Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Sunny Day with Quark 9-21-10

On a beautiful fall Tuesday I found myself with a day off of work and looking for a good hike. Luckily, Quark was in a similar situation. She quickly deemed it an "Emergency Hike" situation so we arranged to meet and carpool from Monroe to head east out on Hwy 2.

Quark promised me a beautiful trail through old logging roads being taken over by Mother Nature, some clearcut views of distant hills (weather permitting), a now flattened cabin, an old growth forest of Silver Firs and a peak.

What she didn't promise, or mention, were bears. Or hunters.

I had to promise not to reveal the location of this hike. Not because we're afraid of over use, but simply because the trail isn't an official trail... yet. It's just a matter of time. Soon.

So, for now, just enjoy the pics and the video. I'll let you know when Quark gives me the green light to release more info.

Here is Quark on the road, quickly being reclaimed by nature:

Quark in the Clearcut:

Fall Colors coming on:

More Fall Colors:

Bear Claw Marks just higher than eye level on a tree along side the trail, complete with peeling bark:

In fact, there were many signs of wildlife along the trail but we didn't have any sightings of large wildlife, or hunters; bear scat, big cat scat, bark peeled off trees, moss peeled off rocks in search of grubs and a spent shotgun shell or two here and there.
We did see a squirrel or two and heard some unique bird songs.

A collapsed Loggers Cabin:

Rumor has it this cabin was still standing and even livid in until the 1950's. That wasn't too long ago, if you were born in 1970. ;)

The amazing transparent hitchhiking Inchworm on my backpack:

Fresh Granite and Mushrooms:

Yes, fresh granite. Trail work managed to cut away into some granite - really interesting stuff and a lot different than what you may have in your kitchen. It could be that a small sample made its way into my backpack to show the kids at home.

Boulder Field:

A distant meadow with traces of fall:

A popular North Cascade peak in the distant between much closer peaks:

Funky Point reminds me of Coleman Pinnacle near Mount Baker:

Less zoom on the Peaks and Clouds:

Route Map:
Sorry... the route map is unavailable at this time. Please check back later. Members in good standing at nwhikers.net may be entitled to some sekrit info, if you show your membership card.

The Video (slide show of above photos, plus some real live video footage, with some music):

Happy Trails!


PS: 9-18-2011: Adding a GPS route map, now that the trail has finally been officially opened. Woo Hoo! Route image is below, and here is a link to the press release. The official trail description doesn't seem to be online yet.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Scouting out peaks along Hwy 2 today. :)

Itinerary for 9-21-10

Meeting up with my buddy, Quark, for a hike near Xxxxxx XxXXx on Tuesday morning, 9/21/2010.

Meeting at the Park and Ride in Monroe about 9:00am and then carpooling out to Forest Service Rd XXXX, near Skykomish along Hwy 2.

Not sure who is driving to the Trail head.

I expect to be back in cell phone contact by dark, at the latest.

Hopefully the weather cooperates - it could even be a really nice day out.

Happy Trails!

EDIT: This blog post was subsequently edited to help protect the sekrit location of this trail until further notice.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Confession on Church Mountain 09-04-10

This report is long. Consider yourself warned. This is Blathering at its finest.

Exactly 100 trails ago I made my first visit to Church Mountain with PSnA, Quark and Sarah in conjunction with the 2006 Summer Solstice get together.

During that visit in 2006 we made it to the first meadow when we encountered snow and turned around.

It's been on my 'to finish' list ever since but always pushed aside mostly because there is one section where a creek crosses the road and my vehicle isn't known for high clearance.

While hiking in the Mt. Baker area last weekend, a fellow hiker provided a first hand report that the water over road crossing is no longer the issue it once was and seemed confident that my car wouldn't have any trouble. Plus, they told me the road now intersects with Hwy 542 a bit east of where it used to connect and is no longer flagged as 'Church Mtn'. The new location is at the west end of the current construction zone and the first 30 yards or so has been paved.

Fast forward to 9/4/10.

The original plan was to drive down and hike to Rachel Lake, Rampart Ridge and maybe Alta Mtn in the Snoqualmie Pass area. After 45 minutes of driving south, it came to my attention that my backpack was still at home on the couch.
I was completely annoyed, but also a little relieved. Relieved because it was raining when I turned around but still blue skies at my house.

Due to the late re-start it seemed like a poor choice to risk driving back toward the rain when the weather seemed so much better closer to home.

My new first choice destination would be Church Mtn if the weather was still nice (and the road passable) or the Chain Lakes Loop from Artist Point if the weather turned for the worse.

I confess: Navigating narrow dirt roads in the mountains in a passenger car isn't one of my Top 10 Favorite Things To Do. In fact, it's often the most stressful part of my hike. Many of my hike destinations end up being based on the road to the trail head.

Tackling the Church Mountain road was just one of the fears that kept me from returning to this trail for so long.

So many things could go wrong. Luckily, today nothing went wrong. Usually nothing goes wrong, but that doesn't seem to decrease the stress level.

The road to Church Mtn TH was located right where people promised it would be, and the water over road crossing is still just that... water flowing over the road, but it was indeed shallow enough that the crossing was uneventful. Not sure what the case would be if there had been recent rain.

Arrival at the trail head (about 11:00am) revealed 7 other cars. Since this was Saturday of Labor Day weekend (and not raining) I expected a lot more than that.

I confess: Hiking solo is a last resort. I'm less comfortable and more stressed when hiking alone. Hiking on popular trails definitely helps to reduce that anxiety; that's why my original plan for the day was to hike to Rachel Lake... sure to be a conga line of hikers on Labor Day weekend.

In the unlikely event that something goes unexpectedly or horribly wrong, knowing there are others in the vicinity provides comfort.

Finding only a few cars at this trail was a little surprising since I was hoping for more but at least there were seven or more people 'somewhere' ahead of me on the trail. Theoretically.

The beginning of the hike was rather uneventful and after 1 hour I had already pounded through 2,000 of the 4,000 ft for the day. Then I started to slow down a bit. There were a couple reasons for keeping up the fast pace for the first half of this trail.

I confess: The last thing that I want to see on any hike is a bear. If I want to see a bear then I'll just go to the zoo.

Wouldn't you know that my Bear Spray (it's pepper spray... not bear pee, Tanya!) is sitting at home on the bedside table? Didn't expect to need it at Rachel Lake.

When hiking solo, it's common for me to smack my hiking poles on rocks or make other noise simply to help prevent surprising any wildlife on the trail.

Popular trails usually don't have much bear activity around them... and that is another reason why I will frequently hike there when solo. The Church Mountain trail is not a high use trail, so the likelihood of a bear encounter on this trail is relatively high. Another personal demon that kept me moving quickly along the trial for more than 2,000 feet of elevation gain.

Side note: You know those bears they keep finding in residential/urban areas? Yeah, the one's they capture and then release/relocate to remote areas? The one's that are now used to eating garbage and not deterred by the sight of people? Please relocate them to the SOUTH Cascades. Idaho would be just fine also. We already have plenty of bears in the North Cascades.

I confess: Cardio training has really helped improve my fitness level. While the steep hikes still require significant effort and result in heavy breathing, sore muscles and plenty of sweat, at least the leg cramps have significantly decreased in frequency and even a short rest allows for substantial recovery. The cardio has allowed me to knock off at least five high-elevation-gain hikes that have been on the to-do list for years.

After about 75 minutes the first meadow came into view. It was beautiful. The camera came out and went to work while my heart rate returned to normal.

The last of the flowers were in bloom (sorry, don't know what the flowers are... maybe fireweed?)

The Corn Lillies (or maybe they are False Hellabores) were just starting to turn golden yellow as they struggle to hang to to summer.

In the distance you can see a talus slope below cloud obscured Church Mountain. It's full of picas and marmots who whistle at you as you hike by.

About half way through the first meadow there was a group of hikers sitting down eating lunch and chatting happily. How relaxed and unstressed they were. ;)

15 minutes later there were about 10 hikers descending and they informed me that I was the last one on the mountain.

Mixed emotions about that fact as you can imagine. I tried to play it up as a positive fact.

Being alone on a mountain isn't something I like to think about. It puts me on the edge of my comfort zone. Often times I'll just turn back and vow to do it again with a hiking buddy.

Today, however, I convinced myself that after battling the water crossing and 3,000 feet of elevation grinding that took 4 years to attempt, TODAY was the day to finish this up and get it off the To-Do list.

So, logic and reason won out over Comfort Zone and eventually I made it to the Lookout site.


In the above picture you can clearly see the trail as it crosses the steep meadow and then switchbacks as it descends the slope. Also in the picture is a debris pile in the lower left corner: all that remains of the former Fire Lookout and its storage area. Well, all that is left at this location. There are a few artifacts much further down the meadow (out of the picture).

Looking down the opposite side of the ridge:

Looking up to Church Mountain Summit:

The trail continued upward from here, but being solo and now alone on the mountain (and now tired, too) meant that continuing along the scramble route to the summit was just beyond my risk level for the day. When I return with a buddy, the summit will be ours. Probably.

Here is a short video. The first part was taken after crossing the lower meadow and the second was taken from my turnaround point where the clouds were moving up and over the ridge below me.

The descent was just as scenic, but a lot faster.

Didn't encounter any other hikers on the descent until about 1/4 mile from the trail head.

No bears. :)

17 switchbacks from the parking lot to the first meadow.
~8.5 miles round trip and ~4,300 feet of elevation gain.
2 hr 45 minutes up, 1 hr 15 minutes down.
The soles of my feet were tingling by the time I reached the parking lot.

The drive down to Hwy 542 was uneventful and the water crossing was trouble free.

It was a fast and stressful hike, but well worth it all.
Isn't it always?

Happy Trails!


Friday, September 10, 2010

Chuckanuts Fragrance Lake 09-09-10

Took a quick mid-day hike to Fragrance Lake today. It's been probably 20 years or so since my last hike up there.

The trail to Fragrance Lake begins along Chuckanut Drive, just across from Larrabee State Park. It also intersects with the Interurban Trail from Bellingham, but that would be a much longer trip.

This trail is easy to follow and well marked with solid tread, no mud, and nice boardwalk sections around parts of the lake (an Eagle Scout Project).

Many people visit this trail as it is one of the most popular in the Chuckanut area. Signage at the TH promises 0.9 miles to a viewpoint and 1.9 miles to the lake. In order to reach the lake you'll need to gain just over 1,000 feet of elevation... so it's far from a walk along a river. Most of the route is uphill.

Rising above Chuckanut Drive you'll pass through open forest populated with Cedar trees, Maple trees and Alders above with oceans of sword ferns on the forest floor.

As you ascend, the forest transitions to more evergreens and the sword ferns begin to be replaced with Salal and Oregon Grape. Currently, everything is green, but there are hints that fall is on its way already.

My recommendation is to save the viewpoint spur trail until the descent, unless you are in need of a break. After only .2 miles the spur dead ends with a fantastic view of the San Juan Islands (weather willing). This is one of the reasons this hike is worthwhile - so don't miss it!

The main trail eventually reaches the lake and splits to provide a full loop near the shoreline. My route followed a counterclockwise direction which seemed to be just fine.

Upon arrival at the lake the water was calm, but shortly thereafter the skies opened up and the rain started to fall, changing the scenery quite a bit.

Doing the counterclockwise direction stays close to the lake for the first half of the loop (nice and flat after all that elevation gain) before it climbs a little higher above the lake and underneath some very impressive rock cliffs that are about 200 feet high.

Camping is not allowed at the lake, but there are a lot of spots near the cliffs that would be somewhat protected from rain and weather. Plenty of evidence that others have made small campfires against the walls and it's surely a cozy spot after dark.

Upon completing the loop around the lake I noticed a definite boot path that seemed to head toward the top of the ridge/rock cliffs that I just passed underneath. Following that path led me along the top of the ridge, past the first highpoint and down a little ways to where I turned around. My turn around occurred because there hadn't been any views of the lake, but a late review of the map indicates there is a second bump on that ridge. It's probable that the lake views may be had from that location. Bump number 2 will be at the top of my Objective list next time I'm in the neighborhood.

Round trip, including diversions was about 5.25 miles and about 1,400 feet of cumulative elevation gain. Trail head is at about 100 feet or so and lake is at about 1,300 feet or so.

Don't leave your valuable in your car at the trail head. Theft is common. Consider parking at Larrabee State Park and walking the extra .2 miles to the trail head instead.

Happy Trails!

PS: In case you are wondering about the trip report for my recent trip to Church Mountain... it's in progress. I'm just distracted by life and it's resulting in delayed photo editing and wordsmithing. It's coming soon.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Horseshoe Bend 8-29-10

After a fun peak-bagging adventure to Excelsior Peak, I stopped by the Horseshoe Bend trail on my way home.

The Horseshoe Bend trail head is located right across Hwy 542 from the Douglas Fir Campground and follows the Nooksack River for a couple miles up stream.

The trail is easy to follow and offers lush foliage and a swift river with plenty of whitewater.

It's about a mile and a half until the brush starts imposing on the trail, but sources tell me the trail goes for two miles before you're on your own.

Here are a few of the photos I took from (or near) the trail:

As you climb the stairs from the trail up to the parking lot you are faced with 4,000+ feet of mountain staring you down. I believe this is West Church Mountain, with the real Church Mountain on the right side where the trees start blocking the view. Little did I know that I would be standing up there in only six days (that trip report is coming soon).

Here is a video of my favorite pics from the Excelsior Peak / Horseshoe Bend trip (just 'cuz). Most (but not all) of the pics were already posted in one of the two trip reports.

Happy Trails!


Change of plans for 9-4-10

Upon reaching Everett it came to my attention that my backpack was still at home on the couch.

So, new plan is to head toward Mt. Baker (it's a lot closer, plus it is sunny here in Mt. Vernon and raining in Everett anyway) and either do the Chain Lakes Loop around Table Mtn from Artist Point or possibly visit Church Mountain if it looks like views could be possible.

This time I'm going to take my backpack with me.

Happy Trails!


Friday, September 3, 2010

Itinerary for Sat, Sept 4, 2010

Likely joining the masses of hikers on the Rachel Lake trail, just east of Snoqualmie Pass with hopes of having some decent weather and enjoying some views from Rampart Ridge. God willing, maybe I'll cross off Alta Mountain while I'm in the neighborhood.

Currently it's a solo trip, but you never know who'll come along at the last minute. There's still time to tag along (or offer alternatives)!!!!


Happy Trails!


Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Excelsior Pass 08/29/10

My hike on Sunday August 29, 2010 led me to Excelsior Pass via the Damfino Lakes route with Kris, Kevin and Debbie.

Kris was kind enough to let us use her vehicle to test out the road to Damfino Lakes. She was also kind enough to let Kevin drive AND kind enough not to throw up on me when she started feeling a little carsick.

Generally speaking, throw up is attracted to me like a magnet.

This was my second visit to this trail head. The first visit was in conjunction with the World Famous 2009 Summer Solstice Party at JenJen's in Maple Falls during June 2009.

The road to Damfino Lakes during that first visit had a section of the road which had been washed away, leaving a short and steep section which was passable by a Subaru, but probably not a Camry. It seems that section has been totally fixed and the road is now passable to just about any vehicle that can make it over a speed bump without damage.

The trail to Damfino Lake is reached by driving the Canyon Creek road for about 15 miles, staying 'straight' (or slightly left if you aren't sure) at the junctions. Canyon Creek road connects to the Mount Baker Highway (Hwy 542) about 2 miles east of Glacier, WA. Most of the 15 miles is paved.

The weather turned out to be better than the forecast with mostly cloudy skies providing a few sun breaks and blue sky opportunities. We did feel a few raindrops here and there but nothing that would count as rain.

It was a little chilly at the Pass when we stopped for lunch.

Mount Baker and Mt. Shuksan were both hidden in the distant clouds for the duration of the hike.

Blueberries could be found at Excelsior Pass.

Bugs were not an issue. A few small flies here and there, but no need to do anything extra for evasive action. No bug spray or anything.

It was beautiful all around. Definitely a good choice in a few more weeks as the colors start to change.

Quite a few flowers remaining, but the oncoming cold weather could mean they are short lived at this point.

The trail starts with a gradual decline from the parking lot down to Damfino Lakes. Just before the lake there is an intersection with the Boundary Way trail (rumored to be a great trail, fwiw).

After circling the lakes on puncheon walkway, the trail begins to ascend through the forest toward the meadows. The rest of the route is in meadows on on ridge tops.

Entering the first meadow:

We noticed bees on some of the flowers. Instead of their typically 'busy as a bee' activities, they were virtually motionless. Just resting on top of (or sometimes just hanging upside down, underneath) the flowers.

Final approach to Excelsior Peak: (it is a lot steeper than it looks)

Happy Hikers Peak-baggin':

Descending from the summit:

This may be the backside of Church Mountain:

Looking back up at Excelsior Peak:


Arriving back at Damfino Lake:

This hike gets the 'two thumbs up' from our whole group and I look forward to future visits here. Being able to drive to Damfino Lakes knocks of at least 2,000 feet of elevation gain that would be hiked up if you start at the trail head alongside Hwy 542. Plus, the Hwy 542 trail head routes up through forest the entire way until you reach the pass.

Once our group was safely back down to Hwy 542, the three of them went on to have soup at Milano's in Glacier, WA while I ventured up to Heather Meadows to find a combination of alternating heavy rain and light sun. Rather than getting drenched and cold, I decided to head back down toward Glacier, WA and make a first visit to the Horseshoe Bend trail along the Nooksack River. Trip Report for that will be coming soon.

Happy Trails!