Monday, October 30, 2017

Surviving Timp

August 12, 2017. The day that could have been my last. Almost was my last. Maybe "almost" is too dramatic, but it didn't feel like it at the time. I still shudder to think about it.

The day started out beautifully. Jeff and I left the house early to meet our friends, Lisa and Mike to hike Mount Timpanogos. We decided to hike from Aspen Grove since we'd hiked the Timpanooke trail the last time. I've hiked from the south side before, but it was a long time ago and mostly in the dark, so I'd forgotten how many waterfalls are along this trail! Every switchback set the scene for a new waterfall, and each was as impressive and stunning as the last. Jeff was in waterfall heaven!

The trail was gorgeous. All I could remember is that it was steep and had never ending switchbacks, and that was true, but it was also lush, covered in wildflowers, with amazing views back down the canyon. We took lots of breaks going up, partially to catch our breath, but also to enjoy the incredible scenery.

At the top of the trail it leveled out and we passed through a wide open field of wildflowers. I was worried the flowers wouldn't be as breathtaking coming up from Aspen Grove, but again, I was wrong. We hit the fields at peak wildflower time, too, and I could have been happy stopping there. Which, in retrospect, maybe we should have.

Emerald Lake, with it's famous injury-causing glacier behind it (some hiker had broken both legs sliding down it the week before), was pretty spectacular. Jeff went down to feel the water, but I stayed up high where I could admire the scene from a distance.

After the lake, the trail became much more technically challenging. There were some pretty sheer dropoffs that made me a bit shaky and then a massive slippery snowfield. Usually by this time of year the snowfield would be small if there at all, but our long, snowy winter last year meant the snowfield was very much alive and well. Our friends are from Seattle and the snow made them really nervous. I was super proud of them for conquering this section!

After the snowfield, we just had a few switchbacks before we were at the saddle. We had heard there were some mountain goats up ahead, and I was anxious to get up there to see them before they wandered off. We made it to a turn just below the goats and decided to wait there for the rest of our group. Bad decision. Very bad decision. But I did get some great pictures while we were waiting. Note this bush in the corner of the picture below. That bush very possibly saved my life.

So there we were, resting on this super slick and loose rock, below these mountain goats.

Can you see the goats?

Here's a zoomed in version of the above picture.

So there we were resting, minding our own business, when someone yells, "ROCKS!" and we look up to see a couple dozen rocks coming straight for us. The goats had kicked some rock loose, and these rocks that were bigger than my head were bouncing down the mountain like a terrifying version of Plinko. They were bouncing unpredictably, but in a zigzag path that would lead right to where Lisa and I were sitting. A shot to the head from one of those would be deadly, and getting hit anywhere else would likely break some bones and could push you down the cliff. With only seconds to decide what to do, we each scrambled to move out of the way, but mind you we were on a steep hillside composed of loose rock. Moving quickly was not an easy feat! I leapt to the side just in time to see a huge rock probably a foot across barely miss Lisa's head. I jumped to my right and thankfully it stayed far enough left to miss me. But my jump had made me lose my balance, and I grabbed at some wildflowers (bush with purple flowers in one of the pictures above). They stopped my fall, and other than some scrapes and a pounding heart, we were ok!

I'm sure I have had close calls in my life before when providence has saved me, but never before have I felt disaster brush so near nor have I felt that my life was specifically spared and protected in a single moment. We were all so shaken by it, that we quickly scrambled up to the saddle to get out of harm's way, but decided we were unable to go any farther. The idea of more steep dropoffs and loose rock was enough to do us all in. We steadied our beating hearts while looking down on Utah lake and the valley and called it good.

On the hike down, I felt like everything was even more beautiful and jaw dropping than on the way up. Perhaps I was just feeling grateful to be alive and well to appreciate it! We made two executive decisions as we traversed back down the mountain: (1) We will never EVER take our kids up here. If they want to hike it, it will be when they are old enough to go on their own and I don't have to witness it. (2) From here on out, my destination will be Emerald Lake and no farther!

Friday, October 27, 2017

Coming Home

Apparently we weren't quite ready to come back to earth after our week in heaven, so we stretched our trip out just one day longer and met up with some friends in Glacier. It just so happened they were on their way to Banff, so we had a partial "band" reunion with the Nances and Mays (we missed little Brad) in one of the country's most beautiful places. The other band families weren't going to arrive until later in the day, so we convinced Curtis, Katie, and my parents to join us for one last hike that morning. We had to drive all the way across Glacier to get to it, and holy moly, that drive was incredible! I don't think words will do it justice, and I didn't get any good pictures, but if you every want to see majestic mountains complete with waterfalls, wildflowers, steep drop offs, and pristine snowy glaciers, take a drive on Going-to-the-Sun road. Just powder your palms before you start because some of those cliffs will make them sweat!

We chose to hike to Avalanche Lake. The hike was a little over 2 miles each way, making it the longest hike we'd done with our kids the whole trip, but they were troupers and did great. I thought by that point I'd seen enough beauty that I might be less impressed by yet another lake, but 'twas not the case. Avalanche Lake had more of that beautiful blue-green water, but what was really impressive were the three massive waterfalls coming down the mountainside feeding the lake. It felt like something out of a Disney movie where colors and grandeur are emphasized and oversold. But this was real! God truly is an artist.

We booked it back down from Avalanche, stopping just long enough to admire a slot canyon at the bottom, and drove ten minutes down the road to meet up with Brad, Eric and their families. From there we went on a two-mile loop through some wooded areas, around a small lake, alongside a gorgeous river with lots of impressive features, and ended up with a mystical view of Lake MacDonald where the river met the lake. It was beautiful and having friends along for the hike gave our kids the energy they needed to hike a grand total of seven miles that day.

A group kid shot, minus the three in backpacks.

I loved seeing the little bitty fir tree forests.

We spent the evening with our friends-- including taking all twelve of our kids to Applebees, which was pure chaos and pretty amusing-- before getting up early the next day to drive our final leg home. We were gone ten days total, went on eight hikes, saw seven jaw-dropping lakes (not including all those we drove past during our travel legs) and countless waterfalls, and encountered lots of wildlife including two bears and a moose. I'm in a pleasure coma right now just digesting all that we saw and did and reflecting on how much I loved every. single. second.

Going Private

I have resisted this for years, but I think it's time to make my blog private for a little bit. I hate private blogs - they defeat the purpose of feed readers. But I like being transparent and descriptive on my blog, and in order to keep doing that, I have to know who is reading it. So, I apologize to all my readers (all two of you), but comment on this post in the next week or two and I'll be sure to include you on the reader list.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Wonderful Waterton (Part 3)

There were a few funny and random things about our Waterton trip I don't want to forget but that don't really fit in the rest of the travelogue.

1. Strange bug bites. One morning Sawyer and Savannah woke up with dried blood on the backs of their necks. I also found some in Isabelle's hair. It looked like bug bites, but not like any bug I was familiar with. After a short scare thinking it might be lice or bedbugs, we learned that there are deer flies in the area that like to bite right on the hairline. They are irritating and itchy, but other than that, harmless. Phew!

2. Weiners of Waterton and Waffleton. Despite being a small, isolated, tourist town, Waterton had some dang good restaurants. We visited Waffleton nearly every day for leige waffles and frequented Weiners of Waterton at least twice for some impressive hot dogs and fries.

3. Logan ran out of reading material early in the week, but started picking up random books around the house when he got bored. Once I caught him reading "Love and Logic" and started laughing, but the joke's on me because he read the whole book. The rest of the week he spent giving me parenting advice and analyzing his own behavior. Oh, bother!

4. Mounties office. I turned into an embarrassing groupie when we walked past the mountie office for the first time.  When Calls the Heart has made me a big fan of mounties, so I was sheepishly excited to see one in the flesh. It didn't happen, but passing by the office and then later finding a mountie doll in the hotel gift shop were good consolation prizes.

Wonderful Waterton (Part 2)

Thursday was slightly warmer than Wednesday, so we got an early start at Cameron Lake. This lake sat surrounded by mountains with it’s source glacier at the head. My parents took Logan and Savannah on a canoe ride clear across the lake to collect some of the glacier snow to bring back. Jeff and I were able to get out in the kayaks together and went out to the very center of the lake. The kayaks were a bit tippy, especially for the guys, and Byron tipped his right over! Everyone got a turn on the water while the other –what else?—skipped rocks on the shore.

That afternoon we got the treat of a lifetime. Katie’s parents have a unique relationship with a Hutterite colony near Waterton, so they agreed to give us a tour of their colony. I’d never heard of Hutterites before (they are similar to Amish or Mennonites), so I was eager and excited to see how they lived. What a surprise, though, when we pulled up and found a gaggle of Hutterite children waiting as our tour guides! They took us all over the colony, happy to be relieved of their chores to assist as our guides. We acquired more as we went, and eventually ended up with a dozen or so between 5- and 11-years-old herding us around. It was hilarious and insightful to learn about the Hutterites through the eyes of the kids. They explained to us the meaning of the dots on their head scarfs (identifying different sects of Hutterites), how the preacher chooses their profession for them, that most of them had never seen a cow milked even though they had a dairy farm (we changed that for them that day!), and how excited they were to snitch a cherry tomato or carrot from the greenhouse. One little girl, Jayla, held my hand during most of the tour and when it came time to leave, told me she wished she could come home with me. My heart melted, and I sincerely wished I could take them all home and introduce them to the wonders of the world outside their little colony! But as different as their life is from everything I know, I could tell they as were happy and content with their situation as I am with mine. They asked me not to put pictures on social media, so you'll have to take my word on how cute they are.

On the way home from the Hutterite colony, we hit up one more hike to Blackenstan Falls. Another set of beautiful falls, but to Jeff’s dismay, they were only viewable from platforms so he couldn’t go stick his head in or climb under them.

Our last full day in Waterton, we decided to switch things up and sent half our group on boats and the other half hiking, with plans to meet up at Bertha bay in the middle. Then we switched and those who hiked now rowed, and vice versa. Can you spot their little canoe and kayaks in the water?

Jeff and Curtis took advantage of a dock at Bertha Bay for a polar plunge. I will never understand boys and their need to jump in bodies of water! This was possibly our best skipping day. I swear there was a trampoline just under the water because every rock we threw in bounced several inches off the water! Plus, the rocks were gorgeous. Isabelle and I had fun making collections and art out of them.

After our hike, we asked the kids what they wanted to do before we left Waterton. Logan had been asking the entire week to go on a bike ride all over town, so he and Isabelle and Jeff and I jumped on our bikes and headed out. We made another stop at Pat’s for candy, then decided to ride up the hill to check out the gorgeous and elaborate Prince of Wales hotel up on a hill overlooking the lake. It was a heck of a hill and we may have walked some of it, but worth the view—both of the lake and of the hotel.

Amidst all of our hiking, kayaking and rock skipping, there was a lot of game playing and relaxing going on. Somehow even with all that we did, we still had time to sleep in, sit around, and get some quality R&R in. I told the kids we were unplugging for the week, and they did surprisingly well with it. They discovered they love board games, especially Settlers of Catan and Monopoly. Many rounds were played over the week.

In retrospect, it was about as perfect a family trip as I could ask for. There were activities for everyone, we did almost everything all together, and it was a good balance of adventure and relaxation. The proximity of the Palmer House to everything in town made it so that small groups could head out, and if others wanted to join them later, they were less than 3 minutes from catching up. The tennis courts were well used, as was the park and our bikes. I felt like I had stepped back in time 50 years and I loved it! I think I would have liked to raise my family before the invention of wifi and video games and Netflix and YouTube. I loved that we were having wholesome, healthy, good old-fashioned fun! Now that I'm back home and school is looming just 2 weeks away, I am longing for the slow and easy pace that Waterton offered. But I'm glad we had the reprieve and will cherish the memories forever.

Update: I wrote this post as we drove home from Canada, but it's taken me almost three months to edit the pictures and finish it. In that time, a massive wildfire burned most of Waterton. The township survived, but the beautiful trails and sights that we saw are all blackened. I am devastated by this disaster and wish there were some way to turn back time and save it. I had every intention of visiting Waterton many more times, but now I don't know if I can bear to. I almost wish I had never known what a paradise it was so I wouldn't feel the loss as acutely. But that's not true. I wouldn't have missed this trip for the world. "'Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all."