Monday, August 4, 2014

Sahale Glacier Party Camp -- Aug 1-3

Here is a brief trip report I put up on Washington Trails Association.

Pictures are up on Google+.

The trip really began at 4AM Thursday, when I got up to drive the 110 miles to the Wilderness Information Center in Marblemount, WA, to get in line early to get the permit. Permits are issued no earlier than 24 hours before the day you want to backpack and camp. I was the first in line at 6:30 and the WIC opened at 7. I picked up the free permit and borrowed a required bear canister to keep our food from the critters.

I drove back to Kirkland, worked until 4PM, and then drove back to Marblemount, grabbed dinner at a local restaurant, then drove the 24 additional miles to the trailhead in North Cascades National Park.

There I pulled out my camp chair, my camera, and a bottle of wine as I waited for the clear skies to darken. I shot a few star shots and was visited by a pesky deer a couple of times as well as a few mice looking for scraps.


I then slept in my car, waiting for dawn to head up the mountain.

I woke up around 5:20 and gathered up all my gear and started up at 5:55AM, determined to be the first backpacker to the campsite area so I would have the best chance of getting a great site. A couple of climbers were already ahead of me; they were there to dayhike and climb Sahale Mountain.

This was the first time backpacking this year, and with the bear canister and all my camera gear, tent, food, stove and cooking gear, and all the other stuff, I guess my pack was around 55lbs. Not insane, but definitely more than you want to carry up almost 4,000 ft on your first outing.

You can see the camping permit hanging there -- note that the ziplock is unzipped; the permit would later fall out of the sleeve and onto the trail along the Arm and be left behind. A day later, the Forest Ranger visits to check for permits, and as he approached, pulled out my lost permit and says he found it as he was hiking up. 
I made the 3.7 mile hike to Cascade Pass within a couple hours or so, gaining 1,800 ft. About halfway through this part of the hike the smell of smoke became evident as the wind had reversed from west to east and smoke from the nearby Lone Mountain 1 fire near Stehekin was filtering through the pass into the valley.

Once at the pass, I rested a bit and then made my way up the steeper trail to Sahale Arm, the long semicircle left by a glacier, with Doubtful Lake at the bottom of the cirque. From here you can see the campsites 1.5 miles and 1,400 ft above you, high up on the south side of Sahale.

Campsites are on the rounded mounds just below the summit snowfield.
The trail meanders along the ridge and steeply climbs the last 900 ft over a half mile. Even with all the hiking and cardio work at the gym, I was surprisingly winded at this altitude and took far more breaks than I expected. Last year at this time I had easily summitted Adams at twice this altitude.

When I reached Sahale Glacier Camp, all this early effort paid off, as all the campsites were vacated and I chose the same site we had back in Sept, 2012.


I dropped my pack and put up my new ultralight tent, which honestly is a difficult tent to set up within the confines of the rock-walled campsite. I knew it would be windy overnight, so I had to be sure to secure the lines to heavy rocks.

From this point on at around noon, I really had nothing to do but enjoy the view and wait for my friends Sharon and Becka to arrive. Soon other day-climbers and hikers arrived, and I chatted with most of them, as our campsite is the first one they come to, plus it has a great resting spot high on the ridge.

Climbers Will and Wayne arrived and set camp on the next moraine mound east of us.


We chatted about their climbing adventures. They had designs on not only summiting Sahale, but traversing across the Horseshoe Basin and summiting Mt. Bucker the next day.

I patiently waited for Sharon and Becka to arrive, guessing they'd be up by about 4PM given their start in Seattle at around 7AM. Meanwhile, the skies were darkening under a 20% chance of thunderstorms.

Sometime in the afternoon I visited the glacier melt stream and fetch a few quarts of ice-cold water to cook with -- no need to filter up here; it's great right off the ice, snow, and rocks.

Other campers arrived and quickly filled up the 6 designated campsites. Two couples camped adjacent to our site and we all socialized and shared adventures.

With the storm clouds slowly approaching from the SE and rain shafts clearly evident and a few lightning strikes far away, Sharon and Becka arrived at around 6PM.



We got busy setting up their tent, which was actually my Marmot 2P tent. Sharon was test-driving before deciding to buy it from me.

Lightning and thunder become more pressing and the rain eventually moved in, so we all piled into Sharon's tent and continued drinking and chatting. We kept vigilant to estimate the distance of the lightning strikes, and were prepared to abandon the high ground of our mound for a safer area below. At some point we drank enough wine to decide that we cared less about the lightning and that being struck by lightning on a mountain while backpacking isn't such a bad way to go....

...But that wasn't to be. The closest strike was still about a mile away and the storm dissipated and we all exited the tent. Our neighbors were so enjoying drinks in their tents that I had to loudly announced "The rain has ended!" to encourage them to join us on the ridge for dinner.

As it goes when backpacking, at least as has been the case with me, we socialize as much as everyone wants to, and share whatever we bring. We cooked our freeze-dried concoctions and passed them around, continuing to share stories of hikes and climbs.

With the multiple layers of clouds remaining from the storms, we expected and were granted a beautiful sunset that evolved over about 90 minutes. All of us had our cameras and smartphones out shooting shot after shot until the sky faded.


Sharon, Becka and I retreated to the tent and chatted and drank some more until we were done with the long day and called it a night.

The next day we staggered out of our tents, went to the melt stream to refill our water containers, and made coffee and breakfast, again enjoying it with our neighbors who sadly were leaving us later that morning. We saw them off and just sat around camp as the morning sun climbed higher.

Seeing off our friends Amy, John, Megan, and Mark.
A very bold marmot continued to visit us, unfazed at it walked within a few feet of each of us. Marmots, like goats, get their mineral intake from urine, so wherever we peed, the marmots and goats would go there and lick it up. And while there is a toilet at Sahale, it is not for peeing; we are encouraged by the Rangers to pee off the trail and on rocks, so we all more or less used a few designated spots that had varying degrees of privacy depending on which campsites were occupied. It's simply the way it is up there, well above the treeline.

Becka and the landlord marmot.
At around noon or so, Saturday's dayhikers began to arrive, and we greeted them and were happy to take pictures of them with their cameras and smartphones. Some stayed only a few minutes, while others chatted with us about making plans to camp up there like we did. We really enjoyed the company and sharing it all with them.

New neighbors arrived where the ones from morning departed, and we quickly got on well with them, too.

While the day developed, so did the storms to the south, this time about three hours earlier than they did on Friday. With the forecast up to a 30% chance, we really expected to get some weather. But the storms never made it anywhere near us and remained to our south and east and the day wound down with another beautiful sunset.


Before the sunset, and after the weather cleared up, our new neighbors summited Sahale, and upon their return we all got together and shared some more drinks and our dinners.

We again all enjoyed the sunset and retreated to our tents.

Sometime around 1AM I peeked through the tent fly to see clear skies and I had to take the opportunity to get some more star shots. The sky was very clear and smoke-free, as the wind has shifted back to the west.



Later that morning but before dawn, I heard a couple of goats go right by our tent, though outside the rock wall, and could tell by their sounds that it was a baby and adult goat (assumed a nanny goat). They probably had their noses tuned to another pee spot just down from our campsite. Other critters, mainly mice, could be heard rummaging around our tent; Sharon discovered in the morning that some of her food that wasn't secured in the bear canister had been pillaged, including her coffee creamer and some trail mix.

Sunday morning was consumed with coffee, breakfast, and breaking camp. We were on the trail just before 9. We had some trepidation about the descent, as the trail is steep and comprised of unconsolidated scree and dirt in places. But with poles it was easy to manage.



We ran into two sets of nanny/kid goats. The first one was off the trail, about 30 ft to the west. The second pair was munching some grass while standing on the trail. So I stopped dead in my tracks and could do nothing but wait. After about a minute or so, the nanny bounded up the ridge, but the kid stayed on the trail. And I stayed put. The nanny, from her higher vantage point, eyeballed me closely, almost daring me to approach her kid.


I did not take that dare. Soon the kid followed her mother up the ridge and we continued down.

The rest of the hike was uneventful. We stopped at the pass to get some more food in us, then we did the remaining 3.7 miles -- and 34 switchbacks -- back to the trailhead and our cars.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Looking for a tougher workout than Mailbox Peak? Try Mt. Teneriffe.

We all hike for various reasons; getting out of the city, adventure and exploration, enjoying nature, letting our dog be a dog, the spirituality, photography, and always, exercise. Some hikes offer a good balance of many or all of those, others can offer only one or two. I prefer a combination of all of those, but when I choose a hike, I usually have one aspect in mind over others and it depends on my mood, the seasonal timing, and who I'm hiking with.

For example, early in the season, many of the toughest hikes are snowed over to the point of being a futile snow slog or downright dangerous due to avalanche risk or fickle weather. Other times, friends may prefer an easier hike along a river or near the ocean. Doesn't matter, really -- all hiking is good hiking -- and Washington has trails for everyone.

But in the early shoulder season April through mid-July, while we wait for the snow to clear from the roads and trails that lead us deep into the backcountry or to the higher routes, I focus on conditioning hikes to make sure I'm fit for any adventure that I plot out for the peak season July through mid-October. And living near Seattle, we have familiar training hikes: Mt. Si, Mailbox Peak, Mount Teneriffe, Mount Defiance, and later, Granite Mountain.

Yes, there are others, but these well-worn bootpaths are the go-to tests to see if you're ready for the summer. May is when many folks are in final training for Rainier, so you'll see scores of folks with full packs trudging up these steep grinders, building up strength and cardio, and working past the crippling quad or joint soreness so they aren't hobbled on their bigger adventures.

Of these hikes, my favorite conditioning hike is Mount Teneriffe. I usually do it once or twice each Spring. I like it because it's far less crowded than Mailbox and Si, and the peace lets you focus on staying in tune with what your body is doing and being able to take a rest without getting in other people's way.
Teneriffe Track
Mt. Teneriffe's elevation profile, round trip. The blue is a plot of my hiking speed.
Folks generally think Mailbox is the toughest popular hike west of Snoqualmie Pass along I-90. I'm not sure how much of that is because they are unaware of Teneriffe -- which is an argument about Teneriffe's popularity, I suppose, or that they simply assume Mailbox is the toughest because that's what everybody talks about. Mailbox has a much bigger and better trailhead that was just updated. Teneriffe has nothing but a small school bus turnaround where maybe 20-25 cars can park at a time.

Mailbox Peak's elevation profile, one way.


I have a slight obsession with this. I have done both hikes -- Mailbox twice and Teneriffe at least five times. Objectively and subjectively, Teneriffe is tougher overall, and here's why:

First though, let me qualify the Teneriffe hike. Many people summit Teneriffe along the exceedingly long road trail. Or they come over from Si, again, largely on old, relatively gentle and even forest roads. Or they take the somewhat shorter trail up to Kamikaze Falls and then up the ridge to the summit (~ 8 miles round trip). I now only take the old closed trail (sorry, trail keepers!), sometimes called the Kamikaze route, because it follows the creek mostly and it's tough and unmaintained. And it's just under 6 miles round trip. Saves about 2 hours time, too.

Back to the comparison. Consider the trail data, one way, up each peak:

Mailbox
Teneriffe
Distance, one way (miles) 2.66 2.98
Base altitude (ft) 824 951
Peak altitude (ft) 4833 4794
Gain (ft) 4009 3843
Slope over entire trail 28.5% 24.4%
Distance over top 3,600 ft 1.98 1.82
Slope over top 3,600 ft 34.4% 37.5%
Distance over top 2,500 ft 1.43 1.1
Slope over top 2,500 ft 33.1% 43.0%
Distance over top 1,500 ft 0.87 0.7
Slope over top 1,500 ft 32.7% 40.6%

[this data is gathered from GPS tracking logs. The analysis was gathered using Google Earth]

So while I will concede that overall Mailbox gains 166 more feet and averages 4% steeper over its entire route, comparing the climbing portion of Teneriffe -- once you leave the easy road and go up the old trail -- is considerably steeper, especially over the top 2,500ft, nearly a 10% steeper grade than Mailbox.

Objectively, Teneriffe's trail is much more rugged. At the falls, if you take the trail that starts right along the falls, you'll be scrambling hand over foot for a ways as you head for the ridge. There are large and uneven steps and roots and loose rock. And once you meet the ridgeline, you'll be on a beeline up that ridge with virtually no switchbacks until you get about two-thirds the way up there; Mailbox has many more switchbacks than Teneriffe, which dramatically reduces the slope and lengthens the trail. If Mailbox had no switchbacks, it'd be at least as steep as Teneriffe.
A moment of zen whilst grinding up Teneriffe

Heading town Teneriffe

Teneriffe's trail along the ridge is quite rugged and offers a few places where a misstep would send you tumbling down the side of the ridge. I'm not saying it's dangerous, especially compared to higher level scrambles, but for a casual hike, it's got the potential to ruin your day.


Lower portion of Mailbox trail


Mailbox offers a few places to mess yourself up. Many people prefer to climb over the big boulder field near the summit rather than go around it. I've done both and I prefer the going around. One slip on the boulders and it's going to leave a mark. The rest of Mailbox's trail is very worn down and at some times, hard to follow, especially through the rooty wooded area about half way up. Lots of people get lost or slip and hurt themselves on the roots.
View from Mailbox looking south

Summit views are nice on each, but I have to say Teneriffe's is a bit more dramatic, as it's on a more prominent pitch, and you can see Glacier Peak and others up in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness. And Mailbox, has, of course, the mailbox.
Looking across to Mailbox from Teneriffe

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Waiting...

This time of year I grow impatient waiting for the snow to melt on many hiking and backcountry trails, especially the trails that head deeper into the wilderness and away from the I-90 and western slope hordes.

Here's what I typically run into above 4,500 ft this time of year. This was scrambling up the snow toward Rampart Lakes above Rachel Lake on June 21st.
Rachel Lake through the trees

I am jonesin' to explore new trails, knowing that come late July I have about three full months of endless trails waiting for me. While I wait, I make sure my gear is in shape, get myself in shape, and plan trips with my friends to get our calendars lined up.

Getting my gear in shape means making sure everything is in trail-ready condition. For example, I'm old school, so my hiking boots may need another layer of waterproofing. Or perhaps your tent seams need a fresh layer of sealing tape. I also look to see what equipment upgrades I can afford, which usually is limited to whatever my REI dividend works out to be for the previous year.

The bigger effort is to get myself in shape or at least intensify the workouts I've been doing over the winter. As I get older, this proves to be harder, but I have a decent regimen that's proven to be adequately-targeted to hiking and backpacking. I do high-intensity elliptical workouts at the gym a few days a week, which also includes weightlifting that focuses on my core and my upper body strength. This also helps to keep my weight in check -- it makes more economic sense to burn off 5lbs of Ken than spend a few hundred bucks for a tent that weighs 2lbs less.

I did more running than usual this year, but it ultimately did more harm than good as I'm still trying to sort out what appear to be running-related injuries. I've never been a runner and I do it as a social thing and for its cross-training benefits, but again, my body just doesn't like it. Better to stick to the low-impact high-resistance workouts at the gym.

The more satisfying part of training means hitting spring workouts like Mailbox Peak and less-crowded but just-as-tough-if-not-tougher Mt. Teneriffe (take the trail up above the falls, not the long and boring road trail). Or hitting some not-yet melted trails like Perry Creek or Mount Defiance -- slipping and sliding as you head up a snowy slope works out all kinds of stabilizer muscles.

Here's the snow above Perry Creek from a few weeks ago.
Trail at 4,756 ft.

Late Spring also encourages me to head east to hikes out in the Teanaway area like Ingalls Creek or up along the Wenatchee range including Longs Pass and Esmeralda Basin; hikes that are hot and dusty come July/August. Also, a hike along a river on the eastern side of The Olympics is a good choice; Duckabush River is a worthwhile one. I generally choose these hikes in part because they're dog-friendly -- but be mindful that if hiking up Ingalls Creek that dogs are not allowed at Lake Ingalls.

The Stuart Range from Navaho Peak, a peak in the Wenatchee Range on the north side of the Teanaway river basin.
Mt. Stuart to Little Annapurna

And now is the time to line up all your big trips -- your multi-night outings to new places you've been thinking about for years, or to bring along some new friends to a trip that you want them to enjoy like you did. When you reach middle age, many of us have kids, pets, family events, and other vacations planned during the summer. So now is the time that I like to finalize the plans and groups for the grander adventures of the summer and early fall. It's also important to find folks that can commit to the plan, because dropping out near trip time can make it logistically challenging if you're planning a traverse trip with cars at either end, or you're sharing a tent and sharing the load for food and other gear. And of course you have to map out your routes, get the necessary passes, and be aware of seasonal road construction.

Monday, June 9, 2014

How to Grill Bratwurst

This is not what you expected to see here.

We have to eat after all that hiking, right?

One of my all-time favorite meals is grilled bratwurst. I grew up outside Milwaukee, Wisconsin, so brats were a summertime staple and always on hand at any family event or ball game.

I've cooked several hundred bratwurst in my life, and it's time I share the absolute best way that I know to cook them. The goal is to have an evenly and thoroughly cooked brat that retains all that delicious fat (okay, yup, it's grease), without landing on your bun looking like a piece of charcoal.

Here we go:

PHASE ZERO: PREP

Take the bratwurst out of the package and let them come up to room temperature. Done. That's why it's phase ZERO.

Do not, do NOT, DO NOT boil them in beer, onions, or anything else. I'm a purist. Brats are supposed to taste like brats and nothing else. If you want to put them on a bun and cover them in onions, sauerkraut (my fav), mustard, or anything else (except ketchup for god's sake!), that's your business. This post is how to get the bratwurst out of the fridge and onto your bun in top condition.

And on top of everything else, do NOT do anything to damage the natural casing. Some folks boil their brats and POKE THEM to release all their fat! AAAAaaaaaagggghhhhh!. Why, oh WHY would anyone do that? You've just ruined the essence of the bratwurst and reduced it to a chewy, shriveled, dry shell of its former self. Might as well throw it away and eat a hot dog.

PHASE ONE: BROWNING
Get your grill going; do the usual heat up, but just before putting on the brats, set the grill to medium-low if not just low.

Put the brats on the grill. If possible, avoid direct flame, use the deflectors/shields/whatever. The last thing you want is a flare-up. Go ahead and close the lid on the grill to hold in the heat.

THIS IS THE MOST CRITICAL TIME. DO NOT LEAVE THE BRATS ALONE ON THE GRILL. If you have to, dash into the house and grab your beer, I understand that. But DO YOUR JOB and stay by the grill.

Your goal here is to lightly brown at least two sides of all the brats. Get some grill marks on them, as that's your brand and you want to make them your own. Typically this phase of cooking your brats takes no more than about 8-10 minutes. Again, make SURE you're not getting flare-ups or doing ANY charring. The WORST thing you can do is burst your bratwurst by cooking it too fast over direct heat.

After the sides show some golden brownness and grill marks on at least two sides, you have succeeded at PHASE ONE. Whew, the hard work is over. Take a long drink of that beer, you've earned it.

PHASE TWO: BAKING

Baking??? Huh?? 

Yup, that's what I said. Baking. The trick to keeping your bratwurst from being charred to a cinder and blowing all the fat over the grill is to bake them with indirect heat.

Move all your brats to one side of the grill. If you have a charcoal grill, you'll have more work to do as you have to move all the coals to the other side of the grill. If you have a gas grill, it's easy. Turn off one side of your burners and move the brats to that side.

Now turn your gas on FULL on the other side. I'm talking pre-heat full-on blast. If you have charcoal, do your best to pile all your coals on the side opposite of the brats to make them generate the most heat. Keep your brats well out of the flame area.

The idea here is to create as much indirect heat in your grill as you can, but keep your brats away from that direct heat. It's possible, I suppose, that some of the new gas grills can get ridiculously hot with just half their burners going, so use some judgment here -- we're not looking for 700 degrees to fire some clay pots or melt lead; we want more like 450-500, sustained for about 12-15 minutes.

This is the easy part. Close the lid, let the heat build, and walk away.

Come back in 3-5 minutes and make sure there is no fire or any brats that have split open. That's a sign that it's too hot and you need to keep the lid open a bit and drop the heat.

Keep an eye on it; smoke is a bad sign as it means flare-ups, but if you're doing it right, they'll turn a darker golden brown after about 10-12 more minutes. Once they reach that uniform color, you've completed PHASE TWO. Perfect.

PHASE THREE: RESTING
Put on that smug grin of yours and parade your brats from the grill to the kitchen table. Cover them with foil and let them rest for at least 5 minutes before anyone puts one on a bun. They need to stabilize and reach their full-flavored potential while cooling down a bit. The last thing anyone wants is a blast of 300 degree grease in their mouth.

When that foil comes off, you'll see a pile of perfection -- golden brown brats without third degree char, plump with all that tasty brat-ness.

Enjoy!



Sunday, June 8, 2014

Perry Creek

With Boomer on the mend, I wanted, no needed, to hike something new that wasn't too far or too crowded. I read recent trip reports on Perry Creek and it sounded like a good hike with some adventure. Some folks made the ridge and others turned back -- looked like a challenge.

So we started hiking at about 9:45AM. The trail shares the same parking lot as Mt. Dickerman, a good workout that's better later in the season. There was only one other guy on the trail ahead of me.

Boomer was definitely himself and did his usual bolt ahead as soon as we hit the trail. The first mile of the trail is quite serene as it makes its way from the lot to the old and now inaccessible trailhead, meandering through old growth trees. Once you get away from the road, the silence is very welcoming.

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After a short walk on the road to the old trailhead, you hit the main trail which leads to Perry Creek and Mt. Forgotten Meadows on the top of the ridge; today's goal.

The trail climbs steadily as it alternates between old growth groves and open talus traverses. Here's a shot looking back down the valley toward Hall Peak. Big Four Mountain is out of view to the left.

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At the three mile mark I was happy to come to Perry Creek Falls to take a break and shoot.

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I didn't take the time to set up my tripod, but was able to get a few decent hand-held shots, thanks to the image stabilization in my lens.

After another 100 yards or so, I changed out of my boots and put on my new Keen sandals, picked up Boomer and waded across the chilly creek. Glad it was only calf-deep.

With feet dry and boots back on, we headed up the steeper switchbacks to the ridge. Lots of flowers along the way, including this lone trillium.

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We hit the snow at about 4,500 ft, and it was all snow from that point up. There was a hint of a trail, as the guy in front of me went about half way up the snow before getting frustrated with the lack of trail and headed back down. I went past his tracks with the help of my GPS and knowing it was just a straight shot, continuing the switchback.

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After reaching and exploring the ridge, I shot this 360 panoramic (best viewed on a PC).

Here's a shot of Mt. Forgotten, with White Chuck Peak in the distance.

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We then looked for a snow-free spot to sit and eat our lunch. The only spot I could find was a little ledge at the edge of the snowbank on the north side of the ridge. It was at most 3 ft wide, with a drop of a few hundred feet. I carefully dropped down there and plopped Boomer beside me, enthralled with the sandwich I shared.

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And I soaked in the huge view from our lunch spot.

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We were the first up there, and on the way back down, passed a half dozen more who had already crossed the creek and were heading up. We chatted, exchanging tips and directions.

I was back to the car about six hours after I started, covering 10 miles or so.


View Perry Creek 6/7 9:45 AM in a larger map

Brief trip report is also up on WTA's site.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Stubborn on Mount Defiance

After my hiking/camping plans fell through Friday, I woke up Saturday with my body aching to get on a mountain.

Since I drove so much Friday for nothing, I didn't want to drive much, so I opted for a hike I did June 30th last year, Mount Defiance.

You can jump to all the pictures of this hike here.


I wished I had the same sunny day that I had back then; instead I hiked into clouds at about 4,000 ft and didn't quite break through them on Defiance's 5,584 ft. summit.


As I said last year, this hike is one of the best ones out on the I-90 hiking mecca only 45 minutes from Seattle. You'll never be alone, at least on the lower half of the hike to Mason Lake, but it offers a great contrast of a forest walk and talus fields on the south side of the hike...


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...then once you cross over the ridge and into the Alpine Lakes Wilderness, you have older growth trees and mossy boulder fields to envelope you as approach Mason Lake.


Approaching Mason Lake through the Alpine Lakes Wilderness


Mason Lake was mostly frozen over, though the area by the outlet stream was clear of ice.

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As you'll find on most weekend days, there were several folks enjoying the view, including a couple with a Boston a bit smaller than Boomer.

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At this point, the battery in my Canon DSLR died and became a useless 4lb payload, so all photos from here on are with my phone. Really, there wasn't much to see other than Boomer running around in the snow.



And crazy dog.



Boomer did great as always, and his superhero outfit kept him warm and dry the entire time.

At this point you can see we're in a few feet of grainy, soft snow. We wandered around Little Mason Lake, trying to get a bead on the trail. Eventually I resorted to my GPS and started up the ridge.

 

I got off course a little bit to the northeast, but then heard two guys, Ryan and Jared, descending, so I hiked up to them on the ridge (duh, that's where I was supposed to be anyway), and they gave me an idea of what to expect. This time of year, there's no defined trail other than the tracks of someone before you heading directly up the ridge. And their kicked-in bootprints were a help through some of the steep snow.

The last time we did this, we traversed south of the summit and then approached from the southwest. No traversing this time of year, as it's a waste of time and there's a possibility you'll do a very long unintentional glissade southward.

As you can see above, this is nothing but a slog upward, in and out of trees. The last two hundred feet to the top have some exposed areas where you alternate between snow and rock scramble. Not technical at all, you just have to four-wheel it up there. Boomer, of course, had no problems and ran up and back to me several times.

I, however, became rather winded; more so than usual, and it occurred to me that donating a pint of blood the day before was probably why. Sure, they tell you no strenuous activity within 12 hours, but I was 24 hours into my recovery and was maxing out my exertion. So I simply took a lot of short breaks -- hike up 50 ft, rest for a moment. Repeat. Several. Times.

Here's a smile from the summit:

Summit selfie

And Boomer frolicking like we just walked down the street:

Boomer on Mount Defiance; Lake Kulla Kulla below.

That's Lake Kulla Kulla 1,800 ft. below.

The sun couldn't punch through completely, but at times there was enough to cast faint shadows and fortunately enough to heat the rocks you see here. Boomer and I shared a sandwich, and after about 15 minutes on the summit, headed back down.

I did a couple of unintentional glissades (e.g. falling on the snow and sliding on my ass), but fortunately was able to arrest myself before running into any trees or rocks. It's all par for the course. About an hour later I was back at Mason Lake and crossed the outlet stream again:



And then hiked up and over the ridge, where the early afternoon sun had burned away a lot of the earlier clouds over I-90:


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The hike was just over 9 miles, up and down 3,400 ft.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

East Bank Baker Lake

It's rewarding when you throw something together spontaneously and it turns out to be even better than you thought it could. That's what this hike along the east side of Baker Lake turned out to be.

Three days before our hike, I ran into Sharon at a Microsoft cafeteria, and she mentioned that she wanted to get out on the trail and exercise her recovering foot from a serious break over the winter. She had East Bank Baker Lake in mind, and we decided that we do the hike and then find a spot to car camp.

Well, thanks to facebook, we had a group of six lined up within a day, and we all converged at the parking lot by 12:30PM (sorry we were late, Jimbo), and laid claim to one of the excellent campsites right off the parking lot and next to the now-dry Baker River. We pitched a tent to claim the spot, then headed out on the trail.

It didn't take long for me to really like this hike. Because it's under 1,000ft above sea level, the hike was full of moss-laden old growth trees. I could spend all day trying to capture their beauty in a photo and I took a lot of shots trying, though only a few came close to conveying what it's like to be surrounded by all that greenery.

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So I would stop and let the group go ahead, snap a few shots, and then run to catch up.

The ants go marching....

This was a big hike for nearly 4-month old Rowan, and he hiked most of the way. Here's a shot of Lynn giving him a break on the way out,

Hey Rowan!

And here's Paul and the three dogs on the way back.Hitching a ride

We decided to take a break at the Noisy Creek campsite, which was recently upgraded with picnic tables, bear-proof food storage, and fire pits. We found a nice spot on the beach and chowed down. Here's a shot of Jim enjoying a great view of Baker.

Jim blissin'

And Sharon soaking/cooling her foot in front of Mt. Shuksan to our north. We all were very pleased that her foot felt great, and in fact, was less painful on the hike than it was on our drive up there.

Sharon soaking up the sun and cooling her foot

Some cool little mushrooms finding their way...

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As much as I like to backpack myself away from other groups, I really enjoyed the convenience and relative luxury of car camping. There were some groups within a hundred yards of us, but we really felt like we had the place to ourselves. At one point, a neighboring camper came by and pointed out that there were some mountain goats grazing on the steep slope across the river to the east.

As the evening went on, we enjoyed wine, beer, and other upgraded adult beverages, feeding the fire from our bundles of wood.

The joys of car camping

Most of us got a decent night's sleep, but Paul and Lynn woke up early and headed out before the rest of us stirred. We had a leisurely morning, Sharon cooked us breakfast and left by about noon.

This is a great hike, especially for new backpackers, as the trail is relatively flat and the campsites on the east side of the lake are really nice. But don't plan to be alone over there, especially on the weekend during the summer, as I'm sure the sites fill up fast. Best to take a couple of days during the week to get some solitude and enjoy this beautiful place.

Another option is to kayak from the west side of the lake, filling your kayaks with gear or towing a small barge boat with your provisions, especially firewood for your campfire, as most of the available wood has been scavenged.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Thinking about backpacking for the first time?

I have some friends who are interested in backpacking that asked me about what kind of gear to buy and bring. There are many of articles out there, here are a few from WTA.org.

Here's my personal spin on it:


You can spend all kinds of bucks on this kind of gear, and it gets more expensive as it gets lighter and adds features. And there are lots of articles out there on how to gear up. I think it's best to be practical about it, figure out how much you like doing it, and invest accordingly. 

I have only been backpacking for two years, but after the first time I did it, I was all in and it's what I look forward to most each year. I figure I've spent about $2,000 on all my gear and clothing. What's nice about backpacking is that once you have the gear, the costs for each outing are only for the consumables (food, fuel, transportation,and time) and anything that wears out. So that $2,000 is an investment for decades. And you don't have to spend $2K to get on the trail -- you can do it for less than half that, especially if you can get some used equipment and maybe rent for a while.

This post won't go into all the details, but it covers many of the major outlays and things that I didn't know right away but figured out after backpacking a few times. REI has a more comprehensive shopping list to make sure you don't miss anything. 

A side note about shopping: REI is a great place to explore, try out gear and shop, but they are on the expensive side. Being an REI member and reaping member dividends each year is a nice spending spree. Plus REI's return policy is great if you're not sure about some new boots or a backpack, things you absolutely MUST try on before you buy. For other gear, I buy a lot of stuff from steepandcheap.com; they have insane closeout deals going on all the time, plus more deeply-discounted items. They are the outlet for backcountry.com, another place I have bought many items from. I also buy from campmor.com, and everyone's favorite, Amazon, though paying Amazon's state income tax on their goods can send you elsewhere.

If you're not 100% sure that backpacking is your thing, then you should considering renting the tent, sleeping bag and backpack if you don't have a trail-worthy one yet and see how it goes. REI can set you up on the rentals.

Also, go to REI's basement in downtown Seattle and see what used equipment shows up. Might find just what you need at a fraction of the cost.

I did a lot of scanning of reviews, listened to my friends and what they had, and I believe I have a decent kit that didn't break the bank. I'm sure I'll upgrade over the years as I need to, but this stuff can last a long time.

You should definitely check with friends to see if they have any gear they're not using or have upgraded beyond.

Tent: If it's for two of you, then you'll definitely want a 2 person, 3 season tent. No real use in going out for a four season as they're heavier and are you really going to camp in a snowstorm?

Everyone has their favorite brands, but in the end, for the most part, any tent in the same price range is going to be of similar weight, features, and quality. I have a Big Agnes Fly Creek UL2; it's only 2lbs 9oz including footprint. While I like how light it is, its single opening on the end is not tent-mate friendly, and it feels sort of like a 2 person bivy. In other words, you better be really good friends with your tent-mate.

Other well-known tent brands with similar features are Marmot, MSR, Black Diamond, North Face, Kelty, Mountain Hardwear, and REI.

If it's just one of you, then definitely consider a bivy or a one-person tent because they're half the weight and size of a 2-person tent (though oddly about the same cost as a 2P).  I am looking at buying one this year.


Most tents come with a footprint, a layer of material that goes directly on the ground that you then place your tent on. This helps keep your tent dry from ground moisture and protects the fabric of your tent floor. Be sure to have one.

Backpack: This is where I insist that you go to REI and try a bunch on. Proper and comfortable fit while the pack is loaded can only be found by trying them on and walking around; REI is the place to go. They'll set you up and ensure that the pack fits you well. You'll probably want a pack that is at least 60 liters in volume. Mine can carry over 80, and with my camera gear I've needed it. My opinion is that each brand fits differently, so you may discover that, say, Osprey packs fit you better than Gregory, Deuter or REI. I started with an REI pack, but upgraded to a Gregory because it can more comfortably take bigger loads. I have a smaller Osprey dayhiking pack.

Sleeping bag: There are a zillion out there. The big thing again is the tradeoff of performance, usually focused on insulation/temp range, vs. weight. I have a North Face 0-degree mummy bag. For the most part it's overkill, and I'm not a huge fan of the mummy shape. But if you want to be warm, that's the way to go. I also have a Mountain Hardwear 35/50 Flip, which is nice because depending on which side of the bag you sleep on, it provides warmth down to 35 or 50 degrees, and if you sleep in thermal underlayers, then that'll give you additional insulation. 35-50 covers you for just about any mid-season trip, and it's more than a pound lighter that the 0-degree. While goose down bags are warmer for the weight, I prefer the usually cheaper synthetic fill because you can wash it at home. And you'll want to wash it from time to time.

You don't want to sleep directly on your tent floor, because it's hard and cold. Get yourself a sleeping pad, whether it's foam or inflatable. Honestly you don't need a full-sized one because your feet don't really need a lot of padding and socks will keep them warm. But do have one for your knees on up.

Camp stove: We always share our stoves, so no worries initially, but you'll need one if you're going out on your own. There are lots to choose from; most folks go for the propane canister-based ones like JetBoil and my super-tiny MSR PocketRocket. The Jetboil is nice because it's an all-in one design (fuel, pot, burner, etc.), and works well in the wind. But it's expensive, relatively speaking. The 8oz. propane fuel canisters last a few days. With my PocketRocket, I get more than 90 minutes of burning time with a single canister; considering you can boil a pot of water within about 3-4 minutes, that's a lot of meals.

Poles: With a full backpack, your center of gravity is much higher and tripping or turning an ankle with all that extra weight means a much great risk of serious injury. Poles help to stabilize you, give your legs a little less to pull up, and they most definitely help your knees on the way down.

Water purification: You quickly discover how essential water is to life when you're backpacking. Any freeze dried food is practically inedible without boiling water, and of course you'll want safe water to drink and to clean yourself and your dishes.

You can buy a pump filter, use tablets, a UV stick, gravity filter, or an inline filter, and some folks use a combo of those. Each has its own merits, but the goal is to neutralize all the parasites and bad bacteria from the water, and each will do that. I have a pump filter which produces very clean, pure, neutral tasting water. But I recently also bought an in-line filter called the Sawyer System which claims to be able to filter over 200,000 gallons water in its lifetime, it costs less than $30, and weighs only 3 ounces vs. about 16 ounces for my pump. You also need the bags that go with it, because you squeeze the water from the bags through the filter. Here's a starter kit from Amazon that costs about $21. Honestly I think everyone should have a Sawyer kit around the house, just in case something happens and your water utility shuts down. I could go down to Lake Washington or find a local stream and get all the potable water I need from it.

And you'll need some Nalgene bags to store your water at camp. I like the big Nalgene bags because they're light and compress down to a very manageable size.

When on the trail, most of us use Camelbak water bladders. Some prefer bottles. Nice to throw some Nuun tablets in there to make the water a little more appealing and add some electrolytes.


Food: While some may be more creative and bring their own home-made meals, for me, it's a combo of bars, gels, blocks, and commercial freeze-dried offerings. REI and Fred Meyer have a good selection of the typical freeze-dried meals; they're not gourmet, but after burning a few thousand calories on the trail, this stuff can taste pretty damn good. I also bring along extra proteins like chicken and salmon in foil pouches and add it to the freeze-dried meals to boost the flavor and nutrition. Some folks have their own food dehydrator, and that works too. Adding boiling water to it makes it edible again.

Nuts, peanut/almond butters are good choices; trail mix, anything that's high in energy and protein is good. And it's customary to share each your meals around the group, so we're not bored to tears with our one meal. Again, though, be mindful of the weight you bear. We generally just eat straight out of the pouches to minimize cleanup. Make sure you have a utensils and a cup, too. Simple lightweight plastic ones will do well.

Other Needs:

Best to have some stuff sacks to sort your stuff out. I have one for personal hygiene (wash clothes, TP, contacts+solution, toothbrush+paste, DO, soap, etc.) and one for eating (utensils, cups, stove, pots, etc). I also have a stuff sack for all my clean clothes that is reversible, meaning that it's flannel on the inside and nylon on the outside. I stuff it with clothes and use it as a pillow. 

You should also have at least a couple of compression sacks. Your sleeping bag might come with one, but I have three, and one of them doubles as a dayhiking pack. I put my sleeping bag in one compression sack and it compresses it down to the size of a volleyball. Also, I compress my clothes (in their own stuff sack) with my tent into another.

You must always bring a rain/wind shell. Doubles as a bug shield. Bugs are almost ALWAYS a problem, unless you're camping up high (like over 7,000 ft) in rocks and away from water. Bring bug juice, the more DEET the better, but really, you'll want as much non-penetrable clothing as possible, and a rain shell works well.

Bring a hat, maybe one with a brim, to keep out the sun/rain. I have the ubiquitous Seattle Sombrero, but there are other styles that are just as good. Consider, too, in investing in rain pants. Misery is being soaked to the bone, shivering in your tent. A wool hat and light gloves are nice to have during the cool night. You won't always have a campfire.

No need for cotton. At all. Bring synthetics and/or wool. Wool socks are great. Also bring synthetic shells, zip-off pants, layers. Even on the cooler days, when hiking and snowshoeing, I'm usually down to a single layer. 

Bandana. Always a use for a bandana. Sweat rag, makeshift cap, bandage, who knows.

First aid kit. Yes, you're likely to have co-hikers that have a kit, at least make sure *someone* has a good kit before heading out.

A small plastic spade is useful for when nature calls, because there's not always a privy available and you need to make a hole and bury it.

A sitting pad is very useful; as nice as a log or rock to sit on might seem, your butt will get sore, especially after a full day of hiking. Pads come as foam pads or inflatable ones. You can also use your sleeping pad, but it may not be as tough and puncture-proof as one made for sitting.

You need something to cover/protect your pack if it rains. Nothing's worse than a rain-soaked sleeping bag, so be sure to at least bring a trash bag big enough to envelope your backpack when hiking.

Headlamps. They are so effective, especially when nature calls in the middle of the night. Preferably one that has a red LED so as not to kill the night vision of your fellow campers.


Extra zip-locs and a Trash bag. Hike it out. Share the load there.

Boots/footwear:

There's been a revolution for many in the footwear arena. Lots of folks are hiking with minimalist footwear with little to no heel or arch. Not me. I'm old school, and when backpacking, I want a competent boot to protect my feet from rock edges, support my ankles, and give me nothing to worry about down there. Don't go cheap here, expect to invest at least $150, and they should last a long time. Be sure to break them in on a few hikes before going out with a heavy backpack. Also consider replacing the insoles with something like Superfeet; it gives me extra arch support. I rarely have any problems with my feet.

Bring some camp shoes for around the campsite so you can get out of your boots and let them (and your feet) air out. While some bring flip-flops because they're so light, I prefer something with toe protection, because in the middle of the night you don't want to stub your toe on a rock or root. Even a cheap water shoe will work. I carry Keen sandals, but they're heavier than I'd like and am considering a downgrade to something cheaper and lighter.

Technology:
You're probably going to take your mobile phone with you, at least to take snapshots. You can be out in the middle of nowhere and if you climb a peak, you'd be surprised that you may get coverage. Not that I'd encourage it, but it's nice to surprise your friends with an instagram from some awesome vista when they thought you'd be off the grid for a few days.
If you're taking your tech, you'll probably want some way to keep it charged. I have a solar-charged extra battery; fully charged it will recharge your phone twice. And itself will recharge from the sun in about 13 hours; you can hang it on your backpack.

Downtime: 
Most of my trips are busy -- meaning we're always doing something. Once we make camp, we usually refuel and then explore the area with some more hiking. Then back to camp for dinner, drinking, chatting, and then off to sleep. It's nice to be able to settle down with a book or some other relaxation.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Heybrook Lookout

I've driven past this hike on US 2 countless times with grander adventures in mind. But it was a great day to get my friend Paul and Lynn's new husky Rowan out on the trail.
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The 3-month old pup did very well on the leash, leading Paul much of the way, while watching Boomer and Kalea run ahead and come back.

The one mile or so hike up to the lookout is rewarded with a nice view across the valley to Mt. Index, with Lake Serene below, though not visible.
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On the way down, the dogs played a bit more.
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And Boomer actually heard a squirrel.
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Heybrook is a nice short hike that has some uphill stretches to get you warmed up. It's a fun hike if you don't have a lot of time.