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.

Monday, August 9, 2010

The Pitch

I suppose it was the perfect day for a hike. There was light rain, temps in the upper 50s and lower 60s and not a mosquito in biting range. However, I had invited Cathy on this hike for the purpose of knocking another lake swim off my list; I was wishing for a bit more warmth.

We set out up the well-groomed trail to Talapus and Ollalie Lakes (already swam in those multiple times) and to the ridge saddle to head down to Pratt. I hesitated slightly, thinking about continuing along the ridge but a feeling of regret of not succeeding in my swim forced me to turn down toward Pratt.

A trail runner friend had seen a bear somewhere along the trail the day before and, when I say bear, I mean the motherload: a sow and her cubs. I heard some noise like those of wildlife coming from the meadow below, but it turned out to be a youth group doing trail work. The kids had on hard hats with the initials "NYC" and I had a sudden jolt of empathy, thinking about inner-city east coast kids in the wet wasteland of the I-90 trail system. Just to be sure, I asked what it stood for and was relieved when they told me the Northwest Youth Corps.

Once past Pratt, we were in unchartered waters, since I had never been past Pratt Lake on this trail. We had a great view of the Pratt River Valley, made dramatic by the clouds hanging low to the mountains. Soon, we came to Lower Tuscohatchie Lake, a serene pool with a waterfall crashing down on the far end. The water was very swimmable and, with Cathy directing me for where to go for the best photo, was surprisingly temperate. While I was swimming, the sun managed a brief visit, as though I was being saluted for returning to the mountains and lakes that I so love.

This pucker is for you, if you donate to WTA

OK, here's the pitch: I am participating in the WTA Hike-a-Thon this year to raise money for trail maintenance, lobbying for wilderness areas and forest protection, a fabulous website and more. It is very easy to donate money and only requires a couple of clicks here. There's no minimum donation, making it a cinch to earn my gratitude.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Whirling in Pioneer Square

If you are a fan of Whirled Traveler, especially if you dig the photos, there's an event coming up that you shouldn't miss.

The First Thursday, August 5th, Art Walk in Pioneer Square will feature my photographs, all spun around a bicycle theme, at the Bicycle Alliance office at 309A 3rd Ave S near Main Street in Seattle. I am one of three cycling photographers they selected to exhibit. My fellow photographers are Carla Gramlich and Susan Hiles, who each have their own style.

In addition to the people you can schmooze with and the photos you can ogle in an ogle-safe environment, there will be nibbles and refreshments. The fun starts at 6pm on Thursday. Here's a map to prevent you from whirling too far.