Sunday, December 19, 2010

Diamond Head, Redux

This year's trip to Diamond Head, a peak in the East Cascades near Blewett Pass, was a little different from the same trip back in January of 2009. While we still had temperatures in the low 20s, snowmobilers at the trailhead and jokes about the namesake in Honolulu, the big difference was improvement in snow conditions, but also the lack of views.

After a long drive, stopping at Snoqualmie Pass to pick up our Mountaineers leader, Chris, standing at the side of the road like a hitch-hiking snowshoer, we started out in cold conditions. We soon left the snowmobilers behind, but made our own noises: crunch of snow, scrape of snowshoe and poles, and some chitter-chatter, too.

Instead of looking out to views of the Stewart Range, which were meager today, we were enthralled by the larch trees, laden with ice and frost and by the ponderosa with white ice coated over the bright green moss.

The navigating was easy, following the trail of trees marked with blue diamonds. I couldn't help thinking of the song, "She Wore Blue Diamonds" as we made our way toward the last pitch of climbing. The snowmobilers were there, on the Forest Service road, heralding our arrival. One of these days, we need to enlist them to carry up hot drinks and a nice meal for us.

the Hog Loppett goes this way...
perfect xmas trees
We reached our destination after ascending the last ridge and following it to the end, where it opened up to a ledge with what could have been views to the Stewart Range and Mt Rainier. See my post from 2009, here, if you missed out. We did have a limited view for a few minutes, before the fog came down to stay.

The journey back down was made with determination and limited stops, as the temperature was dropping and the light was dimming. We made it back to the Issaquah Park & Ride at 6:30PM to find the cars we'd left behind had a thick coat of ice on them, though it was 36 degrees, beyond the range of ice temperature. Physically, my leg help up very well today, with just a few grimaces made from pain. Later, however, I discovered I had a black toenail on my second toe, probably from some toe fighting going on in my boot. All in all, a great day out to the sometimes-sunny side.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Dog Lover

Without a dog, you may wonder how much of a dog lover I could be. But I love dogs so much that I realize that owning one when I live in a 700 square-foot condo would be unkind. Instead, I read about dogs, my favorite read being Merle's Door by Ted Kerasote and my most recent, Sight Hound by Pamela Houston and I pet all the friendly dogs I encounter all over Seattle, getting kisses once in a while. I also embrace the spirit of a dog: living to have fun, to walk in the rain, to embrace my fave people as much as possible and to try to love unconditionally.

So it hurts me whenever I read about the loss of a dog and this week, I read about a woman who lost her dog in a most unassuming way – while on a walk on Queen Anne hill on Thanksgiving Day. While they happily walked along the sidewalk of Queen Anne Ave, her dog, Sammy, suddenly began to howl and went into convulsions. Unbeknownst to her, the dog had just stepped on a contact voltage plate that delivered enough electricity to kill a dog. 

While she has hired lawyers to recoup the funds associated with Sammy's medical and burial expenses, she is dealing with the loss of her pet, her soulmate, her buddy. She has a blog devoted to the dog and the incident in hopes to prevent this from happening again and also to help her move through her grief. If you are a dog lover or owner, please be sure to read the blog, pass on the information and help keep our Seattle dogs safe.

Monday, November 22, 2010

What does this have to do with Thanksgiving?!

"You want to do what to your toe?", my doctor friend asked. I had called her to act as moral support and supervisor when I had a bruise under my toenail that had become particularly painful. "Yes", I said, "burn a hole through the nail, with a needle or paper clip." As a supportive friend, she agreed to have me come over to her home, where her brother was staying on a visit and where she was suffering from a cold. And it was 9AM on a Saturday morning.

I arrived with needles, band-aids and triple antibiotic cream in pocket. She countered with sterilizing pads, square towels and medical sharps, along with a long-reaching lighter and a small supply of paper clips. We set about the task in her dining room, the cat trying to get a good view by jumping onto her shoulder. The needle was red-hot when I pressed it into my nail. It didn't hurt a bit... until I burned through to the fleshy part, that is. At that point, it felt like a hot poker on naked flesh because, well, that's what it was. I was hopeful and waited for the spurt of blood, the blood that would relieve the pressure I'd been feeling at night. Nothing happened.

Attempt #2 was with a small paper clip, figuring that the needle's tip was too small. I did it quickly so I didn't lose my nerve. Nothing happened. Attempt #3 was with a large paper clip. At this point, I began to wonder if I was taking pleasure in hurting myself or if I was so optimistic as to have become moronic, unable to comprehend that something just wasn't working. But I was inspired by the thought of getting a good night's sleep, a night without pain so after a few deep breaths and cuddles from the kitty, set to enlarge the hole once again. Guess what? Nothing happened!

I took some more deep breaths, cuddled with the kitty, massaged the rest of my foot and leg and declared, "let's go have pie!" When things don't work out, despite the best of intentions, the support of friends and the warmth of a kitten, it's time to treat myself to pie.

This Thanksgiving, I am grateful for good friends (and their pets) and tasty pie.
Happy Thanksgiving to you all!

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Fall's Hiking Finale

As fall's colors are being replaced with a fresh layer of snow, I am thinking back to just last week, when I was in shorts and short sleeves, hiking at Mt Rainier National Park.

this is the view from the parking lot at Paradise!

navigating a snowfield on the Skyline Trail

And a few days before that, traipsing around Crystal Mountain in the early morning frost.

Mt Adams and layers
Pickhandle Gap

Mt Stuart

And a week before, being blown away by the combination of blue sky, golden larches, mountain goats and towering peaks at Ingalls Pass. 

And the week before that, marvelling at the engineering feat of blasting a path through rock at Kendall Katwalk.
Marie enjoys the view

Red Mountain from the Katwalk

It was a fabulous streak of good weather, faithful hiking companions and top-tier destinations.
For more photos of these adventures, go here.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

How to be the Audience

Hachoo! Cough! Thump! Hey, we must be at a performance at Benaroya Hall, Seattle's collecting place for folks with phlegm issues and slippery fingers. At a recent performance with pianist Andras Schiff, the sneezing, coughing and dropping of programs continued at a pace not unlike the musical term allegretto. Even at a moment of rest between movements, when there should have been silence to hear a pin drop, some schlub in the second tier of the auditorium made a throaty sneezing noise, as if competing with the Steinway on stage.

Benaroya Hall has been called a "perfect" performance hall in that the sound from any seat in the hall is precisely duplicated from the source. So, if the sound from the stage is so clear, the same must be true of the sound that emanates from the audience and reaches the stage, right? Place a world-renowned pianist on the stage who has memorized his entire program, a mix of Mendelssohn and Schumann, and add some sneezers and coughers and heavy-item droppers in various points throughout the 2,500 seat hall and the recipe would seem to call for disaster, yet Schiff showed no outer signs of distraction. The audience, however, took notice. I saw several members of the audience looking toward the offending cougher, directing them with their eyes to remove themselves from the hall. At the point when something was dropped on the floor and a heavy "thud" was heard, I jumped in my seat, as though startled from having something fall on me from above.

Why are there so many coughers and sneezers in Seattle and in Benaroya, in partcular? Is it something about our weather that causes us to have more phlegm? The definition for phlegm states that "it is a mucus secreted in the respiratory passages" but also can mean "sluggishness, calmness or apathy". While classical music is very soothing, a state of apathy or sluggishness is not what is strived for. 

Take my advice, please, and stay home with your cold and drink water to soothe your nasal passages instead of downing diuretic coffee to dry them up. And allow everyone to hear the music as it was intended.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Give and Take

There was a crisp five-dollar bill staring up at me on the trail to Park Butte Lookout at the foot of Mt Baker. It was like an apparition, so incongruous in a place where you "leave it all behind". I snatched it up, pausing for a moment to think of how could I find its previous owner, someone who may not be able to have their coffee at the Starbucks in Sedro Woolley after hiking because their money fell out of their pocket. In just a moment, the vision of the woman who zipped down the trail passed through my head and I realized that a reunion would be impossible and so I pocketed it.

Funny thing is, I had just pondered aloud as to how I could make hiking into a money-making business. "Writing about it, selling your book and photographs" were what I received as suggestions. A few minutes later, we came across two Forest Service employees taking a break, eating sandwiches beside the trail. I could work for the US Government, hiking trails, checking permits, cleaning backcountry toilets in a hard-to-get paid position. 

We made it to the Park Butte lookout which was occupied by a hiker who was a very gracious host. The lookout is first-come-first-serve as far as overnight lodging is concerned but visitors are welcome. Our host offered to take my poles as I made my way the last few steps up to the chunk of rock, then gave me binoculars to gaze out at every direction and also set out chairs so we could eat lunch in comfort. He asked me, "you probably found a five-dollar bill on the trail, right?" and my first thought was that maybe he had passed it over. I admitted that I had and, once I realized it had fallen from his pocket, I dug it out and handed it over to him. His intention for the bill was to make a donation to the Skagit group who maintained the structure and kept donation envelopes in the lookout. There went my trail bounty but I was pleased it was going to a good cause.

We reluctantly left the lookout since daylight was waning and ran into a heavily laden backpacker making her way up to camp. She mentioned that the bridge we had crossed over Rocky Creek, a torrent of silty, mud-colored water that gushed down from the Easton Glacier had been dismantled, yet she was still able to cross it by doing this and that and held her hands in a cross-like position. It seemed that those "paid-to-hike" Forest Service folks had dismantled the bridge with them when they hiked out, not warning us or even making jokes how low our boots came up on our legs. Why was this day, Wednesday, September 29 significant? They couldn't have waited until the end of the month or at least given any warning at the trailhead?

We arrived at the creek at the same time two climbers had arrived on the far side. They wore gaiters, plastic boots and had massive packs with rope and climbing helmets. We watched as they tried to detour downstream to find a crossing, then retreat back toward the trail. We tried to communicate with them but the deafening sound of the creek made that difficult. The few words we did understand was that they were going to bag their climb and "good luck".

My thoughts went to my car, its heated seats, the cookie I had left for us on our return, dinner somewhere on the way home. I wanted to be at that car, yet a raging torrent stood between me and those things. Suddenly, my hiking partner barked out orders to get into the creek, hold on to the log for balance and stability and walk slowly across to the other side. He was hungry, too! He went first and, when he wasn't swept away by the current, my fears subsided. Soon, I was knee-deep in water that wasn't nearly as cold as I thought it would be and I began to laugh once I reached the other side, mostly from relief but also from the thrill of the unknown.

Boots soaked and feet sloshing, we made our way down to the trailhead, ate the cookie, heated up the seats and headed for dinner. We were grateful for the day in the mountains we had been given and for taking the path of least resistance.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Mountain Wanderlust, Part !!

After our 2-day trip to the North Cascades in July (see previous post), I was intent on returning to the area to see and hike the "Best Of" hikes that were above treeline and stunningly beautiful. During the week, when summer had just about faded, we made a beeline for Hart's Pass in the North Cascades, Pasayten Wilderness.

Day One, Tuesday, September 14
Location: Hart's Pass, elev 6,400'
Hike: North on the PCT from the Pass, about 5 miles RT
Star Rating: 5
Camp Location: The Meadows, a mile south from the Pass, in a burned forest with some new growth and wildflowers
Dinner: Palak Paneer with Pilaf
Other activities: stargazing from the "Astronomy Pad" on a high point in the campground

Day Two: Wednesday, September 15
Location: Hart's Pass
Hike: South on the PCT with an off-trail summit of Tatie Peak, 7,400', about 6 miles RT
Star Rating: book says 5; we gave it a 6!
Camp Location: Klipchuck Campground
Dinner: cheese, pesto and crackers, wine (Cline Syrah)
Other activities: watching smoke from a forest fire, celebrating Brian's birthday
Tatie Peak

en route to summit Tatie
burned trees and turning leaves
view from Tatie's summit

Day Three: Thursday, September 16
Location: Rainy Pass
Hike: Maple Pass loop, 7 miles, high point: 6,850'
Star Rating: 5
Camp Location: home, sweet home
Dinner: sandwich and salads at Skagit Valley Co-op, Mt Vernon
Other activities: driving home, sometimes in the rain
view of lakes from Heather Pass

friendly marmot
Azurite Peak and blue skies
view from Maple Pass

berry bushes turning colors but no bears
Rainy Lake with colored hillside

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Forever Young

meadow along the PCT
Back in my twenties, I always felt like the people I hiked with viewed me as "just a kid". They didn't seem to think I had anything of value to add to the group and, to them, all it seemed like I wanted to do was have fun (still true today, of course, life is about having fun). In my thirties, I went on a lot of private (non-organized) trips with friends so there was near-total equality, as either my friends and I were similar in age or my older friend was a love interest who wouldn't dare put me down for having fewer years on the earth.

Now, in my forties, a time when I feel comfortable with my self, my age and my intellectual standing (wherever that may be), I have found the way to stay forever young. I hike with older people so that no matter how much older I get, up until a certain point, I will still be younger than the rest of the group.

I was on just such a hike yesterday with the Snoqualmie Valley Trails Club, a small group of dedicated hikers who go to less-trodden places in the Cascades. I knew most of the other hikers, either from other SVTC trips I'd been on, or from trips in the Mountaineers, where a lot of them either have been leaders or currently lead hikes for both groups. They are good hikers: they move at a good pace, they have years of experience with gear, destinations and natural history and are generally a pleasant group of people to hike with and be in the mountains with for an entire day.

Daisy at Trap Lake

photogenic pika
The hike started at the Tunnel Creek trailhead near Stevens Pass and connected to the Pacific Crest Trail, where we headed south to Trap Lake, one lake shy of Surprise Lake and with markedly fewer visitors.  I had brought hiking poles for this trip, since I have a problem with my knee/hip; many of the other hikers had poles that they swear by to reduce knee strain. I heard a couple of women talking about momentarily misplacing their wallet, only to find it minutes later, like putting glasses on your forehead and thinking you've lost them. I related a story of "losing" my camera, only to find it in its proper storage spot at home. It was only when we neared the trailhead on the return and everyone talked about the various anti-inflammatories they needed to take before the drive home that I realized that, younger or not, I am more like those old hikers than I had led myself to believe. Hiking – the age equalizer.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Interurban Trail Angel

Returning from a very nice loop of Edmonds from home, Becky's chain jammed in between her chainrings and, despite grabbing the chain and pulling desperately, up-ending her bike and yanking hard, she was unable to free it.

Then along came one-handed coffee-drinking casual bike rider guy. "Do you gals need help?" We were reluctant to involve him in the task since it was obvious it would leave him blackened, the same color as Becky's dirty chain. To calm our protests, he stated, "I'm a guy, I'll just wipe my hands on the pavement, no big deal".

For him, it was no big deal. He yanked on the chain, freed it, grabbed his coffee and hopped on his bike and rode away. He didn't hit on us, or hit us up for a "reward". He was just a nice guy helping out his fellow bicyclists.

Thank you, one-handed coffee-drinking casual bike rider guy! You've just made a deposit in the good karma bank.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

The Bear

Everybody talked about it. The WTA trip reports for the Walt Bailey Trail mentioned more than one bear. The ranger at the Verlot station agreed by saying, there were lots of bears on that trail. People we saw who were coming down the trail mentioned, "there's a bear up there".

We knew we had to see it – we could not do the hike and miss the opportunity to see The Bear. While we were eating lunch in the meadow, a lone hiker whom we had seen ascend, then descend the trail, asked if we were continuing on the trail further up. We said we were and he proceeded to give us the exact location (and approximate size – big) of the bear. We looked at each other. OK, let's go see the bear.

Suddenly, it felt like we were at the zoo. "Go up to the log, look up and to the left and you will see a big, black figure". We followed his instructions and suddenly we saw the bear. We said "hello" softly. It turned and looked at us and we could clearly see it was a big, black bear with a light brown snout. It kept looking at us. Using my innate bear psychology, this is what the bear was saying, "Leave me alone, I just want to eat my berries in peace with no more of your kind talking to me, singing to me and get your barking dogs away from me" I heard him loud and clear and we backed away until we had left him, staring off into the distance, alone in his berry patch.

We went back to the lake, where I took over my own berry patch.
nope, that's not the bear

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Satisfying a Craving

obviously, this is not a Mountaineers trip!
I fully embrace the new technology that has been developed to make our lives easier and keep us connected. Take Facebook, for example, where on Tuesday morning I posted that I wanted to day-hike at Mt Rainier on Wednesday and was anyone available for the day. By midday, I was invited on a 3-day backpack trip to Spider Meadows, a premier destination in WA State. The inspiration for the trip for both parties, me and Todd, was a fellow Mountaineer named Mary who had recently day-hiked to the area and had taken some fabulous photos of wildflowers, meadows and towering peaks. Since we would be going mid-week and staying three days, we were sure to have fewer people on the trail and have more opportunity for great photos.

Paintbrush and mountains

Wednesday morning, not very early, Todd picked me up and we headed to the backpacker mecca... REI for some last-minute items. Normally, I don't like to make stops before getting out of dodge, but since the trip had come together so quickly, we each lacked certain essentials (fuel and water purification). Afterward, a trip to Espresso Vivace was necessary for some personal fueling and we were off, oh so leisurely.

It was a long drive up to the trailhead and we quickly saw that we were not alone, though 22 cars at the trailhead was not much, given the popularity of the area. We arrived in the lower meadow at 6pm, a time that gave us little daylight to make camp, find somewhere to hang our food and have dinner. But the lower camps were buggy – these were not mosquitoes, but were deer flies that bite and hurt and leave a big welt that stays and itches for days (yes, I missed mosquitoes, who are annoying but whose bites disappear in one day). We moved from that area quickly and managed to find a small spot along the creek with just enough room for my single-person tent and Todd's bivy bag. 

After dinner, Todd went right to bed but I stayed up to watch the star show since we were miles from any artificial light. I have limited knowledge of the constellations and, beyond the major ones, I just marveled at the quantity, since the Milky Way appeared above. When I finally got into my tent, I rolled up one side of the fly so I could stargaze from my bed.

Monkeyflowers in Phelps Basin
In the morning, we got ready to do some exploring, first in Phelps Basin, where the inspiring photo that brought us out here was taken, then up toward Spider Gap, high above the meadows at 7,100', above the Spider Glacier. I had brought my Sony DSLR for the occasion, knowing the area would be worthy, but the camera encouraged me to go further and higher than I would have with a less complex camera. In Phelps Basin, I saw the photo Mary had taken, but moved upstream and came across a field of two shades of purple flowers that mimicked the lavender fields of Provence. Click, click, click went the camera. On our way toward Spider Gap, I had only intended to go as high as the first decent view of the valley below, but soon I found that my camera had an addiction to beautiful scenery and I was its enabler, climbing higher on a steep, rocky trail, thinking about how I might actually hurt myself going down it, but was lured higher, nonetheless, helpless to the cravings of getting the perfect shot.

I was able to reign in my camera's desires when standing at the foot of the Spider Glacier, since I possessed neither poles nor an ice ax for travelling on this type of terrain. Camera was happy where we were, with views to Red Mountain to the west, Seven-Fingered Jack and Mt Maude to the east and the entire Spider Meadow to the south. I saw a sign, "Toilet" and camera said to follow, knowing that, up here in pristine wilderness, they are not just wooden shitboxes, but royal thrones with spectacular views.

the view of Spider Meadows from Gap trail

Camera and I wandered and captured images and took all possible paths until it was time to find a place to rest and wait for Todd to descend. At the high-in-the-sky campsites I found Todd had beat me to a nap and after I caught my few winks, he lent me his poles so I could descend safely, knowing the photos would only be able to be seen if camera and I made it down without a tumble.
7:34 AM in the meadow

I'm glad I lived to see the following day. I'm also glad I'm so fond of those wooden shitboxes because I hiked down valley in the early morning to the lower camps just so I could sit in comfort and, on the way back, saw a field of magenta and pink paintbrush off the trail. Naturally, I had camera with me, its desire so strong at all times, and I crouched in the meadow for some serious MBs (that's megabites, photo talk, you know). The series began at 7:19am and continued for every minute until 7:34, sometimes multiple shots per minute. Then I got hungry and headed back to camp for breakfast, only to return later after we had packed up and were hiking out.

The second time around was only slightly different as there were still a multitude of flower and valley shots but they were interspersed with naps and book reading in the meadow.

Todd lingers in the meadow

On the hike out, the influx of new campers was steady and, close to the parking lot I was asked about gathering firewood for a campfire. I knew the answer was "No fires permitted in Wilderness areas" but I couldn't seem to say the words since every campsite had a fire ring and the family sounded so enthusiastic about sitting around a fire. Instead, I commented that we didn't make a fire and later included this blurb in my trip report to WTA:

"There are many camp sites scattered about in the meadows but, sadly, most have fire rings built by people who didn't know that fires are not permitted in wilderness areas. This is the Glacier Peak Wilderness, people, and fire danger is high and no one wants to be the idiot who sets the meadow on fire. So bring friends for conversation, a book for quiet reading or your imagination for star gazing, but don't start a fire!"

On our return to the city, we swam in a cool lake, ate a piece of good pie and then, once at home, I was set to the task of dealing with the results of the addiction. I had no fewer than 180 photos to sort through! Since I can't come close to posting them all in this blog, please go here to see all 48 that have been chosen as the best.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Midweek Mountain Worship

Cathedral Rock & lupine

The bulletin board at the Cathedral Rock trailhead had a notice page from a ranger who had recently hiked it. It mentioned bugs and wildflowers and, in the space that summed up the overall conditions, it basically said, "It's as good as it gets." And it gets damn good, if my memory served me correctly. And, though I didn't remember the trail up to Squaw Lake at all, my mind went back to a photo taken of me while beyond that point, up on the ridge, meandering in flowers in the meadows while in the holy place of Cathedral Rock.

Mt Hinman from trail junction

The pews were sky-high, about 5,600' to be exact, and the ceiling was clear and blue. Let's face it – I don't know much about cathedrals and will soon run out of metaphors but I do know plenty about mountains and this place is one of those primo spots along the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) that can be reached after a not-too-long of a drive from the city. 

The elevation past Cathedral Rock is made more dramatic by the view down to Deep Lake, 1,300' below and up to Mts Hinman and Daniel, at a heavenly 7,500' and 7,900', respectively (who can't respect that). The trail up to Peggy's Pond is chopped right out of the rock face of the lower reaches of the Rock and is a place where you either know you were meant to be a climber... or not. In my case, not, as I carefully turned around and headed back toward the meadows and to where I felt more comfortable, below the surface of the water in an alpine lake, taking the baptismal plunge in the holy mountain waters.
Want to see more photos? Go here.