Saturday, November 21, 2009

Enchantments Traverse 10/10/2009

Between being extremely busy at work, writing articles for, working on my book, preparing for vacation, and trying to get out to the mountains as much as I can, I left a pretty large gap opened in my trip reports.

Finally weekend came when the weather is not tempting me to get out and get soaked and few hours in front of my computer with a cup of Elderflower tea looking back at some of the great trips I did in a last month sound so much more appealing.

Probably every hiker and every climber near and far I met would brag about the Enchantments, series of lakes of pristine beauty nested in high country near Leavenworth, WA. Obviously the area got my attention and climbed to the top of my list of places to visit very fast; however most people take several days to enjoy and explore the trail, which was not an option for me. Sadly, for a long time the only way I could admire its beauty was through photos of my more fortunate friends.

Then Aaron came with an idea of trying to complete the trip as a one day traverse. It's 18 miles shuttle and several thousands feet elevation gain... but it was done before. The seed of this idea was planted and within next few month we fed it by planning more details for this epic adventure and let it grow to eventually become reality.

The date was set for October for two reasons. First and foremost, October is the season of the larches and what could be better time to visit this larch-friendly region then when the trees are in the peak of their festive show... and secondly, there is still reasonable amount of daylight in October.

As it often happens with our group, the early start we planned did not happen to be so early. After a morning coffee stop and excruciatingly long wait for a breakfast sandwich, we were lucky to get to the trailhead at about 7:00 a.m. We found it packed, not surprisingly condidering the rather positive weather forecast for the weekend.

Soon we were marching up the shallow grade in the beginning of the trail towards the first lake of the day - Colchuck Lake - some 5 miles from where we started. Not part of the Enchantments this lake still makes pretty rewarding destination for a day trip. This is where most people call it a day and turn.

We only stopped here for a brief break. With the most formidable part of the trail just ahead of us, we were soon back on our feet. Aasgard Pass did not look quite as terrifying on an approach as I expected, but as soon as the 2000+ climb in less then a mile started, it quickly bacame obvious that conquering this relentlessly steep slope will not be a piece of cake. And just as we started to warm up to the terrain, the snow and ice came slowing up our progress some more.

We were nearing the top when we came upon a really tricky part. Two ways to go, one more trecherous than the other. We were not the only group trying to deal with this Hillary Step of Aasgard Pass. Two more groups gathered here contemplating which way is the easier/safer one to take. Climbing over an iced up rock where slipping would cause short hard fall and sliding long ways down possibly bumping into many obstacles in one's way, or climbing over a small wall, where wrong step could mean a long fall. After a brief debate we chose the wall as a easier route and safely made it up.

Once we topped the pass, we entered the world of mesmerizing beauty. Consisting mostly of bare rocks, peaks tempting to be climbed, and Isolation Lake peacefully nested in the middle of all this beauty.. This open high country was definitely a place to take one's breath away.

Things got little easier for next few miles as we followed the trail visiting more beautiful lakes and entering the world of golden larches along the way.

It was suprisingly cold. Even after the sun broke free from the clouds, it never warmed up. Definitely the type of day you're so thanksful for gloves and a hat but considering we did not have time for any longer stops and were nearly constantly on a move, the chilliness did not bother us much.

One more tricky spot awaited us around Lake Vivian where we had to descend icy slope. It ate some time but we managed to navigate through this section safely and continue on our journey. The sun started to set at this time and we still had about 10 miles of distance to cover.

The darkness caught us just before we reached Snow Lake and we finished the last 8 miles with our headlamsp ablaze. This part of the trail leads mostly through forest and is not as scenic as the rest of the route. Knowing no amazing vistas are hidden in the darkness and being able to enjoy night sky full of stars and giant moon rising was beautiful experience and a perfect way to finish a agreat day.

18 miles + 5000 ft el. gain = 15 hours of a great adventure. Lets do it again next year!

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Maple Pass 10/7/2009

When you combine great group of people, trail with incredible views, bit of fall colors, first snow of the season, clouds perfectly placed in the sky adding a bit of drama but not obscuring any of the views, plenty of sunshine, and incredible sunset later in the day, it calls for a wonderful adventure. And we had just this perfect combination of elements during our hike to Maple Pass.

Our day started early as we drove long ways through the awakening mountains and small mountain towns towards the trailhead on Hwy 20. I travelled this road few times already this year but today with fog rolling around the road, hugging farmhouses and creeping around the bottom of the mountains, I really enjoyed the 2+ hours drive plus it was also a nice change to continue deeper into the mountains than we usually do.

The trailhead welcomed us with distinctive chill of an October morning. There's no denying that the cold part of the year is knocking on the door. The good thing - there was no wasting time at the trailhead - everybody was ready to move (just to keep warm) pretty fast.

Soon after we left our car, a paved path led us to a junction where we chose the steeper trail as a beginning of our loop. It proved to be a good choice. After about couple miles we emerged from the forest and enteres world of magnificent views. Our pace slowed down considerably, and the sound of our boots marching up the hill was replaced by the sound of our cameras snapping hundreds of photos which did not stop until we dropped back into the forest on the other side of the valley.

Maple Pass is going on "My Favorites" list. I'm definitely going to hike this trail again in the future.

Hidden Lake Peak 9/23/2009

The weather prevented us from heading up to the lookout twice this year. Rain, t-storms.... conditions you really don't want to experience atop a mountain.

Finally, the forecast got more friendly and promised sunny day for North Cascades so off we went to get Hidden Lake Peak Lookout off our list.

The day turned out awesome. To our surprise we arrived at the trailhead and there was about 6 other vehicles there already. In remore area, on Wednesday early morning. Does anybody work these days?

The hike was amazing. In short - views, more views, even more views... combined with lots of berries and fall colors starting to show.

It was definitely one of those days that make you want to stay up there forever.

Ptarmigan Ridge 9/12-9/13 2009

Backpacking trip to Yellow Aster Butte was something I was looking forward to since the beginning of the summer but the weather's been very uncooperative lately. Sunny during the week but turning in rainfest as soon as Friday comes. I postponed the trip twice due to stormy forecast. Then finally a sunny weekend came - but all of the people who wanted to go already had different commitments.

Panorama Baker

With the amount of stress I was dealing with lately (my Mom being very sick) I really needed to get out of the house, enjoy the simplicity of life in wilderness, and let the nature help me to relax a little.

Evening sets in

Chad saw how miserable I was in last few weeks and despite his fear of bears suggested that we still go. Now that it was only the two of us, I had to reconsider the logistics of the expedition. Yellow Aster Butte is a spectacular destination with tremendous views, tarns reflection surrounding peaks, and sweet little scramble to the true summit. It is also the only place in Washington State I ever saw a bear and on the top of that the first mile of the trail is rather steep. Not being able to split the weight of group gear among seven people as originally planned, I was worried that Chad's knees would not do well on the steep part.


Than I remembered recent trip to Ptarmigan Ridge and cool little camping spot we saw about 3.5 miles in the hike where my favorite volcano, Mt. Baker makes the primary view. And the new plan was born.

The weekend turned even better than forecast predicted. We hiked in under clear sky with all the views available. And we were not alone. The trail saw hundreds of visitors that weekend. According to the trail register that was only one other group camping who headed ahead of us and their planned camping spot was further than ours, yet there still was this little bity feeling inside me, making me wonder if the spot I had in mind would be open.

Water stop

Just as we approached the last stream crossing we run into a couple of day hikers who took one nalgene bottle of water between the two of them. At this point they were completely out, and 3.5 miles away from their car. We were about to filter our water for the night anyway so we filled their bottle as well. Hopefully they learned their lesson and won't run into the same problem in the future.

Night time

Anyway it was a great feeling when finally after a hot 3.5 miles I peeked over the hillside, and found the area empty. Quickly I descended the last few hundred feet off trail to claim our weekend's living room. About 5 minutes later, another couple of backpackers arrived. They found a nice spot little further on the plateau.


The rest of the trip was filled with surprisingly warm evening, beautiful sunset, star gazing, goats sighting, no bears to be seen, tons and tons of blueberries, and that all in a great company of my husband and amazing majestic mountains.

This adventure trully couldn't turn better.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Sahale Arm 8/30/2009

North Cascades are undoubtedly the most beautiful part of Washington State. Rugged Peaks, volcanoes, glaciers, wildflowers, blueberry fields... that is just a short list of what this area can offer to those who decide to undergo the grueling 3 hr drive from Seattle and miles of bumpy gravel roads.

Group Shot

One of the most visited trails in the area is one heading gently to Cascade Pass. Hundreds of people hike here every week and for many of them Cascade Pass is the final destination. The trail however does not end here. Cascade Pass is just a gateway to a world of magnificent views and great adventures.

Nearing the pass

One can take few days to backpack 31 miles to Stehekin, peaceful remote community nested in valley son a shore of Lake Chelan, which is only accessible by 55 mile long boat ride or by crossing the mountain on foot.

View From Cascade Pass

Those whose time is limited can take a weekend and climb one of the beautiful peaks located in the immediate area and those who came for one day trip only should at least continue few more miles along Sahale Arm to escape the crowds and enjoy the scenery in little more solitude.

Heavy clouds hugged the mountain tops tightly as we drove to the trailhead. It was doubtful that we'll be able to enjoy any of the spectacular views this area offers during our hike. I started to think I'll title this blog entry: "The Curse of Cascade Pass". Why?

Through the mountains

It was completely socket in during our first visit here in August of 2008. We made it all the way to Sahale Glacier with minimal views, walking in freezing layer of clouds... and as soon as we reached the destination, it started snowing on us.

Eldorado from Sahale Arm

It was a similar story a year later. It was cold and freezing wind blasting extremely fast chased us of the Pass before we even started to think about heading anywhere further.

And it looked like we're out of luck once again. Even the locals at Marblemount gas station where we stopped to briefly stretch our legs ensured us it's unlikely to clear.

Beautiful mountains

They say 3rd time a charm. And it totally worked for us today. Despite all the odds and low elevation of the trailhead, we drove out of the clouds and started the hike under perfectly blue sky.


The first part to Cascade Pass was easy 3.7 miles with only 1800 ft gained. From there the trail led us steeply uphill. We only came for one day so we passed sign pointing out trail to Stehekin that seemed like a less of a leg burner and continued our way up. Soon more mountains rose from behind the ridge, including Eldorado, one of my goals for next year. The beauty of all the jagged peaks surrounding were breathtaking.

10 miles RT and little over 3000 ft. elevation gain.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Gothic Basin 8/22/2009

Hiking to Gothic Basin is not a piece of cake. The trail is extremely steep and rocky, crosses several streams, leads through few narrower passages next to sizeable cliffs, makes you scramble over boulders and deal with scree.

In the Basin

It's one of the trails where after first mile of walking through the forest you think: "OK, I don't think I will ever feel a need to come back again."

And then you walk out of the forest and all the views open right in front of you... and suddenly you think: "OK, I'm definitely coming back again."

Foggy Lake

The views are trully incredible and they get even better once you enter the basin and scramble the last several hundred vertical feet to Foggy Lake nested underneath Del Campo Peak.

Gothic Basin

Fantastic day in the mountains. The sunshine and blue sky was much appreciated after 2 weeks of hiking in cold foggy weather.

More flowers

9.5 miles, 3000 ft elevation gain

Monday, August 17, 2009

Skyline Trail MRNP 8/1/2009

Our original plan for the weekend was to enjoy scenery of North Cascades; however thunderstorms threatening that area quickly changed our mind and reversed directions of travel.

The decision to head down South to Paradise area of Mt. Rainier NP turned out to be a very good one. The flowers were in their peak. Beautifully colorful meadows surrounded the trail we took, creeks were bubbling through them with a sunshine sparking on their surfaces, and of course there was the huge white (or actually grey/white with lots of the snow now melted) "thing" blocking our view to North to admire.

Beautiful day to be outside; however little on the hotter side. Even as high as Paradise, it was baking hot 90 degrees. Most welcomed breeze came when we started climbing to Panorama Point which not only cooled us down but also discouraged the bugs from following us further.

The views got even better once we found ourselves higher, crossing rocky parts of the route. Getting first class view of Nisquilly Glacier, we were able to fully appreciate the rough beauty of this above the tree line landscape.

Afterwards the trail took us down to the meadows again as it looped back to the parking lot which at that point was absolutely packed. The combination of blue sky and wildflowers lured hundreds of people from near and far. Lucky day for mosquitoes!

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Some Dreams Do Come True

It was February 10, 2007 – beautiful sunny Saturday, simply the type of winter day you know you have to spend outside.

Never-ending snow blanketed meadows akin to Sahara desert, just all in white, contrasted with clear blue sky. It was warm for this time of a year. One of the warmest days I ever remember in the mountains in February actually. We were headed up to Artist Point just in our shirts – no puffy jackets, no gloves, no hat… and the touch of the warm breeze kissing our cheeks and gently lifting our hair felt so darn good.

It was the type of winter day when you can actually enjoy lunch break without gust penetrating through every single layer of your clothes and without having your fingers going numb. And needless to say there was much to be enjoyed here in the middle of this winter wonderland, surrounded by peaks of mesmerizing beauty.

Then I saw The Mountain. Despite the fact it is second most active volcano in Washington State, it stood there so unbelievably peaceful. I could not take my eyes off it. I spend most of my life hiking in the mountains but never experienced a moment that would even come close to what I felt when I first saw Baker. The beauty of the mountain left me completely breathless. There was an instant attraction, an instant desire to climb it.

July 18, 2009

It’s another sunny day in the mountains. There’s this indescribable little shiver flowing though my body. Partially, I think, my body screams under the weight of 40 lb pack full of gear I’m carrying up the slope, partially my ecstatic mind is trying to find a way of how to deal with the enormous amount of excitement I’m experiencing. In less than 24 hours we’re going to climb Mt. Baker.

The summer had started in the lower part of the mountains. The trail is surrounded by wildflowers as it leads us gently uphill through the forest. Bees buzz around. Creek bubbles nearby. The atmosphere remains unchanged when we enter open meadows higher up. Blueberry bushes line the trail here. They’re loaded with tiny green berries. It’ll be worth it to return in couple months when they’re ripe.

Lastly the route approaches the volcano through Railroad Grade. The scenery has completely different feel here. The landscape is harsher, mostly consisting of bare rock. Winter still prevails in this area. We’re crossing first snow patch. Solid snow coverage comes shortly afterwards.

The more elevation we gain today, the less we have left for tomorrow. With that in mind we continued past several other teams already camped on exposed rock sites. Our perfect site waits for us at 6200 ft.
It’s been a while since I actually spend a night in the mountains. With the same anticipation I have for tomorrow’s climb, I’m looking forward to the golden glow of sunset touching the peaks and also the magical moment when the sun rises from behind horizon in the wee morning hour just as I remember it from the days of my childhood when I used to spend many summer nights outdoors.

And the mountains don’t disappoint today. The sunset is magical. It fills the valleys below with placid orange hues and the summit area of Mt. Baker above us briefly brightens under the rays of the fading sun. I can’t remember last time I felt more relaxed and in peace.

I’m calling it a night about an hour later. The wind blasts down the mountain now, hitting our tent. It does not bother me though. On the contrary its steady sound helps me to drift into the sweet world of dreams.

July 19, 2009

The alarm clock rings at 2:00 a.m. The wind is gone. It’s rather calm. Milky Way stretches across the sky sprinkled with thousands of stars. It’s so much more different to witness night sky here in the mountains, not spoiled with artificial light of street lamps. I’m enjoying my freeze dried granola breakfast while searching for the Big Dipper and other constellations. Life is good.

City of Bellingham is fast asleep in the valley below us. It’s quite a different story up here. Soft breeze carries quiet voices of other rope teams getting ready for the summit push. Headlamps appear and disappear in the darkness. The day had started for us climbers.

Geared up and ready to stretch our legs on the slope by 3:00 a.m. We’re crossing snow field by our camp site and connecting to route on Easton Glacier. This is my very first glacier climb. Surprisingly I’m not nervous. Not even after we come across a first crevasse we have to step over. For few seconds I’m thinking “What if there are huge scary ones higher up?” But the serenity of the morning quickly dissolves such thoughts and lets me enjoy the journey.

At first the grade is shallow. Our pace is good, despite frequent short breaks we take as we zigzag along the route accompanied by several other teams. Silhouettes of surrounding peaks reveal more details as darkness slowly lifts chased away by the powerful beauty of the sunrise. The morning light is soft, soothing for the soul.

The crater comes in a view. Steam rising out of it is noticeable against the sun lit rock. Strong smell of sulfur fills the air giving it a stench of rotting eggs. We’re leaving the route for a 10-minute break at the crater rim. It’s a neat experience to witness volcano, alive and rumbling, from such a close distance.

The most dreaded part of the route is just ahead of us. The Roman Wall - relentlessly steep, leg burning, pace killer slope…. Are we ready for the challenge? It turns out not to be nearly as hard or frightening as we expected. Under today’s good conditions and with steps firmly kicked in, we slowly, yet rather easily gain the slope.

A paradise opens ahead of us. White plateau to roam around, overlooking what seems to be the whole entire world. The only thing we have left to do is to cross the field and climb the last few feet to the summit. There’s nothing between us and the sky. It really feels like we’re on the top of the world. It feels nearly surreal to be here.

So I’m standing here; looking down to Artist Point where couple of years ago this dream began, feeling stronger than ever. It was not an easy journey for me. I had to overcome quite a few obstacles from total absence of climbing skills, to my husband who believes that everybody who climbs glaciated mountains certainly has a dead wish and thought I was absolutely out of my mind when I first mentioned the idea.

A smile crosses my face. Once again I feel this indescribable little shiver flowing though my body as I’m thinking of all the other goals I have set for myself for near future. Climbing this mountain is not the end, it’s merely a beginning. Nothing is impossible. Where there is a will, there is a way!

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Training for Mt. Baker Climb 7/11/2009

Burroughs Mountain is without question one of my favorite areas in Mt. Rainier NP. Ever since the first time I followed the trail to Second Burroughs few years ago, engulfed in fog with no views of Rainier whatsoever, there was something about this rocky, windswept route that stayed deeply etched in my heart.

Perhaps it was the feel of being able to escape far away from the rushed city life that this trail conveys so beautifully despite the fact the parking loot is only 3 miles away, perhaps it was beauty of tiny wildflowers scattered among the stone, trying to survive in this harsh environment, or perhaps it was something completely different that made me feel so strongly about this place but from the very first moment I knew I will return here often.

When our Mt. Baker climb got postponed due forecasted T-storms, we hardly could find better alternative destination for the day.

We started from Sunrise Trailhead at around 10:00 a.m. The sun was out, air carried scent of blooming wildflowers, and Rainier, majestically sited in front of us, watched over every step we took.

It did not take long before the trail led us between first and second Burroughs. From there we followed the rocky winding path as it rolled down some 400 ft, passed intersection with Glacier Basin trail, and than regained all the elevation on approach to the third Burroughs.

We arrived just in time for lunch. And what better lunch spot could we find than one that provides first class seats to a view of a giant volcano;so beautiful, so powerful, so mesmerizing.

From this spot we could clearly follow the Emmons Glacier climbing Route from Camp Shurman to the top, and looking really closely, we could even spot few climbers on their way down which reminded us of the purpose of today’s outing, which was to do some self arrest practice and glacier crevasse rescue training, including Z-Pulley.

We must have had a good time practising. Before we knew it, 7 hours flew by. The sun started to set and filled the air with a magical golden glow. The park got quiet as most of the visitors were gone for the day. The resident mountain goats roamed the meadows, enjoying the solitude as much as we did. Amazing day outside!