Sunday, September 25, 2011

Mountain Wanderings 2011, Part Two

This is a continuation from Mountain Wanderings, Part One:
Lake Viviane and Prusik Peak

Two days later, I left town for what was the pièce de résistance of my hiking summer, a backpack trip in the Enchantments. I had applied for my sought-after permit back in February and was lucky to have the time off from school coincide with my selected dates. My friend and I stayed in a motel in Leavenworth's quiet part of town and were at the trailhead the next morning at 8:15, ready to hike.

I had read dozens of reports and accounts of the hike in to Snow Lakes and all of them made the hike sound like a real grunt. My experience was pretty good compared to what I had read, though when I saw a lakeside camp with a view of Temple Mountain, I was so ready to drop my pack.

following cairns to the Basin
In the morning, we set off to dayhike the Basin area and were surprised at how difficult the trail was up from Snow Lake. It wasn't really a trail at all, more like a bunch of slabs of granite, some with shallow depressions in them, courtesy of explosives. When you need the help of explosives to get you to your destination, you know you're going somewhere good. At the first sight of Lake Viviane, I reached for my hanky, so happy I was nearly crying. I'm not going to try to describe it; that's what photos are for. I tried to swim in the lake but it was leg- and mind-numbingly cold. 
as far as I could get into Lk Viviane
swim in Leprechaun Lk

swim in Sprite Lake- yes, that is snow behind me!

My friend and I had different goals and expectations in the Enchantments. His was to see everything he possibly could; mine was to swim in everything I possibly could. Somehow, we made compromises and I swam in a couple lakes and we still made it up to Prusik Pass. We admired views, photographed, I swam, we wandered and then it was time to head back down. It had taken us over 2 hours to ascend so we guessed we'd arrive in camp just in time for dinner. On the trip down, which for me is always much more tricky than the ascent, due to that darn gravity, we talked about weighing the screw-up possibility factor against departing a day early from Snow Lake. In other words, the trip up and around the Basin area had wiped us out so much, we felt to do it another day would increase our risk for an accident or injury.
where there are many lakes, there will be many waterfalls

purple fields below Prusik Pass

As we were making breakfast the next morning, we saw a rescue helicopter headed to the basin for those who were not so lucky to escape without injury. I took it as a sign that we were doing the right thing. Yes, I had planned this trip for over 6 months and had wanted to go there for over 10 years, but breaking a leg or worse was not my idea of a 10-years-in-the-making trip. As a consolation, I swam in Upper Snow and Nada Lakes on the hike out.
Little Mermaid?

The drive home was not without incident, as a section of I-90 was closed for blasting. It was a party on the freeway... or could have been, since I got out the Pocket Rocket, made some cocoa and heated up dinner, but no one was curious enough to approach us.
dinner on the median of I-90

That weekend, I worked on the Gold Creek Trail with WTA, with the hot sun bearing down on me while I lopped branches of encroaching brush. We had lunch by the creek and, as I dipped my head in, someone remarked that I had a look of bliss on my face. Oh, if he only knew!

I pored over my Alpine Lakes Wilderness map to see what lakes I was missing, as far as my swimming was concerned. Somehow, I had let Lake Lillian, on the west side of Rampart Ridge, slip from my radar. Alone on the trail once more, I climbed over downed trees, endured steep climbs and descents, repaired some toppled cairns and made it to the lake at last. 
in Lake Lillian

I managed to get in a nice swim and get out before two fishermen arrived, returning along the steep lakeshore from an overnight trip. On my hike out, I stepped over logs, just as before, until I found myself at a dead-end. Unbeknownst to me, I had just stepped over a log that was blocking off the wrong-way trail. I panicked a little, as I had packed lightly for the hike, with the confidence of the Enchantments backpacks still lingering, and I imagined myself having to spend the night there, with no water and a couple of almonds for nourishment. No thanks! That was enough to get me to burn a little stored glycogen and get my brain to think more logically. Soon, I realized my mistake and was on the correct trail down, emergency bivouac averted.

Two days later, I departed for the ultimate wilderness... New York City.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Mountain Wanderings 2011, Part One

Once I was released from the clutches of academia in mid-August, I had some catching up to do in terms of hiking and logging the miles, scenic vistas and, most importantly for me, swims in lakes.
Peek-a-Boo Lake

the fish were jumping!

It didn't start out with a bang; in fact, it started with a whimper. That was me, whimpering as my new, expensive, Italian (but made in Vietnam) boots ripped into my heels, giving me one serious blister and a couple of minor ones. At least I was able to make it to Peek-a-Boo Lake, off the Mountain Loop Highway, for a good swim first. But the blister festered and forced me to cancel the coming week's plans while it healed. In the meantime, I got caught up with household chores and maintenance (you should see my bathroom!).

A week later, with the help of band-aids, moleskin and my old, faithful boots, I led a Mountaineers hike to Summit Lake and Bearhead Mountain in the little-known wilderness area, Clearwater, accessed from near the Carbon River entrance of Mt Rainier. I had never been there before, having just read about it, but my pick was regarded as "excellent!".

Summit Lake from Bearhead Mtn
We enjoyed flowers of many varieties, views of Rainier, Stuart and Glacier Peak, and then a swim in a fine mountain lake, with many areas for privacy (I encouraged two women in the group to skinny-dip for the first time).

Carbon River valley

my camp in the sky at Cutthroat Pass, 6800'

north from the PCT toward Canada

Just a few days later, I packed for an overnight, grabbed a friend and set out for the North Cascades. My intention was to backpack at Cascade Pass, but once at the Ranger station, we were informed the spots had been reserved, so we went east to Cutthroat Pass.

Talk about finding the silver lining! From our lofty camp at 6,800', we could see that the area near Cascade Pass was roiling with storm clouds, while meanwhile we had sun and wind and views in every direction. The next day, we explored north on the Pacific Crest Trail, mouths agape at the scenery, while strolling on a nearly-flat trail in the sky.

Two days later, I was booting up at the Tonga Ridge trailhead off the Foss River Road, with the goal of swimming in Fisher Lake. Mine was the only car at the trailhead and I enjoyed the quiet of the morning, allowing the clouds time to burn off. The trail to Fisher Lake is a dotted line on my map and now I know why; it was a steep uphill grunt to go over not one, but two ridges to get there. It was the kind of hike where I feel obligated to swim because of the great effort to make the destination.
Fisher Lake

wildflowers on Mt Sawyer
I still had plenty of time left, so I found the trail up to Sawyer Mountain as a way to complete my Tonga Ridge experience. Once up there, I met a family with grown kids and they offered me potato chips (instant bonding food). We talked and photographed and enjoyed the view, then decided to hike down together. It turns out that the parents are from Massachusetts and are cyclists fighting for their rights on the roads, just like we do in Seattle.

The following weekend was Labor Day and I started it off with some volunteer work with Washington Trails Association (WTA). I joined a work party (crafty of them to call it a work "party", don't you think?) at Franklin Falls, near Exit 47 on I-90. There were about 25 people  working on a trail re-route, directing water off the trail with drainages and beating back the brush.

Franklin Falls, just below I-90

At lunch, I journeyed to the Falls, which sit just beneath I-90 as it makes its way down from Snoqualmie Pass. In all my years of living in the Seattle area, I had never been on this trail and had never seen the falls which were obviously very popular, particularly on hot days, similar to the Denny Creek "slide" area on the trail to Melakwa Lake.

But wait, there's more... and it just gets better. Please continue to Part Two.