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October 7-8   Wetness

Boring! It sprinkled. It drizzled. It showered. It rained very little. We sat around the campground on Sunday and then decided to drive back to east side on Monday. It was a very unremarkable trip across North Cascades National Park. We went back to Near Pine RV Park and did laundry. Big whoop!

October 9-10    Looking for Larches

We were debating several places to go. The ranger station suggested taking WA-20 east from Twisp and go up the mountains to the Loup Loup Ski Area. So we took off around 11:30 and drove slowly up WA-20 towards Okanogan. The clouds were supposed to clear but the white and gray overwhelmed the blue. The light was still dull. We went down a few forest service roads and kept trying to make images. Neither of us was terribly excited. We went down FS-41, then FS 42. Only little bits of sunlight brightened the landscape.

Having whiled away the afternoon, we stopped to shop and went home.

On Wednesday, we returned to Klipchuck Campground. One loop was now closed, the water turned off. So…..free camping for us a few nights. We have to start planning what we’re going to do the next week. It’s getting close to head home plans. One good thing is about ten days of sunshine are forecasted.

October 11    Cutthroat Lake Trail

The Ranger Station in Winthrop had told us that Cutthroat Lake had Larches. The trail was only 4 miles round trip and rose only 650 feet. A sunny day and an easy walk sounded good to me.

We got on the trail sometime before 10 a.m. The trail was primarily through forest and was in shadow so there were many frosty areas. There’s always something to photograph with frost. Dave got a good image of the ice on the metal struts of the bridge we crossed.

It was nice to see the mountains in sunshine, even though the light was contrasty.


Several people passed us, heading for Cutthroat Pass, a steep climb we would pass up. We ambled along and finally reached Cutthroat Lake, where the trail petered out in a jumble of foliage. We did manage to find a few open spots on the edge of the lake. It was a pleasure seeing a sea of golden grass.

It wasn’t always obvious, but there was a lot of ice on the lake.

We decided not to bushwhack further along the marshy edge of the lake. Instead, we returned a short way down the trail to an unmarked turnoff that looked like it circled to the east side of the lake. That provided a different set of backup mountains.

October 12-14     Cashmere, Washington Area

We decided to go south. I wanted to check out a few mountainous areas east and south of Leavenworth. But because of Oktoberfest, I didn’t want to go anywhere near Leavenworth. I thought finding a Friday-Saturday campsite might be hard and it was. We ended up at the Chelan (Sha-lan) County Expo Center, attached to the Fairgrounds. It’s an open, grassy area with nice views. It was $28 per night for a full hookup. Best of all it was almost empty. Perfect for us. It was also fairly warm so we sat outside and had an afternoon apertif.

The next day we headed out to find Old Blewett Road. It’s somewhere around Blewett Pass but after consulting with the forest ranger, we were still confused. We wanted to check out the open forest service campgrounds near Liberty, and so headed 30 miles south down US-97.

The campgrounds were cold and very shady, not ideal for our needs. We moved on to take a look at the town of Liberty. Considered the oldest mining townsite in Washington, it was settled after the 1873 discover of gold in Swauk Creek. It still has some residents and we met one of them. He filled us in a little on town history and showed us his “bling”, a large gold nugget.

Some of the Liberty mailboxes.

And the real thing.

We wandered around town for a while and then headed out on Forest Service Road 9712. In the Washington atlas, the road circles around like the path of an earthworm. We were hoping to see larches. It took a while to get high enough for the larches to appear. The one-lane dirt road was surprisingly busy. We passed many trucks with guys in camo and hunters orange. We also passed several tent camps. Eventually, we began to see larches and a lot of dead trees from an old burn.

It was really chilly in the shady areas of the road. Ice was prevalent, even in the afternoon.

Eventually, the road twisted on to a huge, steep talus slope that exhibited the trees nicely.

We moved on past the talus slope and back into forest. The brilliant larch were interspersed with dead trees. They seem to have regenerated quickly after the fire. The afternoon shadows were getting long.

We were headed for Haney Meadow but we didn’t know exactly where it was or where we were. All this time, I was trying to compare the Garmin map and the atlas with the forest service roads that were branching off 9712. I was looking for 9716 because that would take us back to US-97 without having to backtrack all the way to Liberty. But it was difficult because while Garmin shows some forest roads, it doesn’t always name them similar to the atlas and some it just shows as “unpaved”. We finally reached Haney Meadow and Ken Wilcox Horse Camp and realized we had missed the turnoff to 9716.

After our afternoon repast, we turned around and found FS-9716 on the Garmin. The only sign on that branch was “US-97” and an arrow. We quickly got back to the highway and immediately got stuck behind a fifth-wheel who wouldn’t use the Slow Vehicle Pullouts to pull over. But it was a pleasant drive along a river canyon.

This was our last foray into the Washington Cascade area. We’ve had a great time here, aside from some overcast days. Now it’s back to Oregon.

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October 3 Heading North

We left Nason Creek campground on a gray day. The drive towards Stevens Pass was unimpressive. However, as we rose, snow began to appear frosting the trees. As we neared the pass, it looked like a winter wonderland, with slight touches of color brightening all the black and white. We had to stop. Boy, was it cold! A bracing zephyr was blowing out there. We didn’t stay long.

The rest of the drive was pretty easy, although there’s a lot of traffic on WA-2 and the other non-interstate roads we took. We stopped at the town of Index for lunch and a tiny town it is.

We reached our destination: Howard Miller Steelhead Park. In the small town of Rockport, this is a nice RV park, right by the Skagit River. On Wednesday, the place was empty, so we chose a spot where we can watch the water flow 20 feet away.

October 4   Sauk Mountain Trail

One of the neat things about this campground is that it often gets dense morning fog. The last time we were here, we had a magical morning of wandering around for more than an hour, photographing water and trees shrouded in fog and seeing it gradually dissipate as the sun came out. So of course, the morning of a strenuous hike, those were the conditions. Knowing how long it would take us to get to the trail takeoff point, we skipped the fog and headed up Sauk Mountain Road.

The road has 8 miles switchbacks and potholes. It rises about 4,000 feet. Towards the top, when you get your first view of the trail, it looks impossible – something only a mountain goat would use. But it is worth doing. We found that out in 2016.

The trail is only 2.1 miles one way and that way is up 1,200 feet. But most of the 27 switchbacks are gradual. We quickly got sidetracked by frost on all the alpine plants and icicles hanging from trees and rocks. There weren’t too many people on the trail at that point so we could hunch across the trail for photographs all we wanted.

I was so entranced with the greenery as we rose, I was surprised when we got to the top of the switchbacks and rounded the bend to reveal another huge valley and set of peaks.

We ate lunch while looking down at Sauk Lake. There’s a trail that descends about 1,100 feet to it but it definitely wasn’t worth it to us to see the lake close up.

There was some snow up top but not enough to bother us. We followed the trail across the rocks and clambered up the steep short trail to the top. Mountains everywhere!

We were soon joined by two guys. One of them was using a light meter and I asked him what he was using it for. He said they worked for Microsoft, making videos of the beautiful areas in the outdoors. Now that’s a job!

We eventually started back down. As we crossed a rock field, I saw a Pika out of the corner of my eye. The little rodent ran up on a rock and stopped. Usually, they disappear under a rock but this guy was relaxing on top.

We descended pretty quickly as a fair number of people labored upwards. We were stopped in our tracks by a dog-jam. A lady with 3 dogs heading down had to pass a man with 2 dogs headed up. The dogs stayed peaceful but of course had to sniff each other and the leashes got tangled up on the narrow path.

We reached the parking lot and sat with our coffee and cookies, watching people come and go. On the way up, we had met a man with two dogs, one placid and unleashed and the other a leashed puppy, straining to go everywhere and smell everything. He returned and I asked him how the pup had done. “Terrible. I let him off the leash a few times and once he ran off the trail and almost rolled down the hill. I figured a shepherd mix would have more sense.”

Finally, we drove the long descent down the hill and back to camp.

October 5     Dreary Weather

The weather outlook was cloudy for Friday. We started the day obtaining a different campsite at the RV park. We were trying to get the only available campsite in the entire park. The weekends are booked solid here. We got it and moved to a less desirable site.

It looked like the entire day was going to be dreary. We piled into the car anyway and drove east into North Cascades National Park. We weren’t expecting much with the lousy light and we weren’t disappointed. I saw my first ever dead duck by the side of the road. It wasn’t flattened or half-eaten so it must have been recently deceased. Or maybe it was just resting.

We stopped at tiny, tidy Newhalem that is a town totally about the hydroelectric plant. They have an odd little gazebo deemed the “Temple of Power”, designed by Dan Corson. Corson used recycled bushings (originally used in giant circuit breakers) from the Diablo switchyard to support the ceiling.

The other notable thing about Newhalem is the garden planted around the power station. They have some great trees and flowers that glow in the low light.

P.S. On the way back, the duck was still “resting” by the side of the road.

October 6    The Next Great Hike: Dock Butte

It was foggy when we took off for the Dock Butte Trailhead but it was the kind of fog that burned off. I could see blue sky behind it.

It’s a long drive to hike. It’s 13 miles or so along-side Baker Lake. Then a couple of forest service roads for another 10 miles or so. The Garmin made the navigating easy this time. The gravel roads were in good shape, though they were narrow. We stopped a couple of times to make images.

We reached the small parking lot and checked the posted information. The Forest Service outdid themselves this time. There was nothing. There was a small post at the trailhead pointing out the trail to Blue Lake. (This is not the same Blue Lake we hiked to last week.) Some other people at the parking lot intended to go to Blue Lake and I overheard one of them say they didn’t need to bring water because it was such a short hike. They took off ahead of us.

There was no mention of Dock Butte on any signs that day.  Recognizing the trail from the first time we hiked it in 2016, we knew we were on the correct path. As we began to climb the 1200 feet to our destination, Dave noticed the unmarked turnoff that goes to Blue Lake. I walked right by it. As it turned out, so did a lot of other people.

The hike begins, as so many do, going through a forest and the trail was damp, muddy and covered with slippery roots. The hiking poles were very useful. After the first 1.25 miles, views began to open up, small tarns appeared and the terrain was covered with bright foliage. There were no wildflowers left but the bushes are so colorful, they look like flowers. I love this part of the trail.

As we headed towards Dock Butte, Mount Baker was appearing behind us. Each time we looked back, more of it was visible, requiring another picture. Unfortunately, the clouds never lifted off the mountain and we only got tantalizing glimpses of the top.

The shadows kept large parts of the meadows frozen. It’s fun to focus on the frosty foliage.

We finally reached the long trail across a huge, steep meadow before we had to climb the butte. We crossed trail with the group of people who were headed to Blue Lake. They had missed the turn and hiked another 1.5 miles trying to find Blue Lake. There were more hikers who had done the same. I think the Forest Service is endangering people by not displaying proper signage.

There is one place where we have to scale a very steep rockface. Our boots are pretty good on rock but I’m never sure how wet and slippery the rockface is. Dave took my hiking poles and backpack and I scrambled up the rock. Good.

We reached the top of Dock Butte and found two guys there, an older and younger man. Two large antennas were swaying in the air. They were trying to reach people on a shortwave radio. Eavesdropping, I could hear that they reached San Diego. I asked them what they were doing and the older man explained they are in a group called Summits On the Air. It is an amateur radio operating award program. It grants points to people when to hike to the top of a peak and establish radio contact with a few people to confirm where they are. Many of them scale mountains like Mt. Baker. They get 1-10 points for each summit and those few who amass 1000 points receive the title “Mountain Goats”.

It made me think about all the interests that people develop while they are outside. Hiking, running, biking, rock climbing, fishing, kayaking, swimming, diving, paragliding, photography, geocaching, It sounds so obvious but people are so much better off when they spend time in the outdoors. I know most hikes lighten my spirit. (At least until the final mile or two.)

We made the requisite photographs and eventually headed down. I used the trusty “butt technique”, sliding down the scary, steep part.

We eventually reached the parking log, where an older and younger man were preparing to take off to Blue Lake. The older father-in-law said he had come from Florida to Washington to spend time with his daughter and her husband. He asked if we had any dramamine. He had gotten carsick just riding up the road in the truck. We wished him well and headed home, glad we don’t get carsick in cars.

 

October 1     Lake Wenatchee and Stevens Pass

The weather was supposed to be rainy and we woke up to a cloudy day. Not expecting much, we drove a short way to the Wenatchee Lake River Trail. As soon as we got on it, the foliage got very pretty. Since there was no sun, everything was very saturated and contrast was not a problem. The vine maple came in green, yellow, orange, red, crimson. The only issue was how to compose it dramatically.

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Eventually, we reached Lake Wenatchee. Not terribly exciting. Very little color on the surrounding hills. Oh well, it was a nice walk.

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Our next move was to drive over to Stevens Pass. It was supposed to be wonderful with fall color. Well, there were extreme hills and there was some fall foliage on view. However, there was almost no places to pull over and stop on busy WA-2. We continued over the pass and stopped at Deception Falls. The primary falls actually run right under the highway. Not terribly enticing.

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We did the little half-mile walk along Deception Creek. Okay, but not great.

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We gave up and went home.

October 2    Icicle Gorge Trail and Tumwater Campground

We woke up to a sunny day and got on the road around 8:30 or so. Our Photographing Washington Guide recommended fall color along Icicle Creek. AllTrails showed a 4.5-mile loop trail along the creek so off we went to find it. As we turned onto Icicle Creek Road on the outskirts of Leavenworth, four deer looked up from munching on municipal grass. We haven’t been seeing many deer so far on this trip.

Icicle Canyon started to narrow right away. We stopped at a parking area for the Enchantments but decided a 19-mile hike was not for us. We weren’t sure how far our hike was. It turned out to be 17 miles down the road but it was a good road with lots of turnouts to access the creek. We finally parked at the Icicle Gorge Trailhead and began to walk. The foliage was in pretty good color and the trail was flat and pleasant.

After a quarter mile or so, we reached the Icicle Creek bridge. We had brought our tripods because of the possibility of making slow water images and I soon found mine had a broken strut on one leg. I guessed it had broken the day before as I maneuvered the tripod at Deception Falls. I’ve had this tripod for a long time, so I can’t complain too much.

The rocks at the bridge were striated and marked in really interesting ways. The force of the water over eons had carved all kinds of curves into the rock. That held our attention for quite a while.

After eating lunch, we continued for a while down the other side of the creek.

The strap on my tripod is too short to carry it comfortably and I soon got tired of lugging it and I decided I didn’t want to do the entire 4.5 loop. I offered Dave the option of continuing up the trail another mile or so while I returned to the car and drove to pick him up at the next bridge. That worked out well. I got up to the Rock Island Bridge right when he did.

It was still early afternoon so we tried one more suggestion from the guidebook. Tumwater Campground is right on WA-2, follows the Wenatchee River and apparently has nice fall foliage. We parked by the closed gate and walked in. It had the look of long disuse. Apparently, it’s been closed since the 2014 Chiwaukum Fire. Prone to flooding, it was considered too dangerous to open and then became too much of a mess. But it was quiet and colorful in there.

As we neared our exit point, I could feel tiny drops of rain, though it was still blue overhead. Tired out, we returned home, just as the clouds reached us and the showers began. It was going to be a chilly night.

September 27  Blue Lake Trail

The Blue Lake Trail is only 2 miles long but rises 958 feet. Near Washington Pass, it didn’t take us long to get there. We started hiking around 8:30 a.m. The first mile of the trail went through forest and was in shadow, but when a clearing opened up, the mountains were in light.

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After a while, we began to see larches.

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A few other groups passed us while we were hiking but they seemed to be headed for an unmarked trail to Liberty Bell. Okay by us. When we reached Blue Lake, we were the only ones there.  Because of the delicate meadows and the number of people coming here, a lot of areas are roped off. But there’s a large rock on one side of the lake that provides a nice view of the larches on the other side. And better yet, their reflection. Behind them, mountains line up.

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But wait, there’s more! The talus slope stays in shade most of the day and semi-permanent ice creates interesting patterns.

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People were showing up in droves and there is very little available space to enjoy the lake. We headed up what we thought was a short side trail and noticed a sign pointing to Tarn Loop Trail. The trail rose high above the lake and views of Liberty Bell and the other peaks opened.

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There was noone else around, so it was very quiet. This was great! Then we noticed a steep path down to a different part of the lake.

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The light on and texture of the water differed radically from place to place. I was entranced.

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Reluctantly, we moved on. The Tarn Loop wasn’t big. We reached the tarn, a small pool, not beautiful in and of itself, but it was reflecting the mountains if we were willing to squish through mud to get a good vantage point.

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On the other side of the tarn were some boulders where I could just sit and soak up the huge view. It was quiet and peaceful. This is one of the reasons I love hiking.

The hike back down was uneventful except for the large numbers of people coming up the trail. Large groups, lots of mothers and children. I admire parents who haul their children on their back up 1,000 feet or more. I try to picture my 90-pound mother doing that with me when I was young but I don’t think she would have enjoyed it much.

We reached the trailhead in mid-afternoon. As we unloaded our gear, Dave pointed up. “Look!” A couple of paragliders were circling Liberty Bell. I flashed back to our hike up Sauk Mountain two years ago. We sitting at the top, eating lunch, when a paraglider went by at our level. It’s always neat to see them flying.

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September 28-30     Back to Winthrop

It was Dave’s birthday. We were running full on the black and gray tanks. A lot of clothes needed washing. The weather was getting cloudy. It was time to return to Pine Near in Winthrop. At the lower elevation, it was warm and humid even with the clouds.

We walked to the Duck Brand Café in town to celebrate Dave’s birthday. Since we are usually on the road for our birthdays, we celebrate wherever and whenever is convenient for us. On the way, we passed a small house with a small fenced yard  where three deer were chowing down. I’d have liked to see them leap the picket fence but left them alone.

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The light was getting low as we reach the Café.

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Duck Brand wasn’t fancy but the food was good. Dave had ribs and I had a Mexican plate. Dessert consisted of a huge piece of mud pie. It was warm enough to enjoy it all on the deck overlooking town.

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The next day I took the long, 8-mile drive to Twisp to check out their provisions. Success! I finally found our favorite Dare chocolate cookies. I wanted a butternut squash but had to pass up the gonzo-sized ones here. I wouldn’t have anywhere to put the huge vegetable. Apparently Hank’s Harvest Foods had or has a taxidermist on the premises. The top shelves in the center of the market were covered with stuffed deer. But the display in front of the store by the pet food and gift cards was inexplicable. The placard didn’t really explain where the lion and the warthog came from.

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We intended to go west on WA-20 into North Cascades National Park but it had showered quite a bit during the night. A weather check showed 70-90% chance of rain for the next 3 days We changed our plan and went south to WA-2. This road goes the Central Cascades and is notable for its fall colors. It was very cloudy but never rained as we drove along the Methow River.

We figured that people would be leaving the Leavenworth area on Sunday and we wouldn’t have trouble finding a campground. We found a nice site at Nason Creek, a Forest Service campground that’s 8 miles west of Leavenworth on WA-2. Only $11.50 per night with our senior card.

 

 

September 19-21    Back to Civilization

It was a short drive east to Ellensburg. After checking out a dreary RV park next to a motel next to a gas station, we opted for the Yakima River RV Park. It was next to a bull pasture rather than the river, but it had trees and patches of grass and was close to train tracks, a periodic noise we like. We settled down to processing our images and writing and uploading our blogs.

I had to find a laundromat because the RV park didn’t have a laundry. Using the Garmin, I toured around, looking for two defunct or nonexistent laundromats. That caused me to see a fair amount of the Central Washington University. It was a nice campus and a sunny day so students were ambling about. The old downtown, while not exactly charming, still had many old brick buildings.  Using the iPhone, I found an acceptable laundromat  right across from a Fred Meyers store. I love Fred Meyers. It’s like a huge, modern version of a general store. We needed a squeegee for the inside of the RV and after wandering around the large automotive area, I found one in the bath section. I know Target is similar but Fred Meyers seems more old-fashioned to me.

On Friday, we headed north, skirting and winding along the edge of the mountains. It was a pretty drive. Dave had secured reservations at the Pine Near RV Park in Winthrop, that is the first real town on the east side of the North Cascades Highway 20. We were lucky to find a place for the weekend – it’s both leaf-peeping season and early Octoberfest and tourists fill the towns on the weekends. Pine Near is very pretty park with flocks of plastic pink (and one blue) flamingos mingling with real deer munching on the verdant grass.

September 22-23    Finding our next campground

In Winthrop, it was pretty sunny when we awoke. We lolled about for a while, then betook ourselves to Highway 20. We wanted to check out a couple of forest service campgrounds, Klipchuck  and Lone Fir. There are several spectacular hikes near Washington Pass in the mountains that are 35 miles away from Winthrop. When you are really tired after a long hike, 35 miles is a long way. We wanted to be closer.

Klipchuck fit the bill. It had 46 mostly spacious (for us) sites and wasn’t even full on a Saturday. It was at 2900 feet elevation and only 17 miles from our hikes. It was sprinkling on and off there but wasn’t even cold. Lone Fir is even closer, but at 3500 feet was rainier and chillier. Rainy Lake and Rainy Pass are 10 miles away and it’s no joke that if there is a cloud in the sky, it will drop rain in the area.

We continued on to Washington Pass, a dramatic highway switchback that rises to the Washington Pass Overlook. It was chilly and showery there and the light was harsh, but we tried to make some worthy images. The aspen and larch were just beginning to change at the higher elevation. The shrubbery, however, were various colors of red and gold.

We reached the large parking area for the Maple Pass/Lake Ann hikes. Even on a rainy, cold Saturday, the parking lot was full. We squeezed our petite Rav4 into a space, bundled up and took the .9-mile walk to Rainy Lake.

Not expecting much, we were surprised to see a small tarn with a decent waterfall at the far end. We started talking with a couple and a small boy who had a fishing rod propped up on a rock. It showered about 3 times during the 20 minutes we were there but they were quite content, sitting on a bench under a tree, with a blanket to keep them warm and sort of dry.

We headed back to the car, had our coffee and cookies, and drove back to warm sunny Winthrop. It seemed the right time to enjoy a tot of Glenlivit with cheddar and a crisp Envy apple.

Late Sunday morning, we departed Winthrop and drove the 18 miles to Klipchuck Campground. It was sunny and warm and we had a quiet afternoon and evening. We began to gather stuff for Monday’s big hike.

September 24    Maple Pass Trail

I really wanted this hike. Two years ago, when we did it, the weather was rainy and cold. When we reached Heather Pass, we huddled under some trees to eat lunch and Dave completed the loop while I retraced my steps. He dealt with enough snow to worry that he’d have trouble following the trail.

This time, the weather was optimal. My only concern was whether my feet could handle 7.2 miles and an 1800-foot rise in elevation. I strategically bandaged various toes and brought along a flock of bandaids. We set off at 9 a.m.

The hike begins with some long switchbacks through dense forest and then turns south through a rocky landslide area, covered with brilliant foliage.

My jacket came off pretty quickly as I warmed up. We eventually got to look down on Lake Ann, a classic mountain lake at the bottom of deep talus slopes.

This is one popular trail. Some had their dogs. There was one group of ladies, a couple of runners, and several hikers that looked older than us. Some just seemed to be out on a 7-mile stroll. A lot of people for a Monday morning. Everyone seemed to be in a great mood.

We eventually reached Heather Pass and ate our lunch. People were coming and going all around us. The view of a different valley was superb. Now we were seeing some glaciers.

After lunch, we continued to climb. It was spectacular. The trail continued to circle Lake Ann, providing better and better views.

We reached a point where we could see four huge valleys taking off in various directions. The weather was perfect, a little warmth in the sunny areas, a little coolth in the shady areas. The sun was a little lower. I tried to do justice to the views. I’ve never seen anything like this.

There are many signs warning people to stay off the fragile meadows; it takes ages before trampled alpine foliage can reclaim a path. It is hard to stay on the trail when you can stand on the edge of the abyss 20 feet away. We tried but occasionally gingerly tried to rock hop over to see the view.

Lake Ann moved out of sight as the trail looped up another ridge. New valleys and mountains came into view. We continued to rise. And rise. And rise some more. As we were now hiking above 6,000 feet, my breathing became more labored.. We finally reached the high point, 6,850’. Wow! We celebrated and rested by munching some gorp. (Where did the name “gorp” come from, anyway?)

I was not looking forward to the descent. My feet had not hurt going up, but now we would be going down 1700 feet. I knew the trail was steeper going down than coming up. But the first 1.5 miles were wonderful. The light was getter better and larch trees were glowing green and gold. There were dark rocky areas and white glaciers to use as backgrounds.

We reached one point where we could look down at Rainy Lake, more than 1,000 feet below on the right and down at Lake Ann on the left. Mind-blowing! As I was focusing the camera, a large dark moving object entered the image. Startled, I let out a screamy yelp. Then I realized that a fly had landed on the camera lens. In the next image, it happened again. I hadn’t dripped honey or anything else on the lens so I don’t know what attracted them. I’m only sorry I didn’t get an image of it.

After that, we began an endless descent on switchbacks. We were in deep forest and the trail was full of roots and rocks, so constant vigilance was required. The likelihood of tripping increases as I get tired and footsore. This is when the hiking poles are invaluable.

We kept descending. We got further glimpses of Rainy Lake below us but it didn’t seem to be getting closer quickly. I just trudged, paying attention to nothing but the trail under my feet. After one endless switchback that I hoped was the last one, we made the turn and finally reached the paved Rainy Lake trail that meant our car was only a quarter mile away.

We celebrated our return with a delicious orange that went well with a chocolate cookie. Camp was only 16 miles away.

September 25    Sitting

We did very well on our 7.2-mile hike but we were very tired and knees, calves and feet wanted a day off. We obliged and sat in our sunny, quiet campground. We read, colored (me), blogged, marveled at our images and moved minimally. It was great.

September 26     Walking the Pacific Crest Trail

The forest service had told us that we could drive up to Hart’s Pass and hike a portion of the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) without much elevation gain. Our legs were still stiff from Monday’s hike so that sounded good to us. Forest Road 5400 was a 25-mile drive up there, which doesn’t sound bad except about 15 of those miles were unpaved with copious large potholes and/or washboard texture. But as we rose up 4,000 feet, the scenery was beautiful. Lush forest thinned out and we ran into aspens. We had to stop for them.

We appeared to be in a huge valley ravaged by fire many years ago (I’m guessing). Above us were small groups of silvery snags surrounded by healthy live trees.

The bottom of the valley was dead tree trunks and grasses and lots of colorful shrubs. I had never seen anything quite like it.

The steep hills had orderly rows of dead trees, evergreens and mixed conifers. It was like someone had a plan.

We turned off of FR 5400 and onto the road that goes to the PCT. The scenery only got better.

We finally reached the trailhead and hit the PCT. It was a brilliant wonderland of larches. The yellows were blinding. We quickly got to the talus slope that provides a gray and white background for the trees and foliage.

As we lollygagged along the narrow trail, we kept crossing hikers going the other way. At this point, the PCT is only 35 miles from Canada. Some people were obviously long-term PCT trekkers. There were single men and women. There were a few couples. Most seemed fairly young. Some nodded and didn’t speak. One wished me “Happy trails”. I spoke with one guy who seemed to be somewhere in his thirties. He said that he had got on the trail at the Mexico-U.S. border on April 3. Assuming he finished in the next few days, that’s just short of 6 months of walking. Few who try the PCT walk the entire U.S. portion of the trail in one take. I congratulated him.

After less than a mile, we came to a 180-degree turn in the trail. Voila! A whole new view and huge valley opened up.

We didn’t go very far on this side. The view looked like it wasn’t going to change radically from what we first saw and we were still footsore from the Maple Pass Trail. We turned around and looked out at the expansive landscape.

We had crossed trails with a couple of older (than me) women who said they did this hike annually. We passed them again while they were having a snack. “Going back so soon?” one asked. “We have to get back for our coffee break.” I replied, half jokingly. “That’s an odd timetable” one responded, not understanding coffee addiction.

The drive home took quite a while, but this was one of the best days of the trip.

 

 

 

 

September 16

We headed to Mt. Rainier National Park on Sunday. For some reason we’ve never spent more than a day here and neither one of us remembers doing a hike here. The park is enormous and we are only going see a small part of it.

We ended up at Ohanapecosh Campground. There are no hookups but we’re not complaining for $10 per night, courtesy of the Senior Parks Pass. The campground is quite a distance from the places we want to see but at least it’s in the park. It’s in dense forest, very pretty and pretty dark. Dave put up the mobile solar panels but they’re on a sun starvation diet. Since it was still showering when we arrived, we stayed in camp, figuring we wouldn’t see the big hill with all the clouds.

September 17   Paradise!

We were up and out early on Monday morning. We were headed for Paradise, 22 miles away. Paradise is the most-visited place at Rainier and I really wanted to do the 5.5-mile Skyline hike that leaves from there. It was foggy, cloudy and sunny along the road. Peering into the drop from the side of the road was like looking at a murky heaven down below.

After ten miles or so, we came around a bend and caught our first glimpse of Mt. Rainier. Wow! It’s pretty amazing. It doesn’t look so commanding in this image but the map of the national park looks like it has a large white amoeba in the middle of it.

The foliage was adding bright notes on the cliffs and canyons.

Stevens Canyon is almost as enormous going down as Mt. Rainier is going up (14,410 feet).

Further up the road, I made a panoramic shot of the Mount.

After a few more miles, we came to Reflection Lake, named because it perfectly captures images of Mt. Rainier. The best times, of course, are sunrise and sunset. Ain’t gonna happen when we’re camping 20 miles away. But it is a beautiful spot. The first lake view I found to focus on was not too dramatic.

But then…

I often like abstract images better than the clear ones.

We eventually reached Paradise and prepared for the Skyline Trail hike. It was warmer than I expected so I dressed lighter than usual despite the fact we might rise 1700 feet if we got to the highest point of the trail. There are all kinds of connecting trails in this area. We didn’t have to do the entire 5.5-mile Skyline Trail and in fact we only hiked 3.5 miles but we did get all the way to the top of the Skyline Trail, 1700 feet higher. The first part of the trail was paved, but seriously uphill. We were not acclimated to the elevation and I steadily panted for the next two hours.

In the shade, it was chilly enough in the shade for plants to still have ice.

About 15 minutes into the hike, we reached the first viewpoint and saw our first marmot. It was laid out on the rock like a furry rug. What was amusing is that there were people right above it and they were so focused on watching Mt. Rainier they never noticed the creature below them. The marmots seem to be unafraid of people, probably because they have chosen to reside on the busiest trail in the park.

We took a lot of pictures because it is rare to see a marmot (or so we thought at the time). The trail continued its steady rise.

At one point, we could see the trail on which we would eventually descend. But we had more ascension ahead of us.

As we labored upwards, we came upon a smaller marmot, waiting for we humans to go by so he could cross the trail. He had a mouthful of grasses, either for a hibernation stash or nest.

We kept seeing more and more marmots.  It was unbelievable. And many of them were very active, grazing and chowing down. Our marmot encounters on previous trips usually involved them sunning themselves and not moving.

As we rose, the slopes of Mt. Rainier came closer. Clouds kept dropping and rising, obscuring parts of the landscape.

And more marmots.

A portion of Nisqually Glacier.

We selected a popular viewpoint for lunch and spent the time chasing off an aggressive chipmunk, while watching other hikers come and go. It was quite an international crowd.

After tripping over 6 or 8 more marmots, we hit snow level. Most of it had occurred from yesterdays rain. It was spotty and mostly melty but enough to bring out the hiking poles to help over the icier areas. It was at this point, we saw the alpine toilet. It was in a nice stone building, large and wood-lined with a toilet paper stand. Nice! Having found relief, I slushed on upward. The trail just kept rising, the views getting better.

Not a marmot!

We finally started to descend and had to pick our way through some snowy spots in the trail. Amazingly, there was little or no wind so it was not cold at 6800 feet. Lots of other hikers were on the trail, some unprepared for the hike. One young couple stopped by us as we were taking a break and the guy mentioned to the woman that he had run out of water and felt dehydrated. I offered him some of my water and noticed that his hands were shaking as he gave me his small, empty water bottle to fill.

We eventually descended below snow level and were now negotiating a steady, gentle descent. We reached the junction with the Golden Gate Trail that shortened a 5.5-mile hike to 3.5 miles. There was no doubt in my mind – that was the way for me. I’ve been having trouble with my feet. I have a stress fracture in the ball of my foot but that doesn’t even hurt. It’s the other side of my foot that’s hurting. And various toes. I’m using bandaids of all sizes, moleskin and other things. As long as I can hike, I’m going to.

We began to descend a steep hillside meadow, crisscrossing on lengthy switchbacks. It was glorious. Even though the flowers were almost all done, the foliage was gorgeous. The marmots thought so too. We saw one after another, munching away. A silvery stream ran down one side of the trail. The scene was very Heidi-like but I didn’t break out into song.


As the meadow bottomed out, the stairs began. Oh, they weren’t steep stairs but there were so many of them! I would rather have gone up them but that wasn’t an option. So we trudged along until we came to Myrtle Falls. Inundated with people, it had a nice view of the mountains.

It was a short trudge back to the parking lot. I was amused by one group of tourists who had all stopped to marvel at a chipmunk. Are chipmunks unique to the U.S.? We finally reached the end of the trail, at the Paradise Inn, a very nice lodge. I went to the snack bar, looking for a decaf coffee (it was after 4 p.m.) and accompanied it with some really good truffles. We sat on a bench, warmed by the sun, eating chocolate and watching Mt. Rainier. Does it get any better?

September 18       Mt. Rainier Sunrise Area

We were both very tired after our Skyline hike and our calves hurt from all that up and down. The Sunrise area of the park was only 17 miles away and we didn’t want to do anything more than a short walk. We headed out in late morning.

The first stop was Tipsoo Lake, famous as another surface reflective of Mt. Rainier. Sunrise is the time to be there to catch alpenglow if you can. No alpenglow for us. Just pleasant sunshine and ripples on the lake that didn’t reflect Rainier very well. We enjoyed circling the small lake.

After that mild exercise, we ate lunch in the warm sun and continued the drive to Sunrise. There was a nice peninsula with a big parking area and a panoramic view. The light wasn’t great but it was another pleasant spot.

We eventually wound our way to the Sunrise area and went on a short walk to a viewpoint of Emmons Glacier and the White River. The afternoon light was harsh and glary. It was still a great sight.

On the drive up, Dave had noticed an interesting basalt formation so we stopped to photograph it on the way down. It’s like a miniature of the Devils Postpile National Monument in eastern California.

September 12-13   Moving on

Wednesday was moving/chore day. We headed to a very nice KOA in Castle Rock, next to I-5. Got the laundry done and I drove off in a rain shower to do the grocery shopping. It was nice to have phone and internet after 5 or 6 days. We planned which way to go next (east on WA-12) and where to stay (Cascade Peaks Campground), halfway between the eastern side of Mt. St. Helens and Mt. Rainier National Park to the north. Intermittent showers are almost permanently in the weather report but that’s the way it is in the mountains.

September 14 Norway Pass Trail, Mt. St. Helens NP

We got up early on Friday and drove about 35 miles to the Norway Pass Trailhead. Only 2.25 miles one-way with a 900 foot rise, it seemed a doable hike. I was uncertain about what to bring because it might be humid and warm or windy and cold. It was a long drive to the trailhead, about 40 miles, most of it along a skinny, windy road with a lot of broken pavement. As we rose, the clouds were very low and added interest to the views.

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The Garmin was showing a grey sky that we thought might indicate it recognized fog or heavy clouds. We’ve never noticed this before.

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We finally arrived and began the hike. It was very pleasant, milder than I expected and no wind at all. The path went uphill at a steady clip but wound along the edge of the hill with great views. Some of the foliage was brilliant orange against a green backdrop. Dead tree stumps added visual interest. This area was well within the blast zone when Mt. St. Helens erupted.

We had driven past a small lake on the way in and now it lay beneath us. The views were really opening up.

We saw a lot of bushes and plants with berries – red berries, white berries, orange, pink and blue berries. They were brilliant.

The trail was narrow and the healthy growth around it made it even narrower but it was soft walking. We eventually rounded a bend and a new valley opened up.

After a little over 2 miles, we reached Norway Pass. A short left turn took us to a great viewpoint that focused on Mt. St. Helens with Spirit Lake underneath. Spirit Lake was very close to the volcano and the eruption permanently raised the lake 200 feet, drowning all the camps and lodges around its edge. This is where Harry Truman’s lodge was and it was where he died because he refused to evacuate.

Spirit Lake still has thousands of bleached logs floating around its perimeter. It’s a bizarre scene. We stopped for lunch there and could hear the horrible screeching sound of elk off in the distance.

After waiting a while to see if the clouds would life off of Mt. St. Helens, we turned back to the trail. It was an easy downhill cruise. We hadn’t seen a soul on the way up but on the return passed two couples and a woman carrying a baby. It never showered a drop on the hike, which was nice.

September 15-16  Rainy weather

Rain set in the next couple of days so we mostly stayed at home. It was quite pleasant. We got a little walk in around the Cascade Peaks Campground. It’s quite large and runs by a river. We saw lots of elk droppings but didn’t see any elk. The campground is memorable to me as having one of the largest camp libraries I’ve ever seen with a lousy collection of books. Ninety percent of them were romances. How can people read one after another of them? The campground was also notable for wonderful carvings and the best refuse center I’ve ever seen.

Saturday was rainy too, so we drove 8 miles to Randle for breakfast. I had breakfast in a bowl, with the scrambled eggs, bacon and cheese all spread out over the hash browns. It works.