I am slowly but surely waking up from my marmot-like winter hibernation, so while I’m stretching my paws and getting my hiking mojo reset, I’ll play catch-up with some of my favorite trips from this fall.
Since we had our furry running coach, Brutus, with us, we picked a trail we knew would be excellent for running, the Ptarmigan Ridge trail on Mount Baker, but due to the heat (omgz way too hot for September – little did we know it would rain the rest of the month) and my getting over a cold, we ended up just hiking most of the day…
…with lots of breaks to cool off in streams and roll around on snowfields.
I love this trail. Similar to Paradise and Sunrise on Mount Rainier, Ptarmigan Ridge lets you cheat your way through thousands of feet of forest and drive straight up to the timberline. Alpine views from start to finish!
Last time we were here, we stopped and camped at the turquoise lake, but this time we had our eyes set on the Portals, which you can see in the distance in the photo above. Last time we also didn’t have any views until the last fifteen minutes of the hike, so we were kind of blown away this time.
Still, I was feeling pretty blah from my cold, so Brutus and I took a very satisfying nap while JK and the Italians explored the Portals.
The hike back to the car was breathtaking (the views, not the trail – it’s mostly flat) – Mount Shuksan ahead…
…and Mount Baker in the rear view mirror, all taken in while snacking on trailside huckleberries. Hells yeah.
Oh, and marmots, marmots all around. All in all, it was an excellent summer for marmot sightings.
It was hard to leave, so we stopped the car at Heather Meadows to watch the sunset and feed the hounds before driving the long road home to Redmond.
– The Portals | 12 miles | 1600 feet elevation gain –
This was the perfect ending to the best and most fulfilling summer of my life – so far.
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.
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.
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.
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 great thing about having hiked 20 miles the weekend before? It made these 12 miles feel like nothing. W00t!
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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!
Two days after I pushed myself on the Rattlesnake Traverse, my legs felt like lead. “No biggie,” I thought. “A little run will loosen them right up.” Hahaha, no.
Fortunately for me, the trail up and along West Cady Ridge is graded for horses, which also means it’s graded for sore Ingunns – never too steep, and lots of beautimous views to keep those legs moving.
Basil is banned from hiking as long as the Cascade mosquito population is still thriving, so Wellie brought along his friend Brutus, ultrarunner extraordinaire, to function as our running coach.
All thoughts of heavy legs disappeared as we got closer to Benchmark Mountain. I don’t know if it’s just that endorphin high again or what, but I just fell in love with this trail.
Hiking in the Cascades often involves climbing through the woods for thousands of feet before finally getting a view right at the top of a mountain, but the majority of this trail was along a beautiful ridge with views in every direction and flowers at our feet. I was in heaven.
The only thing missing was Basil. And some marmots. And maybe an ice-cold beverage waiting for me on the summit (but that’s ok, we had a cooler full of watermelon in the car for the drive home).
My legs started feeling achy and clumsy again on the way down, but you know what? Those legs were heavy because they’re growing stronger. I’m growing stronger, slowly but surely, inside and out.
It was totally worth spending the next two days waddling around like an inebriated duck.
Best dayhike of the year…so far. It ain’t over yet.
– Benchmark Mountain | 15 miles | 4500 feet elevation gain –
I woke up two Fridays ago feeling down in the dumps for reasons that, frustratingly, are beyond my control. It was tempting to just go back to sleep, but I knew that wallowing at home would be the worst thing I could do for myself at that moment. The best thing I could do? Hit the trails.
JK and his coworkers were headed to Rattlesnake Ledge for a “morale event” hike & picnic, so they dropped Wellie and me off at the Snoqualmie Point trailhead – at the other end of Rattlesnake Mountain – on the way. My challenge was to make it to Rattlesnake Lake before they were done.
I hauled balls, hiking as fast as I could on the uphills and running the flats and downhills, taking some breaks to feed and water Wellie and to appreciate the views. When I finished the nine miles to Rattlesnake Ledge, JK and the gang were still there! They gave me wine! And fed me watermelon! Huzzah for JK’s coworkers! We lazed and chatted on the Ledge for a while, then hiked the last two miles down to the lake (at a much more relaxed pace).
Blue feelings = gone. The situation I was sad about remained the same, nothing had changed, but I when I’m active, taking charge, hopped up on endorphins and sniffing trees, I find that I’m just so much better equipped to handle this kind of stuff.
A vigorous five-mile walk will do more good for an unhappy but otherwise healthy adult than all the medicine and psychology in the world.
(I have no idea who Dr. Paul Dudley White was, but he speaks da troof.)
– Rattlesnake Mountain Traverse | 11 miles | 2700 feet elevation gain –