Friday, September 17, 2021

Hiking Glacier National Park: Dawson Pass and Pitamakan Pass (Part 2)

 This is the second post about an early September backpacking trip in Glacier National Park. Read the first post here.

On this second day of our trek, we hiked through a stark, glacially carved landscape where mountains meet the sky. After a relatively easy first day, this second day was more challenging, but the payoff was absolutely worth it.

After packing up and leaving No Name Lake by mid-morning, my hiking buddies Mark and Andy and I hiked up switchbacks a couple miles to Dawson Pass (elevation 7,600 feet) on the Continental Divide. For this lowlander (I live about 300 feet above sea level), I actually didn't feel the elevation that much.

Along the way, we passed above timberline into a dramatic landscape of shale and scree (Mark, who has a geology degree, would describe the rocks/formations more precisely).

Approaching Dawson Pass, Two Medicine Lake behind and below.

Wildfire smoke blew in and tamped down the dramatic views, a minor downside on an otherwise spectacular day hiking. We'd been warned about the winds at the pass, and sure enough, as we crested the pass, wind raced across, prompting us to pull out windbreakers when we stopped for lunch.

Windy Dawson Pass. Mark Beaufait photo.

Smoke obscured the views on the other side of Dawson Pass

After lunch and hiking up a few hundred feet above the pass, the real drama of the day began. I'd read about the relatively narrow ledge portion of the trail that skirts beneath Flinsch Peak, but I didn't realize this narrow goat trail (or so it seemed) continued over 3 miles.

The trail continued past and around the backside of the second peak in the distance.

Let's be clear: The trail was pretty exposed in some places, where a misstep on the loose scree could lead to an unstoppable fall/slide down a 3,000 foot mountainside. Have I mentioned that although I like being in high places, I'm not a big fan of heights?

But onward we trekked because, of course, there was no going back. A couple times rock steps on the trail were so tall that it was a challenge to step up with a heavy backpack (once with an assist from Andy). And some wind gusts were so strong that I was pushed sideways and had to stop to steady myself.

We passed beneath the glacial horn of Flinsch Peak shown here. M. Beaufait photo.

One of the widest stretches of the ledge trail. M. Beaufait photo.

The trail at times. M. Beaufait photo.

Walking the ledge for that distance required complete focus with every step, at least for me. But the views, even with the smoke, wow! I felt a sense of expansive space, like being in an airplane and looking around and down at the world below. 

Starting the descent down to Oldman Lake, our destination for the night.

M. Beaufait photo.

As we neared Oldman Lake, we passed through big scarlet patches of low-lying huckleberry bushes heavy with sweet ripe berries. We also passed some very large piles of berry-infested bear scat; we'd heard from other hikers that grizzly bears had been spotted near the lake and even wandering through our upcoming campsite.

While black bears aren't that scary to see, grizzlies are another matter. Fortunately the bears decided to forage elsewhere that night. Perhaps they were scared off by our pack of hikers (nine of us) at the campsite, most of us from Seattle.

Oldman Lake  

A rustic gray-bearded, solo man (trail name, Stormwalker) showed up at camp later than the rest of us and told us he'd done many epic thru hikes since the 1970s (Pacific Crest Trail, Appalachian Trail, the Continental Divide Trail (CDT), Nepal, New Zealand...). On this outing, he was seeking CDT thru hikers to give them advice and $2 bills. In some parts, that's still good for a cuppa (not Seattle).

Evening light at Oldman Lake.

Fellow hikers we met at our two campsites were all fun, friendly, and engaging. Maybe that's partly why I'm drawn to the outdoorsy. We swapped stories and laughs in the designated cooking areas (away from our tents to deter bears) and then wandered off to our tents as it got dark.

Perhaps the grizzlies were hunkered down due to the persistent strong wind, with occasional big gusts. Who knows. But regardless of the bear factor, I slept well again. Being "good" tired makes for good sleep.

 Just too many more photos to share to cram them all into this post, so check back in a couple days for the third and last post of our backpack trip on the Dawson/Pitamakan Passes Loop.

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.


Sunday, September 12, 2021

Hiking Glacier National Park: Dawson Pass and Pitamakan Pass Loop (Part 1)

As I sit down to reflect and write about hiking the spectacular Dawson Pass/Pitamakan Pass Loop in Montana's Glacier National Park, I still feel a lingering sense of awe. This hike was different than my usual treks in the Cascades of Oregon and Washington. 

There were plenty of big mountains, big views, and big sky. The sense of space and chiseled (rather than Cascade craggy) mountains dominated. Despite a smudgy blanket of wildfire smoke that subdued the views somewhat, it was still all that and more.

With so many shots to share, this is the first of a few posts about this early September road trip/backpack. While many hikers do this 16- to 19-mile loop as a day hike now, some of us opt for a more leisurely trek, with a few days on the trail. Yes, I'm old school, but I don't want to rush through paradise.

Road Tripping

You don't want to hear much about the car troubles I had as I drove east from Seattle to meet friends north of Spokane. I'm grateful for AAA and managed to barely make it to a truck stop in George, Washington, where I charged up my dead smartphone to call for help since my clutch died. Enough about that.

After a good night sleep at the home of my friends' relatives north of Spokane, we took off mid-morning for the 5+ hour drive across northern Idaho and on to East Glacier. My friends Mark and Andy splurged on a big room for us at the historic Glacier Park Lodge, vintage 1913, before we started our 3-day backpack.

Glacier Park Lodge lobby

I love these big old lodges built for guests traveling by rail. This lodge was along the Great Northern Railway, and you can still arrive by train today.

We had dinner and breakfast in the lodge dining room, where the food was tasty and the portions were very generous. I gave half my breakfast to Andy, and it was plenty for two.

Day 1 on the Trail

We needed to be up and out early to pick up our two-night permit (pre-reserved) at the Two Medicine Lake ranger station when it opened at 8 a.m. It was fun to chat with some of the other hikers in line ahead of us at the ranger station. One middle-aged woman was thru-hiking the Continental Divide Trail (CDT) solo and down to her last 3 days. 

Two Medicine Lake    

We hopped on the historic shuttle boat that traverses the lake to the trailhead, and enjoyed the gorgeous morning as we cruised across the lake. (Some hikers start near the ranger station and hike an additional 3 miles along the lakeshore to the trailhead, but we opted for the scenic boat ride. See the short video below for a taste of the ride.) The boat is on the National Register of Historic Places and was originally built in 1926.


Historic Sinopah shuttle boat

All the other passengers dispersed pretty quickly up a few shorter trails as we slathered on sunscreen, shed layers, and threw on our backpacks. Our first night destination was No Name Lake, a short warm-up hike only about 2.2 miles away and 900 feet higher.

While hiking up a somewhat steep trail with a heavy-ish backpack can be a slog, I tend to do better on the uphills because they're easier on my aging feet and knees. We stopped once for a water/snack break and to enjoy the increasingly spectacular views.

Looking back down to Two Medicine Lake where we started.


Our best weather was this first day, with clear blue skies and mild temps. Since it was such a short hike, we arrived at the lake by early afternoon and had our pick of the three campsites.

And then we chilled all afternoon after setting up tents. Thankfully, this late in the season mosquitoes and other pesky bugs aren't a problem. 

No Name is a lovely alpine lake tucked close against the base of a steep cliff wall that juts upward abruptly a few thousand feet. Mark spotted a couple snowy white mountain goats lounging on some steep scree at the toe of the cliff, far above.

No Name Lake

We'd been warned to be on the lookout for grizzly bears and carried bear spray wherever we went. So when we heard a loud huff and something crashing through the brush coming our direction, I got a quick rush of adrenaline.

Soon two BIG moose came trotting toward us and then split around the three of us standing close together, passing within less than 10 feet on either side. These beasts can do serious harm if annoyed, so we (outwardly) kept calm.

After dinner when we were sitting on the beach at the lake, fellow campers Maggie and Rowan yelled to us that the moose were headed our way (four of them this time). I looked up to see a moose headed right toward me about 20 feet away, so we quickly scrambled sideways and back to camp, keeping an eye on them the whole way.

As I lay in my tent at night after dark trying to fall asleep, I heard moose thrashing about loudly in the brush, getting closer and closer.  

It was cool to hear the clacking of their antlers together as they jousted, but I really couldn't sleep until they wandered away. Then I slept a good sleep in all that mountain fresh air (thanks in part to a light warm sleeping bag and inflatable mattress).

In the early light the next morning, the cliff behind the lake glowed pink as the sun was rising, and I scrambled out to snap a few shots.

After a quick breakfast and packing up, we set off for what would be a much longer, more dramatic day ahead. You can read the second post here to join us as we hike up to Dawson and Pitamakin Passes.

 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.

Colorful stones and a hint of autumn at No Name Lake











Wednesday, July 7, 2021

Wild Swimming in Seattle

My new passion started as a polar bear-style plunge, a quick dip in and out of the chilly sea near my home.

Inspired by a friend who was doing plunges and posting about it on FaceBook, I decided to join her in late January 2020. (I was also inspired by this lovely British film by Hannah Maia.)

When it's 47 degrees F° outside and the water is even colder, a plunge is an instant wake-up. I'M HERE, IT'S COLD, AND I MUST MOVE!

Despite the cold, I quickly got hooked on that bracing sense of exhilaration, that feeling that you've done something epic after swimming in the sea, even if just a few strokes.

The very first plunge. January 2020.

So I started going almost every week, and sometimes a good friend joined me. Despite wind and waves, we'd wade out to waist deep water, then plunge in and swim in a circle and back to shore. My very slender friend Maryann, who has much less natural insulation than I do, somehow managed to stay in longer every time.

Come March, when the world started going sideways and the pandemic lockdown started, this weekly ritual became even more important. It provided a sense of outdoors adventure and excitement when we were told stay home except for shopping for essentials. 

Last spring, these weekly plunges became a vestige of normalcy. On nice days, Maryann and I would sit on the beach (distanced) and enjoyed the warmth and sunshine before and after. Often we would stop and get hot tea and a scone afterwards at Miri's, the little cafe on the beach at Golden Gardens.

Surveying the sea, getting ready to swim

 A few times we went over to Lake Washington, which was somewhat warmer. In the summer, with swimming pools still closed, it was heavenly to swim, like really  swim, in the pleasantly cool lake.

As the year progressed, sometimes I'd miss a few weeks here and there, but getting back out there got my juices going again. Last summer, we went over to Bainbridge Island for a plunge, with a view back across to Seattle. I started shooting short little videos that I dropped on YouTube (Bainbridge below):

Earlier this year, after noticing a big group of much more hard-core swimmers than us on the beach, we went up to ask them about how they do it. As we approached, I heard "Jill!" (my name). It was long-time neighbors who live across the street. 
They started a little after us last year, and their group has ballooned to sometimes 25 swimmers, real swimmers, most with wetsuits and floats, who swim for 30 minutes or more (see the video below).
So now I'm teetering on the verge of becoming a true open water swimmer. I'm slowly upping my time in the water each week. 
But it's still baby steps. An exception was a couple days ago, when I stayed in almost 15 minutes (video below). The infamous "heat dome" that lingered over the Pacific Northwest raised the Puget Sound water temperatures near the surface to well over 60 degrees (in the winter and spring, it's in the 40s).

While Seattle is known for having some world class open water swimmers, I'd like to up my game. Besides the challenge and camaraderie, "wild swimming" offers a host of health benefits.

So we'll see. It's still daunting and a bit scary to me. I don't aspire to swim across Puget Sound from, say, West Seattle to Bremerton like some do. But every increase brings a sense of accomplishment and, dare I say, well-being.

How about you? Have you done any serious open water swimming or even just plunges?

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.



Monday, May 10, 2021

Mourning the Loss of a Secret Garden


Last spring when I started walking more around my corner of northwest Seattle, I first noticed the sign in front of a lush wooded lot: 

"Notice of Proposed Land Use Action."

I've seen a lot of these signs around Seattle the last few years, as the city rezones single-family residential areas to allow multi-story, multi-family buildings. With our shortage of housing and the City's push to increase density, many homes with spacious, landscaped yards are being demolished and scraped bare to make room for big boxes.

This particular sign showed the whole south end of the block being torn down (three homes) and replaced with a multi-story building extending to the proposed sidewalk. There wasn't a tree in sight on the proposed development sketch.

My stomach churned in dismay at the impending loss of the gorgeously landscaped lot on one corner, where a charming small house with a Japanese flair sat surrounded by a variety of beautiful, vigorous trees and happy, healthy shrubs like rhododendron and Oregon grape.

With the pandemic lockdown, the plans hit pause, and I often walked past that home with an increasing appreciation for the time and care the owners took cultivating such a sweet woodland in a built-out neighborhood.

And so a year passed, with many trips walking past this treasure, and nothing happened.

Within the last few months, however, the sign finally came down and the house started to look uninhabited. A few plants and trees started to disappear, and the yard began to look less than its meticulously cared for best. 

A few weeks ago, after staying away for a few days, when I returned and saw the devastation, I was shocked. The huge laurel hedge and house at the west side of the block were demolished into a scorched earth war-like zone of dirt, jagged pieces of wood, and smashed bricks. The little Japanese house was also gone, with just a pile of rubble remaining.

But the woodland out front remained intact, for the moment. With the house gone, my walking partner and I scrambled over the bank and into an enchanted glen of native plants, shrubs, and lovely mixed trees.

I stepped into what felt like a secret garden, with native wood sorrel and delicate purple woodland violets scattered around carefully placed stones and the base of trees.

This little glen felt surprisingly private and rich, just across the street from a playfield. With sun filtering through the newly leafed out Japanese maples and evergreens, I breathed in the rich scent of mature forest.

My friend Lynette brought her clippers, and got some greenery for the beautiful wreaths she makes. I came back a day later (they weren't working the weekend there) with a few pots and trowel and dug up some wood sorrel and violets to take home, to spare them the crush of the tractors.

Before I stepped inside the glen, I paused and watched a hummingbird hovering and flitting around in there. As I stood in the glen, I found myself touching the trees, calling each one sister. It pained me to see such spring brilliance, with fresh shoots coming out of the evergreens, Japanese maple leaves unfurling, and lovely blossoms, knowing very soon their lives would be destroyed.

It brought back sorrowful feelings of a few months earlier, when I made the appointment for a vet to come to my home to put my Tashi cat to rest, although in that instance we were ending her suffering from end-stage kidney failure. She didn't know the fate that was soon to befall her.  In this instance, these trees were healthy and vibrant with the promise of spring, likely not cognizant of their impending demise.

I was dreading walking by and seeing all this gone, but each day for a week the glen remained intact. Maybe the developers saw the value in retaining these mature trees and a well-tended landscape; perhaps they would keep them as an asset to work into their development plans.

The next Monday I got a text from Lynette, telling me they had taken our garden. While I thought I couldn't bear to see it, I made myself walk over there to record what I saw, which was pretty darn sad. It made me feel numb.

I snapped a few shots and walked away. I haven't looked at it since. Fred, who tends the community garden across the street, said they found empty bird nests amidst the trashed landscape. No one in the neighborhood is happy about it.

I do realize the irony of this European American, whose nearby home sits on what was lush forest land not much more than a century ago, bemoaning the loss of a mid-20th century garden. My ancestors came to this area over 150 years ago and were likely involved in the massive destruction/filling of the tidal estuary between West Seattle and present-day downtown.

But still, trees are important for the health of our climate, our birds, our wildlife, and, yes, people. The City of Seattle has some tree protection ordinances, but nothing that would have saved this little lot. 

I think it's a shame. 

Shame on the City for not providing more oversight and regulations to save a wonderful woodland, however small, that provided valuable habitat for birds and such. Shame on the developers for not adjusting their plans, for not sacrificing a little $$ for the sake of saving a restorative woodland that would have been wonderful for the new residents and important for the birds who nested there. Shame on us all for allowing the continued loss of green space and trees in our city and region.

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. 

Sunday, March 28, 2021

Gnomes, Art, and Garden Treasures: Walking Seattle Neighborhoods


Since I've been walking my corner of Seattle much more in the last year, I'm discovering a whimsical side of my city.

Lately I've started approaching my walks as a treasure hunt. I look closely in yards and gardens I pass for the quirky, the art, and of course the ubiquitous gnomes. 

Seattleites love their gardens. With 75 percent of its residential land zoned for single-family homes (which BTW is now controversial with our growing population and affordability issues), there are a lot of sweet, tiny, and spacious yards to pass.

While some zoning is switching from single family to more dense development, with a loss of landscaping, plenty of yards and gardens persist, for now.

For starters, I'm seeing a lot more painted rocks, some with messages of encouragement, placed carefully in rockeries, parking strips, and even drainage swales.

And then there are little surprises sometimes when you look down at the ground.

Fence art and decorative gates are one of my favorite things to spot. I love that this niche is giving some artists work. The gorgeous sunflower gate below appears to be hand-carved.

One corner home/yard I passed last week was full of Easter eggs scattered about and hanging from trees, along with various other bits of garden art, like an old sink repurposed as a (dried up) frog pond. They even had a little machine set up on steps beside the sidewalk that pumps out bubbles as you pass by. 

I think I would like whomever lives there.

After gnomes and Buddhas, frogs (or toads?) are pretty popular, like this chill guy and the pensive one below. He called me to stop and contemplate for a moment.

And yes, the gnomes. They call a bunch of crows a murder of crows. Do you know what a group of gnomes is called? (I don't, but I could easily make something up. A gaggle? A nonsense? Ah, some commenters below says it's a donsey of gnomes).

My personal taste trends toward the Asian, which I find charming, a bit mysterious, and serene.

My Buddha, created by a Zen Master

This unique sculpture caught my eye yesterday. It looks like these three fish are swimming toward Puget Sound from up on the side of a modern box-style home.

While the rush is on here to convert smaller houses with bigger yards to tear-down/rebuild big box houses (or apartments) with very little yard, I value the green spaces, the messy yards, the tidy yards, and the shrubs and trees that provide habitat for birds and urban wildlife. 

And I especially appreciate those who take the care and time to add their own quirky, artistic touches to their landscape. I think I need to start looking for a home gnome to stash in my yard.

Not my gnome.

How about you? Do you have a yard with any unique art? Any gnomes or toads or decorative touches? Would love to hear in a comment below!

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.