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.