If you have a December birthday, you just might know that feeling of the celebration getting lost in the holiday chaos. Ten years ago, Liz Wadsworth decided to put a halt to the craziness. “One day, I just was like, ‘I don’t want to try and coordinate a party,’” she says. “I just wanted to go out and have fun with some girlfriends and be healthy.”
She landed on the idea of hiking and decorating the trail—which is now a birthday tradition. This year marks the 10th consecutive “elfing” of the Fragrance Lake Trail in Larrabee State Park by Wadsworth and her friends in honor of her December 13th birthday.
The ladies start the decorating at the trailhead markers and continue along the trail. “We have certain spots where we do it,” says Wadsworth’s good friend, Lori Palmer. “We expand on them sometimes, or if the weather’s really crappy, we might skip one, but we always do at least three or four spots every year.”
They typically decorate the split rail fences at the start of the trail and another as hikers cross the Interurban Trail. “We typically don that up with garland and baubles,” says Palmer. “And then about midway up the trail, there’s this sweet little tree that I love and we put baubles on it, as well.”
The crew typically decorate a sign at the viewpoint overlooking the San Juans and has been known to add flourishes to some of the trees at the viewpoint, as well.
For those who may be concerned for the environmental impact of the elfing, worry not. The ladies always make sure to go back every January and clean up after themselves.
“I was concerned that people might think that we were just going to leave it there and trash the trail with the baubles and tinsel,” says Wadsworth, “so we post signs so people know we’re going to come back.”
The sign, which is a sweet poem written by Wadsworth, reads: “These baubles were hung for some holiday cheer / Please leave them here for all to endear / But please do not fear / We’ll take them all down right after the New Year.”
When the tradition began a decade ago, Wadsworth and Palmer’s kids were quite young—ranging from 3 to 7 years old. “We started when our kids were little, so a lot of times, for us moms, that was our stress relief,” sayd Palmer. “We would all get together and hike when our kids were in school. It was a time for us to all dish and talk about parenting things.”
The sense of community this tradition has fostered between the women is something to marvel at. Twice a season, they band together to do nothing more than spend time together, celebrate their friendships, and spread Christmas cheer.
Now, the kids are 13 to 17 years old, and the conversations shared on the trails have grown from that of toy trucks to college. There’s something satisfying about knowing that despite all the change in the world, some things—like true friendship—are everlasting.
The elfing endeavor takes place every year, regardless of the weather. “We don’t always do it on my birthday,” says Wadsworth. “It can be hard during the week, so we’ll do it either that Saturday or Sunday depending on the weather forecast.”
The ladies have elfed in rain, sleet, and snow, and while there may not be as many decorations on the sloppier years, the cheer remains. One year the weather was so terrible and, combined with Wadsworth’s knee condition at the time, even she didn’t want to participate. However, the tradition is so strong that one of Wadsworth’s friends went up the trail by herself to make sure the deed was done, despite the storm.
The term “elfing” came from the costumes the ladies wear while decorating the trail. Most wear the traditional red and white Santa Claus hat, and Wadsworth goes the extra mile. “I have these striped—like candy canes—red and white stocking with fur along the top. I have bells in my ears, so that’s how we came up with this idea of ‘elfing,’” she says.
While the costumes originated as just a fun idea for the ladies, it’s made them instantly recognizable to other hikers.
“One of the most rewarding responses, for me, was a family that was hiking and saw us in our costumes, putting up the baubles, and they were like, ‘Are you the ones that do this? We love this! Last year we took our family photo here for our holiday card,’” Wadsworth recalls.
“People really love it,” Palmer adds.
If you’re interested in seeing these decorations for yourself, head up to the Fragrance Lake Trail any time after December 15th and through the New Year. You might even get yourself a Christmas card photo out of it.