Monday, August 31, 2009

East Side Trail, Mt Rainier (August 30, 2009)

East Side Trail (Mount Rainier National Park), August 30, 2009

The East Side Trail has been frustrating us for some time. We had been unsuccessfully looking for the “upper” trailhead on Highway 123 based on data in mainstream hiking books. On our way to other hikes, we’d looked several times for the unheralded trail but never managed to find it. Yesterday we tried again – and did not find it.

Failing to find the upper trailhead we continued driving and parked at a lower trailhead for the Silver Falls Loop/Laughingwater Creek trail. (For the lower trailhead you can also park at Ohanapecosh and find a link to the Silver Falls Loop/East Side Trail). We opted to park on the highway instead.

The trail drops in a short stretch to a signed junction; hence we followed signs to Silver Falls and followed that trail to the next junction (always following signs for the East Side Trail). Silver Falls is pretty quiet this time of year but it’s always worth a stop – if nothing else to ponder the water-scoured depressions in the cliffs and the pick-up-sticks piles of downed trees that come to rest perhaps forever.

The East Side Trail crosses the Stevens Canyon Road and the main parking area for Grove of the Patriarchs. The East Side Trail continues on the Grove of the Patriarchs Trail then splits off again a short ways before the suspension bridge crosses the Ohanapecosh River (the East Side trail does not cross the river).

The East Side trail begins a long, gentle climb through mostly forest, some of it ancient and spectacular with ferns, moss and thimbleberry. The vine maples are beginning to get a faint tinge of fall color but the real color is yet to come. The trail is lined with vanilla leaf, some of the leaves mottled with age, reminiscent of the hands of octogenarians.

Several streams and tributaries are crossed on a variety of bridges, ranging from recently-rebuilt bridges with a single hand-rail to broken bridges that are still passable and other than presenting the opportunity to fall on your butt, not a danger.

We planned to hike the entire trail to the upper trailhead on Highway 123 (that way, we knew we’d finally find the “hidden” upper trailhead). That would be about a 7-mile hike one-way with roughly 1,000 feet of elevation gain.

Our hike ended at the Ohanapecosh River where a narrow bridge with handrails spanned the chasm where waterfalls roared like lions and the distance between the bridge and the cataracts was a little too narrow for my comfort. The bridge seemed sturdy enough but the supports that held the hand-rails were a little too far apart for my comfort level. Everyone has an Achilles heel when it comes to hiking and mine is crossing on high bridges above water without “significant” railings. I’ve been known to ford rivers rather than cross on high bridges.

In order to “get over” my dread of such contraptions I crossed the bridge twice but there was no getting over it. We had the stamina to finish the hike and hike back down to the car but I simply didn’t have the gumption to hike all the way to the upper trailhead then face another crossing of the bridge again.

Head (mine) bowed in defeat, we retraced our route, not meeting another hiker until the turn-off to Grove of the Patriarchs.

Since we had time to kill we continued on the suspension bridge to the Grove; Silverback had never been to the grove and it was fun to see it through his eyes. We spotted a nurse log there so large that several good-sized trees had taken root and were thriving. The vine maple there is still a young, vigorous green – these trees are an experience that cannot be captured by writers or photographers.

On our way back we were determined to find the upper trailhead for the East Side trail and stopped at several likely spots where an unmarked, obvious trail might be found. No dice. Until we figured out (finally!) that the “upper” East Side Trail is accessed from the plainly signed Owyhigh Lakes trail. Had we stopped at the Owyhigh Lakes trailhead in the first place we would have read the small sign informing hikers that the East Side Trail (and Deer Creek Camp) was .4 miles away. It would also be helpful to hikers if the guidebooks explained that the “upper” East Side trail starts out on the Owyhigh Lake trail on Highway 123.

The Green Trails maps are of little help; (Packwood Lake and Mount Rainier East). The trails in that part of the park are all squished together in a hard-to-read tangle at the edges of the maps.

We’ll be going back this week to “finish” off the East Side Trail.

Snow Lake, August 28, 2009

Snow Lake (Alpine Lakes) August 28

Since just about every hiker in the Pacific Northwest has been to Snow Lake this report will be brief. It may be the most popular, most-often visited trail in Washington and is justifiably so. Where else can one find such a beautiful trail only an hour away from Seattle?

That being said we were dismayed to find the trailhead toilet at the Snow Lake trailhead in such disarray and so filthy we could not bear to use it. We understand that land management agencies have had money and staff slashed to the bone but to abandon this privy seems “overkill”. This is a trail that is hiked on a regular basis by many; it is the first “serious” trail a new hiker may undertake, the first trail a visitor from another state is apt to visit (the trail is heralded in all forms of media past and present).

It is not only the land management agencies at fault; they did not leave the fetid piles of trash inside to be discovered by unwary visitors – though the odor as one approaches may suggest an alternate place to “go” (such as nearby vegetation – how’s that for keeping the wilderness pure?). For the time being we suggest stopping at “Travelers Rest” at Snoqualmie Pass before parking at the trailhead (just to be on the safe side).

As for us, we “passed” on using the outhouse and warned others who were approaching the trailhead.

The trail is in good condition, the vegetation poised between summer and fall. There are too few flowers to call it Summer; not enough fall color yet to call it Fall. Sadly, much of the vegetation that would turn brilliant color in fall has simply died due to lack of rain. Leaves that should be red and gold may never get brighter than “brown”. The berries are still plentiful, especially on the “old” trail to the lake.

At the trail junction for the Source Lake “overlook” and Snow Lake, we continued toward the Source Lake overlook. Even if you are not hiking the “old” trail to the lake this is a pleasant stretch of trail where you may find (and enjoy) some solitude. You may run into a climber or two heading for – or back – from the Tooth or other airy goals. Perhaps even another hiker (just like you) who also prefers avoiding crowds.

The “old” trail begins above the overlook on a sketchy path (or two) up a steep, rubble-strewn hillside held together by loose rocks and scraps of vegetation. If in doubt, look for a cairn (you are aiming for a more discernible path below the “waterfall”). As for that waterfall, in summer it is merely a trickle but you’ll know soon enough if you’ve scrambled too high.

We went a little too high on the scrabble path but memory served me well; we descended a bit and spotted the old trail just where it should be – “under” the waterfall (now mostly damp boulders).

From there the old trail is relatively easy to follow through patches of vegetation, mountain ash, evergreens, small meadows (some even sporting gentians!) to the ridge where the regular trail climbs to a pass before it drops to Snow Lake. However, the old trail drops a little below the pass (below “lunch rock”) where it meets the regular trail. This time of year there are no difficulties of any kind on the trail.

Once on the regular trail we hiked down to Snow Lake and took a few photographs (it’s hard to get a poor picture of Snow Lake on a nice day). We stopped at the chimney of the old cabin where part of a wall still stands; surrounded by blazing fireweed still in bloom. We followed the lakeshore trail partway around the lake; not surprised to find most “prime” viewing spots already “taken” (even on a weekday).

From the lake we hiked the regular trail back to the trailhead, stopping at the privy to see if anyone had stopped by to clean it up.


Wednesday, August 26, 2009

High Divide Loop, August 24, 2009

High Divide Loop, Olympic National Park (August 24, 2009)

This is the short version of a very long day hike (a longer version will appear later, I hope).

My friend Lola and I hiked the High Divide Loop in a day. That was 19 miles with about 3,800 feet of gain.

We started out on the Sol Duc trail, followed the Sol Duc River trail to the High Divide, hiked to the top of Bogachiel Peak then hiked back down to Sol Duc Falls via the Copper Canyon Trail. We did the loop in just a little over 11 hours.

Highlights: Heart Lake (shaped just like a heart!), Seven Lakes Basin (looking down on scattered potholes and tarns), views of Mount Olympus and the Bailey range, trails and tarns literally bordered with gentians, old growth trees, gorgeous weather – we didn’t see any mountain goats but saw the shaggy rump of one big, black bear as he scurried away into blueberry jungles. The 360-degree from Bogachiel Peak (5,474 feet) is just about impossible to describe. Let’s just say it’s one not to miss.

Conditions: The trail is in good condition; all major bridges in and sturdy. The Copper Canyon Creek trail is rocky and steep. Very few bugs.

Recommendations: Camp the night before and/or after or stay at Sol Duc Resort. We stayed at the resort. The food is expensive but delicious. The pools are a worthy treat before and/or after the hike. Most people will want to experience this gorgeous hike as a backpack. It can certainly be done in a day but you have to keep an eye on the clock unless you don’t mind walking out with a headlamp. Pray for good weather.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Huckleberry Creek Trail, Mount Rainier National Park

Huckleberry Creek (Mount Rainier National Park) August 21, 2009

Imagine three guidebook writers on the same hike – now before you think this is a tale of warring egos and such think again. It was a great trip with Alan, Craig and Silverback (Silverback has also taken the plunge into the life of a writer). We had fun from start to finish.

We met up at the Dalles Picnic area for a car shuttle (doing this hike one-way involves a car shuttle). Alan and Craig had already driven their 4WD rigs to the lower trailhead on Forest Service Road No. 73 (the last stretch of this 6-mile or so road is rough). When Alan and Craig joined us the four of us went up to Sunrise in Silverback’s car (not a 4WD).

After a short stint on the Sourdough Trail we descended into Huckleberry Basin on the Huckleberry Mountain trail (the trail is signed). Short switchbacks with breathtaking views got us off to a pleasant start –how many times I had peered down into the barrens and meadows below Sourdough, wondering what it would be like down there.

It’s fascinating to hike through a variety of terrain and this hike is no exception. After a scenic stint through the remains of a moraine interspersed with meadows we stopped for an early lunch as biting bugs at Forest Lake seemed a real possibility.

A few flowers are still in bloom in the meadows – namely monkey flowers, yarrow and asters. Lupine has already mostly gone to seed. Gentians were the dominant flower in the meadows – I think these lantern-shaped flowers are brilliant blue because they herald the end of summer.

It is always heartbreaking (for me) to leave the high country behind but the forest and the promise of a seldom-hiked trail also had a strong appeal. After dropping about 1,100 feet we reached Forest Lake, a campsite on the edge of heaven where forest, meadows and high country overlap. There are two designated campsites at the lake (not occupied) and no bugs.

From the lake we continued our descent into deeper forest, crossing Huckleberry Creek several times on footbridges. The forest was a mix of yellow cedars (not a true cedar tree – this, we learned from Craig who has a background in forestry), Douglas firs, Alaska cedars, vine-maple with an under-story of huckleberry/blueberry shrubs, Devils Club (taller than we could reach), Canadian dogwood (a few still blooming), ferns (oak, deer, bracken, sword ferns).

The trees grew larger the further we descended; becoming a Hansel and Gretel trail as the trail wound through the forest. In addition to Huckleberry Creek we crossed Prospector, Josephine Creeks and Lost Creek (in that order). None of the crossings were difficult.
The trail was easy to follow in its entirety with only one short stretch where route finding with our boots was required (the trail was covered with vegetation). We stopped to admire several gargantuan evergreens but found the dappled light in the forest a challenge for photography.

Just inside the border of the park we came upon an old patrol cabin; locked and shuttered for good. An old trail register (not used in a very long time) was on the front porch, fading signs with rules and regulations within the park were still apparent, including one that dated back to the 1940s. Here we also found a boundary sign and a benchmark dating back to 1900.

From the boundary it was about a mile back to FS Road 73, the trail easy to follow. However, there is no longer a trailhead sign for Huckleberry Creek. We believe it is probably just as well, it is undoubtedly the parks intent to keep it from becoming a party place (though the nature of the terrain would keep most evil-doers out).

Alan’s faithful rig was waiting at the trailhead; we all piled in and headed back to the Dalles Campground where our pleasant adventure came to an end. Craig faced a long drive so headed home; Alan ferried us back to Sunrise to our car - only a few cars remained late in the day. It was so cold at Sunrise that we put on jackets, taking only a few photos before driving back home. It felt like fall was well on its way.

Stats: Elevation loss (about 3,834 feet) in about 10.1 miles (according to our altimeter).

Note: This is a steep, downhill trail, not recommended for those with bad knees. Forest Road 73 is not recommended for passenger cars. Most hikers will be happier hiking from Sunrise to Forest Lake, then climbing back to Sunrise (that would mean a reasonable elevation gain of about 1,100 feet).

Monday, August 17, 2009

Skyscraper Pass, Mount Rainier National Park


We like trails with solitude but do make exception for trails at Sunrise, Skyscraper Pass (and peak) being one of them. The hike starts out on the Sourdough Ridge trail where we turned left, following the ridgeline. After passing the junction for the Huckleberry Creek trail (right) the river of hikers began to thin out as the trail crossed a talus – just past Frozen Lake we came to a 5-way junction, where many casual hikers call it a day. Here we turned onto the Wonderland Trail, following signs for the Wonderland Trail and Berkeley Park.
From the 5-way junction near Frozen Lake the trail begins dropping to a plateau where Skyscraper Peak comes into view (be glad Skyscraper Peak is closer than it looks). As we continued marmots whistled, warning of our presence. At the next junction some hikers turned off toward Berkeley Park (right) - we continued on the Wonderland Trail (left).

Most flowers have passed their prime though there were still some blooming in the meadows - asters, magenta paintbrush, yarrow, lousewort, lupine and bistort. There is a bronze tint to the meadows, an indication that autumn is not far off. We also saw several marmots dashing about (or lazing) between the Wonderland Trail junction and Skyscraper Pass.

It’s about 1,000 feet of gain to Skyscraper Pass at 6,786 feet. The Wonderland Trail continues, descending to Mystic Lake (alas, too far for a day hike). We had considered dropping from the pass to Granite Creek Camp on the Wonderland Trail but backpackers we talked to say the trail was mostly in forest until Mystic Lake.

We love forest hikes but on a clear day at Sunrise there was no dithering about where to go. From the pass a boot path climbs to Skyscraper Peak – our revised goal for the day. The peak is only about 300 feet above the pass.

Skyscraper Peak is a minor summit but with 360-degree views and well worth the effort to get there. From the ragged summit directly below is the silver squiggle of the White River winding through the valley and views down to the lush green of Berkeley Park. Take a map to identify other peaks and places - need I mention that there are also great views of Mount Rainier?

The trail to the summit is rocky and somewhat exposed; if you don’t like heights you can always stop shy of the summit – the views are almost as good. The peak is a jumble of volcanic rocks, many serve as great places to settle and bask.

Though most flowers will soon fade, don’t rule out this hike yet. Gentians are popping up in the meadows and marmots are busy dashing about. Late summer and early fall are also an excellent time to visit for fall color though with chillier temperatures you may want to add an extra layer of clothing or two in your pack.

Getting to the trailhead: From Enumclaw go east on Highway 410 to the White River Entrance of Mount Rainier National Park and continue 14 miles to Sunrise, elevation 6,400 feet. Trail. Allow about 2.5 hours drive time from Seattle.

Trail data: It is about 8 miles round-trip to Skyscraper Pass with about 1,200 feet of elevation gain including ups and downs. Skyscraper Peak is about 8 miles round trip with 1,600 feet (total) elevation gain. The map is Green Trails No. 270 Mount Rainier East.

For more details on fees, rules and regulations contact Mount Rainer National Park at 360-569-2211 or visit their website at

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Kachess Ridge Trail, August 12, 2009

Kachess Ridge Trail No. 1315 (August 12, 2009)

We needed a break from Mount Rainier (not because we don’t love it but because it’s a long drive). Besides, weather was marginal at best.

If I had a $20 bill for every time we’ve turned off I-90 at Exit 70 to access the trailhead for Kachess Ridge (Easton Ridge, Domerie Divide, Thomas Mountain, etc), we could take a long vacation. I admit it’s been a while since I’ve trekked up to the high point of Easton Ridge on snowshoes but it’s still first on my list of places to go when spring flowers begin to appear and it’s sunny on the east side. In summer not so much – there are too many other places to go and the “trails of Easton” are accessible earlier and later in the year than many other favorites.

As is often the case there was no one else at the trailhead – a good thing, really – because there’s room for only 4-6 cars. The trail doesn’t give you a chance to warm up; it takes off at a steep run – straight up. The trail is shared with mountain bikes; at times we encountered loose rocks over a thin layer of dirt. It’s more of a challenge going down this trail than climbing.

Steep switchbacks climb to partial views of rocky ridges. A side trail at the end of a switchback leads to a nice viewpoint of the valley below (for a view of Lake Kachess continue on a scramble path to higher points along the ridge).

The main trail keeps climbing until it turns (left) into the Silver Creek valley – here the creek announces itself with a splashy waterfall and an alluring but potentially dangerous path leading to its base. We continued following the main trail, at times within sight of the creek, at times within sound.

Just a bit past the signed trail junction for the Kachess Beacon trail, you’ll reach the first crossing of Silver Creek – there are several crossings, some of them dry. The first crossing is the worst but in August it’s not too bad.

After crossing the creek the trail alternates between shaggy, pocket meadows and forested sections. Many flowers have gone to seed but we saw Monkshood, cow parsnip, arnica, mountain daisies, yarrow, fireweed, a little columbine and splash of monkey flowers near a rivulet.

At one point the trail has been detoured to pass the site of what appears to have been a huge avalanche; trees on the far slope look like the proverbial matchsticks or pick-up-sticks hurled by an angry giant.

Memory is a tricky thing at best; I remembered meadows big as football fields below the West Peak of Kachess Ridge; I was looking forward to showing these “big” meadows to my Bob and Silverback. After what seemed an endless climb with no sign of a meadow anywhere we stopped for a break; Silverback said he’d catch up. I said we’d wait at the big meadow.

We soon came to a small meadow; certainly not the Ponderosa-sized meadow I remembered so we kept on hiking, passing the Silver Tie trail (that trail will have to wait for another day).

The trail kept going; and so did we until it dawned on me there was no “big meadow” and we were not far from the pass below West Peak and another peak (without a name but certainly worth of one).

Thinking that Silverback wouldn’t catch us and seeing the pass within reach we climbed up to it and took a break. Hence we were surprised when within 5 minutes Silverback appeared through the mist and joined us. Having a snack had given him the stamina he needed to get to the pass. It was chilly and starting to drizzle; our visit was short.

I’d like to say I scampered up a side trail on the peak-without-a-name to a viewpoint of Red Mountain but it was truly more of a trudge. The side-trail continued but time was running out.

Incidentally you can get to this “pass” by a system of logging roads from Salmon la Sac (we don’t know the condition of the roads). Also a 12.8-mile loop (from/to Easton) in this mostly forgotten land is described in “Best Loop Hikes Washington” (Mountaineer Books) – it is called West Peak/Thomas Mountain. I won’t describe this loop – I haven’t done it but hope to try it soon.

As for our sorry butts we returned the way we came, wondering as we often do why a hike feels so much longer on the way out than going in, even when it was mostly downhill.

This doesn’t sound like a compelling hike but we like it – folks seldom hike here and though this land has been logged, it still has a wild and lonely feel that other places near Teanaway and Salmon la Sac do not. There are ridges to run and explore, peaks to climb (even those without a name!) and meadows that are lush enough to attract deer, elk and the occasional lonely photographer.

Getting to the trailhead: From Seattle take I-90 east and turn off at Exit 70. Drive over the freeway and turn left onto a frontage road signed Kachess Dam Road and proceed to Forest Service Road No. 4818 and turn right. Continue to an unsigned junction; turn right. From there it is just a hop, skip and jump to the not so obvious trailhead near Silver Creek. There are no facilities but display your Northwest Forest Pass anyway. Follow a short little path to the signed trailhead for Easton Ridge and Kachess Ridge. Easton Ridge is to the right (you cross Silver Creek on a footbridge). Kachess Ridge is straight uphill.

Maps: Green Trails Kachess Lake No. 208. Call the Cle Elum Ranger District at 509-852-1100 for road and trail conditions.

Stats: About 2,600 feet elevation gain, 11-1/2 miles (round trip)

Monday, August 10, 2009

West Boundary Trail, August 9, 2009

West Boundary Trail (Mount Rainier National Park)

Hiking abandoned trails is a little bit like listening to jazz - you know where the trail begins but you never know where it will take you.

The Boundary Trail is one of our favorite hidden trails within/near Mount Rainier National Park. It is believed that most of the Boundary Trail was built during the Civilian Conservation Corps era; most of the trail was removed from the parks maintenance list in the early 1970s. The trail once circumnavigated the boundary of the park. A few stretches remain and are still somewhat user-friendly including a section near the Carbon River entrance and another near the Nisqually entrance. Some maintenance continues on those trails – don’t attempt these trails unless you have route-finding skills and equipment.

We’d hiked the trail from the Carbon River entrance to Alki Crest 5-6 years ago, getting as far as Tolmie Creek (no, we don’t know why it is called Alki Crest). We didn’t know how far we’d get today but conditions were ideal for a steep hike in the forest: cool and cloudy.

The boundary trail starts from the nature trail just on the other side of a footbridge (assuming you are hiking the nature trail clockwise); it’s hard to miss. The “abandoned trail” sign was missing but again if you are looking for the trail, you won’t have any trouble spotting it. Though steep, the first part of the trail is as good as established trails inside the park, at least initially. We also spotted 3-4 old signs for the Boundary Trail along the way.

The trail is mostly in old-growth forest, ideal conditions for saprophytes such as coralroot and Indian pipe. We don’t see as much Indian pipe as we used to so we were glad to come across some at the end of a switchback. We also saw vanilla leaf, a variety of ferns and moss (a little on the dry side), Devil’s club with spikes of red berries and lots of thimbleberry past its prime. We found a few blueberries off-trail; always good to find these. Shelf fungus juts out from snags peppered with woodpecker holes and from fallen/downed trees beside the trail.

At one point the trail crosses a steep slope where a washout occurred; a path of rubble descends all the way to the Carbon River Road. It would truly have been a sight to witness from a safe vantage when this occurred. A little further there is a split in the trail at a cut log – turn left.

At about 3,200 feet we crossed a stream; not a problem in August. This is a pretty spot to linger a while and take a break, especially on a hot day. Beyond the stream the trail is a little rockier but still easy to follow and in surprisingly good shape even where maintenance ends.

At another point we skirted a boulder field (left); it was so foggy we could barely see the shapes of the rocks. Here the hellebore was almost tall and Corydalis covered parts of the trail; we sought the trail with our feet. It was moist enough from fog and drizzle that we got soaked going through the Corydalis; we’re grateful for our quick-dry pants.

Once past this spot the trail was easy to follow; near the crest we encountered markers on the trees, some with numbers but don’t know what purpose those serve or have served in the past.

The trail levels out briefly at Alki Crest, a forested pass without views. Nevertheless, this is a good turnaround and there are fallen trees that serve as places to settle for a while before turning around or continuing. We elected to turn around as we were short on time and knew it would take us almost as long to get down as it did to climb to the crest.

On the previous visit we did get go down the other side of the “crest” and got as far as Tolmie Creek. The crossing was tricky and from the creek the trail was marginal at best, difficult to follow. It is about a 1,200-foot descent from the crest to the creek.

There is also a route of sorts to Florence Peak from the Boundary Trail but I’ve only done it on snowshoes and it was a long time ago. I don’t know whether or not there is a “trail”. Some branches of The Mountaineers lead Florence Peak as a winter scramble.

Stats: 6 miles round trip, a little under 3,000 feet gain.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Facebook Woes, August 8, 2009

Tomorrow will be the hike.

Today is just a rant about Facebook. I somehow managed to link this blog to Facebook today but now, of course, I can't even log in to my account (despite having reset my password). So, if any of you are trying to contact me via Facebook I will not be able to respond as I cannot log in to that site.

In the meantime I hope you enjoy this blog whether you find it here or on Facebook.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Lakes Trail, Paradise

Lakes Trail, Paradise (August 5, 2009)

Wow! What a tangle of trails at Paradise! A first-time hiker may find the trail signs more confusing than helpful, especially when you have an older map that doesn’t correspond to the trail system depicted on hand-outs, trail maps from the Visitor Center. Guess you can choose between following your nose, following one of the maps or following the signs. That’s all OK as long as the weather is clear. If you’re not sure where you are, don’t be afraid to ask or get counsel from one of the knowledgeable volunteers at the Visitor Center.

Our goal was to hike the Lakes Trail starting at Paradise, stop at Reflection Lakes, head up to Mazama Ridge then hike back down to Paradise on the lower Skyline Trail, about a 5-6 mile jaunt.

We got off to a bad start. Perhaps I should rephrase that to say that I got off to a bad start. My friend, Lola, was well equipped for this hike. As for me, I didn’t notice until we got to the trailhead that I’d packed Silverback’s boots rather than my own. Silverback is a big fellow and no way could I wear his boots.

Fortunately, Lola had an extra pair of trail runners so I was able to get into those. Still not an ideal situation as I have a tendency to sprain my ankles without mountaineering boots, even on easy trails.

We started out adventure on the Paradise River trail (signed Lakes Trail, Narada Falls). The last time I was on this trail (only weeks ago) there was snow and snow glacier lilies and avalanche lilies were competing for open space. Today the trail was lined with asters, pearly everlasting, rosy spirea and lupine. We quickly dropped down to the first junction – turning left toward Reflection Lakes (it’s hard to go the wrong way at this junction).

The Lakes trail crossed the Paradise Valley road a couple of times before coming out near another trailhead (accessible by car). Here we paused at the lakes, aptly named – though the Mountain was hazy the reflection cast by the peak into the lakes was bold and sharp, the lakes framed by a fringe of fireweed. Later in the season the lakes will be framed with the bold colors of fall.

We hiked along the road a short way, picking up the trail again as it climbs toward Faraway Rock. Ordinarily, I would have thought nothing of climbing to Faraway Rock but without my sturdy boots I was tense on the steep dirt with its covering of ball-bearing shaped rocks. We then came to a broken bridge across a dry creek in a small but deep gorge. The bridge was broken right in the middle and V-shaped. No railing. Here, I elected to pass up the opportunity to fall off the bridge and scrambled down into the streambed, only to fall down anyway and bruise my hip. Lola gingerly worked her way down on the bridge and made it without falling. Jeepers, I hope that bridge can be repaired.

Faraway Rock is a great place to stop for a break or photos; we did. From here you can look down into the lakes below, glittering in the bright afternoon sun. Above the lakes are ridges, peaks and high points – bring a Green Trails map to identify the peaks you are not familiar with.

There are several small tarns all along the Lakes trail, especially between Faraway Rock and the Skyline Trail, all framed by sub-alpine trees and some with views of Mount Rainier above the trees. The meadows were a blue haze of lupine with occasional splashes of magenta paintbrush and golden arnica.

We never did come across a trail sign for “Mazama Ridge” – and while I have been there several times over the years I’ve climbed to the ridge on snowshoes and snow-camped. I didn’t want to encourage off-trail use so we followed the Skyline Trail toward Paradise. Before heading back to the car we hiked some of the “little” trails near the Visitor Center, including the Water Fall trail and a trail with a new name “Avalanche Lily trail”. We wanted to get to Nisqually Vista but the return “loop” back to the car was closed and by that time we were ready to take our boots off and head home.

The flowers are nearing the end of their peak but should be good for another week or two. The meadows are now predominated with bistort, valerian, lupine, arnica and paintbrush. We saw a few sere avalanche lilies near the tarns at higher elevations but they will soon be gone. Anemones have gone to seed and barely resemble the way they appear when they first bloom.

The views from all the trails we hiked were magnificent – views not only of Mount Rainier but peaks of the Tatoosh, the sparkling tarns and lakes; last but not least, the glory of the flowers.

Stats: We hiked a little over 6 miles with about 1,350 feet of elevation gain.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Sourdough Gap to Crystal Lakes, August 2, 2009


Perhaps like me you’ve hiked to Crystal Lakes from SR 410 and looked longingly at the craggy, enigmatic ridge looming above the upper lake. Maybe you wondered if there was a way to get up there without risking your life. Near the head of the upper lake alluring paths lead hither and yon. Perhaps you’ve explored some of them and found a hidden campsite or a knoll with a view.

Or maybe you climbed to the high point on Crystal Peak for a way to get down to Crystal Lakes without breaking your neck (Crystal Peak is far enough for most). Those who hike on a frequent basis have probably been to Crystal Lakes or hiked to Sourdough Gap on the PCT from Chinook Pass. You can also hike from Sourdough Gap to Crystal Lakes though the route doesn’t show on the Green Trails map (oddly it does show on the Mount Rainier map given to visitors when they enter the park). .

Silverback had done it years ago and we wanted to give it a try. We took two cars so we could hike the trail one way. We left a car at the Crystal Lake trailhead and drove to the PCT trailhead just below Chinook Pass where the hike begins.

We’d only been there a few days before and already the flowers along the PCT have changed; the Western amenone has gone to seed, harebells, asters and pearly everlasting border the trail. There are still lots of lupine and Indian paintbrush along the trails.
Mount Rainier looked a little hazy; due to the smoke from several wildfires in the state. We were surprised we could see it at all.

It’s about 1.5 miles to Sheep Lake and those miles are easy. There are pleasing views down to still-green valleys; we turned around a couple of times to admire the view of Chinook Pass above the sensuous curve of SR 410 and the diagonal line of PCT contouring the flowered hillsides.

Sheep Lake is an understandably popular trail; it’s an easy backpack or day hike and ideal for families. In early August the lake was still bordered with flowers and the meadows were green. We got a kick out of watching adults and children alike frolicking in the water.

The PCT continues, gaining about 700 feet to Sourdough Gap. If it had been a hotter day we might have renamed it Sourdough Gasp. The climb is scenic with views of Sheep Lake and surrounding mountains. We took our time, enjoying every step of the journey through the flowers.

Sourdough Gap is actually a gap between a peak-studded ridge that allows egress to lush meadows and a continuation of the PCT. As we climbed toward the gap my eye was drawn to a fortress-shaped peak. It’s not named on the map so we looked it up in the Fred Beckey Cascade Alpine Guide at home. It has a name; Cupalo Rock but it’s not for hikers. Not even close! According to Beckey this hunk of rock has several routes ranging from Class 3 (a gully) to low Class 5.

After a pause at Sourdough Gap we dropped down to a junction for the PCT. An un-named trail goes off to the left, contours below the craggy ridge and a long scree slope before a short climb to an un-named gap with an incredible view of Mount Rainier. Just below the gap is the Mount Rainier Park boundary and a sign.

The trail dropped to an unsigned junction; here we dropped down to a knoll with a knockout view of Crystal Lakes, Crystal Peak and more. After a break we returned to the main path as it descended through lush meadows toward Upper Crystal Lake. In addition to the meadows and wildflowers we enjoyed views of Three Way Rock, another challenging peak for climbers, not hikers.

The trail was easy to follow down to the lakes. It looks like this had been an official trail once upon a time as there is evidence of use over the years. We didn’t see anyone between Sourdough Gap and Crystal Lakes.

There are still wildflower displays at Upper Crystal Lake including elephants-head lousewort and monkeyflowers. After a break we hiked the Crystal Lakes trail down to SR 410 and Steve’s car. The hike was about 7 miles with an elevation gain of 1,200 feet and a loss of 2,800 feet back to the Crystal Lake trailhead.

The adventure wasn’t over. I’d heard of Ghost Lake and even glimpsed it a few times along SR 410. I’ve always meant to stop and hike down to the lake; I knew it had been done. It’s hard to spot from the highway but we did find it – it is just past milepost 65 on SR 410 a little below Cayuse Pass.

There is no sign. There are two roadside parking spots, about 150 feet apart. We stopped at the first one and followed a steep, rough path to the lake. The lake is bigger than it appears from the highway; it may be possible to circumnavigate the lake. We walked clockwise part way around the lake. That involved a short rock scramble (a hiker can do it!) and a path that led to a peaceful grove of evergreens. Near the grove our feet solved the puzzle of logs where high water has backed up debris into the lake. This is easy to get around and we stopped again at the base of a cliff you can’t see from the road.

While Steve and I were tempted to see if we could get around the lake and find another path up to the highway we knew Silverback was waiting for us and we didn’t know how long it would take. We retraced our route, scrabbling up the lunatic path back to the car. It’s about 100-foot descent to the lake.

We stopped at the second roadside parking spot where we spotted a more-obvious path that looked steep but much easier. We’ll go back and try it again.

Back at Chinook Pass we convoyed down to Silver Springs campground. Steve knew of a historical grave we wanted to visit. We parked in the day-use area and walked to the grave of Henry Allen, a civil war veteran who moved to Washington after the war. He became a hunter and trapper. There’s more information about him at the site; a quiet, poignant spot near the White River marked by several American flags and other tokens; a fistful of loose change, a can of fishing bait and toys left by children. He was buried here because that is where he died; Allen was found frozen to death near the spot of the memorial. It is presumed he was hunting and either had a heart attack or died of exposure.

All in all, one of the most interesting days we’ve experienced in the mountains.


Saturday, August 1, 2009

Noodling in the digital darkroom

Maybe the heat's affecting me.

Sometimes I get into the digital darkroom and get a little crazy.

I'm not sure it's art but I like some of the effects.