All Posts By

Melani

Pacific Northwest

The Oregon Trail

Backpacking, boobs, and beer, oh my. It wasn’t long until I started growing restless for an all-girls trip, and I was curious to see how us ladies would fare against the elements without any beefs around. My girls Bao and Jaqui were down for any adventure, so we quickly zeroed in on the land of microbrews and temperate rainforests as the perfect terrain to unleash our wild wiles. It would be like ‘Sex and the City’ meets ‘Jack Hanna’s Animal Adventures,’ but with unshowered chicks and critterdudes surrounding our tent at night.

A heavy 45 pak and car rental later, we were in Oregon’s Columbia River Gorge 🙂

DAY 1- ONEONTA GORGE

We heard that the Oneonta Gorge was a tropical Zion-Narrows of some sort, so we camped nearby the night before, and set our alarms for an early wakeup call. The awesome part about this short hike is that the creek itself is the trail, and you will most definitely need to wade in waist-deep waters to reach the waterfall at the end. An added bonus? There are huge log jams blocking the trail that you need to climb/traverse around, which make for a fun scramble. It can become a junkshow if there are crowds, but fortunately, people don’t like hanging in dark gorges at 6:30am 😉

And because waterfalls command liberation…

DAY 1 cont- PUNCHBOWL & TUNNEL FALLS

We were down to tackle 10 more miles to reach our campsite, so we loaded up our water packs, sloppily strapped on the sleeping gear/tent and made our way down the Eagle Creek trail. This is home to the numerous wonders around the Gorge area, including the Punchbowl Falls swimming hole/jumping spot. We reach it after 3 miles, and Jaqui morphs into cliffjumping, mermaid mode.

We get back on the trail after a quick lunch, and after a few miles, our achy legs start getting the best of us. But every doubt goes away once we enter the amphitheater of Tunnel Falls, where the trail continues into a rock tunnel blasted behind the waterfall, midway up a vertical basalt wall. The trail gets mistier as we enter the tunnel, and I swear it’s the most refreshing thing in the world.

Just when things couldn’t get more epic, we notice a rope descending to the base of the waterfall, which creates the perfect recipe for epic girltime <3 Bao also ran out of water around this time, so her water filtration straw was a gawdsend 😀

We camp along the trail that night, and since it begins to sprinkle, we decide to bring our paks + shoes into the tent. The rangers had confirmed that wildlife wasn’t a big problem/cannisters weren’t needed, so we felt comfortable sleeping with some food in the tent.

At about 2am, I wake up to the sound of little bears (squirrel? marmot?) trying to gnaw through my side of the tent, getting at my pak/Goldfish crackers. I slap the side of the tent and do a burly snarl before going back to sleep. I wake up to gnawing around my feet about 10 minutes later, and this guy keeps us company for the next hour or so, much to my displeasure.

DAY 2- UMPQUA HOT SPRINGS

We hike 5 miles out the next morning, and drive 5 hours south to check out some wilderness hot springs in the Umpqua National Forest. Jaqui comes up with the idea to stop at a local winery, and as we bust out the blue Solo cups, my sh#t gets a little sloppy.

Some quick and dirty highlights:

  • Amazing stacks of travertine and geothermal pools in varying scorching degrees
  • Don’t attempt the 1200 ft elevation gain to these springs… in thong sandals
  • Do make friends with your new nudsie neighbors, who might surprise you with some progressive food-for-thought
  • Don’t chug wine before getting into a hotspring, and attempt to do headstands afterwards….

Needless to say, we achieve maximum R&R to soothe our overworked quads and meet some fun locals/see lots of dongs. Optimal way (not the latter) to conclude our wilderness adventure before heading to Portland the next day/treat ourselves to some ice cream and brewery tours.

A hat connoisseur at a local hat shop will later tell me that 1 out of 3 visitor ends up becoming an Oregon resident.. we’ll see which one of us it’ll be!

Rockies

Back on the Saddle Again

“The simpler you make things, the richer the experience becomes.”

We spend the rest of the two-week trip in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, where a young girl from Connecticut once fell for a local cowboy in Wranglers, and their child would spend winters on the slopes and Halloweens dressed as a sprinkler. Yes, Keane was a sprinkler.

Keane and I unwind for a few days binge-eating huckleberry ice cream at Moos, meeting up with friends, and attending Jackson’s first music festival, Contour. But as the weather threatened to become unstable, we knew we’d have to act fast if we wanted to complete our goal: climbing the Middle Teton!

Day 12

In hindsight, it probably wasn’t a good idea to read the papers. Avalanches, casualties, crevasses… what is that even and how do you pronounce it??

The four of us (Keane, his folks Calvin and Ginger, and I) set out at 4:30am for the 14 mile adventure and watch the sun rise from 2,000 feet above the valley. Since Keane and Calvin had summited before, we had a specific route in mind- traverse around the snow field, and scramble up the southwest couloir, making sure to avoid unstable snow. Sounded simple enough, right?

What I didn’t anticipate was using my hiking poles to self arrest in the snow so quickly, and I was fucking terrified. So the shoe crampons come on 4 hours into the hike, and my heeled steps along the narrow uphill ridge became more well thought-out and precise. But the soft snow doesn’t last long. After passing the numerous humps of snow fields, the blisters on my wet feet shift gears for steep boulder fields as far as the eye can see. I finally stuff my camera in my bag and try to stay afloat as my body poorly scrambles across these otherwise simple boulders. Ginger helps me with some tricky moves, and I marvel at this alpine warrior’s strength and iron lungs. So many rests, such clumsy footwork- I’m not an altitude chick. 

When we finally get to the saddle, I look upwards and see that the shroud of melting June ice leading up to the summit is flimsier than I thought it’d be. Shit, a derailment in the plans. I’m not skilled enough to take this risk. And then the poisonous thought crosses my mind- “what’s the point if we can’t summit this climb?”

Then I turn around, and I see Keane, and Ginger, and Calvin. Why am I even frustrated? I’m sharing this amazing experience with loved ones, and we’ve helped each other get to this point. Ginger pulls me to the edge of the saddle, and my knees weaken even more, but for good reason:

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We decide that the conditions aren’t safe enough to summit, so we hide behind a rock pile to nosh on some dried fruits and shield ourselves from the brutal gusts of wind. After bad weather threatens to loom in/I witness my first rock slide, we start heading down. Calvin introduces me to glissading down the snow, and our asses/his denim game get DRENCHED, but who cares 😀

Scrambling up the Middle helped me differentiate what I thought I needed versus what I actually needed. Perhaps the journey of getting someplace matters just as much as whether we get there. The awe, the anxiety, the reciprocal feelings you’re sharing with others.. they shift the goal of achieving to something more simple: living in the moment <3

 

Southwest

Old West Roadtrip

Epic adventures start with a 4am wakeup call. A 4am wakeup to caravan from Los Angeles to Zion. A 4:30am drive to head to the base of the Tetons. In the first few glimpses of nautical twilight, it’s easy for the excitement and anxiety to uneasily digest as you look out the dewy car window. I’m coming back in one piece, right?

Keane and I took 2 weeks off work in June to explore the Southwest and Rockies with 40 foot rope, technical and camping gear, cooler of Trader Joes, and an array of shoes (climbing, heels, canyoneering, trail, etc). Total #geargasm… don’t know how it all fit into my little Honda Fit 😮

We planned on camping in Zion/Capitol Reef a few nights and eventually getting to Jackson Hole, Keane’s hometurf, to stay at his parent’s. Mountaineering, rappelling down slots, makin eyes with a buffalo… I was ambitious! Here’s how the trip started:


Day 1

Two caravans left LA around 5am to head to Zion. I invited my good friend Teresa, a Carbondale, CO native, who’s never been before. We get to Springdale around 2pm, and since the guys (Keane, Ryan, Brian, Joe, and Ivan) were planning on canyoneering the beasty Heaps canyon the next day, they needed to leave ASAP. Which basically translated to total girl weekend 🙂

Teresa and I decide to go up Angels’ Landing the first day, so we pack up the beers and take a hike up the sandstone switchbacks. When we finally get to the last half mile up the ridge, there’s some metal chains attached to the narrow fins, juxtaposed with the pantsh*tting cliff drops only a few inches from the path. It’s a fun scramble all the way up, and when we get to the top at 5700″, we find an amazing cairn garden that’s a downclimb to get to.

That night, we realize we have no where to sleep (campsites are FULL). After hanging out in the parking lot inhaling our canned chili (mmm), we try our luck driving slowly around the nearby campground to see if any families were down to take in two smelly charming girls. No shame. Teresa tries her charm with an elderly couple, but they were not having our solicitor asses, so we leave in defeat.

Eventually, we stumble onto some BLM public land a good miles away, and my low-clearance vehicle putters onto some brush/we set up for the night. Teresa insists we sleep with a knife.

Day 2

We wake up early since we’re attempting to hike to Big Springs in the Narrows today/Teresa needs to catch a ride back to LA right afterwards. Though I’m pretty cheap thrifty, we rent sticks, canyoneering boots, and neoprene socks at the Zion Adventure Company to keep us warm/stable.

We head to the Temple of Sinawava, and when we finally get to the cool water, the neoprene does a great job keeping us warm (go 5.10!). We make our way down this world wonder, and as the cavernous walls get bigger, the emerald narrows get thinner. Before long, we’re in the jaw-dropping Wall Street portion of the hike:

We know we’ve reached Big Springs after the water gets chest-deep, and turned around after we have some lunch. The hike back is just as spectacular, and after I fall on a rock/Teresa pets a squirrel, we make it back just in time for Teresa to head home to LA.

I get reception in time to see an email from the Zion Wilderness Reservation: scored two last-minute permits for a top-down hike in Subway tomorrow 🙂 Canyoneering, oh boy!

subway post cont.

Southwest

Ride the Subway

Southwest Tour (cont)

 

Day 3

Simply epic. There’s two ways you can do the famous backcountry Subway- a 8-9 mile ‘bottom-up’ approach where you hike up upstream towards the Subway, and a more technical ‘top down’ hike where you drop-in from above, which involves multiple rappels/swims. Since Zion is the mecca birthplace of canyoneering (and it’d be my first stab at it), I had to choose the latter 🙂

That said, it was a strenuous hike. I’m so grateful that Keane has solid rope management skills… and that dry bags float.

I can blab about the cool tubular chambers we emerged into (hence, the name!), the green against the royal sandstone, but I think the pictures will do it more justice 😉

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We also found a cool room right behind one of the waterfalls!

  • Subway 1
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southwest tour cont.

Southwest

Reefer Madness

Southwest Tour (cont)

 

DAY 4-6

“I don’t want conventional things in life. I really don’t. I spend a lot of time traveling, being on the road, and away from friends and family. I worry about being too selfish with my time. Day told me there’s no such thing as ‘being selfish. ‘Selfish’ exists because of other people’s judgements, which easily become our own. It’s alright when time is spent doing things where your true passions lie. (They) are what expand compassion and growth and make you beautiful.”

We say goodbye to Zion after I get my fix of huckleberry pie (mmm) and drive to Capitol Reef hoping to spend a few days canyoneering at Cottonwood Wash. The park is a little underdeveloped compared to its Mighty 5 cousins Bryce Canyon and Zion, and upon arriving at the visitor center that night, we find out there will be thunderstorms the next few days. Flash flood warnings close Cottonwood Wash 🙁

We wake up the next morning and decide to do a day hike up the Cohab Canyon trail, as it’s littered with multiple slot canyons and scrambling opportunities.

The weather goes from sunny skies to abrupt thunderstorms. It gets so bad that at one point, Keane and I are forced to sheek shelter underneath a sandstone cave.

All in all, the weather is rugged, and we come back to camp that night to a wet tent and lightning illuminating the sky. No one ever said the West was forgiving 🙂

Next stop- Wyyooming!

Southwest

Arizona Slots

Keane and I decided to drive to Page, Arizona to hit up some slot canyons while visiting his grandparents in Phoenix. As we entered through Navajo country, we noticed a hitchhiker making his way up the 89 freeway, trudging his way through the 100 degree heat. We decide to give him a lift and after he gets in, we learn that his car had broken down the previous month, and he’d been hitchhiking the past couple of weeks as a means to getting around (in this case, to check on a friend, 40 miles away from his Chapter House). His entire family- even his sisters- have taken up welding, and they often overlook the potential safety hazards (especially for eyes) to make ends meet. He’s a soft-spoken and optimistic guy in his mid 30s, and my heart gets a little heavy when he starts talking about his daughter, how she’s hoping to apply to college in a couple of years. We drop him off at Lechee, and reminded of the socioeconomic reality that many people across the country face, we trudge on.

Needless to say, we eventually get to Antelope, and the grandeur is all sorts of cray:

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Since the guided tour ended with some sunlight left (you’re not allowed in without being part of one), we decided to explore another, more isolated canyon by ourselves. Not a soul, and just as lovely:

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California

Hot Springs Mermaid

What’s scalding, remote, and travertine? The wilderness gems of the 395. You camp. You sweat. You watch the cows graze and enviously eye your Blue Moon. And after talking to a few nudist locals (ahh don’t stare at his package, don’t stare at his package), I realize there’s an artform to doing this right. I’ll get it someday 🙂