Tiffany Ramble – May 27 – 30, 2019

Pasayten talked me into another meander up Tiffany Mountain to start our 2019 backpacking season.  Last spring we camped close to the 8242-foot summit of Tiffany..  I figure we camped close to 8200 feet.  This year, we decided to make a more leisurely, retired senior gentleman’s trip – including leaving for the drive to the trailhead at a more civilized hour.  We rationalized our later-than-normal start rather than our usual first-light banzai approach to the trip with “We can start later because we’re going to camp just a couple of miles up the trail.”

Our plan was to camp near the trail junction to Whistler Pass, which is about two miles up from the trailhead at what I’ve always called Freezeout Pass.  I was told it is not noted as a ‘pass’ on some maps.  I explained that it was on others and I choose to call it a pass. I suppose to cartographers the issue here is that this divide does not provide separation between drainages.  However, it is a divide even though both sides of the ridge contribute to Boulder Creek.  Be that as it may, it was introduced to me as Freezeout Pass and that is what I choose to call it.

The lower section of the Freezeout Ridge Trail is snow-free.  There are a number of trees down across the trail, but neither Pasayten nor I have any problem navigating over, under, or around these obstacles, so it it pretty easy to maintain the decided-upon first-trip-of the-season pace of 1 mile per hour.  One mile per hour also lends itself well to my current “John Muir” pace.  He called it sauntering.  Old John said the word “hike” offended him, that it seemed sacrilegious to hike through what he considered a cathedral. 

I do like sauntering, and strolling, and meandering.  Also enjoy pausing to take in the view, smell the roses, have a snack or sip of water, badger my companion, take a picture or three, and generally avoid marching up the trail.  So that’s what I am concertedly focused on doing rather than hiking up the trail.  Takes discipline to saunter after so many years of pushing oneself to get somewhere.  To see how fast one can travel so many miles up, or down, however many feet in elevation – trying to arrive at a given destination in as short as time as possible.

This is a good trip to see just how well sauntering works.  We are not going that far, nor up that high.  We have all day to arrive at, well, wherever we choose to stop.  We have no pre-determined destination.  Rather we are heading to an area of the mountain to scope out the best campsite close to an adequate patch of snow to supply the water we’re going to need during the next few days.

Driving up the road, we noted that the upper slope of Tiffany is more snow-covered than we thought it would be. This alleviated our concerns as to whether last winter’s lighter-than-normal snowfall had all melted – snow being the only source of water on upper Tiffany Mountain.  As we headed up the trail, we could see the snow-covered upper sections above us.

Somewhere beyond the first mile, we encounter the first patch of snow covering the trail.  It is not a big deal and it is easy to find a way past it.  Before exiting the forested lower shoulder, we do have to cross a couple of patches of snow, but they are not very deep or extensive.  The first meadow above the trees is lightly covered with patches of snow. It is not deep, nor continuous and it easy to find ways past without very much zigzagging.  The higher we go the more continuous the snow patches become. The snow is not deep and it is evident that this is new snow which must have fallen during last week’s cold and precipitation.

These meadows are separated by copses of trees, and forested rocky outcroppings. Each successive meadow is higher in elevation, has more patchy snow and the snow is deeper with more of the trail being covered.  It is still not post-holing territory though I manage to go shin-deep a few times breaking trail.  I wonder how is it that I am sauntering and still breaking trail?  Hmm, could this mean that Pasayten is sauntering, too?  Personally, I think he is very appreciative that I am maintaining such a sedate pace as it allows him to take many breathers without my getting too far ahead.

After about two hours, or two miles, we encounter the first substantial bank of snow left over from winter.  A bit of wandering south of the trail allows Pasayten to find his perfect tent spot. or at least a suitable one.  He points out a spot he deems suitable for me, but I decide to wander a bit more and find my perfect spot  The two spots are within sight of one another with perhaps just enough distance between them to buffer the sound of Pasayten turning over every half-hour during the night on his crinkly mattress.  I discover later that it is not adequate, but the distance does moderate the intensity of said crinkles.  I only notice it as I snuggle back into my cocoon to return to sleep during the wee hours rather than being disturbed by the crackling crinkling.

I opted to carry up my brand-new, 3-pound, single-wall $30 tent.  This is the first time I set it up on a backpacking trip.  I have set it up a couple of times at home, and meant to sleep in it before relying upon it to shelter me out in the wild, but that didn’t happen.  The tent has two bug mesh doors and two vestibules. The two doors enclose the floored sleeping section which concerned me a bit as it is only 28-inches wide.  This is one reason I meant to sleep in the tent out in my yard.  My questions about condensation in the closed up tent is another season I meant to do a test sleepover.

As there are almost no insects to bug me, I can sleep with both doors unzipped and have plenty of elbow room.  Zipping the doors up should provide additional protection from the wind though the doors are no-see-um mesh.  I like the idea that I can roll up all four vestibule flaps and have a shaded, floored breezeway to recline in with or without bug protection.  The design seems quite adaptable to my senior whims.

This first afternoon is mostly spent puttering around the campsite, setting up my kitchen and having lunch, watching Pasayten pack his gravity-flow-h2o-filter “dirty-bag” with snow, and dozing in my chair after checking out the view.  I like this meadow campsite – the main view is southeast looking out over the upper Boulder Creek drainage toward Clark Peak with Whistler Pass hidden behind a shoulder of Tiffany Mountain.  Behind me on the northwest side is one of the forested rocky islands that punctuate the meadows. An island which I hope will provide some shelter from most of what I am used to being the prevailing wind direction.  As it turns out, most of the wind we get comes from the north and northeast mainly over aptly-named Whistler Pass.

Picking up my chair and moving around the downhill base of the treed island, I can set up looking west and southwest over the meadows and a bit farther that way, I can see up to Tiffany’s summit.  This area becomes our chosen spot to watch and photograph the sunsets which are well worth waiting for.  I decide to call this our patio.

First night out I am always pretty restless. I have never slept very soundly, nor the whole night through.  This first night I have an added issue to deal with – I cannot seem to get my feet warm!  Though tucked into my bag with wool socks on, my feet are icy.  A strange occurrence for me as usually I sleep with my bag unzipped near the footbox so I can stick my normally overheated feet out to cool them off.  I have to wonder if this is a sign of not enough fuel inside me, or simply another item to deal with as I grow older.  Switching socks doesn’t help – I found an extra pair of woolies in the bottom of my clothes bag and tried them to no avail.  Finally, I go barefeet roll onto my back and draw my feet onto the mattress where my legs have warmed it.  My feet begin to warm which makes me consider if perhaps the socks were restricting the blood flowing through the capillaries, but it is too technical a subject in the wee hours and I focus on getting some sleep now that my feet are warming.

Next thing I know, it is morning.  I know it is morning because Pasayten is crowing like a rooster.  Seems like he thinks I should rise when he does.  Being me, I roll over and doze a bit, but sound sleep evades me as I hear my companion puttering around his campsite.  For heaven’s sake, what is he doing now?  Seems like even my chosen spot is not distant enough from his camp.  Oh well, I peek out and see that it is going to be a nice morning though actual sunrise over the shoulder of Tiffany will not happen for a while.

Typical morning waiting for the warming rays of sunshine, sipping coffee, crunching a Belvita biscuit along with some oatmeal for me while Pasayten has some new freeze-dried breakfast concoction which he decides he will not be buying again.  We both move our chairs into the first patch of sunshine and revel in the warmth.

Warm now, breakfast done, second mug of coffee finished,  It is time for a game of Cribbage.  actually three games as after two we are tied and need the third game to determine who has to carry the cribbage set.  Winner is allowed to carry the extra 7 ounces.  I lobbied that the loser should carry, but since Pasayten bought the set, he claims he get to make rules concerning it.  He won’t allow me to pay for half so I get a vote, but it would probably always end in a deadlock anyway.  I did ask if the rule was subject to change?  He said that if he wins, the loser gets to carry the set.  Looks like it has become a piece of my regular kit.

So go these early days – enjoying the sunshine, napping a bit, watching the clouds drift by, collecting snow for water, watching it melt.  Exciting times!

We do make a couple of dayhikes – first day we saunter over to Whistler Pass for lunch, checking out the view and scoping that area for possible future trips.  The next day we hike the other direction ending on the ridge above Little Tiffany Lake, which is still completely frozen over though some melt areas can be seen around the perimeter of the lake,  While hanging out on this ridge, we take note of dark clouds building up to the north of us.  It looks ominous out over Horseshoe Basin up in the Pasayten Wilderness and we can see precipitation falling here and there.

So far, we have had some wind and a sprinkle or two at out camp, but this is looking more serious.  At first it seems as though the clouds are going to pass over to the north of us, but a shift in the wind alerts us to “maybe not so.”  So it’s time to head back to camp, especially since one of us forgot to grab their rain shell when rushed to head out.  Pasayten is somewhat alarmed by this forgetfullness – you’d think he was the one who didn’t bring his rain gear!

I blame my lapse on the fact that I was still digesting the treats from Cinnamon Twisp that Dale Sekijima delivered this morning.  If I’d known we were going to have room service deliver tasty fresh pastries, I think I would’ve delayed my second mug of coffee, perhaps even skipped having that instant oatmeal.  Sharing a couple of signature Cinnamon Twisp sticky-buns pastries, a cookie or two and a Blueberry muffin while standing around in a fall of graupel just shows how much we appreciated the treats.  Thank you, Dale!

After the second dayhike, we ended up sequestered while the storm cell first thought to miss us passes over. It turns out to be a good test for my $30 shelter.  Rain, graupel, a bit of hail along with some pretty strong gusts of wind allow me to observe exactly how strong this one-person shelter is in a blow that shakes the tent so hard at one point I worried about the UL stakes holding.  Though tempted to grab the overhead internal spreader bar – kind of like  a sissy-bar in a vehicle, I let the wind have it’s way and my little tent handles it like a champ!  I do note a drip or two at each spot the door roll-up tapes are sewn into the seams – will have to seam-seal these after I get home.  Otherwise, there are no issues with my new shelter.

Fourth morning arrives – this is exit day.  We plan to head down the mountain by 10 AM, but find ourselves coffeed-up, fed, and packed early so we head out after one more policing walkaround our campsites.  The grass is flattened where our tents were pitched, there are footprints in the snow and a muddy spot.  Otherwise we leave no trace that we’ve been there.  Only other sign of our 3-night stay is some depressions in the winter’s snow banks from us gathering snow to melt.

The trip out is an easy saunter of an hour.  That time includes conversations with the father and son we met on the trail and the gent we encountered cutting out a deadfall tree on the lower trail.  We learned he works as a Wilderness Ranger out of the Tonasket USFS office.  I asked how old he was.  Seventy-seven!  Asked what the pay was — “Fuel” he said, “they buy my food and gasoline. I’m a volunteer.”  Learned he was a smoke jumper back in the day .  Jumped with some guys we know – it is a small world even out in the boonies.

All in all, a great shakedown Ramble on Tiffany Mountain.