Ptarmigan Traverse North Cascades Glacier Peak mountaineering

Vanlife diaries #17-26: Summer in Washington

Frequent readers may have noticed that I haven’t published a single “Vanlife diaries” update since we were in the Sawtooths in late June, and that’s because we’ve been back in Washington for the last 2 months, spending as much time out of the van as we have in it— on various mountaineering and backpacking trips, as well as attending family functions and tending to van maintenance. There hasn’t been occasion, let alone TIME, to assemble our usual weekly updates.

But rest assured we’ve been enjoying the best of the PNW during our break from typical vanlife. In an effort to fill the gap in posts, here’s a brief look at what we’ve been up to these last 8 weeks!

Climbing Mt Rainier Emmons Glacier Camp Schurman
Sun rising over the icy slopes of Mt Rainier

What we’ve been up to this week

In July, Dan and I climbed Mt Rainier with my dad, which was pretty much the entire reason we interrupted our road trip to come back to Washington in the first place. Rainier is such an iconic volcano, and a truly epic climb, so getting to summit with family was worth absolutely anything— and it’s an experience that still overwhelms me with happiness whenever I think about it. 

You can read more about the adventure in a dedicated post: CLIMBING MT RAINIER VIA CAMP SCHURMAN & THE EMMONS GLACIER

Climbing Mt Rainier Emmons Glacier Camp Schurman
Me and Dan on Burroughs 2 with our full packs
Climbing Mt Rainier Emmons Glacier Camp Schurman
Dan climbing by headlamp behind me
Climbing Mt Rainier Emmons Glacier Camp Schurman
Dad, me, and Dan on the summit of Mt Rainier

Not long after Mt Rainier, I joined my parents on another 5-day mountaineering trip into the North Cascades that proved just as scenic and, in many ways, even more challenging. We climbed 2 peaks and came home with some wild stories for Dan!

Read about the adventure here: SAHALE ARM TO BOSTON BASIN VIA MT BUCKNER & SAHALE PEAK

Sahale Arm Buckner Boston Basin North Cascades National Park hike climb
Hiking to Sahale Arm
Sahale Arm Buckner Boston Basin North Cascades National Park hike climb
Just below the summit of Mt Buckner

Back on solid ground, Dan and I set out to thru-hike one of the most unbelievably spectacular and highly coveted areas within the Alpine Lakes Wilderness of Eastern Washington, the Enchantments. 

It’s virtually impossible to score a backpacking permit these days, so instead we completed the entire 20+ mile trail in a single day and, over the course of 12hrs, fell completely in love with the Enchantments. It was a long day, but so incredibly worth it!

Enchantments day hike thru-hike in 1 day Alpine Lakes
The Enchantments are one of Washington’s most pristine hiking areas
Enchantments day hike thru-hike in 1 day Alpine Lakes
Climbing Aasgard Pass
Enchantments day hike thru-hike in 1 day Alpine Lakes
Colchuck Lake

The very next day, Dan dropped me off in Chelan for my cousin Raquel’s bachelorette party, which provided a welcome (and very wine-fuelled) reprieve from all the rough trails. Although it was climbing Rainier that dictated when we had to arrive in Washington this summer (our base camp permits were for early July), it was my cousin’s wedding at the end of August that ultimately kept us here a full 2 months— as a result, I got to be a part of her celebration at every corner!

And as someone who’s rarely in one place long enough to attend family functions or friends’ events, it was amazing to get so much time with the people we care about. 

In early August, I set out again with my parents and several of their climbing friends on a 9-day expedition through the North Cascades. The Ptarmigan Traverse represents classic Washington mountaineering at its absolute best and, for as long as I’ve been hearing about it, I’ve been determined to experience this iconic route myself. 

It ended up being the most challenging trip of my entire outdoor career; read more about the adventure here: WHAT FRESH HELL IS THIS?: PTARMIGAN TRAVERSE 2021

Ptarmigan Traverse North Cascades Glacier Peak mountaineering
LeConte Glacier
Ptarmigan Traverse North Cascades Glacier Peak mountaineering
Climbing the South Cascade Glacier
Ptarmigan Traverse North Cascades Glacier Peak mountaineering
Approaching camp at White Rock Lakes

Returning from the Ptarmigan a broken woman (emotionally exhausted and with several bad injuries), it took more than a week for me to get back outside, even on a short trail. The upside was that it gave me time to help my newly engaged mother shop for rings and plan her wedding, but the downside was certainly my swollen, barely ambulant knees and the bloody ice burn on my backside. 

When I could manage to sit normally and walk more than a few miles, Dan and I hopped into the van and drove up to Mountain Loop Highway to camp for several days. 

We only got one summit in (beautiful Mt Pugh) before my knees gave out, but at least we were able to enjoy some time outside with our van, which had been feeling increasingly hard to come by. 

Still in our van, we camped for several days in Anacortes while attending my cousin’s wedding, and had an awesome time catching up with friends and family in such a beautiful setting. I loved being part of the celebration, and it was truly a wonderful farewell to the PNW for the next few years!

The next couple days were a flurry of activity as we said goodbye to Dan’s parents and my friends and family, and then moved everything that had been in the spare room of mum’s house up to his storage unit. 

We’d been slowly tending to general van maintenance over the last couple months too, which mostly involved securing things that had wiggled loose, repotting plants, adding mountaineering gear to our “garage”, swapping out clothes in the closet, and deep cleaning everything for our departure. 

Vanlife packed garage
Packed & ready to go!

Our final weekend in Washington was spent up in Bellingham, where Dan had been living for the last 15 years. We had AC installed in the van, dropped more stuff off at the storage unit,  and then headed into the woods to camp with his friends one final time. 

It was the perfect conclusion to our time at “home”, and we are so beyond excited for the next adventure. 

Much love to all the people who made this Washington detour worthwhile, and stay tuned for regular Vanlife updates now that we are officially back on the road!

Climbing Mt Rainier Emmons Glacier Camp Schurman
Dan and I celebrated the following day with Rainier gin & tonics