Sunday, May 05, 2013

Trail Report: Mailbox Peak 2013

For my birthday, I decided I wanted to hike Mailbox Peak. I'd done it once before two summers ago and I wanted to do it again since it's a great accomplishment as well as a great workout.

Mailbox Peak is one of the toughest day hikes in Washington. It is 2.5 miles to the top with a 4000 foot elevation change. Some people use it to train for Mt. Rainier (you have to be able to do Mailbox Peak in a certain amount of time with a weighted pack in order to go to Camp Muir on Rainier).

When I was originally looking for hikes to do, I came across a photo of this sign. As soon as I saw this, I knew this was the hike I had to do. Some of the reviews for Mailbox Peak on Yelp are also pretty entertaining.

You start the hike by walking through a pretty forest. After that, things get rough. Mailbox Peak has several very steep, short switchbacks. If you're not walking up a steep incline, you're having to bend down and grab trees or rocks to pull yourself up. Hiking Mailbox Peak is like going up an extremely steep set of stairs, and 30% of the stairs are two feet high. The trail doesn't let up at all. On top of that, the trail is muddy and there are tree roots everywhere. It looks like something out of Lord of the Rings.


I started out with the backpack, which weighed about 20 lbs. Since I'm not in the best shape right now and since I had a lot of respiratory problems as a kid, we were going pretty slowly and my breathing made me sound like I was dying. My boyfriend wore the backpack the remaining 2/3 of the way up, which helped our speed. I'll have to work my way up to carrying the backpack the whole way.

When we broke out of the tree line, we were soon confronted with snow. Before we got here I wasn't sure how much snow would still be on the mountain, but it was more than I had anticipated, especially on the rock field. When I first hiked Mailbox Peak in the late summer, this is what the rock field looked like.

It looked a little different this time....

Half of the rock field was covered in snow. We weren't quite equipped for this, but we didn't want to climb up the rocks. Going up the snow hill was a bit frightening. It was slippery and since we were walking over a rock field, there were a few deeper holes in the snow where the spaces between the rocks were. It was pretty steep (the photo doesn't do it justice) and we didn't have a lot of traction - we had to dig our boots into the snow and step carefully. Sometimes we had to dig our hands into the snow to keep from sliding backwards. When I got to the top, I was not looking forward to going back down.

After the snow hill, the ground was dry in most places. The final stretch is also very steep and there are a lot of loose rocks. I spent over half of my time keeping low to the ground and bending down to grab onto rocks for support. Heights don't really bother me, but when I'm climbing/crawling up a steep, loose path that's out in the open, it can be slightly unnerving. If you fall, there's a good chance you'll plummet off the side and die.

It took us 3 hours to get to the top, but it was all worth it. It was a perfectly clear day and I could see the surrounding Cascades and Mt. Rainier. I could even see the Olympic Mountains and Seattle in the distance. And there was the mailbox - the reason it's called Mailbox Peak.

Gorgeous view of the Cascades.

Mt. Rainier

Seattle to the west; Olympic Mountains in the background

The mailbox at the top

After enjoying the view at the top and having a snack, we started our descent. When we got back to the snow hill, it didn't seem as scary as the first time. We slowly made our way down, and then about halfway we decided to slide down the rest of the hill, even though we were wearing shorts. It saved time and it was pretty fun. I would have loved to do it with long pants or a sled.

Going back down the mountain was hard in a different way. It was like going down a steep hill where you're taking baby steps and going slowly so you don't fall forward. Only it was like that for 2.5 miles, and there were plenty of tree roots to trip over and mud to slip on. My legs were pretty tired, weak and shaky going down. It felt kinda like someone had shredded my lower body. But we made it down and we were happy to be done!

I'm looking forward to doing more hikes this summer and seeing how they compare to Mailbox Peak. :)

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Chihuly Garden & Glass

Last weekend, I went to the Chihuly Garden & Glass Exhibit in Seattle. The artwork was gorgeous and it was a nice way to spend a couple of hours.

The artist is Dave Chihuly, who was born in Tacoma and grew up in the area. He has had collections on display and exhibitions throughout the US and in a few other countries around the world. He currently has exhibitions of his work in two other states outside of Washington. The exhibit in Seattle opened May 21, 2012 and does not have an end date, so if anyone is in the area I highly recommend going to the exhibit.

I took a lot of photos while at the exhibit. I really want to add all of them, but due to space I'm just going to share a few of my favorites.

This was my favorite part of the exhibit - the room with the glass ceiling. I love how the colors reflected on the walls.

This was a large room full of sculptures. It was like a fantasy land.

I love the contrast with the red/orange and blue.

Boat full of glass spheres. There was another boat next to it full of sculptures of different shapes.

These were all beautiful.

I could see the Space Needle through the roof the of the glass house.

The biggest sculpture in the exhibit.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Driving Cross Country

I recently moved from my hometown, Kennesaw, Georgia, to Seattle, Washington. Since I had to move my car and some of my furniture, I decided that flying and having to ship my car and all my stuff would be way too expensive. The cheapest option was to drive my car across the country and take what I could. Luckily for me, my grandpa offered to help me move. He lives in southern California, and he drove from there to Georgia so I could move more of my stuff by putting it in the back of his pickup truck. After making that long drive, he drove with my dad and me from Kennesaw to Seattle, and then he and my dad drove from Seattle back down to southern California. (My dad flew back to Georgia). I’m grateful that he helped and I've never known anyone to do that much driving in a week and a half.

Since I was moving in January, we decided it would be best to go south along I-10 and then up the west coast to avoid snow and mountain passes. As the moving date got closer, we decided that the weather was actually better in the middle of the country, so we contemplated taking I-70. However, on our second day of driving, we decided to just go for it and take I-90. It was the shortest route but we had never considered it because it went through the Rocky mountains in Montana and the Cascades in Washington. Fortunately, the weather cooperated and we were able to get through all the mountain passes with no problems. My grandpa and dad are also experienced snow drivers, so I wasn't worried.

We ended up making the journey in only 3 days (2 full days and 2 half days). We left at noon on Monday and arrived in Seattle around 3:30pm on Thursday. On our first half day, we went from Kennesaw to O’Fallon, Illinois (a little east of St. Louis, Missouri). Tuesday was a full day of travel and we made it from St. Louis to a very tiny town in South Dakota called Kadoka. Wednesday was another full day, and we went from Kadoka, South Dakota to Missoula, Montana. Thursday was a half day and we went from Missoula to Seattle. A typical full day of travel involved waking up at 4am to start driving and driving until about 6pm.

 I’m really glad that we ended up going this way; for two reasons. I was able to add 3 new states to my list of visited states (I had never been to Montana, Wyoming, or Idaho).

The other reason I’m glad we took this route is that I got to see some of the most beautiful scenery the United States has to offer. I love and appreciate nature, so this was an amazing trip for me and ended up being so much more than just a drive from point A to point B. This trip was even more of a highlight for me than graduating with my Master's degree (haha). When I got to Seattle I was thrilled to be there, but for the next 4 or 5 days I was a little depressed because I honestly missed driving and seeing so many beautiful landscapes. I was happy to be settling into my boyfriend’s apartment (as it meant the end of a temporary long distance relationship) and spending time with him, but part of me wanted to be back in my car or in my grandpa’s truck and driving through the vast expanses of land or through the mountains.

I enjoy driving and have done a lot of it in my lifetime: driving out to Colorado with my family to camp, driving to Illinois almost every year to visit family, commuting to Atlanta for work for 3 summers, commuting 2 hours to graduate school from my house. As long as there aren't stupid drivers or horrible traffic, driving can be a relaxing experience and it usually gives me a lot of time to think and just be away from everything for a while. Driving across the country was the ultimate “being away from everything” experience. When I was alone in my car, I had time to think, enjoy the scenery, or sometimes just not think at all. It was a very freeing experience and is somewhat hard to explain.

Something else that is hard to explain is the experience of seeing the land in South Dakota, Wyoming, and Montana. Montana is probably one of the most beautiful states I've ever been to. It seemed like we were surrounded by mountains wherever we drove. The small section of Wyoming we went through seemed like another planet. We passed through some smaller mountains as the sun was coming up, and then when we came down from the mountains everything just opened up and I could see for miles. There didn't seem to be any end to it or anything else in sight. I wish I could have taken better pictures there, but I know that even a 360 panoramic view would never be able to do it justice. South Dakota was similar in a way – I could see for a long way and we were heading towards the setting sun.

I wish I could accurately describe the things I saw, but there is no way to ever put them into words. All I can do is tell everyone that at some point in their lives they need to drive on I-90 from about Sioux Falls, South Dakota to about Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. I would like to do it again myself and actually get out of the car to take photos and stop at any attractions (nature) I come across.

All the pictures I took (all 400 of them – I love nature photography) were taken out of a car or truck window. I think they turned out well for me not knowing anything about photography and for being taken through a window. I’d love to see how pictures would turn out if I went back after learning a little more about my camera and being able to take photos from outside of a vehicle.

I’m going to share my favorite shots from each western state. I tried to limit it to just one or two per state.

South Dakota. I saw a lot of cows on the trip. This shot of them grazing with a beautiful sky in the background is one of my favorites. 

Wyoming. After driving though huge open spaces of flat land, we could eventually see the mountains.

Montana. Everywhere I turned, there were mountains. This picture was taken with my cell phone camera.


Montana. Gorgeous landscape that is currently my Facebook cover photo as well as the header image for this blog. 

Montana. This is when we were going through the pass between Missoula, MT and Coeur D'Alene, ID. 

My grandpa and I. He's awesome for helping me with my move and doing over 6,000 miles of driving. 

Washington. Pretty mountains and sky. 

Washington. While going through the Snoqualmie pass it started snowing quite a bit. 

Washington. Snoqualmie pass. 

As soon as I can, I want to go driving out West again. Some part of me feels like that’s where I belong. I’ve lived in suburbs and cities all my life and I enjoy them, but sometimes I feel caged. The West is freedom. The land is stunning and the open spaces are so immense. That’s where I want to be. <3