Sunday, March 21, 2010

Welcoming Spring on Red Mountain - 3/20/2010

After an easier stroll on Rampart Ridge last weekend, we were bound to do something more challenging and with weather being on our side, we decided to give Red Mountain a try.

The snow was packed hard all the way through Commonwealth Basin where we started our adventure. The basin was very pretty with a creek peacefully bubbling through, waterfall crushing down the rocks on the side, and many beautiful snow formation. The route gave us plenty of time to warm up on an easy (but rather slippery) terrain before we started to gain noticeable elevation.

Once we reached the ridge at the end of the basin, the workout started. It was uphill from there all the way to the top. There was a sign of a trail for a while but whoever left the footprints gave up pretty soon and from there we followed the ridge up breaking trail and some sweat.

Some parts of the route were softer than others but luckily we did not run into any serious postholing and rather comfortably booted our whole way up. (It's kind of interesting to see how crampons are getting so much use this season while the snowshoes could as well be in hybernation).

Once we broke from the more heavily forested part of the ridge, with the more open area came the views. First it was Mt. Rainier that popped into view and watched our back as we proceeded further up. Than all the other surrounding mountains showed their winter beauty and the higher we were, the more breathtaking the views became.

The day could not turn out better. The sky was clear blue, the air was filled with hot rays of the sun making it trully feel like the first day of spring.... and it felt so incredibly good to march up just in our base layers feeling the hot breeze touching our skin.

Then we found ourselves facing the last challenge of the ascend. From down below, it was a horrifying view. The slope was mostly open but due to a low avalanche danger safe to climb today so this was just a little concern. What made us go: "Hmmmmmmmmmm" was the angle in which the route led up. Hesitantly we summened our energy and set out to conquer the last part of the trip. The slope was trully steep but in the end kicking steps surrounded by all the amazing views did not seem that bad at all.

Finally we reached the summit which offered not only some more stunning views but also pretty neat lunch spot... if only it was not for the surprisingly cold wind that blew up there reminding us that despite balmy hot weather most of the time, it is still winter time here in the mountains.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Wintertime at Mt. Pilchuck 2/28/2010

Heading to Mt. Pilchuck in February? Unheard of unless you are an experienced winter scrambler willing to take the 11 mile route from Pinnacle Lake.

Most of the years snowshoeing Pilchuck means starting from the bottom and heading up the snowed in road to the summer trailhead. Not this year. This year is so much different from all the previous 5 seasons I've actively hiked/snowhoed in Washington State.

As incredible as it sounds, we were able to drive hubby's 2WD Toyota all the way to the summer trailhead, and hike nearly 1000 ft from there to reach the snow. And so were many others.

Mt. Pilchuck is one of the most visited trails in western WA. Gaining about 2500 ft in 3 miles, it is a pretty decent hike, yet hundreds of people attempt to reach the lookout at it's summit every weekend, no matter what the weather.

It was the very first mountain I climbed in WA state and I returned several more times, sometimes the views were spectacular, sometimes we could not see a stretched arm distance, yet every time the trailhead was packed and we met many people along the trail. It's simply one of the places you can't expect solitude, and every time you hike it, you meet somebody you know.

Today turned out great. It was only me and hubs, and we had a later start since I did 3800 ft hike yesterday and wanted to enjoy sleeping in (if alarm buzzing at 7:30 a.m. counts as sleeping in anyway).

It was somewhat foggy in the morning hours but soon after we broke from the forest, the sun got out and created amazing window for us to enjoy all the views, the summits, and even get a tiny bit of vitamin D.

The trail was well defined but rather slippery and we opted to use crampons for added traction. Yak Traks would be just fine but since I let them rest in the trunk of our vehicle, the crampons did the trick.... and we were jealously looked at by many of other visitors who did not bring any traction device whatsoever.

We enjoyed about 30 minutes at the summit before heading down.

I always wanted to get up there in the wintertime and the scenery did not disappoint. I will definitely do another winter ascent of Pilchuck in the future.

Granite Mountain Winter Scramble 2/27/2010

Let's admit it. When you sit in your car and the rain pounds on your windshield, the idea of spending next 7 hours outdoors climbing a mountain is not quite appealing. But knowing you REALLY need to get in shape after a lazy month, you drive to the trailhead anyway.... thinking "I really wish I wasn't hiking today".

Then as the miles go, the clouds become scarce and suddenly even some blu sky appears... and after few more miles you are driving in a beautiful sunny winter day thinking "This can't be true!" and suddenly you're shivering with excitement to hit the trail. This is exactly what happened today and I must say it was the best treat the nature had in store for us in a very long time.

Our today's outing took us to Granite Mountain. 3800 ft elevaton gain in about 4.5 miles makes it a very decent winter scramble. I've been on this mountain numerous times now and every time, there seems to be a great adventure awaiting for us along the trail. Today was no different.

We covered the first snow-free portion of the trail in very good time. Once we hit the snow, we decided to leave the official trail and scouted for a possible route until we found very straight forward, incredibly steep slope to climb. This shortcut made us gain hundreds of feet of elevation incredibly fast. This shortcut also made us sweat incredibly lot. As I said, I've been on this mountain few times before, including an August berry picking trip but today was by far the hottest day I've ever experienced here. Here we were in Pacific NW in February, hiking stripped down to the very last layers we had.

The weather window we hit was absolutely spectacular. Perfectly blue sky in front of us, and some worse weather coming from behind which provided some incredibly dramatic clouds and made the views 100 times more enjoyable.

After breaking some serious sweat, the lookout came to view. The terrain got little milder and with most of the elevation done, we enjoyed the last few hundred vertical feet of this winter wonderland.

Just as we approached the lookout, the weather caught to us. Most of the views dissapeared... but it remained very warm and windless with just a few drops of rain which considering the forecast was pretty remarkable.

Yet the nature had one more surprise in store for us. We descended using the very same route we took up, and just as we were passing few rocks sticking from the snow, well away from the edge of the ridge, there was this sudden dull noise of breaking snow, and in the next second, two members of our expedition were being swept down the hill on a mini avalanche created by a triggered cornice.

Fortunately the runoff was very short and there were no hazardous obstacles in the path that could cause serious injuried. Even more fortunatelly they managed to stay atop the flowing snow (purely by luck) so once the movement stopped and they shook off their initial shock, they walked out of there unharmed, with a very valuable lesson learned - no matter how far from the edge you are, if there's more space away from it, use it.