Happy Washington Trails Day!

August 1st was Washington Trails Day, where we encourage everyone to get outdoors and experience the magnificent trails in our State. An important message from WTA is creating a statement or short video on “I need trails because…..”. This is used to communicate with our Legislators on the importance of public lands and how trails support a healthy physical and emotional community. Please take the time to complete the “I need trails because…..” statement and post on social media and hashtag WTA. As part of the #recreateresponsibly initiative it is our responsibility to follow the tips to protect health and keep public lands open and safe during this pandemic. Those tips are:

  1. Know before you go: Check the status of the place you want to visit. If it is closed, don’t go. If it’s too crowded, have a plan B.
  2. Plan ahead: Prepare for facilities to be closed, pack a lunch and bring essentials like hand sanitizer and a face covering.
  3. Stay close to home: This is not the time to travel long distances to recreate. Most places are only open for day use.
  4. Practice physical distancing: Adventure only with your immediate household. Be prepared to cover your nose and mouth and give other space. If you are sick, stay home.
  5. Play it safe: Slow down and choose lower-risk activities to reduce your risk of injury. Search and rescue operations are health care resources are both strained.
  6. Leave no trace: Respect public lands and communities and take all your garbage with you.

To celebrate Washington Trails Day I headed out to Talapus and Olallie Lakes, which are part of the Alpine Lakes Wilderness. The trail is located west of Snoqualmie Pass and is a fairly easy trail. The vast majority of the trail is within the forest so it helps keep the temperature down on sunny days. Although the forecast called for a sunny and warm day, we were met with a pretty low cloud covering and some somewhat grey skies. The trail is in great condition, but there was a decent amount of trash along the trail, which is always disappointing. Pack it in, Pack it out is such an easy principle!

The first lake you come across is Talapus, which has a couple campsites nearby but most of the camp sites are at Olallie lake. We stopped for a few minutes to see the lake. It’s a nice deeper shade of blue. It is about 2 miles to Talapus Lake, which makes it an easy hike for families. We trekked on to Olallie Lake and it was much busier! We say a steady stream of hikers and backpackers on the trail, both coming up and going down. The vast majority were wearing masks and this trail has ample opportunities to step off the trail to allow for distance while passing.

Olallie Lake has several swimming areas and we saw a number of people taking a short swim in the lake. Even though it wasn’t a super warm day but the water was surprisingly warm. We found a nice spot along the lake for some lunch and to dip our feet in the water.

I can say I laughed more on this hike than I ever have before. There was always some funny conversation or something going on that started the laughter. Actually at the end of the hike a couple passed us and said we clearly were a fun group having a great time. We will take it!

Happy Trails Everyone!

Melmont Ghost Town

I’m helping a couple people get ready to hike Mailbox Peak in early September so we went down to Carbonado Washington to take a stroll through Melmont Ghost Town.

This is a 5-6 mile out and back path along an old abandoned coal town from the early 1900’s. There are some remnants of some of the buildings. They look like they are made with local stones. The town of Carbonado was a stop for the railway as they transported coal. The town was busy for awhile, boasting a school and post office, however it was short lived and has been abandoned for nearly a century.

At times you will see individuals with metal detectors working in the fields looking for old artifacts. Last time I was there a couple guys had located old plates and cooking items. On the West Coast we have not been good about preserving our history. Many town like this exist with little information known about the history. That’s really unfortunate as there are great stories about perseverance and settlers that will be lost.

This is a nice flat trail that boasts an old steel bridge that reminds me a lot of deception pass bridge. It’s so impressive to think about workers building that by hand. The nuts and bolts on it alone are impressive.

It was a nice day weather wise, so we were able to walk down to the Carbonado river and relax while we ate some lunch.

Next week I’ll be taking them on a longer hike with some elevation!

And I do my little turn on the Katwalk…..

Kendall Katwalk that is! I decided to take a little spin up on the Katwalk. It’s a 12 mile RT hike from Snoqualmie Pass, mostly on a portion of the PCT. The trail is easy to follow and has a steady slow grade gaining 2,600 feet elevation over the 6 miles to reach the Katwalk. Although the trail starts out in the forest, you quickly break out of the trees into the open and cross a few talus fields. I chose to do this hike on Sunday and it was in the 80’s in Seattle, which for us PNWers is HOT! I started the trail at 7 am and did not encounter many hikers, but saw several trail runners. Not my idea of a good time but they seemed to be having fun!

This trail has several really long straight sections where you can see the trail for a long ways. At times this is nice as you can see the gradual incline, but the downside is at times it feels like you are standing still. The end before the next switchback seems to far away! So many spots to stop for breathtaking views and photos. I’ve just taken my iPhone with me but I think I need to invest in a mirrorless camera. I need more than my iPhone but my DSLR is too heavy!

As I was coming out of the forest I ran into another hiker, who broke out into a narrative about all the peaks surrounding us, giving a thorough description of each. Impressive. A minute later he says, “I’m not that smart, I just used the peak finder app right before I saw you so all the information was fresh”. HAHA! We both had a good laugh about that. Honestly I generally love other hikers I run across on the trails. Everyone is so friendly and easily strike up a quick conversation before the parting “have a great hike/day” comment.

For the most part social distancing was super easy to follow. If passing was necessary most of the trail allows for someone to step off the trail for others to pass. There are a few sections where this isn’t permissible. The vast majority of hikers/runnings were carrying face coverings and used them when necessary. Many took the opportunity to take photos of the surrounding peaks and of course Mt. Rainier! There is something special about Mt. Rainier. She is just so majestic set against a blue sky. We are so lucky to live near her. Lots of exploring can be down at Mt. Rainier National Park.

This hike has a couple talus fields to cross. I have to admit I’m not a big fan of talus fields. Since the rock moves constantly there are always rocks on the trail and the fields seem to put off a good amount of heat and reflection. Sunscreen, lip sunblock and a hat were necessary items! Along with lots of water!

Towards the top there is a 15 foot section of trail that still has a block of snow covering it. Some chose to be brave and try to create steps in the snow above the trail. Most of us chose to drop down and try to skirt the snow. It was a bit slippery but made it with no issues.

I had a big surprise at the saddle, with the sighting of a transplant mountain goat! Washington State Wildlife officials have been moving the goats from the Olympic Peninsula (where they are not native) to the Cascades (where they are native). They are easily identified by the tracking collars they wear. They are much happier in the Cascades with better food options throughout the year and the ability to roam freely. They are just the cutest and always a happy surprise when you see one!

The actual Katwalk is a narrow path carved alongside a slab of rock. If you continue past the Katwalk, there are two lakes where people backpack. My feet were a bit tired and it was getting pretty hot so I decided to stop at the Katwalk. There was a nice breeze at the top so that felt pretty good. I saw several trail runners at the Katwalk so they are at least doing the 12 miles!s. Crazy!!

On the way down I saw Mr. Goat again. He had moved down the trail a bit and was lounging on the mountainside in a patch of flowers having some lunch. I saw a lot more people on the way down who were headed up in the heat! They were all pretty excited to know they would get an appearance of a goat. The information gave them a bit of energy boost to keep going. I was glad to be heading down around 11 AM. It was hot but we still had not reached the heat of the day. I felt back for those who were heading up in the hottest time of the day.

The hike down was pretty uneventful. Great views on the way down. Pretty much staring at Mt. Rainier most of the way. Sometimes the trip back always feels quicker, but on this one I wouldn’t say that was the case. Probably because the sun was up much higher so there really wasn’t much shade until almost the very bottom. Might also have been the developing blister I could feel on the back of my right heel. Now sure what that was all about. My normal boots and socks, but wowza not a fan of the quarter size blister I now have!

I’m feeling good about the 12 miles. Coming off a significant shoulder surgery in January, I am working on getting my stamina back and wearing a backpack. I generally don’t wear my summer Osprey 22 pack as the shoulder strap sits right on one of my repair areas. I normally wear my Osprey 36 which sits better. I decided to gut it out and wear my 22 and it was pretty good. I was a bit sore at the end but nothing major. That’s progress!!

Another great hike to check off my list! I’m trying to set my ambitious sights on Mt. Adams and Mt. Baker next summer. We shall see!

Mount Ellinor minus goats

Mount Ellinor is part of the Olympic Peninsula and has been home to non-native mountain goats for years. Over the years the mountain goats became too friendly with hikers and developed a reputation for being quite aggressive. The state began relocating them last year but a few still remain. Sometimes when you climb Mt Ellinor you get lucky and see a few goats and other times they are nowhere to be found.

Mount Ellinor has been on my list for awhile. From the lower trail the hike is 3.6 miles each way. The first 1.9 miles takes you through a typical Olympic Peninsula forest. Dry forest ground and massive for trees. This portion is really nice but lacks a view outside of the trees. The elevation gain is only 1,600 feet so it is a nice warmup for the rest of the mountain!

Some people choose to start at the upper trailhead and skip the first 1.9 miles. The trails meet at 3,500 feet and you start a rapid, constant ascent to the summit. Over the next 1.6 miles you climb nearly 2,500 feet in elevation. The trail is mostly well marked and consists of a lot of stairs, both made of rock and laid timber by trail crews. There is no shade on this section so it can get quite hot. There are several opportunities for great views over Hood Canal on a clear day. Unfortunately even though the forecast was for clear skies, I had a pretty thick marine layer that hung around all morning and significantly limited the view.

This climb is a grind. There is no other way of saying it. Your calves and thighs are burning! Because of the twists and turns of this hike you really can’t see the summit until the very last stretch so you really don’t know how much further you have to go.

I did finally make it to the top in 2.5 hours. I was pretty happy with this due to the elevation gain and the slick footing. At the top the marine layer of fog made visibility very low. We really couldn’t see much of anything around us. I was able to sign the logbook so that was pretty awesome! I ate some lunch and talked to a few other hikers at the top as we all hoped stalling a bit would allow the marine layer to burn off, but no such luck!

The trip down was not so enjoyable. Due to the loose dirt and rock it made for seeing the stairs difficult and slipping was a regular occurrence. It was slow going until I made it out of the rock area and back to the forest. There was a pretty steady stream of hikers headed up while I was on my way down. This is a very popular trail! I was a bit surprised at just how busy it was on a weekday.

I’m glad I was able to check this one off my list but don’t think I would do it again.

Oyster Dome again (with view!)

Well since my last experience with oyster dome didn’t come with the famous sweeping views of the San Juan Islands, I had to go back.

This time I brought my 16 year old daughter and she needed some fresh air and time out of the house! We decided to make a weekend of it so we stayed in a hotel for some new scenery! Oh course with a little extra time she managed to get some thrift store shopping in!

We woke up Monday to a slight breeze but it was clear we were going to have blue skies! Woohoo!! My kiddo has been on a couple hikes with me but not many. Now that she is older I think she may enjoy it better. We arrived at the trailhead around 10:30 and headed out. She was quickly taken by how quiet it is and commented how much she likes to hike and would like to do it more. Yay! It was a good hike for her. Difficult but manageable.

We arrived at the top and quickly saw the spectacular view that was missing last time. Surprisingly there were only a few people at the top so we were able to find a good spot, with appropriate social distancing. A couple guys showed up and were taking some crazy photos hanging off the ledge! I was pretty sure we were going to watch one of them fall to their death. Air Jordan’s aren’t the best hiking shoes! Thankfully nothing bad happened!

We had a little snack and took the usual set of photos and headed back. There was a steady stream of people we passed who were on their way up. We had the perfect time there with just a couple other people. Pretty sure I can get her out on another hike now!

Back at the trailhead we saw about six people getting all setup to paraglide. This is one of the cool spots about this trail. I imagine it must feel pretty amazing to glide like that but I’ll settle for just watching!

Continue reading “Oyster Dome again (with view!)”

Oyster Dome, the Colchuck Lake of Bellingham?? Maybe on a clear day!

After 3 months of quarantine, I was in serious need of some outdoor time. We, like many others, have had some really strict restrictions due to Covid. I’ve tried to stay active and am pretty proud of myself that I have not gained any weight! Running around the neighborhood and paddle boarding is not the same.

Bellingham is part of what we call the “banana belt” in Washington. Although it can at times have more snow or higher winds, it is generally known for having nicer weather up north. We’ve had some unusual weather lately with lots of rain. I mean LOTS of rain! Although the forecast wasn’t great it was better up in Bellingham so as they say any day in the outdoors in a good day!

I headed out early and hit a pretty consistent rain storm through Mt. Vernon. From there the rain stopped, but it was obvious the cloud cover was going to be pretty low. I made it to the parking lot and there were only three other cars there. That never happens on a weekend! The wind was a bit breezy but nothing too dramatic. At the trailhead you can head in different directions. One trail is Oyster Dome and the other way goes to Lily and Lizard Lakes, then around to Oyster Dome. Lily and Lizard Lakes adds two miles to the trip.

Fresh air and only the sounds of nature and the perfect redeem for quarantine blues. The birds were singing. Small creeks and waterfalls were everywhere. A few flowers were exposed, but generally it was just big trees and moss covered rocks. Perfect!

Oyster Dome trail winds through the forest for the whole trail. It really is a beautiful trail. The forest is really green and lush right now. The trail is in great condition, with no rocks or roots exposed. Everything is still super wet so you have to watch your step so you don’t slip and fall. I only saw three people on the trail on the way up. At the top, on a clear day, the view is spectacular. Well, on my trip it was pretty much like looking directly into a cotton ball! No visibility whatsoever! I have to admit it made me laugh. I’ve always heard about the view but clearly I’ll have to come back another day for it.

It was really windy at the top, so I didn’t stay long. On the way down I passed at least 30 people on the way up! You could tell the clouds were starting to clear so probably an hour or so after I left there probably was the usual sweeping views of the San Juan Islands. I settled for the view from the lower level where the paraglider normally take off.

As I said, any day in the outdoors in a great day!

Artist Point was unbelievably gorgeous!!

This past winter in Seattle has been……what’s the word I’m looking for…….oh yeah…..RAINY!  No it’s not unusual for it to rain in Seattle, but our rain is really light and more of a drizzle. Nothing that keeps you from going outside.  This winter we had obscene amounts of rain.  Downpours that lasted for days!  Flooding that we haven’t seen in well over a decade.  For awhile it seemed like it would never end!  On the plus side, we won’t have a water shortage this summer and our mountains are covered with deep snow!!  Deep snow makes for great skiing and snowshoeing, but it also causes significant avalanche conditions which make it too dangerous to go out into the backcountry.

Recently we are clearly seeing the signs of Spring in Washington.  The daffodils are starting to bloom and the tulips will be early this year.  We are starting to see bluebird skies which make for great snowshoeing conditions.  I’ve been to Artist Point at Mt Baker during the summer and it is pretty spectacular but I had not been there in the winter.  It was unbelievable and that is a clear understatement!  Mt Baker has a ski resort and miles of backcountry trails for split boarding and snowshoeing.  You could spend days there.

I’m not sure why but there really was not a lot of people there.  I would periodically see others on the trails but it wasn’t uncommon to look around and not see another person.  I knew it was going to be a great day!  The snow sparkled under the sun.  There were huge sections of completely untouched mounds of snow.  The kid in me just wanted to run over and jump into the snow, but the adult in me was questioning just how deep that snow would actually be!  Ultimately the adult in me won the decision point.

I trekked up the first big hill and saw the next large area of tracks.  Some went across the valley.  Others went up another hill.  More went off to the right or left.  So many options!  I stood at this point for several minutes just soaking in the beauty.  In the distance I would see skiers or snowboarders gliding down these huge hills.  There are no chairlifts to these areas so they trekked up to the top on split boards.  It was quite the climb, but boy that must have been an amazing ride down in untouched snow!  I just might have to try that with my snowboard sometime!

I finally made it up to the top Ridgeline.  Incredible 360 views.  The mountains were bright white and the sky was deep blue.  Can’t tell you how many times I said “wow”.  It was so pretty.  I sat at the top for quite awhile.  It was completely silent and I mean silent!  It’s honestly one of the things I enjoy most about nature.  Just the silence.  Maybe it’s because I’m an introvert.  Nature has always been the place I recharge my batteries and ponder life.  As a Virgo, I’m an analyzer.  I like to think….and think…..and think. Hiking provides the perfect setting for me.

I’ve had a lot rolling through my mind lately.  My mom and her health issues.  She is living in an assisted living facility now and getting the care she needs.  With the coronavirus outbreak I recognize she is part of a vulnerable population.  For the elderly this virus can be deadly.  The facility has put in place some very strict rules but nothing is  perfect.  There is always risk.

A person I worked with lost his wife to breast cancer.  I honestly don’t think I’ve ever seen person take on the reality of a terminal diagnosis with such grace.  She fought as hard and long as she could, then made the decision how she would spend her last days.  She was so grateful for her life and the people in it.  She set an incredible learning lesson for everyone about being grateful and having grace.  These journeys are always personal for me as I am a survivor but I also lost my only sister to breast cancer.  I saw that battle on good days and bad days until the end.

Spending time reflecting on your life and those in it is always a good idea.  I am incredibly grateful for the life I live.  My kids are doing well and are healthy.  I’m learning the adjustment to retirement.  Spending time with my mom.  Spending time on the Ridgeline sitting in silence allowed me time to reflect on a couple people who entered my life at a time I wasn’t ready for them.  My personal life was a disaster and I wasn’t in a space to truly be present.  A matter of bad timing.  It happens and at times leaves me with the “what if” wonder.  I don’t regret meeting, but I do regret the timing.  Sometimes you just meet people you know are just meant to be in your life forever.  You’d hate bad timing to be the reason the person you are meant to be with isn’t here.  What if???  Deep thinking up on that mountain!!

I always stop at North Fork Brewery and Pizzeria in Deming on my way home.  It’s a little hole in the wall place that has the BEST PIZZA you will EVER eat!!!  I’m not kidding!!  So good!  I’m a fan of beer aged in whiskey barrels so I picked up their whiskey barrel aged Baltic Porter.  Sounds good!  When you check out they give you your bill in a shot glass with a fortune cookie.  My fortune ” Decide what you want and go for it”.  Good timing!

Hmmmm…….What if????

It’s been awhile, but I’m back!

It’s been months since my last post.  Not intentionally, but more important needs in life took a priority.  My elderly mother’s health and wellness became the center point when it became obvious she was no longer able to live on her own.  She moved in with my family and I became her full-time caregiver.  I have a lot of appreciation for healthcare workers as it is not an easy profession.  Just trying to find an in home caregiver for limited hours was incredibly difficult.  I was happy to be in a position where I could have my mom live with us while we figured out her medical issues and needs she may have, both temporary and ongoing.    This was incredibly helpful for assessing her long term needs but it was also a lot of fun.  We laughed about silly stuff every day.  A bit of role reversal thrown in there but that’s okay.  Our parents have always been there for us so we should not hesitate to do the same in return.   Life is short and we should never pass up opportunities to help others.  Take care of your parents!

Just after the first of the year I found out I need a pretty complex shoulder surgery so that set me back a bit.  I had surgery in mid January to repair a torn labrum, rotator cuff and bicep tendon.  Although I knew it was the right thing to do in the long run, being restricted to a full-time brace for six weeks is no fun.  I’m right handed, so having to do everything with my left hand was frustrating to say the least!  Just basic tasks like brushing your hair or trying to get dressed suddenly became anything but basic!  I finally got my brace off and am slowly returning to regular life.  I still have many restrictions on using my arm, but it moves now!  Huge progress!!

I was finally released to hike, but nothing strenuous so I headed up to Rattlesnake Ledge. It’s a quick four mile roundtrip excursion.  The weather was decent and we had the usual moody skies on the ledge.  It felt so good to be back out on the trail.  Not too many people out on the trail so you could just hear the sounds of nature!  Even though your heart feels like it might pound out of your chest, nature always seems to possess a calming energy.  Maybe it’s the deep breaths of fresh air or the sound of silence.  Maybe it’s both. I don’t know.  Not sure it matters.  I’ll still soak it in!

I’ll admit I was a a bit nervous how my shoulder would feel wearing a backpack.  The weather was decent and the trail was close to town with cell service so I was able to pack lighter, but still carry the ten essentials!  It felt pretty good for the first mile then it became apparent that my pack strap rests right on one of my incisions.  It wasn’t painful, just an annoyingly constant irritation.  Once I took my pack off at the top, it quit hurting. Sitting on the ledge you can see all across the Snoqualmie Valley to the Cascade mountain range.  It isn’t uncommon to see a cloud layer dancing around the mountains.  This day was no different.  There are grey jays constantly flying around you and landing nearby.  Looking for a little snack.  They are so friendly that they will land right next to you or on your leg or pack and just stare at you.  I don’t feed them though.  It was starting to get a bit windy so I decided to head back.

It felt so good to be back out on the trail.  Oh how I have missed it.  Glad to be back at it!

The larches are here, the larches are here!!

I’m sure larches are not unique to Washington state, but we celebrate them like a true state treasure!  Every fall, you will see daily posts on various hiking pages asking about the status of the larches.  Are they green?  Have them begun to turn?  Are they actually yellow now???  It’s like watching Black Friday shopping, only we never exactly know when Larch Black Friday will be.  Fortunately it not just one day a year.  This year has been a bit challenging due to our crazy weather recently.  October has always been the best time to see the larches in their golden splendor, but this year they are a bit slow to turn.    The larches started to turn and many are yellow, however a week ago we had a pretty good dump of snow.  The cold temps halted the color change and the cold temps are hanging on.  We’ve had a couple sunny days lately so that should get them moving again soon.

As this is a very popular hike in the fall, you can anticipate not being able to park in the lot at the trailhead.  It’s not uncommon to be a half mile from the trailhead.  Luckily I was able to find a spot (compliments of owning a Jeep!) in the parking lot (well on the hillside of the lot, but the Ranger said I was good!).  Lake Ingalls trail is about 9 miles out and back with about 2,500 foot elevation gain.  The high point is around 6,500 feet.

One thing I love about fall hiking in Washington is the sun is out, the sky is blue but it’s a little chilly.  You can get away with wearing a fleece jacket and sunglasses!  Perfect!  The trail was a combination of sections of either snow, ice, slush, frozen dirt, exposed rocks or just plain of sloppy mud.  It made it challenging to decide when exactly to put on microspikes.  I decided safety was better than falling so I put them on about halfway up to the pass.  Sections of this trail are very narrow with a large slopped drop-off right next to the trail.  When I say narrow, I mean I mean about a foot wide.  Wearing microspikes just made these sections easier to navigate.

Even though there was a lot of cars in the lot, I didn’t encounter many hikers on the trail. I stopped frequently to take photo, because the scenery was amazing!  Once you reach the pass, this is normally where you get to see mountain goats along with the larches.  Unfortunately no mountain goats this time:(. Plenty of larches though!  It’s always impressive once you reach the pass to look across the basin and see all the larches.  Against a really blue sky, white snow and the grey mountains they are just spectacular!  From the pass over the Lake Ingalls is about 3/4 of a mile of mostly flat walking.  It gives you many opportunities to stop and just take in the view.  It’s a lot of WOW moments!  Once you reach the other side, there is a fairly steep rock section to get up to Lake Ingalls.  There wasn’t a ton of snow in this section, so it was deep mud and sections of ice.  Not fun going up, but worse going back down on the way out!

The lake is simply gorgeous!  It is a deep blue.  I sat and ate lunch for about a half hour or so.  I knew the weather would be kinda chilly so I brought my jetboil with me so I could have some hot chocolate by the lake.  This was a great decision!!  Yummy!

I started back around 2:30 so the sun was starting to go down behind the surrounding mountain peaks so the temperature was starting to drop a bit.  I put on my puffy jacket for a bit, but once I got moving I had to take it back off.  The hike out of the lake and back into the basin but a bit sketchy.  It had been sunny all day so the trail down was super slick.  There were sections of mud and ice which made finding secure footing a little challenging.  Slow and steady got me back to the main trail with no incidents.  The rest of the hike back to the parking lot was pretty uneventful which is good because my feet were tired!

The best thing after a challenging hike is a roadside stand hamburger and fries!!  Perfect post hike food!

Fall Hiking is full of color! Well, usually…

We eagerly anticipate Fall hiking in Washington state.  It is the best time of year.  The temperatures are cool but the sun is out, skies are blue and the leaves are yellow, orange and red.  We can’t forget about the larches!  We wait months for these 45-60 days of spectacular hiking!  We decided to head up to Lake Valhalla to enjoy some of these spectacular colors.  Lake Valhalla sits in a basin so we all were eager to sit on the shoreline and gaze out on the colorful hillsides, eating our lunch and loving all the grey jays who come to visit and steal food if they can!

It’s October 8!  The peak of fall season!  We saw weather reports of a little snowfall at Steven’s pass, but nothing much to worry about.  Just a reminder to take micro spikes (just in case) and more layers.

We headed East on Highway 2 in the rain.  By Skykomish the rain had turned to slush.  Not long after, it was heavy snow.  As we headed up the pass, the road was covered in several inches of snow.  Not all cars could make it up to the summit.  At this point, we had left Fall and jumped all the way into Winter!

We parked at the Smithbrook trailhead.  It was snowing hard!  A few inches of snow had already fallen. We donned our fleece, puffy jackets and hit the trail!  About 50 feet in the trail disappeared.  Trees were folded over due to the weight of snow and they were blocking the trail making it disappear from sight.  Once we were able to clear off a few branches, the trees sprung back up and revealed the trail.

We hiked up through the switchbacks and out into the open.  Normally there are sweeping views of the mountains, but the cloud cover was really low so all we could see was snow falling and clouds.  There really isn’t nothing more peaceful than hiking through roughly a foot of fresh powder.

As we reached the intersection with the PCT, we ran into two northbound hikers who were on their last 20 miles.  They were cold and wet, but motivated as the end was in sight!  We wished them well and congratulated them on such a huge accomplishment.

We hit the saddle and could see peekaboo views of Lake Valhalla.  It was dark and moody due to the low ceiling.  No fall colors in sight!  Just snow.  Lots and lots of snow!  We made our way down to the lake just as the wind started picked up.  It was gusting pretty good and throwing what felt like ice pellets right at us.  It was clear we would not be staying at the lake for more than a quick view.  We sought out some shelter from a gathering of trees nearby and eat a quick lunch.  It was getting pretty chilly so we decided to head back, in case the wind decided to make a consistent appearance.  Hiking back 4 miles in a headwind with ice pellets is never enjoyable!  Once we made it out of the valley the wind had stopped and the clouds were beginning to clear.  The surrounding peaks became visible.  We ran into a second set of PCT hikers that were calling it quits.  The snow was the last straw after a few rainy, cold days for them.  One was from England and the other sounded local.  He said he would be back next year to finish!

Although we headed out for Fall colors we did enjoy the fresh snowfall.  We all can’t see 45-60 days of Fall hiking this year!  It looks like winter has arrived early this year and plans to stay!

Elusive Mt Adams

In June of 2018 I stood on the summit of Mt St Helens and looked across the horizon to see Mt Adams. I’ll admit I stared at it for a few minutes before in my mind I thought “you are next”!

This past year has been a bit or a whirlwind with work, the kids, and my elderly mom. My stress level had been pretty high from a combination of all that. I spent many a night sorting through options. I needed to reprioritize some stuff in my life. Realizing I’ve kinda always put myself in the background so others were the priority, I needed to change that. So, I made a major life change and retired after 32 years in public service. Huge decision but entirely the right decision for me.

I’ve started doing more stuff for me. Still looking for more hiking friends since I’m free during the week! I’ve been pushing myself pretty hard at CrossFit and boot camp. Two things I really enjoy!

I started thinking about Mt Adams again this summer. Trying to figure out if I could make it happen or not. My hiking buddy had some scheduling conflicts so we pushed our attempt out to mid August which is a little late for Adams. Not much snow left which makes for a harder climb.

We decided to leave at 6 am on Thursday morning. It takes almost 5 hours to get to Mt Adams. You have to drive to Trout Lake to pick up your climbing permit before you can head to the trailhead. Since this is a two day trip I was carrying a 30+ pound pack. That’s not really fun. I think I need to rethink my packing!

We started the hike at 1 pm and it was hot! It took us 4 hours to get to the camping spot through the heat of the day. With a huge pack! Not a good decision! The trail winds though a forest that had a major forest fire a few years ago. Some of the trees were severely charred while others were this pure white color. Standing side by side they provided such a contrast. At the base of the trees was new growth of small pines and flowers. The weened prior was a massive thunder and lightning storm which produced torrential rains. Sections of the trail were marked with deep ruts, some two feet deep, from the rains. Nature is so amazing!

After the forest, you enter the mountain area. The trail is covered with pumice and rocks and heads steadily up the mountain. The trail is marked with large cairns to guide the way. It’s so steep you can generally only see 1-3 cairns at a time. Hoping each plateau is the final, but always disappointed to see another steep stretch lined with new cairns.

Around 8,000 feet it started to get windy and the temperature was dropping so we stopped to layer up! I noticed my boot was rubbing on my heel which never happens. I hike in these boots all the time. I took off my boot to adjust my sock and discovered a huge blister! Grrr! I’ve never had a blister hiking. So a band aid and athletic tape later I was good to go again!

We put our packs back on and continued to climb until we found the first camping area. I’m talking with some other campers we decided this would be a good place to camp instead of pushing on another 1,000 feet uphill to lunch counter. There was good cover from the wind and it was clear we would have a spectacular sunset right out in front of our tents. We set up camp and cooked some food. For as much energy as we expended I should have been pretty hungry, but I wasn’t hungry at all. That was a problem! We sat on the edge of our plateau, watching some mountain goats just below us as the sun set and the clouds blew by. There is something about being above the clouds! It’s amazing!

I went to bed right after sunset because I just wasn’t feeling very good and knew I needed good rest for the final 4,000 foot climb to the summit. It would be an early 3 am alarm for about a 5 hour climb.

Well at midnight I woke up with the shakes, clearly running a fever and my head completely clogged. It did not get better! I got up at 3 and knew there was no way I could make a summit attempt so I decided to pack up and head back down. It was a tough decision but the right one. I’ve never turned back on a trail before. It bugged me all the way down but I was feeling so crappy I just wanted to go home.

Driving out on the bumpiest road ever you get a really clear view of Mt Adams. We stopped to take a picture. I stared at it for a few minutes and thought “never again”. I was feeling crappy and I know it was just my disappointment in not achieving my goal.

So now I have about 9 months to train for Mt Adams in 2020! I’ll be back with a lighter pack!

Bandera Mountain via Mason Lake

Hiking is one of my sanctuary activities.  Whenever I have a lot on my mind and just need to get away into the mountains I head.  There is just something about the smell and sounds of nature.  The distractions just seem to melt away.  As you disappear into the forest and become one with the trail, you just feel all your struggles melt away.  Gazing through the forest at the variety of trees, flowers and berries you become a small part of the forest.  You don’t think about it or make an intentional action to relax or cleanse your mind.  It just happens.

This trail, named Ira Spring,  is the lead in to several options.  One can go to Mason Lake, Bandera Mountain, Mt Defiance and a number of other spots.  With that being the case, we arrived early, but the parking lot was not only full, it was overflowing and we ended up parking about 1/2 mile down the road.  It was a nice gently warmup walk for what was to come!  The trail winds its way through the forest on an unrelenting incline.  I’m pretty sure I read somewhere a description of this trail as “meandering” through the forest.  In my mind I envision “meandering” as a relaxed pace similar to a saunter that requires no much effort or sweat.  This trail definitely did not line up with that description!  Although the path is generally wide, flat is nowhere to be found on it!  My legs were feeling good.  My heart was pumping and sweat was pouring! You kind of always look ahead a bit to see the top of an incline so you can give the thighs a break, but not on this trail.  I could hear Todd behind me and he was breathing hard so I knew it wasn’t just me!

As we headed up it was becoming obvious that we would be socked in with a huge cloud layer.  No views for the day!  That is a bit defeating when you are working hard, but it’s okay.  We passed a few people on the way down who said Bandera was totally clouded over and that there was a huge tourist group (about 30 people) headed up there so they suggested Mason Lake as it is in a valley so it was clear.  One of those hikers is named Kristen and she has Largent, the famous hiking wonder dog!  I had my first Largent, the hiking wonder dog encounter!  At 3 miles in, there is a Y in the trail.  You can go to the left for about .9 miles to Mason Lake, or you can go to the right for about .9 miles to Bandera Mountain.  We chose Mason Lake.  The trail only continued the incline for about .4 miles, before we descended into the valley to the lake.  Mason Lake is one of the many alpine lakes in the Alpine Wilderness.  Each lake has its own unique characteristics.  From the lake we would see the top of Bandera Mountain and a few hikers up there.  At first they looked like little trees.  Until they moved!  There are some nice tent or hammock spots at the lake and lots of water bugs and jumping fish.  This would be a great place to backpack too and use as a base camp to hike up Mt. Defiance.  Bring your fly fishing rod!   We stayed at the lake for about an hour, eating some lunch.  I changed up my lunch routine this time and brought fresh pineapple, cherries, RX bar and my go to plantain chips!  It was a much lighter lunch that was refreshing and filling.  It recharged my body for the hike out.

On the way out, you feel good because after the initial .5 mile hike out of the valley, it’s all down hill!  My legs were feeling really good.  We could see the clouds were dissipating and we could start to see the mountains around us.  At points we were below the clouds and at other points above the clouds.  I told Todd let’s see how we are feeling when we get back to the Y for back to the car or head up to Bandera.  I was feeling good when we reached this point so I told Todd let’s check it out.  I regretted that decision when I saw the incline.  You know an incline is steep when you actually can’t see the top of where you are going.  You could only see about 40 feet in front of you and the view never changed!  It’s .9 miles to the top and it is straight up hill!  Trekking poles helped at first, but they just got in the way as you needed to use your hands to scramble up parts of the trail.  The trail is not very wide and you need to concentrate on where you place your hands and feet.  It makes passing hikers who are coming down challenging at times.  If you make a wrong step it can be disastrous.  We stopped a few times on the way up to slow the heart rate down and take in the massive amount of bear grass growing on the hillside.  At times portions of Mt Rainier would poke out through the clouds.  At one point it appears you are reaching the summit, but instead you duck back into a large grove of trees and disappear for about 15 minutes.  Once you come out of the trees you quickly realize there is more climbing to do!  Finally the summit does appear.  We were able to see back down to Mason Lake.  We were above the clouds so it looked like we were sitting in thin air.  The clouds looked like a huge bowl of meringue that went on as far as you could see.  I love that!  A light crisp breeze blowing by.  The high clouds turning with the wind patterns in the sky.  You close your eyes and just breathe in the fresh air and feel the sun on your face.  Your body is tired but it feels so good.  Relaxed.  Then a bug flies in your mouth and tries to fly down your throat!  Apparently I had sweat so much I must have appeared like a large salt lick!

After sitting at the top for a half hour or so we decided to head back.  You could see the low clouds coming back in and getting down that trail in little visibility would not be a good idea.  No poles on the way down.  Hand grabs were definitely needed!  We safely made it down to the main trail and started the 3 miles “meander” back to the car.  Not sure what it is, but sometimes the trail down goes so fast and other times it seems to drag on forever.  This trail seems to drag on but the forest was pretty.  Portions were in the clear and other portions were shrouded in fog.  We finally made it back to the car.  The body was tired, but it was a good tired.  The mind and soul were cleansed and ready to appreciate another day!

Altogether we logged around 11 miles.  Mason Lake is 6.5 miles and about 2,400 feet elevation gain.  Bandera Mountain is 8 miles and 3,400 feet elevation.  Since these trails start on the same trail the first and last 3 miles are the same.

Happy Trails!

 

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