Sunday, October 18, 2009

Mt. St. Helens 2009 - Part 3

Thanks for coming back for the conclusion of this trip report.
If you tuned in late, here are links to Part 1 and Part 2.

For everyone else, here are a few summit pictures, courtesy of Erik Hansen.
View of Mt. Rainier, Spirit Lake and a bit of the crater rim (on the right) and a bit of the lava dome (lower left):

Here is a 'zoom' on Rainier and Spirit Lake (objects are further away than they appear)

Here is the Lake, a bit of the crater rim (right) and the current Lava Dome:

Here is a zoom of the Lava Dome, complete with Steam Vents!!

Summit Shot taken by a fellow hiker of Erik & Tim (recently 'found'):

Keep that pic handy in case the Milk Carton people ever need it to help America find him.

So... that's about it.

Here are two maps for future reference. One is a map posted at the trail head and the other is a topo map with our (my) GPS track shown in blue.

I'm contemplating another summit of MSH next spring. Training starts... now! I can only pray that the weather is as perfect next time as it was the first two times.

Now, let's back track a bit to Part 2 when I mentioned we made a couple of interesting observations on the trail, below treeline.

The first interesting phenomenon is the scarring that we saw on may trees. The scarring seemed to consistently occur on the lowest 48 inches (approx.) of the tree trunks and was always on the side of the tree facing the volcano. While I didn't take any pictures of it, a good example can be seen in this very short video that I just happened to take. Take notice of the tree on the right:

We theorized that a blast of hot gasses or some other force from the eruption caused this damage. It could be due to something completely different, be we don't know what it would be.

The second interesting phenomenon was actually noticed by a kid who was... maybe 8 years old. He pointed out that the branches higher than about 20 feet all had moss hanging from them, but lower branches didn't.
Why is that?
Well, we also noticed that the tree trunks were dark near the ground but they transitioned to a lighter color about six feet below the moss. Furthermore, a few trees had blue diamonds mounted on them to guide winter recreationists through the snow. These diamonds were mounted about where the moss started.
Those observations led us to infer that the winter snow prevented the moss from growing any lower and the snow also resulted in the color transitions on the tree trunks... and the height of the blue diamonds.

If you happen to know something about either of these observations we'd love to hear your opinion.

Next hike is currently scheduled for November 14th or so, but hopefully there will be an opportunity to still squeeze in a fall-colors hike before all the leaves hit the ground.

Happy Trails!

Friday, October 16, 2009

Mt. St. Helens 2009 - Part 2

(Click here for Part 1)

The Fab Five hit the trail just after 8:00am under blue skies, below freezing temperatures and a notable arctic wind.  Except for the wind and temperature, we couldn't have asked for better conditions.

I was the only one of the group that had been on this trail or even in this area before. Rob S. & I made the summit on a day a lot like this day (but much warmer) back in 2004.

The trail starts out innocently enough with a two mile warm up through evergreens at a light to moderate grade. This section gains about 1,000 feet in elevation over the two mile stretch which is pretty tame compared to a lot of Cascade trails. It's also pretty tame compared to the final three miles of trail which gains 3,500 feet of elevation.

For the most part, this is a pretty innocent trail although there are a couple of very interesting things that came to our attention.

Unfortunately I didn't take pictures of any of them.

Did I mention how cold it was?

Why is there scarring on the bottom 48 inches of many trees?

Why is the hanging moss only on branches higher than about 20 feet?

The answers to these questions, and more, may be found in Part 3 of this trip report. Well, it's more likely they are only theories, not answers per se, but there are more important things to discuss at this point.

After the first 1.5 miles of forested hiking, the base of Monitor Ridge becomes a prominent sight.

Steve stopped to remove a layer of clothing.
Erik stopped for some pictures (of the ridge, not Steve removing layers).
Ray stopped for a rest, and some pictures.
I stopped for some pictures.

Tim stopped. Then disappeared.
For the next 4 hours.

It wasn't until fifteen minutes later that we came to grips with his disappearance.

During this fifteen minute period we continued our forested walk for a half mile, crossing a steep meadow and finally crossing the Loowit Trail (a 27 mile loop around the base of the mountain) before taking a break at treeline, elevation 4,800 feet.

Here is a picture of Ray crossing a meadow (or, more likely an avalanche path) just before reaching the Loowit Trail intersection.

We knew Tim was in the front of our group when we first stopped at the base of Monitor Ridge and we assumed he would wait for us at either the Loowit Trail intersection or at treeline.

Alas, Tim was nowhere in sight.

We assumed and hoped that since Tim has significant WA hiking experience and is a former member of the Mountaineers, he would wait for the group to catch up at this point. Our plan was to then break up into a 'fast group' and a 'slow group' and also pass out walkie talkies so the groups could keep in contact throughout the journey.

We should have had this discussion at the trail head... and we should have passed out the radios at the trail head.

Lesson learned... but learned too late to be useful today.

Now we could only hope that 1) Tim didn't get lost off route, 2) didn't get diverted onto the 27 mile Loowit Loop, 3) he didn't get injured or sick on the mountain and that 4) we find him on the mountain or back at the RV at the end of the day.

We weren't too worried, but we were concerned since none of us had ever hiked with him before. Had we given him a radio at the trail head, this wouldn't have been a concern at all.

The larger dilemma we now faced was whether we would still split into two groups or not. At least now we could all have our own radio since we brought 4.

The four of us began our ascent.

The trail quickly shifted from trees and dirt to lava rock and ash. Steepness ensued.

The general route is marked by large wooden posts along the ridge. Simply proceed from one post to the next, taking the path of least resistance, and taking care not to kick up ash clouds or topple lava rocks onto hikers below you.

The trees quickly fade away as you ascend closer to the summit.
Are we there yet? Nope... 3000 more feet... up, but you can see the crater beckoning you onward.

Erik and Steve led the way up the ridge. Quickly taking a one or two post lead.
Ray and I took a much more leisurely pace.

Never having hiked with Ray before and knowing very little about him it was very difficult to tell if his pace was a physical/conditioning necessity or if that was just his hiking style: slow and steady wins the race.

I felt compelled to periodically inquire with him about his condition to make sure he wasn't over exerting himself or exceeding his physical limitations. He was a man of few words (to me, anyway).
He never complained.
He also never said he wasn't going to make it.
Nor did he ever say he was going to make it.

Ultimately, he did disclose that his thighs were burning which was helpful to know.
I offered him a variety of (legal) drugs. He respectfully declined. He seemed very comfortable.

We continued upward.

Mount Adams came into view.

While taking a standing break, Ray offered to let me go ahead of him.

This put me into a personal dilemma. I wasn't sure if leaving Ray in the rear, alone, was a wise choice or not.

After a few minutes of internal deliberation, I decided to go catch up with Erik and Steve to discuss the current group dynamic. Ray and I stopped so I could give him the radio, give him instructions on how to use it and then we tested it. I also gave him an extra set of batteries... just in case.
That's how I roll.
I proposed we check in with each other every 15 or 30 minutes, but it turned out that Ray's "watch" was his cell phone. Being out of a service area meant it wasn't useful to tell time. So, I agreed to leave my radio on and if Ray needed me, he would power his on as necessary.
The problem with radios is that sometimes they emit static or other people are using the same channel... not quite the 'wilderness' feel that some people desire.
Then again, when you are on the only trail for miles around with 100 other people you can't be expecting solitude or silence.

So... I left Ray.

Erik & Steve were still in visual contact and they slowed their pace while I gained elevation.

Here is Steve on a crest of the ridge:

While this hike to the crater is often described as a 'walk up', it really isn't. It's much more of a scramble, followed by a really steep walk on the beach.

This section of the route is over lava rock (boulders). The good news is that they are 'sticky' rocks in that your boots really lock down on them, making for solid steps without worrying your foot will slide.

Here is a pic of some busted up lava rock:

It is important to watch for ash on the rocks because your foot can slip on the ash.

The last 1000 feet of vertical elevation gain up to the crater rim is all ash. It's almost exactly like walking on the beach with your feet sinking in the sand with every step. 12 inches forward, 2 inches back. It's amazingly tiring.

Finally I catch up to Erik & Steve.

Here is Steve staring at the summit, still a long ways off.

We discuss the group strategy and conclude that Ray is likely fine in the rear and we'll try to keep visual contact with him. If he keeps progressing upwards, so will we.

Looking back down the mountain, you can see that visibility wasn't a problem on most of the ridge. How many hikers can you count?

We discussed the potential to summit this point as a consolation summit sometime in the future:

Eventually, Steve decided to hold back as he reached a flat spot on the ridge where it was hard to monitor Rays progress. We gave him a radio, tested it and then Erik & I continued upward.

We passed a geologic monitoring station, a few snow banks, an injured hiker who took a tumble on a lava rock and a monsterous cairn (with Mt. Adams in the background):

We finally reached the transition from the volcanic rock ridge to the super-steep beach.

Only 1,000 more feet of elevation gain.

Tim was still missing.

It was 11:45am.

My post-op toe was throbbing. I was worried that descending might be painful.

I was worried that Ray might descend slower than he was ascending.

We contacted Steve on the Radio. He had met up with Ray and they were still ascending... Ray was doing fine.

Erik was willing to continue up toward the crater on his own, with a radio. We agreed that he would start his descent at 1:00pm. We hoped he would locate Tim on the crater, bag the summit, and get some awesome pics.

My plan was to continue upward for a few more minutes and turn around at noon. This would allow me some extra descent time to accomodate my toe and also be able to get an early status on Steve and Ray to prep them for the descent.

Here is a zoom shot of hikers on the crater rim:

My descent turned out to be a piece of cake. No toe trouble.

It's a long hike down.

Here is a hiker contemplating the beauty of western Washington:

Here is a short video of the scenery, from east to south to west to north:

A short while later I met up with Steve and Ray, lounging in the balmy 41 degree sunshine. We hung out for a bit and then received a radio message from Erik that he had reached the summit and located Tim... safe and sound. They began their descent at 12:45pm.

Steve, Ray and I began our descent.

Ray descending Monitor ridge:

Before we knew it, Erik and Tim caught up with us.
We took a short break to regroup and discuss how we originally became separated.

Tim explained that when we stopped to take photos at the base of Monitor Ridge a solo hiker passed through our group and continued on up the trail. Fast.

Tim mistakenly thought that hiker was me. So he followed. Pursuing me all the way up the mountain. Finding it very odd that I would do such a thing. Once at the summit he continued to follow the rim until the footpath became too faint and felt too exposed. He turned around and eventually met Erik at the summit.

We were all relieved that he was back with the group... safe and sound.
We were about this happy:

Tim, Steve and Ray made a quick descent while Erik and I took our time and enjoyed the scenery. There was a little touch of color announcing the arrival of fall once we approached the base of the ridge.

Finally... after 7 1/2 hours, we were all back at the trail head. Ready for some hot RV coffee, a change of fresh clothes and an opportunity to rest our feet.

The drive/ride home was uneventful. Mostly, we were contemplating the events of the day and probably thinking about when and where our next outing will take us.

This trip involved about 500 miles of driving and cost approx. $60 per person. That's about $10 for dinner, $22 climbing permit and $28 of RV gas per person.

All that mind-numbing reading and not a single picture from the summit?

Sorry... you'll have to come back to read Part 3 to see the summit shots (provided by Erik H.).
Plus, I'm not done rambling yet.

UPDATE: Part 3 now available (click here)

Happy Trails!


Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Mount Saint Helens 2009 - Part 1

This is part one of a multi-part trip report from my recent outing to climb Mount Saint Helens using the Monitor Ridge route.  It's taking me some time to organize the photos and do everything else on my growing To-Do list, so the multi-part report is just my way of tiding you over until I can get to it.

Saturday, October 10, 2009
Woke up to a slightly overcast day.
Resumed the packing that started the night before.
Coached a soccer game.
Came back home to finish packing.
My ride showed up right on time at 12:30.

Erik H. graciously offered to share the RV with us for this trip.  It was well worth the effort (and gas) since overnight temperatures were forecasted to be in the "below 30 degrees" range.

We hit the road and soon found ourselves in Lynwood where we picked up the rest of our crew: Steve, Ray and Tim.

After a quick meet & greet at the Park & Ride, the five of us cruised on down to Cougar, WA in full RV luxury.

Trip Tip #1:  Google Maps said to take the Dike Access exit (exit #22)... don't do that.  Take Exit #21 to Woodland/Cougar.  Much easier.  Especially if you are in an RV.

Trip Tip #2:  It's like 250 miles... ONE WAY from Mount Vernon.  Bring reading material.  Or a pillow.

Trip Tip #3:  Eat dinner in or before Woodland.  Once you leave Woodland there are only about two restaurant choices.  Both are in Cougar.  Both are fighting to get the Runner Up position in the Worst Places To Eat in Cougar contest.

We arrived in Cougar and quickly located the Lone Fir Resort where we were to pick up our required Climbing Permits.  Upon exiting the RV we all began to notice the temperature was significantly colder than we had felt in a long time.  Drove 1/10th of a mile down the road to the Cougar Bar & Grill.  It was too cold to walk (just kidding, actually we just wanted to show off our ride).

After "Dinner" we left Cougar and made our way to the trail head located at Climbers Bivouac, about 15 miles beyond Cougar.  We arrived at about 8:00pm.

Climber's Bivouac is located at the end of Forest Road 830, south of the volcano. At 3,700 feet elevation, Climber's Bivouac has the highest vehicle access on Mount St. Helens.  There was a steady arctic breeze which forced all of us to don most of our layers simply to spend a few unforgettable minutes outside to gaze deep into the Milky Way.

My photo does not do justice to what you can see on a clear night when you are away from all the light pollution.
Shooting stars and satellites were abundant.
Bugs were nowhere to be found.
We took a short night-hike up the Ptarmigan Trail in the dark just for kicks.  It was dark... and uneventful.
Chilled, we made a prompt return to the comfort of the RV and rejoiced that we weren't sleeping in tents.

We sat around for awhile, making idle chit-chat, trying to find clues that might imply whether any one of us was some kind of insane lunatic that we had voluntarily stranded ourselves with up in the mountains.
As it turns out, we all seemed pretty normal.
Relatively speaking.
Well, relative to me.
And me.
We shut down the lights at about 10:30pm and wrestled to sleep until daylight.
Erik H. woke us at about 7:00am by graciously brewing a pot of real RV coffee.  We were all very appreciative of the warmth and caffeine, particularly after spending a few Polar Bear Minutes outside to try and capture the morning Alpenglow on the mountain.

Unfortunately, the ISO on my camera was still set at 1600 from taking pictures of stars the previous night, so what should have been a fantastic photo is simply a snapshot photo.

Back to the RV for some breakfast ('on your own'), more coffee and more Layers!

Just after 8:00am we were all outside, posing for a picture and ready to embark on a journey that we will all remember for a lifetime.

Pictured, left to right:  Steve, Erik, Tim and Ray.  The Trail head is just off to the left, the RV is just behind the photographer (me) and the summit of the volcano is in the distance.  A short 4 miles away and 4,500 feet above us.

Stay tuned for Part 2.... coming soon to a computer near you. (Part 2)

Friday, October 9, 2009

Where ya goin?

Party of 5 at MSH Climber's Bivouac Saturday night!!!

Sounds like it's going to be sunny and cold with just a tad of 25+mph winds.

Let's just say it should be a "Blast of Fun"!

My post-surgery digit is a bit bruised and tender but should be able to hold its own.

Happy Trails!


Thursday, October 8, 2009

Ultra-light Hiking

Some people just hike.  I'm one of those hikers.  I bring what I need and if it's too much weight to be comfortable, I start pulling out the stuff that isn't really needed.

Some people hike but strive to carry as little weight as possible.
There are different degrees of 'ultra-light' hiking.

Often times a person gradually shifts from a regular hiker to an ultra-light hiker over time.
As their equipment gets old or worn out they'll either simply not replace it and do without, or they will replace it with something lighter than what they used to own.  Over time, doing this will gradually lighten your pack.

Some people limit thier pack to the 10 essentials and nothing else.  Plus they try to make sure their Essentials are as light as possible.
Others trim their 10 essentials down to 9... or 8... or 7... or less.

Other Ultra-Light hikers take this a step further.  They cut off excess straps from their pack.  Replace zipper pulls with (lightweight) fabric.  Shorten their shoelaces.  Shave their beard.  Wear half shirts. 

Underwear?  It's just a disposable convenience item that adds unnecessary weight.

Like I said, that's not how I roll.

I did however, have a portion of my toenail removed this afternoon.
For the records, it was done for a medical purpose and not at all in an attempt to be 'ultra-light'.

Some of you hikers may find these toenail care instructions useful.

Hopefully everything is feeling solid before the next outing!


Saturday, October 3, 2009

Training Hike To Cedar and Pine Lakes 10-3-09

With a big trip coming up next weekend, I took advantage of a quiet (and sunny) fall day to get in a quick hike to Cedar and Pine Lakes in the Chuckanut Mountains of western Washington.

It just so happened that this trip lasted exactly two hours, involved 2,000 feet of elevation gain, two lakes, two viewpoints and only one half view of a volcano.

Even better than all that was running into a coworker and her husband on the trail.  It was great to cross paths with them and they provided some valuable trail info that helped me to maximize the training benefits on my ascent.  It turns out that there is an unmapped loop from the Hemlock Trail that shortcuts directly to the viewpoints above Cedar lake.  This way allows you to avoid all the monkeying about with the flat trail section to the Cedar lake turnoff and then descending to the lake before ascending to the viewpoints.  The new trail just continues the ascent directly to the viewpoints.  It's a great choice if you're a) training and/or b) in a hurry.
Today, I was both.

Here is the bottom of Mt. Baker, with fresh snow, looking eastward from the first viewpoint (at 10x zoom).  It's a LONG drop off the edge of the viewpoint rock.

Here is the unzoomed view:

View of Cedar Lake:

Another shot of Cedar Lake.  Different camera orientation and different post-processing:

After descending to Cedar Lake, followed the trail clockwise to make a loop around Cedar Lake before ascending to the Hemlock trail and onward to Pine Lake.  Due to time limitations I didn't loop Pine Lake, or take any pics of it.  Just pretend it looks a lot like Cedar Lake (which it does, but has a different shape).

On the way back down I kept up a good pace to keep the heart rate up... and I skipped the 'new' section of the trail which is just a long switchback to avoid a super steep section of the old trail, which is problematic when the ground is wet.

Round Trip was about 5.8 miles per the GPS.

At the very beginning of the trail, off to the side, about 20 feet away, was this this funky device.  Any idea what it is?

I'm noticing there is an on/off switch at the bottom.  That might have been interesting.

Here is the map:

Happy Trails!