Tupper's 2 Cents

Feet on the path and eyes wide open...

Tag: Vesper Peak

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!

 

 

 

 

 

Smoky Mt. Pugh!

Mt. Pugh (also know as ‘Da Klagwats) — August 3, 2017

Yep, Mt. Pugh is pronounced just like it sounds — PUGH!  I initially had some resistance to climbing this peak because I didn’t like the name! It’s also a challenging one, gaining 1000 feet a mile for 5.5 miles, with a fair amount of exposed scrambling at the end.  I’ve done it twice now, and each time the rewards have been more than worth the effort. Even in the pervasive forest fire smoke, which is how I did it last week. Smoke caused the mountain to live up to it’s name, and it certainly obscured the stellar views at the top. But I knew all of that would be the case, and still, I was inspired to go do Pugh. And I am extremely glad I did.

Stats on Mt. Pugh

LOCATION — off the Mountain Loop highway, 12.5 miles from Darrington.  A signed forest road (FR 2095) leads to this obscure trailhead. There is no parking lot, just pull-outs for several cars, 1.5 miles after the turn-off.    NO Forest Pass required.     DISTANCE — 11 miles RT.    ELEVATION GAIN — 5300 feet.   HIGH POINT — 7201 feet.     DIFFICULTY LEVEL   —  “Very Hard” (according to alltrails).

Why Mt. Pugh?

The first time I did Mt. Pugh was in the immediate aftermath of 2015 forest fires that also permeated Northwest Washington’s air for a couple of weeks. That time, I hiked Pugh right after the smoke had cleared, and my partner Gregg and I were treated to fantastic views all around, as well as clear air, for the first time in weeks. What a joy!! We worked hard to get there, but soaked in every minute of our victory as we sat surrounded by an abundance of peaks — magnificent’s like Glacier Peak,  Mt. Baker, and Shuksan all staring us down, Mt. Ranier and the Olympics farther in the distance, and Monte Cristo, Three Fingers, White Chuck and Sloan Peak right in front of us. Oh, to have pictures of that hike now…

(This is what I would love to see — Baker left, Sloan Peak middle, Shuksan right. This photo from Beaudaddy85’s Image Gallery)

When I chose to return last Thursday, I had to carry the memories of those views in my mind. I knew the smoke from Canadian fires was dense, and I didn’t expect views. What I did expect was a challenging hike, with plenty of time in my head. I often problem solve on hikes, and I embarked on Pugh in part for that purpose. Also, I needed a Vesper Redemption Hike, since my last peak challenge on sometimes iffy trail didn’t go so well. Alone on my mission, I wanted the workout and contemplative headspace I knew Pugh would deliver — and I wanted to feel confident doing it.

The Hike Up

Part of my challenge of Vesper was time, and I didn’t want a repeat here. On the eve of both hikes I had an evening writing class, and with Vesper, I missed it despite my best efforts. With Pugh, I left the Lake Goodwin summer home at 8:00 am sharp, so as to allow enough time to hike and return to the lake by 6:00 for my online class.  I really wanted time to enjoy this hike without the intense pressure of time I so often set myself up for.

I was on the trail by 9:30. Immediately and relentlessly, I was switchbacking in forest. The trail gained 1300 feet in the first 1.5 miles, opening up briefly at Lake Metan. There was camping to the right at this lake junction, but the Pugh trail continued left, marching up even steeper switchbacks under forest canopy for a couple more miles.

At 3-plus miles and 4900 feet, the trail opened up again and for good into a boulder field. Here, I encountered two young women with a dog — and an abundance of bugs! The women had been to the top, and confirmed that there were no views. But one proclaimed, “The cardiovascular work out alone was totally worth it!” A hiker after my own heart. Those women proved to be the only two people I saw on the trail all day.

First smoky views

Leaving the boulders (and some of the bugs) behind, the trail began the steep climb to Stujack Pass. This section was dusty switchbacks, with plenty of loose rock and larger rock steps to negotiate.  Not my favorite, but very manageable. The trail did have some erosion, and I took extra care to make sure my footing held. As I progressed, I could see behind me only the merest outline of Sloan Peak and Three Fingers. But views down the Sauk River Valley weren’t too smoky. And the trail ahead wound it’s way up a  slope full of wildflowers! THAT was my reward on this hike, I decided, since mountain views were all hazed in.  I took an abundance of pictures, fully enjoying the accompaniment of the wildflower blanket that embraced the trail.

Field of flowers ahead…

Headed up Stujack Pass

I reached Stujack pass, at 5750 feet, easily enough. According to trail reports, many hikers opt to stop here. I can see why — views would be great on a clear day, and the trail definitely increases in difficulty after this point. Stopping here wasn’t in the plans for me, though. I officially entered the Glacier Peak Wilderness, and continued on with my summit quest.

The Summit Quest!

From Stujack to summit was 1500 feet in just over a mile. Trip reports and WTA’s site made this part sound rather intimidating. There was talk of a “knife edge” portion of the trail, with exposure and scrambling required.  I remembered it from two years ago as not being that bad, and I wondered if my memory was simply dulled by the years. As I meticulously and carefully worked my way up, those sections did exist, and yes, there was some exposure and a fair bit of non-technical scrambling, but for whatever reason, none of it presented a challenge for me. I am inherently comfortable on rock, as I used to rock climb, and I never felt uncertain of which way to go or questioned my safety. It WAS a bit strange having the place all to myself, but it was also exhilarating! My only sadness was the lack of views. The hazy peak outlines gave a surreal quality to the surroundings, and I had to make do with views closer in. At one point, I could see down both the White Chuck River Valley and the Sauk River Valley, one on each side of the mountain as I climbed steadily up.

White Chuck River Valley

Socked in Sauk River Valley

Layers of haze…

After a couple of false summits, eventually I topped out. It was just before 1 pm, my total time from car to summit just under 3.5 hours. With all my photo breaks, that wasn’t too bad.  I sat on the top, gazing around at the hazy smoke, and ate a hearty lunch. Even though I could see little, I felt warmly encompassed by the presence of the mountains. And I loved being up there alone. It reminded me of my John Muir solo backpack last summer — working hard, gaining a peak or pass, and relishing in the victory. Sometimes it’s great to do that with others, and sometimes, solitude is what I crave most. Alone on the summit of Pugh, smoke and all, was just where I wanted to be.

Summit view…there are mountains out there somewhere…

Small tent site right on top of Pugh!

The Way Back

Always time conscious, I headed back down at 1:30. I knew caution was necessary heading down the craggy upper section, and I didn’t want to feel rushed. I DID lose the trail — twice — going down. I could tell others had done the same thing. I’d follow evidence of foot prints for a short bit, until, clearly, I was into rocks that were too abrupt to descend safely. Then I would backtrack to the obvious “trail”, and see that the way down was in a different direction. I never went down farther than I could get back up, but it was interesting nonetheless that I did this twice. I felt silly in my transgressions, and glad that no one was watching!

Once off the rocks, and back down Stujack, I breathed a sigh of relief. While I never felt at risk descending upper portions of the trail, it was great to be back to the straightforward switchbacks. Hitting an easy downhill stride here,  I found myself reflecting on WHY this hike was so much less stressful for me than Vesper Peak, which completely drained me. Part of it was that the difficult parts of Pugh were broken up with straightforward trail. Vesper never eased up, moving swiftly from rocks and roots, to overgrown trail, to scree and boulders, and, finally snow.  Pugh had vast moments — including the 3.5 miles of forest switchbacks — that allowed for mindless hiking, one foot in front of the other. I like that in a trail. I cruised down, reaching the car at 3:45, more than an hour faster than I went up.

Sloan Peak started showing up a bit more on my way down.

Headed back down the trail of flowers.

Highlights

I realize most people would not voluntarily embark on a view hike in dense forest fire smoke. But it ended up being just what I needed and wanted:  A long, but doable day hike with significant elevation gain, solitude, and plenty of wildflowers.

And the smoke added mystery and brought on much reflection, as I thought back to my first John Muir Trail trip in August, 2015. That 220-mile backpack trip was nearly cut short by smoke from California’s huge Rogue Fire, raging nearby and closing some passes just off the JMT.  But my hiking partner Gregg and I chose to press on, despite strong recommendations from rangers to evacuate the trail, and the fact that most thru-hikers chose to do just that.  Our decision to stay on, despite pervasive smoke, meant that we had the trail nearly to ourselves at times, and we were able to finish our mission. Completing that trip was a huge milestone for me, as I’d never backpacked three weeks in a row. That trip gave me confidence to take on a solo trip of the JMT in the summer of 2016, an even bigger accomplishment. The solo trip became the basis of my current memoir project — which is what all the current writing classes are about. All those connections filtering out from the smoke!

For me, then, the whole Pugh experience was grand. Everything worked out perfectly. Including the fact that I was back at the lake in plenty of time for my 6:00 class!

Know if you go…

This hike is hard. And it does have exposure. Each hiker can and should read trip reports, and make an initial assessment of their comfort with this. But under normal circumstances, efforts are rewarded with spectacular views at Stujack Pass, so even to get that far is well worth the effort. Beyond that point, a hiker can go as far as he or she feels safe, and turn around at any point if it feels like too much. And to make the summit on a clear day is simply sublime, a fact I can testify to from 2015’s hike. All the caution, exertion, and sweat required to get there is completely worth it!

Added bonus:  when I went a week ago, wildflowers were at their peak.  And the bugs were out, but not too bad.

Prepare for flowers!

Final thoughts…

So far this year, I have done four major peaks with trails off the Mountain Loop highway. Here are links to trip reports for the first three in case you missed them: Green Mountain, Vesper Peak, and Mt. Dickerman. There are other peaks in the area of course, (including easily accessible and climbable Mt. Pilchuck, which I have done several times before), but it felt good completing the Big Four.  It’s hard to rank them, as each has their merits. Vesper was unquestionably the most challenging, for all the reasons I’ve stated; Green was snow-filled and calls for a repeat later this season; Dickerman was just fantastic, and Pugh, while smoky, offered contemplation and perfection in it’s own way. I am grateful to have had the opportunity to climb all these magical mountains, so easily accessible from Lake Goodwin. Even if you travel a bit farther, each is worth a visit in it’s own right!

Climb on!

 

 

 

 

 

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

 

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.

 

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