Summer Escapades: Corsica Training

It’s been a looooong while since my last adventure post but we have certainly had a few exciting mountain escapades.  I will attempt to summarize them all as we are about to take off for Corsica and will have a lot to say upon return.

We had our first free weekend this summer on 7/20. With our 10 day, 112 mile trek across Corsica fast approaching we knew we needed to get out and hike, and this has been the theme for the summer. No time for climbing. The first “training hike” we settled on the West Fork Foss River Trail. The trail is 13 miles round trip with 3,700ft of elevation gain total. Seemed good. We convinced Lindsay to join us too and the three of us took off for the trailhead on Friday night. After a Leffe we were off to bed in Lindsay’s awesome 3-person tent.

Alarm went off at 6 and we hit the trail at 7am (after spilling lots of cereal on the ground). Then the hiking began. The trail conditions were amazing; beautiful bridges and wide, clear paths. Luxury. After a short walk we arrived at Trout Lake and continued on past one of the largest trees I have ever seen outside of the Redwoods (just like the WTA website says)! Next we hit Copper Lake, which was even more beautiful than the first and we started to get excited. We passed Little Heart Lake shortly after Copper and pushed through to the highest point on the hike.

We reached Big Heart Lake, the final destination, in about 3.5 hours. What were we going to do with the rest of the day!? Well, we had a nice leisurely lunch, a long nap, explored the lake, taking in views of glacier peak, and took a nice long dip in Copper Lake on the way back down. Summer had started. While we only hiked for about 5-6 hours the whole trip took 9. Needless to say, we were feeling pretty good about Corsica.

The next weekend on 7/28 we decided to step it up a notch and do the Enchantments in a day, again convincing Lindsay to come hang out. 18 miles car to car and 6,000ft of elevation gain. This hike matched up almost perfectly with our hardest day in Corsica, so it seemed fitting as the next training hike. Plus, we had wanted to check out the Enchantments for a while and since permits are incredibly hard to come by we thought the day hike would be a great way to survey the area. We knew we would have to push it a bit harder than we did on West Fork…no napping or swimming this time around.

The Enchantments were every bit as beautiful as they say. We made it up to the main basin relatively quickly. After a brief lunch stop (the brief part being enforced by me) we were moving through the most beautiful meadows with perfect rock faces all around us…and lots of goats. We made it to Aasgard Pass before we even realized how far we had gone.

And then began the descent. Aasgard pass drops about 2,500ft in 2.5miles. Ouch, my knees! It took us about two hours to reach the lake below. We took one last break before our final push to the finish. Ryan left me and Lindsay behind somewhere along the way but we ended up completing the trip in about 12 hours and 45 minutes, with Ryan shaving off only 10 minutes with his running. Legs felt good, body felt good, and a brat in Leavenworth made everything even better. When I woke up the next morning without sore quads I felt even better about our preparedness for Corsica.

The next free day was 8/11. On 8/10 we had floated the Yakima River (which was awesome!) with a bunch of friends so we didn’t want to drive too far out of the way for our Sunday hike and also weren’t in the mood to wake up too early. It is impossible to go to sleep at a reasonable hour for an “alpine start” when you are hanging out at camp with 17 people J. The highlight of the night was the amazing thunderstorm we got to watch in the desert. We miss thunder out in Seattle.

We settled on hiking up to Snow Lake near Alpental since we had been there before and would then continue on and exploring until we got tired of walking. We arrived at the trailhead at about 10am, which is incredibly late for us. We quickly got on the trail and proceeded to pass the masses. The trail to Snow Lake is filled with people! We made it to the lake quickly and were eager to continue on in hopes of losing the crowd a bit. It was interesting to see the landscape in the summer, since our previous trip to Snow Lake had been in the winter. We ate delicious blueberries, made it to Gem Lake, passed Gem Lake, looked down the valley we would have to descend to the next lake, decided we didn't want to hike back up out of that valley, and ate lunch on the banks of Gem Lake. As we sat, the clouds began to roll in and we got up to get moving. 

As we reached Snow Lake again the thunder began and our pace increased. By the time we were halfway down the descent the light rain turned into pouring rain and the distant thunder slowly crept closer. Without talking we both decided that getting back to the car as quickly as possible was most ideal. We ran past many people huddled next to trees (always good with lighting around) and made our way quickly across an open area while the rain poured down and the lightning flashed nearby. We made it to the car unharmed and very wet about 5 hours after we started. We later learned the hike was a little over 10 miles and 3,800ft of elevation gain. Not too bad for a random choice.

After the Gem Lake hike we finally realized that we really missed technical climbing and needed to get something in for the season. Our arms were pretty out of shape, so we set our sites on the West Ridge of Mt. Stuart, which is mostly a scramble. This would provide a bit of technical climbing but mostly a long hike and therefore good training. The whole trip (the way we went) was about 15 miles and 5,000ft of elevation gain, mostly on the peak itself.

We drove to the trailhead the night before and were up by 4am and on the trail by 4:30am. We estimated that it would take us about 13 hours…oops. We made great time up to Ingalls Pass and to the base of the climb. The route finding wasn’t an issue as many trip reports had cited and we were on the summit around 12:30pm. Ryan and I were feeling great. We were fast, we were climbing, and all was well. Then we reached the Cascadian Couloir. Again, like Aasgard, ouch. This time we dropped almost 5,000ft in 2 miles. We tried our best to spot cairns but quickly lost the “trail.” We wanted to go right badly and ended up following a “trail” into the woods. Quickly the slipping and bushwhacking began as our food and water got low. We continued to descend in a straight line as best we could knowing we would eventually hit the true trail. Finally, after 4 hours of working our way down we found what we were looking for! We checked in with a few campers to confirm our location and began the seemingly long trek back to the other side of Stuart where we had stashed some gear. In retrospect we should have just carried the few items with us so we wouldn't have to walk all the way back around. Either way, we made it to our water pump just as it was getting dark and were finally able to refill our now long empty dromedaries.

At Ingalls Pass we desperately asked some hikers if they had any electrolyte tabs and they pulled out two packs of shot blocks! This was the best surprise I had had all day and was just enough energy to get me back to the car quickly. The day was about 17 hours and by the time we made it to our bed in Seattle (after a stop at McDonalds), we had been up for 21 hours. It was a great adventure and as our last training hike definitely made us feel prepared for what is coming next.

This summer taught us that:

1.     We can hike fast

2.     We crave technical climbing and will never go this long without placing gear again

3.     There are tons of beautiful places in Washington that we still need to explore

4.     A relaxing day in the mountains can be fun too

5.     Steep descents are not fun and hurt my knees

6.     We should always keep an extra meal in the car for those days where we underestimate how long we need to complete our objective

7.     Car to car is the way to go

8.     We are ready for Corsica!

I’ll fill you in on our Corsica trip sometime in late September! Can’t wait for the GR-20!