Thursday, December 18, 2008

Artic Chill - December 2008

I love winter. And I love snow. I would go to the mountains nearly every weekend to explore the beautiful peaceful winter wonderland, to find the magical beauty of snowbound forest, to enjoy the freedom of dashing through blanketed meadows, to admire snow capped lakes and artfull creations of frozen waterfalls.

I love snow in the mountains. Snow in the cities is a completely diffrent story however. Living in an elevation of mere 114 ft above sea level we are lucky not to see huge amount of snow on roadways too often. Usually we have to deal with couple days of few inches and that’s it.

This year started on a different note. The snow made a late arrival. There was not even 4 inches in the ski resorts the first weekend of December when most years that is the opening weekend. We thought we’re in for a mellow winter – a thought I liked since mellow winter means less avalanche danger and possibility to get to many more places.

Then Mother Nature threw us a surprise and within two days we went from sunny balmy 50 degrees to massive snowstorms and artic chill with temperature dropping in single digits during nighttime. The heavy dark clouds would not stop dumping, soon turning highways in a circus of unskilled drivers negotiation the conditions the best way they can many times by performing stunts ranging from plain stupid to highly dangerous.

When you wake up and your car looks something like this….

... you know it's better to stay at home.

It took us over 2 hours to dig our cars out and clear the driveway. Once we finished the hard work (I don't envy those who live in the more harsh areas of the country and have to make friends with their shovels all winter long), we decided to make the best of the snow day and took our truck for a spin around the town. It's not that often we can go 4 wheeling on our very own street.

The town was full of happy kids hauling their sleds towards the hillside and even happier teens driving trucks, ATVs and snowmobiles. Most of the adults did not show the same enthusiasm as they were shoveling their way out of their houses.

We got 12 inches and they say it's far from over. If we can trust the forecast we can be looking forward for a treat of White Christmas this year. Let it snow!

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Lake Susan Jane 12/06/2008

Every year I organize a snowshoe trip and potluck party afterwards to celebrate my birthday. This year was not different... We had our snowshoes and all winter gear ready for our planned adventure to Lanham Lake. The only thing that was missing was the snow. We started to head up Hwy 2 thinking perhaps we'll just hike the trail but along the way the plan got re-evaluated and we decided to go for a longer trail.

We started at PCT trailhead on South side of Hwy 2 and hiked up following the trail all the way to the top of the hillside, overlooking the nearly snowless ski area. We encountered snow cumulation on the ground and some icy patches on the trail as we were nearing the top.

Once atop we took a short break and then dropped down on the other side. We found more snow here. Not enough to snowshoe or ski but plenty to enjoy the sound of it crushing under our feet and definitely enough to make the area look wintry and peaceful. The trail led us under powerlines, back to the forest, accross some rockslides, and then we finally arived at the lake. Easy outing, all together about 7 miles and about 1500 ft elevation gain.

Artist Point 11/30/2008

Last season it took 3 tries before we made it to Artist Point. This year we succeeded the first time. The road was clear all the way to the parking lot and since it’s been relatively warm there were no ice patches or other traps waiting for us along the way. We started out on snow. Deep enough to put snowshoes on but it was not necessary for the first part of the trip and few of us decided to boot it up nearly all the way to Artist Point.

We hiked surrounded by clouds with very little visibility but enjoyed strolling in the fresh snow despite the fact that the grand views this area has to offer were hidden behind the nature’s curtain. It felt good to strap snowshoes on again and explore white meadows, ascend snow covered hillsides, and enjoy the freedom of plunge-stepping down the slopes.

We made it to Artist Point in a good time. It was still foggy but it did not stop large part of our group from climbing atop of a peak nearby. At that time the first sign of blue sky appeared above us and partially blinded by the sunshine we got to enjoy the first view of Mt. Baker. Shuksan came out soon afterwards, first mysteriously peaking from the clouds, revealing itself more and more, until it majestically stood in front of us in its full beauty. We went from nearly no views to perfectly clear day in about half hour. It was incredible and made for such a fantastic finish of the trip.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Ingalls Lake 11/09/2008

We braved our way through a monsoon only western part of Washington State can produce with hope of having better weather luck on the other side of the mountains and once again we succeeded.

There was some snow patches along the the last few miles but the actual road was clear and even though there were several parts significantly etched with potholes of various sizes, our passanger car had no difficulties reaching the trailhead.

The trail was clear nearly all the way to the pass with only occasional patches of snow to cross. The snow coverage became more solid once we crossed the pass and started to descend into the basin where we were surrounded by the beauty of rocky slopes stepping out of clouds and disappearing again as we proceeded further giving the basin amazingly mysterious feel.

We explored the basin throughly in a search of the lake... and finally found it,
mostly because we were lucky to meet a local hiker who pointed us to
the right direction.

Great day to be outside!

Friday, November 7, 2008

Davis Peak 11/02/2008

When the forecast calls for rain and you still can't wait for the
weekend to come so that you can get out, that's good. When despite
the downpour 4 of your friends feel the same way, that's even better.

We drove through rainstorm from North Bend all the way to Snoqualmie
Pass. The weather didn't change rapidly once we got on the East side
of the mountains but was improving gradually and before we reached
the trailhead, it stopped raining completely.

We only had to deal with occasional drizzle during our ascend and
enjoyed some views along the way. When nearing the summit the
temperature dropped a bit with the elevation we gained allowing for
tiny white snowflakes to sprinkle branches of surrounding trees and
the ground.

The wind picked up at the top but the circle of stones marking the
lookout site provided excellent refuge from this element where we
could sit and enjoy a cup of hot beverage.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Stuart Lake 10/25/2008

Beautiful day to be outside. The morning was rather chilly but warm layers and the first uphill warmed us up fast and the sun got warmer as the day progressed also.

It was neat to feel the difference between the sunny spots and shady areas. As soon as we sank under the forest canopy the chill started to bite us immediately.

It was an easy relaxed hike with only 1600 ft elevation gain, great views of surrounding mountains, and sweet surprise at Colchuck/Stuart intersection left for us by Andrew’s group heading to the Enchantments.

We tool our time to enjoy both the trail and the lake where we found a nice sunny spot by the shore and took about an hour to chill out and explore.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Hidden Lake Peak Lookout 10/11/2008

The week was chilly and brought first solid snow cover to the
mountains. It was clear we'll get to enjoy some of it since we were
starting high and gaining 3000 ft.

The recently reopened road to the trailhead was in perfect condition.
Steep in places but as smooth as mountain road can be and my Focus had
no problem making its way up.

The morning was chilly and with the first part of the trail leading
through forest where sunshine could not reach, we started with gloves
and hats on. Soon we reached 4300 ft where we saw first signs of
snow. The snow patches on and around the trail became more frequent
as we gained elevation and the snow cover got solid in about 5000 ft.

There was a section with several icy patches where we had to be
careful not to slip but the further we went the more we felt like
being in a winter wonderland and soon we found ourselves on a fresh
white snow, surrounded by peaceful beauty of the mountains.

Further on the lookout became visible sitting on the top of the peak
but at that point we started to doubt that we'll be able to actually
get up to it. We were in about a foot of snow now.

We could not get so far in without trying though so once we got below
the peak, we went to check out the route up. It didn't look bad but
with snow covering spaces between the rocks, making it very easy to
step on unsupported spot and fall through, we decided it was not safe
enough to proceed.

Instead we found nice sunny spot with a view of the lake where we
enjoyed lunch, delicious brownies (thank you Beth), and some hot tea.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Yellow Aster Butte 9/28/2008

I left my house at about 6:45 a.m. and drove through a dense morning fog to the meeting location in Everett. The fog lifted somewhat before I got there, and disappeared completely during our drive to Mt. Baker area. When we arrived to the trailhead some 2.5 hours later, we were surrounded by beautiful mountains standing proudly against perfectly blue sky. It was my third time up here but the very first time when the trailhead area was clear of clouds and I could finally enjoy the nice view of Mt. Baker right from where we parked.

We were on the trail soon afterwards and steadily progressed up the meadow, switchback after switchback until the forest swallowed us and in its shadow we found a great refuge from the unexpectedly burning sun. We quickly gained several more hundred feet of elevation and then finally emerged to the open meadows where breeze carried sweet scent of berries and views were plentiful. From there the trail contoured the valley offering more and more views along its way. First we were stunned by unobstructed view of the rugged Mt. Shuksan, soon afterwards we could admire serene beauty of majestic Mt. Baker, and later enormous mass of Tomyhoi Peak arose right in from of us.

We started the climb to the false summit together with many others. It was a beautiful day and it was busy up there. As soon as we walked onto the top Mt. Larabee gave us a warm welcome together with American and Canadian Border Peaks, followed by many more mountains. The views went forever.

We enjoyed a brief lunch break atop of the false summit and then continued towards the true summit. Little bit of easy scrambling spiced up our already wonderful day. We decided not to go back to the false summit and instead dropped down the scree slope and headed for the tarns. The reflections in them were nearly perfect; however the water was not completely calm due to a minor breeze. We were happy to forgive Mother Nature this slight imperfection and enjoyed the tarns anyways.

Needless to say it was very hard to head back.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Spider Meadow 9/20/2008

After series of several 4000+ ft elevation gain hikes was time for more relaxed adventure. The original plan was to go and check out fall color at Mt. Baker area but with the rain in a forecast I opted for the drier side of the mountains. My plan to escape the rain in Eastern Washington worked well. The heavy fog vanished as soon as we crossed Stevens Pass and the sky looked way less threatening there too.

After long and very slow 25 miles ride on gravel road, we finally reached the trailhead. It was busy but we were able to get the last two available spots at the actual trailhead parking lot.

It was surprisingly warm and clouds were high enough for us to be able to go uuuh aaah over the beauty of all the giants surrounding us. We walked to the forest and followed the path, very gently gaining elevation. I paused at Carne Mountain intersection for a moment, imagining the views, but as soon as I looked back at my wonderful but completely out of shape husband huffing and puffing on this nearly level grade, the thought immediately left my mind. I promised my crew an easy outing today so we continued towards Spider Meadow.

Bubbling of Phelps Creek, and fall colors starting to show made our way through the forest very enjoyable. Then we walked into the meadow, spacious, carpeted by golden grasses with hints of crimson leaves, enclosed by giant mountains. It was a beautiful place to sit down and enjoy lunch… and plan a backpacking trip for next year to explore the area further.

The wind picked up around 2:30-ish and brought this unmistakable feel of a true fall with this nipping chill annoying enough to put a layer on. Few light showers followed and finally just as we walked back to the parking lot, the rain got stronger. It was pouring pretty hard when we hit Hwy 2.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Boston Basin 9/13/2008

After several weeks of hiking in fog and rain, the weather finally decided to give us a break. Seeing the clear sky right after I left home made my way to the meeting spot filled with immeasurable excitement, especially since I knew we’re heading to one of the most picturesque area here in Pacific NW.

Boston Basin is known mostly to climbers who have several very cool
looking peaks available there. I've heard it was a wonderful place to
hike to, even if not climbing anywhere further on, so I had it on my
list for a while. With clear blue sky, plenty of sunshine, and great
visibility, the day could not be more perfect.

The trail was very easy to follow, however there were few narrow
parts where vegetation (and especially stinking nettles) got little
too close, there were few parts where we had to scramble a bit, there
were quite a few trees across the trail we had to climb over, and
last but not least there were 4 un-bridged creek crossings which at
this time of the year did not pose any problem but earlier with water
level higher might be little tricky. I bet many regular hikers would
consider the trail too treacherous and would probably turn way before
reaching the basin, but for those little more adventurous; the
approach itself brings lots of fun to what without all the obstacles
would be just a walk through a forest.

Once at the bottom of the basin, whole new world opened in front of
us, inviting us to wander further. There were many possibilities to
explore. Most of us decided that the glacier at the very far end of
the basin was way too cool to miss so we rock hopped all the way to
it and spend a long time chilling out, enjoying the awesome
breathtaking scenery. It was quite difficult to get up and head back
leaving all this beauty behind.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Mt. Pugh Scramble - 9/6/2008

Once again the weather man tricked us into thinking it'll be a gorgeous day and we'll get plenty of sunshine. With vision of all the magnificent views we'll be getting today we arrived at the trailhead and found it partially hidden in the fog.

In was early in the day though and with 5500 ft of elevation we had to gain we figured the sun will have plenty of time to burn the clouds off before we get to our destination.

So we headed up. The first part of the trail took us through the forest where the mist around us made this otherwise regular forest walk more interesting. It was a long walk but the grade was rather gentle. We made a good time to the meadow where we finally got into some steeper terrain and slowed a bit. The flowers were plentiful as
we switchbacked up the hill; however all the views remained hidden behind clouds.

We reached Stujack Pass and took a little break for lunch. With no views, some wind and very light drizzle, there was no reason to hang around there for too long and soon we were back on our feet making our way towards Mt. Pugh summit.

The route got more interesting once we left Stujack Pass and now we were scrambling our way up, getting around rocks, going over few somewhat sketchy exposed part or the trail, but for most of the ascend we had a great time and progressed slowly but surely to the summit.

Once atop of the mountain we took a deep breath and enjoyed the never ending thick layer of clouds everywhere around us. It was pleasurably warm and windless up there. We sat down to make our entries into the summit register and then a little while later we noticed a patch of clear sky revealing little bit of our surrounding. Curiously we watched as it made its way across the sky. The sunshine that came shortly afterwards, making the sky above us bluer and bluer, and it felt unspeakably good too.

It never completely clear but despite the fact we only got tiny glimpse of all the mountains around us, the summit itself held its own beauty making the trip very worthwhile. We stayed up for about an hour before the sun, traveling slowly down towards horizon, reminded us it was a good time to start heading back.