Sunday, December 12, 2010

A winter walk in the woods

"A beautiful sight, we're happy tonight, walking in a winter wonderland."

Gone (seasonally) are the days when one of my biggest concerns in choosing a hike is how many miles I can log. I've reached a point when I appreciate simply being outdoors in the winter to stretch my legs and gulp the fresh air because the opportunities are getting fewer and farther between.

In a brief venture before the wettest storm in two years hit, we bounced down a potholed road to a trail at Middle Fork Snoqualmie River. I hadn't expected to see the forest floor blanketed in several inches of snow - in fact, I figured it was a safe bet at only 1,000 feet elevation - but it made the surroundings that much more beautiful.

After leaping over puddles of slush and mounds of snow, we passed beneath briefly through a second-growth forest before reaching the impressive Gateway Bridge. After crossing the icy bridge (think slip-n-slide), we turned left to follow the main trail along the freezing, fast moving Snoqualmie River.

The shortness of time stopped me from visiting the riverbank but the trail followed alongside it for the first mile, providing a peaceful soundtrack to our winter walk. Recent storms meant something of an obstacle course for us: uprooted trees blocked the narrow pathway, forcing us to shimmy underneath fallen branches and climb over downed trees.

As we parted ways with the river, the granite cliffs of Stegosaurus Butte towered above. On the other side of the river's middle fork were snow-capped mountains hidden behind a curtain of mist.

The trail itself was anything but tough. It zigged and zagged a few times but included no climbs or challenges beyond hoisting myself over wet, snowy logs. If we had continued on for the entire 12 miles, we would have ended up at an array of hot springs. But since nature turns the lights out about 4 p.m. these days, we opted to head back after reaching an old logging field that was primarily used in the 1920s and 1930s.

I've vowed not to duplicate any hikes until I've done them all, but this will likely be an exception.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Fog obscures West Tiger Mountain

“All action takes place, so to speak, in a kind of twilight, which like a fog or moonlight, often tends to make things seem grotesque and larger than they really are.” -- Karl von Clausewitz

The weather in Washington presents some interesting challenges for a hiker who is hoping to go year-round. Due to recent snowstorms, I struggled to find a decently long hike that was low enough in elevation to avoid needing special gear. I finally settled on a 7-mile jaunt up West Tiger Mountain in Issaquah. I had driven by it multiple times while en route to bigger, better adventures in the area and thought it was time to give it a go.

My first impression of the trail was not a positive one. While stretching out at the base, I noticed a plethora of posters covering every post and wall. Apparently the trail had been a recent crime scene featuring a creepy jogger who used a taser gun to attack a woman. Not exactly the kind of thing that allows me to relax, but the prettiness of the path beneath a large canopy of evergreens was enough for me to swallow my anxiety and focus on why I was there: Mother Nature.

The trail leading to the top of the 2,200-foot mountain was fairly steep and I had been out of my hiking boots long enough that I periodically had to slow to catch my labored breath. Since the mossy forest has become a common backdrop for me, I found no reason to stop and break so I kept pushing to the top of the summit.

When I finally arrived, I found snow. White powder covered large patches of the trail and surrounding brush. At trail’s end was a big drop-off with a huge boulder that was calling my name. I dropped my pack so I could wander and was immediately engulfed by aggressive gray jays looking for a snack. After safely tucking my banana and granola into the pockets, I turned to survey the views.

I saw fog. And trees. Lingering afternoon fog prevented me from seeing much of anything, though my trail map assured me that the views are lovely. With nothing to stare at in awe, I reluctantly turned and headed back down the mountain.

When I reached the bottom, I convinced myself that it was early enough to squeeze in two last miles so I took a self-guided tour around Tradition Lake.