Thanks to the guy at Marathon Sports back home who made the logo! I think it’s going to have to stay here because I cannot for the life of me figure out how the hell to get it next to the title above. Eventually I’d like to have a few things added, like lists (everyone loves lists), hike of the month, and a few more categories, but for now it’s all about learning to hike, climb, and run. Elevation profiles are in the Strava links when provided, and if anyone would like a GPX file of my route, comment and let me know, I usually have one. Comments, blog suggestions, and recommendations for peaks are always welcome! Doesn’t matter whether it’s a hike, run, or climb.
Recent updates: I have started an instagram! have_tent_will_travel (because some bastards took havetent_willtravel and havetentwilltravel). Not much to it right now, but I figure it’ll keep things moving during the dreary winter days where we can all reminisce on that one time it was sunny for a record streak and we were sick of the sun hoping for rain.
Usually the first trip of the season is a shitshow for me. Somehow this was magically avoided, despite not having been on a hike in TWO MONTHS(!!!) leading up to this. Shitty weather, a wedding out of town, covid from that wedding out of town, more shitty weather, this has been the lamest alpine spring I have ever had. But weather finally seemed to be making a turn for the better (depending on how you define “better” – a 90 degree heat wave is not everyone’s favorite) and I had Friday off and we were going to get after it. We chose Cadet Peak, a nontechnical peak outside of Monte Cristo. We settled on two days, because it’s beautiful and fun, and because the last time Sammy did Monte Cristo and back in a day he had to be carried out in a backpack.
Distance: 18mi round trip
Elevation: 5100ft gain, 7186ft highest point
Weather: 70’s and sunny
Commute from Seattle: 1:45 w/o traffic
Did I Trip: NO just some postholes
We got a leisurely start Friday morning from the parking pullout by the bypass road. For anyone who doesn’t know, the bypass road is a (usually) pleasant bike ride that avoids the trail and the river ford coming from the Gothic Basin trailhead, so we figured it’d be faster. Within a quarter mile we hit a massive tangle of blowdowns and I’d have catapulted my bike across the road in shock and frustration if I had the strength. Fortunately that was the worst of it
It was difficult to hit a rhythm thanks to the multiple blowdowns. PSA those black things sticking up in the road are plastic, you do not have to epicly (epically?) leap off a moving bike to avoid hitting them (I thought they were metal and bailed spectacularly). You will roll nicely over them. Also if you do have to leap off the bike it’s much harder with an overnight pack than just mountain biking tiger mountain.
The road wasn’t clear until it intersected with the official road to Monte Cristo, and then it finally felt like we were cruising. Sammy cakes was doing his best sprint to keep up with our bikes, chugging water at every stream crossing. We rolled into Monte Cristo, locked up our bikes, and started the hike up to Glacier Basin. The siding on those houses has to be restored, right? I mean my house doesn’t look that good and it’s in a city not remote snowy alpine wilderness. We passed a guy who had just done Cadet too. He warned us. “My tracks are everywhere. Just keep jogging left as you get close to the summit, you’ll see where I wandered, don’t follow my tracks!”
I’ll spare you the Monte Cristo history because I covered a lot in my last post here. Great to compare pics year to year too, mid June 2019 vs 2022. It’s such a fascinating area, and crazy to imagine what was there decades ago. Anyway, brief updates on the trail:
It’s still longer than you think
It’s still steeper than you think
The hand line is gone (that’s fine)
Snow starts around 4000-4500ft
I didn’t see any spring mushrooms 😦
Sammy led the way, leaving us behind at every corner. Ida Pass in the pic above was the main route to get from mines around Monte Cristo to the Foggy Mine on the other side of that ridge by Goat Lake. Ida was allegedly a prostitute in Monte Cristo who was in high demand. She now has a pass and a lake named after her, and the lake has what looks like an unnamed, dying glacier above it. There is another glacier on the west face of Cadet that seems to be receding enough to create a lake (Cadet Lake?). Late summer/fall investigation required (edit: holy shit that’s pride basin!!!).
We finally put on gaitors when we hit snow, and let the postholing begin. We stayed south of the river but not always on the summer trail, just picking the path of least resistance through trees/boulder fields/avy debris. The famous boulder was half buried in avy debris. We made our way to Ray’s Knoll, the hill in the middle of the basin, and set up our tent on the very top. I had a full lunch, because snacking with invisalign SUCKS. You have to brush the liners and your teeth and floss after everything you eat, it’s extremely tedious and time consuming so I end up just not eating on climbs at all until I’m starving. Not a good practice.
We made a little nest with food and water for Sammy to hang out in while we climbed Cadet, and started on our way up. We kicked steps up to the base of a gully with a small waterfall. I didn’t believe it at first, I thought it would be better to go up through the brush and trees, but it turns out you just scramble up the gully to the base of the bigger waterfall and then cut left into the brush and snow. My adductor cramped up suddenly, and I couldn’t move my right leg. Then the left one started. I was torn between feeling embarrassed, annoyed, and puzzled. I’ve never had anything like this happen besides in the Moab trail marathon on a much more minor scale. I started willing them to shut the fuck up. Come on legs you can do this. And I’m going to keep powering through the spasms. Your choice whether to keep spasming or not I guess.
We gained the ridge, which usually has a trail but was entirely covered in snow. I sat down to dig fingers into my adductors and chug water and have another snack. The cramps were gone as suddenly as they had started. We kicked up more steps just left of the ridge after finally finding our new friend’s (very melted) tracks, and then continued following it up until we were solidly above tree line. The snow continuously got steeper and steeper and I wondered how I’d feel downclimbing this. I felt my adductors flare up again. “Don’t you DARE don’t even think about it” I muttered except I think it was loud enough Jon heard me. I was also surprised at how much I missed my whippet. At some point I seem to have become a skiier.
Below the rocky headwall, we started cracking up. New friend wasn’t kidding, his tracks criss-crossed the entire face. I could only picture him walking up to each potential exit point. Does this go? No. Does this go? Mmmmm… no. Does this go? It could but it’s wet. Ok this will go. We picked a wet scramble straight up the headwall that wasn’t awful but wasn’t something I’d love to downclimb (though I think if we had scrambled further left it’d have been easier). It was mostly downsloping wet or mossy and muddy holds. Just kinda yucky. My legs seemed to like scrambling more than the repetitive snow climb at this point, because as soon as we were back on snow, my adductors both started spasming again. I literally dropped to my knees a couple times trying to pressure breath and come up with alternative swear words. Does that actually help or is it just mental? I have no idea. But I felt so ridiculously stupid. Come on legs. The worst part was the cramps held off if I was moving fast and consistently enough, and flared up if I straightened the leg (like, to take a rest step, or lean on my back leg while planting my forward leg aka how you go up stairs). Except I was too fucking tired to move fast! Don’t put me in this corner, legs you can’t tell me “well either jog up steep snow or suffer the cramps” that’s a lose lose you bastards. We finally got to the final rock scramble and I planted my ass on the summit ready for another feast.
We were the second and third signatures for 2022 after our friend Mr. Slabby! That’s right, the summit register said Sam Slaby, which I hoped was some clever mountaineer pen name like Jon Gendarme or Brooke Bergschrund or Amber Arete (I couldn’t think of anything for Eve so i’m borrowing names thanks everyone for loaning). The views were tremendous. Maybe better than Monte Cristo, though I was disappointed we couldn’t see Goat Lake. Looks like you need to traverse to North Cadet for that, and we had a barking dog valiantly awaiting us in the valley below that we could hear from halfway up the climb, so no time for a traverse. At one point I asked if we should be worried, since the last time I was here there was ample evidence of bears and in my head poor Sammy cakes was fending off a bear. But that’s about as likely as a bear coming into my tent, which I’m also scared of, and which has also never happened.
We agreed to try downclimbing the snow around skiier’s right/climber’s left of the rock headwall instead of scrambling down the way we came. Leaving the summit was a cool convex slope where it rolls over and you can’t see what anything looks like, you just know it drops off steeply. I wished I had skis. It was too firm to confidently plunge step, and soon enough we were face in downclimbing for what felt like ages. I couldn’t help but think about how much of the climb had been in no-fall zones. Steep snow? Piece of cake, just don’t fall, there’s a cliff down there. Getting onto the rock? Careful of the thin snow and moat, it’s a mini moat but it’ll hurt. Rock scramble? Fine, but.. don’t fall, cause you won’t stop.
Fortunately I got into a rhythm downclimbing almost immediately. Total flow state. The snow was soft and a lot of steps collapsed but it couldn’t ruin my medidative state. I looked down at one point and couldn’t see Jon, my mind went from “hmm well I guess i’m flattered he thinks I can handle myself and he doesn’t need to wait” to “wait but i like when people wait” to “well you can’t exactly take a break on steep snow easily” to “oh hey there he is!” as I rounded a corner only to discover he was waiting. We had avoided the rock headwall entirely. The face in downclimbing continued briefly before we could finally just plunge step, and then we were cruising. We set off a slow moving slush avalanche that ran a few hundred feet, should have ridden that down.
We retraced our steps back to the waterfall scramble, crossed the river, and went back up Ray’s Knoll to find Sammy, who was so happy to see us. And we realized we had neighbors! I suddenly felt 100x worse about the barking. I already felt bad knowing Sammy was panicking or whatever dogs do (maybe it was “I need to bark or they’ll never come back, it has worked every time so far” vs “I’m scared/cold/bears”) and now I knew there were people around to hear it when they were just looking for alpine peace and quiet. They were super understanding though which alleviated some guilt. Live and learn.
I demolished my dehydrated meal in maybe 1.3 minutes. I ate just about all the food I had to try and fend off cramps the following day. I “went to sleep” around i don’t know, 9pm? and “woke up” around 7-8am, so whoop says I got 10hrs of sleep but that’s bullshit because whoop doesn’t know about the wind. I was ready to fight the tent and the wind that morning. The wind picked up overnight and it was SO LOUD it didn’t feel like I slept at all. I’d wake up to the side of the tent slapping against my face or the poles flexing in the wind. Good news? It apparently distracted me from all of my other camping fears, like bears, and the thing from It Follows.
Around 8am I was ready to throw a fit. Something needs to change. Let’s pack up and leave because I’m going to freak out if I hear the rain fly flap one more time. “WE DON’T HAVE TO RUSH IT’S JUST THAT I NEED TO LEAVE NOW” you know when someone says you don’t have to rush but everything they do seems rushed? I was that person. Actually I think my default state of being is that person. We really don’t have to rush but I swear this tent needs to come down and as soon as it is down I’m ready to pack up because I have nowhere to sit besides on my pack and I layered stupidly and the wind is going right through my thin pants and I’m freezing. Fortunately it warmed up quickly and soon the wind was a nonissue and I could sit around comfortably. But that meant…
…it was baking hot and we were in a solar oven of blue sky and summer solstice sunshine. The snow reflects everything right back at your face. Nosebleeds abound for me. We made quick work of the upper basin retracing our steps, then back down the steep slabby parts of the trail, and back to Monte Cristo where the crowds were beginning to form. I always wondered why Glacier Basin/Monte Cristo didn’t get more attention, turns out they get plenty and I had just never been there midday on a Saturday. I hopped across a river to share a bathroom space with a bear and some mosquitos, and then we got the bikes saddled up and ready to head out. We rode the brakes the whole time to make sure we kept pace with Sammy cakes who was doing totally fine just a bit slow and hot in the heat.
Apparently the normal road was much nicer than the bypass thanks to the (lack) of downed trees. Oh well. If you’re going, just take the normal road. The bypass needs some really handy good samaritans to put in some manual labor and get those trees cleared. I was at least much more strong and agile getting over the final mess of blowdowns than on the way in. Could have yeeted the bike that morning.
Back at the car we split a surprise beer I had in the trunk and a bag of honey dijon potato chips that were the salty, crunchy, vinegery snack my body had needed all weekend. Holy shit. And then we stopped for burgers at Creekside Alehouse and Grill. HIGHLY RECOMMEND. The burger was great, I got the viking burger. Huuuge servings of tater tots and fries. Outdoor seating, dog friendly, really pleasant surprise.
This was an AWESOME welcome back to the alpine. Pretty happy with how it went given I had literally zero hikes for two months beforehand. In fact this whole weekend was insane. Bike to hike to steep snow and scramble and what did I do Sunday? Went out to Westport to surf. Where else can you get snow and surf in 24hrs? Only thing missing was skis! And maybe some technical rock 🙂
I have awesome friends. Brooke decided a trail marathon was the thing to do for part of her bachelorette party, and so we found ourselves driving 5 hours from sunny Seattle to rainy Mazama (yes, that’s backwards, it’s supposed to be rainy in Seattle and sunny in Mazama dammit) on a Friday evening prepping for a Saturday morning race. The number of people who have told us “you have crazy friends” when we said this is a bachelorette is hilariously high. I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Distance: 26.8 miles
Elevation gain: 2200ish
Weather: 40’s and rainy
Commute from Seattle: 4.5hrs
Did I Trip: NO I DID NOT
We stopped at two gas stations along the way, one where I got the best unsolicited compliment of my life. After I had walked out of the shop one of the attendants pulled my friend aside and just said “is that your friend?” and she said yes and he said “wow, tell her she is beautiful, she has the face of a movie star! I was too shy to tell her myself.” I laughed when she told me that. I had been to shy to try speaking to him in Spanish (he was talking to the other employees in Spanish) because I hadn’t spoken it in months, but you’re never going to get better if you never speak it! Ugh!
We got a mediocre dinner (sorry) in Twisp and then stayed at the Idle a While Hotel, which has rooms that are definitely bigger on the inside than on the outside, not unlike that house in House of Leaves but without the paranormal activity as far as we could tell. Check in was entirely remote, but they have a red phone you pick up that auto dials old school if catastrophe strikes, like Amber’s phone dying so no one knows what the code to get in the room is. We were finally in, packed our trail running packs for the morning, groaned about the weather, gossipped, ate chocolate, and went to bed around 9. A trio of grandmas.
We woke up at 6 to pouring rain. Amber broke the ice. “I don’t even want to go. What if I bailed. I just want to bail.” We all looked at each other. No. We drove this far. It’s a bachelorette. The wildflowers might be dead. The rain might be here while Seattle is sunny. We might have 13.1 or 26.2 miles to run. In the rain. But we’re committed. Regarding the wildflowers, this is usually the start of peak wildflower season, but this year a late season snow storm froze most of the balsam root and a lot of the blooms died off. The rest of the wildflowers were extremely delayed, so we didn’t really know what do expect flowerwise besides a sub-par show. If you need a throwback to a “normal” flower year, here’s Amber being a disney princess.
Brooke and Amber dropped me at the Marathon shuttle before driving themselves to the half marathon start. The shuttle took me from the finish line in Twisp up to the starting line in Mazama. The driver was kind enough to give me a hefty garbage bag to stay dry at the starting line (or you know, bivvy in if I totally died mid race) and I huddled under an outdoor pergola(?) with dozens of other runners until it was 5 minutes before the start. We hobbled over to the starting line in the drizzle, did a countdown, and took off. I let everyone pass me. Just you wait I’ll take you back down at like mile 23 when you’re dying and I’m cruising. At least that’s what I tell myself. Most of them just left me behind it’s okay.
We ran through the woods on a wide, flat trail, then alongside highway 20 for a hot minute, and then crossed back into forest on some Methow Community trails. Some literal kids ran past me in tutus with so much life and energy and seemingly no idea they had hours left in front of them. 2 miles later, I realized they were in the relay marathon, and actually only had to run… well, like 2 miles. The relay runners would soon become the bane of my existence since they were always so fresh and peppy and fast and clearly hadn’t tried to fight a tree or a rock or a raindrop or whatever had pissed them off minutes ago. Because they were too happy to be pissed.
I soon saw a sign that said Mile 26. Hmm. Mile 26. Well we’ve run at least 2 miles. No I don’t dare check Strava, I don’t want to know. I guess we’re just going to run like 28 or 29 miles. Whatever, it’ll be fine. Good to know how much is left so I can set expectations accordingly. I love when marathons are signed like that.
The trail stayed wide open and flat, very well cared for. We ended up on a long gravel/dirt road (mostly mud that day) and back on singletrack trails through a burn zone from the prior year. It was totally bizarre, you could see huge holes where (i think) there used to tree stumps and root systems, the uphill burn was more apparent than the downhill, it looked like two different forests. No morels though, I looked. No morels in miles of burn zone. Not that I’d have known what to do if I did find a cluster. Carry them in my hands for 20 miles?
My brain snapped back to reality. A sign said Mile 15. No freaking way. I haven’t run 11 miles I’ve run like I don’t know maybe 7? Mile 14. Holy shit. Mile 13. We’re halfway there?? No way, there’s supposed to be a rest station around mile 13. But damn if we’re halfway there I feel GREAT. I crushed a pack of ritz crackers with cheese hiking an uphill. I followed a lady in a rainbow tutu that I deemed my sunflower because she was the closest thing to a flower out there for the first like 16 miles. I laughed with a guy in a white shirt as we slip n slided (slipped and slid? what’s the past tense of slip n slide) down a very muddy barely traveled forest road, complete with comical arm waving but no true wipeouts.
45 minutes and no mileage signs pass and I finally cruise into a rest station and I’m stuffing my face with oreos and potato chips when I see the huge sign that says “13.1 miles left!” My heart sank. Not that much because I had a feeling I was being misled, but oh MAN it would have been great to have been way more than halfway done already. Of course it was too good to be true. Those signs must have been for the Methow Community Trails, not custom placed for the race. I grabbed a few oreos for the road (trail?) and jogged on.
I figured they must have saved the best wildflowers for the second half, right? After all, that is where the half marathon course is, so the best must be yet to come. Single track trail, and finally – a patch of balsam root! And another! And a switchback! I started snapping photos. I chatted with some new trail friends, several who were on their first marathon ever, several who had done the sunflower marathon before and swore I had to come back next year because the flowers this year were so sad. I kept stopping to snap pics and let people run around me while I took pics of them. On multiple occasions I resisted the urge to smash my phone on the ground when it wouldn’t take pics because the touch screen can’t differentiate between my finger and a raindrop. I finally decided I needed to give up on pics and just jog for a bit while my phone and I got some space from each other.
The trail went back into forest and wrapped around a lake where I briefly wondered if I was lost (no, there was literally nowhere the trail ever split, there’s nowhere else you could have possibly gone) before putting us out on a stretch of muddy road with frequent cars passing. This was somewhere around mile 20 according to my feelings, but rather than getting sad and sluggish I was belligerent (and also sluggish). Every car that passed I went OFF in my head. WHY ARE YOU HERE THERE’S A RACE WHY DID THEY CHOOSE A BUSY ROAD THIS ISN’T SINGLE TRACK TAKE YOUR MUD AND GTFO OF HERE I WAS TOLD THERE WOULD BE FLOWERS NO, MAZDA, YOU HAVE 12 FT ON THAT SIDE OF THE ROAD THESE 3 FEET ARE MY FEET THERE ARE MANY OTHERS LIKE IT BUT THIS STRETCH IS MINE and how the fuck did i not buy margarita shot blocks? that aid station better have some god damn potato chips or I swear. A relay runner passed me breathing heavily and loudly and sprinting. It generated similar fury to hearing someone snore loudly at 2am and being helpless. The old running mantra from high school cross country popped into my head. Dig deep in the woods. 15yrs later and I’ll still think of that when I’m dying on a run. Even if I’m on a stupid muddy road with stupid cars driving to probably stupid places in the stupid rain and I’m all out of crackers and I never want to hear this person’s breath ever again.
The aid station did have potato chips, and I grabbed more of those and oreos and threw some gatorade or gatorade equivalent in my face. I’m like the least dialed runner ever. Okay, final stretch, perk up. Wait no, we have to go uphill, use the rage first. I was hiking faster than the other runners around me were running, well besides the super fresh relay runner who at least breathed normally. Get outta here leave me alone hurry up I don’t want to hear it. The other runners noticed my efficient walking and joined me. We crested the hill and the rain finally let up and holy shit, the sage brush and flowers started appearing again. The heavy breather was gone. The air smelled like fresh sage. THERE are the endorphins I needed. Thanks body. My legs felt fresh again. I laughed passing the cameraman. Is this where I pretend to look good?! A guy cruising uphill passed me playing Dancing in the Moonlight out loud on a speaker, I lit up. I love this song! Keep up I wanna listen! I started passing people. Let’s go baby. I don’t know how many miles are left and I don’t want to know. Can’t be much further at this point.
We cruised on top of the plateau for a while, enjoying the flowers and views. I figured we’d get a gradual downhill to the finish line. Except then suddenly the elevation was falling away below me and I was pounding downhill shattering my knees and quads and hips. Through the best flowers we had seen through the whole race. And suddenly I heard cheering. I originally just wanted to be below 6 hours, I hadn’t super trained for this, hadn’t run in like four weeks, just wanted to finish and finish feeling good and that would be enough. I checked my watch. 4 hrs and 50minutes, something like that. But cheering. They’ve gotta be within a mile. Within 10 minutes. Ok. Pick it up.
I flew to the bottom of the valley, and realized the finish line was just up a short hill (of course). My adductor told me to go fuck myself 150ft before the finish line but I put it in its place and sprinted across that mat still feeling awesome unlike the past few years in Moab where maybe I was standing but I should probably have been dragged across the finish line by a support crew. Amber was at the finish line waiting and Brooke had gone to grab the car already. Brooke had already been waiting for like two hours after finishing her half, fortunately she found her other set of friends who clothed her and got her dry and warm (everyone was SOAKED from the rain). Amber and I had bananas and beer and sat on the grass where one of my hips started spasming. Even though it wasn’t being used. Cmon. Get over yourself we’re done here. It’s over. Brooke pulled up and found us sprawled on the grass in the middle of the cars, and we hopped in and drove straight to Seattle. Sunny. Stupid. Seattle. From the rainy desert.
We dropped Brooke off first, and all stumbled quite literally out of the car, grasping at luggage and doors for support. I ate pasta and lentils and chick peas and woke up at 2am to repeat the whole process again, and again at 9am. And then at brunch I finished my entire omelette and then all of Amber’s pancakes except 2 bites before realizing holy shit, was she even finished? I don’t even really like pancakes unless they are the banana or blueberry variety. I love the post race feeling, and I had completely forgotten how much I enjoy trail marathons. Moab is phenomenal and will never be topped but I have not been in good shape the past few years, and it turns out marathons are much more enjoyable when you feel good for the whole race. Let’s see how much I remember that when this fall comes around.
Kudos to Brooke for picking a dope bachelorette idea, motivating me to join, and to both Brooke and Amber for staying positive despite the rain. Never would have found or signed up for this if not for them, I’m so used to burning out with each of my sports that I don’t dare commit to anything in advance and this race sells out every year, you can’t do it last minute! Stoked it came together, pretty damn cool to say I ran from Mazama to Twisp for a bachelorette party!
That’s right, we have a new mode of transportation! I’ve been a closet mountain biker for a few months, mostly because so far it’s similar to backcountry skiing in that I’m pretty good at going up (thank you cardio) and do a lot of walking on the way down (thank you abject lack of skills). But after some laps on Tiger, Ollalie, Rattlesnake, and some random cross country parks here and there, I figured between friends who know way more than me and my own stubbornness I’d survive an 18mi day.
Elevation: I have no idea
Weather: 50’s and sunny?
Commute from Seattle: 3:30 ugh and I did it twice that week solo wah
Did I Trip: In this case, a slow motion tip-over, so… yes
We met at the trailhead around 11ish and went off on our way. We probably started at 11:30 which is actually pretty prompt for this crew. I packed a puffy, a midlayer, two pairs of gloves, enough food for a family of four, and a single liter of water because that’s low priority in a sunny desert. I had no idea what to expect. I’ve never done a long bike ride, certainly not one that brings you miles away from the car. I was banking on my own stubbornness and pride making me physically capable, and smart, much more experienced friends keeping my bike physically capable. Fortunately I know some cool people.
Jay and Matt were in the lead, kicking up dust for the rest of us to eat/dodge/follow. You either have to be RIGHT BEHIND the person in front of you or way behind them, otherwise you’ll be getting a faceful for most of the trip. We did a small loop around one of the ancient lakes basins before continuing south along the Columbia River towards the Gorge (yes, the concert site). We started on what was more or less a road (Potholes Boulevard) and finally jumped with some cross country hike-a-bike to a green trail (Dusty) for a quick lap around Dusty basin and then made our way down Gorge Bound. I quickly removed my puffy and laughed wondering what the heck I was thinking when we left the parking lot, you can’t fit two puffies in a tiny trail running pack.
I cannot emphasize how little I know about biking (and even the bike itself). Someone asked the other day what I wear for biking and the answer was whatever I wear for running? At one point in the beginning of this ride, someone said “make sure you don’t break the derailer on your bike clipping sagebrush or a rock” to which I responded ” what is that does my bike have one” followed by a panicked “IS IT POSSIBLE I ALREADY BROKE IT?!” only to hear Anita laughing behind me “no you did not you would KNOW if you broke it believe me.”
Dust gave way to sand and rocks as we rode next to the river, and I quickly noticed my bike felt like paddling through mud. Or sand. Or running through 2ft deep water. Sluggish. I took off my third layer and miraculously found space for it in my pack, it was really warming up. Or I was. Oh boy. And we were only like 5 miles into what we figured would be a 15-20 mile day. And it seemed like the brakes wouldn’t release. I’d squeeze them to slow down, release my hands, and they’d still be engaged, still slowing me down even if we were on a flat or an uphill. Or maybe that’s just how biking in sand feels, who knows? I wouldn’t know.
At our first stop I flipped the bike upside down and spun the wheels only to realize the brakes were seizing. The wheels wouldn’t just spin, they’d stop after a few spins. It seemed to get better the less I used the brakes, which would be a viable solution for a less scared biker, but as a total chicken with a deep-seeded (seated?) adult fear of going fast and falling, I probably abuse my brakes. Matt bled some brake fluid and worked some magic (I tried to follow, I at least know what some of the allen wrenches can do now but I couldn’t tell you when to do what he did). Whatever he did made the problem better at first, the brakes still seized a few times at first but I didn’t even notice them on the remaining ~13 miles!! That might have also had something to do with the amount of hike a bike I did but um.. I swear I rode at least… half? But at least now I knew the problem was myself and my own legs, not my brakes.
We followed Gorge Bound just a little bit further to Roundabout, where I was snapping pictures while riding one handed when we hit a rocky patch. You probably know where this is going. I stopped to put my phone away. But it was already too late. I did the awkward hop you do when you can’t land comfortably on one foot, couldn’t save it fast enough, aaaand down I went, landing smack on a rock with my tailbone. Anita I think came over first and asked if I was okay. I’m honestly not sure. I haven’t had the wind knocked out of me in like decades. Let me take inventory. I stood up and groped my own ass making sure bones were intact. No crepitus, no sharp pain. That’s good. Something feels terrible but must just be a deep bruise. What happened?! Well, I was taking pictures… while riding… we don’t have to talk about it. Everyone get back on your bikes let’s gooo. We rode around this super steep canyon, didn’t successfully find the waterfall trail (or maybe we did but it was hilariously beyond our skill set except probably Matt’s), and decided to sit on a small outcropping to have lunch and enjoy the views before heading up.
We climbed up to the top of the mesa next (lots of hike a bike, fueled by cheese and crackers and Anita’s cursing in the distance which will never not be hilarious) and followed Upper Mesa which was SPECTACULARLY smooth and flowy. Biking on top of the world on one side, some rancher’s fence on the other but you barely notice with how sleek you feel. This took us to Rim Job which… how can you not ride that trail? I think as soon as we saw the name it was decided we’d get there. And it totally lived up to expectations. We were giggling the whole way, it finally felt fast and flowy and we (the less talented biking crew) could get into a rhythm and feel good about ourselves after hours of ride/stop/ride/hike/ride/hike. But it wasn’t going to last forever. Thanks to Rim Job.
The end of Rim Job took us through some really cool pothole lakes and tarns, through some brushy sections, and through some TOUGH short climbs. Yeah we did a lot of hiking and bike pushing. And it sounds like hike-a-bike is pretty tough when you have flat soled bike shoes and zero traction on a steep sandy trail. I was thankful for trail runners (they stick nicely to my bike pedals, which I had recently learned were children’s pedals and not at all suited to adult mountain biking. Anyway, really cool to get so much varied terrain on one trail. This whole adventure was feeling like a first legit ski tour after only doing “backcountry” laps at hyak. I had mostly ridden places like Duthie and Tiger and Ollalie and while they’re fun, you don’t have the same sense of adventure as you do somewhere like this.
From Rim Job we popped out onto a gravel road that quickly took us to a black diamond rated trail called Ancient Lakes Descent. I think we overshot the trail at first, forgetting how quickly gravel roads go. There’s SO MUCH TERRAIN at Ancient Lakes, regardless of whether you’re hiking, backpacking, car camping, anything you want to do. We passed an incredible car camp spot that looked like the car was perched next to a cliff overlooking the gorge, you bet I’ll get my car there someday. At the time I was just eager to get back on trails so I didn’t even get a photo 😦 In any event, I was excited to be back on trail. The gravel road was both a relief (no more hike a bike) and a disappointment (felt like cheating after the prior few hours). But it certainly saved us some time compared to navigating back the way we came.
The downhill black trail started out… suspiciously. “Where’s the black section?” “This is totally rollable” “Yeah that was fine” “Wow this is beautiful” “I’m skeptical…” “I’m objectively not a good bike rider, this either isn’t a black diamond or we haven’t hit the crux yet.” Don’t worry, it suddenly turned into “oh you meant THIS part yeah no that’s not rollable” “oh… oh no” “hahahaha…. not happening” “oh if he’s walking I’m definitely walking.” Matt sped ahead of us enjoying himself as we walked our bikes down steep piles of shale, tight switchbacks, and drops I won’t even do in my dreams. I feel like when I tell people I mountain bike they immediately assume like Red Bull style epics when in reality it’s like no, I just… bike on pretty smooth, well maintained trails sometimes. Again, it’s like backcountry skiing. I’m not ripping some jump turn couloir here I’m just moving slightly faster than if I was hiking at the cost of occasionally shredded nerves.
Back down in the basin, we knew it would be smooth easy trails back to the car. Which was a relief for me, because I was completely out of water and SO thirsty. I took some swigs from friends’ bottles but I knew there was a gallon of water waiting for me at the car calling my name. We sped off kicking up dust once again, through what felt like mini-moab (more tan and less red). Lindsay rode some circles back at the parking lot to make sure Strava hit 18 miles while I chugged water. We shared some beers because I couldn’t handle a full beer after a day like that, relaxed for a while enjoying the satisfaction of sunshine and good company and a great ride, and finally headed to Whipsaw Brewing in Ellensburg for dinner! They had a root beer for me but I hear the actual beer was quite good from the others, and we ordered WAY too much food from the food truck.
This was easily in my top 5 days of 2022 so far and it’s going to be damn hard to top it. I finally felt like even if I was shitty I was able to do a serious bike ride, hugely grateful to friends who I would have been (and did) relying on 100% if something went wrong bikewise, and I think I laughed for 60% of the time (the other 40% was sucking wind pushing a bike uphill). Really hoping we can get out on more trips like this.
What I thought was 8 miles round trip for some reason ended up being somewhere between 16 and 22 miles depending on what map/tracking device you listen to. Strava said 19, 22 if I had gone all the way to the Teneriffe parking lot and back. But regardless, this is a great trail to miraculously disappear from crowds and surround yourself with greenery only an hour away from the big city, and it’s extremely runnable. Well, besides the middle of the trail. But we’ll get to that.
Elevation gain: 700ish ft at least from the lower trailhead to the upper trailhead
Weather: 50’s and sunny
Commute from Seattle: 64 minutes, unless you miss the exit and have to drive an additional 7mi east before you can turn around
Did I Trip: No
The CCC trail is broken into two sections, upper and lower. It should be broken into three sections, but you can’t really access that third point as a trailhead, so I guess I get it. But I’m going to call it upper, middle, and lower. Middle is technically part of lower.
Upper CCC: The section east of the paved road pullout and west of the middle fork parking lot/campground. “1” on the map. I parked at the middle fork parking lot, unmarked in the upper right corner of the map. There is also parking where the CCC meets the road between sections “1” & “2.” Middle (part of lower) CCC: The section west of the paved road pullout but east of Bessemer forest road. “2” on the map. Bessemer road is the obvious road between “2” & “3.” Also known as the Blowout Creek trailhead, though you will be parking on Middle Fork road as Bessemer road is gated. Lower (also part of lower) CCC: The section west of Bessemer forest road and east of the Teneriffe parking lot. “3” on the map. Sitka Spruce trail is “4” and Teneriffe/Lower CCC parking is “5.”
The upper CCC honestly is the highlight. Wow. I parked at the middle fork parking lot and walked across the street to start the trail, passing the middle fork campground. It is insanely green, and was freshly brushed out by a work party! Credit where credit is due, sounds like it was the Backcountry Horsemen who are incredible trail stewards of many trail in the area and tend to fly under the radar compared to organizations like WTA and the Washington Climbers’ Coalition. EDIT: This was spearheaded by Backcountry Horsemen, but included volunteers from WTA, DNR, King County Parks, and the Forest Service! Work took over two days and an estimated 150 logs were cleared. Holy cow.
You could smell the fresh cut logs and see sawdust everywhere, and looking at the sides of the trail you could see the debris they had worked to clear. Seriously impressive efforts. The only things I cleared were spiderwebs, with my face. Past the campground you turn onto an old forest road, which is less green and more rocky, and I thought “oh shit, what if everyone’s photos are just from the first half mile, and the rest is like this?” Don’t worry, the rocky road quickly turns back into green carpets and hanging moss. It’s SO GREEN. I felt healthier just being there.
The trail weaves through the second growth forest, crossing the occasional stream. There are multiple bridges (one had a tree fall through it!) though the two largest creeks nearly got my feet wet on the return trip. The open creek (views, wide, talus/rocks in the water) had walking sticks stashed on either side for unstable hikers without poles or runners with tired legs to borrow. But the second creek (in forest, narrow, trees/downed logs everywhere) was a no go, I hiked a few feet upstream to an easier crossing and then found my way back to the trail to carry on. If you have waterproof boots or aren’t being a princess you’ll be fine.
A few minutes beyond that creek, you pop out onto the paved road you drove to get to the trailhead. Okay there’s a gravel section right there, technically. Take a right and follow the road for maybe 300ft before the CCC trail picks up north of the road again.
This is the middle CCC section, technically part of the lower, but it was characterized by blowdowns and stream crossings and VIEWS! I was so surprised! I expected only forest and mossy ground, but this section of the CCC actually gets up above the valley floor and gives you peakaboo views (get it) of the Pulpit, Preacher, Russian Butte, and the Pratt River valley. It’s also much more obviously an old forest road than the upper section, for better or for worse. The road seems to have been cut straight through small cliffs at some point, there must have been blasting involved. Glad the efforts were preserved for me to enjoy 90 years later. “Enjoy” being loose here, because I swear every 200ft there was a tree or seven across the old road for me to maneuver under/over/around/through.
Just before connecting with the Bessemer road, there’s what you might call a washout. A creek has eroded its way through the trail, with a huge canyon above and below. But the trail finds this miraculous flat ish spot to cross, followed by a series of blowdowns entirely obscuring the trail besides an old sign you can see poking up. But keep going forward/perpendicular to the stream, and you’ll pop our onto the well maintained but presumably gated forest road.
Left on the forest road this time, and in 1000 (horizontal, please) ft you will see the CCC trail continue for its last stretch. This time it’s marked by a sign saying “Putting America to Work: Project funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act,” a tribute to the 1930’s Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) from which the trail derives its name. They originally built a road spanning 9 miles from the foothills to where North Bend Timber Company had put in rail infrastructure for their lumber operations. This area was extensively mined and even more extensively logged for decades, there’s some crazy (and spooky) history in this valley.
I passed some mountain bikers on the road, maybe trying to bike as far as they could before booting the rest of the way up Moolock or Bootalicious peaks. When I reached the switchback where the CCC continues, I looked at the river and thought ah crap, another unprotected crossing. But wait! There’s a cut log to the right, set up as a foot bridge. Crossed that, and I was on my way through the last section of trail. This was a terrible time to realize my Discover Pass was obscuring my America the Beautiful pass on my windshield, which was the pass I needed to show. Luckily I had like 12 miles to mentally prep for the ticket I’d probably receive.
More surprise views! Less moss, more brush. I don’t think this would be very enjoyable once the brush has budded/leafed/grown in a few months. But for now it’s still pleasant, minus the occasional trail runner hurdle (low downed trees), small stream crossing, and mud pit. I finally saw some people for the first time in what felt like ages. At this point I was determined to make it to the end. I refilled my water at a random stream with no treatment. Nonzero chance I have giardia now but my dumb ass only brought half a liter thinking I’d only be running 8 miles.
I hit the last forest road, and deemed that my turnaround point. Turns out that’s not truly the end. It’s gated, so you have to park another 1.5ish miles away at the Teneriffe trailhead, or ignore the residential signs and park at the gate. I should have asked the hikers that started there. Better yet, you park at the Granite Creek trailhead on the middle fork road, and short cut up to the CCC via the Sitka Spruce trail. It’s barely marked on caltopo, but very visible from the CCC trail. The Sitka Spruce trail starts on the other side of Middle Fork Snoqualmie River from the Granite Creek trail (like keep walking the road across the river after parking at Granite Creek, trail will be on the left). Probably much more enjoyable and green than walking an abandoned forest road to the “start” of the Lower CCC.
Here, I started Strava, because I had no clue what mileage was like. I started jogging back towards the car. The first stretch went so quickly. Turned out I had been running uphill for a lot of that, maybe that’s why I had felt so crappy. I remembered a few landmarks, this creek, that creek, this view. And then I reached Bessemer road, and realized I had no more landmarks besides a washout and multiple memorable downed logs. From Bessemer road to the middle CCC, it’s actually not that straightforward even though there’s only 10ft of downed logs. There is no obvious entrance point from the road to the trail/washout, just a wall of brush. But I found the old sign again and there’s very visible flagging across the creek, and from there it was easy to connect the two points and be back on my way.
Until I hit the next blowdown 150ft later. It’s impossible to get into a rhythm. But if you need to work on your mid run hip mobility or agility, boy do I have the trail for you. After a mind numbing few miles, I ran into a guy who bailed at the first downed tree, and reaffirmed his decision as soon as he asked if it ever got better. No, no it did not, for several miles. You made the right choice. I wish I had recommended he take a short stroll up the upper CCC since he had parked on the middle fork road separating upper & middle, by my definitions.
I was happy to be back at the upper CCC trail, knowing I just had two spunky creek crossings followed by who knows how many miles of ridiculous mostly flat greenery between me and the car. And oh boy was I excited to be almost back at the car. I passed two mountain bikers (yes, it’s a shared trail!) and was jealous of their mode of transportation. But mostly I was drunk on endorphins and exhaustion and afternoon sun spilling through the trees. Many friends have heard me talk about how much I love dappled sunlight in our forests here. This was that, on steroids.
Back at the car, I forced myself to stretch for like 7min before joining the congo line of cars. Life pro tip: don’t stop for gas at exit 34. There will be lines, there will be dildos who leave their cars at the gas islands while they get snacks or pee or who knows what EVEN WHEN THE PUMP ISN’T EVEN IN THE CAR and little did they know some nerd who just ran for literally hours and hasn’t eaten was ready to march into the store and rip them a new one. Instead I drove across the street, where prices were the same and car owners were being responsible.
All in all, spectacular run, especially when it’s confirmed free of downed trees. Judging by the debris, Backcountry Horsement put a LOT of work into this yesterday! I don’t even think it’d have been a viable run if not for them. We are seriously spoiled by all of the volunteer organizations that contribute to our trails. And good news: miraculously, no parking ticket, despite the pass not being visible from the front!
All of us have forgotten something crucial at some point going on a trip, and I’m going to highlight my favorites. Anonymously, kind of, unless someone wants to own their spaciness. Some of these are things I forgot. Some I was just present for. Some were by friends whose stories had me laughing so hard I got a core workout or had to stop climbing and prioritize breathing. Every anecdote here is from very experienced climbers, and everything turned out fine so we’ve been granted permission to learn from their mistakes. And laugh.
Roughly in escalating order of importance and ease of forgetting (debatable):
1. Headlamp(s). On multiple occasions. So often that you develop a reputation, and friends start carrying 2-4 headlamps knowing you will forget one or the one you have will break, resulting in multiple overdue trips like rapping the wrong way down Cutthroat and getting lost in the dark while off route or embarrassing yourself on a SAR mission when the batteries explode covering your headlamp in battery acid and leaving you lampless (gift received months later to take on future missions)
2. Boots for a winter scramble up Ruth Mountain. We’ve already driven like 2hrs out of town and I hear a long sigh followed by an f bomb from the back seat. “What did you forget?” “My boots…” “Well, what are you wearing?” “Um.. chacos. With socks.” He tried on all the spare trail shoes I had in the car, of course none fit. At the trailhead we met another group of climbers, one of whom had men’s trail runners to lend our chaco-bound friend. Not enough to summit but enough to accompany us halfway!
3. A belay device on the Ice Cliffs Glacier route up Stuart. My climbing partner is about to work his way through an overhanging cornice as I slowly say “now um is probably not the best time to tell you I’ll be belaying you off a munter on a carabiner but really you got this you’ll crush it.” He proceeded to crush it. I thought I was going to have to leave the picket he placed there because throwing all my body weight at it wasn’t making it budge. A few hours later we found ourselves bailing off ice screws down the sherpa glacier. With more munter hitches. Sorry rope.
4. Skins. For skis. And one time actually the skis themselves, entirely. You have three options: 1) Drive the 2-3hrs way back to town to retrieve your gear, 2-3hrs back to the trailhead, and get a 1hr nap instead of a night of sleep, pretty much a necessity if it’s the skis you forgot (and a sure sign you are tougher than I am nowadays, because I think at this point I’d just go to bed when I got home) 2) In the case of skins, use ski straps to strap branches to the bottoms of your skis. Reasonable alternatives might be spare clothing, multiple ski straps if you have many, or the microspikes you found buried at the bottom of your pack. The fir/spruce used had directionally appropriate needles but was too voluminous to be practical. A hemlock may have been better. Branches selected from an already dead/soon to be dying tree. 3) A reliable but unpleasant fallback that defeats the point of the trip, boot as far as you can and see how long you (and your partner) can tolerate it. Pros: REALLY good workout, physically and mentally. Cons: Pendulum between amusement and anger, high likelihood of bailing/not meeting your goal, postholing.
5. Sleeping bag on the Ptarmigan Traverse. Well, it was June, and we both had a bivvy, an extra puffy or two, and worst case, a down quilt we could share, and the alternative was driving 5hrs round trip to civilization and then back to the trailhead so uh… we still went. Besides nearly being abducted by aliens, we were fine.
6. Water and gas for the group stove going up Emmons on Rainier. We bartered a fancy locking carabiner for another party’s leftover gas at Camp Schurman, and split 2L of water between the two of us on summit day. “I’ve never felt the altitude like this before” my friend groans “well you’ve probably also never been this massively dehydrated on the way up.” They still crushed it though and no one knew because my friend is freaking superhuman.
8. Car keys on a car-to-different-car-very-far-away-from-the-first-car traverse that has been deemed the Blumberhagadeen Traverse. Imagine being thousands of feet of elevation gain up a class 5 bushwhack postholing through fresh snow many many long miles from the original car and having your climbing partner sheepishly whisper “i left my car key in your car.” I don’t have the coping skills developed to process the ensuing emotions. Full story here with OUTRAGEOUSLY beautiful scenery.
9. Actually starting the gas pump when you put gas in your car. Yes, that’s right, visual confirmation that the nozzle was in the tank, but someone forgot to actually get the gas flowing. My car’s gas gauge is broken, so I rely on the odometer to determine when I need gas. We drove off thinking we had a full tank.
We did not have a full tank. The car sputtered to a halt. The tank was clearly empty. We thought someone siphoned gas out, but nope, turns out we just never filled it. Never got charged for gas, and no gas station is giving away free gas so… In case anyone’s wondering it’s >$500 to get towed to a gas station from WA pass with AAA, or you can coast downhill after some good samaritans get you gas with the spare change you have lying around your car/pack/etc and hope to miraculously average 50% more mpg than usual otherwise you’re about to run out again. Which is what happened. 26mpg in a car that usually gets 18mpg. And then we put 21 gallons of gas into a 20gal tank.
10. An entire pack. This has happened to at least three friends, believe it or not. Skis, skins, boots, poles all present, but picture your stoke stopped in its tracks as you open the trunk of your car at the trailhead and realize your pack is still sitting in your apartment.
Or maybe it’s still sitting in the street in Seattle with your rope, shoes, and harness, and you’re already at Vantage with 5 people and only one set of climbing gear. Don’t worry, the neighbor saw it 6hrs later(!) and took it inside.*
Or the crowning achievement: how about being so nervous about proposing to your girlfriend on top of Rainier that you manage to leave your entire overnight pack, including the ring, at home? And your soon-to-be-fiancee is pissed because you both left work early, you’ve already been sitting in traffic for 3hrs and now you have to turn around, still in traffic, and drive alllll the way home? In traffic? And then all the way back to Rainier, and get a super late start, and now you have lower chances of summitting, and who forgets a whole pack?! Don’t worry, she still said yes!
Honorable mentions to:
Empty camelbacks where you packed the bladder but didn’t actually fill it with water
Snacks left in the car, especially the hot pocket that was lost under the driver’s seat and found 2yrs later when the decomp gas made the plastic package start to crackle
$5 gas station sunglasses because you forgot yours (x20)
Putting black jeans in your pack instead of black long underwear for a 160mi backpacking trip
Sunscreen (forgotten, or you know dropped off a 1000ft cliff to be found in 2200 when the glaciers are gone but the spray can is still there)
Blue bags (easily replaced by used dehydrated meal bags)
Ski straps (classic)
A pack that can actually carry skis
Dropped/lost keys mid trail, later found by a good samaritan who left them on the car tire w/ a note
*this is a miracle – I’ve left my car locked w/ climbing gear inside it for 15-20min TWICE and it’s been broken into within those 20 minutes and $2k+ of gear evaporated into the abyss of petty theft. Once in a double gated/locked + video monitored garage in Capitol Hill, once in Ballard outside of Second Ascent when we ran in to get snacks.
This has become a go-to winter “hike” for me over the past few years. I know beach doesn’t come to mind for most people in the winter, but the beach is my happy place even if it’s 40 and windy with passing squalls. Unlike everything else I seem to get sick of and have trouble revisiting, this one doesn’t get old, and it’s mostly thanks to agate hunting!
Pros: No mountain passes/snowy roads, noncommittal ~4mi beach walk that doesn’t require lots of gear/crazy fitness/suffering in the freezing cold, surprise pockets of sunshine, salt air, agates, possible surfing. Cons: kind of a drive, Tacoma traffic, the best breakfast place usually runs out of food before I’m done with my activity and I never think to have breakfast before the beach, and sometimes small children take my agates but I can’t say anything because I’m an adult and they’re so endearingly excited.
Distance: 4mi round trip Elevation gain: 0ft, highest point.. 0ft? Maybe 3ft on top of the dunes. Weather: Usually 40’s and sunny and windy Commute from Seattle: 2:30 Did I Trip: No but sometimes my reflexes are too slow to save me from a wave that blindsided me if that counts Beta from someone who knows way more than me: PNW Beach Combing
You park along the road where it says “no overnight camping” (does that imply no overnight parking?), cross the street, walk past two usually-pretty-clean port-a-potties, jump off a 2ft “cliff” of eroding asphalt onto sand, clamber over a small jetty, and you are on you way to Damon Point. Children and wagons make it over the jetty, don’t be intimidated. And you won’t get lost. You’re on a beach.
And from there, it’s just a 2mi walk to the end, and another 2mi to walk back the way you came. Stay on the ocean side, the bay side is underwhelming (and marshy/seaweedy at low tide) and doesn’t have any neat rocks to find. The dunes are pretty, but nothing cool to find unless you’re into driftwood and bird poop. I hear the bird watching is great but I am totally clueless about it, so can’t help you there.
The best agates are in the last mile of beach, though it seems the gravel beds where the rocks collect change every year. Last year there were piles of rocks at the very end of the point where I’d hit the jackpot, this year those piles were smaller but there were huge strips about a half mile away from the end of the peninsula. You’ll want to aim for low tide (preferably <4ft – my best day was ~1ft) of course. There is also jasper, but I suck at recognizing it besides orbicular jasper. Plenty of quartz varieties too, much more common than agates and jasper. Very little sea glass and I’ve never seen a sand dollar, so choose a different beach if those are your goals.
1. The first time we looked for agates, we picked up like 50 pieces of quartz before finding a real agate and realizing how wrong we had been. It still took several more trips to be able to naturally separate agates from quartz. I’d hold the one thing I knew was an agate next to the quartz to be sure. The reward thinking you’ve found one is just as fun. Agates almost glow in the sun. If seaglass and rocks had a baby it would be an agate.
2. Very fit some type of weiner dog chased us for maybe a full hour. Finally turned out its owner was walking near us, the dog just liked sprinting with us to and from the waves more than walking.
3. Cute kid collecting agates with his grandpa. He snagged a HUGE one from right in front of us but he was so excited about it! His grandpa sometimes gives him $1 for the big ones.
4. This chonk of a chocolate lab started following me at the end of the point and jogged over a half hour with me. Perfect jogging companion, trotted nicely right next to me. Back at the cars I called the number on her collar since no one I had run into owned her. It was the park manager’s dog! He didn’t realize she was all the way out at the end of the point. She was adorable, when we got close to the cars I stopped for a sec to talk to some people and she whined, as if to say “why aren’t we going come on we have to get back” like I had any idea where she thought we were going.
5. Massive kelp nests. I think kelp. Some type of seaweed. They’re WAY bigger than I thought. Would not want to run into one while swimming, no sir. This place would be awesome to walk after a big storm.
I hadn’t been on a trail run in ages and I had seen so many beautiful pics of Grand Park, it was time to give it a go. I had been warned about the dirt road and I was mentally prepared for potholes galore. Bring it on.
Distance: ~9mi round trip
Elevation: 1,100ft gain, 5,600ft highest point
Weather: 80’s and sunny with BUGS
Commute from Seattle: 2hrs but add 15-20min buffer for the forest road
Did I Trip: NO SIR
I got a late start, showing up at the trailhead around 10:45am. I immediately walked RIGHT past the start to the trail and kept heading up the road until I noticed fewer and fewer cars and realized… huh, it must be back that way.
The trail was an absolute mud fest in the beginning. Pits of lose-your-shoes mud with some branches tossed across but not enough to keep your shoes clean. Lake Eleanor came up quickly (maybe a mile?) where I immediately made another wrong turn. The trail dumps you out into campsites next to the lake, and you can follow the campsites along the lake, or you can walk through the first campsite to the left where you’ll pick up the rest of the trail. Fortunately this was on strava, so my trail navigation skills are publicly on display.
After the lake, you drop a bit of elevation and pass through some meadows/swamps/bogs before regaining it again. Did I mention the bugs yet? The bugs were BAD. And I was sweaty. So any bug that hit my face stuck to my face. Just get to the fields, just get to the fields, soon it’ll be all flowers and no bugs just get to the fields. Oh here’s a field. With mud pits and cesspools of mosquito larvae. Where the King was born. I assume. Or Queen. Or whoever. Doesn’t matter who.
Past the lower meadows, you get onto this ridge like ramble, and the trees get thinner, and the trail gets drier, and the flowers get denser and the colors get brighter. Avalanche lilies were EVERYWHERE, a promising glimpse of what was to come. I always think back to my friend years ago who was SO excited to show his sister the avalanche lilies at Rainier before realizing it was April, and everything was still under many feet of snow.
Trees got more and more sparse, meadows got larger and larger, and suddenly the top of Rainier was in view. And in the next meadow, ALL of Rainier was in view, and you’re meandering along a narrow trail surrounded by wildflowers and grasses. Lupine, these hot pink paintbrush (I’m used to red and white, not hot pink!), purple aster, yellow biscuitroot, more avalanche lilies. And the meadow is nearly two. Miles. Long. You can ramble through this for hours. You can eve see Fremont Lookout up the ridge directly south!
The only awkward part is passing others. Wildflowers are extremely delicate, and the trail is extremely narrow in some points. If there’s a party to pass, there is no good way to do it.. I ran into a crew going for a peak I don’t remember and passed them by walking next to the trail doing my best to not step on wildflowers and totally got called out for it. I felt so guilty but I honestly don’t know what the alternative would be. They seemed to understand as soon as I was like “I didn’t know what else to do” and I think that’s all you CAN do. Do your best and hope everyone understands you have good intentions. Just sucks because that’s basically admitting that some wildflowers are going to be trampled because of the traffic on this trail, that traffic includes me, and there’s not much we can do about it.
I took a break at the intersection of the Lake Eleanor trail and the Northern Loop trail before turning around to head back. The trip back through the meadows was no less spectacular, but re-entering the trees… yikes. I passed some lucky hikers wearing bug nets while hiking, they were the smartest folks out there that day. I swear the bugs made me run faster. I corrected all my trail mishaps on the way out missing zero turns, and popped out at the car around 1pm despite my late start.
This is an AWESOME trail for a run or a short day hike. Easy navigation, no parking passes to deal with, tons of scenery, just really high bang for your buck. I can’t believe it took me this long to do it. The only downside is the forest road that lasts forever but it wasn’t as brutal as I had expected. In fact, my car matched the foliage, and the views are pretty good too. Buuut I was still pretty happy to be back on pavement by the end.
Dock Butte Snowsho-ooot I wish I was on skis. Let’s get some q’s out of the way first. Yes, I wore snowshoes. Yes, they’re still torture devices. No, I have no pride or shame or whatever you’re thinking, I’m not above any mode of transportation that gets me to mountains. I think they get you in better shape than skis too (assuming both are on your feet). Yes, there’s a couple hundred feet of great skiing up there with PRIME photo opportunities. No, I haven’t quit skiing. Right, I’m not sure it’s worth bringing skis up through that bushwhack, but if you have a snowmobile, DEFINITELY snowmobile the road and bring skis. Ok. Moving on.
Distance: ~10mi round trip
Elevation: 4,000ft gain (5,239ft highest point)
Weather: 30’s and sunny
Commute from Seattle: 1:50(!)
Did I Trip: Plenty of blown out snowshoe steps but no true trips
Roughly followed this gpx track
We met at the park n ride at 6, a welcome change from the 5am meetups Tim has apparently been scheduling. We were a group of four: Tim (the gecko from a few prior trips), Andrew (just meeting him for the first time) who is an encyclopedia of obscure Cascades knowledge, and Charles, with whom I actually climbed Rainier 6 years ago but hadn’t seen since! I recognized him but couldn’t tell from where, until half an hour later in the car I mentioned climbing Rainier with Rob and Charles goes “I know, I was there!” Ha! That’s where I knew him from!
We started from the “trailhead” around 8am. The trailhead was just an unmarked pull out off Baker Lake Road where an abandoned road started. We hiked an abandoned road for a bit before cutting straight up through the forest. The bottom ~1000ft of gain were BRUTAL. Tons of pick-up-stick style downed trees you’re going up and over and under and around, head-height new (teenage?) saplings stuffing pine needles down your shirt ready to slap you in the face when you’re too close to the person in front of you, and a whole lot of “marco?!” “POLO!” to find each other. I swear 60ft to our left looked pleasant and open. I was convinced we were just slightly off route trudging through unnecessary brush, because no prior write ups had mentioned brush this thick. You know it’s bad when no one’s taking photos. There’s a sweet spot where it’s bad and it’s funny so you get some pictures, there a point where it’s open and beautiful and you get pictures, and then there’s head-down-plow-through-NOTHING-ELSE-MATTERS and this… this was the latter.
We finally escaped the brush and entered old growth. I looked behind us and couldn’t see Andrew, but I could see bushes and small treetops rustling, so he was under there somewhere. Charles pulled up beside me. “Oof. That was pretty bad.” I laughed. “Heinous.” “My route was even worse… he’s never going to follow me again.” Andrew burst out from the brush and glared at Charles. “I’M NEVER FOLLOWING YOU AGAIN!” I burst out laughing. Tim, as usual, was somewhere ahead of us hurdling downed trees and vaulting stumps and dodging brush, because as geckos usually do, you blink and they are gone. We heard him whoop and headed towards his voice. Finally. Finally we could walk without incident. At least for a few minutes. Andrew and I were going back and forth about lesser known peaks in the Cascades, and I couldn’t remember one that Brad and I “skiied” back in December or January. It wasn’t Philadelphia Mountain. It’s like Philadelphia, but there are views at the top. I swear it’s so similar to Philadelphia. It’s on highway 2. West of the pass but east of like.. Sultan. East of Baring. Andrew’s spitting out peak names. “This is going to drive me crazy.” “I’ll look it up when we’re back to the car I promise.” “Merchant.” “no…” “townsend?” “no, south of the highway” “lennox” “no but we took our skis for a walk around that one too” “Cleveland?!” Yes!! I laughed. Brains are weird. The connection to Philadelphia was probably “peak with a city name,” not “random peaks along highway 2.”
We crossed a large plateau with an unfortunate stretch of more downed trees that still had some snow for prime posthole effect, and then started the real elevation gain, thankfully in open forest for real this time. We took a short snack break where I cut a shot block into 4 pieces (this endeavor was even stickier than you’d expect) and gulped it with water like sugar pills because that’s how you fuel with Invisalign. As someone in a perpetual state of dehydration, maybe this will be good for my overall performance, who knows. I only had one liter of water, so needed to be conservative about that. I tied my buff to my pack strap to wipe sweat off my face as we hiked.
We continued gaining elevation until we broke out onto a very obvious groomed road. We followed the road to the normal trailhead, which isn’t accessible anymore in summer either thanks to a massive road washout in summer 2020. That’s a big bummer, because this hike is only 4.5mi round trip, starts high, and is (well, was) extremely accessible with totally wild views. Tough seeing a hike with such potential suddenly be nearly inaccessible. At the true trailhead, we put on snowshoes and started off on the summer trail towards Dock Butte.
We left the summer trail after about half a mile to gain the ridge that would eventually lead us to the top. It’s a rolling ridge with plenty of ups and downs and peekaboo views of Baker and Shuksan that become more and more glorious as you get above the trees. This entire hillside would be a phenomenal place to camp in the winter if you want to lug gear up there (orrr rent a snowmobile). Once the Twin Sisters range (and Dock Butte itself) came into view, the sidehilling started as we dropped off the initial ridge to skirt a knoll and gain the final ridge to Dock Butte. It looked intimidating from below. Steep, almost knifey, we were in snowshoes, and the contrast of sun vs shade made it all the more dramatic. I turned to Tim. “This is where Rob would start singing the final countdown” and just like that I had a new, more annoying song stuck in m head even though Rob wasn’t actually around to be the human juke box as usual.
Andrew led the way up the ridge blazing a snowshoe trail and the rest of us followed. I was not worried about falling north off the ridge because the runout was nice enough, but falling south… I don’t think you’d even have a chance to self-arrest before tumbling a long ways unless one of the trees caught you. Especially in clumsy snowshoes, I was not stoked on the way down. Going up for me is always easier than back down. I heard Charles shout something to Tim. “I’m tired is what’s going on!” Charles basically woke up one day a few weeks ago and decided to bushwhack 4000ft in elevation with snowshoes. Yeah no shit, I’m tired and I’m funemployed and getting out routinely! Tim met us at the top followed by Charles (success!!) minutes later.
Clouds moved in as soon as we reached the top (of course) and we spent some time snacking, chatting, napping, and waiting for pesky clouds to move. The Twin Sisters range looks SO WILD from here. I couldn’t wait to send Brad and Surafel a pic asking them to guess the peak because I know I wouldn’t recognize them. I feasted on gummy worms and a chocolate rice krispie (better than expected) and the rest of the shot blocks. I realized my buff had gone MIA at some point earlier in the day. After probably an hour with clouds getting closer and closer we finally started to get a bit cold, and packed up our gear ready to head down. Twin Sisters were holding back the clouds, as we dropped lowed it appeared Dock Butte itself was holding back the clouds, and soon enough.. it was just kind of cloudy.
You always think on the way down you’ll find the right trail/route and it’ll be smoother than life on the way up. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case today. Getting back to the road was easy (didn’t find my buff), then a pleasant road walk (still didn’t find my buff), then we headed straight down doing our best to follow our own footprints (not finding my buff, RIP). We cruised back to that original plateau where we hit postholey snow, downed trees, and brush all over again. Guys, I suck at log walks. Suck at them. I know you don’t just randomly forget how to walk in a straight line but something about them freaks me out, and we had a LOT of log walks to try and avoid the brush. Downed trees can be like highways 4-5t above the brush if you can string enough together. Or you can swim besides them through brush because you know that given 20 log walks, you will fall off of one, and it would definitely be this one. Or that one. Or that other one.
The plateau was bad, but I knew from there back to the car would be worse. I was hoping we’d find a better route having line of sight/currently on a path of least resistance to our advantage, but no. We ended up climber’s left/skiier’s right of our uphill route, in the area I had thought would be more open earlier that day. Well, I was wrong. Extremely wrong. The downed trees never stopped. They might have been even worse than on the way up. The brush didn’t let up. Our progress slowed to like 0.5mph. Are we even making progress? I stopped to grab water and found that I had, in fact, been carrying 3L of water the whole time, not 1L. That’s what you get for never fully unpacking your pack in a few days.
We finally came across the remains of an old road not even marked on my map, and followed that for as long as we could. I think we could have followed it all the way back to the “trailhead” to be honest, but we started to cut straight downhill again to be safe, eventually landing on flat ground STILL covered by criss-crossed dead trees and thick brush except this time with the bonus of a swamp too. Tim led the way over and under and around fallen trees and bog pits “it’s like 80ft this way” [400ft and 15min of suffering later] “that was not 80ft” “yeah i definitely misread something back there” until we finally popped back onto the old road we had started on. The road that had been mildly annoying that morning, but was a total relief that afternoon.
Back at the car I was still talking about how great the views had been and how much I love sneakers and sitting. What a pleasant surprise. Dock Butte wasn’t even on my radar until Tim mentioned it, and the trip reports I found from winter were generally socked in by weather so hard to gauge what it would actually look like. But looking at the position on a map and the prominence (it’s #100 by prominence in Washington with 2,309ft of prominence) I figured it HAD to have good views as long as you weren’t in trees the whole time. And I do love an “abandoned hike” This isn’t really abandoned just yet, it hasn’t even been two years since the road washed out, but who knows, maybe in 30yrs it’ll all be totally overgrown and unheard of. Or maybe the forest will self-thin all the saplings that are currently 5-10ft tall and the first 1000ft of bushwhacking won’t be as soul sucking as it was. I’ll get back to you in a few decades. Either way, great workout both physically and mentally and every time I wanted to bitch I just thought how nice it was to not be carrying skis.
Oh, and when I got home to get in the shower? I dropped a small forest all over the floor thanks to all the sticks and needles in my hair or stuck to my neck or down my shirt. That’s how you know it was a good day.
Amazingly, I’ve been here 8 years at this point and still hadn’t done Ellinor in the winter. Well, I did it in March 2015 but that didn’t count as winter because 2015 had zero snow. In fact, we took the summer trail the whole way to the summit, and not once did we hit snow.
This was different. We couldn’t even get to the trailhead. But let me back up a sec. First I woke up. Then I made pancakes with pancake mix that expired in 2019. Seemed good. I dumped some maple syrup in there, double bagged them, and stuffed them in my pack as hiking snacks. Met AJ and Jamie in Tacoma, and we were off towards the Ellinor trailhead on a brilliantly sunny Friday with AJ as the dedicated driver in Jamie’s dear car. The forecast was for like 12 degrees and windy (but sunny). So I had four jackets, a balaclava, expedition weight long underwear paired with ice climbing pants covered by goretex shell pants, you get the idea. I was ready for head down, fight through the cold, tag summit, and bail.
Distance: ~8mi (7 since we got a ride)
Elevation: ~3000ft gain, 5944ft highest point
Weather: 30’s and sunny
Commute from Seattle: 2:30ish
Did I Trip: I don’t think so! Am I getting more nimble?
We parked ~2mi from the lower trailhead before a big patch of snow that’s most definitely gone by now and got packed, resigned to walking the rest of the way. Left snowshoes behind (thank god), brought crampons and microspikes. 200ft from the car, a miracle pickup truck pulled up. Holy shit. Does he… do you think he’d give us a ride? “You know you’re still pretty far from the trailhead… do you want a ride?” We whooped and jumped in the bed. Manual transmission for sure which I have a soft spot for as one of the seemingly few people in the US still driving manual. Clearly knew how to handle his truck on snow (despite no snow tires). He dropped us about a mile from the trailhead when the road was consistently covered in several feet of snow, and we started walking. Things were going TOO smoothly. Suspiciously well for a winter route.
The trail was snow free all the way to the junction with the upper trailhead. I was raving about the scenery within 200ft of starting the trail. It’s just incredibly well maintained and cuts through extremely pleasant forest! I don’t know how else to put it. Just really beautiful. And yet I only took one picture. AJ said Ellinor in winter was a treat but I still underestimated it. And it was warm! I was hilariously overdressed, but I was so relieved that it wasn’t the opposite.
Once you hit the junction with the upper trailhead, the trail gets more serious. Switchbacks, elevation gain, and snow started. We put on microspikes. We were cruising, split off from the summer trail to follow the winter route, and suddenly we were at the base of the famous chute. And damn it looked looong and steep from where we were standing.
We decided to stick with microspikes. The snow was soft, traction had been good, I didn’t see a need for crampons. Until we were about halfway up the chute, and the snowpack turned to 1″ of slush on top of blue ice with no steps kicked prior, no staircase, just us and a snow slope. With our best pseudo french technique and some hilarious borderline crawling with axes we made it to the top and immediately switched to crampons. No one ever said the alpine was graceful all the time. I snapped a few pics of another hiker, Gregg, coming up the chute. I was stoked to share them with him until I realized my finger was in the way of every. Single. Picture. Sorry Gregg. If you’re out there.
Once you’re at the top of the chute and standing in the lower basin, don’t get too comfy, because you still have two slopes to climb. Head left and up the wide slope in front of you, and once you’ve crested that, you’ll be elated to find yet another steep slope. We went straight up this final one, but it was even more icy, and the main trail wrapped around to the west and came back up the ridge to the true summit.
The summit was a party! Lots of people. Jamie and I sat down and immediately started eating. No words. I thought I would eat like 3 pancakes but I ended up eating all 8. AJ crested as we were snacking and started laughing. Apparently Jamie’s default state is snacking. It makes sense, she’s wicked fast and that speed has to be powered by something. Seems to be some combo of bird food and jalapeno potato chips. My default state of being is wanting a burger. Or mac n cheese.
We snapped photos, I did my whole dental hygiene routine for my stupid invisalign, and we started back down. Need to start getting action shots of tooth brushing so I can make a list of the 10 most scenic places in WA to brush your teeth. Our ride to the trailhead announced he was headed down and would be happy to shuttle anyone who needed it back past the snow to our cars, so that meant it was time for us to head down too. Even though we knew he’d probably beat us back. We did pass two skiiers and I was maybe 4/10 jealous.
The first two slopes went quickly, and soon enough we were back at the top of the chute. AJ went first followed by Jamie followed by me, agreeing to spread out a bit so if one of us wiped out we wouldn’t take the others out with us. And soon enough, AJ wiped out. In slow motion. Extremely slow motion. Sliding off into the distance, seemingly resigned to his mildly controlled slide. The main threat was a tree which he dodged. Soon I couldn’t see him over a knoll in front of me. I looked at Jamie. It felt like it had been two minutes of silence. “Is he… is he still going?” “Yep.” He’s shouting IT’S FINE I’M FINE and we see him come to a stop some 150ft below us. He popped up and reiterated he was totally fine. Well he’s in one piece, that’s good, we’ll see how he feels in 20 minutes when we’re finally down to him. He took the efficient route.
We caught up to him after some careful side stepping (impossible to plunge step because of that damn blue ice). My envy of the skiiers jumped to 6/10. And then it was alternating glissading with more side stepping. Another party glissaded by us shouting “LIFE PRO TIP NEVER GLISSADE IN CRAMPONS” as their disclaimer for glissading in crampons. (EDIT: I later learned this was an unintentional glissade! He was not the only one!) We soon hopped in his glissade track to follow, and we were back at the base of the chute switching from crampons back to microspikes. I swear the chute was longer going down than going up.
We headed back through the trees in dappled sunlight, back through the green forest. This hike has such clear sections. Road walk, forest, chute, basin, ramps to summit, each with its own character. We leapfrogged one of the other groups that had come up from an even lower trailhead (there’s the upper trailhead, the lower trailhead, and an even lower trailhead by the Big Creek campground). We went our separate ways when the trail split, and it was just us cruising back to the traditional lower trailhead. AJ pointed out we parallelled the road for like a mile on the trail. He is right.
When we got back to bare road, our good samaritan pickup driver was long gone. I was hoping we weren’t that far behind him, but walking another mile wasn’t the worst. It was sunny, we had good company, what’s another 20min of trekking.
Back at the car, we celebrated how ridiculously smooth the hike had been, laughed and debriefed on AJ’s slide, and decided we were definitely stopping at the burger place on the way back. In Hoodsport. I think it’s just called Burger Stand. But it’s run by this lone asian guy with awesome options like a bulgogi burger, a hawaiian burger, a kimchi burger… I got the hawaiian burger (basically a burger with grilled pineapple) with jalapeno added, and it was insanely delicious. HEAR ME OUT this isn’t like hawaiian pizza. It’s more like having a slice of pineapple on a taco. Like the tacos at Tacos Chukis. If you like those, you definitely need to try this burger. And if you don’t like those tacos… fight me, you have no taste.
We made it back to Tacoma in time for AJ to get to work (starting at 7pm!) and in time for Jamie and I to hit traffic heading back north. I thought I could be clever and skirt i5 but it uh didn’t go as planned and I got lost but I think I experienced the “tacoma smell” for the first time so that counts for something?
Awesome company, awesome peak, highly recommend Ellinor in winter. It’s a huge bang-for-your-buck destination in the right conditions. I looked back at my 2015 trip report and it was pretty cloudy, glad I got to experience the full scenery. I think we saw all five major volcanoes – Baker, Glacier, Rainier, Adams, St. Helens. No Hood though. And here’s to hoping we get out on a few more adventures together!! I swear I’ll bring better snacks to share in the future. Actually the pancakes were good snacks I just wasn’t up to sharing, apparently. So I’ll be more.. generous in the future.
Last time I hiked Round Mountain was like a 2/10 on a scale of 1-10. We were socked in by clouds with no views, I forgot my favorite snacks, and I got dumped a few hours later at a park n ride after overeating mediocre chicken alfredo on the way home. Something about my crass language and favorite phrase “god dammit” cued the guy I was dating at the time into realizing maybe I wasn’t very religious, despite my very biblical name. I laugh now because obviously he was totally right, but at the time it took me a while to remember my life was awesome. Fortunately, two coworkers had also been dumped that week, so we took turns moaning and groaning and hogging the one bathroom in the office in case someone was about to cry. We even went to a cage fighting match between humans and computers which was a hilariously Seattle experience I will never forget. Complete with body slams and chair hits. Somehow, I didn’t meet any new dating material there.
So when Rob mentioned he was putting together a crew for Round Mountain, naturally I wanted a redo. Round Mountain is known for its prominence, it’s the 8th most prominent peak in WA with almost 4800ft of prominence despite only being 5300ft tall. Prominence = views. It rises up straight from the valley floor outside of Darrington, with phenomenal views of Whitehorse to the south and the entire cascade range to the west and north. You’re in a fishbowl of peaks. It’s generally quite safe on high avy days thanks to the entire route being forested and along a ridge. The forecast called for clear skies, views, and suckers I’m single there’s NO ONE to dump me at the bottom. Let’s do this.
Distance: ~6mi (slightly under)
Elevation: ~4100ft net, 5320 highest point (you lose some elevation that you have to regain on the way back)
We decided to be on the trail by 8am. I am turning into a Seattlite who shows up 5-10min late to everything, so Rob told me 5:40 when he wanted to meet at 5:30 (it worked). We stopped at the pilot gas station and I’ll have you know I didn’t buy a cinnamon bun. We got to the trailhead around 7:15, I had enough time to crush a banana before Daniel showed up and we were plodding down the forest road around 7:40. You know how there’s the saying “be bold, start cold” because you know you’ll warm up once you start moving? Round Mountain is more like be bold, just start naked. You walk a forest road for a while and then cut straight into the forest uphill, and within 200 vertical feet of the road you’ll be sweating profusely and LET ME TELL YOU there is no end in sight until the summit. It felt like spring despite being February. Warm, sunny, and I stupidly wore expedition weight wool base layers because I don’t know follow seasonal transitions.
We went up and up, picking our own paths through the steep woods. The terrain is very open with no bushwhacking at all, surprising for the north cascades. I looove sunlight through the forests here. I don’t think we even hit snow until around 3500ft. We were carrying snowshoes that we never put on. There was some unavoidable postholing, but such is life, it’s not a real snow adventure without some postholing. Rob broke trail, finding each and every hole for us. Every time I turned around Daniel was right behind me absolutely beaming with smiles. We talked through summer goals and lists to pursue and it was like getting the mental gears moving again, until I remembered I suck at goal setting. I just wake up on a Thursday and see where weather is good and try to find last minute free people. I don’t have a list, or a goal, or anything. I guess I have a list called “the selfish ten” that are peaks I will bail on anyone and anything for but even with that I’m being hypocritical because I have a few friends climbing a peak on that list the same weekend another friend has a wedding… and I’m going to the wedding.
We finally crested the knoll where you gain the last ridge to the summit. I say “finally” but really it went by surprisingly quickly! Good conversation with new people always helps, and I think we were moving at a decent clip. I can only speak for myself but I was hilariously overpacked for this balmy pseudo spring day. Two summit puffies, snowshoes, avy gear, great way to get in shape?
Go up and over the knoll! Sidehilling around it would be miserable. It looks like you can’t walk off the far end of the knoll but you can (well, maybe not in snowshoes). Getting to the saddle took longer than expected, but finally we were climbing up again, and into the sun this time. Don’t be fooled, you still have a ways to go here. There were old boot prints we followed and we started to leapfrog a pair of two others that had caught up to us. At this point Jon started to lead, and I swear everyone in front of him and from prior days was also >6ft tall because I started having to kick extra steps in between their ginormous strides. I stashed one pole by a patch of trees where the prior party had stashed some gear and continued up with an ice axe.
It’s crazy how different conditions change the experience. The first time I did Round Mountain snowshoes were essential and I still remember swimming uphill through powder. This time we got to kick steps, the snow was mostly solid, there was exposed rock for a scramble-y move or two.
The views were ridiculous. I could tell by how tall Higgins seemed that we were nowhere near the summit of Round yet. Higgins and its entire ridge looks SO cool from Round Mountain, it’s extremely steep and jagged and from the highway side it has these incredible diagonal striations like a little piece of Glacier National Park or Banff. The views were almost enough to distract me from the fact I was fucking starving.
The summit is aptly named. At least in winter, it is quite round. Huge plateau with plenty of space and views in every single direction. I didn’t even know which way to face for a panorama. Even the Olympics were visible. Rob whipped out his car windshield visor as a sit pad which had us cracking up. Daniel asked if we wanted spicy mango candy or chocolate covered espresso beans. Rob asked if anyone wanted chocolate or whiskey. I don’t remember what Jon had to offer, but it was definitely better than my snacks – anyone want, uh, soft boiled eggs, or lentils? A resounding no.
*edit: Jon had maybe some Hawaiian pizza to offer, unless he had already eaten the 8 slices he carried up the mountain
Whatever guys, I devoured my snacks. I just started Invisalign, and I wildly underestimated how much of a pain in the ass it would be with my lifestyle. I have a single crowded tooth that you can’t even see when I’m smiling, but after two years of starting at my own face on Zoom I can’t un-see it every time I talk or laugh. But. You can’t eat ANYTHING with them in! And if you take them out to eat, you have to brush them AND your teeth AND floss before they go back in. So I ate like a full meal on top of Round Mountain, and then had a little dental hygiene clinic. No pocket snacks, no quick bites, just one big committing break and I guess that’s how the rest of my climbs will be until I’m done with the liners. My best idea so far is cutting shot blocks into small pieces and taking them with water like sugar pills but I like to ENJOY my food.
The way down went by so quickly. Rob started singing songs that only require one line to get stuck in your head. Like “it’s the fiiinal cooountdooown.” I had more examples but now that’s already in my head and I can’t remember anything else. I was worried I’d overshoot where I had stashed my pole since it was no longer obvious with all the gear the other party had stashed, but we found it. We glissaded a 12ft stretch, and another 12ft stretch. Downclimbed some of the rockier parts. Snapped 1000 more pictures. Wove our way back up the almost knifey yet forested ridge to the knoll, and from there we knew it was the home stretch, but a misleading one. It’s. SO. Steep. And just so sustained. It’s honestly better with snow. Without snow, you’re trying to creep down this slippery mossy dirty slope, hoping your feet will stick to something. It’s extremely tedious. I think the part just below the knoll was the worst, and it gets less steep as you get closer to the forest road. Going down doesn’t feel much faster than going up because of how tedious it is. At least it’s soft so it’s not a total knee banger.
We were back down by 3pm, making it somewhere around 7hrs round trip with a very long summit break. Our moving time was just under 6hrs. We stopped by the Rhodes River Ranch in Oso for lunch/dinner (dunch?). It’s open again, and it’s just a very cool location with great food. You can watch horses in a ring below the restaurant seating, the burgers are delicious. And they give you chocolates with your receipts, so don’t put your invisalign back on until after you’ve paid 🙂
Great day with a great group, still can’t believe we got so lucky with weather in freaking February. Hope we get on some more adventures and I HIGHLY recommend Round Mountain to anyone looking for a lesser known peak with a fairly safe winter route and really just phenomenal views. I think it’s being discovered though, we ran into multiple other parties up there. It certainly deserves it. Can’t say it’s worth lugging skis up there (I considered it) but I’m sure someone’s tried it…