Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Soggy Sauk Mountain

I know what you're thinking...yes, I was wearing orange on this hike, though I doubt there were any hunters up on Sauk Mtn today, 14 years old or not, though we did see a bunch of grouse. When I left the Colonial Creek Campground on Hwy 20 this morning, I was headed for home, having heard rain on my tent for the entire night. My compatriots and I met up at Cascadian Farms, outside Marblemount, where we enjoyed coffee, cookies and berries and noticed the clouds were starting to lift. Soon, we said goodbye to Frank but Becky convinced me that we should go to Sauk Mountain.

Another car arrived a few minutes behind us at the trailhead and I was sure it was some nut- who would be up here hiking on a day like this? It turns out it was another Mountaineer, Gita, and she was willing (seems crazy to say excited) to hike with us.

It was wet, it was cold, the wind was blowing hard. What a great day for a hike in the PNW in August! We did see beautiful flowers on the hike but no cameras dared to photograph them in this weather. Plus, I had photo'd the flowers at the Farm so I was set for the day. At the trail junction for the peak (nothing to see) and the lake (descend, then climb), we turned around but still managed to get in 3 miles, according to the map. Enjoy the beautiful flowers not taken on Sauk Mtn!

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Panther Creek to 4th of July Pass

The previous weekend's climbing training at Marie's house came in handy on this hike. There was a beautiful new bridge across Panther Creek 3 miles in but it was 10 feet up, with no steps or even a ladder leading up to it. So Judy, Frank, Becky and I each climbed the rockpile and
 threw a leg over the deck and, umph!, were up and across the creek. With such a beautiful new bridge, we were optimistic about the rest of the trail's condition.

What a disappointment we had set ourselves up for; the next few miles weren't maintained and were in serious need of brushing...with a machete...while wearing protective clothing...and a bear bell. In addition, due to my blind optimism, I had taken the legs off of my pants, making them a fine target for the Devil's Club and Stinging Nettles we had to push through. I felt a tingly sensation, not unlike the tingly sensation I get while swimming in saltwater that I mistake as feeling so alive that I'm tingling, until I realize that I'm being stung by jellyfish. Only, in this forest, it's nettles and it hurts first, tingles later, as if my nervous system was in hyper-sensitive mode. The brush was just one of the problems; the tread was not flat and con
sistent, but rocky, slippery and rife with holes from where small bridges over creeks had rotted through. And lots of bear scat, we assumed from more than one bear. Bears don't react well when being snuck up on but maybe our cursing and whining was what kept them informed of our presence.

Finally, the last bit of brush was left behind and we climbed, incessantly it seemed, in forest, arriving to a  
vaguely flat area. When we saw a flat rock in the the sunshine, we headed for it, then looked at our maps and realized we were at the Pass. A couple of us took off our boots and socks and let our toes dry out and enjoy the sunshine.

From the pass, it was a well-maintained trail that people actually traveled on and we saw a woman with her little dog whom I recognized from the campground. The final 2-mile stretch to the campground was on a soft, groomed, luxurious trail along Thunder Creek.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Easy Pass, North Cascades

It was the old Mountaineers bait and switch trick that Glen Strachan pulled out of his leader's hat at the trailhead for Easy Pass. He was apparently saving himself for a trip to Scotland and needed the rest so he asked me if I would take the reigns for the 7-mile, 3,000' gain hike to (not so) Easy Pass. My fellow hikers were Frank, whom I hadn't seen since the Mntrs trip to Iceland in 2000 and glad to see he was still active in the club and Becky, who was a small, compact woman of hidden age and strength.We set off from the trailhead, climbing solidly from the beginning, getting right to task of gaining of 3,000 feet. I was happy to see that we did not have to ford Granite Creek, as my map from 1985 indicated. There was a trail sign that the Skagit Alpine Club was maintaining the trail so we have them to thank.

Once we left the forest for the basin beneath Ragged Ridge, the views and flowers began. I even spotted a hummingbird zipping around the Columbines. The last bit was on a scree slope with a well-defined trail zig-zagging upward toward the gap that led to Easy Pass. Once at the gap, the marmots welcomed us with 

whistles and a game of hide-and-seek. The clouds rolled in and out while we enjoyed our lunch but I managed to photo Fisher Valley below and Fisher Peak above. The geologist in our group said that the black rocky peak to our left was known as the "Wandering Batholith" and was thought to have origins in South America, having pushed up through the earth's mantel.

Although this hike is not easy, as the name may suggest, I highly recommend it for challenge and high alpine scenery. And no bugs!

For more photos of this hike, go here.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Berkeley Park Backpack, August 23 & 24

aka, The Seven Wives of Todd
Eight Mountaineer backpackers assembled at the Sunrise parking lot on Saturday morning: 7 women  and Todd. I could see that he was going to be battling some serious estrogen power on this trip but he seemed oblivious as we set off on the trail toward Frozen Lake.
When we got to camp in the flowerland of Berkeley Park (before the bugs arrived), Todd laid down for a nap atop his bivy bag, saying he was tired from work that week, but we could all see that he was overcome by the estrogen fumes we seven were producing. Later, as we lunched, Todd suggested we invite the solo camper to join us for dinner. He was a guy backpacking the Northern Loop and could probably use some company, but it may have just been a ploy to strengthen the testosterone balance in camp.

After lunch, we strolled down to Grand Park 4 miles away through increasingly colorful fields of flowers. We walked across the Park, site of an ancient lake, and took a break in the shade (with bugs!). We noticed a guy wearing a loud shade of blue meandering in the meadows and at once felt defensive toward him, since many delicate flowers were in the area. We approached him and I could see he had maps and a GPS and seemed to have a purpose so I asked him what he was in search of. It turns out that he was volunteering for the Park as a botanist and there was a rare species of flower only found in that area called the Rainier Paintbrush. He described it as being yellow and fuzzy, only 3 inches high and no sooner did he say the words than we suddenly saw them everywhere around us.

We trekked back to camp to set up for dinner and soon Todd made an appearance in
 full rain gear, a hat and bandana. I guess he was serious about defending himself against the E-word! Soon, though, we realized the mosquitos had returned for the evening and we all got dressed in our best mosquito-proof clothing, making it look like we had our own winter storm right there in our group campsite. To accentuate that concept, our solo camper came by wearing short sleeves and seemed unconcerned with getting bitten. He asked us what our group relationship was and I blurted out that we were the Seven Wives of Todd, to which he answered "lucky guy", until he saw Todd's bivy bag laying in the outer fringes of camp. Hmm...
Sunday morning found various forms of sleepy-eyed campers in full rain gear, standing around swatting each other. We ate breakfast and then departed as the bugs began to swarm us each, in turn. It was a lovely morning once the bugs were left behind, with time to linger in the flowers and to seek out photogenic marmots. We met up at Frozen Lake and sidetripped to the Mt Fremont Lookout, a fire-spotting station at 7,100'. It gave a panoramic view of the Berkeley Park and Grand Park area, plus views out to Glacier Peak and the Teanaway. On the hike back, I heard a loud rumble and saw a cloud of snow and rock rising from the flanks of Mt Rainier. I think that was the first time I'd ever seen an avalanche on the mountain.

As the first few drops of rain fell, I wondered if all the raingear we had donned over the weekend had done more than just serve as protection from hormones. Perhaps we had been unknowing participants in a group rainmaking ritual. Apparently, we were damn good at it, judging from the intensity of the downpour which at least waited until after we descended from the mountain.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Two Naked Ladies Rescued from Rainbow Lake

AP, North Bend- After a fire broke out from lightning in the nearby mountains, two women hikers, whose clothing burned in the fire while they were swimming, were rescued by helicopter basket. The pilot of the helicopter was quoted as saying, "that was the best catch I ever made!". *

That was just the start of our adventure. After returning safely home to Marie's house, she discovered she was locked out and, with her toe swollen from the day's adventures, enlisted my help to "break in" to her house. I won't go into details so that all you readers do not flock to her house and help yourselves to her cheese and chocolate but I will say that it involved some climbing. Once inside, we feasted on the aforementioned chocolate, cheese, hummus, then prepared salmon, beets, parsnips and green beans.

*My thanks to Marie for the idea of this great fabrication

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Scorpion Mountain

The write-up I submitted for the Mountaineers hike to Scorpion Mountain told of "a climb to a ridge full of views and flowers". It delivered on all counts. The trail started out steadily climbing from the parking lot, then the forest gave way to views of mountains and, finally, flowers emerged along the slopes.

But wait, there's more! We had two bonus features on this lovely August day: heat and bugs. Today was forecast to be the hottest day of the year, with temps in the low 90s and it delivered. We were all sweating profusely from the first uphill bit in the sun, along the ridge in the shade and, finally, up to Scorpion Mountain. The bugs were amazing, a nice match for the heat; the more we sweated in the hot sun, the more bugs we would attract. These were not just mosquitos and flies, they were black flies and horseflies, the kind that hurt when they bite.

It was a tough choice up on Scorpion Mtn as to where to enjoy lunch. The sunny areas had a little breeze to keep the bugs down but had blazing sunshine and the shaded area spared us of the sun's rays but were somewhat buggy. We had a view north to Glacier Peak and NW to Monte Cristo, Kyes and Goblin (very Matterhorn-like).

On the way out, we saw what looked like smoke on a mountain near Glacier Peak and figured it was a forest fire. Back to the cars and down to Beckler River we went, dipping our feet, heads and legs in to put out our own fires.

Thank you, fellow hikers, for making my first hike as a Mountaineers leader easy.

To see more photos of this hike, go here.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Bainbridge Island S24O (Sub 24-hour Outing)

Bicycle campers can usually be spotted from the way they look cold (can't pack enough clothing in stuffed panniers) and hungry (too many calories burned to replenish) but the Bainbridge Island micro bike tour that Todd and I planned was definitely plentiful in food and drink.

The food arrived by Jeep and mini-van, was wheeled over by moms (thanks Tammy and Kathleen) and carried by teenagers. The choices were plentiful: lemonade, root beer, wine, beer and hard lemonade. Now that's what I call a convenience store! The food came next: corn chips and pita chips for the hummus, fat zucchinis for grilling, garlic sauce, ketchup and mustard for the beef and veggie burgers. And just when we thought we couldn't eat any more, out came the brownies. Sqeezed in between all the eating we admired views of Rainier, downtown Seattle and the passing boats.

In the morning, Todd and I watched the sunrise and I talked to a guy on a motorcycle who had camped nearby. His Weimaraner, Uma, was carried in a 4-sided padded cage on his bike and he wore a Viking helmet with horns to gain more visibility (so motorcycles have that problem, too). He had ridden out from Lawn Gyland, New Yawk too see his son who was enrolled in the Outward Bound Instructors Course and they were going to spend a few days together after graduation.

He offered me half of his cantaloupe, saying that he couldn't imagine we'd have much food since we were traveling by bike. Oh, if only he knew!

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Excelsior Pass

It was a fun drive to the trailhead located off the Canyon Creek Road since it is paved for much of the way. One interruption to our buoyed mood, however, was that we came across Search and Rescue teams who had dogs and were in concentrated numbers. I asked what was going on and was told that they were looking for evidence from something that had happened two years ago. I guess you would do best to avoid trouble in this area if 2 years is their response time!

Our optimism returned when we reached the trailhead and it was not raining so we put our boots on but then, just as we were ready to hit the trail, the drops came down, big and heavy on the windshield. Back into the car we went, not willing to get soaked so early in the day. We were under time constraints to get back to the city so this rain was eating into our available hike time. After 40 minutes, the rain had let up and we were impatient, especially after driving for a half hour on the FS Road, so off we went.
It was an easier trail than the two others we hiked this weekend so Marie was in front, driving a hard pace while my legs were trying to loosen up and recover. I think I had consumed a total of 12 Ibuprofen so far over the weekend. We arrived at Damfino Lakes, small ponds hosting salamander and frogs and then continued toward Excelsior. The rain started once we reached the meadows but flowers are beautiful in any conditions (though the avalanche lillies looked a little down). It was clear (not!) that we would not be seeing any views today so once we reached our turnaround time, we headed back to the cars.
On the drive out, we saw sunshine and blue sky start to push through and were disappointed that we didn't have time for more hiking but, just then, a deluge obscured all of those thoughts.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Marie joins the Mountain Rabbits

As our group of nine set out up the Goat Mtn trail in the Mt Baker Wilderness, we were keeping pace behind the self-described slowest hiker of the group. Our pace and lack of conversation made me wonder if we were participating in the Hike of Silence, honoring those hikers who had twisted their ankles, fallen prey to hypothermia or had just plain expired on the trail. I felt my hips begin to cramp as my stride was limited in both length and speed and as I turned back to glance at Marie, I could see she was thinking along the same lines. I requested permission from the leader, Bob, to go ahead of the group, and I was granted 20 minutes of lead-time, a decent length of leash. Shortly thereafter, we were joined by another hiker, Mark, and we accelerated away, up the trail. Soon, the conversation between me and my hike-mates turned to the usual hiking subjects: politics, religion and sex. Before any conclusions could be reached, however, we reached the end of our 20-minute leash and waited for the rest of the group to catch up which took about 15 minutes. And so began the Rabbity hike-fast-and-wait pace for the day.

Bob requested that we find a dry place for lunch and so we proceeded up to the open area where we were greeted with happy, sunny flowers (arnica, lupine, rosy spirea, tiger lillies, bistort...) but also wind and rain. A stand of silver firs made itself available to us and we were all able to fit the whole group beneath them. We enjoyed our lunches under shelter of the trees while we watched the hardest of the rain pelt down on the pretty flowers just beyond.

After lunch, we proceeded up the trail, giving the rationale that it would warm us up, but were pleasantly surprised when the rain stopped and we came to a viewpoint where the valley opened up in front of us. The fog was parting just in time for us to view Mt Shuksan, still dramatically draped in storm clouds. I noticed a trail that went out further toward flowers and, needing some flowers for the foreground of my photos, I set off at nearly a run, so excited was I to have my two favorite features in one place: mountains and flowers.

The rest of the group joined me out there once they realized I wasn't off on a party separation and we all gawked and gazed at Shuksan and its glaciers, the Nooksack River and other forested peaks nearby.

For more photos from today's hike, go here.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Yellow Aster Butte Hike

Canadian Border Peaks from lunch spot

Marie the Giant among the Lupine

The Chinese believe that 8/8/8 is a lucky day and I would have to agree. First, I had the day off and was going with Marie, aka Czech Chick, to the Mt Baker Lodge for the weekend. Second, the forecast for the weekend was not so bright but on Friday at noon when we arrived in Glacier, it was still beautiful and sunny. Third, we were able to find a decent parking spot near the trailhead to Yellow Aster Butte and (bonus!) there was t.p. in the outhouse.

On the trail up to Yellow Aster Butte, the wildflowers started early. From the parking lot, there was Lupine, then Fireweed along the open slopes. At the two mile mark, we broke out into meadows with babbling brooks and started to traverse alongside the mountain, with Mt Baker in view, in all its glaciated splendor. Then there were the flowers: Magenta Paintbrush, Indian Paintbrush, Penstemen, a lone patch of Mountain Anemone (try to say that with a peanut-butter pretzel in your mouth), Mountain Daisies (what Yellow Aster Butte was mistakenly named for) and dozens of others.

We reached the junction for climbing up to the Butte and took a break for lunch, which was a catered deal complete with cloth napkins. We had Prosciutto with Mozzerella cheese on rosemary bread with basil pesto and 70% chocolate for dessert. Could it get any better than that? Keep reading...

On the way up the steep trail to the Butte, we came across a young coyote who was standing on a snow patch and barking, presumably at one of the dogs down below in the campspots. By the time I got my camera out he had gotten wind of us and had moved further away. He is visible in the photo just beyond the snow patch, then he stood on the rocky outcropping and continued to bark. There is a magic about hiking (or cycling) with Marie, in that you are nearly guaranteed to see wildlife in one form or another.

She was concerned about the young coyote's welfare and walked out onto the snow to check out the situation. Convinced he had a den nearby, she returned to the trail and we continued up. At this point, Shuksan was also in view, as were more and more fields of flowers.

Marie flirts with death...and a coyote
Blissed Out!

Lupine & Mt Shuksan

We both lingered in the flowers, taking in the colors and views toward both of the big peaks. Marie lay down in them and soon was overcome with bliss. Getting in touch with my inner coyote, I felt the desire to roll in the flowers, but instead just walked out into them, knelt down and composed more photos (no need to crush them).
On the hike out, we encoutered many people who were going to be spending the night amongst all that beauty, many of them coming from nearby Bellingham. How lucky they are to have all that in their backyard!
For more photos of this hike, go here.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Rants and Raves: bikes and cars

This summer, my bike commute to work has undergone some changes. I'm still working at the same place, still taking the same route, but those around me, both cyclists and cars, have changed their behaviors which affects everyone: cyclists, drivers and pedestrians.

Generally speaking, it is great to see more cyclists on the road; it's a positive step in getting healthier, building community, freeing ourselves from cars and all of their trappings (gas, parking, maintenance fees) and having more fun. However, just like when driving a car, there are rules of the road and etiquette that make the bicycle and rider more viable as a form of transportation, as well as safe. My rant has to do with the many cyclists who are now riding to downtown and are not aware of these rules. They block traffic, pass other cyclists unsafely and run lights, among other infractions.

They can't be described as one particular "type" because they can be male or female, racer- or messenger-types, young or older (haven't seen anyone "old" out there, to be honest). After a guy passed me on the right without even calling out "on your right" while going up Fremont Ave, I caught up to him at the light and asked him why he passed on the right. He replied, "I didn't want to get clipped by a car". So he basically was willing to endanger me (or himself if I had moved right) rather than to look left for cars and wait until it was safe to pass me.

Yesterday, after being passed twice on the right, I arrived home to find a mailing from the League of American Bicyclists that addressed such a problem and offered a solution: rider education. They offer training to instructors and supply educational materials that address the problems that a new rider encounters when cycling in traffic. The letter explained that many people are riding for the first time since they were kids, when it was either accepted or they were taught to ride on sidewalks, ride against the flow of traffic, carry shopping bags on their handlebars (that reminds me- I saw a guy crash last month doing just that; the bags were caught by a gust of wind and he slammed down on the pavement, but was luckily unhurt). The tricky part in this education element is getting the information to the riders who need it most.

Now for the rave: believe it or not, the raves go to the cars! In the past few months, I have had drivers roll down their window to let me know they would be turning right so I wouldn't get squished between them and the curb. I attribute that to the article in the local paper for drawing awareness to that problem. Last night, a big-wheeled pickup truck rolled up next to me in the right lane, as I was waiting to turn left. I happened to glance up at the driver, sure I would find an abrasive, red-neck type who would be looking down upon me, and not just literally. To my surprise, he asked if I would be turning right and I replied I was going the other way. Then I flirted with his dog in the back seat, who was either going to lick me or bark at me, I couldn't tell which. The owner implied it would be death by licking, that he was a total softie.

Maybe all this will be nothing more than a fleeting memory once the summer ends and it is dark and rainy, when windows are usually rolled up and the many cyclists will be scaled back to the hearty few who ride all year. But I like the potential results that I am imagining: more people getting out of their cars and onto their bikes with drivers treating them with respect as a viable form of transportation. Peace, love and happiness to all as you ride, walk or drive this summer!

Some local links to rider education:
Bicycle Alliance of WA
Bicycle Driver Training Institute

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Hike to Summerland

Our Mountaineers group was treated to great weather, flowers, views and even a couple of bears (mama and cub) on the hike to Summerland in Mount Rainier's White River area.

Thanks to Tish, who was dubbed the "nice flower lady", we were able to watch a bear and her cub from a safe distance. Tish can spot more than just flowers, apparently.

We hiked toward Panhandle Gap to eat our lunch since the meadows are fragile and on the return trip down, we lollygagged in the meadows, taking photos and enjoying the presence of the mountain. And the bears were still in the same place when we passed by again.

We stopped at Wapiti Woolies in Greenwater for treats and to postpone our impending return to the city.

See more photos from this trip here.