Saturday, August 15, 2015

July Flower Extravaganza, Mt Rainier Nat'l Park

Flowers at Paradise, or should I say IN Paradise! I took a day off from work to explore the panoramas at Rainier that were bursting with color, starting at the Reflection Lake trail and connecting to the Skyline Trail.

This is an area I snowshoe, especially on New Year's Day. At that time of year, it is covered with white and lacks contrast. But on this trip, it is an area where the dry of the moraines collide with the wet of the creek and the flowers.

The above was taken while crossing the shallow creek, just above Sluiskin Falls. I found a nice rock from which to perch and I filtered water, soaked my feet and took photos. It is so lush with moss and flowers, with a great view of the Mountain, I didn't want to leave.

There was lingering snow on the trail to Panorama Point, so I opted for the higher trail. I never expected to find tiny, colorful flowers growing so high (7,000') in a rocky field. This is where I talked to the first of two volunteer rangers and I made a note to self: volunteer at the Park after nursing.

While the Tatoosh Range was hazy, the foreground flowers made up for it. Color, color everywhere!

I call this the "Mountain at Work" photo because this is really the heart of Mt Rainier. The glacier advances and builds up moraines, moving rocks and boulders as it goes.

This is Myrtle Creek Falls and I was the billionth and one person to photograph it. I have a refrigerator magnet with this image painted, only with mountain goats added to the cliff on the left and in the meadow. I was just lucky that the other billion people were not standing on the bridge above the falls at the time.

Mountain Lupine is everywhere on the mountain, but these are my favorite colors. I also love the leaf pattern. This was one of the last photos I took and had to return to the trailhead to leave this beautiful area and get back to my real life.

What a fantastic day!

Chain & Doelle Lakes Backpack, July 24 – 26

PCT trailhead at Stevens Pass

The very next weekend after suffering in summer's intense sun, I was back on the trail with a full pack on my back, heading south on the PCT from Stevens Pass. The weekend's forecast had made a drastic change: cool with temps in the 50s and rain. Rain?! I had mixed feelings; I was grateful for the cool temps to hike in, but I didn't want to get cold, especially when swimming in the alpine lakes we were headed to.
the last of the sunshine for the weekend

Angling up on the PCT that traverses the Stevens Pass Ski Area, we said goodbye to the last traces of sunshine and headed into cloud cover. At Lake Susan Jane, a lake I hadn't noticed on previous trips, I decided to go for a swim as we stopped for a lunch break. The water was relatively warm and I didn't feel cool as I exited and dried off with my minimalist towel. My fellow backpackers thought I was nuts, but that is the life of an Alpine Lakes Wilderness swimmer.

We passed Lake Josephine (swam in it in the past) and took the Icicle Creek Trail. So now I know that the headwaters of Icicle Creek are Josephine Lake – I love making this kind of connection in the geography. After some climbing and descending, we came to a small camp area beside the trail, the only one we had seen, and wondered how the seven of us, in our seven tents, were going to squeeze in. I offered to share my tent with a friend on the trip, but true to Mountaineers form, she chose to go single and we all managed to find suitable, if not creative, spaces for tents (including one hammock which definitely had the advantage in this scenario).
stopped for a swim

During the night it rained and not a "light shower" that had been predicted, but long and hard and soaking. I stayed dry but was a bit leery about the day's trip up to Chain & Doelle Lakes. We started up the trail and it was a bit grueling: switchbacks followed by straight up sections, a couple of level spots and repeat. It reminded me of the trail to Spade Lake which climbs up from Lake Waptus. Even knowing I would never hike that trail again, I couldn't bring myself to get into the water. My quest to swim in every lake in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness that a trail goes to was going to have at least one blank spot.
Lower Chain Lake after cloud lifted

We made it to the lower of the Chain Lakes and I wasted no time to get into the water as my fellow hikers practiced patience, standing by in their rain jackets and gloves, keeping warm. When I emerged from the water, I got the post-swim rush that I used to get when swimming in Lake Washington in October; it must have something to do with the cold. My head was pleasantly dizzy and light and I had a feeling of euphoria. Or maybe that is my body's way of blocking out the pain. I was standing on a wet surface and realized I wouldn't be able to get my feet clean or dry before putting my boots back on. After everyone got their photos of the lake and fog and the maiden who dared swim in it, we headed for the upper lakes and to the trail to Doelle.
Icicle Creek Trail

I had most of my layers on at this point, including my hat and gloves and so when I felt the wind blowing through me and thought about the danger of hypothermia, especially after submerging into a lake at 6500', I bowed out of the final climb. Instead, I stayed at the lake and ate my lunch (which was woefully small), changed to dry socks (though my boots were already soaked) and hiked all the side trails I could find to stay warm. One member of the group, another swimmer, came back early to tell me that all I missed was more wind and cold and a peek-a-boo view of a lake a couple of hundred feet below. We started descending toward camp together until the clouds lifted a bit and he went in for a swim. That evening found a couple of us doing hill repeats on a beautiful, moss-covered section of the Icicle Creek Trail in order to warm up before getting into our sleeping bags. What a contrast from last weekend!
on the Crest Trail ski run

The next day on the hike out, we were doing the rain jacket on/rain jacket off song-and-dance as we ascended, then descended a couple of times to the trailhead. The drive home was through a deluge and we all felt better knowing we had not missed much in the way of sunshine. And one of us had crossed off another lake or two on our list.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Not Very Wild, July 18 & 19

north on the Katwalk
 Ever since the book, and subsequent movie, Wild came out, a lot of attention has been paid to the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) that runs from Mexico to Canada. Attention from trail runners, dayhikers and long distance backpackers, aka thru-hikers, who want to hike part or all of the trail made famous by the book about a woman getting her life back together.

From this past weekend's backpack trip to Ridge and Gravel Lakes about 7 miles north of Snoqualmie Pass on the PCT, it appears that the trail may knock Snow Lake's trail off of its number one perch as most-hiked trail in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness (hmm, that word looks like "Wild Mess"). Our group of nine hikers arrived at the trailhead parking lot at 8:15AM to find a packed lot of cars with all manner of hikers preparing for the trail. As we made our way up the trail, there were people already coming down from the area known as the Katwalk, a section blasted out of the cliffs to provide a trail on a ledge.
Ridge Lake, home for the night

It was a hot day and we would have liked to linger in the shade a little more, but the leader pushed us to get to the lakes so that there would still be a place for us to camp. Since it was an overnight trip and we were all near-strangers to one another, everyone preferred to be in their own tent, making camp availability a little trickier (we needed to find 9 spots). We pushed on through the lunch hour and arrived at Ridge and Gravel Lakes and found a meadow area at Ridge to spread out and camp. My first desire was to get under water, but the lake was so full of kids, people and a few dogs that it resembled a city park. Instead, I filtered water, set up camp and set out with the group a little later to hike further along the trail.
Alaska Lake below – no need to dive, swam it already

Chikamin Peak and Joe Lake
Gold Creek Valley, the spot for solitude

The views from this area of the trail just got better and better, from Mt Rainier and Mt Adams, to Alaska Lake below and the Gold Creek Valley stretching out before us, reaching to Kachess Lake. Alternatively, Gold Creek is a nearly desolate stretch of trail, where bears and other wildlife are almost guaranteed to be sighted. I made the hike via Gold Creek to Alaska Lake last summer and we saw only one other party. At our turn-around point on the PCT, about 2 miles further from camp, we rounded Alaska Mountain and could see Joe Lake down below and peaks to the east. In the heat, it was tempting to think about going down to Joe, but the thought of the rough trail and climb out kept me sitting on my hot, smooth rock in the shade. 

When we arrived back at our camp, the lake was quiet and I went for an early evening swim before dinner. Perfect! It was a relatively warm evening and we had a meadow to ourselves which led to some stretching and yoga. Soon, pigeons (a great glute stretch), dogs (hamstring, calves, shoulders) and even a few crows (ab strengthener, balancing and just plain fun) started to show up. The soft ground was very forgiving, a welcome contrast to the typical hard, dusty ground found in most camp areas. In retrospect, we probably should not have been camping in a meadow area, as it is more fragile.
south on the Katwalk

After a relatively quiet night (we heard nearby thru-hikers packing up at dawn), we woke and had breakfast. I started to pack up for our beat-the-heat early departure of 9am, then took a break to get into the lake one more time. The water was still, the area was quiet and the experience was perfect, sublime even. Pushing the water with my hands and feet, it was like being the very first animal to ever ply the water. The sun was up, but not yet searing and the morning was mine to savor.  This was my Wild. Soon enough, we would be on the trail, seeing many hikers coming up the trail, trading places with them from the day before.