Sunday, October 24, 2010

Mount Persis

Mount Persis (October 13, 2010)

A wild, rag-tag collection of hikers I used to scramble with in the 1990s would probably call Mount Persis a “candy-ass” hike. For that to be a respectable hike by their standards you’d have to include a long road walk, formidable elevation gain and inclement weather in order for it to “count”. Over time and through word of mouth the trail’s reputation grew as a doughty but worthy destination. Today Persis is even mentioned in a few guidebooks as a respectable destination though Fred Beckey probably gives it all of 2-3 sentences – something like “just follow the easy west ridge to the summit – no difficulties.”

My first Mountaineer scramble was Mount Persis in the 1980s – lead by Mary Sutliff, author of “Teanaway Country”, published by Signpost Press. I still have a copy of that must-have guidebook though it’s in tatters. That dreary November day we hiked in rain, wind and horizontal snow. At the summit I pulled icicles out of my hair. It was fun. Really, it was.

Then the trail (for lack of a better word) consisted of steep mud, slippery boulders, going over, under and/or around downed trees, negotiating an ankle-twisting boulder field - then just when you think it couldn’t get any steeper there was more climbing followed by a reprieve of sullen tarns, trying to keep up with shape-shifting hikers ahead through clammy fog and finally the summit with no views but for shivering, Gore-tex clad companions. It was fun. Really, it was.

Between the late 1980s through the 1990s I returned many times to Mount Persis in all seasons and weather; often in snowshoes, once even after running a half-marathon - those were good days (I thought they’d never end). In summer I lazed at the summit with Mount Index almost close enough to touch and entertained the possibility of the Persis-Index traverse but never got around to it. That didn’t sound like fun.

The rate at which Times passes is insidious. I’ve never stopped hiking but I had other places to go, articles to write and going back to Mount Persis didn’t seem important until recently. As time passes the desire to revisit such places has grown - that desire dove-tailed nicely with a friend in need of a write-up so three of us headed out with that objective in mind. It was time revisit that cantankerous trail again though I secretly hoped that the trail might have mellowed a bit over time. What would it be like to go back to Mount Persis after more than 10 years? Would it really be fun?

We knew about the problems with the road closures off SR 2 (Forest Service Road No. 62) and for a while no one seemed to know whether or not the gate would be open or closed. You just drove up to the gate, hoped for the best, drove to the “trailhead” and made damn sure you didn’t get locked in (we’d heard stories about hikers coming back to their cars – on the wrong side of the gate). That would not be fun.

The latest seems to be that at least for now the road is open but don’t cuss at me if it isn’t. Such things are always subject to change. A “No Shooting Area” inside the gate says in a few words what needs to be said to keep this place open to hikers. If they get too many shooters up there, if folks dump their dead appliances and what-all along the road, the land-management agencies may lock up the road again. That would not be fun.

As for us we lucked out on this golden October day. The road was open and as of October 13 no logging was taking place (this is all subject to change, weather could also affect your ability to get to the “trailhead”). Have a backup plan so if the gate is closed you can go elsewhere and still have fun.

My friend believed that I’d done the research on the revamped road system and alas, I thought that he’d done the research. We all knew the road system was more complex than it was in the 1990s due to logging and storm-related damage. As we drove up the road I was not too surprised to see changes; trees had grown tall where they’d been saplings in the early 1990s and stands of what had been mature trees had been clear-cut (anticipating such changes is different than seeing them). My limbic brain was working pretty well until we came to a junction I didn’t recognize – the Green Trails maps were out of date. My “gut” said “go left” – my companions thought otherwise. We parked, dithered a while and walked up the wrong road (right) that climbed toward the ridgeline. They finally convinced me that my first hunch had been correct – so we backtracked to where we’d left the cars to hike the “right” road (the right road is to the “left”). Confused yet? Are we having fun?

Time was growing short by that point; so were our tempers. We hiked apart for a while to “cool” down and I started out hiking too fast out-pacing the men. Thankfully I did recognize the road and knew we were close to the “trail”, a steep path (right) that looks like a dry streambed. There were two rigs parked directly across from the “trail”; the road being a little too rough for our passenger car. We were all smiles as we finally started up the “trail” and I recognized much of the terrain. At last we were having fun!

The first stretch of the route is no doubt the steepest, about equal to a workout in a gymnasium. Though it had been partially logged the route itself had not changed that much. It was up, up, up, and up with trees to crawl over, under or maneuver around while trying not to twist an ankle in a hidden hole. To compensate for the pain of elevation gain views begin almost immediately and the views would get even better. Before we reached the “meadows” (roughly the mid-point of the hike) to the north and east were views of Mount Baker, Mount Pilchuck and other Monte Cristo peaks (we were still having fun).

The boulder field was as I remembered it being, no worse and no better than years ago. After negotiating the boulder field the route climbs (moreorless) below and at times along the west ridge toward the summit. Though not as heavily forested it had been there were landmarks I recognized such as the balanced rock (looking north) and the lower cliffs of the Persis-Index massif. The trail, still steep, relented a bit though I was beginning to feel the effects of my too-fast initial pace -- I was determined to keep going and have fun.

Unlike my usual “forever” pace where I can hike/climb for hours without needing frequent sit-downs and “breathers” I had to stop several times to slow my thundering heart and/or catch my breath. Worst of all, my legs began to feel weak – a bad sign. No aches or pains, just generic fatigue so I stopped for an energy gel and then we kept going (I had been good about drinking water). I wasn’t so sure I was having fun.

The trail leveled off and by the time we reached the first meadows the fall colors were brilliant and the views expanding. All too soon the trail spurted upward again, back into the trees, crossing a few small talus fields before reaching the tarns (the tarns were not sullen, they were sparkling and cheerful). Here, one of my companions called it quits, he’d had enough “up” – beside, the tarns were beautiful and he was happy to stay put while we continued on. As I looked back I saw him taking photos of the tarns – it was obvious he was having fun.

By then I was getting tired; I had the desire to keep going but my body wasn’t cooperating. Against my companions’ advice I also wanted to reach the summit (Persis is one of my favorite summits). Since the summit was close, I left my pack at the tarns and continued climbing (don’t do as I do, do as I say and take your pack with you!). If you do something as stupid as that, you won’t have fun either.

My companion was at the summit by the time I arrived and he insisted I eat some of his crackers and peanut butter (I knew it was the right thing to do so I didn’t resist very much though I wasn’t hungry). We lingered long enough for photographs and a long look at Mount Index, Baring and other peaks (too many to name). As in the past I eyed the ridge between Persis and Index, wondering whether or not I’d ever be able to do the traverse but this time, the answer was “No”. Too many years had passed and my scrambling skills were a little rusty. Not fun!

We hiked back to the tarns, making good time. After a quick break at the tarn we knew we had to pick up the pace to get back down in time. There were time-constraints and we still were not absolutely certain we wouldn’t find ourselves on the wrong side of the gate. Such an outcome would result in a total lack of fun.

The descent was steep (no surprise, that) and we all fell, at least twice on the way down (no injuries other than pride). I felt fine – no aches or pains and since we were done with the “up” there was nothing holding me back from getting back down to the road. Going downhill made me feel young again – that was fun!

So what was “up” with me? Both companions thought I had low-blood sugar from lack of food, drink and starting out too fast. They were right, of course. However, I’ve learned from years of tough hikes that if I pace myself accordingly I don’t “bonk” despite my lack of interest in food while hiking or climbing. Perhaps I lose interest in food because I am so enthralled with the scenery (eating just doesn’t seem as important as seeing what’s over the next ridge). Ninety-nine percent of the time I get away with not eating much, this time I didn’t. But it was fun. Really, it was.

This situation could have ended it badly; I’m sure glad it didn’t.

Now the details – the short version with more precise data to follow - From Everett drive US 2 (north) turn right onto FS Road No. 62; as of this writing the gate is open. If you get to Index you’ve gone too far. Stay on Road No. 62 as it climbs (watch for possible logging trucks, the road is narrow), turn left at the first two junctions. At the third junction turn left IF you have a high-clearance vehicle then drive a short distance to the trailhead (there is a pullout with room for about 2-3 cars across from the “trail”). If you get to the end of the road you’ve gone too far (it ends just beyond the pullout). There is no sign for the trailhead. If you do not have a high clearance vehicle park at that third junction then hike to the trailhead.

Or as Fred Beckey might say – just follow the easy west ridge to the summit, no difficulties.


Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Summer is truly over!

I'm like the White Rabbit in "Alice In Wonderland", I'm late, I'm late, I'm late. The faster I go, the behinder I get. That sort of thing. Time flies whether you're having fun or not, in or out of the mountains.

Where I've been lately .... Mount Persis, the Eastside Trail (MRNP) and a mellow ramble at Gingko State Park near Vantage.

I'm still trying to catch up - plus, prepare for this transitional time of year on the trails.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Monday, October 4, 2010

A new blog

I'm in the process of setting up a new blog.

Will let you know soon where to find it. Sorry I haven't been able to post photos! I believe my pictures are worth more than excessive verbage.


Sunday, October 3, 2010

More fall color hikes

Three great fall hikes - Longs Pass in the Teanaway, Blue Lake in the North Cascades and last but not least, Minotaur Lake near Stevens Pass.

Fall color is at its best right now - hike soon.