Thursday, September 19, 2019

Hiking Mt. Rainier: Glaciers, Meadows, and No Bears

This is the second of two posts about a Labor Day weekend backpack trip in Mt. Rainier National Park. Read the first post here.

Day 2
There's nothing quite like waking up at the edge of an alpine meadow on a mountain as the new day is still gathering. 

After backpacking up above Spray Park on Mt. Rainier, I awake before sunrise the next morning and crawl out of my tent, camera in hand. Because it's all about the light.

My hiking buddies are still asleep, and the morning quiet is a lovely balm to my city-addled soul. I snap shots as the wispy clouds above turned rosy pink, well before the sun crests the ridge behind our campsite.



By about 8 a.m. we're all up and melting snow for coffee and tea. (The melt stream from the snowfield nearby stopped flowing overnight when the temps dropped.)


Fueled up from breakfast, we head up the rocky slope towards the Flett Glacier for even more expansive views. Not that many years ago, this would have still been snow-covered in late summer.


 
Echo Rock is the jagged formation to the left.

After an hour+ of scrambling up the sometimes steep incline, we top out at a ridge above the base of the Flett Glacier, where we see a couple hikers making their way down the snowfield above us. We haven't seen anyone else since yesterday afternoon, and we're surprised. So we don't have the mountain to ourselves? :)

Below us, more hikers with skis and boots strapped to their packs are heading up toward the glacier.


Dave, who climbed Rainier from this direction a few decades ago, is shocked at the loss of glacier coverage high on the mountain, compared to when he climbed the route back in the 1980s.

After a snack, we scramble down to the edge of the glacier and relax by the vivid blue melt pool before starting back down to camp. Above us, clouds bunch up, spread out, swirl, and dissipate in a variety of shapes and formations.  At over 7,000 feet high on the mountain, we're literally in the clouds, off and on.



Views north and northeast included Glacier Peak, Mt. Baker, and the Stuart Range

Chilling above the blue pool at the base of Flett Glacier

Observation Rock enshrouded in mist.
The beauty of a layover day is having no set schedule. We scramble leisurely around the rocks, taking in the drama of the stark volcanic landscape above timberline. And although they're not visible in the shot above, a few backcountry skiers were having fun getting late (or really early) season turns on the soft suncupped snow.

As we meander back down the mountain to our camp, numerous other hikers/skiers are just coming up and setting up camps. Up here the rocky "trail" is marked by cairns between snowfields.



Instead of watching the sun set and the stars pop out in the night sky like the night before, a thick fog rolls in, driving us into our tents not long after dinner. A few hours later the wind picks up and blows so hard that it pushes in the walls of my tent during strong gusts.

About 2 a.m. the rain fly starts flapping wildly, and I quickly throw on a parka and dash outside to tighten it up so it won't blow away up the mountain.  But for being outside in the middle of the night, I was rewarded with a brilliant starry sky overhead, crisscrossed by the Milky Way straight above.

Day 3
No sunrise or pink sky shots on our last morning on the mountain. A thick, rain-like mist envelops us while we have breakfast and break camp. Out come rain shells for the first hour of hiking back down to the lower meadows.


As we start passing hikers coming up, everyone tells us about the bears they saw snarfing down mountain blueberries near the trail. One guy even shows us some shots on his camera. Sigh, that is the closest we come to seeing any bear.

It's hard to leave the high country meadows and plunge back into the woods, but nevertheless, the thought of a hot shower when I get home lures me down the mountain.


Good turns, heavy gear

By mid afternoon we're back at Mowich Lake, with the parking lot much more full on Sunday than when we arrived on Friday morning. I pull a big bag of Sunchips out of the van and share them freely with other hikers in the parking lot who've also just come down the mountain. This is a way to become popular quickly. :)

Many thanks to my friends Andy and Mark for the invite to poach on their backcountry permit obtained months in advance. I've really enjoyed doing more backpacking this past summer than in many years. And Mt. Rainier is an ultimate destination, whether you do the whole 93-mile Wonderland Trail loop, or a quick weekend like we did.

Now I'm already plotting longer trips for next summer...


Happy trails and thanks for visiting Pacific Northwest Seasons! 
  

In between blog posts, visit Pacific NW Seasons on FaceBookTwitter, and Instagram for more Northwest photos and outdoors news. 


When You Go 
Yours truly in vintage 1990s Patagonia anorak.

To camp in Mt. Rainier National Park backcountry, you need a permit, which you can read about here. With the explosive growth in our region, and increasing popularity of hiking, be extra careful to avoid trampling fragile alpine vegetation, and always leave no trace that you were there.


 





Friday, September 13, 2019

Late Season Backpack at Mt. Rainier

 This is the first of two posts about a recent backpacking trip in Mt. Rainier National Park.

While the snow can start flying any day now in the high country here in the Pacific Northwest, September is often our best hiking month.

With wildflowers past their peak and cooler nights, mosquitoes and bugs aren't nearly as pesky. There's that particular late summer light that's so lovely. And, perhaps, the crowds have subsided a bit (but not much).

Over Labor Day weekend I joined some friends for a few nights camping and hiking above timberline on Mt. Rainier, the Big Kahuna of Cascade volcanoes and a national park. What a splendid getaway!

My friends Andy and Mark got a backcountry permit for the Spray Park area, where the meadows were covered in a riot of avalanche lilies and other wildflowers not much more than a month earlier.


Not this trip but shot from a late July hike
Day 1
We left Seattle about 5:45 a.m. Friday to drive to Mowich Lake on the northwest side of Rainier. After a stop in Enumclaw en route for fuel, we finally hit the trail about 9:30. 

Near the trailhead, a big open tent was set up as a way station for an organized endurance run on the 93-mile Wonderland Trail that circumnavigates the mountain. I was tempted to grab a drink, but we walked on past and headed up (actually down) the trail to Spray Park. After dropping almost 100 feet immediately, the first few miles pass through rich, green forest enshrouded in mist.





We hiked just a tad under 2 miles to meet Andy and Mark at Eagle's Roost camp along the trail, where they had camped the night before. Then the four of us continued upward, passing peek-a-boo views of Spray Falls, then finally emerging into the first lower clearings where Rainier comes into view above the subalpine forest.


"Watch for the big bear near the trail" said a descending hiker. With low-lying mountain blueberries ripe, the bears were feasting for the winter ahead.


First view of Rainier
Somehow we managed to not spot the bear everyone else saw, nor the big bull elk. But after emerging more fully out of the forest into the lower meadows, a lunch break was in order. 


Although the trail was never very steep, and we only gained about 1,500 feet in elevation, I was really dragging as we tramped through the gorgeous meadows above timberline. You know how some days you feel like you're running on empty?




I think that several extra pounds from the big plastic bear canister did me in. When we reached a high junction that took us up towards the foot of the Flett Glacier away from the Wonderland Trail, Mark and Dave offloaded some of the weight in my pack. I hate being that person, but I was grateful.




As we continued onward up a ridge above Spray Park toward the snowfield, one of us (not me) got the idea to drop down off the ridge to check out camping at the edge of the meadow below. So down we all went, bushwhacking and scrambling over a jumble of boulders.


But it was worth it because we found an isolated, lovely spot with fresh water from the melting snowfield just above. Of course we were careful to find bare spots and not camp on the fragile meadow. And then we had two beautiful nights of solitude.



Dinner for me was ramen with fresh kale from my garden, while the others just added water to their (expensive) freeze-dried dinners, which seems to be the trend now. 

Not far below us, clouds drifted and slithered around lesser peaks. As the sun slipped below the horizon and the day slowly turned to night, I silently watched the sky above and below as it transitioned.






And then I crawled into my tent, "good" tired, lungs filled with all that mountain fresh air, smartphone turned off. I quickly fell asleep to the sound of a slight breeze rustling the rain fly of my tent.

Check back in a few days for the next post about hiking higher up the mountain, with lots more photos.

Happy trails and thanks for visiting Pacific Northwest Seasons! 
  

In between blog posts, visit Pacific NW Seasons on FaceBookTwitter, and Instagram for more Northwest photos and outdoors news. 


When You Go 
To camp in Mt. Rainier National Park backcountry, you need a permit, which you can read about here. With the explosive growth in our region, and increasing popularity of hiking, be extra careful to avoid trampling fragile alpine vegetation, and always leave no trace that you were there.

 



Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Pacific Northwest Summer Sampler: More Hikes, Good Eats, and Chanterelles

While I like to say that fall is my favorite time of year in the Pacific Northwest, honestly, summer is pretty darn wonderful here too. 

Thankfully this summer (so far) we've been spared the thick smoke that choked the region the last few summers. We've enjoyed many bluebird days along with a rain shower now and then. And who doesn't love a good summer rain?

Today I'm sharing a sampling of fun outings from here in Upper Left USA. This is what I've been up to when I haven't been working overtime; but it's just a snapshot of things to do and places to go here.

Hitting the Trail
Of course I've been hiking since my epic few days on the Pacific Crest Trail. In late July I returned to the Pratt River Trail outside North Bend, Washington. While it wasn't as quite as fresh green as a Memorial Day hike there, it was still mossy and lovely.

 
After hiking several miles along the trail, following first the Middle Fork Snoqualmie River, then Pratt River, we encountered the biggest pile of bear scat I've ever seen, smack in the middle of the trail. Both dark blue and red huckleberries were ripe, so said scat was clearly remnant of a beary berry feast.
Red huckleberries make excellent pie.
Eventually the shrubs along the trail grew so thick and close that we called it a day and turned around a few miles along, thinking a machete would make the trip easier (although not recommended!). We must have hiked about 5 or 6 miles RT.

Mushroom Love
In late July I accepted a coveted invitation from a passionate mushroom foraging friend. While I'm sworn to secrecy about where exactly we went to find chanterelle mushrooms, I will say it was on an island in Puget Sound. And that chanterelles can be found all over the region.


After guiding us to a patch of woods where she found chanterelles a week earlier, Lynette pointed a few out. As we walked along, sometimes through thick underbrush, I started to develop an eye for spotting them too. As I dove under bushes to snag mushrooms, I also collected twigs and leaves in my hair. 


Golden chanterelle

Lynette kept on exclaiming how not normal it was to find such an abundance of chanterelles this early in the summer (late July). But I was lucky on my first time foraging for these beauties to take home such a bounty (a few pounds), which was really more than I needed. Several friends were the beneficiaries of this 'shroom largesse.



A Walk, a Book, and Lunch
In August I joined the Alpine Trails Book Club for a special treat: A walk around Gold Creek Pond near Snoqualmie Pass, Washington, followed by a homemade Burmese meal made by one of the regulars, who was born and raised in Burma (Myanmar). We'd read The Long Path to Wisdom: Tales from Burma to learn more about Mala's culture.


Our lunch was at a cabin less than a half mile from the pond, so it was a perfect combination of cabin cozy, delicious food, and a lovely walk.





Gold Creek Pond (pictured above at the start of this post), which used to be a gravel pit created during the construction of Interstate 90 nearby, has recently been threatened with filling by the US Forest Service. Over the years, it has become an environment that supports thousands of trees and wildflowers, birds, beaver, elk, deer, bear and many smaller animals. Read about it here at the Save Gold Creek Pond website.

 Another Walk in the Woods
North of Seattle along Puget Sound are numerous greenbelts preserved as parks where you can walk through a forest down to the beach. Last week I joined a friend for a walk down through Lund's Gulch near Picnic Point at Meadowdale Beach Park.


We started down through second-growth forest, and farther along the trail passed numerous old stumps of what were formerly magnificent old cedar trees. I wish I could have seen this place before it was logged.


After a little over a mile of trail winding through forest, we passed a ranger residence cheerfully draped with Tibetan prayer flags, then strolled the final stretch through a small tunnel under train tracks to the beach.  I spotted what I think was a cute semipalmated plover darting on the beach between the mallard ducks. 


At about 2.5 miles, with a few hundred feet of elevation loss (and gain on the way back), this walk is a great way to get some good exercise and time in nature. I've been coming here several times over the summer and will miss these evening walks as the days get shorter.

So there you have it. Just a smattering of the local life here in Upper Left USA, where we're having a mild, smoke-free summer. Yes, I love fall, but summer is indeed special here.

Happy trails and thanks for visiting Pacific Northwest Seasons!   In between blog posts, visit Pacific NW Seasons on FaceBookTwitter, and Instagram for more Northwest photos and outdoors news. 


Friday, July 26, 2019

Hiking the Pacific Crest Trail: White Pass to Chinook Pass, Part 2

This is the second of two posts about a recent 28-mile backpack trip on the Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail  (PCT) from White Pass to Chinook Pass, Washington. Read about the first part of the trip here.

After hiking in perfect weather on the PCT for a couple days, I awoke on my third and final day on the trail to the delicate patter of rain on my tent. Within a few minutes, the patter turned more insistent.

Yes, here in the Pacific Northwest, before the "new normal" of drought-stricken summers, rain in July was not that unusual. In years past, I remember getting swamped with rain on summer backpack trips along the PCT.  

This is why we have rain gear.  

So after throwing on water-repellent jackets, packing up wet tents, and shielding our packs with rain covers, off we walked, northward. Because that's what we do here. (Rainy day bonus: hardly any mosquito action.)



With my friends Cedar and Rosario (trail names), I'd already hiked 18 miles from White Pass the last two days. I felt good this morning, like I could just keep on walking north all the way to Canada. (Ask me if I felt this way 6 hours later in a drenching downpour.)

Within a mile or two, we crossed back into Mt. Rainier National Park. I hear the views are stunning along this stretch of trail, but today not so much. However, the lush green and abundant wildflowers against a misty backdrop were stunning nonetheless.





With intermittent rain and drizzle, we tramped through verdant and healthy green subalpine forests and meadows without pausing much. However, we did pause trailside to chat with the PCT thru-hiker from North Carolina pictured above carrying the white umbrella. He was a "flipper," having started northward from Mexico, then stopped due to heavy Sierra Nevada snow, and skipped north to continue southward from Canada instead.

Within a few hours we'd clicked off 6 miles, and took a break in the cover of some big trees at Dewey Lake for lunch. (I guess technically it's lakes). With the rain picking up, we didn't stop for long. But oh those wildflowers, wow! I especially love the dark magenta pink paintbrush you see around Mt. Rainier and the tall, elegant beargrass.





During our final push back to Chinook Pass, the rain increased even more. I think we gained about 1,000 feet heading up from the lakes to connect with the always stunning and super popular Naches Peak Loop Trail.

In fact, I didn't realize we'd connected with that trail until Rosario said so. (She has hiked to Dewey Lakes several times.) But suddenly there we were, within only a mile or so of the highway and an enclosed, covered loo (ahem, that's British for toilet, but I think it sounds nicer).


 As you can see, it was getting darker and more foreboding, although still beautiful. While I had generally lagged a bit behind my two taller hiking mates, I picked up my pace and churned out the last mile, passing families in shorts and cotton sweatshirts with baby strollers and toddlers on the trail near the highway. They didn't know what they were in for shortly thereafter when the skies opened and a true Northwest mountain downpour commenced.



Soon the highway came into view, and suddenly I was there, near the entrance to the national park.




 When we got to the parking lot and Rosario's car, which we'd dropped three days earlier, said downpour began.  We threw our packs in the back and got inside, waiting for Lisa's (oops, Cedar's) husband to arrive with fresh food supplies for her continued trek north to Canada. Alas, Claudia (Rosario) and I (Jill, aka Motor Mouse) had to head back to Seattle and work the next day., which was jarring.

Overall, this trip was a wonderful break from urban, daily life: three nights and three days with smartphone turned off, in wilderness. And I really did feel like I could continue and get in better and better shape. In fact, as I write this now, almost two weeks later, I'm craving being out there again.

Lisa is continuing her thru hike of Washington, and Claudia and I hope to join her for a day hike at one of the highway crossings as she heads toward the Canadian border. With two backpack trips this summer so far, I'm hooked all over again with the mountain passion I developed as a teenager through skiing and mountain backpack trips here in the Northwest.

Here's a parting shot of me when I was 15 during a week-long backpack on the PCT in the Goat Rocks Wilderness. (We wore Pendleton wool shirts instead of fleece for warmth back then.)

Happy trails and thanks for visiting Pacific Northwest Seasons! 
  
In between blog posts, visit Pacific NW Seasons on FaceBookTwitter, and Instagram for more Northwest photos and outdoors news. 

Saturday, July 20, 2019

Hiking the Pacific Crest Trail: White Pass to Chinook Pass, Part 1

This is the first of a two-part series about my recent 3-day backpack trip along the Pacific Crest Trail in central Washington. You can read the second post here.

To get away from civilization, with only basic essentials for walking the landscapeno smartphone, no music but the sounds of nature, just whatever greets you in the moment—this to me is a gift.

And so some of us hit the trail for a night or two or more when we can. Life on the trail in wilderness landscapes is stripped down and clarifying.


When my friend Lisa (trail name: Cedar) said she was going to thru-hike our home state of Washington on the Pacific Crest Trail this summer, I asked to join her for a few days. I chose the relatively easy White Pass to Chinook Pass section of trail, a little over 28 miles and already on my list to hike.

When I hiked sections of the PCT as a teenager many years ago, we'd see hardly anyone else out there during a week on the trail. It's a very different scene today.

Back in the day, Goat Rocks Wilderness, Washington
Now several thousand people come to the West Coast of the USA each year to walk from Mexico to Canada on the PCT. Many more hike sections, like us. (In PCT lingo, we're LASHERS, short for Lazy Ass Section HikERS). Total use each year is likely over 100,000 hikers.


On a Friday evening in mid-July, my friend Claudia (trail name: Rosario, for her bright pink pants) and I got dropped off at White Pass with backpacks and food for 3 days on the trail. It didn't take us long to find Lisa at the Leech Lake campground, where we snagged a nice campsite beside the lake.


Leech Lake Campground at White Pass, Washington
Dinner included a salad of greens from my garden, which I knew Lisa would appreciate since she started hiking north from the Oregon border over 2 weeks ago. (Trail food is notoriously short on fresh produce.) Not long after sunset the persistent mosquitoes drove us to our tents, where I drifted to sleep quickly after reading a few pages of my book.

Day 1: White Pass to Snow Lake
With early mornings this time of year, we were up by daylight and on the trail by 8 a.m. For the full-on thru hikers who walk up to 30 miles a day, that's a really late start. For us, just fine.



Soon we entered the William O. Douglas Wilderness adjacent to the east side of Mt. Rainier National Park. Although we climbed a bit, overall our first day on the trail was fairly level, mostly above elevation 5,000 feet+, and we hiked a tad over 9 miles.

This area is characterized by lush subalpine forest, vivid green mountain meadows, and lots of alpine lakes and ponds. Good mosquito breeding territory. 



By mid-afternoon we reached Snow Lake and pitched our tents in a nice clearing above the serene lake, where we spied a mama duck and a few ducklings skittering across the surface. Then we read and napped, and later in the afternoon saw more hikers pass.  

As we were cooking dinner, a guy in his early 20s wandered up and decided this was the spot to camp after a 30-mile day. Such is the social and friendly way of the PCT. Bear Magnet (trail name) told us he'd thru hiked the Appalachian Trail a year or two ago and lost 40 pounds in the process.



Snow Lake
After dark, cozy in my sleeping bag, I heard a young couple wander up beside my tent in search of a place to camp for the night. I'd seen a sweet campsite farther up the lake on an after-dinner walk, and told them about it. Off they went. Then I slept soundly.

Day 2: Snow Lake to Two Lakes Junction
So this was the day for us, the one with blue skies, not nearly as many mosquitoes, and spectacular gorgeous breakout views after a first day mostly in forest.

Bear Magnet was up and off so early I didn't hear him leave, but we had a lazy morning, not hitting the trail until about 9:30. A splashing in the lake below turned out to be a fly fisherman, who was otherwise so quiet we didn't know he was around.


At the Bumping River crossing, we stopped to chat with Tinsel and Rocket (trail names, of course), two sisters in their 20s from Los Angeles whom Lisa had befriended earlier on her hike. Sadly, they were aborting their thru hike and jetting back to California due to Tinsel's sore knee.

As we continued north, a few other hikers Lisa had met along the way leapfrogged past us. There was a stream crossing too, where we had to take off our boots and roll up our pants to wade across.

After pausing to gaze at a particularly beautiful meadow sprinkled with purple lupine (my version of Heaven), we started our first big climb. Up and up we ascended, first through forest, then along a rocky, talus-strewn ridge, for a few miles.



Nearing the top, we had views back to White Pass, the Goat Rocks, and Mt. Adams beyond. This is what I truly love about hiking: reaching high ridges and peaks with expansive panorama views.


Goat Rocks, Mt. Adams beyond
Then it got even better. After topping out on the high end of the ridge, boom: Mt. Rainier (Tahoma) came into view, from an angle I've never seen before. Even though I've lived in its shadow most of my life, massive Rainier is always a startling sight.


Mt. Rainier

Can I just say, even though we only gained a little over 2,000 feet, I was beat. I've aged past my trail name (Motor Mouse), which I was bequeathed when I was younger, faster, and didn't have a cranky right knee. After a break, another mile on I got muscle cramps in my legs.

But I kept going because I Do Not Quit. And, um, what else would I do out there? (Several days later I found out I'm depleted of a key vitamin, so that explains some my dragginess.)


Thankfully we found a nice level campsite perched above Two Lakes junction at the head of a valley not long after, and witnessed a stunning moonrise. And yes, we were joined later by another solo, twenty-ish guy thru hiker (trail name Juicy Foot) who pitched a tent at our site.

After an almost 10-mile day, we all slipped to our tents not long after. Two days on the trail, feeling somewhat clarified, I was ready for more.




Check back for our third and final day soon...

Happy trails and thanks for visiting Pacific Northwest Seasons! 
  
In between blog posts, visit Pacific NW Seasons on FaceBookTwitter, and Instagram for more Northwest photos and outdoors news. 


When You Go 
Well, go prepared. These days, there are trail runners who do the whole 28 miles in one day, others backpack this stretch in just 2 days, and some take maybe 4 days. It all depends on your conditioning, available time, and inclination. Here's what the Washington Trails Association (WTA) says about this hike along with directions and logistics.