By Dayna Del Mar
It was mid-June in Oregon, and I was on Hike 25 of the #52HikeChallenge. A couple of weeks prior I had met a new friend, one of the first adventure buddies I had found since beginning my hiking adventure.
Kellie had moved to the PNW that spring, also for the promise of adventure — but next level! She came to Portland to train for a thru-hike the Pacific Crest Trail, an adventure of 2600 miles that can take six months.
Kellie and I met in the weirdest of ways, which ensured we were destined to be friends: She was on a second date with someone she had met through Bumble...who just so happened to be my boss’s third cousin. We were both learning to paraglide for the first time at Sunset Beach on the Oregon Coast. Having way too much fun together waddling in paragliding harnesses down the beach, we quickly ditched the dudes and became instant besties. After sharing our lists of 2017 training hikes and learning that we were both seeking new friends, we agreed we had to take on some of these challenges together. I was preparing for my first trek ever that fall and she was preparing for her very first thru-hike in spring.
We were aching for summer, but the snow had barely melted. It felt like every other time Kellie and I attempted to embark on a new adventure, we dead ended with a #trailfail. Perhaps the universe simply wanted us to laugh more or perhaps we had some lessons to learn about safety and trail preparation.
It always started with, “Ooo, let’s go do this hike! I heard it’s great in spring.” And we’d drive 1 ½ hours to a trailhead for a promising adventure, only to find that the trail was inaccessible or nowhere to be found. Invariably, we wound up at a brewery eating lunch instead. The problem was that the winter of 2016-17 was particularly cold and snowy in Oregon, so even though it was May, the trails looked more like March. Being hiking newbie, I had no clue how much spring can vary in the Northwest and dramatically impact trails and my ability to access them.
One time we had so many fails, it was like a bottomless pit/quicksand pit of #trailfailure. Groundhog Day over and over again. We joked that we’d never end up actually setting foot on a trail and perhaps our destiny was just to parade around town in spandex and hiking boots, drinking unearned beers.
After learning from our many failures, we thought we had it nailed this time! We checked weather reports — partly cloudy, 10% chance of rain, check! We checked the road reports — clear, dry and accessible, check! We checked the the most current photos shared on Instagram! We packed our bags, filled the Jeep with gas and we were ready to answer to the call of the mountains! With Frazier Trailhead on our GPS and visions of Serene Lake’s alpine beauty, we were off! As we approached the last stretch of National Forest roads, we thought we were going to make it. But nope, #trailfail. Again!
I don’t recommend seeking out a #trailfail on purpose, but I will say that if this is a thing that often happens to you, be sure to bring only your most positive, laughing and adventurous of buddies. Kellie is that for me. Her ear-to-ear smile, tenacity and positive attitude allow us to make the best of any situation, and that makes her the raddest hiking pal I know!
Determined to hike, we turned the Jeep around and aimed for Pyramid Lake. We had heard it was beautiful and we had passed a sign for it on the way, so it felt like there was a good chance it was accessible. Unfortunately at this point we were off-grid with no ability to ask the google machine if this was at all possible. We just had to wing it and trust our gut. We reset ourselves and turned the stoke level way up! Again, off we went!
Bumping down National Forest roads, things felt promising. The roads were clear and dry, and we thought we were golden...and then we came to a screeching halt.
All of the trees had recently been trimmed and the road was covered in branches and a few fallen trees. We were plowing over an increasingly challenging layer of debris and eventually had to stop. We hopped out of the car and began frantically throwing branches like miniature Hulks. We actually managed to clear the road and continued driving along — but all of a sudden we were on thick snow and going, going, stop!!
And there we were, looking at a four-foot packed wall of ice and snow dead on, standing in our flip flops and slippers. There was no way we were going to get to the trail head. Heads down and tails between our legs, we sighed. The adrenaline was so high that we hadn’t even noticed that Jeep was covered in tree branches. Standing in the snow in flip flops, Kellie directed me through a 15-point turn into trees and bushes to get the Jeep turned around so we could escape.
“One more try, we have to make this happen!”
The grind of our 9-5 jobs had us in desperate need of a hike, and at this point we had invested four-ish hours of driving, getting stuck and dead-ending. We were determined to make the very best of this! A sign for Shellrock Trailhead emerged and we were in!
We parked the Jeep, grabbed our packs and off we went. A nice little incline, sweeping views of the Willamette National Forest, a lake and some of the most peculiar jelly-like mushrooms. (which afterwards we learned were Guepiniopsis alpina, commonly known as the alpine jelly cone). Granted the hike was barely a couple of miles, but we had fun. As we departed the forest we stopped by the ranger station to get advice for future hikes.
Lesson #1: Sometimes even the very best planning can lead to a Trail Fail. When preparing to embark on a hike that is less travelled, identify who manages the land: Is it a state park? A National Park? A National Forest? Then, call the local ranger or park office! They are friendly and WANT you to go play outdoors, but they want you to do so in a safe way. They can offer so much advice, from the best hikes to access to a recommended pack list. And if you are feeling hesitant about a plan, they can validate it or advise against it.
Lesson #2: Choose your adventure buddies wisely. When getting to know them, it’s okay to ask alllll of the questions. Being open, transparent and clear up front will allow for a great adventure and great communications both on and off the trail. Make sure that you are all on the same page and ask questions like:
How far are you wanting or comfortable hiking?
How much elevation gain are you comfortable with?
What types of terrain do you prefer?
Are you wanting, willing and able to hike in less ideal conditions that will require additional gear like rain gear, gators, micro-spikes, etc.?
Although you might ultimately veer from the plan, it can still be fun because you share in the joys and challenges together. After all, it’s about the journey, not the destination!