Thursday, August 29, 2013

North Cascades 2013

my fave photo of the trip – Rich en route to Easy Pass

What is easily becoming a yearly tradition, I went to the North Cascades Institute (in the North Cascades National Park) for 4 days to hike, eat meals cooked for me, socialize and learn a bit about the natural world.

Rich and I left Seattle on Friday, hiked near Baker Lake on the way up and checked in to NCI in the early evening. A word about driving to NCI: the access road takes you across Diablo Dam which is owned and operated by Seattle City Light. Each afternoon, between 4:15 and 5:00, the gate at the turn-off from Hwy 20 is closed. To gain access, you have to call a number on the call box (which goes to Seattle), give them your name and wait for them to open the gate remotely. It's a little bit of a pain, so I try to time hikes, etc so that I am back before the gate comes down. On the drive up, we were racing time, as I was taking corners faster and faster, pushing myself and my car to perform. Alas, I was too late and Rich jumped out to make the call.
Mt Azurite from Easy Pass

Fisher Basin and Black Peak


After a quiet night sleeping in Fir Lodge, we set out for the trail to Easy Pass. Memories of hikes always get distorted as time passes, leaving me with only the best memories of the trail and destination. However, as we got closer to the trailhead, I did recall that there was a section of rocky footing and switchbacks that were etched into the side of the mountain, though I didn't recall having any problems.
Fisher Creek and Mt Logan

The journey through trees and blueberry bushes ("hey bear", we called) was steep in places and there were plenty of downed trees to step over or squeeze under (18, to be exact). When we broke out into the open, it was a grand view. The rocky area had become a little more treacherous, as there had been some washouts and rockfall so that we also had to hike over moving waves of rock. With careful foot placement, however, it wasn't much of a problem.
time to rock 'n roll

We saw and talked to several groups of Germans who had come to these American Alps to hike and explore. I always gush with American pride when I hear that people have come a great distance to experience our National Parks – they really are a national treasure, so when you finish reading this post, start making plans to go visit one or more.

That evening at dinner, one of the NCI staff, Carla, was taking ideas for where to hike the next day, Sunday. Since I am always ready to tell people where to go, I strongly suggested the trip to Cutthroat Pass that starts from Rainy Pass and travels on the PCT. Lucky for me, she had never been there and wanted to check the trail out. She put up a signup sheet and four other names besides mine and Rich's appeared.

say cheese

The other names were a family: mom, dad, 2 boys age 8 and 10. My first reaction was that these kids could probably not handle a 10-mile hike with 2,000' of gain without a lot of whining or even being carried part way. I was kind of dreading the experience. When we met the family the next day, I sized the kids up and, although they looked pretty energetic, I was still skeptical in regards to their strength and stamina. Silly me! The 8-year-old was a constant talker about everything and anything, having sponged up every bit of information he  came across and his legs moved as fast as his mouth. The 10-year-old was no slouch either and both kids were standout athletes in their school. The parents were pretty amusing and laid back, making the experience a really positive and fun one and enforcing the belief that kids aren't so bad after all.
Rich at the Pass

I, however, was starting to feel really tired and sleepy, probably from a whole lot of hiking right after classes ended and not nearly enough sleep and naps. It was time to remedy that. Nap time started once we got back to the van and continued at NCI. Dinner that night was the best of the weekend: pork tenderloins with kale and onions and dessert of chia pudding (ch, ch, ch... chia!) topped with strawberries, chocolate chips, ginger and coconut. I was in heaven and personally thanked the chef.
Rich looking out to Pyramid Pk

reflections in Diablo Lk


Good thing I like chia pudding, because there was more for breakfast the following morning (why don't more people like chia pudding – give chia a ch, ch... chance)! Monday was a sad day; it was time to leave NCI, their peaceful surroundings, their super staff, fantastic food and lovely lodging. We wandered around on the trails behind campus, me feeling exhausted still, and planned a slow day of progress in returning to the city.
Red Cedar on NCI campus
coming in for a landing at Cascadian Farms

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Nothing Expected


I always try not to have expectations of an experience, as I am aware that things never turn out the way they are planned. However, when the backpack trip to the Enchantments was set up by my friend, Elena, it seemed realistic to think we could get up Aasgard Pass the first day and spend two days in the Core Zone, then hike back out down the Pass and past Colchuck Lake.

While standing in the parking lot trailhead on Sunday morning, the minutes were ticking by and we were still waiting for Elena and her friend, Yelena (they are both Russian, both Mountaineers and both live in the same neighborhood; together, I refer to them as "the Yelenas"). It was 9:45 by the time we all got on the trail which is not early by any stretch of the imagination, especially when you are expecting to ascend 4,000 feet for the day.
sunset at Lake Colchuck, looking up toward Aasgard

my mixed review

not far from the top of the Pass





Another party member, Bernadette, was at the trailhead on time, but was lagging behind at each rest stop on the trail and Rich and I waited 20 or more minutes at the Lake (in hindsight, we figured we should have taken a dip in Colchuck in that time). It was already after 1:30pm when we headed off around the lake, yet no one had stopped long enough to have lunch, especially important if we were going to tackle the most grueling part of the trip, ascending Aasgard Pass. It is more of a scramble than a hike, ascending 2,200 feet in less than a mile, according to the map. I knew I could not go much further without some serious on-loading of calories. There was also the cool-down swim we wanted to take and water that needed to be filtered for the whole group. By the time we arrived at the  far end of the lake, we were hungry, tired and thirsty and it was after 4pm. Heading into the boulder field (the prelude to climbing the Pass), one of our party was having trouble and I spied a last-chance campsite where we could rest until morning.

A new plan was made to wake up at 0530 and break camp at 0700 to head up the Pass. We all got up on time, but, were not quite on trail at 7:00, as we wanted to make sure we had enough calories and water to make the journey. Then the Yelenas split up; we took one and left the other with Bern, keeping them in sight below us. Aasgard Pass is often referred to as Ass-Kick Pass and I was trying to avoid an ass-kicking for the next 4 hours, as that was how long it took us, complete with rest breaks and checking on our party below us. Unlike the previous day, which was warm and sunny, we were thrown into cold and windy conditions which kept us cool, but threatened to make us cold, as well.
loo with a view with Prusik Pk

Once at the pass, I was expecting immense beauty, views and lovely lakes, but all I got was grey rock, a steel-blue body of water in sight and the low greenery of heather with limited views of Colchuck and Dragontail Peaks due to the clouds and fog. Rich became the hero of the day as he dropped his pack, descended for a half-hour to find Elena and Bern and carry her pack up to the pass where we were waiting. There was a standing ovation from a group of climbers when they arrived!
camp at Perfection

After a break, we continued on the trail, transitioning from a landscape not unlike the interior of Iceland, famous for its exports of gravel, to a wonderland of water, distant mountain peaks and larch trees. Soon, we found a perfect campsite near an appropriately named lake, Perfection. In the morning, we were greeted by a herd of mountain goats who took great interest in us. I was focused on getting to the toilet, about a half-mile away, and they began to follow me, approaching from all directions. I had always thought that goats were so sweet until the story came out that one had gored someone in the Olympic National Park; that incident made me a little wary. I followed two rules when in the presence of these beasts: don't ever get in the way of mama and baby (a good rule for every species, including human) and be sure to pee on a rock, just as the Rangers instruct you to. While they finally lost interest in me as I was heading for the toilet, later I had to pee near the campsite and they proved a captive audience. I barely had time to pull up my pants before a goat headed straight for the rock I wet to lick the salt from my urine. When the Rangers say that the goats are after the salt in your urine, they're not kidding.
sunrise and a baby goat

not photogenic, I guess

waiting for me to pee

Alpha Males face off in the meadow

When this trip was originally planned, it was though that we would return the way we had come, going back down Ass-Kick to Colchuck and our waiting vehicles. Yet, after a day of getting our asses kicked, no one wanted anything to do with that route and were resigned to making the trip a one-way route and exiting via Snow Lake and a trailhead that was 2,000' below on the Icicle Creek Road. While the Yelenas and Bern would be spending another day in Paradise, it was time for me and Rich to start our descent. We lingered at lakes, taking a dip in one and spent most of the day taking pictures and taking it easy, before the big descent to Snow Lake.


hanging out at Leprechaun Lake

just keep following the cairns...

Rich dancing at Club Rebar

a swim in Lake Viviane

While the Enchantments are a lovely area, full of lakes, larches, flowers and soaring peaks which one could refer to as heaven, the two approach routes on either side could just as well be called hell. I have already described the approach from the east, made infamous by Aasgard Pass. From the west, the trailhead is at 1,300' and ascends moderately to Snow Lake, then more steeply to the Upper Basin. This latter way is how we descended and descended and on and on, as it drags on and down until you can see the parking lot, at which time you still have about 45 minutes to go. On the way down, all I kept thinking about (as did Rich), was that it would have to be a long time in passing before I would forget the stress on the knees, back and overall physical and mental exertion it had wrought, before I could return to the Enchantments by either route and that was nothing I had expected.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Summer Snippet

Summer is here and in full form; some may even say that it is fading. I am not one of those people. I have just been released from (my) prison, the one of reading, studying and exam-taking. I am now ready to play, explore and have fun without much restraint. However, I have gotten out as much as possible in the past bunch of months, but I have not had the luxury of the time to write about it. What follows is a shortened photo-journal of my travels and hikes.

May and June, up to the end of Spring Quarter:
an Orca near Lopez Island for my birthday weekend

Rhody along the Dosewallip Memorial Day Wknd

Beauty and the Burn

for a fairly easy hike, Lake 22 is very visually rewarding

the "other" Green Lake on the day I was supposed to be studying


One week of break spent in NYC:
made of Legos, my fave art exhibit

quintessential NYC from Staten Isl ferry (it's free!)

wherever you go, there you are!

walking to Brooklyn

from the roof of the Met (NYC's best-kept secret)

Posers
Now, back to the mountains. Mmm, doesn't that feel much better...
not much serenity at Lake Serene

fog rolling in like... (fill in the blank)

Aah, first swim of the year in Mirror Lake!

Now this is the backcountry!

and this is not... Lake Annette (you can't see the garbage)

meadows and mountains from Johnson Ridge

lovely Lupine

on the PCT south of Stevens

my face says it all – first swim in Trap Lake
And there you have it, a truncated journal of trips from the past bunch of months. I was able to get to the East Coast, get some culture, then return when the lakes and meadows were thawing out.

There are lots of adventures in the works, so stay tuned for more...