Thursday, August 18, 2011

My NOLS experience in the spectacular Pasayten wilderness

It's my last day in the beautiful Pasayten wilderness backcountry of the Pacific Northwest of Washington. In less than 48 hours I will enjoy my first shower in over a week, a glass of wine (ok probably a bottle) and some fresh food, but as I sit in the ridge-top saddle between Slate Peak and Haystack Mountain and look out at the valley of thick evergreen pines I long for none of it....

My NOLS experience over the past week has been jam packed with swings and roundabouts. Almost everyday there were both aspects that I loved and really enjoyed and also experiences that I found difficult or loathed the thought of. Surprisingly as I reflect back now, those elements which I disliked at the time have become memories of fulfilment and accomplishment.

I entered into this week with some goals in mind and as I sit surrounded by wildflowers, mountains and stunning vistas I can confidently conclude my mission successful. My new skills include glissading, snow self arrest, scrambling on scree, river crossing, bear protection techniques, map reading and orientation, off trail bushwhacking and Leave No Trace principals. Although honestly I couldn't go so far as to use leaves and water to wipe my ass; babysteps...babysteps...

After a truly gourmet final backcountry dinner I sat with my fellow students and instructors  as the sun was swallowed by the American Alps and the sky evolved through a palette of orange and pink hues. The moon rose over a snow dotted peak as we reflected on our challenges and accomplishments, we each contemplated what being in the wilderness meant to us and what aspects we would take back to the front country with us.

Overall living in the wilderness; camping, cooking and lugging a 20kg pack over mountains, rocks, meadows and woods has been a challenging and fantastic experience. I walk away knowing that working as a Tour/Trip Leader is exactly what I want to do, a job that for me won't be a job at all but something that I want to wake up and do everyday.

As I prepare for another meal of lentils and ramen, a last night of freezing my tits off and the routine onslaught of evening mosquitoes I look forward to an early morning transit out of the Northern Cascades to where a hot shower and train back to Seattle await.

I spent the week leading up to my NOLS course as house-mate of Ryan from back in Antarctic days, enjoying his bachelor pad and some quality time with Jackson; pooch with attitude, his big screen projector TV and the delish Seattle cafe scene. I squeezed in a 10 mile hike, much longed for Indian food, a trip to the Pike St Market, an expensive visit to REI, caffeine overload at the original Starbucks, quality time and giant sized popcorn at the big screen (x2), (the only thing missing was Phil) and an hour long massage indulgence.

The six week US stint of my adventure come to an end in a few days but here is the kicker....South America Round 2 is next!! I had been debating over the past few weeks what I would do with the last month of my amazing journey, tossing around ideas and options but unable to make a decision. One of the things I really wanted to see while in South America was a flock of pink flamingos; that box has been left unticked so I'm off on a jet plane to Bolivia to seek them out.... My last month will be spent immersed in the Bolivian culture accompanied by just a little Dutch influence...

One heavy ass pack on top of a big ass mountain!

Pine tree graveyard

Dawn beauty

Sharing first rays with the wildlife

A valley of pine....stunning

From the scree and snow to the valley and lake below

Beautiful lake...mosquito hell

Nature in brilliant simplicity and oh so beautiful

Me as leader of the day and my crew

Old man of the mountain

Worth the hike up the mountain

Pasayten sunset...summer snow and all

Trip leaders and new friends

NOLS TLS810 Crew

Sneaky Demi...

Last evening lakeside

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