Thursday, March 15, 2012

To the tune of: "I don't get around much anymore"

That's not totally true. Let's just say that I haven't been anywhere "interesting" in the mountains for what is beginning to feel like a very long time. The cost of gas, the weather, avalanche danger, aging cars .... so to keep fit I've been running and do so about three times a week, sometimes four. When I start hiking again (if it ever stops raining) I'll run less often. However, I am feeling good about the running - my longest run to date is 12.5 miles, almost a Half Marathon. I'm considering the Seattle Half Marathon this fall.

The other activity that keeps me moreorless sane is my enjoyment of photography. I don't venture far these days so I often revisit the same places but always find something "new" to photograph or at least a "new" way of looking at something I've photographed in the past.

Places I return to frequently include the Pike Place Public Market, the Volunteer Park Conservatory, Jack Block Park (a Port of Seattle park in West Seattle), Alki, little parks along Beach Drive SW in West Seattle and just around the neighborhood pea-patches. Another favorite place: Georgetown. I'm sure I could come up with more but the truth is, I'm still not getting outside enough to be my usual happy self and at times I feel "dull" for lack of a better word.

The weather lately has been demoralizing to say the least. It looks like it's going to be another short summer with snow lingering in the mountains too long. Just about the time the snow melted LAST year the days were already getting shorter.

Sometimes you just can't win but you gotta keep going.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Twin Falls Natural Area and more

March 5, 2012

It was a surprise to have this popular trailhead all to ourselves on this snowy morning. The Twin Falls trail to the bridge/overlook of Twin Falls is a popuar trail for several reasons - it's close to Seattle, Issaquah and North Bend and it's scenic. It's also an easy enough hike that it's suitable for hikers of all ages and abilities. In otherwords, it's a good four-season trail suitable for anyone. Since it is suitable for anyone, that often translates to "everyone" so if you are seeking solitude this is not the trail for you on a sunny weekend. Whenever you go don't forget your Discover Pass - it is required.

Unless ... it's a wintry day mid-week with an early start. We've hiked to Twin Falls in all kinds of weather but this was our first time in snow. It felt a little odd to be breaking trail on this family-friendly hike though the snow will soon melt. It's only about 2-1/2 miles round trip to the bridge-overlook above Twin Falls (that's where many people stop). There is also a lower overlook of Twin Falls before you get to the bridge but as of this writing it is closed due to damage from recent snow and ice storms. Please heed the warning.

The trail starts out following the South Fork of the Snoqualmie River with viewpoints of the river along the way. After the trail follows the river a while it climbs to a small ridge where there are benches for a rest-break or peek-a-boo views of the river (we were able to get a peek at one of the waterfalls from the bench). The trail drops down again, is level for a bit then climbs again on a circuitous route to avoid a slope prone to mud-slides. Along the way note a large, hollowed out stump (left), a perfect setting for a photo of a hiker avoiding inclement weather.

A bit more down on an elaborate set of stairs leads to the robust bridge, the thundering falls and dizzying views to the river and waterfalls below. As of this writing there was about three inches of snow on the bridge but it wasn't slippery. Hikers can continue further to another overlook of the waterfalls and/or to the Iron Horse trail (getting to the Iron Horse trail involves some uphill.

What this writer cannot adequately describe was the beauty of the fresh snow highlighting every twig, fern and tree along the trail. On a cloudy day such as this one it was like hiking through a pen and ink drawing or an etching, every detail sharp and crisp.

The temperatures were such that the snow was not designed to last and began to melt as we hiked out. We also began to meet a few other hikers coming in to enjoy the gifts of this four-season trail.

It is about 2-1/2 miles round-trip to the bridge overlooking Twin Falls.

To get there from Seattle: drive east on I-90 and get off at Exit 34, follow signs to the park/trailhead.

Rattlesnake Lake and more:

Since it was still cold we skipped the hike to Rattlesnake Ledge on our way back but did stop at the lake for photography. It was cold and wintry; we could see Rattlesnake Ledge was snowy and didn't look at all user-friendly. The water was high in the lake but it made for good photography.

To get to Rattlesnake Lake and Rattlesnake Ledge: Take Exit 32 from I-90, continue to trailhead/parking. A Discover Pass is required.

We also stopped at Mill Pond Road (between Snoqualmie Falls and North Bend) for photos of Mount Si reflected in an old mill pond on our way home. Conditions were great for photography; the sun had come out, the skies were blue and what clouds there were were fat, puffy and white.

Our last stop was Snoqualmie Falls; we spent more time photographing flowers in the gardens at Snoqualmie Falls than the waterfall itself; the mist from Snoqualmie Falls was extreme and the upper overlooks were closed due to icy conditions.

Karen Sykes

Rattlesnake Mountain Trail, February 2012

Though we enjoy the hike to Rattlesnake Ledge from Rattlesnake Lake we enjoy more solitude on the Rattlesnake Mountain Trail. Getting to this trailhead is a shorter drive – a plus with rising gas prices. Let the feet do the work rather than wheels when possible. If you’ve never hiked this end of the Rattlesnake Mountain trail take a side trip to Snoqualmie Point before you hit the trail; the views are worth the few minutes it takes to drive up there. It’s also a lovely setting for an after-hike picnic or sunset photos.

Though this is now a well-established trail and is featured in hiking guidebooks and the media hikers were hiking a network of old roads and boot paths to Rattlesnake Lake long before the trail was constructed. Despite it being an official trail with publicity we have yet to encounter other hikers once we’ve hiked past Stan’s Overlook. Stan’s overlook is about 2.5 miles from the trailhead and a natural turnaround for hikers wanting an easy hike with views of North Bend, Mount Si and Teneriffe.

Once you leave the trailhead the trail climbs at a moderate grade through second- and third-growth forest with clues that this was once majestic forest. You’ll notice a gigantic, hollowed-out stump (left) as you climb, an ideal spot for kids playing hide’ n’ seek. Note the size of the gigantic roots that branch out, still clutching the earth with bare knuckles. In the fall this forested stretch of the trail is a smorgasbord of gold, yellows, reds and brown as vine maple is prevalent.
After the short climb through forest the trail opens out to climb a more-open stretch; more stumps lean out over the trail and note how the bare patches of earth (made when the new trail was created) are filling in with salal and other vegetation. Several stretches of the trail have been logged in the past; note how wild blackberries are wrapping their arms around the stumps and note how in the fall mushrooms seemingly appear seemingly overnight. From this cleared stretch you’ll begin to get glimpses of the Snoqualmie peaks but the best is yet to come.
Stan’s Overlook (2,100 feet) always fools me; it’s further away than I remember. Twice now we’ve almost turned downhill where another logging road comes in from below. It is especially tempting because in the thin layer of snow on the road we could see where others have come and gone. Clue: this may be another approach to Stan’s overlook (stay tuned). We love to explore so next time we hike there; we’ll hike down the road and see where it comes out (if anywhere).

If/when in doubt; you can rely on good signage - after another uphill stint a hard-to-miss sign points the way to Stan’s Overlook and other points of interest beyond. For Stan’s turn left at this junction - an old road leads to a picnic table and a spread of views to please the taste of any hiker. On this last day in February the picnic table was covered with snow; it wasn’t picnic weather. Though the sun was out it was chilly. We opted to continue hiking until we ran out of energy or time, whichever came first.

Once past Stan’s Overlook the trail climbs through mostly second- and third-growth forest. Some hikers get bored hiking through what some might call unremarkable forest but we can always find something to please the eye; a wisp of fern, an animal track, unusual bark on a tree. This stretch of the trail is mostly “up” but at a more modest grade than the beginning and with a few downs to hold one’s interest.
With our lazy start-time we had to push to get to Grand Prospect, about 4 miles from the trailhead (according to the trail signs); other write-ups suggest it is more like 5 miles to Grand Prospect. No matter; once you are there the view is indeed “grand”. A signboard helps identify the sea of peaks across from you; some you’ll recognize. Today the graphics on the sign were covered with snow.
We only lingered long enough for a quick bite to eat, following a patch of sunlight that kept moving further and further away as minutes passed. It was warm in the sun but still cold in the shade. As always, when we gaze upon the Snoqualmie valley peaks and beyond we remember good hikes in the past, peaks we’ll return to when the snow is gone.

We packed up and hurried down; pausing to note that a cougar’s tracks had crossed our path. We’d heard of a “large” cougar that calls this region home and we would love to have seen it from a safe distance; there was also a smattering of bunny tracks that were not there on our way to the overlook. We believe the cougar had spotted us; that gave us a slightly eerie feeling. Friends tell me I have a way with cats but not kitties that size!

On our way down we only met two hikers coming up the trail; at Rattlesnake Lake we would have encountered many more.

To get there from Seattle: drive east on I-90 and get off at Exit 27. From the off-ramp turn right and continue a short distance to the end of the road – go through the gate (right) to the trailhead at 980 feet (straight takes you to the Snoqualmie Point Overlook, always worth a stop before or after a hike).

Additional information: The map is Green Trails No. 205S Rattlesnake Mountain. It is about 5 miles round-trip to Stan’s Overlook, about 8 miles round-trip (per trail signs) to Grand Prospect.

Karen Sykes