Tupper's 2 Cents

Feet on the path and eyes wide open...

Tag: Day hiking (page 1 of 2)

Best of Bellingham — Hike 2 (Blanchard Mountain)

Blanchard Mountain Upper Trailhead, to Samish Overlook, Oyster Dome, Lily Lake, North Butte, and Lizard Lake.

View from Oyster Dome

DISTANCE  —   10 miles total (each individual hike is valuable in it’s own right, with round trip distances of around 6 miles to reach a single destination).   ELEVATION GAIN  —  1230 from low point to high point, with mostly easy ups and downs throughout the hike.     DIFFICULTY  —  Moderate.     PASS REQUIRED  —  Discover Pass.   HIGHLIGHTS  —  Three overlooks, two lakes, a variety of meandering trails.   SATISFACTION METER  —  Very high, especially on a beautiful fall or winter day!

I had the pleasure of doing this exact hike twice in the last month.  The first time was on a sunny, crisp, fall day in late October. I returned 10 days later, right after an expectedly early snowfall. Both were fantastic days and hikes, full of contrast, variety, and, of course spectacular views.

Notes on Maps, Trail Names, and Logging…

Between hike 1 and hike 2, I finally broke down and bought a map. After 24 years of living in Bellingham, I decided it was time. The map I purchased, Chuckanut Recreation Area by Square One Maps, details hikes in the Blanchard Forest Block, Oyster Dome, Larrabee State Park, Fragrance Lake, Pine and Cedar Lakes, and Lake Padden Park. All my favorite stomping grounds, and well worth the $14 cost.

While having a map is great, the different trail names in the area are a bit overwhelming. Even five years ago, it was challenging to find your way around these hikes, as trail signs were few, far between, and vague at best. Then money was devoted to installing new signs and upgrading trails, and now the place is crawling with trail signs, check points, and people who more or less know where they are going.  I will list the trail names in this narrative, but keep in mind, the best way to navigate this route is to follow the signs heading toward whatever destination you are seeking.

A word on logging:  Logging is active on Blanchard Mountain right now. On both trips, I encountered logging trucks on the access roads, but the hikes themselves were not adversely affected, as logging is currently taking place in an area below the trail system. There is much controversy about logging on Blanchard Mountain,  which I will not get into here. I WILL include links to information at the end of this post to get updates on where logging is currently taking place, where the money from timber sales is going, why it has to happen, who is fighting the project, who supports it, and what you as a concerned citizen who loves Blanchard Mountain can do to get involved!

Section One — Blanchard Mountain Upper Trailhead to Samish Overlook (2.9 miles, 562 feet elevation gain).

Blanchard Mountain Trailhead is located off Barrel Springs Road, just off Lake Samish Road. From Barrel Springs Road, turn right at the sign that says ‘Blanchard Forest Block’, and follow the signs to the Upper Trailhead. There is ample parking there.

Waterfall on Lily/Lizard trail

Backtrack 50 feet down the road and look for the trailhead sign on your right for Lily/Lizard Trail.  Follow this trail for 1.3 miles to Lily Max Connector Trail. Go left, towards Samish Overlook. From here, it’s .7 miles to check point X-ray, at which point you will go straight, now on the Larry Reed Trail, still headed toward Samish Overlook. In .9 miles, you reach the overlook.

Headed to Samish Overlook

HIGHLIGHTS:   Both trip’s one and two sported fabulous fall colors from large leaf maples and alders in this section. On the post-snow hike, it looked like it was raining, so much snow was falling from the heavily blanketed trees in just above freezing temps. The sun glinting through the trees and the perpetual snow falling gracefully from heavily laden branches created a misty, magical, rainforest-type atmosphere. A wonderful distraction from the leaf-covered, wet, muddy, partly snowy trail I was walking on. And the huge chunks of snow falling regularly on my head, making me glad I had a hood! It was wet, wild, and wonderful.

Samish Overlook

From Samish Overlook, Skagit Flats below

At Samish Overlook, I enjoyed a break for lunch on both hikes. There is a large parking lot with restrooms and views out to the islands and over the patchwork quilt of Skagit farmlands. This is a common place for hang gliders to take off, floating gently to open fields below.  On both days, I saw hang gliders preparing to take off, but left before they got air bound. I did see an eagle soar, land, and watch for prey from a nearby tree on trip one.

Eagle in tree!

Section Two — Samish Overlook to Oyster Dome (2.2 miles, 790 feet elevation)

From Samish Overlook, follow the signs to Oyster Dome on the Samish Bay Trail. In .4 miles, you reach the junction with the most popular approach to gain Oyster Dome. That heavily used trailhead is accessible off of Chuckanut Drive, 1.4 miles downhill on the Chuckanut Trail.  Don’t go that way, stay straight, still on The Samish Bay Trail.

A WORD ON THE CLASSIC OYSTER DOME ROUTE: Hundreds of people and dogs hike Oyster Dome from Chuckanut Drive on a summer weekend day. On all other days, it’s dozens at least. Year around, in any  weather, this is the place to hike. The trail is incredibly popular with college kids, inexperienced day hikers who want to say they did it, families with small children, tourists who have been told they have to hike Oyster Dome while in Bellingham, and serious hikers who pound it out with incredible speeds to get in a fast workout or to beat previous time records. From Chuckanut Drive, the distance to the dome is  3.2 miles and 2053 feet of elevation. It is a great workout with a great reward on a great day! I will confess to having hiked Oyster Dome from Chuckanut Drive well over 50 times in my years in Bellingham.  But the crowds can be overwhelming, and I have come to prefer the Blanchard access in recent years.

BACK TO MY CHOSEN ROUTE.  Continue on with the masses for 1.5 miles, the trail flat or gradually up for the first mile, then with steep switchbacks for the final half-mile push. This switchbacked section was completed only in the last few years with the same influx of $$ that brought the trail signs. The trail used to head straight up. An old boyfriend termed that last steep section “The Bitch”, for the intense, rocky, rooty, scramble required to gain it.  But wear and tear and erosion (and $$) brought forth effort from various groups to create a moderately  steep set of switchbacks that are not as heart-pumping, but much more manageable for average Joe and Jane hiker.

At the top of the switchbacks, Checkpoint Uniform, turn left, following the signs to Oyster Dome, on the Oyster Dome Trail. It’s .3 miles to the top.

Snow on Fall leaves….

HIGHLIGHTS:  The early part of is section on trip two saw snow on giant maple leaves, still sporting their vivid yellows, as well as blanketing the trail below. It felt like summer had turned to fall had turned to winter all in the span of a few weeks! On the main trail section, I encountered numerous happy dogs and people on both trips, but even with the sunshine, the trail was not overly crowded. On the switchbacks, looking back toward Bellingham Bay, the sun shining it’s light intensely off the water and through the trees provided a great distraction from the elevation gain.

Oyster Dome itself was not too crowded on either day.  I have been up there on days when you literally could not find a place to sit. Understandably, as the view from the dome is truly spectacular on a clear day. Your view is in layers, with Skagit flats and Anacortes  (unfortunately with it’s refinery) close in, Samish Bay and near islands like Lummi and Guemes just beyond,  the San Juan Islands farther out, and then Vancouver Island far in the distance. The Olympic Mountains sprawl magnificently on the distant horizon. On both days, I could see it all!

Oyster dome and snowy trees

On the second trip, I watched hang gliders floating above the fields below, wondering how they could appear to not be dropping for minutes on end. Huge hunks of snow fell from trees behind me,  loud as footsteps, such that I turned around more than once expecting to see new hikers approaching, only to realize it was heavy snow clunking to the ground. I sat and snacked, contemplating the feeling of being on top of something  so magnificent, yet so close to home.  In all my visits to the dome, I’ve never had a “bad trip”. And the feeling of accomplishment in “doing the dome” never disappoints.

Section 3 — Oyster Dome to North Butte (1.2 miles, net elevation gain 170 feet)

Lily Lake, trip 1

Backtrack down the .3 miles to checkpoint Uniform. Go straight, on the Oyster Lily trail, toward Lily Lake. It’s a short .4 miles to the cut off to Lily Lake Trail. The four-way junction is marked by an obvious sign pointing you towards Lily Lake (see picture).  First you parallel the muck that isn’t the lake, but soon you see the small, tree enveloped, marshy Lily Lake. Make sure to take an obvious side bridge to the lake itself and a few camping areas just to check it out.

Trail sign

After Lily Lake, continue along the trail, gradually heading upward and away from the lake. You will pass a few more campsites, somewhat popular on summer or shoulder season weekends. In .2 miles you come to a sign that says Lily/Lizard Trail. Look for a trail to the left just beyond this sign that says North Butte. Follow the scant trail for .2 miles. There are two overlooks here, both worth while, each a bit tricky to find.

View from North Butte

The first is somewhat obvious once you are at the end of the obvious trail. There is a mossy,  partially obscured from view rock/butte right in front of you. Scramble up this, carefully, as it is almost always slick. On top, enjoy spectacular views similar to those from Oyster Dome, but with no people. For the second view, don’t scramble up the butte, but continue along faint trails to your right. You will eventually swing around to another overlook. This one has spectacular views of Mt. Baker on a beautiful day far off to your right, and a small space to sprawl out. Enjoy your views carefully though — very steep drop off’s characterize this fantastic lookout.

Snowy trees from “Baker Overlook”

Lily Lake, trip 2

HIGHLIGHTS:  The view of Lily Lake and surrounding trees on trip two was really neat. Half snow covered and half not, depending on the sun’s influence in creating melt-off. On the first trip I scrambled to the first dome, North Butte proper, and on the second wrapped around to the Baker overlook. Both days and perches were in complete solitude. Few people seem to know of these alternates to Oyster Dome. They are a bit elusive, but if you get yourself to the North Butte sign and take some time to wander, you will discover them.

Mt. Baker from “Baker Overlook”

Section 4 — North Butte to Lizard Lake to parking lot  (5 miles)

Snowy trail between Lily and Lizard

Backtrack from North Butte to the Junction with the Lily/Lizard Connector Trail, this time heading toward Lizard Lake. Lizard Lake is a short .3 miles ahead. Take a quick stop at the lake’s view and camping areas. Lizard is another hobbit-like lake, marshy and wooded. I haven’t seen lizards there, but I often see eagles perched in high trees surrounding the lake.

Lizard lake, trip 1

Leaving Lizard Lake, head west, away from the sign that says “British Army Trail”. In .1 mile, you come to another checkpoint, “T”. Stay right on the Lizard Lake Trail, following signs to Lily Lake. In .5 miles, the trail splits again. This time, stay left, following the signs to the “Upper Trailhead”. Stay on the Lily Lizard trail for the remainder of the hike, eventually reaching the upper parking lot in 2.5 lovely, forested miles. Enjoy the easy downward grade of this section.

HIGHLIGHTS:  The section of trail approaching and leaving Lizard Lake on trip two was a winter wonderland! There was enough snow that I was glad there were footprints marking the way. It felt surreal to hike in such differing conditions all in one day with not that much change in elevation.

Lizard Lake, trip 2

Lizard Lake itself was  much like Lily — half snow covered, half melted off. Two eagles soared and perched in trees above,  increasing my sense of awe. Once again, Mother Nature created a serene setting that gave me pause as I embraced the solace. It’s what takes me to the woods time and again.

 

Trail all but snow free on return hike

The really cool thing about the last section of the trail was that the snow had all but disappeared by the time I reached the last 1.3 miles.  Gone was the snow falling from trees, and the trail was completely visible with it’s abundance of huge brown and yellow maple leaves. How all that snow vanished in the span of less than five hours astounded me. Once again, I was thrown back into fall, leaving winter behind at Lizard Lake..at least until the next snowfall.

Parting shot, waterfall near trailhead

Here are links to what’s up on Blanchard Mountain and Logging:

Blanchard Mountain Conservation NW

Chuckanut Conservancy

Skagit Land Trust

Cascadia Weekly article 

 

NEXT UP:   I just returned from Thanksgiving in Atlanta! Spent a week exploring trails in and around that area. STAY TUNED!

Best of Bellingham — Hike 1 (Chuckanut Mountain)

Kathie’s Favorites

It’s hard to accept, but summer is over. There’s snow in the high country, which means slogging through snow or snowshoeing to access alpine or sub-alpine hikes.  I am not quite ready for that! For now, I will accept my fate of months of hiking in the lowlands. Fortunately, there are multitudes of hikes to do in and around Bellingham.

Having lived and hiked in Bellingham since 1993, I’ve developed lots of favorites. Sure, there are guidebooks and WTA trail links that give information on local hikes. But what I most like to do is combine trails, seeing how many view spots and how much variety I can fit into a long day hike. It feeds my need to explore, cover some ground, and immerse fully into my happy place of wandering around outside. A couple times a month I’ll share one of these gems, with enough information that local Bellingham folks can get out there and do it too...or at least, come along vicariously for the fun!

Fragrance Lake Road to Burnout Ridge to Lost Lake to Rock Trail to Cyrus Gates Overlook to Fragrance Lake.

Fragrance Lake

TOTAL MILES — around 12.       ELEVATION GAIN—  Approximately 3200 feet.       DIFFICULTY — Moderate to Hard.      HIGHLIGHTS  —  Two lakes, three spectacular view points, old growth forest.      SATISFACTION METER — Very high!

Fragrance Lake Road to Burnout Ridge   (3.7 miles)

To access this hike, head south on Chuckanut Drive to Lost Lake Parking lot. The large lot is on your left, just past the Fragrance Lake TH parking and entrance to Larrabee State Park. A Discover Pass is required;  if you don’t have one, you can park on the right side of the road in several  spots just before and after the entrance to the parking lot. 🙂

I arrived at the parking lot at 10:45 on this late October day. Hiking conditions were close to ideal. Partly sunny, not too cold, very little wind, lots of fall color, and no chance of rain. All this potential sublimity right on the tails of a week of rain and wind storms. I was psyched!

This was a spontaneous hike, as other things cancelled in my day to allow a big window. I did not have a backpack with me. I opted to eat my sandwich in the car and guzzle 24 ounces of water for hydration purposes so I wouldn’t have to carry either. The rest of my provisions I stuck in my coat pocket, a coat I knew I’d shed but would need to carry keys, phone, an energy bar, etc. Not my usual preparedness, but it would have to do. Fueled up, I was ready to hit the trail by 11:00.

The hike up Fragrance Lake Road (accessed just behind the bathrooms) was predictably steep. It wound through forest of Alder, Doug Fir, Western Hemlock and Big Leaf Maples. I was sufficiently distracted from the steady climb by the enormous amount of fallen gigantic maple leaves that created a certifiable yellow brick road!  Route finding tip:  About half way up, at the only junction on the road, stay left, following the sign to Fragrance Lake, not Burnout. This is confusing as this hike goes to Burnout Ridge, but I am not exactly sure how the right fork gets you there.  Another day of exploration may take me right, but on this day, I went left.

Big Leaf Maples

Over the course of the 2.2 mile road, I shed all my layers and was down to a t-shirt before the top. Not bad for October! At the obvious sign near the top, I went right on South Lost Lake Trail. The trail here is well-maintained, as this whole area is within Larrabee State Park. 1.25 miles from the junction, I was blessed with an opening out towards Samish Bay. It was a great time of year for the view, as sun-glinted off the water through trees only partially clothed in colored leaves.

The trail leveled for a short distance, until I reached a map kiosk, labelled Checkpoint Juliet. These various checkpoints exist throughout Chuckanut, Galbraith, and Blanchard mountains, a safety and route finding system created and implemented by numerous groups working together with Whatcom Parks and Recreation. The unmarked trail to Burnout Ridge goes right at Checkpoint Juliet.

I followed this trail, past the Leaving State Parks sign, then a very short distance to another road. Here, I turned right for the first of the Burnout Ridge views. The expansive views overlooked Samish Bay, Bellingham Bay, Lummi Island, and out to the San Juan Islands and beyond. It was partly cloudy and hazy, but still quite spectacular!

Island view from Burnout Ridge

Lummi Island from Burnout Ridge

From here, I followed the logging road up again, toward Burnout Ridge view two. Route finding tip: At the split in the road, stay left. Soon I could see Lost Lake in full view off to my left, and, just after that, Mt. Baker exploded into view. Another stupendous overlook, despite the hazy day.

Mt. Baker from Burnout Ridge view two

Burnout Ridge to Lost Lake  (2.3 miles)

The trail took off from this lookout, heading steeply down towards Lost Lake. This was the only tricky part of the hike. Since the trail is outside a maintained zone, it’s rocky, rooty, and quite steep in places. But easy enough to follow, and I took it slowly.  Route finding tip:  In less than a mile, the trail splits. STAY LEFT — right heads to Mud Lake, a seriously unmaintained trail, I hear (I have not been there, yet…). The maples and alders with their bright yellows were fantastic as I approached Lost Lake, and again provided ample distraction as I navigated a few blowdowns on the trail. I stayed high on a ridge above the lake, then dropped down to the south end of Lost Lake.

Lost Lake

At the lake outlook, a waterfall was just beginning to form. Later in fall and winter, it can be quite spectacular. In summer, it all but disappears. I stopped briefly at my favorite contemplative flat rock, one of only two places to get close to the water. I continued coursing along above Lost Lake, until the trail dropped back down at the north end. I navigated slippery logs as I left the lake, and then was back onto solid ground.

Lost Lake to Cyrus Gates Overlook  (2.2 miles)

Soon I encountered another trail sign and Checkpoint (I can’t remember the name). Here I went left, on South Lost Lake  trail.  In another half-mile or so,  I came to the junction with Rock Trail. This is one of my favorite trails in the entire 8000 acres of public lands that encompasses the Chuckanuts!  I am completely enamored with it, despite it’s steepness –1200 feet of elevation in 1.4 miles to an overlook.

Licorice ferns on boulders, Rock Trail

Sandstone boulder, Rock trail

I took my time on Rock Trail, enjoying the masses of ferns, my favorite being Licorice Ferns. They grow on trailside boulders, and blanket the surroundings in this damp environment. The sandstone boulders are truly massive on Rock trail, 100 feet high in places. They are dotted with neat holes, and some have caves to explore in and around. Partly why I am drawn to this trail is the labor of love that created it. I’m certain it took countless volunteer hours  to carve it out of the steep hillside, and I’m grateful for those who put in the time. Because of it’s steepness, staircases abound. The final push to the top contains 118 stairs. I didn’t count the lowers ones.

Route finding tip:  Just past the top of the stairs, there is a three way junction. Right (up) takes you on a trail that bypasses the overlook; Go straight to reach Cyrus Gates Overlook, a worthwhile half-mile roundtrip diversion; Left heads down Double Black Diamond trail, which is the way down after enjoying the overlook.

At the overlook, I chose one of three picnic tables, resting while eating my bar and wishing I had water. The overlook sits at 1820 feet, with great views out to the islands. There was no one else there, a rarity as people can drive to the overlook and hike or mountain bike from there (it’s the end of Cleator Road).  I’ve been there in all types of weather and conditions, but never had the place to myself in dozens of visits over the years. Pretty sweet!

From Cyrus Gates overlook

Overlook to Fragrance Lake  (1 mile)

After the overlook, I headed back to the three-way trail split. The trail is not marked as Double Diamond, but that is it’s current name (I have also seen it called Double Diamond and Double Black Diamond). If you are a skier, you know what that means! It’s very steep. The trail used to be called Chin Scraper, that name also implying it’s steepness, especially going up.

Poles would have been useful going down,  but I didn’t bring mine, so caution had to take their place. At times I almost had to side step down, it was that steep. I traversed back and forth, feeling like a skier!  Route finding tip:  About half way down, there is an non-obvious trail split. The much more heavily used trail (right) is for mountain bikers. There used to be a sign here, saying bikers right, hikers left. That sign is gone. I have gone both ways, and both are very steep, but the hiker only trail is much less travelled. And less nerve racking! I have encountered (as a hiker mistakenly on the biker part) mountain bikers flying by at incredible speeds, sometimes in flight after taking a steep jump. If you miss the left trail, which is easy to do, just be alert for mountain bikers. They get serious momentum, and frankly, I don’t know how they even stay on the  bike! Mt. bikers usually hoot and holler with abandon as they sail down, and the noise gives ample warning to move out of the way.

The Double Diamond trail put me out at the map where I first left Fragrance Lake Road. Instead of heading down (left), I went right. After a very short and slightly uphill section, I turned left at two signs that read  “Trail” and “Fragrance Lake”. I had time to add the .2 mile to and the .6 mile loop around the lake.

At the lake, I saw a bunch of people and dogs enjoying the fall day and great swimming access (only dogs were swimming on this day). I asked a couple with swimming dog to take a picture of me and the great reflection…he obliged, and the gal asked if this was my first time at the lake. That made me laugh — I literally can’t count the number of times I’ve been there, but it remains a favorite. Completely tree-encircled and usually calm, it’s a perfect “mountain” lake a stone’s throw from town.

Enjoying Fragrance Lake, for the umpteenth time!

Fragrance Lake to Lost Lake Parking lot  (2.4 miles)

After completing the loop, I scurried down the Fragrance Lake trail. It’s 1.9 miles to Chuckanut Drive, and a scenic one at that. One of my favorite views is late afternoon sun shining through the trees, gleaming spectacularly off the Bay.  I have been known to hike this trail in late afternoon or evening just for this experience! On this day, I was there at the correct time, but the clouds were a little too dense for optimum viewing. Still, the descent went quickly, and I smiled each time hazy sun glinted through the trees.

Someone’s idea of Halloween fun on the Fragrance Lake trail…

At the bottom of the trail, I turned left on the Interurban Trail, for a short .3 miles back to my car. I arrived back at 5:00, happy, hungry, and thirsty.

Hiking time

Trail time for me was six hours. I had diversions of a scheduled 30 minute sit-down phone call and a 20 minute trail-side conversation. And I took breaks at all the viewpoints.  I’d allow six-plus hours if possible to enjoy everything this hike has to offer. There are, of course, portions that can be left out entirely for a shorter hike.  I would strongly recommend getting a map of Chuckanut if you plan to do much hiking there. All my explorations have been sans map, just taking time to explore and picking the brains of others. I do plan to purchase a map soon, though!  Two map suggestions from fellow hikers: Chuckanut Recreation Area Map and Chuckanut Mt./Blanchard Map and Guide.

I’d love to read your thoughts on this post, other hikes in the area that you love, or even wild mountain biker tales! Feel free to shoot me a comment in the Comments section.  

Happy Fall Hiking!

Final view, Rock Trail

Pre-Wedding Hike

Me and the boys on Dickerman

Mt. Dickerman, round two, with the three stooges!  (9/1/17)

My daughter got married two weeks ago, and what a celebration it was! She and Kevin tied the knot on a sunny Sunday at Marine Park in Bellingham. What timing — it was the day before smoke from more forest fires descended, unfortunately and again. Such a glorious occasion, and the day could not have been more perfect. As were the days leading up to the wedding…

Set up for the hike

The Friday before the wedding, I had the opportunity to hike with my son Kyle (in town from Atlanta with his girlfriend Lauren, both in the wedding), and two of his long-time buddies, Jack and Elijah. This adventure was similar to the one Kyle and I took last time he was in town in June (see Green Mountain trip report). Not so much in terms of epic-ness, but with regard to taking full advantage of a very small window of time to get out into the mountains for some fast hiking and quality relation time. This time with three young bucks, as Kyle had invited along long-time friends Jack and Elijah.

I picked Kyle and Lauren up at the airport very late Thursday, about midnight. We drove to the Lake Goodwin summer home for some quick sleep. In bed by 1:30, I was up at 5:30 Friday morning, energized and ready to start making pies for Shannon’s rehearsal dinner. I had to make five pies that day, with the hike sandwiched in between, in preparation for the weekend of wedding festivities.

I made four pies before we even left the house at 8:30. Two cooked, two in the oven. Lauren, unfortunately, couldn’t hike with us, as she had Shannon’s bachelorette party that late afternoon (Kevin had already had his bachelor party). But fortunately, she COULD and DID take the second round of pies out of the oven for me after we left, while waiting for a ride up to Bellingham. Already by 8:30, then,  I had a huge sense of accomplishment as we drove to meet Jack and Elijah (coming down from Bellingham) at Starbucks to carpool the distance to Mt. Dickerman. I had recently done Mt. Dickerman with Doug, and a previous Trip Report details the hike. I chose Dickerman this day for it’s distance (8.2 miles RT), elevation gain (about 1000 feet a mile), and views from the top. I knew all three young men would love it as much as I had a month earlier.

The Three Mountain Men

Kyle, Jack, and Elijah (and me) go way back. I’ve known Elijah since he and Kyle started playing Cal Ripken baseball back in fourth grade. They played competitive basketball and baseball together all through middle and high school. I’ve known Jack since the summer before high school, when he and Kyle formed a fast friendship that continued all through high school and attendance at the same college. Jack had been on previous hikes with us, including the fogged in Vesper Peak trip of 2015. He had hiked the entire El Camino trail in Spain earlier that summer, and it turned him into a major hiking advocate.  I hadn’t seen Elijah since high school, when he and Kyle played one final summer of baseball. Back then, Elijah wasn’t a hiker type. Always an athlete, he’d been much more of a gym guy.  But I knew from Facebook that he’d turned into a true mountain man since I’d seen him last, long hair and all!

Mountain Man Elijah
From Elijah Christie photo library

After a round of vigorous hugs in the Starbucks parking lot, we piled into my car and were on the way.

I loved listening to the buzz of conversation as we drove. Jack had just returned two months ago from a year-long stay in Spain. He didn’t just love the El Camino trail, he fell in love with the whole country and made arrangements to go back and teach English abroad for an entire year! Elijah had just returned from a solo trip to Thailand, where he’d hiked and explored the country. All three talked injuries, physical bodies, and recoveries. They bantered back and forth, each coming from a different perspective. Jack, the most soft-spoken of the three, was just getting his bearings back after returning to Bellingham, and was still nursing a long-time groin injury. Elijah, a personal trainer working and power lifting at a gym, offered a different perspective on all kinds of things I never even think about. The conversation about the intricacies of the grab and snatch (at least I think that’s what it’s called…), lasted at least ten minutes! And Kyle, having just finished his first year in his doctorate program for physical therapy, asked questions and offered insights on everyone’s physical well-being. The hour drive flew by.

The hike up

We were on the trail by 10:30. I psyched myself up properly, as I knew these guys would be fast. The starting hiking order was Jack, Elijah, Kyle, then me. Some relief in that, as if I couldn’t keep up, I could trail off. But I was determined to do my best,  and was looking forward to the inevitable physical effort required to do so.

After a fast 15 minutes, Jack called back,  “Pace Ok?”

“It’s great!” I replied, trying not to sound winded. As long as I didn’t talk too much, I could keep up. My only conversational need was to answer direct questions or insert the occasional anecdote as appropriate. Mostly,  I listened, and concentrated on how my body felt as I put one foot in front of the next, alternating feet and poles as I powered myself up. I felt the burn in my quads and loved it.

Kyle turned around periodically to check on me. “Doing OK, Mom?” He’d ask. I’d nod and smile. I was doing great, loving the work out, and being in the presence of that much positive physical energy.

We passed people as we went, though not too many for a sunny Friday. In seemingly no time we broke out of the forested switchbacks. Right at the first meadow, conversation and hiking ground to a halt as Elijah suddenly said “Whoa, dude, there’s a bear!” Jack hadn’t seen the black bear feasting on berries a mere 30 feet in front of us. We all stopped and stared.

Kyle looked at me, eyebrows raised. “Mom, should we be worried?” Suddenly I was the bear expert! I’d seen a few, and  I’m the first to admit that the idea of bear encounters makes me very nervous. But with this guy? He (or she) looked innocent enough, adolescent age, not huge, but certainly no cub. And he was just minding his own business, just feasting on berries.

“I think he’s fine.” I answered, trying to sound confident.  “Let’s just hang for a sec.” We stood and observed, talking in hushed tones, like we were on safari watching lions court.  Soon the hikers we’d passed caught back up, and it was a regular bear watching party. But then we heard people coming down the trail, loud to our quiet,  it was evident they had a dog.

Kyle looked at me again, concern in his eyes. “Don’t you think somebody should warn them, Mom?” I didn’t necessarily want to send my son into the path of a bear, but he seemed up for the task.

“Sure, Kyle, go for it. Just move slowly.”

Once Kyle started walking, the bear lumbered in front of him, across the trail and off to the other side, He was out of sight in a second. But not out of mind. We told the group coming down they’d just missed the bear, and they were relieved. So were we.

Kyle and the bear…photo courtesy Elijah Christie

A bit farther along, Elijah announced “Hey guys, I need to consume calories. Very soon.”

At this point, I was in the lead. “OK, there will be a spot up here.” I answered. The open area I was looking for didn’t come quickly, so we stopped mid-trail for a quick calorie break. “Do you keep track of how many calories you eat every day?” I asked Elijah, as we dropped our packs and food came out.

“Yes. It’s mostly 3600, unless I am training for something specific.”

“Wow. That’s precise!” I answered, impressed. “How do you do that?”

“With an app, of course.” He smiled, chowing down.

Jack, meanwhile, pulled out a huge burrito. “Hey, I bet nobody can top this monstrosity! Beans, rice, cheese, onions, even brussel sprouts! Made it myself.”

“That’s impressive.” I observed. “Too bad it’s not gluten free.”

After a few minutes, Elijah commented, “Just 300 more calories and we can go.”

Calorie consumption break — L to R, Elijan, Kyle, Jack

But just at that moment, all the people we’d re-passed after the bear caught back up. The boys re-shouldered their packs with a haste rarely seen among my-age hikers. They were gone in a flash, leaving me scrambling, as they headed off merrily toward the top, Elijah munching his 300 calorie bar on the fly. I looked at the emerging hikers, shrugged, and pulled myself together as quickly as possible. Now I was behind.

For that final stretch of trail, I scrambled to catch back up. The views were magnificent, and I’d call ahead “Hey, guys, don’t forget to take in the views!” I wanted them to stop and wait for me, as I was going just as fast as I could, but I could never quite catch up. At one point, Kyle, aware of my challenge, glanced back.  “You hanging in there, Mom?”

“Oh yeah”, I panted. These boys were booking it, sensing they were close. And that’s how the last 3/4 of a mile went. The three of them flying, with me a tad behind, behind, breathing hard, trying to close the gap before the summit. A matter of challenge and pride.

And I did. Barely. We all four summited together, coming out to the broad opening with views of Baker, Shuksan, Glacier Peak, dozens more, even Mt. Ranier off in the distance. Glorious sunshine, circumferential views, and only a few people adorned the vast base of the summit.

Top of Dickerman (Photo EC)

At the top

Elijah and Jack stayed on the highest level taking photos, and Kyle and I dropped down then popped back up to almost just as high. We pulled out sandwiches made that morning, and relaxed in the sun, gazing around and watching Jack and Elijah revel in the surroundings.

Sweaty Kyle settling in for lunch.

Soon they came to join us, and pulled out their lunches too. We all compared our stash. The bulk of Jack’s burrito, something densely caloric for Elijah, my mostly spinach sandwich with some turkey, Kyle’s pile of turkey and no spinach. I pointed out my mound of spinach to  Jack.

“Your brussel sprouts ain’t nothing compared to this greenery!” I said, munching happily.

Elijah, the photographer, zoomed right in on my sandwich consumption, and we all talked, ate, laughed. I felt surrounded by goodwill and positivity, and like I could hike with these three anytime.

The spinach sandwich. Photo by EC

Quality time and views with Kyle. Photo by EC

Candid lunch photo. By EC

As we chatted, I learned more about Jack’s job at a brewery, cleaning kegs. He’d just taken it upon his return. I asked him how that could utilize his chemistry degree. For the record, Jack was a 4.0 student through high school and college, but he marches to the beat of his own drum. He laughed. “Not sure yet, but maybe brewing my own at some point in the future. For now, it’s a job, I get to sample beer, and it’s low stress.”

L to R — Jack, Elijah, Kyle

I watched Jack and Elijah, room mates since Jack’s return, posing on the top of the highest rock, hamming it up, Kyle eventually joining in too. All three took off their shirts, asking if it was ok to get topless on a summit. “Of course!” I said, taking photos. “Better you guys than me!” The three looked so comfortable, compatible, and cohesive. Like three souls come together again on a mountain top.

The hike down

A plan was hatched for all three to come back to the lake to swim, then Kyle would catch a ride back to Bellingham for dinner with his Dad while I made the final pie. Reluctantly, but with the promise of cool water on the unseasonably warm day, we headed down.

Love this shot with Kyle…he’s really not that much taller! Photo EC

At first, they all flew, and I struggled, again, to keep up. Going down is harder than going up for this aging body, and I really had to focus on my footing.

At one point, Elijah asked me a question about my experiences in the mountains. At first, I answered vaguely, but then, realizing his interest was genuine, more intricately.  That led us into a conversation that lasted for miles, on topics of our mutual passion for fitness and the outdoors, how he got into backpacking, finding our solace in the mountains, meditation, ways to enhance life experience, and a variety of other related topics. Talking to this 25-year old, insightful Elijah proved to be a highlight of the trip. I didn’t realize what a deep thinker he had become, or that we connected on a multitude of levels. The conversation was inspiring, informational, and fun. And it made the miles fly by. Kyle and Jack, perhaps tired of our conversation, moved ahead while Elijah hung back with me.

Eventually, we all regrouped a half mile or so from the trailhead, and continued our fast and furious descent. We made it back to the car in 1.5 hours, not bad for 4+ steep miles.

Finishing one adventure, and on to the next…

Back at the lake, we jumped in the water, ate chips and salsa on the diving board, and discussed our day. We agreed we’d all had a blast, we all liked the bear, and the company as well.  I felt a part of this group, and I knew on some level they admired that I kept up so well. It’s nice to be THAT MOM, the one that can still keep up with a group of 25-year olds.

With some sadness I watched them leave. I launched into my final pie and ate a solo dinner. I knew I’d be surrounded by family over the weekend, and focused on Shannon’s needs for the next two days. I let myself move in that direction. Hiking puts me in a great frame of mind, and I knew I would be centered and ready for all the events in the two days to follow. What a perfect pre-wedding adventure we’d had.

A big thank you to Kyle, Jack, and Elijah for such a great pre-wedding hike!

And a HUGE congratulations to Shannon and Kevin as they embark on the next stage of their life!

 

The happy couple!

 

 

 

 

 

All about FUN at Lake Ann

Lake Ann

Lake Ann plus side trip to Curtis Glacier  (August 27, 2017)

A short work day on a sunny Sunday with no smoke (!) inspired Doug and me to take an afternoon day hike to Lake Ann. I have done this hike a dozen or more times, and it never disappoints. It’s also the rare hike that I have only done in perfect weather, and this time was no exception!

Stats on Lake Ann

LOCATION –– Off Mt. Baker Highway, (542), just before Artist Point.        DISTANCE — 8.2  RT, plus 2 miles to base of Curtis Glacier.      ELEVATION GAIN — 1900 feet to Lake Ann, 2300 to base of glacier.     HIGH POINT — 4900 feet (Lake Ann), 5300 glacier.        DIFFICULTY — Moderate       REQUIRED — Northwest Forest Pass

The Hike in

We scrambled out of town just as quickly as Doug’s car could drive us. The parking lot was packed when we arrived at 2:00 pm, but, thankfully we found a spot. Many hikers were already heading home. While packing my day pack, I noticed that I had only brought one sock! Major problem, as I couldn’t hike sockless in one hiking shoe, and Doug had no extra socks.  There was no way I wasn’t going, though, and my Keen work sandals would have to do. Not exactly trail worthy for these 8-times surgically altered feet and ankles! Aiming for optimism, I told Doug I’d give it my best shot. Luckily I had poles to soften the footfalls.

Note the hiking attire…sandals, bathing suit top, poles. Love the freedom!

We hit the trail by 2:10. Lake Ann trail is pleasantly variable in that it drops down for the first mile or so, flattens out, then climbs back up. The afternoon air was hot when we started and the crowds were dense. An enormous number of people were huffing and puffing their way back up as we breezed effortlessly down the first switchbacks. The crowds were a by-product of the perfect day, sunshine, and clear skies. And no smoke. The pattern for the summer had been with each rise in temperature, new fires would spring up and smoke would permeate the atmosphere. It made me giddy that we were hiking Lake Ann in warmth and blue!

Once down the switchbacks we were into the first meadow. Flowers lingered as we crossed rocky (and sometimes dry) stream beds. Views of Shuksan and Shuksan Arm beckoned us along. And more people. Both directions. Families, dogs, and a good representation of jog-bra’d females. I was wearing my bathing suit top and shorts, and I felt less self-conscious with the impressive number of other women doing the same. I loved the carefree nature of the day! We cruised the flat section for a mile or so, past the headwaters of Swift Creek, then began our climb up.

First views of Mt. Baker from Lake Ann trail

There were three boulder fields to cross on the approach to the Lake Basin, and I knew my feet might be crabby. Perhaps it was the exhilaration, the ease with which everything was coming to play out, but I didn’t really notice the lessened padding on the soles of my sandals. Or the increased discomfort. Views of Mt. Baker provided a great distraction, and we cruised at a great pace, happily passing the multitudes. A time check when we arrived at the Lake Basin said 3:55. We decided we’d climb towards the glacier until 5:00, then turn around. We still wanted to swim in Lake Ann before heading back to the car.

Up to the Curtis Glacier

A clear trail branched left toward the west face of Mt. Shuksan. The route services climbers to the summit via the Fisher Chimney route, with the upper and lower Curtis Glacier visible the entire way. Doug had never been that way, though I had been a couple of times before.  We crossed a perfectly situated stream, flowers in full bloom, and Doug was in heaven! His enthusiasm for places he hasn’t been is unparalleled, and made the slightly more challenging- for-my-feet-going more than tolerable. We passed a woman in a black dress coming down the trail, her foreign accent evident. We commented on how strange it was to see someone in a dress (and not a fitness style dress!) coming off a trail that dead-ends at a glacier.

View of Shuksan from Lake Ann trail

Perfect stream

Looking down on Baker Lake

View from glacier trail…Lake Ann and Mt. Baker

As we climbed, we could again see Mt. Baker, which had been hidden from view at the lake basin. We could also see down to Baker Lake, and the views of Shuksan just kept getting better and better. At right around our turn around time, we noticed a group of seven people just up ahead. They looked to be gathered at an end point, where the trail stops and glacier travel starts. Curious, we continued up to where they were.

The Dresses Party!

When we got to the group, it was instantly evident that something exciting was going on. The five women and two men were abuzz with activity.  They welcomed us with much enthusiasm, as if we were the king and queen arriving! The women were donning dresses, and I asked what was up. In accented English, they explained they were a group of Russians, doing some type of photo shoot right there at the base of the glacier.  I was impressed and excited about what they were up to, and commented on how cool I thought that was. The two most verbal women asked me to join in, pulling out a red dress that was an extra. I tried to protest, but that was not going to fly. Their enthusiasm, coupled with Doug’s for me to become instant “model”, made refusal impossible. I threw caution to the wind, abandoned my concern about time, and slipped the dress on over my bathing suit top and shorts. The women were thrilled! I felt silly but had a huge smile on my face.

Doug and the two men took photos of the five of us as we somewhat awkwardly posed on the rocks. Another women watched, seemingly not wanting to get in on the action. The whole experience was surreal, the primary gal, Alexandra, handing me a scarf to whip around in an attempt to look glamorous! I told her this was so far from my comfort zone it was ludicrous, but, in part that’s what made the experience so much fun! Who would have thought we’d encounter Russian women in dresses right at the base of the glacier? We learned that the woman we’d seen earlier was part of their group as well, and that there were others with them too spread out around the trail. A couple of them were from Bellingham, but the majority were from Vancouver. We didn’t know why they selected that spot for photos, but it was incredibly fun to participate.

At 5:30, we bid our adieu to the group.  We had just enough time to drop back down to Lake Ann and jump in the water for a quick and vigorous dip. There was still a bit of snow around the lake, and the water temperature was not warm! But the air temperature was, and we sat on a rock in the last of the sun before it dropped behind the far side of the lake basin, and ate a very late lunch (or dinner…). It was an entirely fitting setting for such a fabulous day.

Kathie and the Russian Beauties!

Take two!

Take 3!

Trying to look glamorous…

Easier without accessories!

The Hike out

We were back to the trail junction to head out at 6:15.  Alexandra and crew were just coming down off the glacier. Alexandra and I exchanged contact information, so we could exchange photos later. I loved the still-present energy in the group, especially Alexandra and Elena. We didn’t hike out with them as our pace was a bit faster, but the memories of the photos and the swim and the day kept Doug and me laughing and smiling the entire hike out. By this time, there were fewer people  on the trail, although still an impressive number remained. Everyone we encountered was in a celebratory mood.

We flew up the switchbacks, and arrived back at the car at 8:05, right at sunset. There were four more Russian women at the trailhead, and we conversed with them too. We assured them their friends weren’t far behind, and told them stories of the fun time we’d had at the base of the glacier. So much good will, joy, and excitement about being alive and out on the trail. I loved it, and I have to say the entire day made for my most memorable trip to Lake Ann yet!

Last light on Shuksan, headed back up the Lake Ann trail

Can you see the slight haze? Already, it starts to return…

In retrospect…

It’s been two weeks since the hike, and my recollections of the trip have gotten even sweeter with time. I know that’s partly because of what returned soon after, in the form of more smoke. Again. From BC fires, those in Eastern Washington, and perhaps most devastatingly, the Eagle Creek Fire in the Columbia Gorge. I won’t repeat news stories, as most have heard by  now that the last one was caused by human activity. I don’t need to say how tragic it is, as we have all felt it. Or how far reaching. Up until two days ago,  when it finally rained, Bellingham and most of the state was shrouded in smoke from all the fires. The tragedy of this for us hikers and backpackers is one thing, but when you consider all who had to be evacuated and their property at risk or destroyed, it’s another level of catastrophe altogether.

So my memories of Lake Ann’s absolute pleasure are in stark contrast to what’s happened since. I am still not sure how to make sense of all this. Is it selfish to be grateful that the smoke is gone so I can once again breathe clean air? Is it acceptable to happily go out and recreate again, now that the smoke has cleared up here, knowing that those down in the gorge can’t do the same?

Looking ahead…

Since the smoke has cleared, today I head out again. For five nights and four days, to Copper Ridge loop and Whatcom Pass extension. Solo. I go with appreciation, humility, awe, gratitude, and respect.  As I go, I will keep in mind how transient all of this is. One minute a person can be hiking in safety, the next swept up in something risky — or worse. It’s always with a measure of caution that I go out, particularly solo. On my toes (yep, my feet survived Lake Ann!), with meticulous planning, and watching for the unexpected. The wilderness contains the word “wild” for a reason. I honor that immeasurably.

Here is link to WTA’s Lake Ann information.

And, if you want to see where I am headed, Cooper Ridge loop information.

ENJOY BEING OUTSIDE IN THE CLEAR AIR WHILE IT’S HERE!!

Mt. Baker looking good in blue!

Guest post: The Art Loeb Trail by Kyle Buckham

[Here’s a guest post by my 25-year old son Kyle Buckham – a rich and detailed account of his 3-day backpacking adventure on the Art Loeb Trail in North Carolina with a group of friends.]

The Lead-up

The idea to lead my own backpacking venture was born after returning from a quick trip home to Washington State in June. On that trip, I hiked Green Mountain with my mom, and it was a thrill to get up into the mountains. I loved being outside in the sun and fresh air, with great views and steep climbs, my muscles burning from exertion, sweat pouring off of me. That combination invigorates me like nothing else! My mom blogged about our Green Mountain hike,  and the whole experience reminded me how much I love hiking.

After returning to Atlanta, where I attend graduate school at Emory in pursuit of my Doctorate in Physical Therapy, I fell into a bit of a post-trip funk. While I love PT,  I found that I wasn’t enjoying and/or engaging as much in class, and that even my favorite out of class activities (spikeball, basketball, pool volleyball, beers with classmates) weren’t bringing me as much joy. I was experiencing a case of ‘summeritis’ and my mind and body felt the need to experience something new. The hours of indoor school activities combined with the surprisingly rainy Atlanta summer were hindering my usual summer joy! Like my mom, I am a big time doer. I am at my best and happiest when I have a full day of activities that are both challenging and enjoyable. Although I was busy (graduate school always makes sure of that) I lacked the something that gave me that “excited to wake up in the morning” feeling. That’s when I got serious about the idea of organizing a backpack trip on a break between semesters.

A few of my friends and I had casually kicked around the idea of doing a backpack trip for the past year. All similarly fit individuals, we had gone on several day hikes together, even covering up to 20 miles in a day. I knew my friends would be able to handle the physical rigors of a backpack trip, though none of them had backpacked before. Since I had, at least a half-dozen times  since the first one (at the age of 5 — of which I remember nothing!), I was given full responsibility for planning our trip. My passion for backpacking had grown steadily over the past several years following multiple trips with family, and I was excited to plan and lead a trip of my own.

The Preparation

The first step was to decide on a place to go. Being from the west coast, I was of course skeptical that I could find anything sufficiently challenging in the good ol’ east coast rolling hills. Although Georgia is far more green and “outdoorsy” then it gets credit for, I honed in on North Carolina, which is more mountainous and boasts some of the most scenic hikes along the Appalachian trail. A simple google search of “backpacking trails in North Carolina” brought up multiple options. Eventually, I came across the Art Loeb Trail. The trail was 30.1 miles total and rated as difficult due to strenuous elevation gains and technical sections. It did not require a permit and was only 3 hours from Atlanta. To top it off, it was included as one of the top 30 North American Hikes by National Geographic. I had never heard of the Art Loeb Trail, but it looked like the perfect hike for what I wanted to do. 

Art Loeb Trail Map

The next step was gear. As a group we had very little gear — one backpack, one 2 person tent, two sleeping pads, two sleeping bags, and some basic cooking supplies. Although Emory has a program where you can rent outdoor gear, I found it didn’t operate in the summer, and REI was too expensive for us. In a last ditch effort, I reached out via Facebook to my PT class. Within an hour, I had multiple offers and our gear issue was solved! Thanks to Meredith and Chelsea for helping out! It’s nice to know that when original plans don’t work out, other people will do what they can to help out. For the most part, our gear was now taken care of.

With the location chosen and gear accounted for, another problem presented itself. As the date got closer the weather was simply not cooperating! Atlanta’s unusually rainy summer was showing no signs of letting up. Literally every single day my Apple maps had a thunderbolt symbol next to it and Asheville, and forecasts specific to the trail had essentially the same weather. Rain, rain, and more rain. This frustrated me immensely. Not only was it less than ideal backpacking weather for anyone, I was going with three newbies. And I had already paid for a place to stay in Asheville upon conclusion of our trip, so we were locked into a specific time frame in which to take our trip (August 13 – 16). On top of that, one of my buddies was already hesitant about going and the last thing I wanted to do was make him live in the rain for 3 days! I wanted him to go, and I tried to figure out a way to make it work, even if it meant moving our hike after the Asheville trip. But I was starting to lose confidence that the trip would actually happen.

Then several things happened to swing my attitude back around. First, I decided that I couldn’t cater our trip plans to somebody who wasn’t 100% committed. Backpacking can be a grind and in order to enjoy it, you have to fully commit to the experience — including the possibility of rain, dirt, and stank! I checked in with the least committed member, Eric, and we both decided it was better if he didn’t go. Second, I reflected that my one backpacking experiences in the rain had been so brutal because it had also been cold and windy. Our forecast called for lows of 63 and essentially no wind. Definitely tolerable conditions. Finally, I called my mom and she essentially said go for it, or you may have regrets that you did not.  That was the last push I needed. The trip was back on as scheduled, and I was infused with excitement!

The last step was to get all the food and final pieces of gear for the trip. My remaining companions were James and Sam, who were both fully invested in the trip which made this part really easy. Several trips to the grocery store and REI later (one in which coincided with a REI garage sale!) we were fully stocked with food, cooking supplies, rain gear, and appropriate hiking shoes.

The next evening, we were loading up our packs to make sure we had everything and to ensure that everything fit in our packs. When I checked the stove, we couldn’t get it to work. I was a little flustered because we were scheduled to leave at 6 AM tomorrow, but thankfully REI was open for another 45 minutes. We scrambled down to REI, where one of the employees determined that our Pocket Rocket stove top was defective! This sucked because it was brand new and it was part of a set and thus not returnable, and another one cost 50 bucks. However, I was thankful that we had caught the mistake before it was too late to buy another and especially before we were trying to cook at our first camp! And in the end, James was able to fix the defect in the stove top and fix it when we got home. He noticed that the threading on the top was too fat to screw in to the fuel tank, and literally shaved it down with a knife! His resourcefulness made me confident that we would be able to solve any issues we might encounter during the trip, and was a great way to end the last night before we left.

In honor of my mom, I want to comment on a few things that stood out from the pre-trip:

  1. Always strive to find things that bring you pleasure and never be satisfied with the status quo. My first year of PT school was filled with great learning experiences and fun times outside the classroom. I made some good friends, played lots of games, hiked the North Georgia Mountains, and frequented Atlanta breweries. These things were cheap, easy, and accessible. However, after a year of doing all these great things, my mind and body were craving something different. My default has always been to stay close to home, to save money. However, I’m realizing more and more that time and money spent in the right place for the right experiences makes me feel alive like nothing else. There were a lot of reasons that this trip might not have not worked out, but I was determined to make it happen. When something doesn’t quite feel right in your life, find out what it is and figure out now to fix it. I knew I was craving a new challenge and planning for the backpack trip was just what I needed — both because of the experiences I knew we’d have, and because of the confidence it instilled in me that I could lead a trip on my own. I know that this has opened up the door for me to plan many more enriching trips in the future!
  2. You can’t always make everyone happy. It’s my nature to be a people pleaser. I desperately wanted everyone to go on the trip, such that, ironically enough, I was willing to sacrifice the whole backpack portion of the trip to try to make it happen. While it’s important to take everyone’s feelings into consideration, that can sometimes be very tricky. You can’t please all the people all the time! However, in this case it wasn’t a difficult choice. Eric was fine with not going on the trip, while Sam and James were completely committed. We all wanted Eric to participate, but once I realized that wasn’t going to happen, my mindset shifted, and I could get back to planning in earnest. Although the trip didn’t unfold exactly how we imagined, having a crew that was 100% dedicated to the success of the trip was all I could really ask for in the end.
  3. Dotting your I’s and crossing your T’s can come in handy sometimes! I am not the type of person to constantly worry about things. I typically live life confident that I did what I could, and that things will work out as they should. My girlfriend Lauren, on the other hand, is the type who is always asking “did we lock the door,” “did we turn the oven off,” “did you hear that noise” and sometimes this inserts worry in my head when it doesn’t need to be there, which can be REALLY annoying (especially when I’m trying to sleep). However, every once and awhile those worries are justified and addressing them immediately saves us a lot of trouble later on. In the case of the backpacking stove, I think Lauren would be proud. I had no reason to believe that the brand new stove would not work, but having not used it before I decided to try it out. Lo and behold, something was wrong! Spending one minute before leaving on our trip saved us inevitable panic and issues upon reaching our first campsite. As Lauren would say, sometimes a little worry can be good! 

Day 1

I awoke at 5:00 AM on Sunday in good spirits. I love nothing more than waking up early when I have a full day of things I enjoy planned, with long hikes at the top of that list. Since we had double checked our gear and completely loaded up our packs the night before, I had very little to worry about in the morning except preparing myself a five egg sandwich and a tub of oats for the road! 

We were on the road just after 6:00, as planned. The drive to the southern trailhead at Davidson River Campground was just over three hours, and we stopped into the Pisgah National Forest Visitor Center located close to the trailhead. The staff supplied us with a great map that detailed all of the elevation changes and every possible campsite, water source, nice view, etc. with a corresponding mile marker to go along with it. They assured us that while the weather wouldn’t be awesome, it would be serviceable and safe. They kept saying, “you guys are going to have such a good time!” I could tell that they were all enjoying having three ambitious young men in the station and did everything they could to set us up for success. A big shout out to the staff for helping us to start our trip out right!!

Obligatory Trailhead photo at Davidson River Campground. Left to Right — Kyle, Sam, James

Getting on the trail could not have been easier, as we literally drove ¼ of a mile from the ranger station and pulled into a parking lot right off the edge of the road, no permit or fees required. After taking a quick picture, we were on the trail by 10:20.

The trail started innocently enough, as we meandered through typical Georgia forests, shifting our packs around as we got acquainted with their substantial heft! In planning food for the trip, I did like my Dad, and brought “real food” (instead of dehydrated meals), both because of cost, and because it tastes great after a long day of hiking! Needless to say with three 20-something guys, a lot of food needed to be packed so we weren’t exactly adhering to the more common “ultralight” backpacking ways.  After about a mile of mostly flat terrain, the trail started going up rather substantially. I loved it! I have done a lot of hiking in Georgia, and can never find anything that really challenges me in terms of hills. Obviously it helped wearing the heavy pack, but my heart was pounding and I was drenched in sweat in no time!

After our significant climb up, the trail reversed and went straight down. After pounding down this stretch, the trail went right back up, only to go straight back down. At first, the ups and downs were great because it was a killer workout, BUT IT JUST KEPT HAPPENING. After what felt like the tenth elevation reversal my clothes were completely saturated with sweat, my calves were dying, and I was starting to miss the nice flat Georgia terrain.

At the top of another substantial climb, we decided to take a break for lunch. James and I were comical looking with sweat dripping off the ends of our shorts and the brims of our hats, our clothes unable to hold any more liquid. Even Sam, who sweats about as much as a pre-pubescent girl, had a nice sweat ring around his crotch and butt, causing him to proudly proclaim, “it looks like I pissed myself!”

Lunch consisted of some of my backpacking favorites; crackers, summer sausage, and trail mix. I remember thinking when I was buying the food, this just doesn’t sound that good right now… but I knew from past experience backpacking that these were money when on the trail. Once again, they did not disappoint! The profoundly salty sausage tasted amazing after our morning trek and salt loss through sweat.  Another one of my favorite things about backpacking is that your meals are always well deserved and taste delicious no matter how straightforward they are.

While eating lunch, we made a game plan for the rest of the day. Our original plan was to make it to a place called Gloucester Gap, which was 12 miles into the trail. After looking at our map more closely, I realized that Gloucester had no water sources, which is a backpacking no-no. We decided instead to set up camp at Butter Gap, an area the ranger had mentioned as having water and even a shelter and was only 8.6 miles in. Happy with our revised plan, we hit the trail again with only 3 miles to finish our day.

The up and down continued and the trail was, to be honest, getting a little monotonous. We were in complete tree cover, with very little to look at except the trail in front of us. Then, 7.5 miles in, we came to a nice, open campsite right next to a huge rock/cliff. At first we were just chilling, catching our breath, when we decided to give the rock a closer look. Standing at the base of the rock, looking up, we were unsure if it was safe to try and scramble up. After a couple of minutes, I decided we would regret it if we didn’t try and threw my pack down and started running up.

View from top of large rock we conquered!

The weather had been great up to this point so the rock face was completely dry and gripping well. It was quite fun powering up the mountain on all fours, and after each steep stretch there would be a small flat area, followed by another steep section that would keep us going up. Several of the steep sections were right at the edge of doability,  with a seriously steep grade, but everyone made it up unscathed. We were rewarded at the top with our first views of the trip and a great sense of accomplishment and freedom. In opposition to one of my earlier statements, sometimes it is better to think less and just do! If we had not attempted scaling the rock face, we would have missed out on what was by far the most fun experience of the first day. I was nervous about the descent because my legs were tired from a day full of hiking and my left knee hates eccentric loading (controlled downhill descent). James came up with a great way of getting down the rock face though, essentially crab walking our way down. It made the descent reasonable and safe. I would have never thought of going down  that way, so I was very thankful for James’ creativity!

Enjoying the top of our scramble

Crab walking down — far safer and easier than it looks!

Once down, we grudgingly threw our packs back on and hit the trail for the last mile. We arrived at a dingy looking shelter and an open area that was clearly Butter Gap. We were the first ones there and thus had our pick of campsites. Although taking the shelter would have been easiest, it was dark and dirty looking with some trash dispersed in it. Not exactly the kind of spot I wanted to post up in. For being such a large campsite, there were very few areas that were ideal for placing a tent, as the ground was uneven and littered with tree roots. Eventually we settled on an area that was a bit tucked away and had ample tree cover. After setting up camp, James and I went to fill up on water.

Butter Gap, on paper, was supposed to have ample water near it. There was a water marking right at the campsite, .1 miles away and .2 miles away. The “streams” at the campsite and the .1 mile point were nothing but a muddy puddles, and it appeared to be the same at .2 miles. We kept walking for what felt like forever (especially for me who was sockless and wearing boat shoes) before hitting water about ½ mile further along. Even this was just a small trickle of running water, but it was good enough to fill up our water supplies. On our way back we looked more closely at the .2 mile water source, and saw that it too had one serviceable flow that we could utilize. In all of my backpacking experiences, I had always had very obvious rivers and streams literally seconds to minutes from my campsite, and I realized that I would have to rethink my expectation of a good water source for this trip.

The rest of the evening and night went well as we made a delicious dinner of pasta, with canned chicken, and a creamy red sauce. The campsite filled up and got somewhat loud, which made for a less than serene environment. I was thankful for our campsite as it rained on and off throughout the evening,  and yet we hardly felt a drop due to the thick tree covering. Sam, James, and I worked well together to get all the basic backpacking chores done like filling water, doing dishes, and hanging food. I was pleased to have companions who didn’t complain and would do whatever needed to be done. We concluded the night by playing some cards, and turned into bed nice and early. Despite the length of the day, I found that I wasn’t particularly tired when I settled into my tent. I don’t know if I was just antsy and anxious to get started with the next day, or if the combination of my rock hard clothes pillow, slanted sleeping surface, and blaring noise of the local bugs made it impossible for me to get comfortable. Either way, I didn’t sleep much and tossed and turned all night, eagerly awaiting the sun to rise to start the next day.

Day 2

I awoke the next morning as light overtook my tent at 6:45. We got up and had a nice breakfast with some coffee. Mornings are my absolute favorite on backpacking trips, just like my mom. I like to take my time to sit and enjoy myself as opposed to rushing through the morning routine to hit the trail immediately. We were all packed up and ready to go by 9 AM, feeling refreshed and energized for what we knew was going to be a challenging day 2.

Since we had stopped short of Gloucester Gap the previous day, we had a bit more ground to cover today to make it to our second desired campsite at Ivestor Gap. Additionally, today was going to be our most significant day of elevation gain. We had 12.8 miles planned with about 3000 feet net increase in elevation, which we knew would be even harder than it sounded because of the roller coaster nature of the trail. Nevertheless, everybody felt good strength-wise, the sun was out, and we anticipated that the hard work today was going to pay off with some great views.

The trail started off relatively flat and easy, and we made good time for the first three miles of the the day. Then the climb began, and it was a doozy. In two miles we gained 2000 feet. I was working hard trying to keep James in my sight, no easy task considering he is a very high level runner! This motivated me to push hard and almost made a game out of the ascension, which helped make the time pass. At one point we finally broke through the endless forest and were treated to a nice place to take a break and some pictures. The trek continued and we stumbled upon the Blue Ridge Parkway, a 469 mile long road that runs from North Carolina to Virginia that is famous for its scenic beauty. Unfortunately, thick clouds were rolling in, so we didn’t have much to gaze at. After crossing the parkway,  we hit the most brutal stretch of the day consisting of steep, rocky, technical switchbacks to polish off our major climbing for the day. At the top, we were treated to a mercifully flat section, but also disappointing because the fog had come in so thickly that we literally could not see an ounce of what I knew was a great view.

The terrain around us had changed substantially upon getting close to 6,000 feet, and we were now hiking among the pine trees, which made me feel like I was back in the Pacific Northwest! After a mile or so of flat trail in the woods, we emerged around 2 PM to an area of road that was bustling with cars and people. After literally seeing nobody since we had left that morning, it was strange to be amongst so many people again! We were now at an area called Black Balsam Knob, one of the main highlights of our hike. Unlike the PNW where hikes are usually highlighted by views of rugged, snow topped mountains, the east coast scenery is known for countless “bald” mountains – mountains whose summits are covered in thick vegetation. We took our time enjoying the panoramic views and taking photos. Although it was still cloudy and our views were restricted, it was rewarding to be completely out of the trees and to have the opportunity to enjoy the result of our hard work. We made a quick pack-free climb up a rocky outcropping to soak in the area one last time before continuing on our trek.

View after finally breaking through the trees on our brutal ascent

Group pic at Black Balsam Knob

At this point we had been on the trail for over 6 hours and had covered 10.5 tough miles, so we were tired. We had reached peak elevation for the trip at 6,100 feet though, so we knew that the remaining 2 plus miles would not be as challenging. Additionally, the trail was spectacularly open and a pleasure to hike on. After plodding along for a little bit, the gray sky finally opened up and it started to rain. Here it comes, I thought. The rain started to pick up and I was on the verge of stopping to throw on my rain jacket, but within 5 minutes it died down and then stopped. That was the last rain we had to deal with while hiking on the entire trip, which was pretty incredible given the forecast.

As we got nearer to Investor Gap (where we were going to camp) I noticed that we weren’t seeing any water signs, and that there was only one marked stream that we were supposed to cross before making it to camp. Although I had never set camp while backpacking without a water source nearby, there really wasn’t a better option so we would just have to make it work by completely filling up ahead of time. Nervously we continued hiking, hopeful that the map was accurate. About a mile out from our camp, we finally hit a small trickle of water coming down the hillside that would have to do. All of us had depleted our water supplies for the day, an impressive 300 ounces! With James squatting deep in the bushes to access the water flow, we efficiently filled up all of our water bladders and bottles, and were on our way.

We were so close but still had one more climb to do to the top of Tennent Mountain. With my recently refreshed 130 ounces of water, my pack all of sudden became much heavier! At the top I took a few more pictures and admired the endless bald mountains, which were more visible now that the sky had cleared. One cool thing I noticed was a collection of about 20 trees that stood out all by themselves about a mile away. It was different how they stood alone among the otherwise treeless environment. It seemed like an area that would be great to camp in, but I didn’t know if it was even accessible.

The stray trees…

With only a mile of downhill trail left, we powered through the remainder of the trail and came to a wide opening around 5 PM. Numerous campsites lined the trailside, but we pushed on a little further. Before we knew it, we were right outside of the collection of trees! It still wasn’t clear if it was an accessible area, until I noticed a small trail that headed into the thick brush. I told the guys we should check it out. The little trail was quite overgrown and difficult to work through, which made me think that it wouldn’t lead to much, but then it burst out into a huge, awesome campsite! There was a nice common area with lots of room for cooking and seating, along with the quaint collection of trees. To top it all off, we were the only people in the area, wild blueberry and blackberry bushes were everywhere, and the sun was shining! Needless to say, I was extremely pleased with the site.

A perfect place to set up camp!

After setting up camp, I wandered along a side trail I had noticed at the outskirt of our camp. Like the trail to get into our camp, it was overgrown and difficult to get through at parts but the other end of it did not disappoint! Breaking through the shrubs I realized that the trail went up to a small cliff ledge with an incredible view. I was blown away with the beauty of our campsite and our good fortune in finding it. This awesome campsite alone made the entire trip worth it!

We made dinner, basked in the sun, and explored the area around us to fill the rest of the evening. To cap it all off, we were treated to a partial sunset on the rock ledge I had found earlier. The environment was perfectly serene and was an ideal conclusion to what had been a phenomenal day two. We’d experienced it all: physical exertion, long hours, views, sunshine, peace and quiet. I headed to bed utterly content with what the day had brought, and excited for what the next one would bring.

Sun going down from our rock ledge.

Day 3

After another restless night of sleep, my alarm finally went off at 6 AM. Although I always love mornings, I was especially excited for this one. While exploring the area around our campsite the previous evening, James had found a clear spot that faced directly east over the mountains. An ideal spot to watch the sunrise! I knew that the sun would start to peek out around 6:45-6:50, so I hurriedly made breakfast and coffee.

We were ready in plenty of time and strolled over to the viewpoint. Considering the clouds and fog we had been dealing with the past couple days, I wasn’t sure what kind of views we would get, if any. At first the sky was pretty, with little bits of orange poking through the grayish blue sky. As progressively more of the bright orange sun poked its way over the mountains, I could tell we were in for a treat! Our unimpeded view of the sun rising put an exclamation point on the end of our time at Investor Gap. It is a spot I will always remember and hope to return to again.

Sunrise progression…

Sun’s up, ready for another day

Our planned 3rd day of hiking consisted of 8.6 miles, with about 2,500 feet of elevation loss. A rather easy day, so we decided to climb Cold Mountain as a side trip. That would add on an extra 2.8 miles and 1000+ extra feet of elevation. We had to consider that Eric was planning to pick us up at 2:00 at Camp Daniel Boone (the northern terminus of the trail). I had arbitrarily chosen that pick-up time several days before we left and before we knew what our route would be, so I hoped that it would work! We did some hasty calculations based on our predicted speed, elevation profile and side trip without packs, and decided we could fit in Cold Mountain as long as we broke camp by 9:00. With our early morning rise to watch the sunset, we left camp ahead of schedule at 8:15. Always nice to be ahead of schedule!

The day started with a climb up another grassy hillside. I was feeling great, as now I was carrying an essentially empty bear canister, having eaten all the contents. My pack felt like a feather as I charged up the hill! The trail continued over the back of the hill and soon we were hiking through an area of dense trees. The trees had been beaten back just far enough to form a tunnel through the wilderness, and it made for some enjoyable easy miles on our sore legs. Eventually we broke through to a thinner trail that was only moderately covered in trees. After walking along this trail for a few minutes, we realized that we were essentially just walking along a cliff ledge, with enormous drop offs on either side of us! The hiking was rather technical, with numerous steep, rocky descents and ascents on the narrow trail. At one point I was looking around at the spectacular scenery surrounding me and briefly lost my balance, only to quickly regain it. I realized this wasn’t the place to take my eyes of the trail if I wanted to avoid rolling down the mountain!

Trail tunneling through thick woods. Sun’s trying hard to poke it’s way through…

Sun trying hard to poke it’s way through…

While the hiking was challenging and fun, it was slow work and I worried that we were falling behind schedule. At the ranger station they had told us that the descent to the end of the trail was rather technical, and we still had 3.8 miles to go once we got to the Cold Mountain Trailhead. The last mile plus of terrain had taken it out of me and I wasn’t sure how much more pounding my body could endure! After finally getting through “The Narrows” the trail eased up and we arrived at the Cold Mountain Junction at 10:15.

            After hiding our packs and loading up a lunch, we started up the trail pack-free, which felt absolutely amazing! But our feelings of freedom were soon dampened by a very steep section of trail, which had us all huffing and puffing. The trail was nice though, as each steep section was followed by a relatively flat section, and we even ran a few sections to take some time off our trip. We reached the top right around 11 and enjoyed a well-earned lunch. Once again the viewpoint was shrouded in clouds, but it was still a nice way to cap off our elevation gains for the trip. The top was wonderfully quiet and peaceful, and I marveled at how lucky we had been to have perfectly fine weather and absolutely zero crowds on our trip. Upon finishing lunch at 11:30, James prepared to “haul” down the mountain, with his goal being under 12 minutes. We held onto his stuff and wished him well as he borderline sprinted down the first section, quickly out of our sight. I decided to run down as well and began a very modest trot. Although I felt slightly loopy and unsteady on my feet, it felt good to do something besides walk for awhile!

Looking over the ledge of the “narrows”, a technical but scenic stretch of trail.

View from Cold Mountain

After reaching the bottom, James informed me that he had made it down in 11:45, just under his goal. It’s cool how experienced trail runners, just from studying the terrain and knowing themselves, can set a goal right at the perfect challenge point! Not too much later, Sam joined us and we hit the trail again at 12:10. At this point, my legs were wiped and my knees were sore, especially after my run down the mountain. Needless to say, I was dreading these last 3.8 miles of “technical” terrain. However, James (the designated map holder) informed me that the elevation drop in that distance was a very manageable 1,500 feet, not the 3,000+ feet I originally thought! With that information, my attitude improved tremendously.

For the rest of the trip the trail was simple and we made good time. Unlike the monotonous start of the hike, this trail was beautifully diverse, with numerous streams and rock fields scattered amongst the woods. We even saw a family of wild turkeys! Despite the overall difficulty of the Art Loeb Trail, I was pleasantly surprised how good my body felt. I have struggled with back, knee, and blister issues while hiking and backpacking in the past, and thankfully none of those were an issue on this trip. I was definitely tired and sore, but overall I felt like I could have continued hiking for another several days!

 It was clear that we were getting close to the end, as the terrain changed and the temperature got warmer. Finally, we saw the top of a building, and we knew we were close. Of course, the trail continued wrapping around endlessly as we anxiously awaited the final descent. Finally, the trail turned and headed straight down and we triumphantly stomped down onto the road. I checked my clock and it said 1:57! Perfect timing. I was proud because we had held up our end, but I figured Eric would be a little late due to the obscurity of the area of the trail’s end. Just as we were trying to figure out a good place to drop our packs so we could take a dip in the river, Eric rolled up at 1:58! The timing of it all couldn’t have been better, and I was proud that my intuitive 2 o’clock prediction made a week before held up perfectly.

James, always ready to run

We took a celebratory dip in the cool, crisp river and loaded up all of our stinky selves and gear into Eric’s car. Although the drive back to James’ car was much longer than anticipated, it was absolutely stunning as we got to enjoy many amazing views that were previously clouded over off the Blue Ridge Parkway, with the weather now sunny and clear. Lounging in the car during the drive, a feeling of relaxation, pride, and utter joy settled over me: the combination of better than expected weather, surprisingly challenging yet beautiful terrain, and exceptionally motivated companions allowed the trip to go better than I could have ever hoped.

Epilogue

I have been hooked on backpacking ever since my venture along the Wonderland trail following college graduation, however, I now feel like I have an entirely new sense of power and independence after planning, organizing, and completing this successful trip. I don’t know when or what my next trip will be, but I do know that my experiences from this trip have ensured that backpacking and the great outdoors have a life-long customer, and I cannot wait until the next challenge comes calling my name.   

ALL THE BEST FROM ARTIST POINT — Chain Lakes Loop, Ptarmigan Ridge Trail, and Table Mountain

All in one long day hike!  (8/16/17)

Chain Lakes Loop, Ptarmigan Ridge to Portals, Table Mountain

The plan for early last week had been to backpack into Yellow Astor Butte Wednesday and day hike Tomyhoi peak on Thursday. But plans change — my hiking partner Doug had a serious mouth infection from a root canal and wasn’t able to go, so we postponed our trip.

What’s a gal to do with a completely free day, mid-week, with the promise of sunshine tempting her from any and all responsibilities? GO ON A LONG DAY HIKE, OF COURSE! 

I’ve done this entire three-hike adventure once before, plus variations on the theme a couple other times.  All three hikes start at Artist Point, the end of the Mt. Baker Highway (542). No logging roads necessary for this adventure!

Stats on the Triumvirate

TOTAL MILES  —  Approximately 18.       ELEVATION GAIN  — 3775 feet.      HIGHEST POINT  —  6500.    DIFFICULTY — Hard.  Nothing is overly strenuous, but it’s long. And there was a fair amount of snow on Ptarmigan trail and some on Chain Lakes trail.    PERMIT — Northwest Forest Pass Required

Here’s the breakdown on the individual hikes…

Chain Lakes Loop

DISTANCE — 7 mile loop trail.     ELEVATION GAIN  —  1700 feet.     HIGH POINT  —  5400 feet (Herman Saddle).   DIFFICULTY  — Alltrails rates it Hard; I’d call it Moderate.

Ptarmigan Ridge Trail

DISTANCE —  11.2 RT to Portals (very end of the trail); 9 RT if you stop at the campsites.    ELEVATION GAIN —  1880 feet (Portals)  or 1350 feet (campsites).     HIGH POINT —  6500 feet (Portals) or 6100 feet (campsites).    DIFFICULTY — Alltrails rates it Hard.

Table Mountain

DISTANCE —  2.6 RT (if you continue along south rim of the table until trail’s obvious end).       ELEVATION GAIN —  725 feet.       HIGH POINT  —  5700 feet.    DIFFICULTY — Moderate; short but steep and quite exposed.

Getting to the Trailhead

I set off relatively early for this long day hike, leaving my Sudden Valley home at 7:20. I had to stop for fuel and a NW Forest Pass, as I still hadn’t purchased one for the year.  After securing the pass at the Glacier Ranger Station, I noticed time was slipping away.  I enthusiastically passed a few folks on a couple long straightaways headed east from Glacier. Happily, I momentarily had the highway to myself!

Until I hit road work, just after the turn-off to Hannegan Pass. It was pavement work requiring a pilot car. I was first in line to stop…and the cars I’d passed all came up behind me. I felt chagrinned in my haste, and sat with tempered impatience for the ten minutes required until it was our turn. Lesson learned — hurry up and wait.

It was 9:10 when I arrived at the Artist Point parking lot (elevation 5100 feet). I counted 13 other cars in the lot when I arrived — not bad for a sunny, mid-August morning. I organized as quickly as possible, taking mandatory photos of both Mt. Baker and Mt. Shuksan from the parking lot (you know you are in for great hiking views when the lot itself sports these views!) I was on the trail by 9:30.

Mt. Baker from Artist Point

Shuksan from Artist Point

Wild Goose trail to Bagley Lakes to Chain Lakes to junction with Ptarmigan Ridge (6 miles)

I started my hike counter-clockwise on the Wild Goose Trail, located at the corner of the parking lot by the restrooms. The signed trail heads steeply back down to the Austin Pass/Heather Meadows parking lot, about a mile of scenic but weirdly positioned “trail” loosely paralleling the road. Shuksan was out in all her splendor, even with a few clouds milling around. Beyond the Heather Meadows parking lot I followed signs to Bagley Lakes trail, and contoured down to and then crossed a cool stone bridge. A left turn after the bridge finally pointed me toward Herman Saddle, my first destination.

To reach the saddle, I had to regain all my lost elevation and then some.  First the trail (now called Chain Lakes trail) traversed along Upper Bagley Lake, and then the switchbacks began.  When I first hiked Chain Lakes Loop, over 20 years ago,  those switchbacks seemed endless. Dozens of years and trips up here later, they really flew by. Plus, the views back to Table Mountain (where I planned to end this long day hike), Shuksan, and the lakes below,  just kept getting better with each step.  I reached the saddle at 10:50 — too early for lunch, but good for an energy bar. And pictures. I could see both Baker and Shuksan, and Baker too sported some clouds — in particular a lenticular cloud right on her top. I am glad I got Baker photos then, as that proved to be the most clearly I would see her until the very end of the day.

Table Mountain from Chain Lakes Trail

Shuksan with cloud cover from Chain Lakes Trail

Looking up to Herman Saddle from Chain Lakes Trail

Baker wearing lenticular cloud, from Herman Saddle

There was snow heading down from Herman Saddle, as expected. Since I’ve done the loop so many times, route finding was not an issue, even when the trail disappeared into snow. Plus, enough other people had done it that footprints clearly marked the path through snow, despite hourly melt-off.  I hadn’t seen a person since the Austin Pass parking lot, something that surprised me. I relished the absence of other hikers, so unusual on this busy day hike. I also fully embraced the warm sun on my skin. I knew I might lose both, my solitude and sun, as the day continued. I wanted to fully embrace all that each had to offer in those moments as I descended to the Chain Lakes.

 

Shuksan and Upper Bagley Lake from Herman Saddle

Baker and Iceberg Lake from Herman Saddle

Views of Iceberg Lake dominated the descent. Then Hayes Lake came into view, and here I spotted my first two hikers, milling around one of several campsites available at this lake. They were hunters, actually, in full camouflage wear and carrying rifles. Yikes! I am always alarmed when I encounter hunters in the wilderness. I don’t know what they were hunting and I didn’t ask. But as I moved past them, I checked my judgment. While I don’t hunt or even fish, I am aware that others do, and as long as in compliance with regulations, it’s up to each individual to decide how to enjoy the outdoors. But I was happy to leave them behind!

 

Hayes Lake

Iceberg Lake and back up to Herman Saddle (left)

Wildflowers on Chain Lakes Loop

After final views of Iceberg Lake, the trail headed back up. Gradually at first, past Mazama Camps and Lakes off to my right, a place I’ve never explored in all my hikes around the loop. In fact I’ve never camped at any of the lakes, always preferring instead to hike or even run the loop.  Although rocky in places, the loop lends itself to great trail running, and I’ve done so several times in my past.

 

Shuksan in all her glory!

But no running on this day, only swift hiking. As I looked up to the snowfields yet to come, I could see other hikers coming down, hiking the loop clockwise. The snow sections looked easily doable, and I eagerly pressed on. I made the “top” in no time, arriving at the junction of Chain Lakes and Ptarmigan Ridge trails at 11:50. To complete the loop it would be 1.2 miles of traverse back to Artist Point and my car; but for me, the fun was just beginning!

I enjoyed a break on a nice flat rock overlooking Baker, Shuksan, the lake basin I’d just come up from, and the trail beyond. Baker was definitely covered in clouds — in fact, if I didn’t know she was there, I’d swear she’d disappeared in the last hour! Shuksan was out in all her glory, though. I snacked, took photos, and anticipated the ridge to come…

Ptarmigan Ridge is one of my favorite places to visit. I go there with great frequency — often, just in my mind. The place holds a depth of significance for me I can’t explain. But, when I am at ease or in contemplative mode, especially while working delivering massage,  I often find myself unexpectedly on the trail! Or at the Portals, sitting gazing at Mt. Baker. No kidding, this trail is magical, unfolding traverse after traverse (five total, if you go as far as you can), each building on the wonder of the previous. 

Ptarmigan Ridge Trail to Portals and back to Artist Point (10 miles)

A short section of trail took me to where I could see Ptarmigan Ridge Trail. I had initially been hesitant about doing Ptarmigan, as the rumor mill and WTA reports had said it was still quite snow covered. But my friend Oliver, who takes measurements on the Sholes Glacier (coming off Mt. Baker, right near the Portals), said he’d been there three times, and that snow was diminishing quickly.  That was good enough for me! But I did bring YakTrax for added traction. Snow lingers on some sections of this trail even in light snow years, and with this being a particularly heavy snow year, I knew it would be prevalent.

Beginning of Ptarmigan Ridge Trail

Snow on first section of Ptarmigan Ridge Trail

Wildflowers on Ptarmigan

The First Traverse

There were initial switchbacks then two snow traverses right off the bat. Neither were too bad, and soon I was into rocks mostly, with snow mixed in. I crossed a small stream running directly across the trail, then meandered through rock and snow to the next, larger streams. Here a family sat and gazed at the splendor, which included a magnificent display of wildflowers! After this stream crossing, I headed into mixed snow, semi-loose sand, and rocks. It was easy to lose the trail here, but not too hard to spot it ahead. Or footprints, or some combination of both. I worked my way up the steep snow slope, sometimes following footsteps, sometimes forging my own path. I knew I had to top out at the top of the sizable snowfield, and again, having done it so many times before, I had no real concern about which way to go.

At the top, I was rewarded with the more views of Shuksan, who had gone into hiding when the trail down. As I continued along the last section of what I considered the first traverse (it’s not a straight shot, but generally heads in the same direction, southeast) the views opened up dramatically.  I knew it would get better and better, and had to restrain myself from taking too many pictures. Eventually, I gained a hump, where a handful of good campsites were, and the trail turned slightly right, onto the second traverse.

First views of Shuksan from Ptarmigan Ridge Trail

From second traverse, Mt. Blum (left), Mt. Hagen (right)

Bacon Peak (left), Anderson Butte (right) from second traverse

Second Traverse

Views exploded on this section!  Shuksan was the superstar, but all along the skyline, it was peak after peak. Bacon Peak, Mt. Hagen, Mt. Blum, Anderson Butte, and so many more. The presence of clouds made the sky even more dramatic. My cell phone’s camera got heavy usage on this section! The first part of the traverse was on rock, but I could see steep snow slopes to come. I watched hikers going up, slowly, and chose to put YakTrax on just before these sections. I am glad I did, as those two snow fields right before the end of the second traverse were steep, and not one’s I would want to lose my footing on!

A side note about YakTrax: It’s possible, I’ve discovered,  to wear these traction aids on snow and rocks, at least the basic model I have, which doesn’t have spikes. On early alpine hikes this year,  I sometimes kept them on, even on non-snow sections, when I knew or suspected more snow was to come. That is what I did for this hike. I wore the Yaks for the remainder of the hike, all the way to the Portals and back down the very first snowfield of the hike (the one I had initially come up without them). This was both beneficial and a pain. Hiking on rocks with the wiry cage on the bottom of the boot can be dicey on rocks, and I did take one risky fall near the top of the Portals. Forgetting temporarily about the yaks, I stepped on a slab of rock that, not surprisingly,  my Yaks couldn’t find traction on. No biggie, except the trail at the very top is narrow with steep drop-offs! I did not make that mistake again. I did much of Ptarmigan with the Yaks mostly out of caution, but I will admit, also laziness and a desire to keep moving.  I didn’t want to stop to take them off and put them back on with each steep snow crossing, as there were just too many on this hike. So I simply left them on. It wasn’t an ideal solution. But that is what I chose to do, and the option worked well to give me extra confidence on snow. 

Back to the hike. At the top of the second traverse, I came into view of Baker again. She had been hidden from view, but now was back. Sadly, she was still covered in clouds. Quite dramatically, though. The trail ahead went into clouds, and the path behind was in sun. That’s the mountains for you!

Baker still in clouds, visible again at the top of second traverse.

View from top of second traverse.

Mt. Hagen and Goat Lake, end of third traverse.

Third Traverse

The trail turned due west for this .9 mile traverse. I encountered an abundance of wildflowers and quite a few people on this section. The wildflowers were mostly lupines and mountain heather — both out in their prime. The first group of folks I passed were taking photos (like me) of the wildflowers, with far superior camera gear, however. The second group was three hikers from Portland, all from the same hiking group. One of the group members was battling cancer, and the three came up to experience one more round of hiking in the North Cascades.  That definitely made me appreciative of my health, and affirmed my commitment to making the most of each day. I also encountered two of Oliver’s co-workers, sent to do measurements of the Sholes Glacier in his absence. Compared to how few people I’d seen all day, that was a lot of people to see in one short stretch of trail.

 

Shuksan, Third traverse

The section tops out at a junction with Goat Lake, 500 feet below.  I have never been to this lake, and today was not the day. The lake was all but snowed under — still. Just a few bare patches of icy blue were visible beneath abundant snow.

Baker still in clouds, fourth traverse

Fourth Traverse

After Goat Lake junction, the trail turned sharply right, and gained a bit more serious elevation. This section passed Kaiser Camp, a handful of campsites located just a bit down and off the trail. With each step I moved closer to Mt. Baker, still clouded in. The air temperature was noticeably cooler, both with clouds and the proximity to the mountain. I had to put on another layer during this stretch. Even eternally optimistic me could sense the futility in remaining in just my tank top!

View from fourth traverse, Ptarmigan

At the end of this traverse, there were a few trees to navigate through. Then, straight ahead, was the secret, hidden campsite that I have stayed at twice. I won’t give any details, or it won’t be secret anymore! But it’s a stellar one, and the only place I’ve camped on this trail.

Fifth Traverse

I continued on with the last traverse, which would take me right to the base of the Portals. There was a combination of snow, dirt, rocks, and flowers all along this sometimes steep traverse. I got cocky at one point, entering a snowfield, and slipped convincingly. I barely caught myself — free hands clawed into the snow in an attempt at self-arrest before I slipped down the steep slope in earnest. After that, I paid closer attention. While YakTrax helped, the slopes were steep, and I did not want to fall.

Lara Divide from approach to Portals

Looking back on fifth traverse…

Once across the snow, I was into rocks and sand. There were numerous great campsites here, all close to the trail, but with magnificent views of the entire range of mountains from Shuksan to Baker, and the Sholes Glacier off to the right. No water, though, so one would have to count on snow melt or carry extra water to camp here.  As mentioned, this campsite area is what WTA calls the end of the trail, 4.5 miles from Artist Point. I encountered two trail runners here, and they reported that they’d been “all the way to the beyond”, and that no one else was there. Beyond lay the Portals, rock formations that serve as accesses to Mt. Baker climbing routes.  The word “portal” always reminds me of the Harry Potter books…a place one goes to be magically transported to another place.

Ascending the East Portal rock formation to what I consider the end of the trail…

The very first time I went to all the way to what I consider the end of the Ptarmigan Ridge trail was with my daughter, Shannon. It took us three tries to make it all the way, and we felt extremely accomplished! Since then, I’ve been drawn back year after year.  Ascending the East Peak, I remembered all the times I’d done this route, and in the variety of different types of weather. I’ve been to the Portals a handful of times in sunshine, and a few times in clouds and bitter, cold wind. Even though I know this place, so close to Mt. Baker that it really does seem like one is climbing right into her lap, is a stark mountain environment,  I was still surprised at the continual drop in temperature. I WAS prepared, though, with multiple layers of clothes and gloves.

Baker swirled in clouds, portals

Perfect campsite!

Even with the heavy cloud cover, the views behind were just fantastic. The lighting was spectacular and the peaks behind me were still mostly clear, with mystical cloud formations creating a feast for the eyes. I am sure a real photographer would have had a hey day! Near the top of the peak, I noticed the coolest campsite ever. Again, it was right next to the trail, but with Shuksan in the backyard and Baker in front, it offered up quite the scenic spot for a night. Some day, I vowed I’d go there to camp.

A warning here:  The “trail” up East Peak (or East Portal) is easy to lose, and it happens to me at some point most every time I am here. Familiarity has made me comfortable with this, knowing that the trail is vague, as I know how it all comes together on the top. But for a first timer, be aware that “social trails”, paths that go off in a multitude of directions and sometimes just end, make it hard to follow the trail. It’s doable, though,  if you stay with what appears to be the most obvious trail, and if you can see something resembling trail ahead. And eventually, there is simply no more trail to be had, and one ends up at the very end of this fantastic overlook, right down to a knife-edge below. Sholes Glacier is to the right, Mt. Baker sprawled right in front, and that entire range of beauty all the way back to Shuksan. 360 degree views, broken only by Baker’s huge presence.

Shuksan from portals

Knife edge, looking down from East Portal

Glacial snow and ice on Mt. Baker

Portal Selfie — cold and windy!

I arrived at the end at 2:30 pm. Carefully, I plopped down on the very last rock. With drop-offs on three of four sides, I made sure to keep all my belongings close. I ate my lunch amid the swirl of clouds and listened to the wind, the marmot calls, and streams running far below. Being that close to something as unrelenting as Mt. Baker, with glacial rock and snow staring me down, made me feel huge in accomplishment and small by comparison.  I sat like that for thirty minutes, taking it all in, letting mother nature hold me firmly in her grasp.

Back to Artist Point

Trail headed back down from portals

View headed down from portals — magnificent!

Tiny wildflowers in rocky, barren section on Ptarmigan

Semi-reluctantly, I headed down. I still had Table Mountain to climb to complete the triumvirate. The way down was like a whole new trail, in terms of views. Late afternoon lighting made everything even more striking, and the visual feast just wouldn’t end. Not a soul did I encounter, all the way back to the junction with Chain Lakes loop. Solitude, beauty, mystery, magic. Everything I came for just kept happening with abundance! And to top it off, when I crested out from Ptarmigan, Baker was back! In all her glory, clouds mostly gone.

Shuksan view, headed back down from Goat Lake

Baker Lake from Ptarmigan

Ptarmigan Ridge trail headed back up to Chain Lakes trail

 

Baker out again! End of Ptarmigan ridge trail

 

Last section of trail headed to Artist Point

 

I reached the parking lot at 5:00. There was a couple at the corner of the lot, and they immediately pummeled me with questions. It’s like they were waiting for a person who looked like they knew something about the trails. Turned out, they were a retired couple from San Francisco, hiking near Baker as part of a long road trip. At first, I felt impatient with their questions, as I wanted to embark on Table and finish off the day. But I LOVE talking trail, and couldn’t help but become completely engaged with them as they questioned me about the best hikes in the area — both for their car (a Prius, which has a lower clearance than my Subaru) and their desire not to get into too challenging of snow. We chatted for at least 15 minutes, and I suggested they climb Table at that point, as the day was getting short.

They went back to their car for poles and provisions, and I set off on my final hike of the day.

Table Mountain (2 miles)

I’ve only done this short hike perhaps five times. The first time was with my kids when they were quite young, maybe 6 and 8. In retrospect that was quite an adventure for them I’m sure! The trail has incredibly steep drop-off’s in its short ascent, and on the top too.  If you look at Table Mountain, there are two parts. The first, what I call Table Rock, is a mere 3/4 of a mile from the parking lot. Many people only go this far, and call that Table Mountain. The drop-off’s here are extreme, but so are the views!

Looking down from Table Rock to Bagley Lakes and entire lower trail system

View down from Table Rock…

If you continue on, however, a nice meandering trail goes along the south rim of the “table” for another mile or so. I like to take this trail, as it moves one away from all the  people on the Rock.

Baker from Table Mountain

Top of Table Mountain, from my spot of solitude

Looking at Table Rock on Table Mountain

To end my long day, I took the longer trail for a ways into an open area — views all around, snow, and quiet and solitude. I needed and wanted to sit in silence as a culmination of this fantastic day before calling it done. I dropped by the Rock before I went down, and all the hikers I could see from my earlier high perch were now gone. I had my alone moments there, too, before I descended the steep but mercifully short switchbacks.

Parting Shot…

Just before the parking lot, also coming down, I ran into the SF couple again. They introduced themselves as Art and Nancy, and we picked up our conversation again. They had only gone as far as Table Rock, but commented that they saw me communing with nature up farther on the Table. We continued chatting, back at our cars. I asked them to take a parting picture, and did the same for them. They were such a sweet couple, and I loved engaging with them!  I think we could have talked for hours. I felt at times like they wanted to adopt me! But they had a campsite to return to, and I had a 1.5 hour drive home. Eventually, we parted ways. And I was reminded again of the balance I am always seeking — solitude vs. the keen desire to engage with others. This day had a good amount of both.

I left the parking lot at 7:30, with just six other cars still remaining. As I drove the winding roads back down the Mt. Baker Highway, my heart was full to capacity. There is a part of me that longs to be in that environment, always. I know I can’t dwell there, my other life also calls. But to be immersed in the presence of giants for an entire day, and to traipse the miles and trails through flowers, snow, rocks, harshness and sunshine, brought joy and peace to my sometimes restless being.

End of a long and great day…

 

 

The mountains keep calling, and I will go back! 

Delightful Mt. Dickerman

Mt. Dickerman (July 31, 2017)

In all my years of hiking, I had never done Mt. Dickerman, despite it’s easy access right off the mountain loop highway. Had I missed out!  Doug and I hiked this gem early last week, on a sunny weekday before the smoke from Canadian Wildfires came in. Few people for a very popular day hike, summit views that couldn’t be beat, perfect weather, and just the right amount of challenge all made for a  perfect day. This hike was quite possibly my favorite this year.  Sometimes you stumble upon things at just the right time…

View from Mt. Dickerman

Stats on Mt. Dickerman

Location  —  Mountain Loop Highway, east of Granite Falls     Required — Northwest Forest Pass    Distance — 8.2 Round trip     Elevation gain  3950 feet   High Point — 5760    Difficulty Level  “Hard”  (according to Mountaineers…we found it moderate)

Why Mt. Dickerman?

This hike is very popular, and it’s crazy that it never got on my radar. Thinking back, it’s because an old boyfriend had a bad experience in snow early season, and that colored his impression. His recollections colored mine, and I never even thought of it as an option. But with all the time I’ve been spending at the Lake Goodwin summer home, and searching for day hikes close by, it seemed a good bet for Doug and I as a Monday hike based from the lake.  Doug HAD done it before, but he had done it in fog and with no views. So he was more than game to do it again.  

Mt. Dickerman trailhead is located directly off the Mountain Loop highway, which no doubt increases it’s popularity. There are no bad logging roads to be had. The parking lot also accesses Perry Creek, another day hike which I know nothing about. Reading trip reports on this hike, people often comment that these two hikes are so busy, you can’t find a spot in the large lot. But on this weekday late morning, there were only a dozen cars in the parking lot, a good omen for us.

The Hike!

It was a typically late start for Doug and me, and we didn’t hit the trail until nearly noon. As we were heading out, we spoke with a couple just coming off the mountain. They said it was the best hike they’d done — ever! It’s hard to beat that, and Doug and I set off enthusiastically on our mission to the top. 

The switchbacks for the first couple of miles seemed endless. Steady and steep, with nothing but a rather boring forest to get through. It was a warm, cloudless day, with plenty of sweating to be had. But we knew we’d be rewarded for our efforts, so we pressed on. 

After several miles, we started getting our first peek-a-boo views. We could see Big Four and Vesper Peak, the hike that had nearly defeated me a couple of weeks before. We passed a few people coming down, but mostly had the trail to ourselves, something that seemed remarkable after reading about the popularity of the hike. 

Big Four

First wildflowers

Once we broke into meadow, we were rewarded with wildflowers, at their peak right about now. The flowers and switchbacks continued, with views every which way. At one point, a gal and her dog coming down said encouragingly “Only 1/4 mile to go!” Dickerman has lots of false summits, and she was not exactly right in her assessment. But we pressed on, switchback after switchback. The going wasn’t particularly challenging, and we were easily distracted from the seemingly endless ‘up’ by the unfolding views. 

Views just keep coming…

Trail views!

I wasn’t sure what to expect on top. On almost every hike Doug and I have done this year, we have ended up with the summit to ourselves. Perhaps its because we are able to hike on weekdays, perhaps because we tend to get a late start, but for whatever reason, this has been our experience on all recent alpine hikes. Dickerman’s top was amazingly similar. 

The Summit!

The summit of Mt. Dickerman was sublime — and worth every step and drop of sweat to gain it. There were more summit views than we could fathom. Doug occupied himself taking pictures every which way and trying to discern which peaks were which. We based ourselves on the very top, right near the edge that drops sharply north into adjacent valleys between Stillaguamish Peak, Mount Forgotten, and Twin Peaks. To the west and north, we could see Three Fingers, Whitehorse, White Chuck, Mt. Pugh and Sloan Peak.  Beyond, we could see Mt. Baker, Shuksan, and Glacier Peak. Also visible were Monte Cristo, Del Campo, Morningstar, Sperry, Vesper Peak, Big Four, and Mt. Pilchuck. It was a peak lovers paradise! 

Del Campo, Vesper Peak, and Mt. Sperry

Happy and sweaty at the top

Three Fingers and Whitehorse from top

In terms of people, there was just one lone guy and two gals up there with us. The summit was large, and there were many places to hang out. All summits should be like that of Dickerman, as each hiker or hiking party could claim their spot and enjoy solitude or choose to interface with others. We chatted with the guy, a student of Naturopathic medicine at Bastyr University in Seattle, and watched the two gals below entertaining birds by letting them eat out of their hands. We enjoyed sandwiches and fruit, our current go to trail food, and completely immersed ourselves in all the glory the summit had to offer. I was simply blown away that I had never been up there, and enjoyed every minute of soaking it all in. 

We stayed on top for an hour, but time, again, was getting away from us. We headed down about 4:00, so as to be back at the car by 6:00. The switchbacks down were steep and monotonous, but it was a small price to pay for the overall experience. We returned to the lake for dinner, a great way to  end a fantastic day. 

Doug and Whitehorse and Three Fingers

Mt. Sperry left (snow covered), Vesper Peak, right (rock)

Chilling on top…Mt. Baker in back

Glacier peak in back

Highlights

An easily accessible peak I had not done before, in full sunshine with stellar views, a reasonable distance and challenge, and a popular hike with no crowds — it doesn’t get much better than that. Every aspect of Mt. Dickerman was a highlight!

However, the highlights of this hike really hit home in the aftermath. Returning to Bellingham Monday night, we had no idea what was coming our way. Waking up Tuesday morning, smoke from multiple fires in Canada had completely permeated the region, all the way down to Seattle and over to the Olympic Peninsula. Suddenly, Whatcom county and every surrounding county was in a smoke filled haze. A week later, as I write this post, that is still the case. The fact that Doug and I got to experience the beauty of Mt. Dickerman just before the smoke made it all the more significant in hindsight.

If you go…

Go mid-week if you can. It’s difficult to imagine what this hike would be like on a busy summer weekend. Possibly similar to North Bend’s Mt. Si, although the parking lot doesn’t hold anywhere near as many cars. Our experience was so completely shaped by the lack of people and crowds,  I am sure it would be different if we had to deal with those things.

Go on a clear day. Doug had done this hike before, but with almost no views from the summit. He was blown away by the difference the views made in terms of work required to get there.

While the hike is nearly 1000 feet a mile, it didn’t seem that hard. For whatever reason, perhaps because we’ve been hiking so much, or perhaps because the views once you exit the forest just kept getting better and better, the four miles flew by. The effort of this hike was completely erased by the outstanding rewards on the summit. 

WTA aptly sums it up:  “With the possible exception of Hidden Lake Lookout, this is the finest summit view around — a rare chance to get so close to so many other summits at the same time. Mount Dickerman may have asked a lot of you to get here, but it will have more than held up it’s end of the bargain.”

Here’s the link to WTA’s info. on Mt. Dickerman

 

Trapper Peak/Thornton Lakes

Thornton Lakes/Trapper Peak (July 27, 2017)

Scene from Trapper Peak trail

I took my second trip to Thornton Lakes/Trapper Peak last week on a day hike with Doug. What a fantastic hike! With a late start and the challenge of the summit push, we opted to turn around just short of the summit of Trapper Peak. However and fortunately, this is one of those trails where the views are spectacular even before the summit, and we completely enjoyed ourselves even though we didn’t quite make the top.

Stats on Thornton Lakes/Trapper Peak:

Located off Highway 20, 11 miles east of Marblemount.   Distance — 10.6 round trip to Trappers Peak, 10.2 to Lower Thornton Lake.   Elevation gain — 3700 feet to top of Trapper.    High point — 5964 feet.     Difficulty —  Mountaineers call it “very strenuous”.

Know ahead of time…

In contemplating where to take our Thursday hike, we had a few reservations about doing this hike. The first was the five mile logging road off of highway 20, which trip reports had said was really rough. One car even turned around and bailed out, it was that bad.

The second issue was recent trailhead break-ins. Since no pass is required at the trailhead, no rangers are out on patrol. Unfortunately there had been a round of recent break-ins, with several cars having had their windows smashed. Of course this can happen at any trailhead, but it had happened as recently as two days prior to our planned hike.

Our third consideration was bugs. Some reports had said they were really a nuisance. Since there are always bugs this time of year, and after carefully weighing other hiking options in the area, we decided to not let any of these things stop us. We had our hearts set on Trapper Peak, and embarked on our adventure despite any reservations.

Getting to the trailhead

Yes, the road was bad. I had to crawl most of that five-mile logging road, as it resembled a washboard more than a road at times. But with care and no attempt to move at anything other than a snail’s pace, we made it up. I’ve been on worse roads, but this one was pretty bad.

In the parking lot, we could see smashed glass from the break-ins and nearly parked in it.  There was a sign posted on the board that read….”Break in on 7/22”. And in another person’s writing “And on 7/23. Hide your wife! Hide your kids!” We could only hope the vandals weren’t out that day.

The hike!

We were ready to hit the trail at 1:00, a typical but unfortunately late start. I stated I wanted to be back at the car by 8:00, so as to have enough daylight to easily see the road out. That gave us 7 hours.  I had done the trail before, Doug had not, and frankly I didn’t remember much about it, difficulty level or otherwise. What I did remember was the fabulous views down to all three Thornton Lakes. And the mountains of course — the Pickets, Mt. Triumph, and a whole array of others that awaited us.

We cruised the first two miles on an old logging road, gaining little elevation. Then the trail steepened and caution was required with footing. Nothing like Vesper Peak which I’d done two weeks prior, but rocks and roots kept us on our toes. At 4.5 miles the trail opened up and we hit a signed junction. Down to Thornton Lakes or up to Trapper? There was no question which way we’d go, as the peak was calling.

 

First view of Lower Thornton Lake

It was only about a mile from the split up to the summit of Trapper. But what a mile! The elevation wasn’t the hard part…it was the route itself. Sometimes hauling ourselves up steep rocks, sometimes scrambling, often using both hands and feet. I used to be a rock climber, so this was not a challenge for me, but Doug struggled some. Our progress was slow, as we took the time necessary to insure safe upward progress.

Mt. Triumph and Lower Thornton Lake

Trail scrambling

Views unfolded dramatically as we went. It was like wandering into a wonderland of peak after peak. That helped with the challenge of the route, and we kept at it. Finally at about 4:30, we reached a natural stopping point. We could see that we were not yet to the summit, as it stood teasing us straight ahead. We still hadn’t yet eaten lunch yet after our late breakfast, so we stopped there to enjoy our food, the dramatic views, and to evaluate.

Doug and Pickets!

Kathie and Pickets

Lunch break!

As we ate, we considered options. Looking toward the summit, the trail was less than obvious. We knew there was a trail, but from where we sat it appeared vague at best. We figured to continue to the summit would likely take us another half hour up, at least ten minutes to enjoy the views, then another half hour down. I could see time ticking away. I did not want to drive out the road in the dark, and Doug worried that his slower pace would cause us to be back at the car too close to dark. We opted to eat, then go exploring up the ridge, see if the boot-beaten trail continued.

Paul Bunyon’s Stump, left, Snowfield Peak and The Needle, right

Primus Peak, left, Eldorado Peak, right

Picket Range

It did, although there were frequent short scrambles over rocks which slowed us. It was also getting late. We turned around just short of the summit, maybe 300 vertical feet from the top. Part of me wished we’d gone on, no question. But the views we had, and the strong desire to make it down a difficult trail and out to the highway before dark, made the decision obvious.

It’s good we turned around when we did. We were careful going down, but I still twisted my ankle badly and Doug slipped a couple of times. It wasn’t a quick hike — the way down took two hours, 45 minutes and the way up took 3.5 hours — but what a beauty!  We were back to the car by 8:00. Right on schedule.

Highlights

As hikes go, this one had great views once we got out of the forest. I loved the lake views as they emerged below the ridge, one, two, then three. To  see the three lakes stair-stepping up the lower slopes of Mt. Triumph — the first snow-free, the second half melted, and the third still iced over —was magical. 

View of all three lakes…notice top lake is still completely snow covered

In addition, once we’d done our time in the trees, the constantly expanding views were priceless. There was a big visual bang for our hiking buck for sure!

If you go:

Trapper’s Peak is totally worth the effort! I imagine Thornton Lakes would be a great destination for a shorter backpacking trip. We met one father/son duo coming out after staying the night, and much later at 7:30, four young women were just heading in — I doubt they made it before dark! But this hike is a bit more challenging than the average hike. Allow plenty of time to put the climb behind you so you have time to really soak up the views. Be aware of the road, know about break-ins, and be prepared for some not-so-straightforward trails.

And the bugs? Black fly season was thankfully ending, so bugs that had been horrendous a few days before had become only a minor nuisance. Hooray!

Another great hike to add to this year’s repertoire!

The Challenge of Vesper Peak — Take 3!

I have a complex relationship with Vesper Peak, located off the Mountain Loop Highway in the North Cascades. I am repeatedly drawn back, but each time I go, I am astounded at how physically and mentally challenging it is. It’s been nearly two weeks since I last visited Vesper (July 19), and I’ve spent that time reflecting on the difficulty of the hike, and what it may mean for my hiking future. The Vesper Challenge carried on after doing the doing the peak to processing the impact to now, finally, trying to capturing the Complete Vesper Experience in words. I’ve attempted Vesper three times, summited twice, and at last I think I am done — at least with the peak. The lessons learned will stay with me, no question about it.

Stats on Vesper Peak

A quick digression: Sometimes, the reported length of a summit trail varies greatly, depending on which information you look at. Vesper is one of those.  WTA (Washington Trails Association) calls it 8 miles round trip;  AllTrails calls it 5.5 one way;  Wikipedia calls it 10 roundtrip.  Which to believe? Based on what I know about my sense of distance and hiking speed, I am going with Wikipedia’s 10 miles RT.

 LOCATION— Off Mountain Loop Highway, 18 miles South of Darrington and 21 miles East of Granite Falls.    TRAILHEAD — Sunrise Mine trail #707      DISTANCE — 10 miles (give or take)      SUMMIT ELEVATION — 6214 feet      ELEVATION GAIN — 4200 feet     DIFFICULTY — Rated as Difficult

Previous Vesper Hikes

A current trip report would not make much sense without a mention of my two previous Vesper hikes…

First failed attempt, June 2015

On a cool summer day in mid-June of 2015, my son Kyle, his girlfriend Lauren and I made an attempt on Vesper. It was a low snow pack year, and the hike seemed doable even that early. Several things happened that day, however, such that we failed in our summit attempt:

My hiking companions, Kyle and Lauren

First, we lost the trail soon after breaking out of the forest and brush — about a mile in. I have since learned that this is very common on this unmaintained trail. Before this first attempt, I didn’t put much stock in WTA trip reports, and I rarely, if ever, took the time to read them. Now, two years and a few attempts later, I have read dozens of trip reports for this hike. It’s amazing how many hikers report losing the trail in this same rocky section!  What happens to others, happened to us, and Kyle, Lauren and I lost track of the trail going up the steep rocks. We got up high, then had to work our way back over to the trail on loose, unstable rocks.  Lauren took a fall, which made us all nervous. Once we got back on trail, we kept going, up to Headlee Pass (4600 feet). Confident again once we were en route, we continued our summit quest.

However, our second problem occurred because we had not taken time to read the route description up to the summit. I take responsibility for this — I was designated “trip leader”.  Instead of crossing Vesper Creek and heading up the rock face to the summit, Kyle, Lauren, and I innocently waltzed along the trail to beautiful Vesper Lake. Beyond the lake we could see something of a trail heading up to what we thought was Vesper Peak. We followed that “trail” as best we could, Kyle leading, but the going was hairy and challenging, sometimes in snow, and always steep and vague.  Lauren and I didn’t like it much, and, while Kyle did his best to be the cheerleader, I could tell he was a bit nervous and unsure too. We finally topped out on a pass, with a grand view, and we could see people progressing upward to what we thought was the summit of Vesper.

Third, as we ate lunch, watched and evaluated, several things became clear. The day was cool, some clouds had come in, and it was quite windy. None of us were dressed warmly enough for the conditions. And the route the climbers were taking was steep and snowy, and looked treacherous. We only had lightweight hiking shoes and no traction devices. Kyle and I wanted to continue, despite our lack of preparedness. But Lauren, thankfully, was the voice of reason. She said she would not go, but would wait for us there if we wanted to proceed. I didn’t feel right about leaving her waiting on a cold and windy pass, and deep down, I knew she was right in her assessment. So we all turned back.

Later, Kyle and I looked carefully at the map, and learned that we were going for the wrong summit! The mountain we were actually attempting to climb was Mt. Sperry, Vesper’s next door neighbor. It’s much less popular, and is even more of a “climbers route” than Vesper.  I am grateful to Lauren (and eventually common sense) that we turned back on that day. Vesper stayed on the brain, though, and I wanted to go back…

Second (successful) attempt, July 2015

Ready for conquest, Kyle and I returned to Vesper a month later. This time, Lauren bowed out, and instead Kyle’s buddy Jack came along. Many things went right on this trip — unfortunately,  weather was  not one.

This time, we learned from our previous mistakes.  On the steep rock slope, we paid careful attention and followed hard to see cairns (rock piles) along the way to the more obvious route up to Headlee Pass. It was a struggle for me to keep up with mountain goats Kyle and Jack, but they were nice enough to wait for me at regular intervals. I noticed the challenge of the trail more this time around, as the faster pace combined on the loose rocks required constant vigilance. But  I fed off Kyle and Jack’s youthful energy and enthusiasm, and we reached Headlee pass quickly. Beyond the pass, we did not make the same mistake in heading to the lake, but crossed Vesper Creek and headed up toward the summit.

Kyle foreground, Kathie background, headed up Vesper Peak

Vesper in the fog

The summit approach was a bit of a challenge, somewhat increased by our weather conditions of drizzle and fog. It wasn’t an ideal day for a summit bid, but I am not sure any of us cared. We were all on the same mission! The rock slabs were snow-free but steep,  and I followed the boys as they picked their way up. Thankfully, I only had to focus on my footing, not route-finding — as long as I could see one of them, I just headed in that direction. I’d requested they keep me in sight, and, with the fog, that meant they couldn’t get too far ahead.

We made the summit,  but, unfortunately, couldn’t see a thing from the top.  It was cold, and this time I was prepared but Kyle wasn’t. He put on a shirt of mine to keep warm. He termed it “feminine green” in color, and his hefty arm and shoulder muscles nearly burst it’s stretchy seams!  We stayed on top long enough to eat a quick lunch, then headed down as fast as we could. The entire hike down was just as hard as going up for me, with lots of loose rock and uneven footing. I tried to keep up, but constantly fell behind. Kyle and Jack were patient with me, and we all had a grand time, even though the weather was poor and the path challenging.

Kyle in “feminine green”, after Vesper at Lake 22

Fun loving Kyle and Jack!

Back at the car, our spirits were high. We’d done it! None of us felt ready to call it a day. So we drove the several miles from the Sunrise Mine trailhead to the Lake 22 trailhead, and whipped out that hike too. The whole thing made for a 16-plus mile day with lots of elevation, and the whole adventure was fun and invigorating, despite the dreary weather. I felt good and strong throughout, even though I was bested by the boys. Together we’d bested Vesper, and pulled off a phenomenal hiking day, and I got to feed off the energy of two of my favorite hikers for a day.

But still I couldn’t rest on the Vesper desire. I desperately wanted to be on the summit with sunshine and a view, and so I went back…

Vesper Take 3 — July 19, 2017

Two weeks ago, I went alone to the family summer home at Lake Goodwin planning for a couple days of writing. Proximity to the Mountain Loop Highway and nice weather prompted me to say “WTF, I think I’ll take a hike!”  for one of those days. I decided on a solo bid of Vesper, on what promised to be a sunny Wednesday.  I was confident I would succeed, and drove to the trailhead in good spirits.

The way up

There was a road washout leading to the trailhead, but reports said it was easy to navigate around. It was doable enough, and I arrived at the trailhead at 11:30 am. I had an online class at 6:00 that night, and figured I’d have plenty of time to whip out Vesper and drive the 1.5 hours back to the lake in time for my class…ha!

From the get go and as I remembered, the Sunrise Mining trail required careful footing. At first it was roots, rocks,  and careful stream crossings (four) for the first mile, until I broke out into the opening. Then I was into brush so dense and overgrown that at times I couldn’t see the trail. Always, the footing underneath was uneven and tricky and required that constant vigilance I remembered from before.  I knew and expected this, but it still gave me pause and kept me going at a slow enough pace to keep from turning an ankle or twisting my knee. The unfolding views across the valley to Mt. Dickerman and up the valley towards Morningstar and my old friend Sperry kept me moving.

Looking up toward Headlee Pass

Looking back down…

Once onto the rocks, I made sure to follow the cairns. The path was an often vague traverse and upward progression on small boulders and loose rocks. Sometimes the rocks held, and sometimes they did not. Since my last time here, I’d had knee replacement and bilateral foot and ankle surgeries. That brought my total to five knee and eight foot and ankle surgeries, and, frankly, I felt tentative and cautious as I worked my way across the boulder field. I had to keep a frustratingly slow pace,  and anything resembling a hiking rhythm eluded me. I greatly missed my younger hiking companions, Kyle, Lauren, and Jack.  I felt lonely on my vigil, despite encountering a handful of other hikers.

Headed up to Headlee pass, I encountered the first snow. Most times, the trail went around it with ease, but sometimes a bit of scrambling was required to skirt the snow fields. I was amazed that we had done this route in June and early July of 2015, since in the second half of July this year I encountered more snow than on either previous trip.  Once at the top of Headlee Pass, the views start to really open up, and I felt rewarded for my efforts. Again, I was amazed that the trail never eased up, as the route continued across loose rock. Brave Penstemon bloomed right out of the rocks, and the beauty of that was inspiring.

Rock Penstemon

Rocky trail continues….

Crossing swift Vesper creek was relatively easy. Very quickly I was into snow, and I stopped to put on traction devices. I enjoyed the views down to mostly snow-covered Vesper Lake, again reflecting on how different it was two years ago when it was snow-free.

Then “the trail” was in and out of snow all the way up. I followed foot prints, as at least four people I’d seen on the way down had been on the summit that day. Sometimes the route went up through tree gullys, slick with mud, and was barely discernible. I remembered this from the previous time, and knew I was on the correct route. The snow towards the top got alarmingly steep, and I looked at the multitude of glissade (“sliding on your butt”) paths right down the mountain. Clearly, people were just letting it fly once they were up, but I knew I would not do that. I felt cautious going up and knew I would need to be more careful coming down. The idea of losing control on snow freaked me out.

Vesper Lake in fog, 2015

Vesper Lake in snow, 2017

 

 

 

 

 

Carefully and meticulously I worked my way up. I could see a couple leaving just as I was approaching the summit, which meant I would be alone. Normally, I crave solitude on the trail, but this time, I was hoping for company to share the victory with. I arrived at the top at 2:30, three hours after I started. A slow pace for me, and I knew it was unlikely I would make it back in time for my class. I tried to relax with this reality, enjoying the truly spectacular summit views. I could see Mt. Sperry right in front of me, Mt. Pugh, Sloan Peak, and Mt. Baker to the north, Glacier Peak to the east, and Mt. Stuart, Mt. Daniel, and even a glimpse of Mt. Ranier to the south. Perhaps most spectacular was the sheer 1000 foot drop on the north side down to Cooper Lake below. I enjoyed circumferential views and took a few selfies, but I was nervous about going down the steep upper section of the snow. I wanted to get down before shade or cooling temps, and kept my summit time to thirty minutes.

 

Glacier Peak!

Looking down to Copper Lake

Vesper Selfie

Peaks — Gothic Peak (right), Morningstar (foreground)

Looking across Sperry toward Mt. Baker

The way down

As expected, going down the snow was more challenging than coming up. I stuck to my own foot prints as best I could, one at a time, using my poles for added braking. As mentioned, multiple glissade paths indicated others had simply slid down on their butts. They must have had ice axes or been more risk takers than me, or both. Not willing to risk a fall, I picked my way down like I came up, slowly and carefully, checking each step to make sure it would hold. Once off the steep stuff, I breathed a sigh of relief and took off my YakTrax.

But I still had to get down all the rocks that I came up,  and it seemed to take forever. Slowly progressing down, I vacillated between frustration and amazement with the effort involved to secure each step.  I could never relax and just cruise along. Literally, there was not one section of this trail that didn’t require precision with foot placement.  Descending the endless rocks was tedious, and, even with extreme caution, I still tripped and slipped at least 15 times. I stopped counting at ten. This was not a reflection of fatigue or carelessness — it just happened. I had to remind myself to slow down with each slip, and this took a mental and physical toll. When I arrived back at the car 2.5 hours after leaving the summit, I felt completely drained. And late. I knew I wouldn’t make it back for my class in time, but I was relieved to at last be done.

Why was Take 3 SO DIFFICULT?

That night I was completely wiped out. I felt utterly mentally and physically drained. Not from the cardiovascular output, as I couldn’t go fast enough to get that. But from the constant vigilance required to manage the perpetually challenging footing. My right arthritic ankle hurt more during and after this trip than at any time since surgery, and I couldn’t walk without sharp pain.  My replaced knee was fluid- filled and sore, although it mostly recovered after a day or so. But overall, that ten mile endeavor seemed, frankly, all my orthopedically challenged body could handle. I struggled to accept this, and my feeling of near-despair lingered. This hiking experience, instead of uplifting me, put me into a week-long funk! That doesn’t happen often, so I paid attention.

I kept asking myself, Does this experience mean that my hiking future can only be on established trails,  that I can no longer go to places that are only accessible off the beaten path?  I felt intensely conflicted even thinking about this, as there are still SO many hikes I want to do that are like Vesper, and the idea of having to give that up made me feel old, defeated, and on the way out. But I also don’t like to suffer, and there was a fair amount of suffering on this last Vesper excursion. How do I balance my strong desire to go with the reality of my current physical being?

As I grappled with these questions, I went back and looked at each of my three Vesper excursions. How could I take what I learned on each trip, successfully apply it to my current processing, and let those lessons serve as a guide for the future?

The Vesper Lessons

Trip One

The most obvious lesson here is know the route and nuances of the trail. I have gotten much better at this, and, as mentioned, I have become a huge fan of WTA trip reports. Both errors, getting off trail and heading to the wrong summit, could have been avoided if we had paid more attention. The extra time and effort spent getting off trail and  then back on is sometimes immense. Lauren’s fall and recovery not only cost us time, but also emotional energy. And going for the wrong summit actually prevented us from making it to the top of Vesper. As trip leader, I felt responsible and worried, and like our errors could have been avoided.

Second, it was great to have Lauren as a voice of reason. I have learned from that experience that I can say no, can turn around, and it can be OK. That was the first time I can remember NOT going for a summit, and I am thankful we did not. Lauren’s common sense eventually filtered into mine, such that I KNEW without question that we made the right choice. Since then, I have backed off on my need to always push on to the summit.

Kyle and Lauren at Mailbox Peak, near Seattle. Thanks Lauren for your presence of mind and keeping us sane!

Trip Two

The lessons here are mostly all positive. Simply put, I felt less pain, discomfort, angst, and displeasure with the weather and trail since I was hiking with Kyle and Jack. I love to hike alone and do so often. But sometimes my head space gets more cluttered with negativity and what’s not going right when I’m alone. This trip, while not favorable in weather, was successful and fun despite conditions. Under those positive circumstances, going on and pushing the limits like we did, had a huge pay off. And it was great to share in it together.

Trip Three

Trip three taught me about time. I put pressure on myself by starting late, and trying to knock this one off too quickly. Once I realized the difficulty I was having, I could have slowed down, enjoyed my surroundings,  and not felt so frustrated by slow progress. Had I done this, my whole trip might have gone differently. Racing the clock, trying to make the summit in a certain amount of time such that I could be back in time, affected my enjoyment.

In truth, so too did the terrain. There is nothing I can do to change that. But I can change my approach for the future, if I choose to go off the beaten path, I have to plan for, and accept psychologically, that it’s only going to happen slowly and carefully. When I encounter tricky terrain with a Kyle in my future, perhaps I can turn it on. But for now, I will be content with slowing down on trails that are less than straightforward.

However, I know now I won’t give up. That first week following Vesper, I thought that was it. That I would have to put my ambitions of other such endeavors to rest. Now, 12 days after the fact, I feel confident that I can slow down enough to have the enjoyment of such a hike take precedence over the discomfort involved with doing it.

Know if you go…

Vesper is very worthwhile if you are willing to pay attention to every step and take care with route finding. It’s not a trail for beginners, or those wanting to zone out. WTA calls it a step beyond…I would say it’s many steps beyond. Worth it? Yes, if you are physically in good shape, and don’t have an abundance of lower body ailments. And don’t do it on a tight time schedule. My six hours was as fast as I could go safely, and it would have been even nicer to have had more time to relax and enjoy the spectacular views once I reached the summit.

Snowking Mountain and Mt. Formidable, background, Mt. Pugh and Sloan Peak foreground

Sperry Peak (foreground), Glacier Peak in back

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

One more note: by the time this post gets up, snow will all but be a memory for most of this route. It’s melting quickly, and subsequent hikes I’ve taken have all been mostly snow-free. Yep, I’m still out there hiking! Stay tuned for more posts to come.

 

A Perfect Spring Hike

East Bank Baker Lake Trail

It’s been a cold, wet spring so far, and the mountains are slow to open their hiking doors. Looking for a good spring hike that would get us close to the mountains, my friend Doug and I settled on the East Bank Baker Lake trail for a day hike earlier this week.

Baker Lake

Why Baker Lake Trail?

We chose the Baker Lake Trail, accessed at the end of the Baker Lake Road off of Highway 20,  for several reasons:

  1. I have not done it before!  After 23 plus years of hiking in and around Bellingham, it’s getting increasingly difficult to find hikes in a two-hour driving radius that I have not hiked. I have done the Baker River Trail, which shares the same trailhead, at least five or six times. The River trail is flat, only 5.2 miles round trip, and hence a very easy hike. It’s a great kid hike — I first did it when my kids were 4 and 6 years of age.  I’ve also done it a handful of times with in the off season, as it’s low elevation makes it a great shoulder season hike. The last two times I did the River trail in a post-op boot after surgery (that’s how easy it is!), and, most recently right before knee replacement surgery last fall. On both of those last two hikes, I explored a mile or so down the Lake trail after, just to add some distance to a short day. But I never went far. Hence when Doug proposed the Lake trail for our hike, I welcomed the chance to do it. Doug had done the hike twice, and assured me it would be worthwhile.
  2. The trail promised big, mossy trees, spring wildflowers, multiple creek crossings, views of Mt. Baker and Shuksan (if the weather chose to cooperate…), all the while coursing along or high above Baker Lake. Baker Lake, a man-made lake, is quite beautiful, nestled below it’s guardian mountains and giant trees.
  3. It’s good for an out and back hike. The total trail runs about 10 miles, ending at the south end of Baker Lake. There is another trail head there, Maple Grove/Baker Lake Trail, so theoretically one could make it a 20-mile day hike or a trailhead to trailhead with a car drop. HOWEVER, the Maple Grove access is currently inaccessible due to a washed out  bridge.
  4. That fact, one access closed, coupled with the fact that we planned a weekday hike in early May, brought the promise of peace and quiet. Both trails, River and Lake, are very popular in summer. But I do love quiet trails if at all possible, and solitude seemed quite likely.
  5. We’ve done extensive hiking in the Chuckanut and Blanchard mountains over the last two months — and it was time for a change! Also time to get closer to the mountains we really want to be hiking in and around as soon as the snow melts off. And switching things up is always good to keep the hiking excitement going.

Trailhead to Noisy Creek Campground

It was almost 2 pm before we hit the trailhead. A bit of a late start, but with long May day, we knew we’d be OK. While the skies were mostly cloudy, there was no threat of rain. And a few blue patches looked promising.

Both River and Lake Trail share the first .6 miles. Then the River trail goes straight, and a spectacular suspension bridge over Baker Lake takes you onto the Lake trail. The first of multiple creek crossing comes quickly, over Blum Creek. This crossing is on an old footbridge — slippery when wet! Thankfully, a few days of no rain made the bridge safe. The trail passes through mossy boulders, and magnificent old and new growth trees, dripping with moss and simultaneously sprouting new growth this time of year. Occasional sunlight through the trees gave an aura of hope and optimism as we went.

The trail is not nearly as flat as the River trail. At times, it climbs high above the lake below. The first major rise takes you to the crossing of Hidden Creek. Just before we hit the top and the bridge to cross, we encountered what would be the only other hikers we saw on the trail all day. The couple told us that the bridge at Hidden Creek was out, but passable. We weren’t aware that it was impassable, so this was good news.

Hidden Creek

Once we got there, we could see what they meant. The curved, wooden bridge crosses high up above the raging, wild, and wide creek that is certainly not hidden! The first part of the bridge was missing, having been knocked out by a fallen tree. Slats had been laid down to connect the planks on either side. They looked sturdy enough, and again, dry. So we hopped over the closure tape, and made our way to the sturdy, intact bridge section. NOTE: If you do this route before bridge repair, do so with great caution, as this section is high above ground. If the planks are wet, use extra caution!

And what a view from the bridge! Up to spectacular roaring waterfalls, and down to where it cascades into Baker Lake far below. So much power in the water, how could we not feel inspired and spurred on?

Rare double trillium

Pink trllliums

Then the trail entered even more of a rainforest-type environment. So many maple trees, with their varying green hues of new growth and moss. Fir and hemlock trees sporting ‘old man’s beard’, a mossy conglomerate that hangs low from their branches and always enthralls me. Beautiful all, and made  even more so by abundant bleeding hearts and trilliums — two of my favorite wild flowers. Tiny yellow violets also lined portions of the trail.

Soon we encountered another creek crossing over an unnamed creek, this one on rocks — doable, but requiring some extra caution.

We could now see peekaboo views of Baker, although the top portion was hidden in clouds. But some sun breaks allowed for a solid visual experience, and the lake itself was quite mystical with it’s mixed layers of clouds and sun. The last mile or so to Noisy Creek Campground went very quickly.

Unnamed creek

Noisy Creek Campground

At 4.5 miles, the trail branches into three sections. One part continues down the Baker Lake Trail another 5.5 miles or so, to the end of the trail at Maple Grove. Another branch goes to the  Noisy Creek Campground, our destination for a very late lunch. The campground has several great spots, each with campfire rings and benches. There is also a toilet, and beach access from the campground. Doug and I went down to the beach, as the sun was starting to break through convincingly. We found a totally secluded beach. We could see across to the other side of the lake to another campground, but no one was there. I am sure both campgrounds are full in summer, as well as much activity taking place on the lake. But we had it all to ourselves. Here we enjoyed a leisurely lunch, and even some lying in the sun. What a joy to feel sun on the body after such a long and dreary winter!

Baker Lake from Noisy Creek Campground

Baker Lake Selfie!

Noisy Creek Trail

The third branch of the trail goes up the Noisy Creek Trail, a much more rugged and rather steep trail. We decided to take a diversion up that trail to see the enormous Douglas Fir tree we had read about — nicknamed “Big Doug.” It seemed only fitting that Doug should visit Big Doug. We didn’t know exactly what we were looking for, except that the description said it would be obvious, as the tree was huge and had a gnarled trunk.

Less than a half-mile up trail, we found it. There were so many huge trees on the way, we wondered if we’d missed it. But it was incredibly obvious when we got there, as Big Doug was by far the biggest and gnarliest of the bunch. It was well worth the steep but short trip to go there, and Doug had a moment of bonding with his namesake.

Big Doug!

Doug and Big Doug

Day exceeded expectations…

We hiked back down to the main trail and out. The sun was out even more convincingly for our hike back, which made the evening lighting coming through the trees quite spectacular. Hiking back, we reflected that the trip not only met but exceeded expectations. Our hike came to almost ten miles and something close to 2000 feet of elevation gain and loss. We experienced everything we came for, plus solitude and sunshine on a beach! Not too shabby for an afternoon into evening hike in early May. We arrived back at our car at 7:30, with just enough time to make it out the 26-mile Baker Lake Road and back to the highway well before dark.

You gotta love these long days. Get out while they’re here, and soon we will be into summer and the higher mountains will open themselves up!

 

 

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