Thursday, September 4, 2014

The Land of Summer

Summerland views

We found some summer left in Summerland! While it was rainy and cool on the drive to Mt Rainier, we saw blue sky just after entering the White River entrance to the Park.

The sun warmed us on our ascent and the Mountain came out to say hello and stayed for the day. The flowers have mostly gone, but the marmots were very active, stuffing themselves in the meadows.

marmot in meadow

We heard rumor of a bear on the way down who had been seen crossing the trail, but we didn't see or hear him. Someone had been munching and uprooting all the mushrooms along the trail, making it look like The Three Bears had been there ("this one's too soft, this one's too bitter, but this one is just right...").

fun fungi

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Backpacking Rainier

meadows in Spray Park
 This entry could also easily be titled, "Chasing my Youth", as I backpacked on trails that I used to hike when I was in my 20s and arranged with work to have Wednesdays free just so I could hike at Mt Rainier. In fact, the loop I did for the three-day backpack around Mother Mountain was a day hike I did one of those Wednesdays, all 16 miles. Although I know I did the loop, as I was hiking it the past week, I could hardly remember a lot of it. Wow, I must have been fit back then!
Ipsut Pass view

Cliffs at Ipsut Pass
I started out from Mowich Lake, after having driven to the Carbon River Ranger Station to get my permit. Back in my 20s, I could still drive to the Ipsut Campground, but now, due to multiple washouts, it had become a hike-in backcountry camp area. When choosing my nightly camp destinations with the ranger, I didn't get my first choice of camps, but that would turn out ok later, when I realized how much elevation there would be on the second day.
fall comes early in the Carbon River

From Mowich Lake, I hiked to Ipsut Pass, then down the sometimes-rough trail to the Carbon River, then turned upstream. Up until this point, I had been in shade or forest and it started to look like that luxury would be ending. It was a hot, cloud-free day in August and I was not looking forward to baking in the sun, but was soon re-directed to cross the Carbon River on a series of bridges to the trail on the north side of the Carbon River, in forest. I was spared from the ovens. At the next intersection, where the Wonderland Trail continued straight ahead toward Mystic Lake, I crossed the Carbon River back to the other side on one of the fantastic suspension bridges in the Park, high above the river.
crossing the Carbon River on the suspension bridge

The camp I had originally wanted to stay at, Carbon River, was full and now, after hiking 8 miles with a full pack, I would be gaining 1,400' in 1.5 miles to the Cataract Creek camp, partway up the climb to Seattle Park. I reasoned with myself that this was a good thing, since the alternative was to do all of the gain to the 6,400' highpoint of the trip in one day, had I stayed at Carbon River. Now, I would be chipping off a chunk of that gain today, making the following day slightly easier. At least that's what I kept repeating in my head as the way became gradually steeper and more rough, with rocks and mud and overgrown brush. Hiking the Wonderland Trail has its benefits, the greatest being that it is better maintained than most of the other trails in the Park due to its greater number of hikers. But now that I had turned off from that trail, I was entering a bit more of the wild lands of the Park. It was exciting, but also a little annoying, as I slipped and nearly fell in mud.

At last, and within not too much time or energy spent, I arrived at Cataract Creek and set up my tent. While I don't mind backpacking alone, I also find comfort in having at least one other party nearby in camp, just for a bit of security. There was no one else there; it was just me, the trees and a couple of babbling brooks. I reasoned with myself that it was better than having a crying baby nearby, but I still wished for some company. While I was cooking dinner, hikers started arriving until nearly all 6 sites were occupied. Although this was off the Wonderland Trail, some backpackers used it as an alternative route because, well, it was too damn beautiful to miss.

where do you want to go today?

The next morning, I got a relatively early start at 8:45 and set off climbing up and up, through rock fields, by waterfalls and flowers, stretching toward the high point of 6,400', a divider between Seattle and Spray Parks. I have no memory of this section of the hike from when I did it years ago, though I trust myself that I did do it. While in the flower fields, I had tried to stop for a mid-morning snack, but was soon overcome with buzzing around my head and invaders poking into my skin. Mosquitoes and flies were plentiful and kept me up and moving. I finally found solace on a rocky outcropping between two snow fields, where no bugs buzzed. Another backpacker stopped with me and I finally got to have some conversation. The hiker (I never did get his name) was from Springfield, Ohio (I immediately thought of "The SImpsons", but figured he was tired of that comment) and spent his vacations backpacking in many of the wonderful National Parks. When I told him I was from Seattle, he was clearly envious, which made me fill with pride for my city and region. I did a lot of eating, while he did a lot of talking; backpacking solo will drive you to one or the other.
crossing one of the snowfields

Mother Mountain, all of it

After reaching the 6,400' crest, without too much trouble from lingering snow, it was all downhill, with flowers, views and maybe a bear or marmot sighting to come. While the flowers were a bit past their prime in the higher elevations, they were pretty amazing lower down. However, I did spot several clumps of Gentians which are known to be the harbingers of fall. I tried to ignore them, but they kept looking at me, some fully opened and some through their closed, camera shutter-like form. I had planned to do a lot of lounging in the meadows since the day's hike was only 5.5 miles, but the bugs were driving me away. I also realized that the harsh midday sun on Mt Rainier would make photos unattractive and if I waited until later in the day, I could get better shots. I decided to descend to the camp, set up, relax and return later in the day.

open and closed Gentians

Camp for the second night was at Eagles Roost which is just like it sounds, perched high on a cliff overlooking the Mowich River. Through the trees, which provide shade, is a great view of Rainier. Downhill from the sites is a composting toilet with a fence for privacy and an even better view of the mountain – deluxe!

less harsh afternoon light
Once I had set up camp, hung my food bag on the bear pole and did some meal prep, I made my way up to Spray Falls and then back to Spray Park, just a mile up the trail. While the sun was at a kinder and gentler angle, the bugs were still raging. I must have been the only mammal in the area, as they were buzzing and biting non-stop. I never did see the bear that usually frequents the area; she probably knew better, less buggier places to roam. I snapped a few photos, had a snack, then retreated down toward the Falls. At that time in the day, the sun was shining on the falls, producing a rainbow and shadows of trees were projected onto the rocks. Forget seeing these falls during the day; linger longer on the trail and check them out near sunset.

my nest at Eagles Roost

Spray Falls at sunset

Back at camp, I talked with my neighbors and shared their view of purple mountain majesty – the setting sun turned Rainier pink and purple. I think everybody in camp wanted to be their friend at that point!

In the morning, I packed up and had a leisurely hike out to the trailhead at Mowich Lake. On the way, I stopped at the viewpoint which is named something like Eagle Cliff, which has an unobstructed view of the mountain and which is, in my opinion, mandatory for a stop to ogle. At the trailhead, I grabbed clean clothes from my car, headed for the lakeshore, plunged in a few times, coming out clean. Although the first time I did the loop, I was more youthful, the second time around, I was smarter and got more enjoyment from it and will take home more memories.

mmmm... Mowich Lake!

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Busy Like Saturday Morning

July 26: As I find myself in the Final Four (weeks) of nursing school (!!!!!), I realize that I have let my fitness stray. To that end, I hopped on my bike and rode out to the top of Golden Gardens. The streets were relatively empty, allowing me safe crossing at 15th Ave NW and a lovely, quiet ride through neighborhoods to the west. But when I arrived at The Top (Loyal Way & 85th St), the crowds were out with dogs and babies, enjoying a cup of coffee and treats (don't worry, the cafe has a water bowl; the babies on the other hand...) at Caffe' Fiore. Across the street, which was my primary goal, was the first of a set of stairs where it looked like everyone was training today. There were the walkers, like me, though few in number today; the runners, who were the majority and the folks simply headed down to the beach. In other words, a busy day on the stairs.

Some day, I would like to interview people to find out their motivation and their goals, but today I just wanted to get in a little exercise, pet a few dogs and get back to studying.
I ended up doing 2 loops, with a walk around the block in between so my calves didn't cramp up and I alternated stairs and trails on the loops. I petted just one dog and didn't have any coffee because the joint was so crowded.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Spring Break Adventure, Day 11

If you're really crafty, you can get people to do your work for you. Thus, my old cycling friend, Bill Pence, writes about a ride we did.

I went out to amble around in the Fall City area to look for new roads for the Flock [this is a reference to the Goosebumps Rides, as in "flock" of geese]; I was joined by Steve and Agent Louise, who had finally escaped from the Space Aliens. She claimed to be in pitiful shape, but I saw no evidence to that effect. The anticipated sun had not yet arrived, in Fall City, so I was dressed with a winter jacket and gloves. Steve remarked that I was overdressed; it turns out that I was and I wasn't. He was under-dressed, part of the time. AL, who made no clothing changes and carried no jacket, seemed unaffected by the cold. Of course, this is a woman who regularly plunges into icy alpine lakes. Which says a lot for her constitution and not much for her common sense.

 Steve and Louise at the Falls overlook
We set off on David Powell road to warm up, a pleasant out and back. After the back, Steve led us up an old narrow footpath with vestigial asphalt which climbed steeply towards the Lake Alice road. There were downed trees and debris on the path so we sent Louise first [!]. We popped out on the Lake Alice road and climbed a very steep section. We were all pretty warm by now. We found the Preston-Snoqualmie bike trail and followed it for 1.8 miles (flat) to the overlook (see photo below). Lovely bike path. Nice view of the Falls. The ideograms on Louise's jersey stand for "Beef with Broccoli" (front) and "Szechuan Family Dinner" (side) [little did Bill know, I was pre-ordering lunch].

Retracing our steps, we soon got quite cold, so it was back on with all of the clothing, except for Alpine Lakes in the pink. After some discussion, we determined that the rest of the trail, climbing up to Preston, was too steep and mossy for the Flock. So we headed down the Lake Alice road to Fall City. We went around the back of the town and took the Issaquah-Fall City road to the junction, then crossed the highway and headed for Carnation. Steve and AL wanted to do the climb! [he's BS-ing – Steve wanted to do the climb; I wanted to go pig out at Starbucks]. We turned back short of the bridge, as I needed to get back to work. We were forced to feed Louise to keep her going.

We made quick work of the trip back with some nice pacelines. [I didn't know I had it in me – it was a blast!]
A very nice ride. The sun came out just as we finished. Distance, about 26 miles. Conclusion: no really usable new roads up there for the Flock, but a nice way to spend the day. Steve and Louise kept me from slacking off.

Agent Louise shows no apparent harm from her time with the Space Aliens, although she is planning her impending nuptials. Not sure if she met him on the spaceship. Steve and I were privileged to inspect The Rock. She promised not to appear on the TV show Bridezillas.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Spring Break Adventure, Day 4

view from the parking lot!
Guess what we did right after breakfast? Yes, we stocked up on happy juice at Blackbird! We had timed our departure so that we could get coffee (drive-through this time) and still be on time to meet our friends and fellow Mountaineers at the Olympic Nat'l Park Visitor Center. Nicole was leading a snowshoe trip from Hurricane Ridge to Hurricane Hill and, while we hoped for weather like we'd had the last time on that route (sunny, blue skies), we were not completely optimistic, due to overcast conditions.

the group heads off up the road
The drive up was very revealing – we were above the clouds and the mountains came to life before our eyes, revealing the incredible vista from 5,000 feet at Hurricane Ridge. Because I had experienced a "wardrobe malfunction" that morning, which translates into not being able to fit into my winter pants, I was sporting a pair of wool tights and a skirt, my favorite cold-weather exploration gear. Remembering back to 2 years prior, when I was nearly panting like a dog left in a hot car, I was glad my layers were a bit lighter. At the first rest stop, I was baring all to the mountains in front of me as I changed to a short sleeve shirt and took off those warm tights. I was not alone in my bare-kneed endeavor; the trip leader, Nicole, was wearing shorts with her ensemble.

on Hurricane Hill, 5,757'
It was a bit of a slog to get to Hurricane Hill at 5,757', but doing the rest step, having fellow Mountaineers Rich and Nicole in step with me and the emerging views, were what was needed to get to the summit. The views were superlative! As much as I love Mt Rainier, another of Washington's National Parks, I have to admit that the views up on the Ridge were even better; there was simply more to look at and the open water could be seen in one direction.

Strait of Juan de Fuca out there

As what goes up  must eventually come down, we had to leave our perch and head back toward the cars, much of it on a soul-sucking road, angling uphill. At one point, I could swear I could hear my body talking, "Hey, fat cells, we gotta burn some of you to keep our girl going. Off to the ovens for you!" Fat cells: "Why don't you just make our girl eat some more food? It's too nice of a day to die." Body: "Our girl has to fit into her pants, so you've gotta go!"

When everyone was accounted for at the parking lot, we said goodbye and sped off (coasted) down the road and made our last stop at Blackbird for a little Joe-to-Go for our drive back to Seattle.

Rich, our only man, runs ahead for privacy

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Spring Break Adventure, Day 3

The day was a bit gray, so first we perked it up with coffee and a snack at Blackbird, then headed west for Lake Crescent. Although we were relatively late to the trailhead, we were early by most peoples' standards and the parking lot was not full. The big draw at this trailhead is Marymere Falls, a 1.5 mile lollipop-looped walk to a beautiful waterfall in a deep gorge. But first, a stop at the toilet; why do I mention this – the bathrooms are heated and wonderful. I almost had to send out a messenger to tell Rich that I would be delayed, as I was soaking up the warmth to guard me against the inevitable cold and damp of the hike.

Marymere Falls
After pushing myself out of the rest room, we set off toward the falls first, as the crowds were minimal and the veered off to Barnes Creek. The start of the trail, in which all trip reports that I have read mention that very few people are seen on the trail, has overgrown trees and a few branches blocking the way. I think those are deterrents for anyone might want to venture out of their comfort zone and up the trail, because the trail is very well maintained after that point. In fact, as though experienced hikers were in cahoots to keep others off this trail, the map indicates there is a ford a couple of miles in. In the summer, a ford might be an adventure, but in very early spring, it is a threat. Too cold, too deep. But there was no ford; there was a bridge made from a fallen tree, with a railing to one side. Even my "I'm a wimp and I know it when making crossings" fiance was able to walk across without constantly holding on to the rail.

No Hands!
There were a few more creek crossings and, in between, a lot of green: moss, trees and ferns. I postulated whether all the world's moss had originated right there, in the Olympic National Park. Moss grows in damp areas and reproduce via spores carried on wind or by animals. The ONP has plenty of spores to spread all around the world. Here's what Wikipedia had to say about moss and the Pacific Northwest:

"In the cool cloudy damp Pacific Northwest, moss is sometimes allowed to grow naturally as a lawn substitute, one that needs little or no mowing, fertilizing or watering. In this case, grass is considered to be the weed.[19] Landscapers in the Seattle area sometimes collect boulders and downed logs growing mosses for installation in gardens and landscapes. Woodland gardens in many parts of the world can include a carpet of natural mosses.[16] The Bloedel Reserve on Bainbridge Island, Washington State, is famous for its moss garden. The moss garden was created by removing shrubby underbrush and herbaceous groundcovers, thinning trees, and allowing mosses to fill in naturally."
that clump was the first moss

The moss can't help but grow, unrestrained and unabashedly. And we love this area for all that green, many shades of green.
We were treated to some glimmers of sun through the trees, a foreshadowing for tomorrow's adventure, as we headed back along the trail.

The drive east toward Port Angeles had me feeling a little sleepy, so we made our 3rd stop of the weekend at Blackbird Cafe for an afternoon pick-me-up.

Spring Break Adventure, Day 2

Keeping with my theme of adventure, Rich set a circuitous course of driving to the Edmonds ferry on our way to Port Angeles for the weekend. On the ferry, I had my nose in a book (#1 of 3 for spring break) while he scanned the horizon for whales. The drive from Kingston to Port A was uneventful, save for the slow-moving minivans we kept getting stuck behind.

Once at our destination, the Olympic Lodge, we set out for Blackbird Coffeehouse for an afternoon snack. We are very familiar with Blackbird, as we have been there many times before and they are the reason that I drink Rishi Tea almost exclusively. They also serve Stumptown Coffee, one of my favorites. After the snacks were consumed, we went for a walk along the waterfront, noting the Blackball Ferry that runs to Victoria, BC (must do that some time) and stumbled onto a gallery exhibit featuring local youth. I know that adolescents struggle with identity and purpose, but it was the overwhelming sense from their art that they have few outlets, creative or physical, that made us feel sympathetic and grateful that we grew up near cities where there was a lot available to us. And there still is.

We dined at Jasmine Bistro, a Thai joint where the spice rating should be taken seriously, then returned to the hotel and listened to frolicking of kids in the pool while reading and other stuff.

OK, so not a big day of adventure, but a prelude to the weekend.