Friday, July 29, 2011

Almost, but not quite on Shriner Peak

Distance: 8.5 miles

Elevation gain: 3,434 feet

As soon as enough snow melted in the eastern flanks of Mount Rainier, I hurried up Cayuses Pass to see what some call the most beautiful part of the park. I chose Shriner Peak because it promised a big push uphill and only the last mile or so was said to be snow-covered, a major plus for a girl still sensitive after sun blindness.

Parking was a problem since it was a hot and sunny day so we parked a half mile down the road and walked to the trailhead, which immediately angled away from the asphalt and began climbing through the trees. It curved east after nearly a mile, sidling around a ridge with a magnificent view of Rainier. It was a scorcher of a hike though, with nothing to shield you from the sun’s rays as you climb through an old burn area still sporting silver snags.

About the same time a series of switchbacks enter the picture, bunches of wildflowers began to appear alongside the trail. We wound our way through a rocky face and found ourselves stuck in the snow. There were only a few patches at first but after crossing a small waterfall, the compacted powder overtook the landscape and it was tough to find the path. We followed various boot paths in hopes of reaching the 5,834-foot summit but the brightness of the snow was painful enough that we ate some snickers and called it quits.

Another challenge for another day.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Got mail at 4,926 feet?

Distance: 6 tough miles

Elevation gain: 4,100 feet

Location: Snoqualmie

Mailbox Peak has been on my list for months now but I was saving it. The idea of scrambling about 1,500 feet every mile made my thighs quiver with fear, and excitement. We chose the ideal day though since the sun was out, the temperatures hovered in the 60s and only a few other brave souls were pushing to the summit.

We parked at the gate and walked a half mile to the trailhead, greatly amused by a sign warning hikers to watch where they’re going because rescue crews spend more time on this peak than any other. There were only a few switchbacks, making the path near vertical as it pushed through the forest and dumped us out on an open hillside. My fingers lost feeling and turned white about here, distracting me from the splendid displays of heather and wildflowers just starting to bloom.

We diligently followed metal markers through the trees, confident we wouldn't be on the wrong end of a rescue mission. Someone with a cruel sense of humor had scribbled notes on a few, taunting tired hikers with the knowledge that they still had quite a long distance to go. After a rock scramble, we emerged from the trees and a view of the Issaquah Alps jumped out at us. There was a brief moment of joy when we thought we had arrived. Then we looked up and saw a rocky crown surrounding the summit so we put our heads back down and pushed on.

At the top was a battered white mailbox with a ledger inside to scrawl your name and any inspiring (or derogatory) message you might want to leave for fellow hikers. Some left business cards and beer bottles. The views made the climb worth every ruthless step. Mount Si could be seen below and Middle Fork Valley stretched in the distance.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Punk Rock rocks, hard

Location: Tumwater Mountain

Elevation: 3,850 feet

While searching for somewhere new and challenging to climb in Leavenworth, we stumbled across a secret crag high above town in Tumwater Canyon. Ten miles of a treacherous dirt road led us to an ideal camping spot with views of the river and town below. There were plenty of routes to tackle – all cracks.

I did my hardest route yet here, climbing a 5.9A traditional route (no bolts in the rock). Cracks are unique in that you often have to jam your fist in and twist to anchor your body rather than using hand and feet holds. It took a bit of getting used to but I finally managed to get myself to the top, just seconds before a thunderstorm that had previously been hidden behind the rock let loose. I slipped my way down the boulder and sprinted through the brush back to camp to wait out the rain.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

A stroll through the Olympics

Distance: 14 miles

Elevation gain: 2,300 feet

Location: The Olympics

Getting up to the Olympic Peninsula is tough because it’s at least a two hour drive and most of the worthwhile hikes are near the top of the peninsula, tacking another few hours on. Exploring Duckabush River, however, seemed more than feasible.

The first two miles were a breeze, keeping us close to the churning water as it tumbled over boulders and crashed through clefts. The path jutted through second-growth fir and led us into the Brothers Wilderness area that looked like a mossy wonderland.

The elevation all seemed to happen at once in a series of tight switchbacks that took us under giant cedars and firs and brought us, at 3.5 miles, to a ledge with the first broad view of the valley. We could see clear over to the Cascades and spotted St. Peters Dome.

We continued on to Big Hump, which was far more fun in name than in reality. Still feeling energetic, my hiking partners and I continued on to Five Mile Camp for lunch and a refreshing rest beside the rapids. Then we kept pushing on through old growth until we hit the boundary for the Olympic National Park, which had to be quitting time for us because dogs are not allowed and we had a four-legged friend in the pack.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Saddling up Eagle Peak

Distance: 7 miles

Elevation gain: 2,950 feet

Location: Mount Rainier National Park

Snow still blanketed the majority of paths in the Puget Sound region but I thought I might luck out with Eagle Peak & Saddle. It was a fool’s errand.

The hike starts in the Longmire area of the park, just behind the employee’s headquarters and over the Nisqually River bridge. The scenery is fairly standard for a forest but the huge patches of snow on the ground brought a sense of trepidation.

Route-finding in snow is always a challenge and I wasn’t feeling up to par today. We kept walking though, shoving markers in the compacted snow so we could find our way back to the trailhead.

It wasn’t long before we lost any sense of the trail and scoured the hillside for any clue as to which direction to head. There was a mini debate over where to cross the creek and I almost had him convinced to just leap over the frigid water when he spotted a small board crossing.

Our elation at rediscovering the path was short-lived. We made another mile or so before throwing our hands up and deciding to retreat without seeing the saddle.

It helped when a ranger told us only two people had made it to the saddle this winter… but only a little.