Monday, November 15, 2010

Hanford Reach National Monument, Cougar Mountain Regional Park

These two hikes are as different as night and day.

Time constraints won't allow me to elaborate on Hanford Reach National Monument except to say that it's one of the most scenic hikes we've done in the last month or so. It is a long drive from Seattle though - it takes about 3.5 hours to get to Hanford Reach and that's just one way. There is compensation for the drive though - it's scenic. So scenic, in fact, that we had to resist stops along the way for photo opportunities and just plain curiosity about what else we could do in the region.

Really, I don't mean to taunt you with how lovely this hike is and then say so little about it. Let me try: Hanford Reach is the last free-running stretch of the Columbia River in the United States - the region is managed by the Department of Energy (DOE), the U.S. Department of Fish and Wildlife and Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife.

The "white bluffs" in the Wahluke Unit of the monument was our goal - a hike I've enjoyed a few times in the past. The scenery defies description - the Columbia River, Locke Island, the sand dunes (about 4 miles from the "trailhead"), a settlers cabin that also served as a blacksmith shop and relics of WWII and the Cold War across the Columbia River.

Neither Jim, Maxine nor Bob had ever been there before - they were spellbound. The fine weather helped - in early November it was sunny and warm enough we could just "hang out" and take in the views. In spring we'll go back for the wildflowers ....

Sunday's hike (November 14) was like a hike on another planet after our visit to Hanford Reach. With a gloomy forecast and a tight budget we picked a hike close to home - Cougar Mountain Regional State Park. We hiked one of our favorite trails - from Redtown to Coal Creek Parkway. We like this hike because it is less crowded on weekends and under the right conditions it can be a pretty hike.

This wasn't the case yesterday - the fall color has drained out of the landscape and it's a "brown hike". Personally I don't like "brown" hikes - perhaps that's because there are few photo opportunities. A little snow would really enhance this trail -- or any trail in the lowlands (about the only kind of forest that can get away with being described as"beautiful" in November would be the rain forests but that's just my opinion). On second thought ... old growth forests, too, could also be rightly described as beautiful under the right conditions.

Spring is our favorite time to hike in the Issaquah Alps - we like watching, smelling and listening to the world wake up after a long winter's sleep. We also like the "Alps" later in the year when the waterfalls freeze and the brown leaves glitter with frost.

There were quite a few cars at Red Town - we expected that. But once we were on the trail we met only a few people and it felt good just to get fresh air and a lbit of exercise. We looked high and low for photo "opps" but didn't find many with our "dimestore" cameras. The beauty was there - the cameras are simply incapable of capturing the miniature, magical worlds we saw at our feet and on stumps. The cobwebs were misted with fine, droplets of rain but those were hard to photograph, especially when the cobwebs were nestled inside stumps.

Jeepers, I probably sound like I'm whining! Really, I'm not - I guess I'm just wishing that fall lasted longer and hoping that winter will be gentle (likely not). However, as for November as far as I'm concerned they could leave this month out of the calendar (it's probably a good thing I'm not in the charge of the world, eh).

White Bluffs (Hanford Reach) - about 8 miles round trip, no significant gain. Cougar Mt (Red Town to Coal Creek Parkway) - about 6 miles round trip, not much gain.
As for photos - the computer is trying to destroy (again) what's left of my sanity - it stubbornly insists on only posting the photo from Cougar Mountain, NOT the gem I had in mind for Hanford Reach. Sigh .....

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Annette Lake, November 2010

Though I don't look forward to winter it always surprises me how much we enjoy winter hiking once we make the transition.

Yesterday, November 10, we found ourselves at the Lake Annette trailhead just about the time several other vehicles turned into the parking lot (most of them stuffed with other senior citizens). Make no mistake - these seniors could out-hike many hikers half their age. You won't find them (include us too) sitting around to commiserate about the dying of the light.

One of my idiosyncrasies is I don't like other hikers behind me on the trail (or at least not on my heels) so we let them get ahead of us (I must have been an outlaw in my previous life - I also don't like to eat in a restaurant unless my back is against a wall and I can see who's coming in or leaving). Or maybe it's just because I'm hard of hearing.

Or maybe it's just because I'm used to leading hikes for The Mountaineers - then, I like to lead from the rear on the way out in my belief that it's better to come across a problem on the way out - rather than behind. That way you can scoop up the trekking poles others often leave behind (one reason I don't hike with trekking poles - I'm sure I'd lose them). Hence I strapped my trusty ice-axe to my pack though we were pretty sure that was overkill for this particular hike.

After Bob and Jim enjoyed a pre-hike pipe of fine tobacco we set out - with no one behind us, of course. It looked and felt like November and it wasn't long before we were hiking in a scrim of snow. Shortly after crossing the Iron Horse trail we began to encounter more snow but not enough to be a problem. We were stopping frequently for photos -- well, Jim wasn't (he didn't bring a camera).

If you know anything about photography you know that dappled light in forest (with snow) is challenging but I tried anyway. Further along the trail we came to the first avalanche chute of death (well, they really can be when there's a lot of snow). Much to our relief the avalanche chutes were still hiker friendly (no ice axes needed as of this writing - that could change any day though).

Along the way we enjoyed expanding views of Humpback Ridge - the light on the slopes mottled with snow and brush that hadn't yet been buried were lovely. The sky was so blue above the ridge it looked "fake", more like a movie prop than the real thing.

By the time we reached the lake there were seniors all over the place but since we're seniors too that was fine with us. The larger group of hikers were non-intrusive and it was easy to share the space with them (at the trailhead we also ran into a couple of hikers I knew from The Mountaineers - they were also non-obtrusive but that may have been because they'd disappeared by the time we got there). Before we finished lunch they reappeared; we chatted with them before they headed back to the trailhead.

There was one dicey moment - as we hiked along the lakeshore a way Murphy, Jim's standard black poodle, fell off a flimsy bridge into the drink. Good thing he has a thick, curly coat. As for the lake, that also was a challenge to photograph because of the tricky light (we had to contend with "blue" snow and deep shadows). In all my visits to Annette Lake I have NEVER managed to take a good photo of the lake!

Actually there was another heart-in-the-throat moment: on our way down my right foot shot out from under me causing me to slip off a snow-covered rock and ending up with my mittened hands encased in cold water. Not fun. I lead out on the way down; Bob fell once and twice I could hear the stamping of boots as Jim managed NOT to fall a couple of times on the slippery snow.

Speaking of returning to the trailhead, the larger group of seniors were still exploring the lakeshore when we left. As for us we were cold enough that we hurried down (my right hand was so cold from being plunged into cold water that it was screaming). A good reminder to carry TWO pairs of gloves on winter hikes.

All in all despite minor inconveniences we couldn't have picked a better hike - the sun was shining, it wasn't raining, it wasn't windy and there wasn't enough snow to fret about.

We topped off the day with hot coffee in North Bend.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Since Persis

I've been out several times but am terrible with dates - I always think I'll remember the day I did a hike then Time gets away from me once again and the hikes begin to blur together. It's a pleasant blur and pretty but alas, perhaps not as informative as the write-ups should be. I'll try to do better.

My most recent hike was Granite Mountain (10-29-10) and given the weather we weren't quite sure what to expect. Weather turned out to be great for hiking - I'm a much better hiker in cool temperatures than I am when it's hot. We could have made it to the lookout if we'd taken our ice axes .... but we didn't. Sure, we could have bare-booted it up and trudged through the snow but having been there several times before it just didn't seem necessary. Like an old hiking pal always said before hitting the trail "Is this hike really necessary?" Well, yes it was. We needed the uphill workout as we've been hiking in the desert lately (I almost typed dessert rather than desert). Well, we've been in the dessert too. Another good reason for a good, stiff hike.

Seems like no matter what kind of weather you get on Granite Mountain it's just plain pretty. The fall colors were still out at lower to mid-elevations - we hiked a while through the snow until it became a little slick. We could see more of the same ahead and had read reports of snow deep enough to warrant (possibly) snowshoes once you reached the "tarns".

Oh, we gained over 2,300 feet elevation. That's at least respectable.

Last week - (perhaps Wednesday 10-27?) we took our pals Jim and Maxine out to Hanford Reach National Monument; they had never been there. My, it's a long drive. It takes about 3 hours to get to Hanford Reach from Snoqualmie Pass, a little longer from Seattle. If gas wasn't so expensive we wouldn't mind the drive because the drive is beautiful, one we never tire of.

About that gate with the solar panel at the Wahluke Unit of the Hanford Reach National Monument (off SR 24, just past milepost 63) ... the solar panel is missing so it no longer closes at schedule times. Perhaps it is done manually. The Hanford Reach National Monument is open dawn to dusk and you can hike the white bluffs either south or north (we headed north).

First we stopped to view the old ferry landing (a boat launch today) before hiking up to the bluffs. Near the boat launch is an old cabin that belonged to an early settler - later it became a blacksmith shop. Little of that is left today - the old structure is protected by a barbed wire fence and it should be. The weather couldn't have been better - it was warm, sunny and the views of the Columbia River and Locke Island from the bluffs are amazing. It's only about 350 feet gain or so to the bluffs - if you head north you'll get to sand dunes at about 4 miles - just past the dunes is the Saddle Mountain Unit (that is closed as of this writing). Hiking out to the dunes is one of the most interesting hikes I've done but we didn't have enough time at our disposal to do so on this visit.

It was spring the last time I hiked out to the dunes; then wildflower displays were amazing and they will be again. A return trip is in order.

We wish Hanford Reach wasn't so far away - it's a bit of a "reach" for us but yes, the hike was really "necessary".

Recently we hiked the interpretive trails at Ginkgo State Park (Petrified Forest) and a trail in the Ginkgo State Park Backcountry. The backcountry hike was on an old jeep track that climbed to views of the Columbia River (does anyone ever get tired of looking at that river?). The nearby petrified forest is a little off-putting because the displays of petrified wood are protected by concrete walls and covered with steel rebar. You cannot touch the displays nor can you get a good photo - it is a little like being in a zoo. It's too bad such sites are ravaged by hoodlums and thieves - if not for them, the fossils wouldn't need to be in "cages".

For closer views of petrified wood visit the nearby Ginkgo Gem Shop - there are also living Ginkgo trees there (Ginkgo trees are one of the oldest trees in the world and are native to China). They will grow under the right conditions - I've even spotted one in West Seattle. We also stopped by the Ginkgo State Park Interpretive Center but it is closed for the winter except by appointment. We walked the grounds, enjoying still more views of the Columbia River and beyond.

On October 20th (I actually remembered that date!) I hiked with a friend to Red Pond above Commonwealth Basin near Snoqualmie Pass. That wasn't our intention. We aimed for Red Pass (it was a gorgeous day and the fall colors were at their best). We opted for the longer approach via the PCT and were having a great conversation. The problem is that the conversation was so interesting that we missed the turn-off to Commonwealth Basin/Red Pass and got about half-way up to the Katwalk before we caught our error.

Neither one of us wanted to go to Kendall Katwalk (we'd been there recently) so we backtracked to the turn-off and headed toward Red Pass. However by the time we got to Red Pond we were hungry and stopped there for just about the laziest lunch I've ever indulged in. By the time we ate, talked some more and took photographs we lost interest in going to Red Pass so hiked back to the trailhead via the old trail in Commonwealth Basin.

By the way the old trail now sports a "new" bridge over the worst crossing of Commonwealth Creek. I don't know who is reponsible for the fine work but thank you, whoever you are!!