Saturday, August 27, 2011

North Cascade Glacier Observations 2011

Peltoms just posted his 2011 glacier findings over on

We know there was a lot of snow (and a lot of lingering snow) over the 2010/2011 winter, and Peltoms confirmed the accumulation of snowpack... and confirmed it's the second largest accumulation over the 28 years that he's been surveying these glaciers.

The most accumulation was from the world famous winter of 1999, when Mt. Baker made the world record books for the most snowfall in one season.

While it's good news that the 10/11 year involved a lot of new snow, it was not even in the ballpark as to what 1999 brought.

Here's his video (below), and here is his trip report from with quite a few pictures and statistics to compare 2010/2011 with 1999.

Happy Trails!


PS: Reminder, next hike has been changed to Labor Day (Sept 5th). Details still TBD.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Tonga Ridge and Sawyer Mtn 08-13-2011

Met up with Steve Gilles at the Monroe Park and Ride on an overcast - marine layer type of day. The weather forecast was predicting sunny, warm and blue skies... and we found just that as we passed the town of Skykomish heading eastbound on Hwy 2 toward the Foss River Road. We lucked out as it seems the rest of the northwest wouldn't see blue sky until about 8pm.

Our destination was the Tonga Ridge trail, with the expectation that we'd end up on Mt. Sawyer and be back home by 6pm. This was the first time either of us had been to this trail - and the first time we had hiked in this 'neighborhood'.

The road to the trailhead is rather long... about 10 miles or so of gravel roads. Fortunately for my Camry, the road is in excellent condition. Very minor washboarding on a couple of the corners and absolutely zero potholes. The only road hazzard we encountered (but avoided) were two huge holes in the road about a mile from the trail head. These don't appear to be potholes. They appear to be sinkholes: small but deep. Just the right size to drop one of your tires into and break an axle or a tie rod - or maybe bend a rim, pop a tire and destory your alignment. Seriously - if you hit these it's going to cost you big time for towing and repairs. It's easy to drive around them (without even slowing down) but the price is high if you don't see them in time to avoid them.

Upon our safe arrival at the trailhead (Northwest Forest Pass is required for parking) there was only one other vehicle in the small lot (and just wait until you find out who's vehicle it was!). We expected more on such a beautiful August Saturday.

Also at the trail head parking lot we found bugs. More than plenty of them. "Keep Moving" became the name of the game. Mostly mosquitos, but also some small flies and a few bees.

This trail enters the Alpine Lakes Wilderness, so be sure to grab a permit at the trail head, fill it out, stick the bottom stub in the drop box and attach the other half to your pack. It's free... unless you're lazy and don't do it, then end up with a ticket.

The trail begins on the crest of a wooded ridge. No views to speak of, but it's obviously a ridge since the ground slopes away rather noticably on both sides of the trail.

Just like the Topo map shows, eventually the ridge continues upward, but the trail levels out and sidehills on the south side of the ridge.

Concerned that maybe we missed a boot path that would keep us on the ridge, we left the trail at a pink ribbon, trying hard to follow a non-existent trail. Not quite what we signed up for, so we returned to the trail and continued onward.

Eventually the trail finds patches of clearing which offers some views to the south. We also found another boot path that provided a glimpse to the peaks on the north side of the ridge. Still, no boot path to continue up Tonga Ridge. Why would they call this Tonga Ridge trail if we were just going to be side-hilling it the whole time? We were concerned that this would amount to the highlight of the hike. Our concerns were unwarranted... the trail does get better - as the pics indicate.

At about the 1.8 mile mark (per gps) we came across a couple on their way back to the trail head.

We both inquired with them and they inquired with us: Where is the boot path to Sawyer Mountain? All four of us were a bit flummoxed that we weren't on a ridge, enjoying sweeping views. Sure, we were on the trail, and the trail was going right where the topo maps indicate it should go... but why on earth isn't this trail on the top of Tonga Ridge?

The couple we met had brought along some beta from the internet which indicated the boot path to Sawyer Mtn is near the invisible tarn. they went to the invisible tarn but couldn't locate the boot path... had given up and turned around.

We invited them to come along with us. Another couple sets of eyes might help solve the mystery. It's a popular trail, so the boot path should be pretty obvious... wouldn't you think?

Shortly thereafter we arrived at the invisible tarn. There were a number of boot paths, but none seemed to go beyond the tarn flats. We could see Sawyer up above the tarn flats.

By the way... near the middle of the tarn flats there seems to be a big hole. Big. Hole. Well, about a 2 foot deep divot. Maybe the tarns drained down into the ground here? Maybe it's just the remnanats of someone's old fire pit? Should have snapped a few pictures of it, but didn't.

There were still a few potential bootpath leads to investigate at the flats, but we decided to continue on the trail for a litle ways first... just in case it was just ahead of us.

Viola! Just a ways beyond the tarns, after entering back into the trees, a boot path is marked with a pink flag and immediately begins ascending Sawyer Mountain!

Up we went.

You can clearly see on the topo profile how the elevation gain on this trail is all due to Mt. Sawyer.

During our ascent we conversed with our new friends about where we like to hike and other important topics. Through the course of this conversation we started talking about Elvis, meet Realityguy. Realityguy, meet Elvis.

Pleased to meet you!

Discussion eventually turned to the topic of goats. Goats led to a discussion about the hiker that was killed by the goat in the Olympics in October 2010. Realityguy then informed us that he is the hiker that first came across the gruesome scene. That spurred more interesting conversations, as you can imagine.

Eventually, Realityguy & his spouse continued upward while we meandered our way up a little more slowly. We finally passed by them on a little snowfield just below the summit, where they had stopped for lunch in the shade.

The snow covers a very small area... maybe 50 feet at the most. Stay to the left and you dont' need to worry about sliding down the backside of the mountain. No equipment needed... don't give up, you are so close!

We quickly made our way to the top, took lots of pictures, unintentionally located a geocache, ate lunch and took more pictures. Then applied bug spray.

Fantastic views from up there! This is a great hike if you are looking for an easy summit... and the weather is nice.

We could tell that the Puget Sound was still locked in a marine layer while we were basking in cloudless blue skies and sunshine.

Realityguy & his wife joined us a short while later and then they headed down a few minutes before we did.

As we descended, there was another group on their way up - already at the snowfield. We encountered a second group as we neared the bottom of the boot path and then a few more groups between there and the trail head.

The hike out was pretty quiet and uneventful as we contemplated goat attacks and why the heck isn't this trail on the top of Tonga Ridge?

The ride back to Monroe was uneventful and I was home in just enough time to be at the Skagit County Fair for the 4H awards.

Thanks Steve for coming along - this was a perfect choice for today.
Thanks Realityguy & wife for being awesome (and interesting) trail partners too! Glad we crossed paths.

6.1 miles round trip.
1,330 feet of elevation gain.

If you want to see some of the above pics without all the fancy photoshop fluff, they are posted 'au natural' over on in the Tonga Ridge / Sawyer trip report.

Happy Trails!


Next hike has been rescheduled for September 5, 2011 (Labor Day). Best to check the 2011 Hiking Calendar for updates in case something changes.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Itinerary for 08-13-2011

Meeting up with Steve G. of Edmonds at 8am for a hike out on Tonga Ridge, with the potential for a summit of nearby Mt. Sawyer.

Tonga Ridge is located south-eastish of Skykomish off Hwy 2.

Expecting an easy and casual day of sunny hiking, and then be back in town by 6:00 for the 4-H awards at the Skagit County Fair with the family.

Happy Trails!


Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Kawishiwi Falls (Minnesota) 07-31-2011

Upon our completion of the Dry Falls hike, Rachel & Hilary returned to the cabin for showers while Steve & I opted to make a quick trek out to Kawishiwi Falls.

Kawishiwi Falls is located between Garden Lake and Fall Lake, just outside of Ely, MN, near the famous Boundary Waters Canoe Area (BWCA).

Garden Lake has a dam created at its outlet for purposes of generating electricity. The falls are located between the Garden Lake Dam and Fall Lake.

Considering the limited topography of the area, these falls are admittedly a pretty good size.

Kawishiwi is a Ojibwe name meaning "river full of beaver or muskrat houses".

The Ojibwe peoples are a major component group of the Anishinaabe-speaking peoples, a branch of the Algonquian language family which includes the Algonquin, Nipissing, Oji-Cree, Odawa and the Potawatomi. As if everyone doesn't already know that. Sheesh.

Really, you may be more interested to know that the Ojibwe (also Ojibwa or Ojibway) or Chippewa (also Chippeway) are among the largest groups of Native Americans–First Nations north of Mexico. You can probably read more about this, if you are interested, on wikipedia.

So, as I mentioned earlier, the falls were pretty impressive.

The hike is pretty short, less than a mile round trip, with minimal elevation gain. We were in a bit of a hurry to get back to visiting with relatives, so our exploration was pretty brief.

There are portage trails (as per the sign), so it's easy to access the water at a number of points.

If you are in the neighborhood, this is a perfect hike for families looking for a short adventure that will capture the interest of all ages and abilities.

Happy Trails!


Next hike coming right up: Saturday, August 13, 2011!

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Dry Falls 07-31-2011 (Minnesota)

With a little free time on my calendar, I had an opportunity to meet up with some of my favorite buddies for a hike near the Boundary Waters Canoe Area (BWCA) in northern Minnesota, ya.

Based on a recommendation from Mary Ann, Rachel, Steve and I found ourselves setting out for a +3 mile hike on the Bass Lake Trail, just north of Ely, MN.

This hike is located in the Superior National Forest. In this context, Superior isn't an opinion. Superior refers to "nearby" Lake Superior (one of the Great Lakes, ya).

It's also near the thriving metropolis of Winton, MN.

Upon a study of the trail head map, we decided to hike out to Dry Falls first, then we'd decide whether we wanted to do the Bass Lake loop or the Dry Lake loop. Ultimately, we decided on the shorter option: Dry Lake loop.

The weather was a perfect temperature - right about 80 degrees. Other than a few pesky flies, the bugs weren't all that bad (considering what we'd experience later that night at the Cabin).

The scenery is pretty similar to what we have here in western Washington, minus the long and steep hills. Minnesota hills are less steep and certainly a lot shorter.

Lots of greenery and luscious lakes.

Our first glimpse of Bass Lake:

Our first glimpse of Dry Falls, and a couple enjoying the water:

There is a little bridge that allows easy access across the creek, and offers a nice view over the top of the falls, with Bass Lake in the background.

Dry Falls contains water flowing from Dry Lake into Bass Lake.

As you can imagine, Dry Lake isn't actually dry, although it used to be 'more dry' than it currently is. It seems that back in 1925, Dry Lake contained a lot more water, until it breached a natural dam and drained out. You can read all about it from an old newspaper story at the trail head.

While enjoying the falls and nearby scenery, we happened to witness the arrival of Hilary and her grown up pup, My-ya.

After a short break, we continued onward to circumnavigate Dry Lake and Little Dry Lake. We quickly located the beaver dam(s) that are currently preventing a faster drainage of Dry Lake.

Found some stuff that didn't look familiar... maybe because all our stuff here in WA is still under snow:

Video of that thing:

All in all, it was a very nice hike. Great recommendation Mary Ann!

Happy Trails!