throw yourself off into the abyss.  Our family LOVES it!

The best part of the climb is definitely the glissade.  A glissade is the controlled slide down the mountain.  You remove your crampons (very important!), put on a coat and gloves, sit down, and proceed to slide hundreds of linear feet down the ice and snow using your ice axe to slow yourself.  On popular climbing days a rather deep trough is plowed into the slope by the previous glissaders.  When we went, the trough was over two and a half feet high on either side making the glissade much like a very extreme waterslide. You'd find yourself beginning to slide up the sides, swirling around the turns, and reaching some fairly terrifying speeds.  It was rad!  There was giggling, squealing, and cheers.

To most parents, putting you small person into a rather extreme snow chute and helping scoot/shove them off the side of a mountain without any form of protection might seem slightly negligent.  But it is seriously thrilling.  The Barracuda has only been sledding once, and at this point has no desire to go again.  Glissading just can't compare.  He is bouncy, laughing, and so hyped up at just the idea of the glissade, that saying no would be ridiculous.  Plus, forcing my child to slog down over 5,000 feet (you slide down darn near all the elevation gain) in crampons seems a bit more dangerous and cruel. 

Our son is a climber.  He has been a climber since he could barely walk.  I know I'm never going to stop him; he is far too determined.  Better to strap on a harness, rope up, and show him the appropriate way to self arrest.  It is a fairly awesome way to do some serious family bonding.

We were home by around 7ish and eating taco salad for dinner as it got dark.  I took my required shower, with my special soap, doped up on anti-histamines, and slathered myself in nerve suppressant.  I'm definitely not ready to hike.  Anytime I got even remotely damp from sweat or body heat my torso began to itch and tingle.  It was definitely a sure sign I'm still a few days off the trail.  However, I'm almost done with my extreme steroids (thank goodness because they make me crazy irritable and just plain angry for no reason) and only have to take the anti-histamines when I go to sleep.  All in all, it was a fantastic day. 

Even better, I only look like I have a moderate case of leperacy, instead of rolling in toxic waste.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Pictures from the Trail

Don't worry, I haven't abandoned you all.  It is more an issue of Northern California not really having great Internet access.  Most of the towns between Echo Lake and the Oregon border don't really qualify as a city.  Town would be a reasonable term, but that is town with a very little "t." Access to a computer is limited; access to the Internet is challenging; access to a reasonably modern computer with decent enough Internet to upload pictures is down right unheard of! It's an issue that Jules and I are mulling over for future long distance hikes.  A solution hasn't quite presented itself adequately, but we're still working on it.

There are so many pictures.  We have seen and done so many things.  Here are a few that stand out as favorites, exciting moments, or just fun images of what life has been like for the last few weeks.

Both of the boys got altitude sickness pretty quickly after entering the Sierras.  It was nothing major or terribly horrific, but it really takes it out of you.  For a couple of days our mileage was really low and there were frequently naps in the sun.  I'd filter water, they'd pass out.  The dog would take a break for a minute, so would they.

Altitude sickness or not, when The Barracuda heard he could summit the highest peak in the lower 49 states, a detour was necessary.  We did a 20 mile day the day we summited Mt. Whitney, climbing over 5,000 feet of elevation gain in less than 3 miles to reach 14,505 ft.  At 7, The Barracuda tied Tyler Armstrong as the youngest person to summit in a single day (most people take 2 days) and Guadalupe is one of only a handful of dogs to have made the top.  Summiting a 14er has been on his Life List for a while and he hopes to climb both Mt. Rainier and Mt. Shasta next summer.

Shortly after leaving the Tahoe Rim Trail and getting back on the PCT (they overlap a bit), my shoelaces got all caught up and I went face first into the gravel.  It was stupendously awkward - and Olympic quality blunder.  My lip was split, all my front teeth loosened, and both my nose and sinus cavity were bruised.  There were tears.  There was cussing.  Jules comforted me and then snapped a couple pictures (I was thrilled with this decision as you can see). But thankfully, I did not face plant a couple hundred yards earlier.  If I had, I would have tumbled into shale talus most definitely broking my nose and knocking out most of my teeth. 

The Granite Chief Wilderness was spectacular in its ridgelines and mountain spines. It felt very Tolkein in many spots and reminded me that in the next year or two our family should read The Lord of the Rings series (neither Jules or The Barracuda have read them).  Looking over the expanse on all sides has us thinking that in a summer or two we might put in a bid for a fire tower and spend the summer overlooking some desolate place in northern Montana.  Afterall, most fire towers are larger than our house so it would be an upgrade.

We have climbed some gorgeous views in these past few weeks.  The Barracuda really enjoys scrambling up on the large boulders to scan the viewpoints.  Jules doesn't appreciate The Barracuda's enjoyment of heights quite as much and worries significantly.  Sometimes we eat lunch.  Sometimes we take a water break.  Sometimes it is just a glimpse to sigh and appreciate being able to spend a third of a year doing nothing but walking the U.S. together.  After having been through the desert and some of the lowest points in the United States, and then up through the Sierra and the highest points, it is nice to spend a bit of time in the middle. 

If you are a member of the Forest Service, just disregard this picture.  It would be very wrong of us to have a fire anywhere in central/northern California outside of a designated campground.  You have been in the woods too long and are hallucinating.

Backpacking as a family means doing things a little bit differently than most thru-hikers.  Instead of continuing on, we stop after 25 miles to 27 miles, have a fire, watch the stars, and drink cocoa.  It might only be 7:30 pm, there might be another good hour of daylight and a 30 mile day, but watching the sunset and reading a book as a family is an experience worth so much more.  The Barracuda has never really been car camping and finds the concept rather mystical.  Backpacking or not, we try to make sure there is plenty of time to just sit around a campfire being a kid.

So, we're still going at it!  Here we come Oregon and Washington.  We're in the home stretch now and there is definitely light at the end of the tunnel.  More than anything we are realizing just how much this lifestyle suits our family. It hasn't always been pretty - there was that time when Jules and I got in a knock-down-drag-out fight in the middle of the Grocery Outlet parking lot, or when I was so frustrated I picked The Barracuda up by his pack straps, or the instance where the 7 year old looked right at me and screamed, "You are going to f*$k everything up!" and then burst into tears.

Oh, the memories....

But considering we have crossed 700 miles of desert in a drought year, we've been swarmed by Africanized bees, we've summited the highest peak in the lower 49,  we've run from mosquitoes thicker than I've ever seen, dodged the Forest Service more than a couple times, slept outside train stations and on the wrong side of a few tracks, hitchiked miles into towns not knowing anything about where we would sleep or how we would get back to the trail, almost killed the dog with heat stroke, had to discuss both marijuana consumption and illicit drug usage with our second grader, and we're still smiling after walking across the longest state in the nation, I'd say we're doing pretty good.  The Barracuda has quite a nice list of fairly significant outdoor goals and we are more than happy to go along with him for the ride.