elu-on-forest-trail

Goat Rocks Wilderness: 8 days and 80 Miles on the Pacific Crest Trail in Washington

Story and Photos Contributed by Tenley Lozano + Elu the Mutt

Sitting on a stack of rocks next to the trail just south of Packwood Glacier, I stare at an alpine lake in the distance and think about how we got here. My 53-pound husky-mix, Elu, lays in the shade of the rocks resting, wearing the Ruffwear Palisades Pack stuffed full of kibble and freeze-dried patties. An ice axe is at my feet next to my overstuffed pack. I carried it 60 miles from where we started on the Pacific Crest Trail near the Oregon border six days before, sometimes in 90-degree weather, all the while cursing its extra weight. Elu and I walked through old growth forests with spotted frogs jumping across the trail, past bright blue streams colored by volcanic rock dust, forded the thigh-deep and frigid Lewis River, and crossed Cispus Pass with sweeping views and whistling marmots to get to this point on the trail.

elu-at-cispus-passelu-hikingview-of-alpine-lake

Never mind all of the training we did before arriving in Washington. We spent countless hours hiking the trails near our apartment in San Diego, and weekends backpacking sections of the southern California Pacific Crest Trail, just the two of us. Elu had to learn not to chase wild animals; instead patiently and silently watching as rabbits sprinted across the trail. We worked on her off-leash skills, but only used them on downhill sections when it was more dangerous for us to be attached because I could lose my balance and tip forward. We’ve spent so much time together that she can read my emotions, follow hand signals and finger points, and I can tell when she’s tired or too hot by how she lingers in the shade or walks a bit slower. We trust each other, and keep each other safe on and off trail. All of that training culminated in this backpacking trip in Washington, our most ambitious yet. Elu is happy to go anywhere, as long as she’s with me.

selfie-of-me-and-eluelu-sitting-on-the-pct

A signpost marks the Old Snowy Mountain Alternate Route and I spend a minute considering that option. It would be a safer hike, avoiding the glacier crossing, but the detour will add several miles onto our route. Elu likes to be in camp napping by 1 pm, when the summer sun starts to scorch. I schedule our backpacking trips around her needs and we’ve been up since dawn to pack up camp and begin hiking each day. I take another look at the scree up ahead, large rocks that shift under your feet as you walk, then the glacier just a few yards beyond. The trail is marked in footsteps along the steep and snowy embankment. I gather my courage and take a deep breath.

“Okay, Elu. It’s time to get moving,” I say.

elu-with-ice-axe-packwood-in-background

As she stands up and stretches, I strap my pack onto my back. Next, I attach the handle of Elu’s leash to my waist strap and clip the other end of the lead to the D-ring of her harness. With the ice axe in my right hand and a hiking pole in my left, I point toward the glacier and say, “Let’s go.” Elu understands the signal and begins trotting toward the snow. She is reluctant to step off of the rocks and onto the slippery, mushy cold.

I point again and say more sternly, “Let’s go.” She leaps down onto the glacier and slides a few inches, scrambling to get her feet underneath her. I lower myself behind her onto the icy trail and dig my ice axe into the high side of the slope just ahead of us. Elu slowly walks a few feet ahead and I take baby steps, planting my hiking pole into the snow on the low side then pulling out the axe and anchoring it another few feet in front of us.

landscape-of-knife-edge-and-packwood-glacier

I look down the talus slope, and the steep descent over jutting rocks ends in more rocks and another incline on the opposite side. If we fall, we’ll be lucky to get away with a helicopter rescue and just broken bones. I push that thought out of my mind and focus on Elu. She’s moving slowly and steadily a couple feet in front of me along the trail. We continue along the path, anchored by the ice axe and my hiking pole. As the trail leads up an incline, Elu begins slipping back towards me. Her paws can’t find purchase on the slick snow and she doesn’t weigh enough to dig her claws in. With my right hand firmly on the planted ice axe, I grab her by the handle on her harness before she could slip off the trail. We make one last push and scramble up a snowy embankment and back to the scree path.

Once back on the rocks, I tell Elu, “You did such a good job, puppa! You were amazing!” I hug her tightly and she wiggles and wags her tail with delight. I used to be a military diver, but this glacier crossing with a heavy pack is one of the most dangerous things I’ve ever done. I kiss Elu on the nose then kiss my ice axe, thankful that I carried it all those miles for this 100-yard stretch of glacier.

elu-on-knife-edge-with-mt-rainierme-and-elu-with-mt-rainier-in-background

One last section of scree requires our intense concentration to foot placement, then we stop to get a drink of water. I award Elu the status of Epic Adventure Dog.

elu-standing-at-streammountain-goat-seen-from-knife-edge

After our exciting crossing of Packwood Glacier, we are rewarded with the most incredible views of Mount Rainier and the Pacific Northwest. We hike along a rocky knife edge of trail and see mountain goats on the slopes. The trail leads a few miles along the mountain ridge and down to a meadow full of lupine and snowmelt streams where we set up camp in a sandy area near a copse of trees. Elu and I sleep well that night and wake the next morning at sunrise to hike again. In eight days, we backpack 80 miles on the Pacific Crest Trail from near the Oregon border, through Goat Rocks Wilderness in Gifford Pinchot National Forest and to the small town of White Pass. With Elu by my side, I am never lonely or afraid of other people. She really is the best adventure buddy.

elu-in-the-tentview-of-alpine-lakeelu-in-lupine-meadow

***

 

 

After graduating from the United States Coast Guard Academy in 2008, Tenley Lozano spent five years as an officer in the US Coast Guard. During her tenure, she worked in the engineering department on a ship that patrolled the Pacific Ocean from Vancouver to the equator conducting counter-narcotic missions. She then attended Navy Dive School and spent two years as a Coast Guard Diver leading deployments around the United States.

Tenley’s writing has appeared in the web series Permission to Speak Freely, O-Dark Thirty, the War Horse, and in the anthology Incoming: Veteran Writers on Returning Home. She recently won Crab Orchard Review’s John Guyon Literary Nonfiction prize and has a creative nonfiction chapbook Ascent/Descent forthcoming in 2017 from Broken Leg Books. She graduated from Sierra Nevada College with an MFA in Creative Writing (Nonfiction) and works as a naval engineer in San Diego. Follow her on Instagram and Twitter, and visit her website.

89 thoughts

  1. I am in love with this post. I read a book on the Pacific Crest Trail and constantly drive the signs from Portland Or, to Bend. I love that you brought your dog along and would love to do the same at some point! Your pictures are absolutely stunning and I’ve shared it with my friends! Thanks!

    1. Dillonmurphyblog,
      Thanks so much for reading and sharing with your friends. 🙂 This section is just north of Portland, and it’s very dog friendly (except for the glacier crossing, that part was tricky!). The national forests are great places to backpack with dogs. I’ll have to return to the area and hike a bit in Oregon sometime.
      Best,
      Tenley

  2. This is just amazing! Wish to do that one day. Also lovely photos and a really beautiful dog, oh I’m from Estonia and in Estonian your dogs name, Elu, means life. It’s really cute. Good luck on future adventures!!😊😊

    1. Marikakrapivnitski,
      Thank you so much! I didn’t know that Elu meant that in Estonian; that’s so cool! I named her Elu because it means “beautiful” in Zuni Native American (a tribe from New Mexico). Thanks for sharing that info. 😀
      Best,
      Tenley

  3. Your photos are wonderful. The location looks like a great place to hike. It is amazing to see your dog in his gear going right along with you. I would love to do the same with my dog, but we usually are in Glacier Park and the bears would be a problem. Will look forward to future adventures.

    1. Carrie R,
      Thank you! It definitely can be difficult to find trails where dogs are allowed and will be happy and safe. Quite a bit of planning went into our Washington PCT adventure, but it was definitely worth it. Happy trails to you and your pup!
      Best,
      Tenley

  4. The language that you use in this post is great! it really drew me in and made me want to read more. Good Job!

    “After our exciting crossing of Packwood Glacier, we are rewarded with the most incredible views of Mount Rainier and the Pacific Northwest.”
    Isn’t Mount Rainier Beautiful? I loved hiking around it with my family. Such a great experience.

    1. Noel,
      I appreciate your concern, but I can assure you that Elu’s pack only weighed a few pounds during our entire trip (and she is a 53# pound dog, keeping the pack at less than a 1/4 of her weight). Her pack looks full because she carried her dog food and our trash. I carry all of our water during backpacking trips, and buy her special freeze-dried biscuits to supplement her kibble and keep the weight low. It’s important to keep a dog’s pack weight low because dog paws can crack, so this is definitely something I keep in mind.

      Best,
      Tenley (and Elu)

    1. Sabine,
      I’m sorry to hear about your dog passing, but I’m glad you have those lovely memories of hikes with him. Dogs have a way of getting us to see the world differently and to be in the moment, which is truly amazing.

    1. Xbowtech, the waterbottle on Elu’s pack was empty in the photos. It’s our spare when we hike, and we mostly use it in camp. I carry all of the water in my pack to keep hers lighter. We use a lightweight two-person MSR Hubba Hubba NX tent.

  5. Whatever wonderful adventure to do with your dog!
    During High season my dog has averaged about 40 miles per week of running. Much lower now though.
    Wondering if you did something specific to prepare the paws before taking off?
    I have never had any problems but it would be my biggest fear to suddenly find on day three that there was an issue.
    If you’ve got a special trick I would love to hear it!

    1. We built up our mileage slowly so my feet and Elu’s paws could toughen up over a period of months leading up to this trip. I also chose a section of trail that I knew wouldn’t be too tough for her paws (the PCT in Oregon has lava rock that is hazardous for dog paws). I put Musher’s Secret wax on her paws every morning and night to help keep them from cracking. We’ve never had any problems. I also keep Elu’s pack weight low by carrying all of the water in my pack and buying freeze dried dog meals to supplement her kibble. Thanks for your question!

      1. Thank you!
        I’ve always wondered if Musher’s Secret actually would make any difference, or if it was just a fad. Now I know!! My running buddy tends to look a little cracked at the end of the summer, after so many months of hot, hot weather, and plenty of beach outings too. Thinking I should try something like that to keep things in check.
        I’m still toying with the idea of bringing him for a 5 day slow hike in Yosemite this summer.

        1. aHorseForElinor,
          The Musher’s Secret has definitely made a difference for Elu’s paws, I hope it helps your pup too. I’ve heard of some other paw creams, but we’ve only tried Musher’s Secret. If you’ve camped with your dog before, a low-mileage backpacking trip would be a great trip to start with. Happy trails to you!

  6. Heart-warming and inspirational. Did you ever seen “Last of the Dogmen”. Elu reminds me of Zip, Lewis Gates’ brilliant companion. What a never-forget adventure!

    1. Mommy runs blog,
      Wow! Thank you! You should totally do it if you’re able. Goat Rocks Wilderness is magical.
      -Tenley (and Elu)

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