Archive for the ‘Alpine Lakes Wilderness’ Category

Larch Rx

Tuesday, April 1st, 2014

Sorry to keep jumping wildly from season to season, but I never got around to writing about this trip, and it was just too purty and too important to skip.

I like snow (until March)

October was rough. Actually, the whole autumn season was rough. The hormones I was taking made me feel all sorts of not great, so I spent those darkening months gaining weight, fighting lethargy, and feeling very down in the dumps.

Too many photo breaks

Very few things were able to motivate me to get outside. One was mushroom hunting, which I’ll come back to later, and the other was the chance to finally see the golden larch trees in Headlight Basin in perfect weather. I had been waiting for this chance for years, so I gathered up what energy I had left and let JK steer our trusty Subaru towards the magical kingdom of the Teanaway.

I had a moment of hormone-induced (yes, I’ll blame it on that) bliss/sadness/bittersweetness in the car when Pink Rabbits by The National was playing just as Mount Stuart first popped in to view, the light hitting it just right. It was one of those sappy American Beauty plastic bag situations when you realize that there are so many beautiful everyday moments in this world, even though it sometimes feels like shit. I will admit that I shed a tear or two, and I had that wonderful song playing over and over in my head the whole day. I still get emotional whenever I hear it – thankfully, I can still blame it on hormones.

Bare trail for now

Hiking felt so good, even after being couch-bound for so long. My legs warmed up fast, and my lungs reveled in the clean, crisp October air. Soon enough, the endorphins hit and I was talking a mile a minute as we switchbacked up to Ingalls Pass. I felt like myself again.

Headlight Basin

The ridge above Headlight Basin was crowded, as it always is during larch season, but I can’t really complain about sharing a good time in the mountains with fellow grinning, elated hikers. We had all hit the jackpot – larch trees at their peak, a blanket of fresh snow, and blue, blue skies. The colors looked slightly dull from above, but when we dropped down into the basin (which we actually had to ourselves) and the light hit the trees, the larches looked like they were on fire. Amazing.

Walking in a golden wonderland

Unfortunately, I don’t have the vocabulary to convey just how therapeutic and spiritually uplifting a day like this can be for me. I know it must be difficult to understand if you’re not a fellow nature-lovin’, endorphin-hungry, overly-emotional sap.

I meet people who say they hate hiking, they hate the heat of it, the cold, the sweating, the hard work, the bugs, and the dirt. We humans all have different outlets for frustration and inlets for inspiration, and hiking is mine.

When the light hits just right

Especially when I can share it with this guy.

It's such a perfect day

Headlight Basin | 7.5 miles | 2400 feet elevation gain –

Our own little corner of the woods

Yeah I shake my little tush on the Katwalk

Wednesday, October 23rd, 2013

Ehrm, I seem to have stopped blogging. Let’s just pick up where we left off and pretend this hike didn’t take place two months ago.

To the PCT!

PCT!

Kendall Katwalk is one of the most popular hikes by Snoqualmie Pass, but, even though we’ve hiked here for six years now, this was our first visit. True to form, we left late, something that usually pays off in golden afternoon light and glorious sunsets. This time we missed the morning sun and had to make do with limited views and cold fog instead.

Misty Red Mountain

We’ve turned into wimpy fair-weather hikers (aided by two excellent Seattle summers in a row), so this weather was unusual for us…but it was honestly really nice to hike without feeling like I was drowning in my own sweat.

Wellie looks for pikas

If definitely felt like fall, and the critters were prepping for the long winter to come. The pikas were frantically collecting impressive mouthfuls of noms to keep them going until summer, while the marmots were plumping up nicely for their upcoming snooze.

Prepping for winter

Man, you guys are awesome

A freezing fog rolled in just as we reached the impressively engineered Katwalk, so we just had a quick snack before running most of the way back down to the car (luckily I had brought headphones so I could get Right Said Fred out of my head). I’ll have to come back on a purtier day.

The infinite abyss

The great thing about having hiked 20 miles the weekend before? It made these 12 miles feel like nothing. W00t!

Yeah I shake my little tush on the Kendall Katwalk

Kendall Katwalk | 12 miles | 2700 feet elevation gain –

Big thanks to my Hike-a-Thon sponsors, Jessie…

Thanks, Jessie!

…and Gabi!

Thanks, Gabi!

TNAB

Thursday, September 5th, 2013

Oh, right, TNAB. I vowed to go to more of these Thursday evening hikes/sufferfests…then we went to one this winter, and promptly stopped. Why? Laziness, that’s why. Mostly, though, it’s because of the drive – rush hour traffic makes it difficult to be at the trailhead by 5:45.

Rampart Ridge? Worth fighting traffic.

Mordor?

To the family we met at the trailhead who warned us about the yellow jacket nest on trail, thank you so much! JK and Basil (who has the worst luck with bugs) still managed to get stung, as did some later arrivals, but Dani, Wellie and I managed to skulk into the woods and bypass the Nest of Evil. Luckily Basil seemed to be doing fine, but we gave him Benadryl just in case and kept a close eye on him the rest of the night.

If you’re hiking the Ramparts through “the backdoor” this fall, be careful, the nest is located right at the junction with Lake Laura, and the yellow jackets will repeatedly sting any man or beast who walks by. Last I heard, some thoughtful hikers had marked the area with flagging.

Stairway to heaven

Moving on, the meadowy bits below the summit were full of scampering marmots, but I didn’t get a single good shot of them. Clouds and forest fire haze foiled my photography plans and cast the mountains in gloomy light…

NABing and gabbing

…until sunset, when the sky ‘sploded in breathtaking pinks and purples. Whoa. When TNAB is good, it’s really good.

When TNAB is good...

There was the usual drinking and chatting, oohing and aahing, joking and reminiscing (even some snoozing, courtesy of Basil, who was still high on Benadryl), and JK and I realized that we had missed this more than we thought.

TNAB!

We vowed yet again to attend more TNABs…and then Mother Nature decided that she would serve up epic storms every Thursday from then on.

If we’re going to fight traffic, it’s going to be for something a bit more pleasant than “rain Armageddon“. So…maybe next week. Or next year?

Pink!

– Rampart Ridge | 4.5 miles | 2,200 feet gain –

Stahp!

Humongous thanks to my Hike-a-Thon sponsors, Kelsie…

Thanks, Kelsie!

…Lauren…

Thanks, Lauren!

…and Lyn! Y’all rock!

Thanks, Lyn!

Enchantments in a day

Wednesday, September 4th, 2013

You know that goal I set for myself this summer? I generally don’t set goals anymore because they tend to just stress me out and leech whatever joy I would normally get out of a project, but this one, this one I loved and looked forward to (if somewhat nervously) all summer.

Aasgard ahead

JK and I met up with three other friends and caravaned to Leavenworth (the sort-of-creepy but mostly festive faux-Bavarian village east of Stevens Pass), left one car at the Snow Creek trailhead, and hoped we were starting early enough to hit Aasgard Pass in the shade.

Certain members of the group set off at a grueling pace right from the trailhead, leaving certain other (more portly) members (ok, membeR) of the group wondering what the hell she had gotten herself into. Thankfully my thought process changed when we reached Colchuck Lake – I knew that the remaining miles (minus the last six down to the car) would be beautimous enough to encourage a more ambling pace.

“Ambling” is a much faster pace than what I hiked up Aasgard though – that pass you see in the photo above which gains 2200 feet in 0.8 miles. Ugh. I will say that it felt amazing to hike up it with a light running pack instead of a multi-day backpack. We hit sunlight in the last quarter of it, but I still felt energetic when I reached the top, which is something I would never have imagined.

Huffing and puffing up Aasgard Pass

Cresting Aasgard and walking into the Enchantments gave me a huge rush of emotions. It was so beautiful. I felt so good. And it opened up a whole new world to me to realize that places like this are accessible to me in a day now instead of as a long backpacking trip (with an impossible permit system).

Also, goats! So many! So cute! So fluffy!

I don't have to pee right now, but thanks for your concern

Spot the goats in this one?

Welcome committee

We mostly saw mamas with their kids. All the menfolk must have been off somewhere watching football.

Kidding around

After a long lunch break in the Upper Enchantments, we made our way through this granite kingdom, which geologist Tom informed us is “not actually granite, but close enough”. He also taught us about inclusions, but I wasn’t really listening. Tom’s a gneiss guy and all, but I don’t give a schist about rocks.

Heaven is what it is is what it is

Ok, so I do care about rocks, because look how pretty they be. The Upper Enchantments are very stark, dramatic, and Sierra Nevada-like.

Witches Tower

Every time I come here, I can’t help but play the Lord of the Rings soundtrack in my head.

Through the upper basin

I didn’t think a side trip up Little Annapurna would be in the cards for me, but I really wanted JK to go – he hadn’t been there before, and it’s a really cool summit. As it turned out, my legs still had some elevation gain left in them, so I went up as well.

I made it!

We had another long break at the summit for second lunch, ’cause a hobbit’s gotta eat.

Gaaah

Unfortunately, we had brought our old, unreliable Rebel with us since the 60D won’t fit in the outside mesh thing of my pack, and now it informed me that it was almost out of juice. Nooo! I had to conserve the battery, so I don’t have many photos from the Lower Enchantments – you’ll just have to believe me (or look at Tom’s photos) when I say it’s a veritable wonderland of lakes, peaks, and goats.

Looking back up at Little Annapurna from Rune Lake:

Little Annapurna

“Draw me like one of your French chipmunks…”

Draw me like one of your French chipmunks

The goats bade us farewell as we dropped down towards the last lake of the Enchantments (there would be more lakes, but they’re just not as enchanting). Thank you for letting us visit your home, furry ones!

Thanks for letting us visit your home

Lake Viviane holds a special place in our hearts; it was our first campsite on our first trip to the Enchantments back in 2008. We spent a lovely afternoon there all alone, just reading and swimming. You obviously miss out on experiences like that when you’re only passing through in a day, but I think the dayhike experience is just as rewarding – in a different way.

Lake Viviane

The lower basin is more vegetated than the upper basin (less not-quite-granite-but-close-enough), but there are still some steep, rocky bits where you don’t want to slip. Egads!

Above Lake Viviane

This is the last photo we took, of the rebar steps leading down to Lake Viviane. From here on, we followed the steep route down to and interminable trail around Snow Lake, the rocky switchbacks down to Nada Lake, and the never-ending grind down to the Snow Creek trailhead, where our second car was waiting with a cooler full of delicious liquids.

Rebar

My legs were starting to feel it on the way down, but, spurred on by dreams of Latin food (more importantly, non-”Bavarian” food) at South, I jogged the last miles – changing my gait really does make my legs feel fresher, even after a long day like this. I finally reached the trailhead, downed half a Vitamin Water in one gulp, and reveled in the fact that I actually felt pretty good. Sweaty and dirty, but good.

Two days later, my calves told a different story…but never mind that.

- Enchantments & Little Annapurna | 20 miles | 6000 feet gain (8000 feet loss) -

Big thanks to my Hike-a-Thon sponsors, Michelle…

Thanks, Michelle!

…Tom…

Thanks, Tom!

…and Jo!

Thanks, Jo!

Five things that have improved my enjoyment of hiking this summer

Thursday, August 29th, 2013

(…because I obviously hated hiking before.)

My second hike of Hike-a-Thon, a variation on the Melakwa Loop, an old favorite of mine, was just incredibly enjoyable. The weather was perfect, the views inspiring, the company (just Wellie and one pissed-off marmot) excellent, but I was also struck by how effortless the hiking itself felt. Part of it is that I’m in better shape than I used to be, for sure, but I’ve also made some changes that make for a more comfortable time on trail.

Whistlepig

1) Instead of lugging over three liters of water with me on hot summer days, I bring my Sawyer Squeeze water filter with me and filter as I go (provided I know there will be water available – there usually is, since I mostly hike in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness). This filter only weighs three ounces (and the Sawyer Mini will be coming out soon, weighing in at two ounces, $20!) and is really easy to use. Less water to carry means faster, more comfortable hiking, and I get to drink fresh, delicious mountain water instead of tepid tap water that’s been heating up in my Platypus container.

Double Kaleetan

2) I switched from hiking boots to minimalist trail runners in 2011 and I love it. I used to roll my ankles all the time back when I wore boots, but, knock on wood, it’s never happened in trail runners – increased ground feel lets your feet adjust to the terrain. They’re also marvelously light and breathable, so my feet no longer feel horrible at the end of a long day. I usually don’t even take my shoes off before I get home, while back in my boot days, that was the first thing I did when I reached the car.

Alan! Alan! Alan!

3) Trail runners allow me to run the downhills (I would run the uphills if I could, but that’s not likely to happen unless I lose a significant amount of poundage). JK and I were talking about how much we love this last weekend as we were running the six not-very-interesting miles down a mountain – what would probably have felt like a neverending death march while walking turned into something fun instead; the running itself becomes one of the highlights of the trip (endorphins!). An added bonus that doesn’t seem to make sense, is that if I run back down to the car, my legs actually feel fresher than if I had walked – maybe because I’m using slightly different muscles and a different gait?

Lower Tuscohatchie

4) Hiking in a skirt! I can’t believe I never tried this before. I’m using the Moving Comfort Sprint Tech Skort and I can finally hike and run without having to endure chub rub chafing.

Olallie Lake

5) This one is new to me, but after trying it on my last two hikes, I’m a convert. All summer I’ve been eating total crap on my hikes – I can’t stomach granola bars anymore, so I’ve been eating Snickers instead, supplemented with energy gels. I finally realized that since I wouldn’t eat Snickers in “real life”, I shouldn’t be gorging on them when my body is working hard. Enter real food! These Chocolate & Sea Salt Sticky Bites from the Feed Zone Portables cookbook are tasty (because CHOCOLATE and SALT), efficient, and have a much less scary ingredient list than a packet of Gu or a Snickers bar.

– Melakwa to Pratt Loop w/Olallie Lake | 15 miles | 3600 feet elevation gain –

Big, big thanks to my Hike-a-Thon sponsor Mark who loves this area of our mountains as much as I do!

Thanks, Mark!

I’m currently at 92% of my goal, and there is still time do donate and support our trails!

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