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! 
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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.

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

Early Summer in the Pacific Northwest: Hikes, Good Eats, and Ferry Rides

Despite my best intentions to tend to the house and yard on weekends now and then, I usually find myself out and about, hiking or meeting up with friends or relatives.

So today features a few highlights of the last month or so here in the Pacific Northwest, local style.

Bluebird Hiking
In mid-June, I finally managed to meet up with a family friend I hadn't seen You don't need to know how long ago that was, but wow it was great to connect with Andy after so many years. From summiting Mt. St. Helens to Mt. Fuji in Japan, Andy and his wife keep it all in the family.

But that Saturday was just Andy and me, and the hike up Scorpion Mountain in the Wild Sky Wilderness near Skykomish, Washington, was truly a gem. Neither of us had been there before, and it was surprisingly not too crowded. 

This is mostly a ridge trail, with some steep ups and downs. Once we broke out of the subalpine forest to the summit ridge, the views were magnificent. Directly to the north was the lesser known Cascade volcano Glacier Peak, in all its rugged splendor.

 Andy said we hiked 9.1 miles roundtrip from the trailhead to the 5,500+ elevation summit, with a little over 2,700 feet in gain and 1,300 feet in loss.

Port Townsend and Environs
In June I managed two trips to Port Townsend to visit family. I'm always up for a ferry ride, and the Edmonds-Kingston run is my route.

Morning at the Edmonds ferry terminal
I met up with cousins for an excellent and tasty lunch at the thoroughly charming Finn River Farm & Cidery in Chimacum, WA, about 10 miles south of Port Townsend. With a sprawling complex of buildings and open air dining, this is THE place to be most evenings in the summer, with live music and dancing. 

I opted for crispy thin-crust pizza topped with farm fresh veggies and cheese from local Mt. Townsend Creamery, plus garden fresh green salad. Cousin John and his daughter Nia had bratwurst made from pork raised nearby. To drink, I had the crisp pear cider, which happened to be perfect IMO.

To burn off some of those calories, afterwards we walked down and along the beach at Old Fort Townsend State Park just south of Port Townsend. On a Friday, it was pretty quiet along the lush forested shoreline.

Before heading back to Seattle later in the evening, my aunt insisted on taking us to a nice Italian dinner at Lanza's in Port Townsend. I did not go hungry that day.

Misty/Rainy Day Hike
Although the bluebird days are nice, this year we're mindful of the impending bad fire wildfire season. So Dave and I didn't mind hiking in a light rain to Merritt Lake east of Stevens Pass.

Despite the very rough road (in places) to the trailhead off Highway 2, the hike itself seemed pretty mellow and switchbacked leisurely up 2,100 feet over about 3 miles to a sweet alpine lake.

When we got near the lake, a whiff of smoke and fire blew past on the breeze--definitely NOT good in the drought-parched woods. We found a still smoldering campfire, with a bit of flame, littered with a half melted plastic bottle and foil. 

Here in the Pacific Northwest, we aim to practice the Leave No Trace ethic, so finding this fire was concerning. I chugged my water and then took several trips to the lake to refill the bottle and dump water on the fire. Sigh.

Regardless, this was a lovely hike and not as long or rigorous as the Scorpion Mountain hike a few weeks earlier.

And Then There's Wine
So I don't drink much (except water and tea), but I was all on board the party van for a dear friend's milestone birthday outing to the Woodinville wine country northeast of Seattle. Yes, we literally went there in a big van with a hired driver. Better safe than sorry.

I hadn't been in several years and was shocked at the traffic and proliferation of wineries out there now. Our first stop was the classic DeLille Cellars, where we had a sampling of half dozen beautiful wines, from a light roussane white to robust reds (which I didn't taste because I just can't do red wine anymore).

Our next stop, Mark Ryan Winery, was much louder and more crowded than DeLille. We happened to be there with a large contingent of women wearing faux leopard skin (dresses, shoes, pants, hats, etc.) and wondered if one of the vaguely familiar women was a reality TV star.

"Do you notice it's mostly women at these tastings, except for men with their wives/girlfriends or gay guys," pointed out Shannon. Yes, I did notice many more women than men.

But the wine was good; I particularly enjoyed the dry white viognier.  

A relaxing place to finish up was Matthews Winery, which had a spacious and lovely contemporary tasting room set against a wooded hillside. By this time I wasn't really catching all the wines, but I did enjoy more white and rose here.

 So there you have it. Just a smattering of places and things that we locals do here in the Pacific Northwest (well, western and north-central Washington to be exact). 

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. 

Thursday, June 13, 2019

Backpacking in the Pacific Northwest: A Sweet Nature Fix

"As you're hiking," says Ashley, "try to notice smells, what you hear and see. And don't feel the need to push yourself. Just take it all in."

We're at the Ingalls Creek trailhead in north-central Washington, about to head on up the trail for what is my first backpack of the yearand for a couple women, their first backpack trip ever.

I might have paraphrased what Ashley said a bit, but it's the gist of our overnight trip this weekend with the Alpine Trails Book Club. We're thinking about this month's book, The Nature Fix.

Author Florence Williams makes a compelling case that nature is not just beautiful but also good for us in terms of health, happiness, and creativity. (See my recent post on forest bathing.) 

On this late spring weekend before the heat of summer, our group quickly spreads out along the trail. I lapse into my old "motor mouse" mode, charging ahead, and have to remind myself to slow down. 

Essentially we're walking up a creek drainage through both burned and intact forest. Here on the eastern crest of the Cascades, we see a mix of ponderosa pine and common regional trees such as Douglas fir and western redcedar.

What I notice quickly is the dramatic difference between the burned parts of the drainage versus areas that haven't burned for decades. Initially we walk through forest that was engulfed in 1994 by the massive Rat Creek Fire.

As the trail meanders above mountain fresh Ingalls Creek, we first cross through fairly open areas. Here some trees are still scorched black, while others show green growth higher up. Since the last major fire, the underbrush and shrubs have come back vigorously.

And the wildflowers! Lush patches of purple lupine, occasional Nootka rose, brilliant red-orange Indian paintbrush, delicate columbine, and much more line the trail. Tiny purple and big multi-colored butterflies flit from flower to flower, eluding capture in a photo.

Red columbine

Nootka rose
After an hour of tramping,  I stop at a big flat rock for a snack break and am soon joined by the others. I'm feeling previously "silent" leg and hip muscles from the weight of my pack. But overall I'm pleased that I've settled into a steady pace, despite the heavy load.

I think we're all buoyed by the refreshing sound and views of the adjacent creek, still swollen with snowmelt. As it dances and courses downward over big boulders, downed logs, and cobbled riffles, we continue gradually upward, sometimes crossing small tributary streams.

When we've hiked a couple hours upstream, we decide to make camp at a spacious campsite next to the creek, a little under 5 miles from the trailhead. There's plenty of room to pitch multiple tents, with sounds muffled by the insistent rush of Ingalls Creek.

But before I give in to the urge to relax, three of us continue another mile+ up the trail in search of more expansive views. Ultimately this trail leads to gorgeous alpine Ingalls Lake 14 miles from the trailhead. But today we're content with taking in the forest, abundant fresh air, and the sounds of nature.

Looking back down valley.
Back at camp, with my tent set up and pack discarded, I head to the creek and liberate my feet for a soak in the icy cold water. I think fondly of my late father as I do this. On warm summer days after work, he would sit on the foot bridge over the stream that ran through our front yard, roll up his pants above his ankles, take off his shoes and socks, and dangle his feet in the cool water.

Despite a sizeable group, later in the afternoon we spread out, nap in the sun, read, sketch, whatever. We're just enjoying being unplugged and tuned in to our surroundings. After a good discussion of the book, where Ashley encourages us to feel the dirt with our bare feet and hands, we cook our dinners and drift to our tents before it's completely dark.

For me, sleep comes quickly. I'm always lulled to sleep by the sound of nearby water. 

I awaken cozy warm and refreshed around 5:30 a.m. I'm up and out before anyone else, and take a few moments to silently express my gratitude for this gift of a night in the woods with a fun and supportive group of cross-generational women (and one husband).

While I love my morning tea, and especially enjoy drinking it out of delicate china, I've never thought of bringing a fancy cup along on a camping trip. So I'm charmed when Brenda pulls out her cup and saucer, which she does camping and hiking as a whimsical ritual.

Getting ready for tea al fresco.
Late morning we're off back down trail, and too soon we're back at the trailhead. I'm just hitting my stride and could continue for several more miles.

Motor Mouse, a few years on.
Photo by Mala Giri.
Our goal wasn't the destination, it was the journey and experiencing fully where we were without an agenda other than to just be present and aware with all our senses. I came away refreshed, despite some achy muscles. 

And as I sit here in my office typing, I close my eyes and imagine myself out there again, seeing the morning light filtering through the forest, with the soundtrack of a mountain stream. It's calming, and studies show a nature fix can lower your blood pressure, among other health benefits. 

I highly recommend that you, too, think about getting a nature fix as often as you can.

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.