Adventure to Blanca Lake

Last Fall my friend, Todd, and I attempted to hike Blanca Lake a little too late in the season.  Although the trail started out fine, as we gained elevation the snow appeared and kept getting deeper to the point where it was not safe for us to continue so we turned around just prior to Virgin Lake.

You know the feeling when you set out but you don’t quite reach your goal and it just keeps nagging at you.  This was Blanca Lake for me.  The hike is roughly 14 miles roundtrip and it feels like its either straight up hill or straight down hill.  The trail is in great condition.  Although its pretty dusty since we haven’t had rain in quite awhile.   The trail does have a pretty constant presence of loose rocks and exposed roots.  You have to pay attention to where you are stepping or you can easily take a spill.

The first two miles are a walk from the car to the trailhead due to a couple large washouts.  This is along a road so it’s a pretty easy trek.  The first mile or so of the actual trail wanders through the forest.  Normally I imagine it is pretty nice, but we are experiencing some significant wildfires on the West Coast so most of the ridge lines are cloudy in smoky haze.  It smells like a constant campfire.  This is a popular trail but you only really see a few handfuls of people along the trail.

The hike up to Virgin Lake is definitely a workout.  I didn’t quite have the views from the ridgeline due to all the smoke.   Virgin Lake is pretty small and doesn’t appear to have any inlet or outlet for the water as it is pretty stagnant. It did provide for some nice reflections though.

What I wasn’t expecting is the hike from Virgin Lake down to Blanca Lake.  It is steep!!!  It’s about a mile in distance and pretty much straight down until you can see the lake.  Lots of stairs and rocks to step over.  When your legs are already tired you really take this section slow as one fall could have some significant problems!

Alpine Lakes in Washington are all unique.  Colchuck has its own green color.  Lake Ingalls is a deep blue.  Blanca Lake is one of a kind.  It is a smooth, creamy foam green.  You can feel the chill of the water when you see it.  You come out of the forest to an opening where your first sight of Blanca exists.  It’s larger than I thought, but that water is exactly what you see in pictures!  Breathtaking!  The shore of the lake is filled with logs.  Not really sure where they came from.  Landslide?  Most of the edge of the lake is big rocks and no trees.  They are all at one end of the lake by the waterfall.

I set up my hammock among the rocks and decided to dip my tired feet in the lake.  Wow is that late cold!! It makes Colchuck seem on the warm side!  They are alpine lakes for a reason!  I wish the smoke was gone because it surrounded all the ridges around the lake so you really couldn’t see.  It has been another really horrific summer of forest fires in California and Canada.

After lunch I decided to pack up and head back to the car.  The mile hike out and up to Virgin Lake was rough.  Your legs are already tired and this is a steep, narrow section.  I was so happy to see Virgin Lake as I knew the rest of the trail was pretty much downhill. It took about 3 hours each way.

This was my first hike to try out my new Garmin InReach mini.  I locked in the GPS before I started and marked a way finder point.  I dropped a few other points along the way so those on my map share could see where I was.  It worked really well and kept time,  distance and pace which I can see on my phone.  I was super happy with its performance and it does give some peace of mind knowing in an emergency I can send to an SOS message and/or let someone know my condition.

All in all a great hike, but it’s a one and done hike for me!

Mt Pilchuck Lookout

We have some great lookout hikes here in Washington. Our weather over the last couple weeks has been crazy hot. Multiple days of mid 90’s is about enough to drive all of us Washingtonians crazy!! With the fabulous weather I thought it would be fun to do a sunset hike to the lookout. One we could beat the heat and only have low 80’s to hike through. Second, these lookouts have fantastic 360 views. On a clear day you can see all the snow capped mountains.

Well, the best intentions just didn’t quite work out for us! Out of nowhere a marine push came in which brought mid 60’s weather and clouds! We decided to head up anyways knowing we probably wouldn’t have much of a view.

The trail is in great condition and easy to follow. The beginning of the hike winds you through the forest. Trail crews have done a lot of work building steps and lining pathways. As you gain elevation you move out of the forest and into the rocks. There are a few spots on the way up that provide, on a clear day, great views across the valley. We were able to see a bit of a view at one clearing then we headed into the most of a low ceiling.

The last section up to the lookout is big boulders that you have to climb over. Easier going up than coming down. The lookout has a metal ladder you climb to get up to it. The wind was starting to pick up and you could hear it howling through the lookout. We walked around the lookout and were able to see down but the clouds prevented us from seeing more than about 40 feet.

We made it almost halfway down before we were in the dark. Headlamps were awesome and the trial was easy to follow. The only downside of headlamps though were the bats!! The were buzzing my face repeatedly. You couldn’t see them until the last second.

We managed to make it back to the parking lot and head back to the highway on a dirt road with so many large holes!! Very rough road!!

My hiking partner is a bee keeper so she gave me a jar of honey. So nice!!

All in all a great hike.

Back to Colchuck Lake

This is one of my favorite locations in Washington. It never disappoints. There is something special about the color of an alpine lake and the surrounding dark grey peaks. The lake immediately draws your attention due the color. It’s always a wow moment. I can’t stop looking at the surrounding peaks and rock formations. They are so impressive. We saw some people hiking up a snow section next to Asgard Pass. Now sure where they were going. Maybe into the Enchantments. One guy came back down with skis, having hiked up and skied back down. Mad props for that guy as that is a CLIMB!!!

You hear a lot about Asgard Pass. How difficult it is. Sitting at the lake staring at it you realize how tall it is. That’s quite a bit of climbing in the snow. I can see how you would be exhausted when you finally got to the top. I have to admit though I kept staring at it and wondering what’s on the other side. I’ve seen lots of pictures of the Enchantments. It’s called that for a reason! One day I’ll apply for that lottery and venture out on that 4 day backpacking trip!

We were lucky enough to see goats! A few in our group saw a momma goat and got a glimpse of a fluffy baby who was quite shy. We also saw a fairly large black tail deer. He had about 6 velvety antlers growing.

Colchuck is such a peaceful place. Even though it is a pretty busy trail it isn’t loud. You can still hear all the sounds of nature. Look around at all the lush ground cover. At certain spots on the trail you have openings where you can see all the rock spires surrounding the area. They are massive. Amazing!

People swim in this alpine lake. This very cold lake!! We saw the usual unicorn floaty that someone packed up there. I have to admit it looks pretty relaxing on a nice sunny day but having put my feet in the water I’m not brave, or crazy, enough to jump in. I’m sure it is refreshing along with heart stopping!

When I’m Leavenworth I also have to stop at the Cheesemonger. They have the best sheep and goat cheese!!! Also our usual post hike grub stop at Gustav’s! They have the best pepper burger and their fries are crazy good!

Another amazing hike in Washington! We are so lucky to live here!

Mt St Helens 😍😍😍

I’ve lived in Washington state pretty much my whole life. I walked by a view of Mt St Helens on my way to school. On May 18, 1980 I walked two blocks from my house and watched the eruption. A huge plume of grey ash that just kept getting larger and larger. My dad got called into work as they anticipated issues at the airport. My brother was flying to Hawaii as the mountain erupted and watched it from the sky. The ash blew away from us and hit Eastern Washington and Idaho pretty bad. I remember seeing all the photos of cars covered with inches of ash. Emergency vehicles with these crazy ventilation systems attached. People walking around wearing masks. We heard about the local life of Harry Truman. Pictures of the devastation and stories of lives lost. Hard to grasp the totality of the situation as a kid.

After everything settled down the money making began! Everywhere you went you could purchase small containers of ash, pictures of the eruption, t-shirts, etc. It was crazy!

I’ve been to Mt St Helens once since the eruption. The devastation caused by the eruption is really hard to understand the magnitude until you see it in person. It is a massive hole. A new lake. Probably millions of trees thrown around like toothpicks. Powerful!

I never knew you could climb Mt St Helens. I just learned about that last year. I decided to try for a permit. I know thousands of people apply. Far more than can get them. I was ready the minute the purchase window opened!! Well let’s just say the institute had a small problem with the permit purchase and the system crashed in minutes. Wow were people unhappy!! People can be so cruel, disrespectful and just downright nasty on social media. The institute had to regroup and get a new plan together for permit sales. The second time wasn’t exactly smooth but we got our permits!! They only issue 100 permits per day so we were feeling pretty lucky!! Let the mountain training begin!!

Four months later the day actually arrived. We drove down on Sunday night. As we drove to the Sno-Park the forest cleared and we got a clear shot of Mt St Helens. I have to admit that was the first time I realized how large that mountain is and thought about the fact we would actually be climbing to the summit in the morning! Freely admit I had a moment of self doubt! Followed by excitement!!!

We decided to tent that night and get up at 2:45 to hit the trail by 3:30 am. That night there was a thunderstorm circling in the distance. No rain for us but wow did we have a great sunset. I bet the alpenglow on Mt St Helens was spectacular!! A little beef stew dehydrated meal for dinner and time to call it a night. Surprisingly I slept a bit and got up at 2:45 am with no problem!

We hit the trail at 3:30. The first couple miles are through the forest with a bit of elevation but really just a nice warmup! It’s dark and we are navigating via headlamp. So we are trekking right along and I hear this weird noise off in the distance. Kind of a cross between a howl and a growl. Todd didn’t hear it so we just kept walking. A couple minutes later we heard it again. We both heard it that time. We heard it probably four times in total. No clue what is was but it was safely off in the distance. No bear spray. Todd said Mt St Helens has the most Bigfoot sightings so I thought that would be pretty funny! Just what we need……to see Bigfoot!! What a story that would have been but luckily nothing to encounter!

We hiked on the winter route which is called Worm Flows Climbing Route. It’s really divided into 3 sections, 12 miles round trip and 5,700 feet elevation gain. The sections are: Forest. Pumice rock and ground up pumice rock. Followed by snow fields to the summit. The forest was pretty mild as you are pretty much walking on a really wide trail.

Pumice fields generally suck! Once we emerged from the forest the winds were very noticeable. Sustained winds were pretty strong and the gusts were about 25 mph. That wasn’t very fun. Having ground up pumice rock thrown at your face at 25 mph hurts! You had to climb around and over the rocks and walk through what felt like sand. This section was about a mile long and all uphill. The sand made it difficult and energy sucking and the wind just made it worse. Unfortunately the wind followed us most of the way up!

We finally made it out of the pumice fields! Thankfully!!! I’ve never been so happy to hike in snow!!! Time for microspikes!

The snow sections are steep and I mean steep!! We had to toe punch into the snow to get any traction. The snow was so slushy you really had to pay attention or you would fall or slide. There are two sections of snow. Those sections took 3 hours alone to climb! It was exhausting!! Legs felt good though so I was happy with my training. I did learn that I have trouble deep lung breathing since my last surgery. Clearly have to stretch out my muscles more to get that back!

We arrived at the ridgeline…finally!! 6.5 hours after we started! What a view!! Mt Rainer was directly in front and spectacular as usual! Mt Adams was off to the side and pretty amazing!! Mt Hood was behind us and much further in the distance. The rocks around the rim were chocolate colored with hints of red. The dome was spewing steam and was quite a bit larger than I was expecting. You could see several visible fractures in the snow and a huge snow slab near the summit that is ready to fall. The sounds of the ice cracking was a bit eerie!we were waiting to watch large sections of snow and ice fall into the crater. The whole setting was spectacular and left us with a sense of awe of the power of mother nature. One side of the mountain is essentially missing. Followed by a huge clearing that still exists 38 years later. A new lake named Spirit Lake and Mt Rainier in the distance. I love the PNW!! We are so lucky to have all this beautiful scenery!!

After an hour at the top we decided to start down. The best way to get down Mt St Helens is glissading!!! OMG so much fun!!!! The chutes are easily found and it took us 21 seconds to slide down what took us 90 minutes to climb! Felt like a kid again!!

Unfortunately we had to hike down the pumice fields. The lower snow fields had obvious fractures which made it unsafe. Down the pumice fields was brutal!! It was now pretty warm around 80 degrees. Those fields felt like they went on forever!! It look us 3.5 hours to get back to the parking lot.

This was a challenging climb but also a spectacular one. I’ve never done anything like that before. The scenery was amazing! The mountain leaves you in awe!

So glad I decided to climb Mt St Helens! What an unforgettable experience!!!

Back to Beckler Peak and it did not disappoint!

Todd and I hiked Beckler Peak last fall. The views from Beckler peak are legendary. Full 360 views on a clear day. Well unfortunately we did not chose a good weather day so the hike was rainy, cold and miserable. To top it off it was all clouded in so zero views!

Not this time! The weather was perfect! We started out in dirt and hiked for a good mile before the snow started. The interesting part was it went from no snow to a very distinct snow line and it got deep quick!

We passed a lean mountain man on his way down. He gave us the info on the trail or really the lack of trail. This trial is known for all the switchbacks but there are none visible! So instead of winding our way up the mountain the path now is straight up! Seems like a great training hike for Mt St Helens!

This was quite the incline. Weaving around the trees with 6-10 foot deep tree wells. The snow was deep!! We kept up our pace and came out on the ridge line with some gorgeous views!! There wasn’t hardly a cloud in the sky! The sky was deep blue offset by snow covered mountains. It doesn’t get any better than that!!

Just before the summit we hit a crazy steep section that really was more of a scramble. The snow was deep and soft and there were several visible gaping holes! It was hard to tell if it was a horizontal break in the snow due to an underground stream or just a huge hole. Let’s just say it fell into the “sketchy” category. It was uncomfortable going up but I was more worried about going down!

We met a couple young guys on the way up. They were very nice and pretty funny! They gave us much praise for being two 50+ year olds grinding this hike out! We actually had lunch with them at the top. Normally the top is a huge rock that people sit on or on the hill coming up to the rock. This day is was covered in a good 10 feet of snow so it was difficult to see where the edge was. Didn’t want to get to close to that as it was a long way down!!

The views though!! OMG!!! Just stunning! Amazing hike! So glad we came back!!

Mt Teneriffe is not Mailbox!

So my hiking buddy Todd and I have permits to summit Mt St Helens in June so we have some training hikes to get in. We’ve already done Mailbox Peak so another recommendation was Mt Teneriffe. It seemed manageable so we decided to give it a whirl! I’ve hiked to the falls before and that’s a fairly easy hike so I figured this one was good. There is a new trail and an old trail. The old trail goes by the falls then takes you up to the top. It’s much shorter than the new trail but quite a bit steeper. The hillside is eroding so they are trying to move people over to the new trail. We opted for new trail up and old trail down. Probably not a smart idea with the upper trail conditions!

I’m researching this hike many people compared it to Mailbox. I’m honestly not sure how that comparison works. They are nothing alike! Mailbox is short and steep! New trail Teneriffe is long! And steep!

We started out in dirt and hiked for a couple miles before we hit snow consistently. It became deep quickly!! Lots of post holing up to the knee! Slipping and sliding even with microspikes. We spend so much energy trying to maintain forward movement it was tiring!

The new trail just seemed to go on forever. We really weren’t able to follow any real trail once we started to climb. We were just meandering through the trees looking for other footprints.

We passed a lost lizard that was stuck in a deep footprint. He couldn’t get out and was so lethargic. Todd moved him over to the dirt so hopefully he survived. He wasn’t the only crazy being out there! We actually got passed by 3 trail runners! Yes running up a snow covered mountain in spikes! And short shorts!!! He must have been freezing!! His skinny legs were so red! It made me cold!

We stopped along the tree line to grab some lunch. I was starving and was quickly coming to terms with the fact that I had not properly fueled for this hike. Too much energy spent and not enough in reserves. It was depleting fast. The spot was stopped T was calm and sheltered but it felt like the temperature had dropped at least 20 degrees. Both of us noticed the temp drop as we quickly put on our puffy jackets and heavier gloves.

After lunch we kept moving on. It felt like we were walking on a treadmill. Consistently moving but going nowhere! We finally made it over and out one ridge and headed to another when we finally saw another group of hikers! We found out we were fairly close to the summit. Just a bit more climbing and we came into a clearing and false summit. The weather was all clouded in so we had no view. I had reached the “wall”! I knew I was on empty and I was well aware that I had 4-5 miles to go down to get back to the parking lot and the trail down was steep and required good concentration. Todd hiked up to the actual summit and I stayed at the false one. Ate a bit more and got more fluids in me.

The route down was sloppy. The snow was not in good condition which made going downhill difficult. Losing traction was a frequent occurrence! We finally made it out of the snow and onto the dirt trail which was quite slick due to wet exposed tree roots. We passed a group that had an injured hiked. Search and rescue was on their way up to help her down. I swear we passed at least 30 SAR personnel on their way up. We later learned it took them over 10 hours to get her down. SAR is all volunteer!!! Great work they do!

The falls were stunning as usual! It was a nice break from the concentration needed from the huge step-downs on this trail. Going down this trail was not a smart idea!

Walking back into the parking lot I’ve never been so happy to see my truck. I’ll do that hike again! Next time I’ll make sure I fuel and hydrate appropriately beforehand!!

A little desert hiking at Ancient Lakes

The spring in Washington can be a tad bit dreary and wet. After a long overcast winter we are all in need of a bit of sunshine. The daffodils and tulips are out so we know summer is coming! We decided to head to Eastern Washington to hold off the development of web feet!!

Luckily in Washington we have pretty much every a bit of everything within a couple hour drive. Mountains, coastline, desert or rain forests. Doesn’t get much better than this!

Ancient Lakes is outside a small town in Eastern Washington named Quincy. Because of its location and weather patterns it hosts a large number of server farms and agricultural farms. Once you get out of the mountains the landscape changes noticeably. Moving from lush green evergreen to dry dirt/sand and sparse trees. Not only is the temperature change noticeable but the air type changes too.

I’m going to guess there are dozens of trails in Ancient Lakes along with dozens of lakes. We hiked on April 14 so the weather was in the 70’s and boy did that feel good! We saw several waterfalls and lakes of all sizes. Quite a few people were backpacking and we saw many people horseback riding as well. We hiked through the flatlands and made it up to the ridge line where we could see for miles! Across the Columbia river we could see he wind turbines all along the hillside. From the ridge line we wanted to head to the Columbia then circle back to the parking lot. I bet we spend 30 minutes trying to figure out how to get there! Phone gps is awesome but the screen is so small it made it a bit difficult to orient to where you really were and how far away the trail connection was. The trail along the ridge was difficult to see and for the most part absent. We had a rough idea where we were headed to we headed off in that direction. After about 20 minutes we were able to find the obvious trail and that took us back to the parking lot.

No ticks found which was awesome! This is a great spring hike! I could imagine in the summer it would be quite hot and not so much of a fun hike. I would like to add this hike to a backpacking list though!

Mailbox Peak version Two

Well how the heck did that happen??? I’m pretty sure I swore after hiking Mailbox last summer that I would never and I mean never do that again!! Pain fades with time? I’d lost my mind? What kind of explanation would get me back up a 2.5 mike hike straight up 4,000 feet of mountain?? Good thing you asked!

February 26 I was lucky enough to grab two permits to climb Mt St Helens on June 18!!!! OMG!! So anxiously excited for that!! So let’s see that 10 miles round trip and about 4,000 feet elevation game. Better start training! What’s on the list? Mt Teneriffe! Mt Si! And you guessed it Mailbox Peak!! So…..

I knew Todd hadn’t hiked Mailbox before and the weather seemed to be ok for the weekend. It looked like we would have some fairly heavy cloud cover so that meant to views at the top. All that hard work and no view. Bummer!!

We set out to leave at 7. There was the usual valley fog hanging around but we could clearly see deep blue skies above! The closer we got along I-90 the fog was gone, the sun was out and we knew the day was going to be pretty weather perfect!

The lower lot was full and the upper lot about 50% full. Surprisingly not as busy as I was expecting. We planned to hike up the old trail and down the new trail. I know the new trail is noticeably longer but I thought the old trail would be harder on the knees and quite a bit more slippery with the trail conditions.

We made it up the first mile in 45 minutes. I was feeling pretty good about that as a training program for Mt St Helens says pace of 1,000 feel elevation in an hour. Good start! At this point there was consistently more snow and ice on the trail so we decided to put on our microspikes. The trail looks so much different with snow than it does in summer. As we gained elevation the snow became much deeper with it consistently being around knee deep.

I told Todd about the sections of the trial. First part being the forest. Second section being the hike through and up the boulder field. Third the push to the mailbox and finally the hike back to the truck!

Todd hikes uphill faster than I do so I wasn’t surprised that he did so here as well. He did comment a few times on how unrelenting the climb is. No switchbacks. Just straight up for 2.5 miles! I think it even kicked his butt a bit!

For some reason this time the first seemed to go on forever! Maybe I had just blocked it out from the previous time. It just seemed like we would never get out in the open. After what felt like eternity we finally emerged just before the boulder field. We got a glimpse of Mt Rainier. Our only glimpse of the day! It was pretty spectacular!

The boulder field was so impressive! Covered in a deep layer of snow! You couldn’t see any of the rock steps which made it less intimidating. You just had to follow this deep path in the snow. So cool! At the top of the boulder field the trees were covered in this thick pure white snow. You can see which way the wind blows as one side of the trees were only green. They looked like flocked Christmas trees. Only without the ornaments and tinsel!

At this point your calves are on fire and the quads are tired. So close! You can see people standing at the mailbox but it seems like it’s taking forever to get there. 10 steps and rest for a few seconds. Repeat. We finally made it to the top. 3.5 hours. Not bad for the conditions. The snow was almost all the way up to the bottom of the mailbox. I was telling Todd I’m the summer the mailbox is actually waist high! So I’m guessing we had about 3 feet of snow on the top!

The views were pretty spectacular. There is something about deep blue skies offset by pure white perfect snow! Gorgeous!! We could see quite a few heavy dark clouds around Mt Rainier so I assume it was snowing there.

We took the requisite photos of the views and the mailbox. Chatted with some other hikers. One thing I love about hiking, besides just being in the outdoors, is how friendly everyone is. You chat with strangers like you’ve been friends for years!

Now it was time to hand back down. The sun had been out all day so the snow was starting to melt and get slushy and slippery. With how steep it is coming down from the top and across the boulder field we wanted to make sure we could do it safely. We saw several people sliding and falling. Even a guy who bent his trekking pole when it got caught coming through the boulder field. That’s a bad place to fall and have an injury. By this time we could see some rocks poking through so slow and steady was the pace!

Once we made it past the boulder field the trail returned to a winter wonderland! We even got to glissade on a section of the trail! The new trail was stunning! Deep snow through the forest. The legs were a bit tired but feeling pretty good. I like to ease of the new trail coming down but I don’t like how long it is! It seems like it will never end!!! It took us 3 hours to get back to the truck. Tired legs and all!!

I have to admit although I was tired, this time felt way better than the first time. It wasn’t 85 degrees! I had enough water! The views were equally amazing! I’m feeling a bit better about Mailbox now. I’m out of the never doing that again phase and I’ve moved on to a love-hate relationship. It’s a grind! A worthy hike though!

Until next time Mailbox!!

Mt Rainier is for all seasons!

We are so lucky to have such a spectacular national park in our backyard. Every season brings unique opportunities, sights and adventures. Winter after a fresh snowfall is downright magical!!

Having a Monday off meant a lot less traffic on the road for the nearly 3 hour drive to Longmire. We had plans to meet up with one of our hiking groups but missed them due to a car that slid off the road and needed a tow. The fresh powder was calling our name so Tami and I decided we would still head out on the trail from Narada Falls to Reflection Lake. There was at least a foot of fresh powder. The trail was well outlined and the snow covered trees were beautiful. There is something about snowshoeing through a forest that is blanketed with deep snow. It’s so quiet and peaceful.

The trail is a gentle slope through the forest and out to a saddle where you have to options. We opted for the most direct route as it was well traveled. The ceiling was pretty low so we actually never saw Mt Rainier. It was supposed to be a beautiful sunny day but that didn’t materialize until early evening and we had already left. We saw some pretty cool icicles hanging off buildings and rocks. Light snow fell for pretty much the whole time we were out.

I’ve never been to Reflection Lake in the winter so I wasn’t really sure what it would look like. It’s amazing in the summer at sunrise and sunset. I kinda figured it would be at least partly frozen but it was completely covered in snow. No reflection! Well maybe a Reflection of the Sky because both were perfectly white!

We decided to each our lunch at the lake and were immediately surrounded by lots of grey jays and a stellar jay. They sat in trees around us. Landed in the snow. Flew to our trekking poles and then sat on the poles, our shoulders and heads! By far the most friendly I have seen them even to the point of being somewhat aggressive. They would dive bomb trying to steal food out of your hand while you were just trying to get your hand to your mouth! After a few minutes we decided we better move on and head back to the truck.

The trip back was a bit chilly as the wind was starting to pick up. Surprisingly we only ran into a few people on the trail but everyone was very friendly as usual!

We are having such great powder this year! It’s so pretty and just makes you want to be out even more!!

On to the next adventure!!

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