Thursday, September 30, 2010

An old eruption still visible

"Volcanoes are one way Earth gives birth to itself." -- Robert Gross

With all the forests, lakes and vistas I've explored, it's become a challenge to find something new to see on a hike. Climbing Mount Margaret to gaze out on the devastation from the 1980 eruption of Mt. St. Helen was an ideal change.

It started out on the Northern Boundary Trail, took me over a ridge at Norway Pass and deposited directly into the valley that today still shows the devastated land. The hillsides are littered with flattened trees, about half of the standing trees are blackened and dying and many lie at the bottom of nearby Spirit Lake.

Huckleberries were growing wild along the trails and the view was wide open, revealing the gaping maw where the volcano
spewed three decades ago. The hike was supposed to end after 11 miles but my "honorable mention" friend and I decided it made no sense to end the trail without closure (the trail stopped mid-turn with only a sign to indicate that was it) so we continued on until we were dumped out on the highway. It was then that the clouds slightly parted and we got out first real distant view of the volcano.

It erupted the morning of May 18, 1980, after 5.1 quake rattled the region.
Rocks, ash, volcanic gas and steam blasted north at more than 300 mph. It extended more than 17 miles and the landslide - recorded as the largest on Earth - slid 14 miles west down a nearby river. Lava spread five miles out and strong winds blew 520 million tons of ash eastward.

These are all details I wish I'd known before the hike so I could have truly grasped what happened there. But alas, I did not and my attention returned to my surroundings. We took a detour on the way back to determine whether Ghost Lake truly existed or whether it was a cruel joke nature lovers play on those who are pounding that particular path. Needless to say, I was right.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Drinking happens here

"Drawn by warm nostalgic feelings for the place and by two sweet little words: 'Open Bar.'" -- William E. Geist

Tacoma natives have a hard time understanding why I thought this icon was a coffee shop. My point is this: It's called Java Jive and the building is shaped like a coffee pot. Who would have ever guessed it was a bar?? Turns out, everyone.

A vet designed it as a roadside restaurant when mimetic architecture (buildings that imitate life) was all the rage. It opened in 1927 but switched to a local watering hole where famous folks stopped by for brews after a new owner bought the 25-foot-tall coffee pot in 1955. It's history is spectacular. Yes, it's listed on the registry of historical places but the fun stuff comes from urban legends and myths that old-timers still love to repeat.

It was once a speakeasy, featured a back room accessed through the ladies restroom during Prohibition and graduated to having go-go dancers. For quite a while, two monkeys named Java and Jive beat on drums while the owners' son played the organ. This is no joke. The monkeys lived in a double-paned glass cage in the bar until sometime in the 60s.

Around the same time, late owner Bob Radonich declared that everybody should drink under the stars. So he began handing out paper and plastic stars for patrons to scrawl their name and a personal message and affix to the ceiling. Many folks still come in on their anniversary, looking for the star they put up the night they met their loved one.

It was named after a popular Ink Spots song and music has always played a large role. This is a place that crooner Bing Crosby and film stars Clara Bow and Harold Lloyd once hung out, that was huge on the punk scene in the 90s and attracted Nirvana bassist Krist Novoselic. Two movies have been filmed there - "I Love You to Death," starring Kevin Kline, Keanu Reeves and River Phoenix, and Cameron Crowe's "Say Anything."

During a recent visit to the bar, the owner showed me the pool table where Keanu Reeves leaned against and told me stories of how the actor wanted to buy the Jive and move it to Hawaii. Then there were the framed photos hanging on the wall of Alec Baldwin and a local man, Teddy, who is an on-screen double for Baldwin and painted the gorilla mural on the side of Java Jive.

Yes, the place is worn-down and dirty but it's full of fascinating tidbits. You bet I'll be back.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Above the clouds

“A cloud does not know why it moves in just such a direction and at such a speed...It feels an impulsion...this is the place to go now. But the sky knows the reasons and the patterns behind all clouds, and you will know, too, when you lift yourself high enough to see beyond horizons.” -- Richard Bach

A ranger advised against hiking to the summit of Mount Pilchuck, citing a possible turn in weather and a high likelihood of getting lost and becoming a headache for the local search and rescue volunteers. OK, he may not have used those exact words but they were implied. So, of course, the warning became a challenge and the adventure began.

The 5,324-foot peak is perched on the western edge of the Cascades and features panaromic views from an old fire lookout constructed by the U.S. Forest Service in 1991. Starting on a service road to nearby ski slopes, the trail winds through a hemlock forest and jumps over a tiny creek (Pilchuck DOES mean “red creek…”) before entering Mount Pilchuck State Park. There were no fences or other boundaries, just a small wooden sign to advise hikers who are paying enough attention.

Within a half mile, I broke out of the forest into a garden of granite and began picking my way over the boulders. The trail wasn’t particularly strenuous (2,200-feet elevation gain) but it was tedious to constantly step on and over rocks. But the views overlooked distant jagged peaks and soon enough I was higher than the clouds. Blue sky even made an appearance.

The path wrapped around the mountain and ratcheted up the climbing along the ridge, offering brief glimpses of brown water pools below and clusters of yellow cedars. After one last boulder scramble, the lookout came into sight. The building is glass-paneled and was staffed until the 1960s. As I stood at the base of the boulders it sat atop, I could barely see anything but the white roof and the ladder extending down.

Once at the top though, what a view! I could see dozens of mountains I couldn’t identify and some I could, like Rainier and Baker and Three Fingers. It was my first look at the Cascades and Olympics and I was one happy hiker. Outside of the lookout, someone had draped a colorful line of flags. An inquisitive chipmunk scampered inside, hoping for crumbs or maybe just wanting some company.

It was hard to pull myself away from the mystical setting but storm clouds were rolling in and it was more than three miles back down. As it turns out, my timing was impeccable because the sky opened up just as I set foot in the parking lot.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Lakes galore!

"A lake carries you into recesses of feeling otherwise impenetrable." ~William Wordsworth

I sought out a hike in Greenwater after hearing tales of its many lakes and lush land, settling on a 13-mile trek to see Greenwater, Meeker and Quinn lakes. The distance seemed about right for a sunny Saturday and the elevation promised not to climb above 4,100 feet. (I ended up walking much farther. And higher.)

This is a trail for water lovers. There wasn’t a moment when I was out of sight or sound of water, whether it be lakes, creeks, mini waterfalls or a river that alternated between playful and rough. I crossed at least six bridges in the first two miles and was delighted to have water for company since I didn’t see another soul until I reached my final destination, where some had set up camp.

The first few miles were easy going and I quickly arrived at the first of two Greenwater Lakes. In truth, it was more of a glorified pond to me but pretty nonetheless. It was nestled among evergreens and encircled by wetlands. A single brown goose floated on the water. The clear water gave glimpses of the timber beneath the surface and one of the creeks dumped directly into the lake.

I snapped a few shots and continued on, reaching the second lake – also known as Meeker Lake – in another half mile. It looked similar to the first but had clearer water and fewer inlets. The water was a milky aqua and I couldn’t help but relax as I gazed out on this tranquil scene.

From there, the trail led me back into a dense forest and sloped slightly up until I came to a junction where I had to choose between Quinn and Echo lakes. I stayed the path and kept climbing up, winding around gullies and occasionally leaping over little creeks that flowed across the path. Somewhere around five miles the scenery changed to huge rock outcroppings and I couldn’t help but recall the tales I'd heard in Iceland about "little people" who live among the stones.

Back in the forest, I was hiking along when I noticed a flash of emerald green to my left. It turned out to be Quinn Lake, flashing its brilliant color through the trees. Not wanting to wait for a designated path, I cut through the trees and picked my way over the soggy ground to stand by the lake’s edge. Up close, the water seemed dark and flat so I backed up several feet and sat on a log to better admire this gem of a lake.

The emerald color returned and the rays of bright sun streaked down to meet the water. Quinn Lake was accessible almost all the way around and at least two groups had popped up tents nearby. I was envious as I watched them gather wood or lounge, knowing that I still had at least 11 miles left.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Pooped at Poo Poo Point

The best an American can look forward to is the lonely pleasure of one who stands at long last on a chilly and inhospitable mountaintop where few have been before, where few can follow and where few will consent to believe he has been. -- George F. Kennan

Even when my mind insists that my body can soldier through anything to commune with nature, I’ve learned that the body should first be consulted. My muscles were still sore and cramped from lifting weights when I bundled up for my Poo Poo Point adventure. Yet, I dismissed the pain and headed out into the rain, convincing myself that the nine mile hike would actually stretch them out.

The trail starts behind Issaquah High School and for the first quarter mile or so, I could hear the familiar old bells ringing to signal the end of class and administrators delivering messages over the loudspeaker. Then I passed a closed gate and found myself on a quiet old forest road lined with blackberry bushes, though the berries were few and far between.

After passing junctions with two other trails, I began a steady climb that made me (temporarily) doubt my devotion to hiking. I found myself stopping frequently to catch my breath and dodge the giant green slugs that had overtaken the path, drawn out by the cool dampness of the day. As I reluctantly trudged on, I unleashed a steady stream of internal complaints. I was tired of the water droplets in my eyes. The thermals I’d worn to protect me during the rain-soaked hike had turned me into a sticky, sweaty mess. The elevation surely had to be steeper than I had read. I even made eye contact with a log that I swear was encouraging me to turn back.

Then, mercifully, the hike evened out and I practically skipped through Many Creeks Valley. The sound of rushing water soothed my tired soul and the brisk wind, usually not wanted when I’m hiking in chilly weather, became a welcome friend. I paused at Gap Creek to admire the water as it bubbled over the rocks, under the wooden bridge I was standing on and off into a thatch of moss-covered trees.

It was a brief respite. The trail cruelly climbed again, and never really stopped. But it ended at the grassy swale of Poo Poo Point (named for the sound the train made as it came through the area to communicate with loggers who could not see it), a popular spot for paragliders to take off.

No gliders were braving it on this rainy day but it was interesting to see the T-shaped area of green felt – much like golf turf – that they apparently take off from. Since they weren’t using it, I claimed it as my own and plopped down to take in the views. They were sensational.

Squak Mountain rose to my left and Cougar Mountain was beside it. Downtown Seattle was barely visible far in the distance through the fog and Issaquah sat below. Lake Sammamish stretched in the distance, its vastness immediately drawing my eye.

I stuck it out there for a while, alone atop a mountain, admiring the sights and solitude, but the cold prodded me back down the hill.