Heliotrope Trip Report – Part 1: Preparation

by Savannah Wishart

“She lost herself in the trees, among the ever-changing leaves. She wept beneath the wild sky as stars told stories of ancient times. The flowers grew towards her light, the river called her name at night. She could not live an ordinary life, with the mysteries of the universe hidden in her eyes.”

― Christy Ann Martine

It’s only now – months and seasons after a collection of adventures – that I’m realizing that “trip reports” are a fun genre in the storytelling world of blogs. There’s much to complain about the internet, but one perk is that the world wide web makes publishing adventures accessible to most. We don’t have to find an agent, write a book, and get published by a third party in order to put ourselves out there. 

This fun fact is obvious for many, but came to my attention as I was researching a mini human-powered expedition for the annual “Live Like Liz” Adventure Grant hosted by Jones Snowboards and the American Alpine Insitute. 

For less than a week, I poured myself into the world of backcountry trip planning. It’s a world of unknowns to me, and I buried myself in a steep learning curve. It’s a complex world to understand in a timeframe of less than a week. Why a week? Well, because I stumbled upon the grant at the last minute. And whoosh, into it I poured myself. It was a great reminder of how much I can accomplish in limited time when I have a clear goal and a deadline to work with (one of the constant things I need to actively work on as an entrepreneur). 

As I researched possible destinations for a backcountry exploration in the coming spring months, I scoured the trip reports of past participants to avoid covering the same terrain, and learned how to read gradient maps to account for both possible routes and avalanche danger. This landed my vision in the middle of the Olympic Peninsula. I quickly learned that trip planning for a place you’ve never been is a bit trickier than I anticipated. There’s a lot of guess work, high risk, and limited knowledge to pull from.

That’s where I discovered the abundance of trip reports that exist to document these fun expeditions. The area I mapped out is remote enough that there isn’t much internet traffic providing information, but I did manage to find a few diaries outlining similar treks through the area – complete with beautiful images of sweeping mountain ranges and frozen glaciers (one of them being shared by Jason Hummel – a photographer and inspiring human I saw present at Paper Whale – who is on a mission to ski all of Washington State’s named glaciers). 

The effect was two-fold: I dug myself deeper into the research bubble, even more excited at the possibility of the adventure I was planning. Second, I realized that I needed to finally focus my creative attention on sharing the stories of all the adventures in the last year. The list only continues to grow longer the longer it sits. As far as I can tell from my own personal experience, folks in the Pacific Northwest are notoriously bad at sitting still. 

So here we go! Let’s rewind back in time to Heliotrope Ridge Trail.

The trip report that has been nagging most insistently at the back of my mind was planted back in September: bike-packing and backpacking a three-day and two-night camping trip to a local glacier, Heliotrope. 

Heliotrope was one of the first and most frequently referenced trail names I heard tossed around ever since arriving to Bellingham. With it was the caveat that the road to the trail was washed out, and difficult to access – an unfortunate detail as it had been one of the most popular trails in the area. 

That is, “unfortunate” for anyone who didn’t want to figure out how to add four human-powered miles to the start and then again to the end of the trip. Fortune shone in favour for those with a little more adventurous spirits – a unique opportunity to explore a popular place with less people afoot. That weekend in September, we were part of the latter. 

As much as I’ve identified as an outdoors-woman my entire life, my outdoors-y-ness has mostly been confined to long hikes over a single day. I have memories of camping, but when I’ve paused to think of what timeframe those emanate from, they stretch back to my single digit years on this planet. Before diving into this Heliotrope adventure, Brandon and I had gone camping during the summer, but this would be the first triage of bike-packing, backpacking, and camping all-in-one. 

What’s bike-packing?

I’d soon find out. But really, it’s just as it sounds: carrying all of your gear somewhere along the frame of the bike and over your back. It sounds easy enough, but I discovered it was a bit more challenging than I expected. 

Leading up to the adventure, my many years of physical training were on my mind. I had no idea what I was getting in to, which was to my benefit. “Ignorance is bliss” is a cliché for a reason. Because I didn’t know what level of challenge we faced, preparation was simplified to a handwritten checklist of material items needed. 

Before big events, I used to ask others (and later, myself) what I needed to do before Go-Time. I remember this clearly before my first 12 hour ruck event. The answer was simple, and obvious: if you’re not ready the week before such a physically demanding event, nothing you do that week will change your performance for the better. 

It’s obvious in hindsight, but that realization completely changed my perspective to value the consistency of my training, as well as the importance of rest days. I have since practiced balance between focusing on Consistency for maintenance, and Intensity to push limits to the next level. 

As I prepared for the unknown thousands of kilometers away from that perspective shift a few years ago, I remembered that nugget of wisdom and felt confidence in my body. As a default to my existence as a human, maintaining my physical strength is the foundation to everything I do. Material items can be organized in a simple checklist.

So what else was there to prepare? 

The flag of concern that lay at the back of my mind was the uncertainty of the emotional landscape that can fluctuate between extremes when you push your body through difficult physical challenges. I know too well the demons you can encounter when you’re carrying 40 pounds on your back at 4 am, and it’s seven hours into an event. Was this what I was stepping into? How would I handle possible emotional turbulence in the heat of a physically demanding challenge with a loved one in the heart of the remote wilderness? 

Fortunately, my years as a life coach focused on mental resilience pushed the concern to the back of my mind, where it existed not as an active worry – but as a flag post of something to keep my eye on as the hours and days unfolded into the unknown. When everything is an unknown, there’s nothing to do but trust that you’ve done your best to prepare for what lay ahead and take one step at a time to explore the journey along the chosen path. 

Before I carry on with Part 2 of our Heliotrope adventure (reflections from Day 1), I’ll share a friendly reminder for your big outdoors adventures.

Everything is figureoutable. A past version of myself would waste copious amounts of energy worrying about having the perfect plan, the right amount of everything, and all of the details in between. In the end, as humans we can get by with so much less than we think we need. If you’re preparing for your own trip, remember that less is often better. And as long as you’ve been building your foundation in daily commitments to strength training and mindfulness – your body will be stronger than you think it is!

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