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Author: Max Karren

Max's early childhood was spent in the shadow of the Wasatch Mountains in Northern Utah and his teenage years in the red rock desert of Southern Utah. Thanks to his dad and the Boy Scouts, he was able to spend a lot of time hiking at an early age. He completed his first 14-mile day hike at age 7 in Zion National Park and was backpacking by age 11. He's now a full-time nomad and travels the American West in an RV with his wife Kim and daughter Maia, doing hikes along the way.

Review: Funwater Inflatable Paddle Board SUP Cruise

This summer, Funwater sent us one of their best selling paddle boards to review.

Use code FORMAX15 to receive a 15% discount at checkout: funwaterboard.com

Kim poses next to our Funwater board at Snooks Bottom
Kim poses next to our Funwater board at Snooks Bottom

Between all of the hiking, rock climbing, and RV’ing we’ve done over the past few months, we haven’t gotten out on the paddle board as much as I’d like. That being said, the few times we’ve taken it out have been dreamy.

Max (the author) having fun on the water
Max (the author) having fun on the water

Back in June, we camped at Bear Lake for three nights and took the paddle board out every day. The unboxing experience was exciting and I was pleasantly surprised by how easy it was to get the SUP (stand-up paddle board) inflated and ready to take on the water.

Max (the author) gets his pump on
Max (the author) gets his pump on

This was our first time owning a paddle board and only our second time using one, but we had no problems getting the product to work as it should.

The paddle board is easy to deflate and stash in its carrying case
The paddle board is easy to deflate and stash in its carrying case

The SUP came folded up in a tidy backpack case with shoulder straps. A manual pump was included, along with a 3-piece paddle, ankle leash, three removable fins, a waterproof dry bag, and a waterproof case for the beach.

Funwater hooks you up with all the accessories you need
Funwater hooks you up with all the accessories you need

Although I was impressed by the paddle board’s stability, the lake’s waves tested my balance, even though they were small by Bear Lake standards. This SUP definitely performs best on smooth, glassy water.

Kim paddle boards on a satiny lake in Colorado
Kim paddle boards on a satiny lake in Colorado

This morning, Kim and I took turns paddle boarding at Snooks Bottom in Fruita, Colorado. The water was as flat as a pancake and we had a wonderful time! We made friends with a pointer mixed dog who wasn’t camera shy. He wanted us to take him for a float, but his owner decided to continue walking him instead.

Funwater SUPs are canine-approved!
Funwater SUPs are canine-approved!

For beginner paddlers that are looking for an affordable SUP to take out on lakes, I can’t recommend this paddle board enough. Funwater has made a quality product at a low price, which is why it doesn’t surprise me that this paddle board has the “Amazon’s Choice” designation.

Closer view of the Funwater paddle board with desert cliffs in the background

The only accessory I wish I had was an electric air pump. The manual pump gives your arms a great workout, but it is a bit laborious. Maybe I’ll pick one up down the road.

Review: Isobaa Merino Blend Trainers

A few months ago, Isobaa gave me a pair of their Merino Blend Trainers to review.

I know what you’re thinking – “But Max, isn’t Back o’ Beyond a hiking blog? These shoes don’t look like hiking shoes.”

Well, you’re right. Contrary to what you might assume based off my posts, I don’t spend 100% of my time hiking. Sometimes my wife makes me do other things, like go to nice restaurants, bar hops, and wineries.

My Isobaa Merino Blend Trainers in their natural habitat
My Isobaa Merino Blend Trainers in their natural habitat

Kim and I are longtime fans of wearing merino wool, but I can’t say that I’ve ever owned shoes made of the stuff. Almost all of my socks and t-shirts are made from the sheep fiber, for two reasons:

  1. Merino wool doesn’t stink as quickly as cotton or synthetics. This comes in handy when we’re boondocking in our RV and can’t take as many showers.
  2. Merino wool wicks sweat and retains its insulating properties when wet. This is great for hiking and sitting in an 85-degree fifth wheel on a hot summer day (our single A/C doesn’t always keep us cool).

Review: Isobaa Merino Blend Trainers

As you can tell, I’m already sold on merino but had no idea that there were wool shoes on the market. Anyway, I decided to give them a try.

Ultimately, Isobaa has made an extremely comfortable shoe that looks more expensive than it is. I’ve worn them a handful of times now and they match well with my button up Patagonia Bandito Shirts.

I normally wear size 10.5 US shoes, but Isobaa ships from the UK so I ordered size EUR 45 in smoke. They fit perfectly!

Max (the author) poses at Two Rivers Winery in Grand Junction, CO
Max (the author) poses at Two Rivers Winery in Grand Junction, CO

I love the fact that they source merino from farms that don’t use a technique called “mulesing”, that hurts sheep.

On top of that, the shoes use recycled Polyester. Since they’re a “merino blend”, Polyester makes up 30% of the shoe’s fabric.

Review: Isobaa Merino Blend Trainers

These are seriously the most comfortable, best looking shoe I’ve ever owned. I’ll definitely bust them out anytime Kim asks me to hang up my hiking shoes and do something fancy. I don’t think I’ll even complain! 😉

More Minimalist Footwear Reviews

Hiking Guide: Wedding and Monument Canyons Loop

Overview

In anticipation of our arrival to the Western Slope this summer, I started doing research on climbs and hikes in the area.

Monument Canyon got onto my radar when I found out about Independence Monument, a desert tower that was first ascended by John Otto in 1911. He did it in cowboy boots! The tower is located at the meeting place of two canyons, Monument and Wedding.

When I first got to town, I hit up Randy Langstraat, a Grand Junction local who happens to write one of my favorite desert southwest hiking blogs.

He was kind enough to give me a list of must-do hikes in the area. At the top of the list, was Wedding and Monument Canyons Loop (aka Wedding Canyon Loop).

On a hot August evening, I parked at Lower Monument Canyon Trailhead and ran the loop in a counterclockwise direction, up Wedding and down Monument.

Monument Mesa and Independence Monument
Monument Mesa and Independence Monument

Quick Facts

  • Distance: 4.5 mile loop
  • Hike Time: 2-3 hours
  • Elevation Gain/Loss: 620 feet
  • Fee: $15 for individual
  • Dogs: No
  • Difficulty: Moderate

Hiking Wedding and Monument Canyons Loop

In August 2021, I ran up Wedding and down Monument then back to Lower Monument Canyon Trailhead, where I started.

At 0.1 miles, I went right at the junction. You can go either way but for whatever reason, I was in a counterclockwise mood.

The first 1.1 miles are mellow, with some gentle ups and downs in and out of washes.

The sun's last beams of light illuminate a mesa in Wedding Canyon
The sun’s last beams of light illuminate a mesa in Wedding Canyon

The next 0.6 miles are a steep climb. This section really got my heart pumping, it was strenuous.

At the 2.4 mile mark, there is another junction. The trail to the right continues another 3.6 miles to Upper Monument Canyon Trailhead on Rim Rock Drive. You are directly underneath Independence Monument here.

Independence Monument
Independence Monument

Bear left to continue down Monument Canyon, past Monolith Spire and to another junction next to the East Entrance of Monument Canyon. This is at the 4.1-mile mark.

Make another left here and finish the last 0.5 miles to the trailhead.

Views of Grand Junction and the Grand Mesa from Monument Canyon
Views of Grand Junction and the Grand Mesa from Monument Canyon

Maps

Colorado National Monument Map – Downloadable PDF

Location

From Grand Junction, head toward Redlands and take Colorado State Highway 340, then turn onto Fawn Lane and park in the dirt lot.

Get Directions

Resources

Guidebooks

Topo Maps

Links

 

Trip Report: Uinta Highline Trail

Trip Data

  • Dates: Wed, Jul 21, 2021 to Sun, Jul 25, 2021
  • Route: West to East. Uinta Highline Trailhead > Hacking Lake Trailhead
  • Weather: Partly cloudy mornings, afternoon t-storms. Torrential downpour on Night 2. Hail and lightning on Day 5.
  • Distance Hiked: 81 miles
  • Time: 5 days
  • Passes: Rocky Sea, Dead Horse, Red Knob, Porcupine, Tungsten, Anderson, North Pole, Gabbro

Map

Background

Earlier this year, our group applied and did not receive permits for the John Muir Trail.

In lieu of hiking the JMT this summer, I got permits for a thru-hike across the Grand Tetons and Justin planned a thru-hike of the Uintas.

In 2014, we took seven days to hike an 81-mile leg of the Uinta Highline Trail from east to west. This time, Justin wanted to do it in reverse, from west to east but in only four days.

He knew it was possible, because he had done it with Jason in the summer of 2019. The weather was mostly bad for their trip, which is typical of the High Uintas. Jason’s boots were so waterlogged, they joked that if he took them off his trench foot would have left nothing but “skeleton feet”.

To be honest, I wasn’t thrilled about the idea of pushing so hard to hike the Highline in four days. I love challenging hikes, but this sounded like an outright masochistic endeavor.

Even so, I didn’t want to miss it because Jason, Justin, and Clay are the A Team. Over the years, we have made so many priceless memories hiking together.

On top of that, Jason is about to move to Chicago for two years! I won’t be seeing him as much with such a great distance between us.

As a full-time RV’er, I told Justin I didn’t know where I’d be come late July. Still, I’d probably come out for the Highline… and I did.

From left to right: Justin, Jason, Max (the author), Clay at the Uinta Highline Trailhead
From left to right: Justin, Jason, Max (the author), Clay

Summary

The day before our hike, we were all able to leave work and responsibilities early. Because we had extra time, we decided to hit the trail on a Wednesday afternoon instead of a Thursday morning. This would give us four and a half days instead of four.

Justin’s wife Kate was generous enough to drive us up to the Highline Trailhead at Hayden Pass, which is a few miles north of the ultra-popular Mirror Lake.

Day 1

Distance: 10.8 mi
Ascent: 1,591 ft
Descent: 1,776 ft

We started hiking at 3:00 p.m. and reached the top of Rocky Sea Pass (11,263 feet) at 6:15 p.m. There was some light rain.

After covering nearly 11 miles, we made camp halfway between the junctions with Head of Rock Creek Trail and Rock Creek Trail. We settled in to camp at 7:40 p.m.

Looking down on the basin below Rocky Sea Pass
Looking down on the basin below Rocky Sea Pass

Day 2

Distance: 18 mi
Ascent: 4,092 ft
Descent: 3,270 ft

We woke up at 6:30 a.m. and broke down camp. Started hiking at 7:20 a.m.

The trail took us through a huge area of recently burnt forest. It was somewhat eerie and [email protected]$$ at the same time. At one point, we noticed a trail sign that had burned off its post.

We reached the top of Dead Horse Pass (11,500 feet) at 11:40 a.m. The turquoise-colored Dead Horse Lake and weathered buttes and peaks that surround it were stunning from above. When we got down into the basin, we were flabbergasted by the wildflower display.

Dead Horse Pass
Dead Horse Pass
Indian paintbrush among other wildflowers with Dead Horse Lake in the background
Indian paintbrush among other wildflowers with Dead Horse Lake in the background
More Indian paintbrush with rugged buttes in the background
More Indian paintbrush with rugged buttes in the background
A picturesque meadow
A picturesque meadow

We knocked out Red Knob Pass (12,000 ft) at 2:00 p.m. and descended to Lambert Meadow, then back up over a shoulder with a beautiful small lake on it. Clay pointed out that we had swam in that same lake back in 2014.

A beautiful lake along the Highline
A beautiful lake along the Highline

We made camp at 7:00 p.m. in a long valley I like to call Sheep Sh!+ Basin, on account of the sheep poop scattered everywhere you walk.

That night, we got hit with a torrential downpour accompanied by close lightning strikes and loud thunder. I was so tired, I put earplugs in and fell asleep during the height of the storm.

Day 3

Distance: 20 mi
Ascent: 3,225 ft
Descent: 3,441 ft

Our alarms went off at 6:30 a.m., but It took us a bit longer to roll out of bed and break down camp. Our tents and tarps were soaked and our down quilts were damp from condensation but we packed up anyway! It was about to be a long, hard day of hiking.

We hit the trail at 7:45 a.m. and topped out on Porcupine Pass (12,200 feet) at 10:00 a.m.

A sheep skull below Porcupine Pass
A sheep skull below Porcupine Pass
Looking southwest from Porcupine Pass
Looking southwest from Porcupine Pass

After a pleasant lunch next to North Star Lake, we continued over Tungsten (11,450 feet), the easiest pass on the Highline.

The next pass, Anderson, is arguably the hardest pass on the Highline. At 12,700 feet, it is by far the highest.

We reached the top of Anderson Pass at 2:15 p.m. Light rain began to fall on the descent.

Looking west from Anderson Pass
Looking west from Anderson Pass
Looking east from Anderson Pass
Looking east from Anderson Pass

On our way down, Jason told us a curious story about “Edwin” Anderson, the guy the pass was supposedly named after. Jason went on to explain that Edwin was a gold prospector and that he had written a book.

“Somehow, I found time to read it in between work and the move.”

Jason went on.

“I think I know where we can find some gold!”

Justin and I looked at each other incredulously, but we followed Jason off-trail anyway. Even though he sounded crazy, Jason has never given me a reason to doubt him. Most of the time, his off-trail shenanigans pay off, particularly in Southern Utah where we have found ancient petroglyphs, dwellings, and clay pottery shards.

Suddenly, Jason dove into a thicket. I squinted to try and focus my eyes on what was happening. A single outstretched arm extended out from the bushes, holding a gold can. Then another. Within seconds, Jason seemingly emerged from the underworld with four Fisher beers! I can’t even begin to describe how thrilled we were.

We were dying to know the real backstory.

Apparently, Jason and Clay had hiked in the previous weekend to summit Kings Peak and plant beers for our Highline journey.

This will go down as the most thoughtful prank anyone has ever played on me. Boy, was it a treat to guzzle those brews down at camp that evening, especially after a 20-mile day.

We pushed through Painter Basin and passed Milk Lake, settling in at 5:40 p.m.

Looking back at Kings Peak
Looking back at Kings Peak

Day 4

Distance: 19 mi
Ascent: 2,355 ft
Descent: 2,720 ft

Views of Gilbert Peak from a creek next to where we camped
Views of Gilbert Peak from a creek next to where we camped

We got on the trail at 8:00 a.m. and made it to the top of North Pole Pass (12,250 feet) at 3:00 p.m.

This was the third time I had hiked North Pole in my life, but I had never done it from west to east. It kicked my a$$, to say the least. I feel like I always underestimate this pass. Its dome-like shape makes it look less intimidating, but North Pole is a doozy.

We got off trail a few times, but ultimately found a great spot to camp near Chepeta Lake at 6:50 p.m.

We were treated to a great sunset that night
We were treated to a great sunset that night

Day 5

Distance: 12.8 mi
Ascent: 2,192 ft
Descent: 1,647 ft

On our final day, we slept in a little longer since we had fewer miles to cover. After leaving camp at 8:30 a.m., we promptly took our shoes off to cross a freezing cold stream.

We crossed this stream first thing in the morning
We crossed this stream first thing in the morning

After passing Whiterocks Lake, we went over an unnamed pass and on the way down we got hailed on. The hail turned to rain and soon it was accompanied by lightning and roaring thunder.

We sat out the storm under some pine trees next to Deadman Lake (perfect name, eh?) and deliberated about whether to stay or go over Gabbro, our last pass.

“Let’s go if 10 minutes go by without any thunder,” I suggested.

I had barely finished my sentence when BOOM a mighty thunderclap made us all burst out laughing.

Our next move was to set up Jason’s MLD TrailStar and huddle underneath for awhile. Luckily, we were only stuck for 30 minutes or so.

We bagged Gabbro Pass (11,700 feet) without any issues and made our way around the southeast side of Leidy Peak, occasionally losing the trail. At one point, we saw a buck with a great looking rack.

At 3:50 p.m., we reached Hacking Lake Trailhead and moseyed down the road to Hacking Lake, where Kate met up with us at 5:00 p.m., bless her heart!

That evening, Justin and Kate spoiled us with delicious burgers, topped with the best bacon I’ve ever had. Kate also brought an apple pie that she baked and it was delectable.

The next morning, we drove four hours back to Justin’s cabin on the other side of the Uintas. It felt good to finish another legendary hike with my fellas!

Food

This year, RightOnTrek brought me on board as an ambassador and offered to support my hikes and outdoor activities with custom meal plans.

On their website, you can order backpacking meals with fresh ingredients, shipped directly to you.

For the Uinta Highline Trail, I customized a plan that provided me with 3000 calories per day.

One evening, I offered Jason some of my cheesy mashed potatoes with chicken and he couldn’t stop talking about how good it was 😂.

RightOnTrek’s meals are seriously way tastier than the competition.

Use code BackOBeyond50 for 50% off your first order

View at RightOnTrek

More Great Hikes in Northern Utah

Hiking Guide: Lake 22

Overview

I have never been able to get a straight answer on where Lake 22 got its name. It is a strange and mysteriously indistinct title for such a unique alpine lake. All the same, the hike to this lake is one of my favorites in the state of Washington.

The lake sits at the bottom of a cirque on the northern side of Mount Pilchuck and is accessed from the scenic Mountain Loop Highway. Awe-inspiring cliffs rise precipitously from the lakeshore and are filled with waterfalls fed by snowmelt.

There’s a noticeable sense of peace and sanctuary at Lake 22. The vibe reminds me of what the Elves of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle Earth would have felt in the magical valley of Rivendell.

Looking north from the shores of Lake 22
Looking north from the shores of the lake

Quick Facts

  • Distance: 5.4 miles out and back
  • Hike Time: 3-4 hours
  • Elevation Gain/Loss: 1400 feet
  • Fee: Northwest Forest Pass
  • Dogs: Yes
  • Difficulty: Moderate

Hiking to Lake 22

In September 2016, Arrow the Cattle Dog and I hiked to Lake 22. We had summited Mount Pilchuck the day before, so it was cool to see the other side of the mountain. It was a characteristically cool and drizzly day on the trail.

The hike starts at Lake 22 Trailhead and winds its way up a series of switchbacks through an old growth forest. There are some massive trees to marvel at during this section of trail.

After a gradual ascent up the Twenty-Two Creek drainage, the deep dark forest opens up to reveal the lake in all of its glory. Once you arrive at the lake, there is a dirt footpath that loops around the entire waterhole. I highly recommend taking a walkabout and fishing if you are into that sort of thing.

Lake 22

A small waterfall on the cirque that surrounds Lake 22
A small waterfall on the cirque that surrounds the lake

Map

Location

From Seattle, take I-5 northbound then get off on exit 194. Continue east on U.S. Route 2 then merge onto State Route 204 eastbound. Turn left onto State Route 9 northbound, then turn right onto State Route 92. This becomes the Mountain Loop Highway. Continue for 25.2 miles, then park in the donut-shaped dirt lot at Lake 22 Trailhead.

Get Directions

Resources

Links

Photos

Lake 22

Lake 22

Lake 22

Lake 22 cirque

Lake 22 cirque


Want to hike Washington’s best trails? Check out our other Washington Hiking Guides.

Hiking Guide: Park Butte Lookout

Overview

The Park Butte Trail takes you to a historic fire lookout built in 1932, on top of a knoll with 360° panoramic views. From the lookout, Mount Baker (aka Koma Kulshan) steals the show, but the surrounding ridge lines are also worth staring at open-mouthed.

Hiking to Park Butte Lookout takes you through a mushroom and wildflower-filled mountain wonderland dotted with gushing waterfalls. It is 3.5 miles one-way to the lookout, with 2100 feet elevation gain, but the excursion flies by because there is so much beauty to take in.

Park Butte Lookout and Mount Baker
Park Butte Lookout and Mount Baker

Quick Facts

  • Distance: 7 miles out and back
  • Hike Time: 4-5 hours
  • Elevation Gain/Loss: 2100 feet
  • Fee: Northwest Forest Pass
  • Dogs: Yes
  • Difficulty: Moderate

Hiking to Park Butte Lookout

In September 2016, for my 27th birthday, Kim, Arrow the Cattle Dog, and I hiked to Park Butte Lookout.

Max (the author) checks out the view at Park Butte Lookout
Max (the author) checks out the view at Park Butte Lookout

It was a Friday afternoon and the trail was busy but not overwhelmingly so. This is probably the most popular hike on Mount Baker.

The first mile or so of the hike has a mellow grade as the trail meanders through sparse forest and Schreibers Meadow. From there, you will climb up some moderately steep switchbacks to gain the plateau below Cathedral Crag.

I thought the rest of the hike to the lookout was pretty easy. In fact, I would go as far as to say this is the easiest hike with 2000-foot gain I’ve ever done. I hope your experience is the same!

Mount Baker from the Park Butte Trail
Mount Baker from the Park Butte Trail

Map

Location

From Seattle, get on I-5 northbound and take exit 232 for State Route 20. Continue on State Route 20 for 16.9 miles, then turn left onto Baker Lake Road. Continue for 12.2 miles, then turn left onto NF-12. Continue for 3.5 miles, then turn right onto NF-13. Continue for 5.1 miles, then park in the dirt lot at the “Easton Glacier Climbing Route” trailhead.

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Resources

Links

Photos

Mount Baker makes its first appearance
Mount Baker makes its first appearance

Mount Baker

Looking west from the lookout
Looking west from the lookout
South Twin and Cinderella Peak
South Twin and Cinderella Peak

Mount Baker


Want to hike Washington’s best trails? Check out our other Washington Hiking Guides.

Hiking Guide: Blanca Lake

Overview

Blanca Lake is one of the most picturesque alpine lakes in Washington. Its waters are often described as “teal”, “turquoise”, or “vibrant blue,” giving it a striking beauty.

Like many worthwhile hikes in Washington’s Cascade Range, this hike is steep and strenuous. Anyone that puts in the hard work of booting up to Blanca Lake will have their efforts rewarded handsomely.

I find myself recommending Blanca Lake over and over to family, friends, and acquaintances looking for incredible hikes nearish to Seattle. You really can’t beat the views you get from this glacier-fed lake basin surrounded by craggy peaks.

Kim soaks her hair in the chilly waters of Blanca Lake
Kim soaks her hair in the chilly waters of Blanca Lake

Quick Facts

  • Distance: 7 miles out and back
  • Hike Time: 5-7 hours
  • Elevation Gain/Loss: 3000 feet
  • Fee: Northwest Forest Pass
  • Dogs: Yes
  • Difficulty: Hard

Hiking to Blanca Lake

In July 2016, Kim, Arrow the Cattle Dog, and I hiked to Blanca Lake from the turnoff to National Forest Development Road 63 on the Index-Galena Road. We were unable to drive to the official Blanca Lake Trailhead because the road was closed due to being washed out.

The road closure made our hike 12 miles out and back instead of 7, but it was well worth the journey!

Make sure to call the Skykomish Ranger District office at 360-677-2414 before your hike to get up-to-date information on road conditions.

From the trailhead, you will climb 37 switchbacks and gain 2700 feet in 3 miles. Once you reach the hike’s highpoint at Virgin Lake, you’ll then descend 500 feet over 0.5 miles to Blanca Lake.

Scenery along the trail
Scenery along the trail

The best time to hike to Blanca is between July and October, when most or all of the snow has melted.

Kim poses with a hiking stick she found in front of the lake
Kim poses with a hiking stick she found in front of the lake

Why is Blanca Lake Teal?

Curious as to how the lake gets its distinct color? This is caused by the Coleman Glacier that feeds the lake. Over time, the ice flows downhill and grinds or tills the rocks underneath into glacial flour. When the meltwater enters the lake, it retains the sediments and the “glacial milk” makes the water teal.

Max (the author) takes an exhilarating dip in the freezing lake
Max (the author) takes an exhilarating dip in the freezing lake

Map

Location

From Seattle, get on I-45 northbound and take exit 23 for State Route 522. Continue eastbound for 13.3 miles, then turn right onto U.S. Route 2. Continue for 21.6 miles, then turn left onto Index-Galena Road. Continue for 14.7 miles then turn left onto NF-63 (if it’s open). Continue for 1.9 miles and park at the trailhead on the left.

Get Directions

Resources

Links

Photos

Blanca Lake

Driftwood in Blanca Lake


Want to hike Washington’s best trails? Check out our other Washington Hiking Guides.

15 Photos That Will Make You Want to Hike to Hidden Lake Lookout

Hidden Lake Lookout is one of our favorite overnight backpacking trips! The trail is a steep son of a gun, but 360-degree panoramic views from a historic fire lookout make it all worthwhile. If you are looking to explore the North Cascades, this hike is an instant classic you can’t afford to miss.

Permits for this hike are limited and issued on a first-come, first-serve basis. Stop by the Marblemount Ranger Station to submit an application.


1. We flew from Salt Lake City to Seattle. During the airplane’s descent, we had a great view of Mount Rainier from outside our window.

Mount Rainier from the airplane window

2. We rented a car at SeaTac Airport, then stopped at the REI Seattle Flagship Store to pick up fuel and some other last minute supplies. From there, we drove to Clear Creek Campground and spent the night in a beautiful forest setting.

Clear Creek Campground near Darrington, Washington

3. The next morning, we drove to Marblemount and turned right onto the single-lane bridge that crosses the Skagit River. From there, we continued up Cascade River Road. After a few minutes, we started to catch glimpses of the North Cascade’s snowcapped peaks.

Cascade River Road near Marblemount, Washington

4. We took the steep, washboarded dirt road to Hidden Lake Lookout Trailhead and it gave our sedan rental about all it could handle. It was chilly in the shade of the forest, but we warmed up fast once we started hiking. Before long, we popped out of the forest onto some switchbacks.

Hidden Lake Trail

5. Even though the hike was hard and the trail was laughably steep, the views were already phenomenal! We got pretty excited when Mount Baker made its first appearance.

Mount Baker from Hidden Lake Trail

6. The smile on Kim’s face says everything! The Hidden Lake Trail was delivering early on.

Kim smiles on the Hidden Lake Trail

7. Another epic view from the trail.

Another view from Hidden Lake Trail

8. After 4+ miles and 3000+ feet elevation gain, we made it to Hidden Lake Lookout! From here, we had unobstructed views of the North Cascades for miles.

Kim at Hidden Lake Lookout

9. We arrived a few minutes after the only other couple at the lookout. After a brief discussion, we told them they could sleep inside the hut. It smelled musky in there anyway, so we were happy to bivouac on a small, flat tent pad at the edge of the cliff. We had a perfect, romantic evening together watching the sunset.

Sunset from Hidden Lake Lookout

10. Kim got a good photo of me in high spirits, just days before my 26th birthday.

Max (the author) at Hidden Lake Lookout

11. That night, Kim woke up to pee outside and saw the Northern Lights! Apparently, I slept through it. The morning after, I snapped this photo of Hidden Lake.

Hidden Lake

12. We also went inside the fire lookout one last time. Can you imagine spending a summer there? You’d be just like Jack Kerouac on Desolation Peak in 1956.

13. We thought the hike up was challenging, but the hike down was even more difficult. My knees were so sore by the end!

Kim and Mount Baker in the distance

14. Kim filled her reservoir one last time near the top. The water tasted so good that she wanted “leftovers” for after the hike.

Kim filters water next to the Hidden Lake Trail

15. Someday, we hope to return to Hidden Lake. It left a lasting impression on us and it’s one of my favorite hikes in Washington.

A talus slope along the Hidden Lake Trail

More Bucket List Backpacking Trips in the Pacific Northwest


Want to hike Washington’s best trails? Check out our other Washington Hiking Guides.

Trip Report: Teton Crest Trail

Trip Data

  • Dates: Thu, Jun 24, 2021 to Sun, Jun 27, 2021
  • Route: Phillips Canyon Trailhead > String Lake Trailhead
  • Weather: Afternoon rain on Days 1-2. Partly cloudy on Days 3-4.
  • Distance Hiked: 42 miles
  • Time: 4 days
  • Camp Zones: Middle Fork, Death Canyon Shelf, North Fork Cascade Canyon
  • Passes:  Phillips Pass, Fox Creek Pass, Mount Meek Pass, Hurricane Pass, Paintbrush Divide

Map

Background

In March 2021, Jason broke the news to Justin, Clay, and I that we weren’t awarded permits for the John Muir Trail.

In our group chat, Clay messaged, “So what’s the summer backpacking trip now that the JMT is out?”

Justin suggested we do the Uinta Highline Trail again, except in four days and in reverse, from Mirror Lake to Leidy Peak. At the time of me writing this, we are three weeks away from hitting the trail for this.

Additionally, I suggested the Teton Crest Trail or Southern Sierra High Route. The group was more interested in the TCT, so I applied for permits in April and got ’em!

Leading up to the trip, I wanted to get an up-to-date snow report from the backcountry rangers but couldn’t get in touch. Finally, a week before we hit the trail, I got ahold of a ranger. He told me we would need ice axes and crampons to climb over the passes, which were still covered in snow.

There was some trepidation about this from the group, but I went ahead and reserved ice axes and crampons from Teton Backcountry Rentals. I did my best to reassure everyone that we would be fine. Thankfully, nobody dropped out.

From left to right: Joe, Clay, Justin, Max (the author), Alex
From left to right: Joe, Clay, Justin, Max (the author), Alex

Summary

The evening before our hike, Clay, Joe, Justin, Alex, and I all met up at a disbursed camping spot near Grand Teton National Park.

We watched a beautiful sunset over the Tetons and slept in our vehicles that night.

The next morning, we left Justin’s Subaru and Alex’s Tacoma at String Lake, piled into my F-350, picked up our gear rentals in Jackson, and parked at Phillips Canyon Trailhead, halfway up Teton Pass.

Day 1

Distance: 10.5 mi
Ascent: 2,530 ft
Descent: 1,415 ft

We started hiking at 12:45 p.m. and reached the top of Phillips Pass (8,932 feet) in about three hours. By this time, imposing clouds had moved in and we could see streaks of rain in the distance. By 7:00 p.m., it was raining steadily. Justin and I were well ahead of the group so we stopped to wait for everyone to catch up. Once we were back together, we found a good place to camp in the Middle Fork Zone. We were all soaked!

Looking east from the Phillips Canyon Trail
Looking east from the Phillips Canyon Trail

Day 2

Distance: 7.3 mi
Ascent: 1,323 ft
Descent: 868 ft

The next morning, the sun came out and we put out all of our wet gear to let it dry. This would be our easiest day, so we hung out at camp for a while and talked over breakfast and coffee.

My brother Alex pauses to take in the view
My brother Alex pauses to take in the view

On the climb between Fox Creek Pass and the Death Canyon Shelf, we saw a bighorn sheep! We also saw a ton of marmots throughout the entire trek.

Once we were on top of the shelf, it started raining. We took cover under some trees and pitched Clay’s pyramid tarp, the TrailStar by Mountain Laurel Designs.

The storm passed and we covered a few more miles before setting up camp at a picturesque spot on the northern edge of the Death Canyon Shelf camp zone.

Looking northeast from our campsite on Death Canyon Shelf
Looking northeast from our campsite on Death Canyon Shelf

Day 3

Distance: 13.3 mi
Ascent: 2,318 ft
Descent: 3,286 ft

This was our hardest day on the Teton Crest Trail! On our way to Hurricane Pass (10,338 feet), we crossed several snow patches, one of which required us to use our ice axes.

A snow patch on Mount Meek Pass
A snow patch on Mount Meek Pass

We also had our first opportunity to glissade in Alaska Basin, with a few more glissades as we descended the other side of Hurricane Pass. We jokingly pronounced it “Her-ah-kun”, like the town in Southern Utah.

Joe (left) and Clay (right) take a rest at the top of Hurricane Pass
Joe (left) and Clay (right) take a rest at the top of Hurricane Pass

Justin and I also kept a running inside joke that because we grew up in Utah, we had to continually use the Uintas as a frame of reference for everything.

He’d say something like, “This view kinda reminds me a lot of the Uintas.”

Then I’d agree, “Yeah, that’s really Uinta-y!”

Some Uinta-like scenery at Sunset Lake
Some Uinta-like scenery at Sunset Lake

We had our minds blown by views of the Grand, Middle, and South Teton towering above the Schoolroom Glacier and its lake-filled terminus, naturally dammed by a moraine.

A proglacial lake lies at the bottom of Schoolroom Glacier
A proglacial lake lies at the bottom of Schoolroom Glacier
We stopped at the lake and filled our water bottles with fresh ice water
We stopped at the lake and filled our water bottles with fresh ice water

As we continued down the trail, we were mesmerized by the enormous amounts of meltwater plunging down the mountainside.

Waterfalls emerge from snowfields that dot the flanks of the Grand Teton
Waterfalls emerge from snowfields that dot the flanks of the Grand Teton

It was a long slog down to the Cascade Pass junction and up to our camp below Lake Solitude, but the scenery made our aches and pains easy to ignore.

Justin on his way up to our camp, dwarfed by the Grand Teton
Justin on his way up to our camp, dwarfed by the Grand Teton

Unlike the other zones we camped in, the North Fork of Cascade Canyon has designated campsites. On the first two nights, we were able to camp anywhere within the zone, as long as we stayed 200 feet from water sources.

This time, for our last night on the Teton Crest Trail, we were relegated to a tiny campsite.

In order to fit our four shelters, we had to get creative. I wanted to find out if I could set up my Zpacks Duplex on snow and succeeded. I accomplished this by digging 6-inch deep holes with my glove, laying the stakes horizontally, and packing snow on top. It was a solid pitch!

My ZPacks Duplex and Arc Haul-Zip on a snow patch in the Tetons
My ZPacks Duplex and Arc Haul-Zip on a snow patch in the Tetons

Day 4

Distance: 11.4 mi
Ascent: 1,996 ft
Descent: 3,854 ft

From our camp, we could see where the trail made its way up Paintbrush Divide (10,720 feet). It didn’t look all that bad! As it turned out, it was a butt kicker.

We passed Lake Solitude on the way up
We passed Lake Solitude on the way up

Halfway up the pass, we encountered a 30-yard section of trail covered in  deep snow. A bad fall here would be extremely unfortunate and perhaps catastrophic. That being said, there were well-established footholds from other hikers that had crossed it.

Joe felt uncomfortable with the proposition of sketchy snow crossings. From the beginning, he wasn’t keen on snow travel so he made the decision to turn around and hike out via Cascade Canyon.

Justin insisted on hiking down with him so he wouldn’t be unaccompanied. The “buddy system” is a tried and true safety precaution for hikers of all experience levels.

Clay, Alex, and I pressed on toward Paintbrush Divide. We topped out at 11:20 a.m., having left camp at 9:00 a.m.

Looking down on Paintbrush Canyon from the Divide
Looking down on Paintbrush Canyon from the Divide

On our way down the other side of Paintbrush Divide, we encountered another patch of snow that looked even more dangerous than the first.

Clay and I made it across safely and were watching Alex get ready to go when we saw a plume of orange shoot into his airspace. Yikes! Within a split second, we knew he had inadvertently released bear spray all around himself.

I had to laugh, partly because of the absurdity of the situation but also for the emotional release. I saw Clay’s look of concern and immediately knew it was really bad. This was the worst possible spot to be blinded on the Teton Crest Trail.

“Don’t touch your eyes!” pleaded Clay.

Alex needed help, so I scooted back across the precarious snow patch. He was grimacing in pain. I grabbed a snowball and rubbed it on his eyelids, then cupped my hands to make a funnel and rinsed his eyes out with water.

After that, I took his pack across the snow patch and set it down. Hopefully, it would be easier without the extra weight.

“Take as much time as you need!” I announced.

We were relieved when Alex opened his eyes and told us he could see again. Soon enough, he made his way across the nerve-racking obstacle, safely to the other side. I was proud of him for pushing through.

From there, the descent was the kind that goes on and on. We lost nearly 4,000 feet that day. Our tired legs and sore feet felt liberated when we made it back to String Lake Trailhead, where Justin was waiting for us under the shade of a tree.

After we picked up Joe from his separate exit point at Jenny Lake, we retrieved our vehicles and rushed to Astoria Hot Springs and Park. We made it 30 minutes before close but they were at capacity. Luckily, a few people left and we got invited in for a soak and a shower. On our way out, the sunset went off!

Sunset over the entrance to Astoria Hot Springs and Park
Sunset over the entrance to Astoria Hot Springs and Park

We finished the night with beer and delicious burgers at The Bird in Jackson, just like we did in 2015 after backpacking in the Wind Rivers.

Food

This year, RightOnTrek brought me on board as an ambassador and offered to support my hikes and outdoor activities with custom meal plans.

On their website, you can order backpacking meals with fresh ingredients, shipped directly to you.

For the Teton Crest Trail, I customized a plan that provided me with 3000 calories per day.

For breakfast, I had banana bread or peanut butter cup oatmeal with instant coffee. Both oatmeals tasted great but I think the banana bread is my favorite.

Usually, I don’t eat a proper lunch when backpacking. Instead, I opt for small snacks throughout the day as I hike. RightOnTrek had me covered with smoked sausages, cheese, jerky, ProBars, protein cookies, green spicy olives, and fruit bars.

I tried three different dehydrated dinners: gado gado noodles, cheesy mashed potatoes with chicken, and General Tsoy’s mountain rice. They all exceeded my expectations, but the mountain rice was the best dehydrated meal I’ve ever had.

I love how RightOnTrek gives you condiments and all of the meals are packed with protein.

Use code BackOBeyond50 for a 50% discount

View at RightOnTrek

More Photos

More Great Hikes in Grand Teton National Park

Review: InsideTracker DNA Kit and Blood Test

In May 2016, my wife Kim (an ICU nurse) convinced me to get bloodwork done. I was 26-years-old and it seemed like the adult thing to do, so I booked an appointment at the Salt Lake InstaCare and went in.

When I got my results back, I was surprised to find that my cholesterol was high. I seem to remember the doctor saying, “you’re too young to have this problem” or something along those lines. He told me to go on statins.

To me, the thought of bowing to Big Pharma and taking a pill to fix the problem seemed like a cop-out. Couldn’t I make a lifestyle change in order to get this thing under control?

Queue epic training montage! I bought a Withings smart scale and blood pressure cuff. I took Yoga with Adriene’s 30-day challenge on YouTube. I cut my proportions and dropped 10 lbs. On days that I couldn’t get out for a hike, I hit the elliptical at the gym.

At some point, I plateaued. My stubborn body wouldn’t shed more fat! It was time to level up. I went on a keto diet and started Stronglifts 5×5. Thankfully, I shed another 15 lbs and felt the best I had since high school.

When my daughter Maia was born, I had bloodwork done again. By this point, I was trail-running and doing calisthenics to stay in shape. This time, my cholesterol came back normal. Hooray, my hard work had paid off!

Our Experience with InsideTracker

ExamOne Woes

Fast forward to November 2020… InsideTracker offered to give Kim and I the chance to try their product/service. They set us up with their top-tier plan, sent us a DNA kit, and got us in touch with their mobile blood draw partner, ExamOne.

I’ll be blunt, ExamOne completely dropped the ball. InsideTracker needs to find a new partner. We played phone tag for a few weeks and when I finally got a hold of them, the lady I talked to was incredulous when I explained that we lived in an RV.

I was simply trying to figure out how to get someone out to our campground to draw blood. She kept suggesting that I needed to talk to someone else about it and rudely hung up on me. I called back and was put on hold for 20 minutes. I gave up for the day, then called back 4-5 times in subsequent days. They never answered.

When I explained what happened to InsideTracker, their director of marketing set us up with a local lab where we ultimately had our blood drawn successfully.

How InsideTracker Works

It took about three weeks for our DNA + blood analysis to be ready. The real value of InsideTracker is the powerful software tool(s) it gives you to analyze your data and make informed decisions about your health.

When you log in, you can see your bloodwork broken down by biomarker (e.g. lipid group, vitamin D, sugar group, liver enzymes group, testosterone group, platelet group, etc.) Results are broken down into three categories: At Risk, Needs Improvement, and Optimized.

Your InnerAge seems to be calculated based on where you fall within these categories. I was happy to see mine at 26.5, even though my actual age was 31.2. To be honest, this feature seems kinda gimmicky but maybe you can use it to motivate yourself.

InsideTracker dashboard

Under the bloodwork tab, I noticed the option to add test results. I dug up the PDFs from my previous bloodwork labs and uploaded them. Within a few days, InsideTracker’s automated system had parsed the data and uploaded it to my profile.

This is huge for me, because it means I can continue to get bloodwork done on the road at various labs and track my results over time.

The great thing about seeing and tracking your data within InsideTracker is it gives you actionable feedback on how to improve next to each of your biomarkers.

For instance, my lipids are high again so InsideTracker recommends healthy foods that are known to reduce high LDL and increase low HDL. It also suggests blog posts and videos that I can use to educate myself on the subject.

InsideTracker biomarkers

InsideTracker even has recipes for snacks and meals that incorporate the nutrition you need to get healthier. One day, I made the Chia Seed Pudding and Almond Bran Bar. Not bad at all!

The DNA component of InsideTracker brings context to your blood test results by showing how they connect to your genetics. As a low-key data nerd, I find this information to be fascinating.

As an active, physically fit person I’m often frustrated by the fact that I struggle with high cholesterol. It’s oddly reassuring to know that I’m genetically predisposed to this condition. I will have to work harder than average people do to keep this in check.

I was also surprised to find that I had low Vitamin D levels. I spend a lot of time outdoors in the sunshine, how could this be possible? Again, my DNA test shows that I have an elevated genetic risk for lower levels. Ever since I found out, I’ve been taking a Vitamin D supplement daily.

InsideTracker DNA analysis

Our Next Steps

Going forward, I plan to retest my blood at a lab and upload it to InsideTracker with the goal of having zero biomarkers in the At Risk category.

Since my last blood test, Kim and I have taken up rock climbing! It’s been the funnest, most challenging fitness activity I’ve ever tried.

Kim’s first time climbing as an adult
Kim’s first time climbing as an adult

We also got Whoop bands and have been using them to not only train harder but smarter by measuring sleep and evaluating recovery to inform how we build strain.

I could be better about following InsideTracker’s food recommendations, but I have been intermittent fasting… intermittently, haha. There’s always room for improvement, right?

Overall, I’m glad I discovered InsideTracker, I’ll continue using it, and I think it’s worth the money if you’re serious about getting healthier.