Colchuck Lake (8.2 miles x 2,300 feet of climb)
What came to mind as we watched an attractive thirty-something woman feed a Canada Jay scraps right out of her hand at the summit of the Colchuck Lake hike: zoonoses–diseases (like Covid-19) that can transfer from animals to humans. The hipster hiker couple continued to feed the shades of white to dark gray, robin-size birds, “Canada Jays have very broad diets, eating anything from berries to carrion to handouts from hikers” as we hung back. My sister JoDee and I have read David Quammen’s Spillover and seen Contagion, so we kept our distance. It was the first of four outings we’d take together in mid-October, a last gasp before inclement weather on Stevens Pass would make future trips from the coast to Wenatchee difficult. During the boulder-filled, final two miles of the 2,300 foot climb to the lake, we realized that icy conditions and the three inches of fresh snow that blanketed the trees and the trails meant that we’d be forced to give up our plan to continue towards The Enchantments. In Chinook jargon, colchuck means “cold water,” which came as no surprise. Dressed for better weather, we spent less than ten minutes at the lake before heading back down. During the descent, we reunited with the fewer than 20 hikers we’d crossed paths with on the way up, plus at least 50 more. When we reached the parking lot and passed the quarter-mile long string of vehicles parked along the road beyond the packed parking lot, we realized that Fear Of Missing Out was a ridiculous reason for a hike.
Number Two Canyon (6.8 miles x 1,430 feet of climb)
When it comes to driving, my sister doesn’t act her age. Her style is less grandmotherly (which she technically is) and more more International Race of Champions, which is why I found it impossible to hold the sound effects of scaredness from escaping as she drove over washboard-y ruts and sharp craggy rocks and swerved around sharp corners with mind-numbing drop-offs. To be honest, I’m pretty sure I saw the grim reaper a couple of times. On a recent outing to the same spot, I squealed as we encountered a murderous bull snake cuddling its next meal: a chipmunk. This time, we spied a trio of turkeys fluffing their feathers. According to a Spokesman Review article, three species of turkeys have been introduced in Washington state. These had to be Merriam’s, which were introduced in 1960 and prefer “grass leaves and seeds, acorns, grasshoppers, forbs and wild strawberries.” At the parking area, JoDee ran into a couple of friends who she hadn’t seen since before the Coronavirus. The pair took off on mountain bikes as we set off on foot in a different direction. We reached a meadow with silky blonde grass that reached to our waists. Bear mace in hand and weapon in her CamelBak, she acted as leader, navigator and protector, while I lagged back, worrying about the wildlife we might encounter, like questing ticks, cougars and bears. The highlight of this day’s adventure was a half mile long trail called Waterslide that that followed a narrow valley where I imagined how easy it would be for a predator to stalk us. Fortunately, during the entire trip, the only living creatures we faced were three mountain bikers. The place lacked a lake, but with the golden leaves of the yellow aspens fluttering the breeze, the swaying of the meadow grass and the quiet, the overall experience was many times better than that of the previous day’s FOMO-fueled hike.
Echo Ridge Recreation Area (5.6 miles x 870 feet of climb)
As far as my sister is concerned, a great day of trail running starts with an empty (or nearly so) parking lot. And on day three of my Weekend At JoDee’s, she was excited at the small number of vehicles we observed (as we careened around corners) along the dirt roads and at trailheads as she drove to the Upper Trailhead Parking Area. The scenery was different than during the past two days: Ponderosa Pine dotted the otherwise dry and mostly barren hillsides. At the peak of the Ridge View trail, Lake Chelan was visible in one direction and snow-capped mountains in another. We ‘d agreed to hike, but when it involves JoDee, that’s easier said than done. After doing so for less than a mile, I spoke the words (“Should we run this?”) that I knew meant that she’d continue doing so until I made her stop. From the top, at an elevation of 3,800 feet, we ran down Upsy-Daisy, Nuthatch, and Zippity Doo-Da before returning to her car. During the winter, cross country skiers flock to the area with its 26 plus miles of flattish trails that are open 24/7. Although we’d shown up on opening day of hunting season, we ran into only one. He lamented that he’d seen but a single thing: a coyote.
Squilchuck State Park (5.1 miles x 1,350 feet of climb)
During the final of our four day trail running and hiking adventure, we returned to a familiar place: Squilchuck State Park (“Squilchuc” is a Chinook Indian word meaning “brown or muddy water.”). On past trips to this place, she’d mentioned only afterwards the various scary tracks that she’d observed. This time, covered in long (five to seven inches in length) Ponderosa Pine needles, they were impossible to see. We completed the squiggly, switchbacky course that looped the parking lot clockwise from east to west in less than an hour, encountering only one runner and a handful of mountain bikers. Except for those few humans, a couple of dogs and one mule deer derrière, we had the trails to ourselves. It was epic.
During my Weekend At JoDee’s, we spent over seven hours covering nearly a marathon distance length of trail and climbing about 6,000 feet in elevation. We learned that quiet beauty, peacefulness and serenity trump more magnificent views overpopularized by social media posts that lead to a false sense of the fear of missing.