Lake Ingalls is an annual hike to see the larches!

We had some crazy weather for part of October here in the PNW so it messed up the usual “Larch March”. The trees were a little slow in turning colors, then all of a sudden they were done. We missed the prime larch sightings for our hike and really caught most after they were done for the year.

We decided Halloween was a good day to head over to Roslyn and hike the Lake Ingalls trail. A group of five of us went. My usual hiking buddy Todd joined us as he had never done this hike before but it has been on his list. The rest of our crew are fairly new to hiking so I knew this hike would push them quite a bit.

We had snow only about half the time and the amount of snow was pretty low and crappy quality. Feeling more like ice than snow. We used microspikes for the snow covered sections as it was pretty slippery. The weather was pretty good so we had some nice views along the way. Lake Ingalls isn’t a steep trail, but it does have a steady incline all the way to the saddle, then is pretty up and down to the lake.

Normally once you reach the pass you can look across the saddle and the meadow is full of larches in stunning bright yellow. Unfortunately this time many of the trees had already dropped their needles and the rest were a pretty dark yellow, which indicates the needles are falling soon. The trail isn’t as nice as when it is covered with deep fresh snow. Until you get to the lake. No matter what the lake is always stunning. It is surrounded by grey mountains and the water is a deep, dark blue.

We sat around the lake for a bit and had lunch. I was introduced to peanut butter whiskey. I have to admit it sounds terrible, but it tastes so good!! The brand is ScrewBall and I highly recommend it! It made the trek back a bit more bearable as my crew was tired, sore and a bit cranky!

Lake Valhalla for some snow!

I’ve managed to get behind on my blog again so here I am writing a few posts to get caught up! AGAIN!

We happened to get some nice early snow this year so I took a friend out for her first snow hike. It was nice fluffy snow but not too much that we needed snowshoes. Lake Valhalla is one of my favorite snow hikes. It’s not too long of a trail and their are really nice views along the way. After the first good snowfall, there is an easy boot path to follow up to the PCT and ultimately down to the lake. We had a nice sunny Fall day with fresh snow so it was the perfect day for this hike. This was my friend’s first snow hike so I didn’t want to pick one that would discourage her from future snow hikes.

Even though this hike starts really close to Highway 2, its surprising how quiet it is. You can’t hear the traffic on the highway. It’s just silence. That’s one of my favorite parts of snow hiking. Even though I hike year around, winter hiking is special. In she summer you hear the sounds of birds and a lot more people on the trails. In the winter there is much more solitude and stillness. The air is crisp. You only occasionally see other people. There are less birds but they try to steal your food more!

Sometimes it is a bit windy at the lake which chills the temperature pretty quick! We saw two guys that were camping at the lake. They looked so cold! Not really sure what they were thinking. It was less than 32 degrees and is dark from 4:30 pm until 8 AM. I would imagine is would be around 20 at night. Fires are not allowed at the lake so not sure how they kept warm. The one male was coming down to the lake to get some water to filter. He said his boots were still frozen. Judging by the time of day they had camped their the previous night and were planning to stay another night. Not my idea of a good time!

We only saw three other people on the way out to the lake, but on the way back we passed about twenty! Good thing we went early!

This is one hike I really want to do in the summer. I bet it is a great camping spot in the summer!

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!

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!

Did you know Melakwa means “mosquito” in Chinook??

Living in Washington State we have a deep relationship with several Native American Tribes. Many of our cities carry Native American names that out of towners badly attempt to pronounce. Lake Melakwa is located outside Snoqualmie (Snoqualmie Tribe) and is located within the Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest. It is a relatively popular trail located off Denny Creek. The trail is roughly 8.5 miles roundtrip and has an elevation gain of about 2,700 feet. The trail offers a wide variety of landscape as you gain elevation.

I chose this hike as part of our training hikes in preparation for Mailbox as it gains 2,700 feet, which would be our most elevation gain in a hike. It’s a fairly consistent grade so it would help acclimatize the group to ongoing elevation but nothing dramatic. We had a couple new hikers join us on this trip so that added some entertainment as this was a bit, actually a lot, out of their comfort zone.

The trail starts out in the forest and about a mile in, you come across the Denny Creek crossing. In the summer the creek is easily passable as a log is across it that you walk across. This area has a lot of slippery big rocks that families come to so their kids can play safely. They also make for super fun slip and slides! It’s a nice area to go do something different. If you walk up the creek there is a nice waterfall that has a small pool at the bottom.

We kept heading up the trail and came to the talus field. As we climbed Donna kept asking me if we were heading up that and I kept reassuring her no. We weren’t going up that as we were crossing over to the other side but what I didn’t tell her was that we would be going to about the same elevation point! Pretty sure she called me a liar several times as we gained elevation!! I always laughed! At this point I was beginning to question if her friends were going to make it to the lake as we still had quite a ways to go.

After a couple hours we made it to the lake. Every alpine lake here looks different. Each has their own unique valley they sit in and their own unique color. I’ll never get tired of looking at alpine lakes, but apparently some in my group do! Ha! Although we didn’t have the best weather, it was still a beautiful day. The lake was a bit chilly so it was nice to take my boots off and soak my feet in the chilly water. Too cold to swim for sure! We did celebrate with some whiskey shots at the lake though!

Hiking during a pandemic has been an interesting process. It has been great to get outside and breathe in some fresh air for sure! With a goal in mind of Mailbox Peak on September 10 we have to make sure we get out every week to build endurance to make sure they all make it to the peak. The downside has been the massive increase in the number of people on the trails. A lot of people who don’t normally hike and don’t know hiking etiquette. With trails being so busy it is really important that we practice safe passing, not stepping onto delicate terrain off the trail and practice leave no trace principles! I really can not tell you how much toilet paper or Kleenex I’ve seen off the side of the trail. Not to mention dog poop bags. This has become a huge issue that will require massive cleanups. It’s really disappointing to see people just have a complete lack of respect for our forests. You can’t have nice things if we don’t bother to take care of them!

Next week I think we will do some exploring at Mt. Rainer!

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!

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!

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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