Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Gold Creek Pond, December 28, 2009

Gold Creek Pond, Green Mountain Road (North Bend), December 26, 2009

December 29, 2009

Gold Creek Pond/Gold Creek, December 28 (Hyak)

Yesterday we drove up to Hyak, parked at the Gold Creek Sno Park and hoofed our way up the Gold Creek Pond. We thought Gold Pond wouldn’t be crowded but we forgot school was out for the holidays so an attitude adjustment was in order.

By the way, the Gold Creek Road is treacherous on foot without Yak Trax or the like – I wore mine but Silverback doesn’t have them yet. He fell a couple of times on the road but sustained no injuries. Maybe it doesn’t matter if you’re a teenager but falling down on an icy road is not such a good idea when you’re in your 60s. With the right vehicle you can drive closer to Gold Pond and park, of course. Don’t forget your Sno Park permit if you go.

Sans snowshoes we hiked up the road to the pond and started out on the loop counterclockwise. When we reached the junction for the Gold Creek trail we added that to our itinerary for the day. That necessitates more walking on the road to reach the actual trailhead, perhaps ¾ of a mile. We turned around in about a half mile where the trail breaks out of the trees at the obvious avalanche slope above the trail (Rampart Ridge loomed above, hidden in the clouds). There didn’t appear to be much snow on the slope but we didn’t want to take a chance; besides, we were aware of trail damage a little further along the trail. Other trail reports indicate blowdowns like giant stacks of pick-up-sticks not too far from where we turned around.

Other than a couple of folks on skis we had that trail to ourselves though there has been snowshoe activity on the trail (no need for snowshoes yesterday). Most folks we encountered at Gold Pond were wearing snowshoes but they were not needed. We bare-booted it the entire way, even on the Gold Creek trail. There is very little snow up there (or anywhere) as of this writing. Rampart Ridge stayed hidden in the clouds with only a bit of it emerging from time to time through the mist.

This was a good winter “shake down” hike for us; we didn’t layer up enough to deal with the cold wind and were chilled most of the time we were out on the trail. We didn’t eat lunch until we got back to the car where a hot thermos of tea awaited us.

We probably hiked 3-4 miles with a couple hundred feet of elevation gain at most.

Other recent hikes, including Green Mountain Road (December 26, 2009)

This has been an odd month for hiking – short days combined with a tight budget have kept us closer to home and the weather has been odd. Despite these challenges we’ve managed to get in several hikes in the last couple of weeks.

Our “biggest” hike was Mount Si – Silverback’s first visit to that lofty pinnacle. The weather has been so dry that we watched hikers scramble to the summit without difficulty (these, of course, are folks that have scrambling skills). I was tempted to join them as I’ve only climbed the Haystack once (when scrambling skills were fresher than they are today).

We’ve also hiked the Talus Loop (on Mount Si) and taken the “short cut” out to the Tenerife Road and made a nice little loop. We left a car at the school bus turnaround in order to make the loop.

Most of our hikes have been “brown” hikes and admittedly it is hard to get excited about such hikes. We use “brown” hikes as conditioners, to keep us in shape for snowier trails where snowshoes are needed and we can go to more interesting places. Neither one of us like to contend with the icy crud that is on the trails as of this writing.

We also took a peek at the new Kamikaze Falls trail but since it is not officially open I won’t say much about that except to say that the trail will be an excellent trail when it is finished. Having been on the “old” trail a few times, I can honestly say this is an improvement. I don’t know the completion date for this trail but hopefully that will be soon so I can say more about it in this blog.

We’ve also checked out the so-called trail to Green Mountain that branches off from the CCC road. Since schools were closed for the holidays we parked at the “school bus turnaround” on Mount Si without worry of getting towed. From there we hiked up the Mount Si Road, continued on the CCC road until we reached the turn off for the Green Mountain road. If you get to Brawling Creek on the CCC Road, you’ve gone too far. The Green Mountain road is roughly ½ mile or so before Brawling Creek – the old road is marked by a rusty gate on the left-hand side of the CCC road – easy to spot in winter, harder to spot in the summer when vegetation obscures it.

It was a windy, sunny day but once we were on the Green Mountain road we were somewhat protected from the aptly-forecast wind. We hoped for a little bit of snow or ice/frost “compositions” to photograph along the road – alas, this turned out to be another brown hike. Between us we probably took about 20 photographs – there’s not much to photograph here. Still, the road is a good conditioner, it’s quiet, it’s not crowded and if you look closely you’ll find a few artifacts here and there, left from past logging eras. The road is easy to follow with stretches of ankle-twisting loose rock to contend with but otherwise no difficulties were encountered. After crossing what we believe to be Brawling Creek we turned around, having gained about 2,000 feet of elevation to that point.

The views of the Middle Fork peaks I recalled from a previous hike on the road are partially blocked as trees grow taller and vegetation fills in the blank spaces. Though there are partial views to Garfield Peak and other Middle Fork peaks; it’s hard to get a good photograph because of the encroaching vegetation.

There are numerous, tight switchbacks on the road and one cannot help but imagine what it might have been like to come hurtling down the steep road driving a truck with a load of timber. There seem to be few pullouts along the way – that old road must have witnessed some exciting times. Now the road is in the process of becoming more trail-like; it would be interesting to come back in another 10 years or so and see what Time has done to the road.

On our way back the wind picked up, especially along the CCC road and we hurried, keeping one eye on our feet and the other on swaying trees.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

December 2009

From Mushrooms to Ice and a Crappy Photo Shoot

December 7, 9, 12 and 13, 2009

We’ve been mostly doing brown hikes of late though our sanity has been saved thanks to ice formations brought about by our recent cold snap. On December 7 Silverback and I went to Cougar Mountain (his first visit) and hiked to Coal Creek Falls and other points of interest within this county park.

What is a brown hike anyway? You may have your own definition of what a brown hike is but for us it’s the time of year when there is little color in the landscape – the flame of fall color has dwindled, flowers-to-come are at best, tiny nubbins, tiny buds perched on stark branches months away from bursting into bloom. When I see Indian plum beginning to appear in late February early March I rejoice – that is when color slowly returns to the brown world. There is no need then to explain the brilliant colors, shapes and forms of summer in the mountains. Summer does not need a spokesperson! In early fall we concentrate on mushrooms and colorful leaves but by late November the mushrooms are blackened and broken, the colorful leaves all dun as they transition from leaves to duff.

Though temperatures were in the high teens we spent an inordinate amount of time at Coal Creek Falls, scrabbling around on rocks and ice formations in an attempt to capture the fleeting beauty of ice with our cameras. Neither one of us own high-end cameras; truth is, we can’t afford them. To compensate we try to combine our hikes with photography. We hope – and sometimes believe – that the ability to see what is there is as important to a photographer as high-end gear.

I believe we are surrounded by beauty – even on brown hikes but on brown hikes you just have to work a little harder to see what is there. Most of the time we are not disappointed - more on that later.

We hiked about 6.5 miles with roughly 900 feet of elevation gain. It was sunny. It was cold. There were very few other people on the trail.

Our next hike was on December 9th with the intent being exercise as opposed to a photography trip (this does not mean we leave the cameras behind!). We picked the Mount Teneriffe Road, always a good “conditioner” even if you don’t make it to the end of the road or Mount Teneriffe.

We knew we didn’t have time to get to the summit; plus, we parked on the edge of the school bus turnaround on Mount Si Road. On a weekday we’re not certain how this works though we did not block the road itself or the “turnaround” space. We “guessed” that we should get back to the car before the school buses arrived so that only left us about 4 hours or so of hiking time (we didn’t want to get the car towed!). On the weekend – or when school is out – to the best of my knowledge it is OK to park there but don’t take my word for it.

On our way up the road we came to DNR (Department of Natural Resources) rigs parked near the “new” trail that is being established to reach Kamikaze Falls. A sign warned of falling rocks as they worked so we stayed off that trail, of course, and continued up the road.

We were enticed by more ice formations along the way but still made good time to a turnaround point (a little beyond where Mount Rainier comes into view) and where you can look back to the big, forested bump that is Mount Teneriffe. Silverback was impressed when I told him I’d snowshoed all the way to the summit of Teneriffe a few years ago. I forget the mileage and gain of doing that (via the road) but I believe it’s about 12 miles round trip with a little over 4,000 feet gain. We were both feeling great though and could have continued but for the necessity of turning around.

By the time we got back to the car we were still in high spirits so after leaving the school bus turnaround we drove to the High Point trailhead on Tiger Mountain to look at High Point Pond.

There we found more fabulous ice formations, especially along the creek between the parking interchange and the turnstile. Our fingers were screaming from the cold but the ice formations along and over the creek were so lovely we found it hard to leave.

All in all a great day – about 8 miles round trip with 2,450 feet of elevation gain (Teneriffe Road).

Photographs? Some of our best.

December 12th deserves a name of it’s own: “The Crabby Photo Shoot”

Still in creative mode following the day of our Teneriffe road hike we chose to take photographs closer to home. We figured the Arboretum, especially Foster Island would be beautiful with the sunlight, especially since it was still cold enough that ice had not melted. After that we’d head over to Green Lake in time for the walk around Green Lake with Christmas carols and luminaries lighting the path.

We erred in getting too late a start. By the time we got to the Arboretum the light was already low in the sky – we had about an hour before sunset. At first the possibilities looked endless – Duck Pond was frozen over and despite signs warning of the dangers of walking out on the ice, there were scads of people on the ice. Some of them were playing hockey, others were ice skating, still others were romping with dogs and children. There was still enough light that we managed to get a few photos of the pond and folks recreating – that was a pretty setting as the trees were burnished gold by the sun and the sky a pastel blue.

From there we hurried off to Foster Island with visions of iced-over ponds and sunset colors on the ice. Instead we found little to photograph. There was very little ice and as the sun was dropping closer to the horizon the light was fading fast. Wildlife was scant – only a few cranky mallards here and there and a heron too far away for our puny cameras.

From there we rushed off to Green Lake hoping to catch the last of the sunset. The walk around the lake with Christmas carols and candles was scheduled to begin at 5:30; it was about 5 when we arrived (too early for Christmas carols, growing too dark for photography). Did I mention how cold it was?

We ended up walking part-way around the lake, growing grumpier and grumpier at our inability to get in a good photo shoot; we did try but suffice is to say that our “results” shall not be posted here!

Then, just as we were nearing the end of our walk, I tripped over Silverback’s feet and fell down. The last straw! I wasn’t hurt but somehow it seemed a fitting end to a disappointing day.

We’d started out with such high hopes!

Today (December 13th) we got in a good hike knowing in advance it would be a brown hike. This one was just for exercise.

We chose Tiger Mountain with Poo Poo Point being our goal. We parked at Tradition Plateau, hiked the Bus Trail to the Poo Poo Point trail and on to Poo Poo Point where we lingered long enough to talk about how cold it was. We hiked rather quickly as there was a possibility of snow and we hoped to beat it (if it fell).

From Poo Poo Point we made a loop back to Tradition Plateau by way of the Railroad Grade and the WT3 trail. Once we left the Poo Poo Point trail we didn’t see anyone until we reached the West Tiger 3 trail. The trail from the Poo Poo Point/Railroad Grade junction may be the most lonesome trail on Tiger. The trail has a “wilder” feeling to it and there are several creeks to cross (this area is called Many Creek Valley by some).

On the last leg of our loop (the WT3 trail) we ran into a couple of Seattle Mountaineer members, folks I’ve hiked with in the past. We chatted a bit; it was nice to run into them. You can almost always count on running into someone you know on Tiger Mountain.

The trails we hiked today were all in good condition, no snow on the trail, very little ice.

The photography? Between us we probably took 7-8 photographs but that’s OK. A brown hike can be thoroughly enjoyable when you know ahead of time there won’t likely be much to photograph.

We hiked about 8 miles round trip with 1,800 feet of gain.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

November, December outings, 2009

November, December Outings 2009

November is my least favorite month of the year. I’ll try not to whine but I really dislike “brown hikes” – by that I mean lack of fall color and gray skies when the landscape seems drained of color. I haven’t been keeping my camera very busy on trails the last few weeks; hence, no compelling trail descriptions. There are only so many lichen/mushroom photos one can take!!

I’ve been to the Issaquah Alps several times on hikes to Rattlesnake Mountain, Little Si, Boulder Garden Trail, Tiger Mountain and the like but those hikes were mostly for exercise. The most interesting “hike” in recent weeks is an outing to the Taneum, South Cle Elum region of eastern Washington. Here, we hiked on game trails and enjoyed sprawling views under a big blue sky but it wasn’t a “real” hike. At least not by our standards for trail descriptions as there is no trailhead for such a hike and with photography being the focus of the hike there is little need to keep track of “stats”.

Early December has been a little better as the temperatures drop – then, frost and ice make for interesting photography, especially what I call “abstracts” for lack of a better word.

We are not comfortable driving at night, especially in rainy or snowy conditions so our hikes (such as they are) tend to be closer to home. The budget is lean these days and “getting away from it all” in the usual sense of the word is a little too pricey for us at this time.

So here we are, ensconced in West Seattle and not venturing very far – to keep sane we enjoy neighborhood rambles to local pea-patches, county and city parks. For exercise we return (sigh) to places described before not only by me but by many – the Issaquah Alps and other lowland hikes. While such hikes are not terribly exciting it is better than not hiking at all.

We did get a Sno Park permit and will be enjoying snowshoe trips further away from Seattle but right now the snow is downright nasty – in fact, it’s not even snow, it’s ice!!

In lieu of the kind of hiking I enjoy, I’ve taken up running again – I’m up to 6 miles and run 2-3 times a week. Oddly, I enjoy running in “bad” weather more than “good” weather. I’m truly grateful that I can run at my age without injury, aches or pains. I always come back from a run with fresh inspiration, even if such inspiration doesn’t reach this blog.

Hopefully this rather lifeless entry will soon be replaced by either a more compelling place to hike, write about and photograph.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

More November hikes, 2009

Boulder Garden Loop, Little Si, Old Si, Talus Trail (November 2009)

Time constraints and weather kept us from “finishing” any of the trails but we did venture far enough for photography and moderate exercise. These trails have been hiked sometime between November 7 and today, November 18.

The Boulder Garden trail is now signed again. The sign has been missing for a few years but those who knew about the trail could find it easily enough. The trail starts out on the Little Si trail in North Bend. Find the Boulder Garden trail within 1/8 of a mile or so along the Little Si trail. It’s a pretty trail, especially in the fall with a little bit of fall color still hanging in on the trees and shrubs. Spurs lead to viewpoints from mossy boulders down to North Bend, Rattlesnake Mountain and nearby foothills.

If you’re looking for the Old Si trail it is not signed but when you get to the high point there is another sign for the Boulder Garden trail with arrows pointing both ways. The Old Si trail heads uphill from there. The Old Si trail is steep, in places “rooty” and there are slick spots where wet leaves plaster the trail. We hiked about a half an hour before turning around.

Of course, if you’re doing the Boulder Garden loop continue on the loop (that part of the loop is actually a stretch of the Old Si trail).

We went part way up the Old Si trail but no one in my party felt like going to the top so we turned around and headed back to the Boulder Garden Loop. Rather than complete the loop and return to the car we headed for Little Si.

My companions did not know about the cliffs that are familiar to climbers and scramblers. However, that area is now posted with warning signs to stay on designated trails so if you venture into or onto the boulders/cliffs you have been warned – quite possibly you could get a fine for leaving the trail system. We admired the boulders from a discreet distance as I recalled past scrambles before such signs were posted.

After a look at the off-limits cliffs we retraced our route back to the car via the Little Si trail.

A few days prior I hiked the Talus Loop at Mount Si. The signs were missing for this loop but it’s easy enough to spot. Hopefully the hike is still “legit” because it’s a sweet little hike. I like the trail because it gives me a moderate workout without running into the crowds. Again, I enjoyed the last of the fall color (especially vine maple) and displays of mushrooms all along the seldom-hiked trail. There’s a nifty viewpoint along the trail from a boulder field, the boulder field bordered by vine maples and evergreens.

Kendall Lake Road snowshoe, November 18, 2009

Kendall Lake Road (snowshoe outing), November 18, 2009

Silverback and I caught a break between a seemingly endless series of storms so hurried off to Snoqualmie Pass to beat the next incoming storm. We lucked out – it was still mostly sunny at Snoqualmie Pass and temperatures were comfortable. The ski areas have opened up and late fall is transitioning to winter.

Silverback bought our Sno Park permit and proudly displayed it on the windshield; it had been several years since he had skied or snowshoed. He is still adapting to the Pacific Northwest after living several years in Denver but the Pacific Northwest has been good to him. Since he’s taken up hiking again he’s lost about 70 pounds and a chronic asthma condition has also improved. Nope, he’s not on a drastic diet – just eating healthier food and consistent exercise. Apparently my passion for the mountains is contagious; he gets as restless as I do when we can’t get outdoors.

It had been about 25 years since Silverback had snowshoed; snowshoes have changed a lot since then. I have the popular Atlas snowshoes but Silverback was fine using my old Sherpa snowshoes.

We were a little confused as to where to park at Gold Creek – we knew not to park in the I-90 interchange, of course, but weren’t quite sure where the Gold Creek Sno park began. To be safe from getting towed or getting a ticket (or getting yelled at) we asked a road grader if it was OK to park just shy of the Interchange; he seemed to think that was fine so we left the car there. Someone else had also parked there displaying a Sno Park permit. Whatever you do, don’t park under I-90, you will get towed or a ticket or both.

Back in the late 1980s through the mid-90s I did a lot of cross-country skiing; Kendall Road was one of my favorite trips. However when the skis wore out along with the boots I never replaced them – I’m considering taking it up again but would need to rent equipment and try it out again – I’d be feeling a little “rusty”.

There was a few inches of snow at Gold Creek; enough that we put on the snowshoes right at the start (we knew we’d get into more snow as we gained elevation). Since Silverback was rustier than me when it came to snowshoeing I broke trail and adapted my “forever” pace as I do when I hike.

We were the first on the untrammeled snow and the snow was lovely, the trees festooned with snow, the shrubs bore snow blossoms (fat chunks of snow) and ice crystals glittered in the sun. The forest has grown up enough over the past few years that there is no doubt where to go to continue on the Kendall Lake road. The road starts out on the level but soon veers uphill; you’ll have your work cut out for you.

Since I was feeling frisky I continued to break trail, stopping ever so often to chat with Silverback or take photos. There was no reason to hurry but once I get a rhythm going it’s hard to stop for a long period of time. I was hoping we’d get to the first “viewpoint” where Rampart Ridge comes into view at the end of a switchback but Silverback wasn’t ready for that. That’s OK – he is wise to follow his own “forever” pace.

I waited for him to catch up on the road; then after setting a turnaround time I continued while he stopped for lunch (he said he’d start down after lunch). Ordinarily I am against any party splitting up on winter hikes but the Kendall Road is close to civilization and the weather was fine. After another long switchback I made it to the view of Rampart Ridge; one of my favorite places to take a break whether on skis or snowshoes.

Consulting my watch I still had a few minutes to spare so continued on to the next viewpoint before turning around. I had set my old-fashioned altimeter at the parking lot but it wasn’t functioning properly so I am not 100 percent sure of how much elevation I gained. Hopefully, the altimeter will continue performing as I am fond of that old altimeter and found it reliable. It’s so old it might even be an antique!

I started down and soon met a young woman on skis who had taken the day off to take advantage of the good weather and a little further down the road, another solo skier with his dog. About half way down the road I caught up to Silverback and we snowshoed together back to the car.

The bad weather continued to hold off so we continued our outing by walking the Gold Creek Road to where the road is crossed on a bridge. I can’t count the number of times I’ve driven down that road (or paralleled it on I-90), straining my neck for the brief but gorgeous view of the Gold Creek valley and the peaks at the head of the valley.

Most of the snow that had fallen on the road had melted so it was a simple walk to the bridge. En route we stopped for photographs, drinking in at long last, those views we hungered for.

According to the new-fangled GPS that Silverback carried he’d gained about 750 feet on Kendall Road, estimating I gained about 1,300 feet. Including the road walk his hike ended up being about 5 miles, mine roughly 7 miles.

The rain held off until Seattle – the timing couldn’t have been better.

In addition to snowshoeing, we’ve recently checked out some of the trails near North Bend including Little Si, the Old Si trail, the Boulder Garden Loop and the Talus Loop on Mount Si. I will not describe those hikes in detail here. Anyone who has read this far is probably already familiar with those trails - perhaps even TOO familiar this time of year but watch for updates.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Eagle Peak Saddle, November 4, 2009

Eagle Peak Saddle - November 4, 2009

We felt like we’d got away with something. Pulling off a last-minute high elevation hike without significant snow or foul weather. Last weeks hike to Rampart Ridge was snowy and icy. Today’s hike to Eagle Peak Saddle was like a return to early fall.

To get to the Eagle Peak trailhead park at Longmire, then walk through the parks administration buildings and cross the Nisqually River on a solid bridge. The trailhead can be found just past the bridge on the left-hand side. There’s also a great view of Mount Rainier from the bridge.

The hike starts off in forest with salal, deer ferns and old growth trees; the trail is in good condition though there is one fallen tree to maneuver over or around. At the end of the switchbacks spur trails lead to an un-named tributary that flows into the river. We checked some of these out but the creek is hard to photograph, at least with our digital cameras.

The trail seldom stops climbing until it gets to Eagle Peak Saddle. We set our pace accordingly, what I call my “forever” pace. As we gained elevation the forest became more expansive and it brought back memories of previous visits, including a snowshoe trip on a cold, foggy day a few years ago. I also remembered a summer visit when the meadows below the saddle were a riot of wildflower displays. Mostly, I’ve hiked here alone – it is a good trail for solitude.

The climb is relentless and offers few level stretches to hikers but it’s a small price to pay for the rewards ahead. The forested, secluded trail does not attract many hikers – there are easier trails to get to for views but this trail can be hiked or snowshoed year-round. It’s a good place to go in winter when the road is gated at Longmire and safe as a snowshoe trip, at least for the first 3-1/2 miles.

After crossing the nameless stream on a footbridge the trail levels out for a bit before it resumes its climb. The trees thin out and a rocky peak comes into view above tawny meadows with dabs of fall color here and there. The trail contours below a talus slope then heads uphill again into another forested stretch.

There we ran into a little bit of snow but the snow was soft and didn’t obscure the trail. As the trail emerged from the last stand of trees short, steep switchbacks made quick work of the climb to Eagle Peak Saddle. Here a sign warns hikers they have gone far enough. I almost forgot to mention the views en route to the saddle – once we left the trees we enjoyed views of Mount Adams and Mount Saint Helens, too far away to photograph.

The last stretch of the trail was snow-free; we were glad to get to the saddle without having to negotiate steep snow.

In winter the first 3-1/2 miles of the trail offer a safe snowshoe trip. With snow the summer route becomes hazardous; only experienced hikers with avalanche awareness and winter-travel skills should venture beyond the last forested stretch. Even those experienced in the arts of winter-travel take a different route to get to the saddle, avoiding the open, exposed slopes where danger of avalanche is moderate to high.

As you approach the saddle on the last of the switchbacks Eagle Peak is to the left. There a climber’s path leads to the summit; I tried it once but turned around short of the summit. I was alone and getting to the summit was beyond my comfort level. Besides the view of Mount Rainier and the Tatoosh peaks from the saddle are eye-candy enough for anyone. Bring the map to identify other peaks in the region.

On our way down from the saddle we stopped for another break at the end of the switchbacks for one last view of Mount Adams, Mount Saint Helens and the dark surrounding foothills. As we approached Longmire we spotted a raccoon near the administration buildings, our only “wildlife” sighting of the day.

I bet it’s snowing like Hell up there today.

Rampart Ridge Trail, October 27, 2009

Rampart Ridge Loop (Mount Rainier National Park) October 28, 2009

These hikes at Mount Rainier National Park were only a week apart but as different as night from day. Rampart Ridge felt like a winter hike, Eagle Peak Saddle (to follow) a fall hike.

Hikers who hike year round sometimes refer to late fall/early winter hikes as “snowline probers”. Would we need snowshoes on Rampart Ridge or not? Where was the snowline? The snowline in November rises and falls on a daily basis; no two days in November are alike. Sometimes the only way to find out is to head for the trailhead. We gambled we wouldn’t need snowshoes for Rampart Ridge at Mount Rainier and left them behind.

As it turned out snowshoes were not needed but Yak Trax sure would have come in handy. Fresh snow had fallen but we were not expecting ice.

To find the trail park at Longmire and cross the Nisqually Paradise road to “Trail of the Shadows”, a popular nature trail where this hike begins. We hiked clockwise hoping the gray skies would clear – it’s about a 2-mile climb to the ridge-crest and you’re better off hiking toward Mount Rainier rather than away from it. Turn left and start out on the nature trail. In a few paces you’ll come to a bridge; there was no snow on the bridge but the trail was plastered with fallen leaves, the wooden bridge icy and slick.

The Rampart Ridge trail is well signed and starts on the uphill side of the nature trail. The trail begins to climb immediately at a moderate grade through forest and is in good shape except for icy patches here and there. The iciest patches are along the lower elevations of the trail. Long, lazy switchbacks through the forest lead to an opening in the trees where there is a good view of the Nisqually River.

Signs of fall are just about gone; the oak ferns and bracken are pale, the vanilla leaf thin and mottled, mushrooms have emerged, some of them dusted with snow, others shattered and lying in pieces beside the trail. The huckleberry bushes that hung heavy with fruit not so long ago have lost most of their leaves.

As we climbed fresh snow replaced the ice and at about 4,044 feet we reached a junction where a spur descends to an overlook of Longmire, foothills and the Nisqually River.
After enjoying the view we continued on the main trail to a high point (4,093 feet). The trail is level for a half-mile or so through the forest; here, the snow was 2-3 inches deep.

This is a pretty trail and we delighted in the ice-sheathed branches of shrubs and snow-dusted evergreens, the subdued tones of shrubs and fallen leaves. When we stopped for a break we were immediately surrounded by gray jays (camp-robbers); it is just about impossible not to be delighted with these birds, they are plucky and seem optimistic as they dart about in their endless quest for food. In logging camps they hung around mess-halls, hence camp-robbers. They eat insects, seeds and berries; they are also meat-eaters (better keep an eye on your lunch!).

As the trail levels off there is a good view of Mount Rainier on a clear day but we were denied the view. Given the overcast it was hard to tell the snowy mountain from the white sky. The trail reaches a junction for the Wonderland Trail at 3,912 feet; here we turned right to continue the loop. You’d turn left if you were bound for Indian Henrys Hunting Ground (5 miles further). We turned right again at the next junction where another trail continues to Van Trump Park and Mildred Point.

The Wonderland trail descended toward Longmire; as we descended the snow disappeared and we were on bare dirt for the rest of the hike. We noticed and stopped to admire several grand old-growth conifers on the way. We did slip and slide on a stretch of icy puncheon before coming out on the Nisqually-Paradise road. The trail crosses the road, enters the forest and in less than ¼ of a mile comes out again at Longmire.

We’d had enough of hiking in the cold but weren’t ready to leave Mount Rainier so extended our visit by driving to Christine Falls an attraction we’d driven by many times without stopping (you can see the waterfall from the road). However, to get the best view of the waterfall park on the far side of the stone bridge where a short path descends to a better view of the waterfall, framed by the graceful bridge.

Stats: 4.6 miles round trip, about 1,800 feet of elevation gain.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Halloween Hike, October 31, 2009

Robe Canyon and Big Four Ice Caves (October 31, 2009)

Sometimes the Monte Cristo Area is at its best when it’s at its worst.

Several of us got together for a Halloween hike in the Monte Cristo area. The setting, of course, was Robe Canyon with its spooky tunnels. With fantasies of getting to the tunnel, lighting candles, eating candy and being generally silly even the downpour could not dampen our spirits.

Besides, the weather report indicated only a 20-30 percent chance of rain. That didn’t sound so bad. As we drove toward the trailhead the rain intensified but we were prepared with rain-gear, good boots and some of us carried umbrellas as well. How hard can it be to hike 3 miles in the rain?

Well, we didn’t get very far - shortly past the point where the trail comes out near the Stillaguamish River we were stopped by a raging ….uh, tributary. Since parts of the trail to that point were literally under water and our feet were still remarkably dry, we thought it best to turn around and enjoy Halloween elsewhere.

My main concern with rain is keeping the camera dry and being able to see through my glasses so I carried and used an umbrella the entire way. My pack got soaked and so did my legs but both pack and legs dried out quickly at home. Despite the deluge we were jazzed by the colors the rain brought out on the trail, the brilliant green of licorice ferns growing on gold-green Big-leaf maples, the gray green of the Stillaguamish River flowing beside the old railroad grade.

Back at the car spirits were still high so Plan B went into effect; we’d celebrate Halloween at the Big Four Picnic Shelter. Diving into the cars, still in our boots, off we went up the Mountain Loop Highway to Big Four. En route we were mesmerized by the “new” waterfalls pouring off the foothills near Lake 22 and elsewhere along the route. Sheets of water, like panes of glass, slid across the highway. It was both ominous and gorgeous.

The Picnic Area was virtually deserted; another party was just leaving so we had the place to ourselves. We gathered under the picnic shelter and ate our lunch, passed out candy and donned our masks. Steve by far had the best costume; he emerged from the restroom in the form of a werewolf. My devil’s horns paled in comparison.

After finishing lunch we hiked out to see the new bridge over the Stillaguamish; we were already wet so we might as well keep hiking. After leaving the picnic area the trail crosses a marshy area on a boardwalk; here the water was almost as high as the boardwalk. It is the kind of rain I have been known to describe as “fat” rain. Big, big drops.

When we got to the bridge we thought we might as well continue to the Ice Caves; why not? Those of us with cameras hunkered down with umbrellas and took photos of mushrooms, the colorful leaves of Canadian dogwood and other vegetation. As the trail rounded a hillside of devastation from floods/blow-outs from recent years ago we came to another “tributary” that was flowing fast and deep enough to call for caution (though by then we were so wet it wouldn’t have mattered if we’d stepped into the water).

After leaving the mangled forest we came to another series of boardwalk and bridges; here it had rained so hard that the boardwalk was covered with water in places. One bridge is broken in the middle with a wicked slant; you can bypass it by walking beside it.

We were surprised by the fall color that still surrounded the ice caves and the waterfalls spilling down the cliffs of Big Four; the bad weather seemed to only enhance the rugged beauty.

Though the elements were downright unfriendly we felt it was a privilege to spend time there – however, we gratefully stopped in at Ike’s at Granite Falls for hot drinks and food before driving home.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Two "little" hikes

Mount Pilchuck (October 24, 2009)

Mount Pilchuck!! It’d been a while since my last visit so when friends suggested going there, I happily joined them.

As we drove the Mountain Loop highway we saw snow on the peaks above; we couldn’t wait to hit the trailhead. There’s something about that “first” snow that is special.

There were only a couple of other cars at the trailhead much to our surprise. We set out on a trail-turned-stream, not too surprising given fresh snow and rising temperatures. We encountered a creek crossing that was a little dicey but managed to get across without getting our feet wet.

Though much work has been done on the trail to improve the tread it had rained hard enough that the trail was a stream in places and roots were slick.

We didn’t get to Pilchuck proper; one of my pals wasn’t feeling well so they turned around to head back to the car hiking slowly. I hiked for another 30 minutes then turned around, planning to get back to the trailhead about the same time they would.

With one eye on my watch and the other on the trail I was compelled to stop to marvel anew at the snow-dusted scenery. The boulders and trees were bedecked with fresh snow and the summit ridge was backlit by the sun; it was lovely.

By the time I turned around the crowds were coming up the trail; hikers (many of them with dogs) and it was getting too crowded for my comfort so I raced down the trail to join my friends and head back home.

Talus Loop (Mount Si Recreation Area) October 25, 2009

After Saturday’s short hike I opted to hike on Sunday. Weather was “iffy” so I headed for Mount Si to hike the Talus Loop. Wanting to avoid weekend crowds the Talus Loop was perfect. Never have I run into another hiker on that trail.

As it often the case I didn’t run into anyone on the Talus Loop and the trail has a “wilder” feel than the regular trail. As I approached the talus field for which the trail is named I stopped for the view, noticing that vine maple was still aflame at the edge of the boulder field.

Back in the forest I dawdled, taking photographs of mushrooms and the last of the fall color.

All too soon I was back on the main trail but I won’t grumble; Mount Si is a place for hikers of all ages, shapes and abilities. When I hike the main trail I usually run into someone I know; that’s always fun too.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Umtanum Creek, October 22, 2009

Umtanum Creek, October 22, 2009

We were so intrigued with the Umtanum Falls Creek trail last week we went back to Ellensburg, this time to hike the Umtanum Creek trail from Highway 821 (Yakima Canyon Road). The weather was perfect for hiking, a golden October day with mostly blue skies and comfortable temperatures.

The hike starts off by crossing the Yakima River on a suspension bridge – though the bridge sways and creaks, it is perfectly safe. Then you can go over or under the railroad tracks to a network of trails that are not signed.

If you are unfamiliar with the area the trails (left) lead to various points on Umtanum Ridge; the Umtanum Creek trail goes (moreorless) straight. These are not your typical hiking trails – these are trails designed to roam and wander. As far as we are concerned “somewhere” is destination enough.

The Umtanum Creek trail heads into the canyon, following the creek, at times veering away. The first mile or so can be a little confusing; the trail changes each season depending on what the beavers are up to and social trails run hither and yon. Aim yourself toward the canyon and follow the “best” trail.

It used to be that you could find the remains of an old homestead at about a mile; but now there is little left but posts and a few apple trees gone wild. Imagination comes into play in such a setting; where would you put a homestead if such a thing were possible? How sweet it would be to live in a cabin and fall asleep to the chorus of frogs and wake to meadowlarks. Idyllic as this sounds, it would take a lot of hard work to set up a homestead and keep it going. In such an isolated spot you’d learn to read the weather and the land, you’d learn how to fix things when they broke down. Though these lowlands are lovely now in their golden October attire, in the spring it is tick-laden and you need to be on the alert for rattlesnakes.

We stopped at the remains of another orchard; an ideal spot for lunch. Here was a stumpy, lichen-encrusted apple tree laden with fruit; some apples had fallen to the ground, some we picked and ate on the spot.

Hunters we met said we might spot sheep on the canyon walls but I never seem to have much luck when it comes to spotting wildlife. Therefore when Jim spotted sheep I was delighted to actually see them; two of them sitting on a rocky shelf a hundred feet or so above us. As for wildlife photography, I will never put Art Wolfe out of business but I did get some decent images; so did Maxine and Silverback.

The bighorn sheep seemed aware of our presence but were not alarmed at our being there. We waited and watched; soon four rams headed purposefully toward the single ram and the doe. Not knowing much about the life cycle of bighorn sheep, we wondered if it was rutting season yet and would there be a fight for the doe?

Then, somewhat humorously, the rams joined forces and bounded off together, away from the doe. They reminded me of a bunch of gossiping teenage boys that weren’t that comfortable around girls. No girls allowed!!

We resumed hiking through mostly open terrain but the canyon began to gradually close in; at times the trail narrowed through brushy thickets and along the edge of beaver dams. At one point the trail contoured a talus slope; here, someone had built an elaborate walkway of steppingstones, seemingly in the middle of nowhere. Who?

A few hardy Ponderosa pines graced the rocky slopes, alluring trails led to draws and rocky outcroppings that called out for further exploration. Always bound by the tyranny of Time we knew the hours were moving faster than our feet; we’d dawdled too long in the autumn glory of the canyon.

When we reached a thicket of tough, interlocking vegetation we knew it was time to turn around. Jim estimated we were still a couple miles from Durr Road so that would have to wait for another day.

On our way out an amazing thing happened: we had only seen a few people on the trail, the hunting party, a woman and her dog and a young local who had hiked all the way around the rim. So I was amazed when the brush parted and a familiar red jacket appeared; it was a local Mountaineer I have known for 30 years. It’s surprising how often this kind of encounter occurs when one hikes on a regular basis.

Back where the trail goes under/over the railroad tracks we met the young hunter again. He’d left his truck a few miles from the trailhead on Canyon Road so we gave him a ride back to his truck.

Stats: About 6 miles round trip, no significant elevation gain.

Hardy souls with rugged rigs can leave a car at Durr Road where the road crosses Umtanum Creek but since we have not done so, I cannot attest to what kind of rig you’d need to tackle the purportedly rough road. You’d need two cars for a one-way hike with a car shuttle.

As for hiking out to the Umtanum Creek Falls. trailhead on Umtanum Road, that would add up to about a 10-11 mile hike one-way. Perhaps a long summer day with a car shuttle; perhaps someday.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Squak Mountain, October 18, 2009

Squeaking By on Squak Mountain

I always wondered about the Old Griz trail, having heard it was an undefined trail, perhaps a challenge to follow. This week I found out more than I needed to know about the Old Griz trail. Squak might be tame as mountains go but Squak has a bag of tricks for unwary hikers or those who don’t hike there on a regular basis. It’s not a dangerous mountain; it can be annoying.

Just about the time you think you’ve got the trail system figured out (or at least your favorite trails) and figure you can hike your favorite loop without the map, Squak Mountain might trick you. No excuses here; guilty as charged. I didn’t take the map; I’d heard there was a new map available - so no worries there. It was a perfect golden day in October so I’d hike my favorite loop (East Ridge Trail, East Side Trail), no problem.

My goal was not only exercise but also photography; namely fall color shots and hopefully, mushrooms. I approached the East Ridge trail from Issaquah; that way I could enjoy the views of Issaquah Creek before hitting the trail proper. Issaquah, by the way, is aflame with fall color now as is Issaquah Creek.

The fall color continues along the East Ridge trail; there’s a grove of vine maple mid-way that is stunning right now. Also, at lower elevations the trail is lined with maidenhair ferns; I have never seen so much maidenhair in one place. There are a couple of small blow downs on the East Ridge trail before the junction with the East Side trail; but not too hard to get over or around.

The East Side trail was familiar; I especially like the stretch where the trail crosses a small creek and weaves between house-sized boulders. I met very hikers on any of the trails; a couple of runners and a young couple with a dog. Most savvy hikers were probably taking advantage of higher country before it shuts down for the winter.

As is so often the case, I dither as I hike and change plans as I go. Planning to hike toward SR 900 I stopped at a spanking new sign for the Old Griz trail. That intrigued me so I changed my plan and decided to follow the Old Griz trail instead of continuing on the East Side trail.

The Old Griz trail is in excellent condition; perhaps it always has been. Either that or someone has been doing a lot of work on the trail because it is easy to follow and junctions are signed. There are also a couple of original signs for the Old Griz trail nailed to trees that have grown high enough over the years that you’d have to be a giant to reach them now.

Since the Old Griz trail was climbing when I came to a signed junction for Central Peak I went that way. I could use the extra elevation gain so I continued on the Old Griz trail, following the signs to Central Peak.

Central Peak is one of my least favorite summits; it doesn’t feel like a summit at all. It’s the site of a microwave tower but that is not the only thing from detracting from summit ambience; it’s the lack of a view. Even minor summits provide a view as a rule (there are exceptions in the Issaquah Alps) so I didn’t linger.

I started down the mountain on Phil’s Creek trail; but somehow became confused by new signage and at one point thought I was descending toward May Creek valley. I continued on the Old Griz trail, relieved to find the junction to the East Side trail. I had been entertaining visions of ending up in May Creek valley and having to climb the mountain again to get back to the trailhead.

No GPS either; by the way. After all, who would need one on a tame mountain like Squak Mountain (well, don’t answer that question). I retraced my route on the East Side trail back to the East Ridge trail, still puzzled by not being able to find what I remembered as Thrush Gap. Oh well.

Soon I was striding beside Issaquah Creek again and I got another surprise; this one special. Right beside the trail was a huge pileated woodpecker, working away at a snag. I stood perfectly still so as not to startle him in hopes of taking a photograph but no dice, he sensed my presence and flew away.

I still can’t locate my old Cougar Mountain-Squak Mountain map but I know I gained about 2,000 feet of elevation and probably hiked about 7 miles round trip.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Umtanum Creek Falls, October 14, 2009

Umtanum Creek Falls, October 14, 2009 (L. T. Murray State Wildlife Recreation Area)

The last time I was at Umtanum Falls the cliffs above the waterfall were coated with ice and lethal; venturing beyond was then out of the question. Yesterday venturing out into the rain was almost out of the question too; where to hike without getting soaked? The weather forecast thundered that rain would most likely be statewide, even on the east side of the Cascades.

Umtanum Falls came to mind. Even if it were raining in Ellensburg, we figured we could put up with it for a three-mile hike. Indeed it did seem to be raining statewide; usually by the time we get to Easton rain is light if there is any but it was raining hard. It didn’t begin to slack off until we hit Cle Elum. Here we made a decision to drive to Ellensburg via Old Highway 10 rather than I-90. We stopped for photos a few times above the Yakima River en route to Ellensburg, then turned off onto Umtanum Road, driving approximately 10 miles to the trailhead. It had stopped raining by then but anvil-shaped clouds were stacking up in the sky; not a good sign.

Not too surprisingly we had the place to ourselves and set off on the trail hoping to spot some wildlife before we finished our hike. Other than a couple of Douglas squirrels and either a muskrat or a beaver dashing into the brush near the creek, we didn’t see wildlife but did see some fall color. The sweet smell of alders and cottonwoods accompanied us as we hiked, the trail was muddy in places near the creek and we could tell from wet vegetation we had just missed getting rained on.

In about a mile we came to the overlook of the waterfall; much smaller than it was in May but still a dramatic sight as the creek plummets into a punch bowl shaped by vast, geological processes. You’d never know that this dramatic place is so close to the road, sandwiched in between gentle, rolling hills dotted with Douglas firs; the drive to the trailhead gives no hint of this grandeur.

Striving for a closer look we crossed the creek to pick up the trail that continues down into the bowl and eventually comes out at the other end of Umtanum Ridge on the Umtanum Creek Canyon Trail. Years ago we’d hiked the Umtanum Creek Trail but lost it in dense vegetation before we got very far; hikers that hike the entire trail are likely few and far between.

Again, we must caution that the trail from the overlook to the punchbowl is exposed and narrow in places and drops very steeply into the bowl on a talus field. Down in the punchbowl below the waterfall we felt like we were in the Columbia Gorge with many waterfalls and dizzying cliffs. Here someone had formed a large cross of stones; there must be a story behind that.

The colors in the punchbowl were so intense they looked artificial; the walls were slathered with blue-green and orange lichen, bright green grass grew in profusion near the pool, shrubs in shades of yellow and orange were strung like hanging lights across the dark cliffs, shedding leaves as brilliant as coins.

There is a campsite of sorts near the pool; sadly, a few beer cans littered the area (Silverback carried them out). We continued on the trail as it contoured below rock outcroppings, cliffs and lowland forest of firs and Ponderosa pines; we didn’t get much further. The trail soon became much more difficult to follow; brush not only borders the trail but has become part of the trail. Good tread alternated with tread that was almost non-existent. The shrubs that lines the trail were soaking wet; we became soaking wet too as we shouldered our way through the wet jungle.

Despite this unpleasantness we were compelled to keep at it; we could see open terrain ahead and rocky outcroppings that begged for a visit. Just when we thought we might get to the base of a colorful outcropping we came to a brush-choked draw where we lost any semblance of trail. Given more time we would have persevered but we were a long way from home and days have grown shorter.

Reluctantly we turned around and retraced our route back to the punchbowl and the overlook. Denied the outcropping we desired we crossed the creek above the waterfall and climbed the outcropping I’d climbed earlier in the year with my friend Jim. Getting to the top of this outcropping is on a user-made trail that wastes no time getting to the base of the outcropping. From there it’s a walk-up to the high point (2,543 feet) and views of the surrounding hills.

Back on the trail Silverback spotted what he believes were cougar tracks; fresh scat further along the trail seemed to confirm that we might not have been as alone as we thought.

Stats: About 3-1/4 miles round trip with roughly 6,00 feet of gain (according to the GPS).

Notes: If you’ve got one display your Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife Vehicle Permit; though there is no sign requesting the permit according to guidebooks this pass is required.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Denny Creek, Franklin Falls

October 10, 2009

Denny Creek and Franklin Falls, October 10, 2009

This was a Mountaineer hike led by my friend Steve with me operating as co-leader. What this really means is that I “sweep” and that gives me a chance to focus on photography as well as my duties as co-leader.

Just about every hiker in the Pacific Northwest has been to the Denny Creek “bathing rocks” and/or Melakwa Lake. It has been – and remains – one of the most popular trails off the I-90 corridor.

Last winter floods took out the bridge that spans Denny Creek; this time of year it’s not a problem but when the rains begin (or snowmelt in the spring) that will be a different story. I don’t know what the Forest Service plans to do regarding the missing bridge but when I know more about that, I’ll clue you too.

Most of the hikers we met on the trail were continuing on from Denny Creek to Melakwa Lake. Our hike would be easier and with much less elevation gain. When we got to Denny Creek there wasn’t much water in the creek; it’s just an easy rock hop across a narrow channel as of this writing. Looking upstream we were amazed to see how small the waterfalls were; I’m used to seeing those waterfalls roaring, not trickling. In fact you can even walk up beside the waterfalls for a closer view. The “bathing rocks” are dry slabs, you couldn’t slide on these slabs no matter how hard you tried.

After taking a look at Denny Creek we backtracked to the Franklin Falls trailhead where we’d left the cars for Part II of this easy ramble. Last year at this time Steve and I led the same hike and there were tons of mushrooms (that hike turned into more of a photography trip than a hike) but this year there were fewer. The trail is in good condition – no problems as of this writing.

The last stretch of the trail to the waterfall can be dicey; the rocks are slippery and tilt to the downward side. Today the down-sloping rocks were drier than I had ever seen them; there has been so little rain to date. We got down to the base of the waterfall without difficulty save one hiker who elected to stay back and enjoy the view from a different perspective.

The waterfall is in a strange setting – above are the supports of I-90 though you can’t see the waterfall when you are ON I-90. Between I-90 and the waterfall is one of the most splendid fall color displays I’ve seen so far this year. This was our lunch spot; who could ask for a better view? A waterfall surrounded by fall color (you just have to ignore I-90 or perhaps pretend it’s an ancient structure left by aliens).

We made a loop back to the Franklin Falls trailhead via the Wagon Road; that’s a much less traveled trail. The trail crosses the forest service road 2-3 times before it returns to the trailhead where our hike to Franklin Falls began.

Since the hike was short we extended the day by a stop at IHOP in Issaquah for various treats and hot drinks.

Stats: Both hikes are short – perhaps 1-1/2 miles for Denny Creek round trip and 2 miles (max) for Franklin Falls. I didn’t take the GPS or my altimeter.

Kendall Katwalk, NOT

Kendall Katwalk, October 12, 2009

Kendall Katwalk, October 12, 2009

Kendall Katwalk NOT – I’m not sure what happened to autumn but there were few traces of fall-like conditions on the trail today. Knowing that winter is not far off, though, I was prepared to hike in less-than-ideal conditions – one more trek into the high country before it is covered with snow. The weather report was more optimistic than reality – before I got to Snoqualmie Pass the skies were leaden and the sun looked like a hole poked through a gray blanket. I also noticed driving to the pass that the winds were kicking up so wondered if the inclement weather was coming in “early”.

There were 6-7 cars at the PCT trailhead; more than I expected on such an ominous day. I toyed with the idea of going up from Commonwealth Basin but decided to save that for the end of the hike; it makes a nice finish. I hoped for some fall color photography but the fall colors were almost non-existent; the vine maple leaves were dun and brittle, the leaves of alders were yellow but withered. I carried on, hoping there might be one more color show from the Katwalk.

Hoar frost poked up through the dirt near damp areas; exquisite forms shaped like rude diamonds but difficult to photograph. The first stretch of the trail is a good beginning to what’s ahead; a warm-up to loosen the muscles before steeper terrain. I also looked for mushrooms but didn’t see as many as I expected.

Just past the first major talus slope with a view of a moody Guye through a ragged screen of alders, I reached the turn-off for Commonwealth Basin and Red Pass. I continued on the PCT still hoping to get to the Katwalk before bad weather rolled in.

The stream crossing was a non-event; there was very little flow. A bit past the stream crossing the trail opens up as it climbs through a short, steep pitch through geriatric fireweed and some maple sporting shades of orange and red. That’s not all I saw; it was cold and the snow was falling horizontally driven by a strong, bitter wind. I almost turned around but I couldn’t resist the call to go higher.

Back in the woods there was shelter from the wind but it was cold. The snow was just starting to stick on the trail like a fine sprinkling of sugar but the forest was deep and peaceful. Then I began to run into hikers who had turned around short of the Katwalk due to the hostile conditions. One hiker had made it to the Katwalk but it was so cold his digital camera died. He said there were still a few parties going on up but I met most them coming down soon after running into him. One guy said, “This feels like the last hike of the season, snow’s coming!”

I at least wanted to get to the big talus slope near the base of Kendall Peak; and I did but did I linger? No. It was so windy and cold that I turned around. It was snowing hard enough that little could be seen and the wind was relentless.

Back at the junction with Commonwealth I decided to hike back to the trailhead via the old trail, rather than the senseless switchbacks on the PCT. The Old Commonwealth Basin Trail is shorter and in such conditions makes sense; besides, it’s pretty in there, even in ugly weather. The stream crossings were a non-event; I didn’t even need to rock crop (that could change any day given the impending forecast).

It was still snowing when I got back to the trailhead; I couldn’t get into the car fast enough to wrap my cold paws around a hot thermos of tea.

Stats: From trailhead to the talus field – 2,200 feet elevation gain; I didn’t keep track of the mileage.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Koppen Mountain, October 7, 2009

Koppen Mountain (October 7, 2009)

The Boulder DeRoux trail to Koppen Mountain is a tricky trail; maybe that’s why its lonesome. The first time we hiked the trail was in 1982 and it was about this time of year. There were no other hikers on the trail then, nor were there other hikers on this golden, October day in the Teanaway.

The Boulder DeRoux trailhead is about 9 miles past 29 Pines Campground on Forest Road 9737 (North Fork Teanaway Road). A short spur off No Road 9737 (left) leads to a generous parking area and one of the cleanest outdoor toilets we’ve ever seen.

The trail crosses the Teanaway River almost immediately on a solid footbridge; remnants of an older bridge that was washed out by floods still clings to nearby boulders.

The hike gets off to a gentle start on this trail that is popular with horseback riders; the trail parallels DeRoux Creek though the creek is not always within sight. In spring the trail is lined with sweet vanilla leaf; in October the vegetation is mottled and shrubs are turning from green to orange and red.

In about 1.5 miles we reached a well-signed trail junction; here hikers stay right if Gallagher Head Lake is their destination. Ours was Koppen Mountain (left) – here, we crossed the creek on a bridge and the trail began to climb.

The now-steep trail switchbacks through forest interspersed with open areas where greenish deposits of serpentine compelled us to stop and marvel. As the trail climbs, views improve. We reached a pass at about 5,017 feet; here there are options. For Koppen Mountain an unsigned steep trail leads off (left) through semi-open forest toward the peak. The saddle is also a convenient place to take a break and so we did, commandeering an empty hunters’ camp near the trail junction.

Though it is not signed another trail drops down the other side of the ridge from the saddle; this spur that leads to the Middle Fork Teanaway Trail and other temptations, savvy hikers with route-finding skills may be able to loop back to the Boulder-DeRoux trailhead via seldom-hiked trails (study the map or the out-of-print “Teanaway Country” by Mary Sutliff for additional information, bear in mind some trail numbers have changed since her book was written).

After our break we tackled the steep trail toward Koppen Mountain, soon breaking out into the open. We enjoyed expanding views of Mount Stuart, other Teanaway peaks and Mount Rainier (on a clear day from higher elevations). There are several false summits along the scrabble trail that once served as a sheep driveway (we found old metal signs on trees). Silverback and Maxine elected to take advantage of a lower viewpoint and finish their lunch; Jim and I were summit-bound.

The last stretch of the trail is not user-friendly; the tread is scant in places and in the final push to the summit the path is eroded and exposed as it snakes its way to the summit of Koppen. You will probably want a hiking staff or trekking poles unless, of course, you go early in spring when snow covers higher elevations in the Teanaway (then, bring an ice axe and know how to use it).

We were surprised to find a summit register; we signed it. Murphy, Jim’s black poodle, did not sign the register though it was his first “official” summit. Though this is a lonesome path, the summit register shows there have been a number of visitors in recent years. Incidentally, you can also get to Koppen Mountain via the Johnson-Medra Trail as well as from the Jungle Creek trail; these trails can be difficult to follow, plus the 3-mile Jungle Creek Road is closed (you can also link up to the Jungle Creek trail from the Johnson-Medra trail and make a loop). The Johnson-Medra trailhead is also on the North Fork Teanaway Road just past the Beverly Creek campground.

We didn’t linger; it was sunny but the breeze was cold. A few sluggish bees hovered around the summit but there were few signs of life, the flowers had gone to seed. From our high point we could see some of the Enchantment Peaks and more Teanaway peaks but it was too chilly to get the map out to identify them all.

Jim and I retraced our route back to Silverback and Maxine. After a brief rest we hiked back to the trailhead, surprised how much shorter the trail seemed than it did going in. That’s why I call this a tricky trail – it’s a little less than 3-1/2 miles to the summit but it sure feels like more.

Stats: 6-3/4 miles round trip with 2,290 feet of elevation gain according to the GPS. Map: Green Trails No. 209 Mount Stuart.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Granite Mountain, October 4, 2009

Granite Mountain, October 4, 2009

Even with an early start this popular trailhead was so full I had to park along the frontage road. Well, I can’t blame anyone for wanting to get high (no pun intended) on what could be one of the last warm autumn days of the year.

Usually I can cope with crowds on popular trails but there were so many hikers on the trail today that I felt annoyed (mostly at myself for being there in the first place). At times it was almost like being in a queue at the bank and the only chance for any kind of solitude was to go off trail in the lower basin.

I made good time (for me) to the marker for the Alpine Lakes Wilderness. Then I began to slow down as the scenery began to open up and the fall color began. I’m not sure how to gauge this years’ fall color in comparison to other years but some of the vegetation at lower elevations seemed more dead than colorful. The higher I went, the better the color, especially the reds.

The conditions were perfect for hiking this steep, rocky trail – cool, crisp and sunny. No one could complain about the weather. By the time I got to the lower basin with the tarns I was in need of a rest and solitude so I found a nice boulder off trail and hung out there for a while before getting back in line to reach the summit.

There’s a little bit of snow in the upper basin and just before the lookout; if there’s a hard freeze this could complicate the last stretch. Yesterday, the sun was warm enough that it was just snow, not ice. The lookout is closed for the year.

There was a large group of hikers gathered under the lookout, hikers here and there, just about everywhere on the summit rocks and a little below. After sitting for a while and eating lunch I “caught” the “good cheer” all around me. Everyone seemed happy – even those who chose to sit alone on a rock and gaze into the distance.

The walk back down was uneventful though I felt a little sadness at leaving Granite Mountain, perhaps for the last time this season. It’s not an easy place to get to at my age (for some, not at any age) and once I’m there, I find it hard to leave.

Getting to the trailhead: Go east on I-90 from Seattle to Exit 47, turn left over the freeway, left again into the Granite Mountain/Pratt Lake parking lot. Pray for a parking spot.

Stats: 8 miles round trip – 3,800 feet gain (according to “100 Hikes in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness”. I didn’t bring the GPS today.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Kautz Creek, September 30, 2009

Kautz Creek Trail (Indian Henrys almost!) September 30, 2009

We made a last-minute stab at Indian Henry’s Hunting Ground via Kautz Creek and almost made it.

The first ¾ mile or so parallels mineral-daubed Kautz Creek – floods tore out existing bridges and rearranged the topography dramatically over the last few winters. The first section of the trail no longer resembles the trail as we knew it years ago – it still parallels Kautz Creek and has an unfinished feel to it, as if waiting for the next weather-related calamity.

Alders are growing back in, filling in the blanks, playing their role in settling the landscape. The rock-lined trail near the creek is sandy, almost like a beach.

Kautz Creek looks like a madman’s playground; the old footbridge lays asunder, the water here copper-colored from minerals - boulders, sand, rootballs, uprooted trees tangled together – all attest to violent weather. Gaze long enough upon this scene and you’ll understand there is a very fine line between destruction and creation.

Once we crossed the creek the trail reverts to good trail as it starts to climb toward Indian Henrys. I have hiked the Kautz Creek trail in all seasons over the years, including snowshoe treks to Mount Ararat with The Mountaineers. It wasn’t an easy snowshoe or hike 20 years ago; it’s still a challenge.

With recent rains mushrooms are popping up, breaking through the duff, lighting the dark forest with their luminescent colors. Angel wings peek out from under decaying logs, speckled amanitas glow as if lit from within.

As we gained elevation we encountered bear grass long past bloom; snow had settled in the well of each plant, an indication of more snow to come. We crossed a quiet stream on a footbridge; soon after we came to a viewpoint though there was no view today.

The forest gradually opened up to small meadows; fresh snow had fallen and was melting. Hellebore lay yellow and flattened, the boughs of evergreens were weighted down with melting snow, blueberry shrubs glittering with water soaked us as we passed through.

Mount Ararat soon came into view above crimson, high-angled meadows. The scene was resplendent with fall color beneath a pewter sky broken by a silent stampede of wind-driven clouds.

By now our feet were soaked but we kept hiking, stopping only long enough to eat, drink and change into dry socks. A turnaround time was established; we suspected we wouldn’t have time to get to the patrol cabin at Indian Henrys.

The trail continued with ups and downs, none terribly steep; we hiked through wan meadows where flowers had gone to seed and grasses were bent by snow. The clouds lifted from time to time giving us an odd view of Mount Rainier and peaks we could not identify without consulting the map.

Though turnaround time was rapidly approaching we continued to a rocky pass where we hoped for a view of the patrol cabin but our high point only revealed we had further to go; the patrol cabin would have to wait until next year.

Reluctantly we turned around though found it hard to leave the moody, ever-changing landscape of snow, clouds, light and shadow. Only the promise of a hot thermos of tea waiting in the car enabled us to hike a little faster.

Stats: According to our GPS we hiked 11-1/2 miles and gained about 3,138 feet of elevation, including ups and downs.

Snow and Gem Lakes, September 29, 2009

Snow and Gem Lakes, September 27, 2009

Snow Lake is just about the worst trail you can pick for solitude on a golden afternoon in late September. It’s also one of the prettiest so a hiker has two choices: prepare to share the trail with other hikers or go elsewhere. I chose to share the bounty.

Though the sun was shining it was chilly and I hiked at a brisk pace to warm up. I passed hikers on my way and was passed by others – that’s how it goes on popular trails. As I age, my ego has relented and it doesn’t bum me out as much as it used to when I step aside to let others pass. I am simply grateful that I can hike as often as I do without sustaining injury. My bones and joints have been good to me; I cannot complain.

The trail is in good condition and there is a hint of fall color at lower elevations; the best color is yet to come. From Snow Lake I continued on the main trail around the lake as Gem Lake was my destination for the day.

As I climbed toward Gem there was more fall color bordering the trail; unofficial paths through colorful meadows invited one to roam but I stuck to the main trail wanting to spend time at Gem Lake without needing to hurry.

I reached Gem Lake sooner than expected and found a sunny spot for lunch. There were a few other hikers at Gem Lake but not as many as I would have suspected. After lunch I still had the itch to wander so hiked around Gem Lake to the junction with the Wildcat Lakes trail. I was tempted to continue because I knew that the trail to Wildcat Lakes had been worked on since my last visit but days have grown shorter and I hate to hurry.

Instead I explored a path above the lake that led to an official campsite with a view above the lake. Having found this campsite I wondered why anyone would camp anywhere else; perhaps that is why the campsite is not designated but is rather “discovered” by those whose interest is piqued by unwritten paths.

As I hiked back to Snow Lake the sun was in position to backlight the vegetation enhancing the colors even more. As I rounded Snow Lake it had grown windy; whitecaps scudded across the deep, blue water.

The trail from Snow Lake back to the parking lot was crowded but I dare not complain. What right do I have – or anyone – to keep such a splendid place all to myself?

Stats: About 9-3/4 miles with 2,700 feet of elevation gain.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Paradise Glacier trail, Mount Rainier, September 23, 2009

Paradise Glacier Trail (MRNP), September 24, 2009

What a difference a few weeks can make!

A few weeks ago the Skyline Trail was bordered with wildflowers; today the trail was framed with fall color. While the colors are not yet at their peak they are off to a good start at higher elevations; the blueberry shrubs are turning crimson, the meadows range from gold to green and the air is spiced with the fragrance of fall.

At Paradise we took the Skyline Trail to the junction with the Paradise Glacier trail, passing junctions for the Fourth Creek Crossing and the Lakes Trail. Our pace was moderate; this wasn’t a hurry-up get-into-shape hike, but rather a meditative walk and exploration.

As we worked our way up Mazama Ridge I couldn’t help but think back to past overnight snowshoe trips with The Mountaineers and with my late ex-husband and our Boy Scout troop in the 1990s. I then realized it was the first time I’d been on Mazama Ridge without snowshoes! In the early1990s there were still enough of the ice caves left that you could venture inside them; now there are only remnants.

We’d encountered a few hikers on the Skyline Trail but once we were on the Paradise glacier trail we met only five; one, a friendly park ranger and two couples. The park ranger pointed out a small speck above the moraine (mountain goat!) – we would have missed it if not for the young ranger’s sharp eyes. We did not see or hear marmots or pikas.

The Paradise glacier trail is an interesting trek, beginning where meadows and moraines overlap. Early in the morning the view of Mount Rainier was sharp and clear; by afternoon the peak looked diaphanous, as if we were looking at it through sheets of tracing paper. Conditions change quickly – the sky went from clear to hazy in less than an hour.

Amazingly a few flowers were still holding on; a sole monkeyflower, a bit of arnica, even a bit of magenta Indian paintbrush below the moraine. The trail leaves the transitional zone and follows the contours of a moraine; the scene is austere, the beauty stern. When we reached the “end of maintained trail” we continued hiking on the trail following the track of the outflow from the Paradise glacier, the birthplace of the Paradise River.

At first glance the terrain appears devoid of life but there’s quite a bit of life on the moraine; it would take an expert to name the yellow-green cushions of moss and dark mahogany-colored sedges that cling to life here. Suffice it to say the colors are remarkable.

We met a young couple on a high point who pointed the way to a remnant of an ice cave at the edge of the glacier. They’d ventured inside – but only long enough for a photo near the entrance.

En route toward the “ice cave” we met the young ranger who warned of the dangers but said it would be OK to look in. He had crossed the glacier to look for mountain goats but admitted he was nervous about crossing (he could hear rushing water underneath the snow). He told us (but didn’t need to) that we shouldn’t cross on the snow or venture inside.

On our way we ran into the deteriorating remains of a once-bold sign warning of the dangers of entering ice caves. Though the ice caves are just about gone, it still remains as a warning to those unaware of the dangers of cave-ins and/or being swept away under the snow.

We found the remnant of an “ice cave”, I peeked in but the drip-drip-drip of the melting snow made me uneasy and I stayed only long enough for a photo or two. Here, I met a young couple also interested in peering inside (Silverback took a took a break as I explored); they, too, only peeked in long enough for a photo.

After lunch on the moraine we headed back the way we came, amazed anew at the vivid foliage at lower elevations, backlit by a low-slung sun.

It was early enough that we drove back to Seattle via the Stevens Canyon road rather than drive back the way we came. We stopped at Reflection Lakes but the fall color was nil as were the reflections. We also stopped at Sunbeam Creek (one of my favorite “little” photo stops), the bridge over Stevens Creek (site of a huge avalanche/blowout) and Box Canyon. We walked part of the little Box Canyon loop but it was too dark for photos.

By the time we were back on SR 410 heading west the sunset we’d hoped to catch en route had come and gone. Dusk descended so quickly we had to brake for elk standing right on SR 410 near the White River trail. We let them have the road and drove more slowly the rest of the way.

Red Pass, Commonwealth Basin, September 20, 2009

Red Pass via Commonwealth Basin (September 20, 2009)

This was a solo hike to Red Pass via the PCT and Commonwealth Basin. It was another warm September day, ideal for hiking. I got an early start and was pleased the PCT trailhead/parking lot had plenty of room to park. I filled out my Wilderness Permit and set out on the PCT, saving the “old” Commonwealth Basin trail for my return.

Big mistake; the PCT is longer and with additional elevation gain before the turn-off into Commonwealth Basin. It’s also much busier and I needed solitude. From the PCT I dropped down into Commonwealth Basin and picked up the trail toward Red Pass. The Commonwealth Basin trail is not in great shape; it isn’t maintained (except by occasional volunteers) and social trails wind throughout the basin. Of course, the plus side is that there are fewer hikers.

The trail climbs – steeply through the forest and with no breeze the heat was oppressive. It appears the trail has been damaged; it is much rockier than it used to be and many of the rocks are loose.

I broke out of the forest near Red Pond, saving Red Pond for another day. The trail contours below Red Mountain, climbing above Red Pond with growing views. This was a colorful stretch; the mountain ash is changing color and the sky a vivid blue. After contouring below Red Mountain the trail dips into the forest and follows a narrow ridge with views out to Mount Thompson and other peaks (bring the map to ID them).

The official trail “ends” at Red Pass where the old PCT once switchbacked down into the valley of the Middle Fork before the PCT was rerouted. Volunteers have made great progress in re-establishing this old trail (the Cascade Crest Trail); experienced hikers with route-finding abilities can explore beyond Red Pass if so inclined though the terrain looks steep.

Instead I continued on the climbers trail to Lundine Peak; here I met two young women picking huckleberry and blueberries (this is a good spot to pick them). The rough but discernible path leads to airy views of the Snoqualmie Peaks (my eye was continually drawn to Mount Thompson). I was a little too early for fall color; it should be at its best by mid-October.

After a lazy lunch and a peek at Lundine, I retraced my route and was soon back to Commonwealth Basin. I opted to hike the old Commonwealth Basin trail out, rather than the PCT (the “old” Commonwealth Basin trail is a remnant of the Cascade Crest Trail). The trail through the basin had a tough winter too – fortunately the crossings of Commonwealth Creek were manageable but the trail is overgrown in spots and social trails may confuse hikers who haven’t hiked this trail before.

The “old” trail reverts to an alder-lined road that grows narrower year by year. The “road” ends near the beginning of the PCT near the parking lot.

Stats: It’s about 7 miles round trip with 2,600 feet elevation gain via the “old” Commonwealth Basin trail to Red Pass. Add a bit more elevation if you go beyond Red Pass and onto the climbers trail.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Tahoma Creek, Emerald Ridge, September 16, 2009

Tahoma Creek, Emerald Ridge (Wonderland Trail), Mount Rainier National Park
September 16, 2009

We met up with Craig Romano on the West Side Road for this loop on a perfect September day. After parking at the road closure we hiked to the “trailhead” for the Tahoma Creek Trail (about a mile from the gate). The trail starts at a switchback in the road and is marked with a trash barrel (right). As soon as we stepped off the trail we came upon a “trail not maintained” sign but that was not a deterrent - it was more like an invitation to what promised to be an alluring, enigmatic route.

The West Side Road and the Tahoma Creek trail have been so badly damaged by floods in recent years the park had no choice but to “abandon” this trail in principle, at least until funding is available to repair it (if it can be repaired). I’d hiked the trail years ago and it was in bad shape then – the trail is still in bad shape with missing stretches marked with ribbons or cairns. The route ventures out onto ever-changing river bars; hikers with discerning eyes should be able to follow the flagged route, at least until the next series of storms sweep in.

Eventually the trail leaves Tahoma Creek for good and ¼ mile from the Wonderland Trail we ran into a group of SCA volunteers working on the trail. They explained the upper stretch of the trail will link to a higher point on the West Side Road (this will make it easier to access the Wonderland Trail from where the road is gated). As it is now hikers must either hike the West Side Road (or take a mountain bike) or wrestle with the Tahoma Creek Trail.

While the Tahoma Creek trail may be too challenging from some hikers it is fascinating to see the changes nature has wrought - one wonders where the line between creation and destruction can be found.

When we reached the Wonderland Trail we took a short side trip to the Tahoma Creek suspension bridge. Craig walked across, I walked out far enough to get photos. At first glance the bridge looks like something you’d see in “Outside” magazine but the bridge is safe. You can also get to Indian Henry’s Hunting Ground from here - cross Tahoma Creek and continue hiking on the Wonderland Trail.

Instead we followed the Wonderland Trail toward Emerald Ridge and Klapache Park. After a steep stint through forest we were out in the open, contouring above a moraine with views of Saint Andrews Rock and Glacier Island. Craig had gone ahead (Craig is a very fast hiker) and picked a lunch spot; we were glad he finally stopped hiking. As we gasped for breath Craig pointed out Tokaloo Rock above the Puyallup glacier – apparently there is a scramble route.

As we approached Emerald Ridge we enjoyed displays of Western pasqueflower dotting the scrappy meadows below the ridgeline. Once you are on the ridge you can follow a way trail (right) to a viewpoint or continue (left) on the trail along the crest of the ridge. Here the trail is narrow but not intimidating. From the edge look down into the kaleidoscope of colors from moraines and sluggish glaciers; the hues are amazing. Gold-colored rocks vied with purple-hued rubble, all flowing downhill so slowly you cannot see them inching along. At the head of the moraines the Tahoma glacier splits to spill (slowly) over a dark outcropping, the blue-green glacier slashed with crevasses and streaked with grit, looming over the moraine like some monster being born.

Gradually the nature of the terrain changed; subalpine evergreens gradually replacing the boulders perched at the edge of crumbling moraines. Sedges, partridge foot and harebells bordered the still-narrow path, even a flicker of Indian paintbrush now and then. The long, slow gradient of the trail morphed into switchbacks and grew more forested.

We left the Wonderland Trail where the trail crosses the South Puyallup River on a thank-God footbridge, continuing our hike on the South Puyallup River trail. After crossing the river the Wonderland Trail continues to Klapache Park and beyond. For a view of the South Puyallup River the bridge is just a short side trip from the junction.

As we passed South Puyallup Camp we stopped to gaze at andesite columns formed by geologic processes thousands of years ago. These are not a few columns, rather an entire cliff composed of these columns (God’s hardware store, we called it – the tubes of rock reminded us of giant 2x4s). Some of the columns are gracefully curved (Craig likened the formations to spaghetti). The late Harvey Manning referred to them as colonnades in his “50 Hikes, Mount Rainier” guidebook. However your eye interprets these remarkable formations, you will certainly never forget them.

To get back to the West Side Road we climbed to Round Pass (about a 400 foot climb), that additional elevation was nothing to Craig but Silverback and I were happy to get the 400 feet behind us and take a break on the West Side Road near the Marine Memorial before the 3.8-mile hike back to the cars.

We were all dreading the last miles back to the car on the West Side Road but lively conversation made the miles fly, if not our feet.

Our GPS data doesn’t match up – Silverback’s GPS read 12.4 miles whereas Craig’s read closer to 14 miles. Well, it was a lot of miles any way you look at it. The elevation gain (Silverback’s GPS) reads about 3,141 feet of gain.

It was a lot of work but well worth it.