Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Rock Climbers at Index Town Wall 05-12-2012

Index Town Wall

Beautiful weather, a few free hours and my desire to see something new brought me to the infamous Index Town Wall a couple weekends ago.

The Index Town Wall is a popular place for locals to exercise their adrenaline and unique skills by rock climbing up a massive granite wall. Really massive. Really, super big massive. I kid you not.

For those of us who don't like to climb, or those of us who have spouses/families that don't allow them to climb (although frequently these groups of people are one and the same), it is rumored that there is a trail that can be hiked (not climbed) to the top of the wall(s).

Really, that's about all I knew about the trail when I stepped out the front door of the house.

My objective for the day was more about just exploring the Index Town Wall area than it was about hiking to the top of the wall. Thus, not really knowing all the details just wasn't of too much concern.

The town of Index is located just a short ways off Hwy 2, about 30 minutes or so east of Monroe (depending on traffic).

Here's a map for you.

My route from left to right basically covers the width of the climbing wall space. It's a huge area.

From a distance, it appears there are multiple tiers to the 'wall'. Unfortunately, I do not know if it is possible to access those other, higher wall sections via foot.

Upon my arrival (took the last parking spot in the lot, no parking permits/passes required) it seemed logical to follow a main trail out of the parking lot. This route went up and over the active railroad tracks to a little trailhead kiosk and porta-potty. A trail continues from the kiosk into the woods and directly to the based of the wall.

Can you spot the five climbers?

A trail branches off to the left. My feet followed it.

This route contours around the base of the wall and then almost immediately starts ascending a moss covered talus/boulder slope and through a gap between the main wall and a secondary 'stub' wall. Along the way there was a neat little stream which was diverting itself into a short cave while also glowing with sunlight.

At the gap there were two groups of climbers, roped up and 'learning the ropes'.

Beyond them the trail went by a neat cut/cavern in the rocks (see the video for really bad footage of this odd cavern that looks like a wide vein that has been weathered away) before heading more downhill than uphill. Since it seemed this direction wasn't going to go any higher without the use of ropes, I concluded this was not the trail I was looking for. Regardless, there is no doubt that the exploration time was well worth the effort.

Returning to the main trail allowed me to watch a few other groups of climbers slowly make progress up and down various routes.

Did I mention the weather was fantastic and the views were sublime? It was and they were.

The trail became rockier and looser as it proceeded to the right and my visitation time was running out.

After making my way back to the train tracks, it was noted that a few people were wandering to the right along the tracks (to the right if you are facing the wall). Assuming they knew more than I did, I followed them. Less than a quarter mile away was a dirt road heading directly to the wall. In the base of the wall was a huge door... and more climbers, a picnic table and another porta-potty.

A trail continued further right, beyond the end of the vertical wall and into the woods. Then it began to ascend, and switchback.

This seemed to be the trail I was searching for. Unfortnately, there wasn't enough time for me to follow it very far. After only a couple hundred feet of elevation gain it was time to head back to the car (uneventful).

Can't wait to come back here to venture further up that trail! The views are sure to be impressive ones.

Unrelated to the hiking topics this blog usually focuses on, I was able to spend the rest of the afternoon making my way to Seattle to watch a Seattle Sounders game vs. Salt Lake City at CenturyLink field. The Sounders lost, but everything else about the entire day was a TOTAL WIN!

Here is a short video of the odd cavern/vein and some soccer footage.

Happy Hiking!


PS: A whole lot more trip reports are coming soon... this last Saturday involved a visit (or more) to FOUR trails! Stay Tuned!

Friday, May 18, 2012

Itinerary for 05-19-2012

Going to start the day off with a last ditch effort to photograph the North Mountain Lookout (near Darrington) and am then hoping to head out to do a little exploring of what I call "My Diablo Trifecta".

WTH is that?

There are three trails that start in Diablo that are on my to-do list: Stetattle Creek, Sourdough Mtn Lookout and an unnamed trail from the town up to Diablo dam.

Obviously I'm not tackling all three in one day, but it's nice to have those options.

Hope the weather holds up as the weatherman claims it will.

Happy Trails!


Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Check your Calendar... Hiking this Saturday

This Saturday is scheduled to be a hike day.**

The weatherman wants me to believe the weather won't be anything like the perfect weather we just had last weekend, but you know I'll be happy just to stay dry.

Destination is very much open to suggestions or proposals. Close to home (and rather uneventful) destinations on my radar remain to be North Mountain, Sumas Mtn (search for shafts #2 and #3), the Index Town Wall hike, Wells Creek Road or a late season visit to Artist Point and Panorama Dome. Or anything totally different.

Two important things to be aware of:
1) My wife was confused last weekend. She thought it was labor day weekend and thus we spent most of the day doing yard work, gardening, patio sweeping and even window washing. There is a slight chance she'll recommend bumping this hike date to another day. Quite frankly, I wouldn't blame her if she did... she's earned it. Anyway, consider yourself warned... the date may change.

2) Honestly, now the second important point has completely slipped my mind. Ugh.

Faux 2) The Mount Baker Club has a hike scheduled for this SUNDAY to Bald Mountain (between Big Lake and Lake Cavanaugh in Skagit County) that would be a neat trip since I've been eyeing that lump for a few years now. I wouldn't mind voluntarilly bumping my Saturday date to Sunday, assuming that a) the Mt. Baker Club doesn't cancel their outing, b) the weather isn't totally suckish and c) assuming no one else speaks up to offer themselves as a hiking partner for Saturday.

Other tidbits:

I'm getting much more serious about finding a hitch/bike rack for the Subaru and a cheap Kayak (and roof attachment) too. I'm envisioning lots of opportunities for those accessories in the near future. Any leads on cheap sources for hitches and racks would be greatly appreciated.

Happy Trails!


Saturday, May 5, 2012

North Mtn and Old Sauk River 04-29-2012

Just four days after injuring my ankle during a trail run near Squires Lake the opportunity arose for a bonus hike.

Serious consideration was given to simply staying home to recouperate, but since the doctor didn't prescribe x-rays or pain killers then my condition could only be defined as "trail-worthy". Buck up and get out of the house.

In reality, it was more like the reality show "Big Brother"; esentially I had been voted out of the household for the day so the gals could aquaint themselves with the newest member of the family: Charlie... the Golden Doodle... puppy.

Chances are high that the next post over on teamrolfs will be all about you-know-who.

Anyway, I set my sights pretty low for the day - mentally prepared to spend the day playing Bingo at the casino if my ankle didn't want to cooperate with the hiking plan.

The initial objective was to reach the North Mountain Lookout (my second attempt). The snow level was higher than it was during my first visit back in December so I was pleased to drive an extra mile and a half, but a patch of snow stopped my mechanical travel just before it would have been stopped by water damage to the road.

The snowshoes remained at home in the garage even though I was sure to encounter snow on this route. My thoughts were that the snow probably wouldn't necessitate snowshoes since the elevation was similar to what I experienced on Sumas Mountain a couple weeks earlier... without snowshoes. Besides, it seemed logical that strapping extra weight UNDER my feet might not be a wise choice in the healing process.

Well, it turns out that the snow was deep, soft and slippery. Snowshoes would have made travel much faster and in retrospect, it would have been nice to have brought them.

After a mile of slow progress and probably seven more (round trip) to reach the lookout (and back) seemed like it might not be in my best interest today. North Mountain Snow = 2. Hiker = 0. Back to the car.

My itinerary included a number of other destination options. Unfortunately they all had undesirable consequences. Higgins: Snow for certain. Boulder River: Already been there before, meh. Diablo Dam: Would be cool but a bunch more driving. Home: woof x 5... not yet.

Hey... how about that river trail that Quark is always speaks so fondly of? What is it... oh yeah - the Old Sauk River Trail. New To Me, no snow, flat, nearby. PERFECT!

The Old Sauk River Trail follows the Sauk River upstream for about 3 flat miles or so. The trail is located about six miles south of Darrington (maybe it's only four miles south). There is a parking lot and a sign.

Upon my late arrival, there weren't any parking spots left. None.

Drove a couple miles further along the Mountain Loop Highway to find the alternate *New* or *In Progress* trail head. Found it... under construction and blocked. Bummer. Now what? Have to reconsider the original back up plans.

Headed back toward Darrington in dismay.

Suddenly, as I approached the original trail head, a car was leaving the parking lot and other hikers were just coming off the trail and headed to their own vehicles. Parking was now available! Woo Hoo!

Shortly thereafter I was happily hiking along, taking many photos of generic mountain loop + river + moss scenery.

The trail was very beautiful. No wonder Quark raves about it. As far as river walks go, this one is plenty nice.

Here is a video of almost all my photos. ALL of them are unedited and they are all in the original order. Only four pictures didn't make the cut because they were WAY too blurry.

The one saving grace for this video is that there are a few sequences of pictures where the scenery changes 'just a teeny tiny bit'. A branch moved. An slight point of view angle changed. Some of these slight changes are rather neat when viewed at the '2 seconds per image' rate that I used in creating the video. Check it out... you can spare four more minutes.

There is a route map at the end of the video. If you pause on the map you can see that my route followed the river along the trail, but then on the way back I also hiked the entire course of the new trail - much of which appears to be designed for wheelchair or at least stroller use intended.

All in all it was a nice day to be on the trails.

The ankle held up pretty well, but there were a few painful moments where stepping on a tree root caused a turn to the foot that resulted in a spasm of pain, but no more. Just watched my footing carefully... ended up hiking right about 10 miles between the two destinations. No need to cancel any future hike dates. :)

Happy Trails!

~ E

PS: Next hike date is the Saturday after Mother's Day (the 19th I think). Details still TBD. If you are interested in hiking that day please let me know so the 'details' can be developed with YOU in mind.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Sumas Mountain 04-14-2012

After surviving a completely unremarkable Friday the 13th, Saturday the 14th proved to be quite an adventure - in a good way.  The day was spent with two local geologists on a personalized tour of Sumas Mountain.

Don't be fooled by its looks.  Sumas Mountain may not provide the same kind of eye candy that taller and more majestic peaks may offer, but it holds plenty of secrets and unique surprises; if you know where to look.  If you don't know where to look then you'll probably still have a decent time - provided you are expecting some serious elevation gain.  One notable section of our route gained more than 2,000 vertical feet in about a one and a half miles of traveling.  Uff da.

The unofficial official trail head is at a dead end road north-ish of Everson and Nooksack.  It looks like this:

What you really can't see in the above picture are three important items:
1)  The black dog that lives at the house just to the left of this image.  In his (her?) younger years, the friendly dog was rumored to follow people up the mountain.  These days, rumor has it that age is taking its toll and it's less likely you'll have an impromptu canine following you.

2)  The fence posts with upside down boots on top of them.  As you'll soon find out, they could come in really handy in just a few minutes.

3)  See the hiker in blue?  That is right about where the mud starts.  It's almost impossible to make your way up the trail without being in ankle deep mud at least once on both feet.  You'll wish you had checked those trailhead boots to see if they had your size for a loaner.  Luckily, the mud is only an issue for a few hundered yards or so.

Continue up the trail.  If I recall, we came to a fork in the trail and we stayed to the right.  You can go left... then let me know where you ended up.

Shortly thereafter we came upon the bottom side of a clear cut.

Followed by another junction.  If you are all excited about seeing 'the cabin' you can follow the sign to the left.  We stayed to the right at this point (but when we came back down it was from the cabin and this is the junction where we connected back to the main trail).

I recommend you save the cabin for the trip back down.  Go right.  It's nice.

Somewhere along here we crossed a creek.  There was half a sign, it appeared to say "Rankin Creek".  Doug & Dave noticed an erratic at the creek crossing point (no, I am not the erratic) and noted how the walls of the canyon had been virtually scrubbed clean by a large flood a few years ago. 

Continuing onward, we came across what I first mistook for a tombstone, from a distance.  This is the infamous Sumas Safe:

The door of the save is 'stuck' in the open position.  It's the same basic size and shape of a classic cemetary tombstone.  At the angle of approach, and not knowing it was attached to rock, it appeared to me as a tombstone.

Clearly it is not.

Reportedly, this was a safe that was constructed by the minors who staked a claim here with hopes of becoming rich.  Unfortunately, there wasn't any gold or precious metals here... so they decided to 'dust' the walls of the mines with gold by firing it out of a shotgun and onto the mine walls.

When they lured investors to come visit the mine (with the intention of convincing them to invest money), the investor's would see the amount of gold just waiting to be mined and thus be convinced that extreme wealth was sure to be theirs!

The safe is about the only thing remaining in the area to remind us of these gold rush days.  "Way back when" there used to be a hotel and a mill up here too.

By and by we came across Mine Shaft #1.  It's across the creek.

It's flooded.  We didn't bother to enter.

Back on the trail we came across a number of signed junctions.  Some indicated they might lead the way to a viewpoint of the Swift Creek "slow" landslide.  We didn't follow that route today and there is a chance that the trail may enter through private property... but I'm not certain on that issue.

The landslide area itself is probably on private property and I've heard that the main access to the landslide crosses private property, but I have no idea if the trail to the viewpoint crosses any of those boundaries or not.  Proceed at your own risk I guess.

Another of these trails 'should' lead you to mine shafts #2 and #3 - at least that's what I interpreted from the treasure map (not to scale) that we would later find in the cabin.

Ultimately, we took a left fork which angled us along the top side of the previously pictured clear cut.

At the far end of the clearcut is yet another junction.  To the left (into the clearcut) will take you to the cabin and to the right (uphill) will lead you toward the summit and Lost Lake beyond the summit (on the back side of the mountain).

This trail that head up hill to the right is the start of the 1.5 mile hike that ascends 2,000 feet.  Take a few minutes to hydrate and nourish here because you'll probably need it.

We eventually encountered snow.  Quite a lot of it.  Even more of it where it had been wind deposited into five feet deep drifts.  Beware of holes under the snow as you cross through the slash.

For the most part, if you can't find the actual trail (due to snow), just head upward.

There is a huge glacial cirque up here that really limits your options in directions available for travel.  In some places the trail passes right next to a drop off of a few hundred feet (or more), so watch the pets, the kids and yourself.

Here is a view of the high point and the rather short communication tower.  We didn't cross over to the actual high point, but instead opted to coninue along the cirque crest and down the opposite side of the mountain toward Lost Lake.

Many parts of this trail are steep.  Many parts of this trail are really steep.  Many parts of this trail are incredilbly steep.  Hang in there.

We continued down the backside until we were about a hundred feet above "Lost Pond".  It was going to be another 30 minutes of travel to reach Lost Lake.  Knowing that it was going to be snow the entire way, knowing the lake would be frozen, knowing fog would prevent any views and knowing that there is another steep ascent required before we could descend to the car we decided that a simple view of Lost Pond was adequate as a destination for today.

With that, we turned around and began climbing.  Again.

On the way back down we noticed this ammunition box hanging off the cliff into the cirque.

We snagged it and opened it to discover its soaking wet contents included a summit register and geocache treasures.  Plus some moldy raisins.

Our descent eventually returned us to the Cabin vs. Lost Lake junction and we continued on toward the Cabin.

Doug explained that someone has taken the effort to remodel the cabin.  It has a new roof and a new stove.  Reportedly someone stole the old stove.  The new one is cemented in place.

The cabin has wall to wall carpeting (over a dirt floor) and ladder access to two lofts... currently stocked with a variety of sleeping bags and comforters.

Also, you'll enjoy looking at the not-to-scale map on the interior wall of the cabin.

After a short rest at the cabin and exploring the area, we followed the trail down through the clearcut and back to the main trail... and the mud slog back to the car.

8 miles and 3,600 feet of elevation gain.  Round Trip.

On the way back to civilization, we stopped at a bridge over Swift Creek.  Dave & Doug explained how all this silt was transported down here from the Swift Creek Slow Landslide.  Government Agencies have been dredging the creek and piling up all the silt on the banks.

In the picture below I've attempted to highlight the landslide area and the banks of silt.

It's not labeled in the picture, but that whole hill in the background of the photo is Sumas Mountain.  You can see the snowy clearcuts at the top which are the same clearcuts in the above summit pictures.  I think the cabin is right about where the orangish "T" in "The" is located.  Maybe a little bit above it and to the left.  Just guessing.

Sumas Mountain is located in northern Whatcom County and is the first big 'bump' you'll notice as you head east.  It's a lower elevation mountain surrounded by little towns.  Sumas to the north, Kendall to the east, Deming to the south and Everson/Nooksack to the west.

Parking at the trail head is limited to about three or four cars, but no parking passes are required.

I would like to offer my sincerest thanks to Doug McKeever and Dave Tucker for showing me around this great area.  Your wealth of local knowledge and geological insights made this a spectacular day and well worth the effort!  They each have their own internet presence where you can learn all sorts of stuff from geology to ultra-marathons to weather symbols.. and more.  Doug's WCC site is here and Dave's NW Geology blog is here.  Dave also posted a geology field trip report right here.

Happy Hiking!