Saturday, January 21, 2012

Chuckanut's Samish Overlook in Snow 01-17-2012

My original plan to go snowshoeing with a Mount Baker Club group was cancelled due to snow.

Ended up spending the morning with the family at home, watching the snow piling up.

Finally noticed the snow letting up a bit and some obvious clearing on the horizon. Decided to verify that there weren't any existing plans for the afternoon and then left the house to enjoy a snowy hike up to Chuckanut's Oyster Dome or Samish Overlook.

Parked in about an inche of snow at the Chuckanut trail head, grabbed some gear (but not snowshoes) and headed up the mountain.

The snow depth increased as I gained elevation and there was about 8 inches or so at the first trailside bench (1.2miles, 950 feet of gain). Decided it was time to put on the Stabilicers and the Gaiters.

Followed two sets of footprints in the snow.
Skipped the turnoff to Samish Overlook - had hopes of reaching Oyster Dome.

The footsteps I followed eventually left the trail and I found myself crotch-deep in snow on a steep incline. After continuing a short ways it was clear that this wasn't the trail. Rather than risk an injury, it seemed to be a good time to call it quits on Oyster Dome and divert to the Samish Overlook.

It was a good choice.

Samish Overlook had one set of footprints and the rest of the area was pristine and beautiful (well, if you ignore the black fences and outhouses). Fantastic and seldom seen winter views of the Skagit Valley and the Islands were abundant.

Yes, it is possible to drive to this Overlook. With more than a foot of snow and an eight+ mile drive on a periodically steep logging road, not many vehicles CAN drive here in these conditions - put one set of deep tracks from big tires proved to me that it's not out of the question.

This section of trail is part of the Pacific Northwest Trai which runs from the Pacific Ocean to the Continental Divide. Here is a snow covered PNT sign:

Looking to the north, a wall of 'dark' was coming our way. Oyster Dome might have been in the clouds.

Enjoyed some snacks and a beverage. Took some pics. Headed back down but stopped at the aforementioned bench.

Set up the tripod to take some sequential pics of the clouds moving over the islands. These are included in the below video - they turned out kind of neat but as the video came together it was evident that the tripod was slowly sinking into the snow. Whoops.

Anyway, this was a fantastic winter hike. Completely different than any non-snow Chuckanut hike.

My round trip (including the partial trip toward Oyster Dome) was about 5.4 miles and 1,330 of elevation gain.


PS: Contemplating a hike along the North Lake Whatcom Trail on Sunday 1/22/2012 with Ron Peterson of the Mount Baker Club.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Ladder Creek Falls 01-14-2012 Newhalem, WA

The first hike of 2012 wasn't all that it was planned to be.

That's not to say it wasn't a good hike, because it was a beautiful destination and the trail is pretty unusual too.

If you happened to read the itinerary that I posted less than 24 hours ago then you'll know that today's hike was planned to include a lot more than a 1 mile round trip hike.

The morning started off on the wrong foot when my cell phone alarm didn't go off - or if it did go off, I slept right through it. Instead of waking up at 6:15 for an early start to accomplish a big itinerary, my day actually started at 8:15 a.m.. On the positive side, my extra sleep only messed up my own schedule (one of the few benefits of a solo hike day).

Finally hit the road at about 9:15 a.m.. Ground was wet at home, but cold. The Nookachamps Winter run was just starting. By the time I reached Sedro-Woolley, it was hailing.

Snow, rain and hail all alternated between Sedro and Newhalem. At times there were four inches of snow across the road with only a set of tire tracks to follow.

Slowed down in Rockport... no active eagles (at 10:15am) which was ok because it was cold and wet out there.

Turned onto the Cascade River Road in Marblemount after seeing a sign for Free Tours at the Fish Hatchery. There was a lot more snow out there and it was breezy too. Decided to skip the tour in favor of continuing east.

Immediately after Marblemount, the snow deepened. Cars in front of me (two of them) decided to turn around. In the middle of the highway. I had to stop and wait for them to get out of the way.

By the time I reached Newhalem, there was about six inches of snow in the neighborhood streets, but Hwy 20 was plowed and pretty clean in 'town'. I cruised around town slowly, enjoying the solid feel of the car on the soft untouched snow. Feeling anxious about continuing beyond Newhalem, I parked near the powerhouse and went to visit Ladder Creek Falls.

It was wet. Really wet snow. Raingear: drenched. Boots: soaked. Camera: waterlogged. Toes: sweaty and cold. Eyes: Enjoying the sights immensely.

The powerhouse visitor center is closed in the winter, but a sign on the door indicates you can use the 'grey phone' near the stairs to call the operator and he'd let you in. Instead of doing that, I just hit the trail - and took a few pictures.

The trail itself was probably 1 mile long or less. Elevation gain is probably about 100 feet or less.

It's a beautiful area with beautiful gardens - but moreso in the summer. Right now all the ponds are drained and snow is covering many of the plants. At night the gardens are illumnated by colored lights. IIRC, the lights are on until 10pm but I suspect they aren't on at all in the winter.

This is a GREAT rest break for the family if you ever pass by Newhalem. Even though the hike is short, there are other neat things to do while you are in town.

The visitor centers are cool - both of them. One is in the powerhouse (mentioned above) and the other is across the street from the General Store in the middle of town.

Mr. Ross's Crypt (and his wife's) is located across the street (he's buried in the side of the mountain). There is a little trail to it if you look.

Trail of the Cedars is located near the end of the main street (beyond the Generaly Store) and offers another neat bridge over the river plus a nice interpretive loop.

Be sure to take a peek at Old Engine No. 6.

If you like to plan and organize, consider making an advance registration for the Dam Tour.

Just East of Newhalem is the Gorge Creek bridge and overlook (and the dam).

Just West of Newhalem is a campground and a North Cascades National Park Visitor Center with some top notch exhibits and a short trail to a view of the Pickett Mountain range (if the clouds cooperate).

The very first time that I drove into Newhalem it felt like something out of a Twilight Zone movie. A little residential town in the middle of nowhere. All the houses looked alike. It was dead quiet. Weird.

Now, I percieve it as a pretty neat place to visit. Two thumbs up!

On with the trip report...

After drying off from the photo taking session, it seemed prudent to see what the road conditions were further east. My original destination (town of Diablo) was still 10 curvy miles away - an area known for large scale avalanches and destruction during storms.

The road to the east was clear, but after passing by the last major destruction area, the snow came down much faster and the wind blew a lot harder. The Risk / Benefit threshold was exceeded so I turned around and headed back to the west.

Once arriving in Marblemount with so much extra time on my hands (still wearing wet boots and rain pants) it made sense to stop at the fish hatchery again to enjoy a tour.

The tour was nice and very informative (but I was freezing).

Glad to be back in the car with the heater on. Drove to Sedro-Woolley (sunshine and blue skies on the western horizon), shopped for new boots in town and then headed home.

While the day might have been considered a failure if other people were along for the ride today, I think it was a nice little jaunt. Yes, too much driving for such little hiking, but it was nice to see Newhalem and the falls in snow and there were numerous facts learned about Eagles and Fish.

Plus, only two more days until I'm back on the trail so it's all good.

Lucky me!

Happy Trails!


Saturday, January 14, 2012

Itinerary for 01-14-2012

You'll thank me later for sparing you all the pros and cons for all the different destination options that I've been pondering for the last five days.

It's after midnight and I still don't have a plan.

That's one drawback to hiking solo: there's a million options out there but I'm compelled to committ to something just for the sake of letting others know where I'll be in the unlikely event there is trouble.

Honestly, I'd be content to just get in the car at day break and see where I end up. But, those aren't the rules of this game.

So, here is my broad itinerary "Decision Tree" for the day:

Heading east on Hwy 20.

Will probably stop at the park along the river just before the Cascadian Farm stand in Rockport to see if there are any Eagle photo opps.

Will continue on to Newhalem. Will probably stop at the Ranger Visitor Center there to inquire about snow conditions.

Depending on what I learn in Newhalem, I'll probably head further east on Hwy 20 to Diablo and hike along the Stetattle Creek trail. Sounds like some cute waterfalls out there (if they aren't under snow) but the trail just peters out after about 3 miles. A bit short for such a drive, and no big jackpot other than the waterfalls.

It just dawned on me that there is a switchback trail from Diablo (bottom of the dam) that climbs to the top of the dam which I haven't done. In fact, I don't recall hearing of anyone doing that trail. FINALLY... something that sounds interesting. Pretty sure this trail is between the old incline railway and the dam.

Sourdough Lookout (Ridge, Mtn) trail starts in Diablo also. Maybe I'll venture up it a ways for some good efficient elevation training.

Depending on how all that goes, there's a chance that I'll go sample a mile or two of the Cow Heaven trail. This trail starts just down the road from the MARBLEMOUNT Ranger Station. It's unlikely I'll go here (because it was my impression that this trail was closer to Newhalem but I just realized I was totally wrong - a good example of why trip planning is so important).

If darkness approaches while I'm near the Newhalem area, it's a given that I'd take the opportunity to try some photos of Ladder Creek Falls behind the Newhalem powerhouse since they light it up at night. Well, they do it in the summer - not sure if they do it in the winter too.

The final exploring option on my to-do list in that area is to go down the road to the Newhalem Dam itself (the Gorge Dam itself I think is what it is called). Just to say I've been there.

Skip all the Diablo and Newhalem stuff and take Hwy 530 down toward Darrington to make a second try for the North Mountain Lookout. This should be a priority for me, but the long (dull) road walk isn't something I look forward to doing solo. Plus, the snow level out there is a big unknown at the moment and not something I'm keen on tackling solo anytime soon. So, it is an option and I do want to get to that Lookout, but probably not on the 14th.

That's it.

Due to the potential for photo ops of Ladder Creek falls at night, I should be back in cell phone reception by 7pm at the latest.

Option A is sounding the most interesting. It also sounds like a lot of wandering/exploring/driving and not quite as much hiking. So be it - that's how I roll.

Besides, I'll be on snowshoes on Tuesday and possibly playing outdoors again on Wednesday.

Happy Hiking!


Sunday, January 8, 2012

Chuckanuts North Butte 12-31-2011

Last hike of the year.

It wasn't planned. The family finally got tired of me hanging around the house, bored; they voted that I had to leave and go for a hike.

You know me... always compliant.

Grabbed some running gear and some hiking gear and jumped into the car a short while after noon and drove to the upper trail head on Blanchard Hill (aka Chuckanut Mountain).

The target was the Incline Trail ("new to me") which is an alternate route to Lizard and Lily lakes. It starts out on a logging road and then ascends quickly to the lake. The older route is less direct.

Since I'm trying hard to keep on my 'starting over' running schedule, today was supposed to include a (run+walk)x4 workout and it seemed like a great opportunity to do the run on the logging road and up the trail. Two birds, one stone.

Here is an attempt to embed the route as recorded by my Garmin 410:

Here's a link to the Dailymile workout data (yeah, I'm testing this out - thanks for your patience).

As it turns out, by the time I was on the last running interval, the trail was so steep (and my stamina so low) that I had to cut the 'run' short and resorted to fast hiking. I 'caught up' on the trail flats between Lizard and Lily Lakes (both ways) and then ran extra on the way DOWN the Incline trail.

Weather was ok - it didn't rain and it wasn't foggy.

Didn't actually cross paths with any other hikers but I did see a few and heard a few others but never actually close enough to acknowledge each other.

The trail was wide and easy to follow. A few muddy spots, a few recently regraded spots and a few piles of horse roo too. Hoar frost was evident along many downed branches along the trail near the lakes.

Lizard and Lily lakes look like they did when I made my first visit back in July 2011.

My quick arrival at Lizard Lake allowed me to continue onward toward Lily Lake. This long stretch of pretty flat trail follows an old railroad route. Many of the ties were left to (eventually) rot and you can see lumps of moss that have sprouted up to help the process along.

There are also old railroad and mining artifacts laying around. Please leave them for others to view and enjoy.

Upon my arrival at Lily Lake, I was surprised to see that a tree had been felled by beavers, right across the lake outlet. Such precision! They've also almost finished dropping a second tree. There were at least two other much smaller trees which they have also made use of.

Decided to follow the trail around Lily Lake in the clockwise direction. Mostly because I was hoping to find a bootpath to the local high point.

After a short while there was a small red flag tied to a tree with a bootpath heading in the direction of the high point so I followed it.

Instead of the high point, it led to North Butte - quite an unexpected surprise.

Even better was that the clouds had disappeared so the San Juan Islands were easily viewable. Oyster Dome is the obvious hump in the foreground just to the left of center.

The high point was nearby, but time was getting late and there didn't seem to be any obvious trail to reduce the routefinding time so it will wait for another day.

The hike/run back was uneventful.

Once back on the logging road, clouds to the east had lifted also and provided a single viewpoint to see Mt. Baker in sunshine with Alger Alp aka Little Bald Mtn) in the foreground.

Once back in the car, there was enough time left to drive out to the Samish Overlook and take in a few more views in late day sunshine.

Here is a view to the south, out over Skagit Flats, and also a zoom-in picture of the 4H barn where we spend our Wednesday evenings.

Turning to the right allows views of the Puget Sound and the San Juan Islands.

Considering the available time, the lack of notice, multiple objectives and the unpredictable weather, this outing was a total success!!

Here is a video which includes footage of the hoar frost (blurry), beaver cut trees, North Butte Views and Mt. Baker views.

Thirteen Hours "in" Paradise

Here is a link to another blog which describes in detail the ordeal of 13 Hours In Paradise - a story from inside the Visitor Center at Paradise in Mount Rainier National Park where visitors were detained while a SWAT Team manhunt continued outside on 1-1-2012.

Thanks, Ingunn, for sharing the link on facebook.

No, I do not know the author of the blog.

Glad the day turned out as well as it did - relatively speaking of course.


Monday, January 2, 2012

Ranger Thoughts & Coffee Cup Communications

Breaking news around the northwest is centered around the sudden and tragic shooting of Park Ranger Margaret Anderson  while on duty in Mount Rainier National Park.

For their own protection, Park visitors were asked to stay put inside the Paradise Visitor Center while Law Enforcement teams tracked down the shooter.

Meanwhile, there was a group of hikers enjoying the solitude of a snow camping weekend at nearby Reflection Lakes - unaware of all the 'current events' and the danger that could have been nearby.  They eventually concluded that something was going on after a number of circling airplanes came and went.  The planes were followed by helicopters, coming in very low and circling the lake.

Then, the helicopter crew began trying to communicate with them through a loudspeaker - with little success.

Eventually, the communication came down to messages written on coffee cups and dropped down to the campers!

Read all about the campers side of the story (and see pics of the coffee-cup-messages) in their trip report on  Here is a link.

Here is the news story.

Here is Margaret Anderson's Officer Down webpage.

I know this is a depressing post (not the way anyone plans on starting out a new year I'm sure), but I have a bit of an uplifting ending (believe it or not).

One of the blogs I follow (look for it on the left side of the blog, under 'Blogs I Follow' section) is called Toward the Mountain Top, Inch By Inch.  Unrelated to the recent events described above, the author of that blog put up a post a few days ago describing her passion about serving as a Park Ranger.  As all Rangers are contemplating the impact of budget cuts on their livelihood, the blog author does a fantastic job of communicating why Rangers love their jobs.

I imagine that Margaret Anderson probably had similar emotions.

Here is the link to that blog post:  Reflections of (a soon to be former?) Park Ranger

Happy New Year (I guess), and Happy Hiking.

A trip report to Chuckanuts North Butte should be up in the next few days.