Tolmie Peak Lookout was AMAZING!

The weather in Washington has been a quite unpredictable lately. Normally fall is cooler temps but little rain. Instead we have been having cooler temps and lots of rain or snow which has made it feel more like winter when hiking. Saturday looked like we had a little window of good weather around Mt. Rainier so we decided to head down to Tolmie Peak Lookout. It is a shorter hike at just 7.5 miles roundtrip and only 1,100 mile elevation gain. It is generally a really nice trail that goes through multiple different scenery options. The downside of this trail is the road to get there. It is about 12 miles of unmaintained dirt road, which translates to large potholes everywhere! Like you will need a new suspension when you finish driving on this section of the road. It is the most uncomfortable ride! I even drive a Jeep Wrangler and you are bouncing all over. It makes me cringe watching small cars try and drive on this road.

We arrived to a 3/4 full parking lot with some people choosing to part on the roadway to skip part of the trail. We started at the trail beginning as this section of the trail walks right next to Mowich Lake which is very pretty! We were greeted with clear, blue skies which made the entire hike beautiful! After the lake the trail winds through the forest where you have several elevation gains and losses. Once you exit the forest, you enter a short meadow which follows a smaller lake. The meadow was filled with fall colors. From this point you can see the lookout up on a rock ridge. Although it looks so far away, from this point is is actually only .9 miles to the top and it goes by quickly!

The trail up to the Ridgeline offers spectacular views of Mt. Rainier. Living in Washington you never get tired of looking at her. She is spectacular! There are multiple entrances to Mt. Rainier National Park so depending on which trail you take you get a different side and view of Mt. Rainier.

The lookout was busy, but we were able to find a spot to sit and eat lunch. There are a number of grey jays flying around and they were quite noisy! Acting like their usual selves they were taking any opportunity they could to steal your lunch!

The one negative I would say about the hike was the sheer number of people on this trail. It was just a train of people. Many who are clearly not regular hikers. They were cutting through switchbacks and walking in large groups (I mean 20 or so people) and completely congesting the trail so no one could walk by. Not willing to move over it created some problems along the trail. We need to be better about educating people on trail etiquette.

The road is scheduled to close for the winter Sunday (today) so we picked the perfect day to close out the Tolmie Peak Lookout season!

Larch month is upon us but ending soon!

October in Washington state is a busy hiking time! Partly because we generally have fantastic weather and secondly because of our fall leaf colors and larches! Larches? Never heard of those? Well, they are a deciduous conifer tree. This means they have pine needles, but unlike most conifers, larch needles turn bright yellow in the fall and then fall off over the winter only to grow back in the spring. In Washington October is called “Larch March” because so many people flock to the handful of hikes where you can find larches. I normally head over to Lake Ingalls because they are pretty spectacular there but the weather hasn’t been very good lately for the hike. We decided to head up to Maple Loop Pass this time.

Maple Loss Pass is on Highway 20 at Rainy Pass. Highway 20 is only open for half the year because of the amount of snow it receives. We are close to it closing this year. Normally in mid-October we might have a dusting of snow but nothing major. The fall leaf colors are pretty amazing in October and Maple Loop is known for larches. I was pretty excited to see them again this year.

After a crazy long drive to get there, we arrived to snow in the parking lot. Not a good sign! Clearly the recent heavy rains have resulted in heavy snow up in the mountains. Even on a weekday the parking lot was almost full at 9 AM. We headed out on the trail and within the first half mile or so, we were walking down a dedicated footpath with a couple feet of snow on the sides. So much for seeing all the larches and fall colors! We have clearly moved straight to winter!

I do love winter hiking! It is so pretty. Fluffy white untouched snow as far as you can see. Rock formations look like clouds as they are covered in snow. Trees are a fraction of their normal size as they are buried in the snow. The treetops are folded over to make them look like Dr Suess trees. We had a recent wind storm so we had to climb over quite a few alder blowdowns. They cover up quite a bit of space when they fall.

Once we got up to the lake we were able to see some larches on the other side of the valley but we could also see some storm clouds rolling in. The wind was starting to pick up and I was starting to question if we would be able to make the entire 7.5 mile loop. Well that question was answered before we made it up to Maple Pass. We hit the first ridge where you could see across the valley and ran into some hikers coming down from Maple Pass who informed us there was not visible trail from Maple Pass so they had to turn around. They had been breaking trail for a bit through knee to waist deep snow. sDue to the wind picking up and the pending rain/storm we decided this would be a good place to turn around.

It was so crazy to see that much snow this early in the season! It makes you feel like fall just got skipped over and winter is here to stay! I guess it’s time to break out all the winter hiking gear as snowshoe season is clearly upon us soon!

Park Butte Lookout

Up Highway 20 just before the small city of Concrete is a turnoff for Baker Lake. This area is really popular in the summer for camping and fishing. If you head a little past Baker Lake you find several forest service roads which take you out in the foothills where several really nice trails exist.

Park Butte is my third lookout I’ve hiked to in Washington. They all are a little different. Some allow overnight stays while others do not. Some are open year around while others close during late fall and winter. Park Butte is on the south side of Mt. Baker and offers spectacular views of the mountain through fields covered in fall colors.

The trail starts out meandering through a meadow with little elevation gain. There is a fairly wide river or mountain runoff stream to cross. When we were there, a temporary metal bridge was placed over the river to allow crossing. I just read that it has been removed for the winter. With the recent rains I would not want to try crossing that river without a bridge. That is some fast moving water! Once you cross over the bridge the trail starts a steady climb up to another meadow. The climb is through the forest and occasionally offers peekaboo views over the valley. We had some low clouds so some of the view was obstructed, however I always like the view when you are actually above the cloud cover. It looks like you are on top of cotton balls or marshmallow cream!

When you climb out of the forest, you enter a large meadow that is currently covered with fall colors. The ground cover leaves were a deep red color, which was a nice fore ground against the white glaciers of Mt. Baker. Across the meadow we had an unobstructed view of Mt. Baker. It always seems so strange to be standing so close to glaciers. You can see the creases and blue coloring of the ice.

From the meadow you start climbing again to get up to the lookout. I’ll be honest you can see the lookout from the meadow and it looks so far away. Like crazy far away! The trail winds it way up and around the rocks. You walk parallel to the lookout for quite awhile. It can get a little discouraging as it doesn’t feel like you are making any progress to the lookout. Outside of the view of Mt. Baker there really isn’t much to see on this hike. The landscape is pretty dry and rocky unfortunately.

One exciting part on the trek up to the lookout was the sighting of a black foraging in a meadow. When I first saw the bear I wasn’t quite sure what it was, until it moved! It was a ways away so it was pretty exciting to see! It made the long trek up the hill go by quickly as we were easily distracted by seeing what the bear was doing. This was my first time seeing a bear int he wild on a hike! Pretty cool!!

The lookout was pretty busy so we didn’t stay very long. We moved off to the side to sit and have lunch looking out over a valley as the fog moved in. While we were eating lunch a group of horseback riders came up to the lookout. Never seen that on a trail before! They were pretty funny and immediately broke out their Coors Light to enjoy at the lookout!

It was starting to get kinda chilly so we headed back down. Another lookout hike to check off the list!

Bridal Veil Falls looked closer to Niagara Falls!

We finished our goal hike of Mailbox Peak on Sept 10 so on the 19th we decided to head to a waterfall hike. Donna always like a waterfall and Bridal Veil is a pretty waterfall.

The weather was pretty rough a few days before our hike, so I wasn’t quite sure what that would do to the trail as it is in a forest and can have some fairly significant trail pooling. It was a bit chilly when we started out but not too bad and no rain!

The trail was actually in pretty good condition. We had some water going up the stairs, where it was pooling and filling the steps. The trails were covered with nice fall cover. The large maple leaves were covered with orange, red and yellow leaves. As we got closer to the falls, you could hear the water flow. Not the sound of a normal waterfall. It was the sound of a raging waterfall! All of a sudden it felt like we were in the middle of a rainstorm. We were getting soaked but it wasn’t raining! The waterfall was flowing so heavily it was creating significant wind which was blowing the water outside of the waterfall. We needed wetsuits! I’ve never seen that much water flowing down Bridal Veil! It was equally impressive and crazy! My friend, who loves waterfalls, was quite impressed! Not sure I will be able to top that for any future waterfall hikes!

Once we were sufficiently soaked at the falls, we walked partway back down the trail and took the trail that heads up to Lake Serene. I knew we wouldn’t be going to Lake Serene as there are thousands of stairs and switchbacks. Okay, maybe not thousands but its close!! A short ways down this trail there is a bridge which allows you to see the entire falls at Bridal Veil. It’s actually in two sections that you can’t see from the top. The rain had been so heavy a few days before, that we were actually treated to two additional smaller waterfalls just down the trail. I think I have filled her waterfall hiking bucket!

By the time we headed back to the car, it had just started raining. Perfect timing!

Mailbox Peak, yep I still don’t like you!

They say 3rd time is a charm, but I don’t think that applies to hiking Mailbox Peak. Although I really do not like this hike at all, this time, it was for a great purpose. September 10 was my friends birthday, but it is also National Mental Health Day. Mental health is something we don’t talk about often. It comes with an air of secrecy and weakness. We don’t talk that way about physical health so we should not talk that way about mental health.

The “why” behind the hike is my friend. She lost her oldest son a couple years ago to suicide. Devyn was (and still is) deeply loved by his family and friends. Devyn had reached out to the crisis line multiple times on that day, but did not get the attention or help that he needed. The feeling of hopelessness that can not be explained or relieved in that moment. That moment when a person feels suicide is the only relief. In reality it isn’t a relief. It is a lifetime sentence of grief and loss for everyone left behind. Choose to stay! Moments are temporary. This level of grief and loss is permanent!

Mailbox Peak is a hike Devyn did with friends. A photo of Devyn and his friends at the mailbox, smiling, full of life and a bright future. A photo she cherishes. Once she said she wanted to do this hike, I was all in with helping her reach the top. We’ve trained all summer for the hike. The weather was cooperating, although it was crazy hot! We decided it would be best for them to take the new trail up and down. Although it is a longer trail, it is not as steep. Both trails meet partway up the trail, so the climb to the summit is the same for both trails.

The day started on the wrong foot. On my way there I realized I forgot my boots! Huge problem! Had to turn around so I was an hour late to the hike. I told everyone else to start and I would catch up. My goal was to catch up at the point where the old trails and new trail meet.

We arrived at the trail and kept up a pretty good pace to meet up with the group. We were quick enough to actually catch them before the two trails meet. One of our group members was having some issues with nausea and anxiety so that slowed our pace getting to the top. Sometimes you just need to stop, breath deeply and focus on accomplishments to calm yourself. Too much thought can get you spinning in a negative direction.

The pace to the top was pretty slow, but that was okay. I started having back spasms along the way so frequent breaks helped by allowing me to take off my pack and stretch out my back.

Although I truly hate this hike, it was amazing seeing my friend step over the top and stand at the mailbox. A huge accomplishment! She spent some quiet time at the mailbox. Left a custom t-shirt. A Starbucks card and a Stay; sticker.

Longest walk every back to the car! 3rd time is the last time for Mailbox!!

Take care of your mental health. Reach out!

Always…..Choose to STAY; You are far more important and valuable than that moment! You are LOVED!

Annette Lake, supposedly the warmest alpine lake in Washington State

September 6 we planned our last training hike before Mailbox Peak. We decided on a fairly easy hike to stretch out our legs and talk about our upcoming hike. Annette Lake is near North Bend Washington off the Denny Creek exit. The Annette Lake trail is roughly 7.5 miles roundtrip with an elevation gain of 1,800 feet. The lake sits at approximately 3,600 feet, which is pretty low for an alpine lake, which is why everyone says the lake is warm enough for swimming. Although I have seen a number of people swim in the upper elevation lakes and they are COLD!!

We were treated to another moody sky hike, with lowland fog, which is pretty common in the fall in our mountains. Sometimes it blows over and sometimes it does not. The nice part of morning fog is how it affects the sun rays when they shine through the trees. September is generally a really nice time to hike in Washington as the weather is still good. Not too hot (for us that means below 80) and not too cold (which means no hardcore rain).

This trail leads you through a forest on a pretty wide dirt trail. Most of the trail is in the forest, with just a couple breakouts into meadows. Not sure really why they call them meadows as its not like you are walking through bunch of flowers or anything. Not really even a large open space. But anyways….. The trail was pretty busy but most people were wearing masks.

We arrived at the lake along with what appeared to be another hundred or so hikers! We had to walk a bit around the lake to find a spot for all of us to relax. We were able to find a downed tree for us all to sit on and eat some lunch. We talked for several minutes about who was going to go in the lake for a swim. I waded in to my ankles and quickly decided that water was not the warmest alpine lake. It was roughly as cold as many of the others I have visited! No swimming for me! Donna and I sat on the log as Michelle and Cathi decided they would go for a swim. Judging by the sounds of their breath after they dove in, they did not think it was very warm either! Luckily we had some extra dry clothes for them to put on for the hike back.

I can see why this hike is so popular. It reminded me a lot of Lake Serene, but without the thousands of stairs and switchbacks! It’s an easy hike that you can do after work to get in some quick mileage and stretch out your legs.

After this we were on the 4 day countdown to Mailbox Peak!

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