Monday, April 27, 2009

Icicle Ridge 4/25/2009

Great day over on the East side of the mountains. Despite the forecast threatening with possible snow showers, we found the area under mostly blue sky.

It was nice to hike again and see first wildflowers coloring the slopes, including bright yellow balsamroots and tiny purplish lupines. The air carried a scent of spring and the breeze was nicely warm at the lower part of the trail.

It took us several miles to reach the snow. We found more solid snow coverage at around 4200 ft high and after initial attempt to walk on the snow, snowhoes went on. Cold wind also picked up in the higher elevation, chilling us fast. From T-shirts we bundled in several layers, gloves and hats to enjoy the views.

Nice lunch spot with a view was found at around 5500 ft but the area was little too breezy so our lunch did not last all that long. Soon we were rushing down to the warmer part of the trail.

Around 10 miles and 4300 ft elevation gained today.

Spring in Skagit Valley

Every April farmlands around little town of Mount Vernon lure thousands of visitors from near and far. Everybody wants to see the hundreds of thousands of tulips, daffodils, irises, hyacints, and other spring flowers blooming on local fields and gardens loudly announcing that spring finaly arrived to Pacific NW.

Despite the fact the weather was not looking friendly on Wednesday morning, we went ahead with our plan to enjoy the fields in their mid-week solitude and to our surprise soon after we left Everett, the sky got lighter and later we entered the perfect spring day.

The fields were shining in bright colors of orange, red, yellow, pink and purplish and presented numerous possibilities for great photos. Between the two major attractions of the Skagit Valley Tulip Festival - The Tulip Town and Roozengaarde, we could admire more than 80 diferent varieties of tulips and many more other flowers. It was incredible and I really can't wait to see some of the bulbs I bought for my garden bloom in fall.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Mazama Ridge/Reflection Lake Loop 4/19/2009

The South side of Mt. Rainier offers such a great winter playground and despite the longer drive it’s a very worthwhile destination. Once again the forecast lured us down there with a promise of a sunny day and spectacular views.

Driving into Paradise was completely different experience from the previous weekend when during our Camp Muir ascend the area swallowed us in a thick never-ending fog completely blocking any possible views in all directions. The weather today was delivered just as promised and except for few very cool looking lenticular clouds, the sky was blue and all mountains were out in their full beauty.

This time we headed towards Mazama Ridge. The trail started nearly flat letting us enjoy the views of Mt. Rainier but the easy part did not last long. Soon we found ourselves climbing our first hill…. and even small hills took some sweat on this hot day. Our effort got rewarded with really good views of Tatoosh Range and other major peaks sitting in distance.

Another hill - steeper and longer – took us atop Mazama Ridge. We followed the ridge for a while; soaking the views and enjoying the nice day; then dropped to Reflection Lake for a lunch break before completing the loop following Paradise Valley Road.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Camp Muir 4/11/2009

The plan for the weekend was to head to Camp Muir. As the weekend approached, the forecast did not look all that good with “mostly cloudy” prediction and winds of up to 35 mph at Muir. We decided to still give it a shot with an option we can always turn if we find the conditions too dangerous.

Ready to brave the winter weather, we drove to the south side of Mt. Rainier.
Road to Paradise was clear all the way up. We found the parking lot not overly crowded but still there were quite a few people there.

Soon afterwards we started our trip heading towards Panorama Point. This part was easy and to our surprise we found the area except for few breezy spots rather windless. Once atop we took a short break (no views to enjoy here today) and proceeded further. With not much snow, following the rocky route was reasonably easy and we did not encounter any major route finding issues on the way up but we marked few spots that could be tricky in foul weather on the way down with flags Aaron brought for this purpose.

Our ascend was surprisingly calm. There was nearly no sign of the winds that were supposed to rage in the area and the occasional breezy spots felt actually pretty good on this relatively warm day.

We could not see any of the glorious mountains around. The grand views remained hidden for most of our ascend but on the other hand the conditions made everything close to us even more beautiful making us admire little things like frosted shrubs or ice literary growing from the rocks we passed.

The conditions improved greatly once we approached Muir Snowfield. We walked out of the clouds to a glory of blue sky and perfectly clear summit of Rainier in front of us. It was magical to walk the last 500 vertical feet, but for me also the most difficult part of the trip. The altitude of above 9000 ft once again kicked my butt. I made the last stretch way faster than last time but still nowhere near my desired performance level. With Mt. Adams climb in couple months I have some serious VO2 training to do.

The wind picked up in the camp and we found a refuge inside the climbers building where we met a group from East Coast planning summit climb sometime in next few days if the weather allows.

After a nice lunch break it was time to head down. It felt so good to be here and enjoy the views from above the clouds including Mt. Adams but our watch said firmly we needed to head down. Soon we walked back in the clouds leaving the beauty of gorgeous winter day at Muir behind. The conditions worsened on our descend. The wind arrived, blasting at us at full force. When we walked to the first flag we planted just few hours ago, we found about an inch of rim ice growing on it.

Navigated down was little more difficult than on the way up. We proceeded slowly from one flag to another. Aaron did a magnificent job leading the way. The really tricky part came when we reached Panorama Point and tried to find our way down. We spend a little bit of time here and eventually find the sign pointing towards lower Pam Point and from there the descend was easy and uneventful. Until....

.... we got close to our car and the watch showed little after 8:30 p.m. We quickly realized that the gate at Longmire closes at 9:00 p.m. We rushed the last stretch, threw our gear in the car and down the hill we went. Fortunately the road was clear and mostly dry too so that we could maintain steady speed. At 8:58 p.m. we arrived at the gate… and found it closed and chained up.

We were lucky and after just about a minute of trying to figure out what we can do, a ranger drove by and let us out. It appeared he closed the gate about 15 minutes earlier and made his last round to make sure he did not lock anybody in.

After a long and interesting day in the mountains, we were finally heading home.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

High Hut 4/4/2009

Sunny day on a weekend is something we didn’t see for a while so when the forecast pointed out it will be really friendly to us this time; I started thinking trails with views. High Hut immediately came to mind.

It was on my list for a while. We also needed something little bit easier since my husband was coming, and last but not least after 3 times snowshoeing in Mt. Rainier area in conditions ranging from just cloudy to white outs, we kind of needed little reassurance that the mountain is still there. This trail simply fit the bill.

We arrived to the end of plowed road at the lowest sno-park (C) around 10:15 a.m. and shortly afterwards started heading up the nicely groomed “highway” keeping to the side not to destroy the middle for the skiers. Tell me about lazy outing. No trail breaking. No crazy steep hills. Leisurely (slowpoke) pace.

The spring is here. It announced itself by melting snow of trees, sending snow bombs down at us and around us very frequently. I was very, very happy that we did not choose to go somewhere where travel directly through forest would be required.

When we arrived to the top, High Hut welcomed us with a magnificent view of Mt. Rainier and along the way we also saw Mt. St. Helens, and Mt. Adams, and many more smaller mountains, hills, and peaks.

Definitely a great day to get up there!

RT: 8 miles
El. Gain: 2500 ft