Thursday, July 2, 2009

Granite Mountain, July 1, 1990

Granite Mountain (Alpine Lakes Wilderness), July 1, 2009

It’s been a few years since I did a solo snowshoe trip to the Granite Mountain lookout. Well, more than a few years. How about 20 years?

I used to time myself on how long it took me to get there – not any more (I do allow myself a peek at my watch when hiking Mount Si to see how much work I need to do to get back into some semblance of shape). Now, I pace myself, adopting my “forever” pace so I can get there. My buddy from Florida, Bob, accompanied me on this attempt to reach the lookout.

Having read trail reports, we figured the summer route would be under snow. Frankly, we’re sick of snow so left gaiters, ice axes and such behind. The plan was to hike until we tired, hit snow, reached a good viewpoint or made it to the lookout - whichever came first. Another goal was to photograph bear grass; I had a hunch it would be in bloom.

The first mile of the hike is on the Pratt Lake trail in dark, cool forest. By the time we reached the turn-off for Granite Mountain (right) we were ready to take on the elevation and bright sun ahead.

Shortly after passing the sign for the Alpine Lakes Wilderness we began to see bear grass – lots. A few tiger lilies were getting ready to bloom, a little bit of lupine here and there but the star of the show was the bear grass. This is going to be a banner year for this flower.

We crossed one minor snow patch (it’s probably gone by now) as we began breaking out of the forest into open areas. Here, the green slopes were dotted with bear grass; so much of it that the blooms reminded us of Roman candles, an alpine version of this upcoming holiday.

A few skinny, long-legged guys passed us, scarcely out of breath – but we were doing fine, too, taking only occasional breaks for water and snacks.

It’s hard not to resort to clichés – this hike is simply beautiful. Everywhere we looked there were peaks (Kaleetan, Mount Rainier, Adams, McClellan Butte to name a few) the foreground a gorgeous clutter of bear grass. We also saw a couple large serviceberry shrubs and even a pine tree near one of the switchbacks. McClellan Butte looked like a stone eagle about to soar above the squiggly earthworm of I-90 below.

By the time we got to the “tarns” we discovered the summer trail was under snow and didn’t want to deal with that so took the “other” trail toward the “scramble” route. There, near the start of the boulder field we stopped for lunch. After lunch I scrambled partway up the boulders but turned around when I saw it would take longer to get to the lookout than we had time for. At that point I was probably only about 400 feet below the lookout – sigh - maybe next time.

On our way down we visited the tarns; on the slopes above them a couple of folks were practicing ice axe arrest on a steep finger of snow. It looked like they were doing very well.

Though it was a weekday there were quite a lot of hikers on the trail. I can’t imagine what it would be like to hike there now on a summer weekend. I know I won’t be one of them.

Gorgeous hike, great exercise.

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