Sunday, March 29, 2009

Excelsior Pass 3/28/2009

Even though the forecast made it obvious there will be no spectacular views awaiting hikers and snowshoers in the mountains this weekend, we decided to give Excelsior Pass a go. If nothing else, we knew we'll get a nice workout out of it.

We found the road clear all the way to the trailhead and just a little bit of snow covering the beginning part of the trail. We followed relatively recent snowshoe track for a while, which made the first part very easy and quite fast going.

With elevation gained the snow started to cumulate. It appears the people who left the tracks turned way before they reached the pass and even though we still could see evidence of previous visitors, now we followed way older tracks partially covered by fresh snow and started to dip deeper and deeper. Postholing to our knees was not much fun and snowshoes went on after gaining approximately 2000 feet of elevation.

Soon afterwards we left the original summer trail and continued straight up the hill. For most of the way we were in deep fresh powder and even with snowshoes on we still kept sinking pretty deep. Fortunately short parts of the route were little bit crusty giving our legs some relief but this usually did not last long. There were few steeper parts where we really had to fight with snowdrifts, it was more like snowcrawling than snowshoeing at that point but in a way it was actually really fun and for sure it kept us warm.

With combined effort (Aaron broke probably over half of the trail, the rest of us split the other half) we reached the little view point next to the pass at 3:00 p.m. As expected we did not see far but the winter conditions made the forest around us looked pretty cool and the lack of views did not bothered us

Reflection Lake 3/22/2009

Area of Reflection Lake is beautiful no matter the weather conditions. If sunny the Mt. Rainier and surrounding peaks provide for spectacular views and on a cloudy day there is plenty of peaceful white winter wonderland to explore.

We started on a gentle uphill that led us to an intersection of several trails. Since the conditions were good, we chose to proceed on fairly leveled grade under an avalanche slope rather than take the detour around it. Once on the other side we took a little side tour down hill where after a while of fighting with annoyingly unsupportive snow we found ourselves at the bottom of a small valley. Most of the beauty above us was hidden behind a thick curtain of clouds but the few brief views we had were pretty impressive.

After taking a little break here we made our way up and once reconnected with the main trail we continued to Reflection Lake and little further until we found a nice lunch spot overlooking Louise Lake where we sat down for a lunch break.

Just like last year the weather started to get better on our way out. It felt so good when the sun got out; but after few minutes we were back in cloudy, snowy conditions which stayed with us for the rest of our trip.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Unfinished Business on Anaconda 3/14/2009

Seems like there is some kind of drama going on during our trips to Mt. Loop hwy on yearly basis. It started in 2007 when during our Mt. Pilchuck snowshoe one of the drivers made unwise choice and got stacked in deep snow. In an attempt to get un-stacked his wheel sliced through the snow, dug into the wet gravel underneath and shot a geyser of rocks in the air, smashing a side windows of our second vehicle.

In 2008 we enjoyed interesting day snowshoeing directly on the snow bound portion of Mt. Loop hwy where we could hear several avalanches raging down from surrounding peaks which from a safe distance was pretty impressive experience. Once we returned to our cars we saw a couple of young guys who got their passenger car stacked and lacking proper equipment were trying to dig themselves out with tennis rockets. Being nice we offered them help and our shovels and got them out. Well, they didn’t get far.. and neither did we. Just few miles from Deer Creek a cabin was on fire. Fire truck and all their hoses blocked this already quite narrow part of the highway. We went to check things out just to find out they actually run out of water and were just standing there trying to figure out what to do. (Yes, there is a river few feet away). It took them quite a while to realize that if the hoses were cleared from the road, they could actually let cars through.

So we are back on Mt. Loop Hwy, heading to give Anaconda Peak a try. It’s actually my 4th time in this area in 2009 and so far nothing happened so it’s obvious something is about to surprise us soon. First the road is fine, wet but clear. We come across first slushy areas in Verlot Ranger Station area but still it’s not that bad. Couple miles further the snow coverage becomes more solid and just deep enough for my Focus to start loosing traction. Well, that’s what chains are for. So we put the chains on and easily handle the snowy part of the highway… until my car does not want to go any further. Oops the chain fell off. So we retrieve the chains and to our surprise find that they did not really fall off, they broke off. Both of them. Fortunatelly we are about 0.1 mile from the trailead and the Mallardy Ridge road nearly next to us has a pullout plowed where we can park. We know the plow will run through here later during the day and with the steady rain the road we’ll be clear before we return from our adventure so we are not really worried about the drive back. Actually it was a good place to figure out the chains were “made in China”. If we were in an area where we would need them to drive out of, we would be in a deep trouble.

Finally we are heading towards our destination, which is Anaconda Peak. The views from the top are spectacular but today we know there are no views awaiting us. Still with 3700 feet it is a decent workout and training for some of the bigger peaks we plan to bag in next few months, we need it. The road is nicely maintained for few minutes, making for a fast progress. Then we get to the first intersection. The maintained road continues straight. We need to take right. From there it’s an obstacle course. We climb under tree, over trees, around trees. Branches are poking us and grab our feet. It rains steadily so in no time we are drenched. Gore Tex or no Gore Tex, today is the kind of day you know you’ll get wet, there's nothing you can do about it. After all we are in the middle of the Seattle "monsoon" season and the weather was treating us fairly nicely so far.

Finally after a long time of fighting with the overgrown and barricaded abandoned road we are at 2,400 ft where we can turn off the road and start gaining elevation through the forest. It’s not much easier here. The windfall is just as bad and the snow conditions are awful. There is a layer of new snow but not much underneath so our snowshoes don’t really have anything to grab to and we slide badly. It would be so much easier if there was a consolidated layer underneath. It’s still raining, or more sleeting at this point.

Finally we get high enough where the weather improves and throws at us gentle snow shower and even gives us a little break. It’s very peaceful here. The true winter wonderland with beautifully snow covered trees. Unfortunately the time is pushing and after gaining about 3000 ft and reaching Gordon Ridge we make a decision to turn around. We will return to conquer Anaconda next time… hopefully in better weather.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Discovery Park 3/11/2009

With a day off and sunny weather in the forecast it would be shame to stay at home but later commitments (annoying house work) prevented me from heading to the mountains so I opted to pay Discovery Park a visit. I haven't done too much in Seattle lately so actually it seemed like a nice change. I called couple friends who eagerly agreed to join me. We met at the visitor center at 10:00 a.m. all ready for our adventure to begin.

This parks seems to always surprise me with "discovery" of a new trail and this time was not an exception. We started from the visitor center and headed uphill and through the historical part of Fort Lawton towards the beach. Once we reached the beach access trail, we noticed sandy path leading steeply down disappearing in the woods below.

In adventurous spirit of the gorgoeus day we decided to explore and down we went this slope full of deep sand. Once we descended to the forest floor level, the path took us for a short pleasant stroll between leafless trees before we reached the beach.

From there we could see the lighthouse in the distance and proceeded that direction. The wind picked up here and soon our fingers were freezing but still it was such a nice walk and there was lots to see so we did not let the wind to bother us much. Behind us a silhuette of Mt. Rainier rose, unfortunatelly too hazy for the camera to capture its beauty.

We walked around the lighthouse and from there started to close our loop and head back to the cars. The wind calmed down once we walked into the trees which at that point we trully appreciated.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Teanaway and Tarzan Buttes 2/21/2009

The drive to 29 Pines on clear road was easy and fast. The walk on hard packed snow to Way Creek trailhead was also easy and fast. Then we started heading up and suddenly it was no longer so easy and fast… but well worth the effort.

When we started it was cloudy and our hopes for views were not quite that high but soon after we left the car, some blue patches appeared above us and before we reached the Way Creek trailhead it was pretty obvious the views are waiting up there. This gave us strong motivation to keep pretty good steady pace all the way up.

The views were fantastic. Perfectly clear into Teanaway and towards Stewart Range and even Mt. Rainier peaked at us from above the inversion layer we could see hanging above Cle Elum area.

We soaked up the views for quite a while before continuing down (it was not as bad as we expected considering the snow conditions) and back uphill to Tarzan Butte. Tarzan Butte does not have any significant views but adds little bit of challenge and holds a flat area on the top hidden in the trees which makes for a nice peaceful place to sit and chill.

Stats: 11 miles loop, 3700 ft elevation gain, appr. 7 hours car to car. Our snowshoes enjoyed a free ride on our packs the whole trip.