Saturday, February 4, 2012

Sheer awe on Amabilis

Location: Snoqualmie Pass

Distance: 8 miles

Elevation: 2,100 feet

Conquering Amabilis Mountain made me realize something deeply disturbing – I’ve probably knocked out dozens of peaks with stunning views, though all I could see was fog or snow. I feel cheated, and challenged. Now I’ll have to go through the list of trails where I couldn’t see a thing and try them again, just to make sure I’m not missing the best part.

Today was a rare, brilliant day in Western Washington where the skies were blue and the air was crisp, but not too cold. I started at a sno-park and walked the first mile or so on the side of a forest road more popular with cross-country skiers than snowshoers. After the second mile, the road forked and I chose to start left on a looping traverse of the mountain. There was plenty to look at – Keechelus Lake (again), the Yakima River and the South Cascades.

The trail climbed steadily enough to get me breathing hard but not so much as to make breaks necessary. When I neared the ridge crest, I had a sprawling view of the lake to my left and Mount Rainier to the right. I don’t think I’ve seen a prettier sight on a day hike.

After another slope, I came to another intersection and headed south to the 4,554-foot summit. There were a couple trees atop the snow banks to block the wind … but not by much. In the end, the serene scene won me over and I stayed for nearly an hour, smiling with frozen cheeks.

Friday, February 3, 2012

In honor of Margaret

Location: Snoqualmie Pass

Distance: 9 miles

Elevation: 2,800 feet

Mount Margaret is a peak I’ve wanted to do since covering the story of a Mount Rainier National Park ranger by the same name that was gunned down New Year’s Day. The route was less than extraordinary, but the rare bluebird skies this weekend more than made up for the Jeep road we followed for the first 1.5 miles of the trek.

The roar of the nearby highway made it difficult to fully relax into nature, but it wasn’t long before we traded speeding cars for the sounds of silence. The recent storm dumped several fresh feet of powder on the ground but we didn’t slap our snowshoes on until we were close to the summit. Occasional trees blocked our view of down below but it was mostly open, allowing for stunning glimpses of Keechelus Lake.

After pausing briefly on a ridge to watch the gusty winds blow ice crystals around us, we angled north into a stand of trees and immediately sank to our knees in snow. Deciding snowshoes would now be a benefit, we unlatched them from our packs and bent to strap them on but we were exposed on the ridge and the winds had turned fierce. By the time I got my shoes on, I’d lost feeling in my fingers, my hair tie was mysteriously missing and my hood refused to stay on. I would have wished for the winds to die down but I didn’t want to trade in the clear skies so I let Mother Nature do her best.

We trampled uphill, climbing steeper than we had been through a meadow, and kept our heads down to avoid the wind. The summit was craggy and nothing special. We stood atop it for about five minutes, snapped a few shots and then opted to head back to a less windy place to nibble our lunches. There were some stellar views of Mount Rainier in the distance as we veered off the path and meandered through the backcountry on the return. There was some debate about whether to follow Wolfe Creek drainage and hope it led back to civilization or to keep left and hope we’d eventually cross the road leading up. As luck would have it, we kept left and found the trail.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Falling in love at Twin Falls

Location: North Bend

Distance: 4 miles

I’ve seen far more awe-inspiring waterfalls than Twin Falls, but there’s something about its simplicity, and the simplicity it takes to hike there, that keeps drawing me in every time I have a spare hour left in the day. The river that flows along the path for the first half mile tells a different story every trip. There are always new mosses and mushrooms to identify. It’s just as fun to wedge my toes under a board on the bridge and lean out as far as I can to gauge the drop-off. I’m filled with the same sense of peaceful satisfaction each time I gaze up at the pure white stream stretching down over rock into the rushing torrents below. It’s a sure thing.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Just a ridge away

Location: Mount Rainier National Park

Distance: 6 miles

Elevation gain: 900 feet

The beauty of snowshoeing on Mazama Ridge is that you can amble off in any direction at any time without the constraints of a trail. We started at Paradise and headed south up the ridge, enjoying another clear day in the midst of winter. The sweating started as we climbed and kick stepped a half mile up a steep slope until we reached the ridge crest.

At the top, we turned back briefly to admire the Tatoosh Range in the distance and then proceeded to a small outcropping of rocks for lunch. Mount Rainier loomed just north, a glorious vision as we gobbled sandwiches and cookies. After a goofy photo shoot, we made a right and went south down the ridge through deep, powdery snow. We considered heading straight down the ridge but it was too steep for one in our party so we retraced our footsteps and made our way down the icy run by jamming our heels and zig zagging down the hill. We circled around Paradise Lodge and chalked it up to a mellow but beautiful day on the mountain.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

No hexes on this mountain

Location: Near Cle Elum and Roslyn

Distance: 7 miles

Elevation gain: 2,600 feet

This long, steady climb up Hex Mountain started on an old logging road that was covered with a few feet of snow. We passed through a few clearcuts as we wound our way upward and had a splendid view of Cle Elum Lake as we trekked the first two miles to reach the forest trail. We all placed bets on which lake it was and discovered we were all wrong once we pulled the map out during one of many water breaks. (Does Lake Pontchartrain count as a real guess?!)

The narrow path climbed a ridge crest, weaving in and out of large trees. It was a better workout than we were anticipating so there was a lot of silence as we dug our poles into the snow and waited for one of the few glimpses out of the forest. Eventually we came across a sign for Sasse Ridge and turned right up one final hill. The panoramic views of the eastern Cascades and beyond were unbeatable and we were fortunate to keep blue skies long enough to enjoy lunch and the scenery.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Glissading down PanPoint

Location: Mount Rainier National Park

Distance: 5 miles

Elevation gain: 1,700 feet

This classic trail isn’t much of a challenge, which made it just right for introducing two women to snowshoeing. We started the day in the Paradise parking lot and strapped our shoes on to start plowing through the snow. It was a transitional weather day, starting out gray and overcast but eventually giving way to bright blue skies. It was a straight shot up a series of small slopes to Panorama Point, where the clouds moved on and we could see the majestic Tatoosh range. With Mount Rainier looming gloriously in the background, I convinced one of my new friends to climb a nearby ridge and glissade down. A day of firsts! (For non-Washatonians, glissading basically means sliding down the snow on your butt.)

Monday, November 28, 2011

Too much of a Staircase

Location: Staircase, near Hoodsport

Distance: 6.5 miles

This was another adventure cut short. To take advantage of a rare sunny day and a forced day off, I eagerly looked forward to exploring a wild waterway - North Ford Skokomish River - beneath gigantic trees and ending at twin subalpine lakes. But then life happened. We got a late start, decreasing the odds of finishing the entire 15 miles. The last 1.2 mile of road to the trailhead was closed due to recent monsoon damage. Once we started up the path though, my feet found a soothing pace and my mind began to drift. It didn’t last long. We hopped across Slate Creek on slippery stones, balanced atop snow-covered logs and ducked under fallen trees. Then the trail disappeared. We kept blazing forward, satisfied every time we passed a ribbon tied to a branch, indicating we were still heading in the right direction. The trail proceeded past the remnants of a 1986 slide and came across an area that burned in a 1,400-acre blaze in 1985. Once we started climbing straight up above a cliff, slipping and sliding in the snow, it was time to turn around. My adventurous spirit was on vacation apparently, so we lingered near Lake Cushman and called it quits.