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.