Monday, December 20, 2010

Mount Si Rambling, December 2010


What else can anyone say about Mount Si that hasn’t been said?

It’s convenient, the trail provides a great workout and the views from the Haystack are splendid.

Though it’s been said that familiarity breeds contempt Mount Si is like an old friend you are comfortable with and can count on - even when you abandon Mount Si for higher realms Mount Si patiently awaits your return in the fall when days grow short and snow covers the high trails.

You know that Mount Si will always be there for you. Or will it? Now there’s talk about additional fees for recreation including the possibility of hikers needing a pass to hike on land managed by the Department of Natural Resources (State Parks are also in trouble; the future uncertain). I’m not a fortune teller but it is probably just a matter of time before it’s going to cost all of us more to recreate.

Me? I’d be willing to pay a modest fee for an annual pass to hike on DNR-land – better that than not be able to hike there at all. How much would I be willing to pay to hike Mount Si or another park in the vicinity? Well, let’s see – we’ve already purchased a Sno-Park permit, a pass from the Department of Fish and Wildlife (the Vehicle Use Permit) and my Golden Age Pass to access Washington National Parks and United States Forest Service land. I already donate to Washington State Parks when I renew my license tabs – so, OK – how much more would I be willing to pay? I’ve heard of $8 per vehicle, even $8 per person to recreate in a DNR-managed park. That, of course, is outrageous – I don’t care how much money you make. $10 or $15 a year per vehicle, OK – I’d be OK with that. Most hikers, mountain bikers, runners and climbers probably would be OK with that too though I can’t speak for everyone.

Recently there’s talk about the major land-management agencies combining passes – that strikes me as not such a bad idea. That makes it easier for everyone, including the land management agencies. For the latest information on proposals and updates on specifics check out the website for Washington Trails Association ( Click the stewardship link for the latest news and how you can make your opinion heard.

And now a confession - I didn’t mean to get into politics – generally a subject I avoid. Like I read once, “each man is right according to his point of view”. I have the curse – or is it a blessing – to see more than one side of things and it’s hard for me to make a stand. Truth is like a diamond – like a diamond there are more than two sides and on issues such this there’s dozens of sides to reflect upon before making – or not making a stand. I can always find a little bit of right in the worst opinions and a little bit of woe in the best opinions. So I generally prefer to leave most politics to others and live with the consequences (by not participating in politics I don’t have a right to grumble about the outcome of controversial issues).

However, this is an issue I’m keeping a close eye on and depending on how it all shakes out I might have to step into the no-man’s land of politics.

The first time I hiked Mount Si I felt I had climbed a “real” mountain. After all, I had only done a few easy hikes up to that point. I forget how many hours it took to get to the top but a strong hiker today would find my “time” pathetic. Even when I was at my best there was always someone faster than me so I stopped playing that game a long time ago. I look at my watch when I get to the trailhead and when I get to the top, not the duration. I “find” my pace and stick to it and I don’t stop until I get there. I don’t need “rest” breaks if I am hiking at the right pace; I only need to stop for water on hot days when drinking frequently is a must.

My memories of Mount Si are good ones - in the 1980s a group of us would meet to hike up Mount Si after we got off work. We always made it down before dark, we had a good time and afterwards we’d chow down at a nearby restaurant (to replace the calories we hoped we’d lost).

A lot has changed in 30 years – there are fewer wildflowers at the base of the Haystack than there were my first visit in1980. The trail has been rerouted a couple of times. Some hikers like the changes; others don’t. The trail is more user-friendly than it used to be and a lot busier. On weekends the parking lot is overflowing with cars, hikers starting out, hikers returning, dogs on leash and off – a virtual river of hikers of all ages, shapes and sizes. I am but a mere drop in that human river except perhaps on a rainy Tuesday morning when there are only a few cars in the lot and you don’t have to stand in line to use the facilities.

Our last visit was a weekday (December 16th) and there were only a few cars in the parking lot at 10:15, a late start. There had been a windstorm the day before so we weren’t surprised to see a few trees had come down near the trailhead (none impeding a hiker’s progress). The snow line was low – but we didn’t get into snow until we’d climbed past Snag Flats (roughly the half-way point of the 4-mile trail).

We were well into snow by the time we reached the non-designated junction with the Old Si trail but the snow still wasn’t a problem. A thin layer of fresh snow covered the dirt and that made for good traction; no Yak Trax or traction devices required. We’d planned to hike to the base of the Haystack – en route a few hikers came down and mentioned that it was extremely windy on the top.

About last stretch of the trail became more challenging as the fresh snow now covered old snow; we were still able to hike without traction devices but most hikers would prefer to wear them on the descent. The vegetation was covered with new snow; we’d never seen Mount Si so pretty. When we broke out of the last clump of sheltering trees near the “rocks” we were almost blown off the trail. The wind was so cold as to be unbearable – we stayed only long enough to take a couple photos and beat a retreat into the trees; our hands were screaming from the cold.

The descent was a more challenging – without poles or traction devices it was easy to slip and slide on the steep grade but we managed to make it down without falling. Silverback utilized his staff; I depended on my good balance to keep from falling (I’ve tried hiking with trekking poles but don’t like them). We were both equipped with traction devices (Stabilicers and Yak Trax) but didn’t use them partly because even with gloves our hands were too cold to put them on. (Hint: Put them on a little before your fingers get so cold they can’t function).

We made it back down within a respectable time given that everyone we met on the trail was at least half our age. We changed out of our damp boots/sox into dry shoes and socks and could hardly wait to get our hands on that thermos of hot coffee we’d left in the car. As we drove back to Seattle I indulged myself in more Mount Si-related nostalgia – the New Years Day I climbed with friends (we were all wearing crampons) and even with crampons we lurched from tree to tree, laughing the whole way down. The wedding ceremony we encountered near the base of Mount Si – the happy couple turned out to be members of The Mountaineers that I knew. The time we hiked up Si on Super Bowl Sunday and the trail was just about as close to being deserted as you can get. The summer evening I met a fellow on the trail climbing with a huge pack who told me he was going to live on Mount Si (I often wonder what happened to him). The numerous hikers who have passed me as I grow older (once I grumbled “you might as well pass me, everyone else does”). The time I climbed the Haystack alone (my first and last climb) and found it easier than I thought it would be. On the summit I met a young woman who had just graduated from law school – she was celebrating (that was also her first time on the Haystack). The countless times I’ve run into acquaintances on the trail and how much fun it is to run into someone I know. The countless times I’ve hiked alone and found a lonely niche in the rocks below the Haystack to dream or to ponder a problem.

I look forward to seeing Mount Si again soon. Maybe I’ll see you there too.

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