Friday, October 28, 2011

Desert Hiking is Not Just for Spring

During the month of October, hikers in Western Washington are fervently seeking out vistas with the elusive golden larches. Larch are unusual evergreens in that they are also like a deciduous; in the fall, their needles change color and later get dropped. They seem to take up residence in some of the most beautiful high country in the state, such as the North Cascades, the Stuart Range and Leavenworth areas. I have seen lots of larches, but this year, I was seeking something a little different.

I had been to Black Canyon in the spring (link to post here) to escape the rain and clouds of the westside and get a sneak preview of some spring flowers, but I had read reports of some beautiful fall color and, in particular Golden Aspen, and wanted to see it for myself (and the group of Mountaineers who would accompany me).

The drive to the trailhead had me very optimistic, as I had been worried that it was too late in the season for color and we'd be walking amongst barren trees. All along the road, there were trees with yellow leaves, orange leaves and still some green to add contrast. Then, we saw a big white bunny (no, we did not follow it down its hole) and it was probably a jackrabbit, but it's much more fun to call it a big white bunny. As we came around a corner, a couple of deer were crossing the road and they went hopping off, looking a little like kangaroos, when they spotted us. To our right, we saw the rest of their friends and family, about 6 of them gazing at us with big eyes, waiting for the road to be clear. Driving slowly up the rough road (apologies to Suzanne's car), there was a baby owl sitting right at the edge of the road, on the ground. It stayed motionless as all three of our cars passed by.

The color started again, right at the trailhead and stayed with us wherever there was a water source for the trees. The area of the cabin was starkly beautiful, with contrasting aspen, other colorful trees and the dark of the cabin's aging wood. We followed the canyon up to Umtanum Ridge and were treated to a view of not only the Stuart Range, but the entire Teanaway peaks. It was like having a mountain scene set to infinity. Then, we looked to the south and saw a big, white blob sitting above a distant ridge. It was very disorienting, but at the same time we were certain it was Mt Rainier. She has that certain majestic look (and also follows me nearly everywhere I go: previous post).

one of the views from ridge – colors in folds

We traversed the ridge and could see trees and colors in the folds of the hills; wherever there was water, it supported life and beauty. We spotted our canyon as the most beautiful, of course, and soon found the trail to descend through the trees, past the old cabin and back to the trailhead. Many in the group commented that it was a welcome change of scenery and proved that the desert is not just for spring hiking anymore.

hiking back down to Black Canyon

Friday, October 21, 2011

Native Planet Classic

Whirled Traveler note: I was doing a little cleaning of my site when I came across this draft for a post about the Native Planet Classic Ride that I did in June of 2008. It was a significant ride, both because it was a serious undertaking and because the training for it led to the assignment of my most-favorite-ever nickname, Our Lady of Perpetual Ascent. I hope you enjoy this visit back in time.

view from the road
Lost in Translation
We arrived at the Red Barn in Winthrop on Friday to pick up our packets for the next day's ride and were greeted by Jean-Philipe himself, ride organizer and founder of Native Planet. He heartily greeted Dan and Bill, then turned to me, embraced me and said, in his thick French accent, "It has been so long since I have seen you; it is so good to see you!" (translation: Aha! I have finally found a way to make you give money to my organization). 
Saturday morning came quickly and we rode the mile or so (who's counting?) to Mazama to meet up with Greg and to sample the first of the day's food stops. Who should be with Greg but John, well-known for his domestique services from a previous ride. After the morning formalities, Greg inquired, "How's your back feeling?" (translation: I brought John along in case you bail on me). 
hang up and ride, Bill
We set off en masse up toward Washington Pass: Bill, Bob, Annie, Greg and me, more or less riding together. After about an hour of climbing (wow, how time flew), I requested we stop so I could stretch out the aforementioned back (translation: I want to take a break from this mind-numbing climbing but don't want to sound like a wimp). A little while later, Bill's friend Dirk came flying by and Bill latched on and away they went.
At the Pass, we prepared for the descent down the west side, but I say "we" even though I had put my vest and rain jacket in the "Club Car" that morning. As I gave Annie the bag of my essentials to be driven around by her husband, Bobby, she asked, "Are you sure you don't want to carry the vest up to the Pass?" (translation: have you already forgotten how you froze just a few weeks ago while descending?!) Instead, I shoved a Seattle Chinese newspaper up under my jersey; I thought it might be fun to see if anyone in the cabin could read the reversed Chinese characters once the newsprint had transferred to my skin.
my training buddy, Annie
Off we flew, descending at a gradual rate, then climbing up to Rainy Pass, then descending a lot more. While we were cruising creekside (Granite Creek, as I read in my Visitor Guide), I noted that we were at milepost 148 and, with the lunch stop at mp 130, it was just another 18 miles of descending and that sounded just fine. Way to live in the moment, Lou! (after lunch I would face a 30-mile climb back to the Pass). Annie was having none of it, however, and she turned around at the East Creek Trailhead, figuring she would ride back with Bob who was somewhere behind us. At lunch we met up with those who had left us earlier (and would shortly leave us again): John, Bill and Dirk. After restoring calories and resting up, we set off on what is probably the steepest part of the 30-mile climb that was on the way to WA Pass.
"Oh my gosh, I have a fan", I thought, as I was passing by a man standing outside his car who was waving to me. When I realized it was Bobby and the Club Car, I had already passed him. We met up a bit later and I traded the Chinese newspaper for my vest.
Greg, ready to go after lunch
After settling in to a climbing pace, Greg noted, "my, aren't you feeling a bit frisky?" (translation: crap, I can't believe you would try to drop me after all those miles you sat on my wheel). He really had nothing to worry about because once I realized I was still in my middle chainring and my brain caught up with my body, it was I who was getting dropped. The next time I saw Greg and John, it was at their support vehicle, driven by John's wife, as the hiss of an espresso machine pierced the mountain silence.

With 3 miles to go before reaching WA Pass, the climbing was wearing me down. I started doing math to pass the time, since the music in my head had either stopped playing or was stuck on the same line of lyrics, over and over. I calculated that at my current speed of 5 mph, it was taking me 12 minutes to go a mile and I was losing patience. It had been a while since I had seen a mile marker but I was guessing that the green thing on a post ahead was what I was looking for: mp 161. Yes, I had 1 mile to go but I didn't know if I could bear another 12 minutes. Then I remembered that at the point where the Blue Lake trailhead was, it flattened out a bit. In fact, I remember Bob Nyberg and Annie saying how annoying it was when you thought the road was flat but it was still a climb. I'll take whatever I can get after climbing for nearly 30 miles so when I hit that flat-ish spot, my speed doubled to 10 mph and I rolled into the WA Pass rest stop with 12 mph on my speedometer and a smile on my face.
When Greg and John asked me how I was feeling, I said "Great!" (translation: it's all downhill from here!).

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Detours Toocan Review

its center of gravity is higher than most panniers
 I was really excited when I received my new Detours Toocan "utility" pannier. Detours now has a Seattle office and their products are affordable and fun. Just as described, the outside of the pannier has a quilted appearance and looks to be very durable. There is also a pocket which is sized just right for my u-lock. The inside was more of a mystery, as the website description lacked details about it, but I was pleasantly surprised to find several pockets inside. First, there is an inner lining which has a pocket on each side of the pannier, giving two narrow pockets and two wide ones. The wide are the right width for notebooks or books and the narrow are good for eating utensils, pens, a rolled-up jacket, you get the idea. There is a small zippered pocket up near the top opening which appeared to be full. I unzipped it and, voila!, there was a rain cover inside. This is going to come in very handy in the winter in Seattle (ok, so it rains all year 'round here).
please note: this is not representative of a balanced diet

I really like having my wallet and other essentials in a zippered pocket so I moved the rain cover to a narrow inside pocket and replaced it with wallet, phone and lip stuff. There is still plenty of room in the main body of the pannier for groceries and what have you. It has a hard rubber bottom that stands by itself and protects the inside from water seeping in. I can't tell you how many times I've gone to a store, put down my non-Detours pannier and watched as it slid down to lay on the floor, getting dirty and making me feel disheveled.

Then, I loaded the pannier with my notebooks, snacks and rain gear and zipped the whole pannier closed so I could go out and give it a road test.

The attachment to the rack is with 2 stainless steel clips that hold onto the top of the rack. Every other pannier I have ever owned has had a bottom hook to secure it to the rack from below with an internal bungee. I made a mental note to check on it after a couple of miles and I was off. Given the fact that my route from home to Ballard covers some of the bumpiest, least maintained roads in the city, I wasn't too surprised when I checked on it to see that it was precariously hanging on with just one hook. The pannier had slid backwards (while all my others slide forward, hmm) and the rear hook had slipped off the rack so that it was dangling by just the hook, with all the weight on it. Fortunately, it didn't break and when I got home, I jury-rigged a rear bar for my rack from zip-ties to prevent further problems. I was so pleased with the other aspects of this pannier's performance and abilities that I was willing to put some time and energy into making it work.
a few zip ties work like a charm

And then I went out again to really make the pannier work. I went grocery shopping and filled it to the point where I could barely zip the top closed; it held a lot of groceries! The tag that came with it lists its uses as shopping, commuting and yard sales. I'd like to add school and hauling stuff to that list. This is a high-capacity, fully functioning pannier that looks great and is fun to use.

For info about where to buy Detours Bags or to order online, go to:

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Anderson & Watson Lakes

a little fall color
For some reason, not many people hike this trail, but that meant a little more solitude for my small group of Mountaineers than on many other trails this weekend.

We lucked out with the weather! A sunny day was emerging from the gloom as we drove up to the trailhead from the socked-in city. Our first destination was Watson Lakes, which is perhaps the only trail in the Noisy-Diobsud Wilderness. We lunched while looking at Bacon Peak (how apropos!) and picked berries, too.

Watson Lakes- short on names, long on scenery
On the return, we side-tripped to Anderson Lakes and, while we weren't very impressed with the so-called lakes, once across the creek, we saw what the draw was for this trail... an awesome view of Mt Baker! Some fall color in the meadow, which will get better and better, was a nice addition.
Mt Baker and meadow near Anderson Lakes

We bid farewell to Mt Baker on the trail, only to encounter her again, from the road. Plus, we spotted another majestic peak which only later, with map in hand, did we identify as Mt Shuksan.

Mt Shuksan, from the FS Road