Saturday, January 31, 2009

Mosquitos & Elephants

We could hear the familiar, annoying whine of the mosquitos as we were heading up the road above the sno-park. They were making the same noise as those we heard while hiking, except with much greater volume. "That's the biggest mosquito I've ever seen", one group member commented. Indeed, these mosquitos were labeled with "Kawasaki" and Ski-Doo" and they packed some horsepower. They were not the kind that could be outrun by snowshoers or even discouraged by cold or clothing. 
Worse yet, they seemed to mock us; while we, a group of 12 strong Mountaineers were breaking trail on snowshoes and gaining 3,000' from the Price Creek Sno-Park to Keechelus Ridge, they were zipping around aimlessly, without breaking a sweat. Then, climbing higher, the roar of an elephant could be heard. This was getting exciting! The African safari experience right here in a Washington winter. We continued on past the radio tower to the true ridge summit at 5,151' and the elephants bellowed on, infrequent but very much audible. We were serenaded while eating lunch while the temperature was an astonishing 20 degrees,quite unlike an elephant's native climate.

While descending back down from the ridge, enjoying the freshly fallen snow so that we could feel like we were actually snowshoeing, we stayed in audible range of both mosquitos and elephants for quite awhile, until they went off to their drinking holes and we were left in silence. Eventually, the sound of snowshoes against hard snow came back into the equation as we made our usual winter Mountaineer sounds.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Aloha, Diamond Head!

"You're going to freeze in that outfit", Mountaineers leader Giday said to me when we met to carpool to Diamond Head. "But where we're going, shorts and a t-shirt is the standard garb". "No, no, no", he asserted, "this is Diamond Head at Blewett Pass, elevation 5,915' and currently snow-covered and expecting a high of 22 degrees." 

Giday was right- while the mountain does look a lot like its namesake in Honolulu, it is on the eastern crest of the Cascade Mountains, receives plenty of snow and is usually a bit colder than areas to the west like Snoqualmie Pass. 

The snow was crusty and not very deep and the air was cold and dry. Once we started up to the saddle between Diamond Head and the unnamed peak to the east, we left the ankle-breaking traverse and icy snow behind us and started to enjoy views of the Stuart Range.

After many photo stops, we reached our destination at the summit and lunched, marvelling at our good timing because fog was rolling in and the weather was changing. For now, it made for more dramatic photos, especially since Mt. Rainier came into the picture. And we were all in the standard garb for this Diamond Head: layers of wool, fleece and down.

For more great photos, click here.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Sunny Snowshoe to Snow & Source Lakes

's wonderful!
's marvelous!

During the past week, Seattle has seen nothing but fog. Cold, murky fog, with infrequent sun poking through small holes. Fog in the morning, fog in the afternoon and fog at night: the hazy days of winter.

A temperature inversion has been going on so that, while Seattle remains in a cloud, the elevations above are bathed in warm sunshine. On Friday afternoon, Seattle's high temperature
 was 39 degrees at sea level, while at Paradise at approximately 5,000' on Rainier, was 52 degrees and sunny. So it was time to head to the mountains and gain some elevation.
Our Mountaineers trip went first to Source Lake, the source of the Snoqualmie River's South Fork, at the base of a bunch of peaks: Denny, The Tooth, Bryant, Chair and Kaleetan. While we stood around snacking and adjusting clothing, I looked up for a moment and gasped. The fog was lifting, the
 blue sky was brilliant and this was going to be a stellar day. After a long, steep climb up to the ridge, we gazed down to the fog-choked valley, satisfied that we had worked hard for this great reward.

See more photos here.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

I Rode with the Rabbits

And lived to tell about it, no bleeding eyeballs required.

At David's urging (or was it peer pressuring), I signed up to ride with the Rabbits, the (mostly) guys who tear around the rural roads and wear themselves down every Sunday. It would be good training, I told myself. I've done this sort of ride before...oh, about 10 or so years ago. David mentioned something about lactate threshold and bleeding eyeballs and I thought I might be in over my head.

After departing Red Hook, we passed by the other, more sensibly-paced group, the Laughers, and I felt a sense of dread, knowing that the group I was with wouldn't stop to tend to my needs of layering and may not even find a flushing toilet for me like the Laughers did. But at least our group was able to lure away another woman, Kristie, who is a powerhouse little engine-who-can on puppy uppers. Would she show alliance with me, the only other woman in the group, or would she go with her speed and endurance and hang with the guys?

Right away, I caught on that it's all about the wheel in front of you and hanging onto it for dear life. I found myself behind a guy, a massive guy. Not fat, just tall, big and with a draft behind him that could suffice for 4 skinny girls, at least. That must be Big Mark! I protected that wheel for all I was worth and was ready to defend myself to keep within its reach. Ralph Nussbaum was in the group, too, and despite the fact that he's a nice guy, leads great rides and is obviously strong, I found myself muttering threats to him and he readily gave up his position near Mark. He reminded me that my club, COGS, had treated him and his wife, Carol, to dinner at our Holiday Party and he felt indebted. No blood required here.

The discussion turned to avoiding potholes since there were a few choice ones on Riverview Road and I told them that if I screamed, don't follow my wheel because that means I just hit a hole but if I suddenly moved left or right, follow my wheel because I am acting on instinct to avoid a hole that comes up fast. Of course, I told them, I reserve the right to break the rules and scream any time I feel it's necessary.

With all discussion of potholes cleared up, I managed to miss the entrance to the trail through Blyth Park. The nice, flat trail through the park. I felt like I was caught on the wrong side of the turnstile in a NY subway, with an expired MetroCard. My penalty was to climb a hill fast enough on the road to keep up with the group that was motoring on the flats of the trail. I was able to meet up with the group, no bleeding from either eyeball required. Once we arrived in Bothell, I realized my fun might be over; the flat part was done and now there were some hills to take us up north and west to Edmonds. At about mile 9, I was off the back, with that old familiar feeling of riders moving past me while I was gasping for breath. Then I heard a little voice but this one wasn't coming from inside my head, it was too high-pitched. I looked over my shoulder and saw that Kristie was still with me and was staying with me, also gasping for breath. We bitched and moaned, like only two gals can do when dropped off the back of a pack of guys.

I told Kristie that we were only 10 or so miles from Edmonds and that sounded reasonable to her so we made an effort to get ourselves back into the group. Whether it was the little voice inside my head that said I could or the mercy regroups performed by the Rabbits, Kristie and I managed to get back into the pack and rolled into Edmonds en masse, flying down the Main Street hill.

Ah, Edmonds, a quaint little town on Puget Sound, with coffee shops and art galleries and, hey, where are you crazy rabbits going? They had already turned to go south and tackle the hills of Woodway and Innis Arden while I still had my mind on coffee in quaint little Edmonds. I yelled out "coffee" and managed to round up not just Kristie, but Doug as well and we all sauntered off to the official coffee stop where we waited dutifully for the Laughers.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Here We Go Again, Seattle!

The forecast called for some rain and snow this evening so when I looked out and saw some light flakes, I just laughed, thinking that some delicate Seattle drivers would start to get nervous. A couple of hours later, when I went out on foot for groceries, there were plenty of delicate drivers out spinning their wheels and even abandoning their vehicles on hills, as the snow had accumulated to 3-4 inches and was slippery, sloppy stuff.

The forecasters insist that it will turn to rain after 10pm and we'll wake up to a regular old gray and black Seattle day, but I thought I would enjoy it while I could.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

New Year's Day Snowshoe at Mt Rainier

While our party of four (leaders George and Sue Olsen and me and Jerry Chang) slept soundly at the Inn at Longmire with no midnight wakeup from fireworks or hooting and hollering, nature was at work outside our windows. It had been snowing since our arrival on Wednesday evening with snow that was powdery and crystalline, like what Utah or Colorado must refer to as Sugar Snow. Light as air, barely containing any moisture, unlike the usual heavy flakes or snow that went "squeak" beneath your boots. It was with barely any effort that I swept off the six inches that had accumulated on my car so that I could move it out of the way of the morning's plow. I took a walk around the lodge and took photos of the falling snow before I turned in for the night.

In the morning, the power was off at the Inn, with no alarm buzzing me awake and with flashlights illuminating the halls, thanks to the Park employees. I was relieved to be a Mountaineer that morning, for I had a headlamp in my pack and could light my way in the bathroom down the hall. I hoped my friends were doing the same. Breakfast was delayed but was delicious, none the less, and we prepared for our day of snowshoeing. The road up to Paradise was closed due to "extreme" avalanche danger; that light, fluffy snow was more dangerous than it looked and made slab avalanches very possible as it lay on a more solid base. Rain had begun to fall at the Inn, elevation 2,700'.

We gathered ourselves up and met the rest of the party at the museum at the far end of the parking lot. Joining us was Jim Gross, another familiar face and Moa, a petite woman whom I had scrambled with in the spring and Matt, climber and scrambler. We resigned to hike the Rampart Ridge loop that was 4.5 miles and would, undoubtedly, be in rain the whole time. Once on the trail, we were disheartened to realize that the beautiful, fluffy snow from the night before had become heavy and dense from the rain. And deep. While breaking trail, it was up to my knees or higher in some places and I am tall. Moa was in nearly up to her thighs but still able to push through the snow, allowing us to make headway, if slowly. Matt was a great help too, and grateful that he had people to relieve him of his trail-breaking duties. 

Snowshoeing in fresh snow is a lot like cycling in a paceline. It's not the wind you have to contend with, but the unbroken snow. The person at the front makes an impression in the snow, then each person in succession compresses it down further. After a while, the person at the front steps off the trail, allowing a new leader to come up while he or she takes a break at the back. Like slow-motion cycling. But on this day, staying at the back for very long meant running the risk of getting cold. It was raining hard and there was snow bombing us from the trees, adding to the already excessive amount of moisture. Personally, I was having some issues with keeping the moisture in check. Although I was wearing layers of wool and had a softshell outer layer, I felt moisture creeping in, in ways I had never experienced before. Water was making its way down the inside back of my pants and being pulled by gravity into my boots. I had waterproofed my boots and had worn my tough gaiters so this was a feeling I was not used to. In addition, the water ran down my sleeves and snuck under my Gore-Tex overmitts that I had worn over wool gloves. In effect, I was soaking wet, despite doing everything I could to defend myself against moisture.

When we arrived at the intersection of the Rampart Ridge and Mildred Point trails, at mile 1.5, it had taken us 2.25 hours of hard work to get there. I had just been talking to Matt about how reasonable the leaders were and he seemed relieved. Standing at the intersection, looking at my watch and feeling the cold seep in, I was hoping for a reasonable option to be proposed. It was Sue who suggested we turn around and, while George considered it, I had to restrain myself from jumping and running back down the trail. There weren't any other proposals so we defaulted for Sue's recommendation and, only after we were halfway back down, did anyone else, in true Mountaineer stoic style, express their gratitude for that decision. Thank you, Sue, thank you. My hands and fingers thank you, too.