Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Big Four Ice Caves: Avalanches & Sunshine 04-25-10

While the rest of the family was playing with dogs at the Evergreen State Fairgrounds in Monroe, WA, my plan for the day was to visit Big 4 Ice Caves after making a visit to Barlow Point for the first time. Solo.

This was predicted to be an easy day after the training hike to Mailbox Peak on Saturday.

Well, much to my surprise, about 1 mile before the Big 4 Picnic area, the Mtn. Loop Highway was suddenly covered in about 3 inches of snow. Since the Camry isn't snow friendly without its studded tires, proceeding beyond Big 4 left me uneasy.

So... Barlow Point dropped off the to-do list and Big 4 became the prime destination.

The sun was out... it was stunning. It was picture perfect - prime conditions for an avalanche show with an unobstructed view from a safe distance.

There were only three other cars in the parking lot.

Grabbed my gear, including my hat to ward off snow bombs and the stabilicers for traction.

I've been to Big 4 ice caves a number of times over the years. Heck, even Tanya and the girls have been to the Ice Caves. Usually our visits occur in the summer when the caves are visible, but in springtime, like today, the caves are buried deep under a winter of avalanche debris.

The trail is about 1.5 miles, one way, but it is mostly flat and very easy to walk on. Not quite wheelchair accessible, but pretty darn close. This is a destination for the whole family.

Not much else to tell that will be new, so here are the pics and even a long video compilation of the scenery, with an avalanche or two to keep it somewhat interesting.

Here is a 'zoom' view from the parking lot:

The start of the trail over wetlands near the location of the now long gone Big 4 Hotel from days of yore:

Vegatation from last fall trying to hold on for the winter:

Skunk Cabbage galore! There were more than 1,000 skunk cabbage flowers along the trail!

Avalanche Cone at the bottom center, with an avalanche in progress coming down the middle of the picture. Looks like a waterfall, but it's an avalanche!

Zoom of the avalanche... this is how the avalanche cone gets built throughout the winter:

Super Zoom:

When you get bored (or too nervous) looking at all the avy activity on Big Four, just turn around and dream of climbing Mount Dickerman.

Here is a hiker (aka "stupid guy") walking in front of the avalanche cone to help convey a sense of scale for those of you from states without mountains:

Another Avalanche:

View of Big Four from the trail. This part of the trail was wiped out a couple years ago when a never ending string of winter storms resulted in avalanches that were large enough to travel this far and still demolish mature forest land:

More tree skeletons and an avalanche. It's further away than it appears. Really. It is. I'm totally safe (and sane).

Finally, if you are still scrolling through this trip report, here is a real video of the scenery and some avalanches. My favorite part of the video is the first 15 seconds when you can hear the bird sing. There are some neat avalanche scenes in it also, but you'll have to watch the whole thing to see them.

The Big Four Ice Caves are located east of Granite Falls, along the Mountain Loop Highway. A NW Forest Pass is required for parking, but you can buy a day pass at the trailhead for about $5.

Warning signs are usually posted that urge people to stay out of the ice caves because they can, and do, collapse with little warning. A collapsing cave, even an ice cave, can be deadly. Please use your noggin and stay out of the caves. It's just not worth it.

Happy Trails!

Monday, April 26, 2010

Mailbox Peak Trail (04-25-2010)

This was my first visit to Mailbox peak. Well, it was my first visit to the Mailbox Peak trail... since we didn't manage to summit.

There were five of us today: Rachel, Steve M., Mary (friend of Rachel) and Steve G.. This was the first time any of us had been to this trail... and I thought I had adequately warned them.

The trail held up to its reputation for being steep. We all agreed on that.

For those of you who aren't familiar with this trail, it is located just outside of North Bend, WA along the middle fork of the Snoqualmie River. It is notoriously steep, even by Cascade Mountain standards. 4,500 feet gain in about 2.5 miles. For the most part, the trail follows the ridge straight up the mountain. A few switchbacks exist, but they are short, sweet and still steep.

The payoff for climbing Mailbox: burning quads... plus there is a mailbox at the top.

Here is the easy part:

Since we knew the forecast was "anything but sunny" we were cool with just enjoying the elevation gain, the forest views and of course great company.

What we weren't expecting were the comedians who preceded us.

What comedians? The comedians who broke up the elevation gain at unexpected places and in unexpected ways.

For example:
The lovely signage... complete with killer tree tape.

Although not really a fan of graffiti, we laughed at the white trail markers comments. One promised: "halfway(ish)" while another one, on the descent, simply said "leg pain".

Then there was the comedian sponsored by Garmin. Our GPS insisted we only managed 30 minutes of "moving time" on our 2,500 feet ascent. That must be a record, right? hockeygrin.gif

Much of our final 1,000 ft of gain involved getting pummelled by snow bombs, although I'm not entirely confident that at least one of those snow bombs was initiated by one of the Steve's. Oh well... it was all fun for me.

We peaked out after gaining about 2,500 feet, turning around at about 3,250 feet where the fresh snow began to stick.

I chose this trail because I know I need the elevation training for upcoming trips. It's clear to me that my running program is working well... it's been 3 weeks and it's been years since 2,500 gain was this easy. Part of it the 'ease' was our deliberately slow pace but surely a lot of it came from the training as well.

Mailbox remains on my to-do list and I'm confident that I'll be to the top in no time.

Happy Trails!

Biking to Split Rock (almost) 04-18-2010

Had a four hour window on Sunday, 4/18/2010 to make the most of the springtime sunshine.

I decided to go exploring out in the Lake Cavanaugh area to see if I could find a landmark referred to as Split Rock. This is located in Skagit County, east of Hwy 9, between Big Lake and Oso. Erik H. just happened to be 'almost' available, so after a little negotiation with Tanya, we were good to go. Thanks Tanya for watching Makenna. :)

Split Rock has been on my radar screen for a couple months after seeing that the Mount Baker Club had planned a hike out there (which was canceled due to the gated roads).

We mapped out a 6.5 mile one-way road route from the Lake Cavanuagh road that would get us as close as possible to Split Rock. Along the way, we would pass by Bald Mountain.

Neither of us had been off the pavement in this area, so it was mostly a combination of just wanting to see the topography and to also get some much needed exercise.

The mapped route was to gain about 2,100 feet or so.

The second half of the route shares the road with ORV's, FYI.

First up, Bald Mountain became a prevalent landmark after only a half mile of biking. It looks to me like Bald Mountain would offer a lot of rock climbing opportunities. That thing is funny how it just pops right up out of the ground.

As the route begins its real elevation gain, we were thrilled to see some of our favorite peaks off to the east. Three Fingers, Whitehorse, Glacier and Mt. Pugh.

Here is Whitehorse (left), Three Fingers (center) and Lake Cavanaugh (right):

Three Fingers (on my to-do list for this summer) zoom:

Whitehorse zoom:

Zoom of Glacier Peak (left) and Mt. Pugh (right):

At about 2,800 feet we finally encountered solid snow. The snow was soft and became very slippery with each footstep... and pedal. It didn't take long before our shoes were soaked.

We persisted onward and upward, hoping to reach a view of the elusive Split Rock... but when our turnaround time alarm went off we were still almost a mile (and less than 100 feet of vertical) shy of the destination.

The snow depth, now up to our knees in spots, made proceeding futile, despite how close we were.

2 hours up, 1 hour down.
Weather was perfect!
Might have to finish this up on some sunny October afternoon.

So, I have yet to actually see Split Rock, other than on a topo map.

Personally, Bald Mountain looks to be a worthy destination for me some day.

Round Trip for us the day: 11.9 miles, 2,086 elevation gain, maximum speed: 24mph, average moving speed: 5.3mph.

No bugs... except one big fat black fly.


Sunday, April 25, 2010

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Sunday hike to Wallace Lake or to Big four ice caves and Barlow Point
Hiking to Mailbox Peak with Steve, Steve and Rachel. It's raining, fyi.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Itinerary for 04-18-2010

Anticipating a logging road bike trek a bit north west of Lake Cavanaugh with hopes of getting an up close glimpse of Bald Mountain and Split Rock.

Hopefully the muscles hold up to the biking abuse, hopefully the sun shines, hopefully the ORV's aren't too much of a bother or an issue and hopefully there's some interesting scenery to behold.

Thanks, Erik, for opting to join me on this exploration.


Sunday, April 4, 2010

Racehorse Mountain - 04/03/2010

For the second time in a week, I was able to connect with the Mount Baker Club for a local hike to a destination that was 'new to me'.

Today's trip led us to a winter-like snowshoe trek up Racehorse Mountain.

Racehorse Mountain isn't mentioned in many hiking books (well, no hiking books that I am aware of) although Racehorse Falls is mentioned in at least one version of "Hiking in Whatcom County", by Ken Wilcox. Rachel & I hiked to the falls back in about 1997... long before many people know what an online trip report was.

Racehorse Mountain is accessed along the North Fork of the Nooksack River. Head out the Mt. Baker Hwy (Hwy 542) from Bellingham and turn south onto Mosquito Lake Road (a bit east of the Hwy 9 junction). From Mosquito Lake Road, turn left onto the North Fork road and then try to choose the correct junctions.

Here is our route from this outing. Red route represents the road and our two parking spots while the blue line represents our snowshoe route.

During the summer, when the snow has disappeared, there is a road that leads to the top of Racehorse Mountain. Reportedly it is popular for people who like big campfires and lots of beer. And to litter. We all know how difficult it is to pick up your own beer can when it's empty.

Luckily for us, the weather has been nasty all week. This resulted in a lot of snow in the foothills, rendering this a great outing destination for our group of 8.

Unluckily, I removed the studded tires from the Camry last week... unaware that they would have been extremely useful for this trip.

The soft snow instantly turned to ice under my tires so we decided to park the Camry at about 2,100 feet elevation. A wise decision since every move of the vehicle, even in the 1 inch of snow, resulted in unbelievable slippage. After a little digging and jockeying, the car was finally turned around the right direction and properly parked in a pull out.

The second vehicle in our group today was a Subaru. It proved much more capable and was able to give us a ride up to about 2,700 feet where we started our snowshoe adventure.

The route basically follows DNR roads up the side of Racehorse Mountain.

The new show flocked all the trees. This is probably what trees might look like if they had bones.

The weather constantly switched from heavy snow to light snow to sunny and then snowy again. Here are a few of the group during a break in the weather.

Did I mention that it snowed?

It didn't hamper our good spirits in the least.

Here we approach the final traverse, just as the clouds roll in again.

To maximize your enjoyment of hiking or snowshoeing in Washington, you need to "Embrace the Weather". Some people just can't do it... those people weren't with us today. We were Weather Warriors.

Just like that... the sun decided to show its face. Again.

Upon reaching the pass between the Racehorse Creek Valley and Canyon Lake Valley we decided that this would make a good lunch spot, provided we could find a spot to sit that blocked the arctic wind. It also turned into our turnaround spot.

Racehorse Mountain is in the background. So close, but so far... especially with all that wonderful powder.

A Subalpine Fir that stared at me while I ate lunch.

The sun comes back out as we finish lunch, making an acceptable view of Slide Mountain possible.

More Racehorse Mountain, and a few of the group getting ready for the return trip.

More scenes of Slide Mountain:

Smooth Snowy Curves along the ridge top:

Heading back down, admiring the scenery:

It was a very enjoyable trip with nice scenery.

The road has a lot of potholes in the first couple miles but then it smooths out so most passenger cars should do alright with a little delicate driving. Not sure what the conditions are like beyond 2,100 feet during the summer. Right now all that is obviously snow covered.

Thanks for reading.

Next outing is currently scheduled for April 10th, although that date may have to be rescheduled due to family scheduling conflicts.

Happy Trails!