Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Island Peak - 219 Days to Departure - Lake Serene

Winter brings a whole new level of peacefulness to the mountains. It keeps the crowds away and those who are prepared to venture into the outdoors and break through a deep layer of fresh powder can enjoy solitude even along otherwise popular and overcrowded routes.

Lake Serene is one of the destinations where in the summer one has to arrive early, before the parking lot fills up, and then fight his way up among hundreds of others just to be met by barking dogs and screaming kids. Nothing serene about it.

In the winter it is a different experience. We arrived at the trailhead around 9-ish and we were the first ones to lay tracks in the fresh snow. Later another group caught up to us and they were the only people we encountered the whole way up.

The fresh snow under our boots reminded me of my childhood. It was almost always snowing hard in Czech Republic from November all the way to February or March and the sweet sound of snow crunching under our feet brought back so many happy memories.

It wasn't until we reached the more open areas higher along the trail when we decided to put snowshoes on. They made the remaining part of the trip much easier as we found a significant amount of snow there. The lake was hidden under a white blanket and the serenity of the area was disturbed only by occasional avalanche sliding of the cliffy face of Mt. Index.

What a great day at Lake Serene!

Sunday February 26, 2012
RT: 7.9 miles
Elevation gain: 2600 ft
Time: 8 hours

Island Peak - 231 Days to Departure - Ouch Ouch Ouch

Not all preparations for trip are as much fun as training hikes. Traveler has to deal with hours in front of computer screen, stretching his/hers eyes to find the best deal on air fare and accommodation, and research on what immunization is needed to improve chances for the trip to be successful.

I hate needles, so comparing the list of recommended vaccines with my immunization record nearly made me freak.... Hep A, Hep B, Tetanus, Typhoid, maybe influenza.... that did not sound like much fun at all. And indeed my arms hurt badly 3 days afterwards.

Perhaps next time I need to drink few shots before getting shots.

Island Peak - 233 Days to Departure - End of the Lazy Days

Even though I hiked during weekends, my weekday workout routine seemed to suffer from a streak of laziness during last couple of weeks, and often I found myself heading down to watch TV or play on the computer instead of a planned workout.

I could feel my cardio was not on the top of the game during my last hike so I knew I had to kick my butt back in the gym.... and I had a really good comeback - completing 5K in less than 30 minutes. Pretty cool!

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Island Peak - 236 Days to Departure - The Trip of Changes

With the weekend approaching a discussion sparked as of where to go play in the snow this time. Several destinations competed for out vote, and in the end Middle Chiwaukum with good elevation gain and superb views won unanimously. But the closer to the weekend we got, the more obvious it became that the nature wouldn't treat us with clear blue sky, afterall we are in Washington State, and 2 weekends with good weather during winter is usually only wishful thinking.

We still could climb Chiwaukum but everybody agreed it would make more sense to postpone it for a sunny day when the long journey to the top will be rewarded with views. And there came the first change. The new destination was chosen - Sparkplug Mountain via Surprise Lake, where majority of the trail leads through a snowy forest that is fun to navigate through no matter whether it's sunny or not.

Then, on Saturday morning as we drove to the trailhead, the rain picked up and grew stronger, and it was raining rather heavily at Scenic where we were supposed to start our adventure. It did not take us long to agree on another change, and off we were headed over Steven's Pass to check what is the weather doing there. What a surprise it was to be welcomed by sunshine and mostly blue sky.

The clouds came later as we made our way up Smithbrook Road towards Lake Valhalla and mount McCausland, bringing snow showers, and when we arrived to the lake there was not much more than a hazy view of Lichtenberg, a mountain rising above the lake, available to us. McCausland was completely engulfed in clouds, and for a brief moment we considered another change - climb Lichtenberg instead - but then we proceeded in Mccausland's direction.... and just when we arrived to the summit, the sun broke through the clouds, and even opened some views down in the valley. Perfect timing.

Our lunchbreak with sun and nearly no wind was most enjoyable. We sipped on tea and shared chocolate, and then another change was suggested.... since we are already here, why wouldn't we attempt Lichtenberg also? It was a mere though at first but less then an hour after it originated we found ourselves in the uphill direction again, plowing through deep snow, making slow but steady progress towards the summit.

It was hopeful that we could actually bag two peaks during the trip, but then, less than 100 feet from the summit, a narrow corniced ridge banished our hopes. Still it was a good climb, finished by a fun glissade from the top, and leaving us with a reason to come back in the future.

Date: Saturday 2/11/2012
RT: 10.7 miles
Elevation gain: 3953 feet
Time: 9 hours

Monday, February 6, 2012

Island Peak - 251 Days to Departure - Silver Peak

There is a first for everything, and the first scramble in Washington State for me was Silver Peak off I-90. It was on a windy October day in 2006 when we dashed to Annette Lake and after a short break of its shore, where most hikers find their final destination, our group of five adventurers continued up on a steep talus field, hopping from rock to rock towards the blue sky of the beautiful day.

The lake below us seemed to shrink as we gained elevation and I remember thinking that the great view was an adequate reward for the burning legs and sweat dripping down our foreheads.

Then we made the final step and gained the ridge. Rainier greeted us from the South and the rest of the views were pretty cool too. Only a short distance stood between us and out destination, and as we run the ridge towards the peak, I knew deep in my heart I was hooked on scrambling.

Few years later Silver Peak came back to my mind. This time it was the winter route promising and interesting ridge run and good photo opportunities that caught my eye.

On Saturday morning on 1/28/2012 we were headed to give it a try. We were able to drive only as far as the first intersection after leaving I-90. From there we made the half mile or so to the trailhead on foot. The snow was packed letting us maintain a swift pace, and the conditions remained good on the actual trail too where a narrow path was broken in, hard enough that we could proceed without need for our snowshoes all the way to the last switchback where according to our decision to avoid potential avalanche danger further along the route we said good bye to the trail, and accepted the challenge of the steep forested slope and deeper snow.

Once we emerged from the forest several hundred feet higher, the ridge stood in front of us, long, proud, and full of obstacles we were yet to overcome.

It was an interesting run indeed. Not the easiest one to navigate - corniced, cliffy, ice mixed with sections of deep powder.... but despite the challenges and no view of Rainier, it was just as rewarding as I remembered from my first visit up there few years ago.

RT: 7.7 miles
Elevation Gain: 3840 ft
Time: 8 hrs 35 minutes