Green Mountain Lookout

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Glacier Peak in the distance

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Amazing for running!

Given the success of my hike the prior day, I figured I wanted one last easy alpine trip before calling it winter. Many of you know that when I first moved here and had no job and no friends and no family and nothing to do, I started hiking. That meant my hours of sitting were spend on WTA, learning everything I could about trails, discovering new areas, new views, new peaks (I didn’t know what Adams was!), new lakes (Lake Ingalls? Mind = blown), new adventures. So I started listing all of the hikes I wanted to do in a word doc. They were in order of driving distance, with notes like “this would be a good trail run” and “leave this for when you have more mountaineering experience” and “has lakes and rivers so good for cloudy days!” Many of them I have now knocked off as approaches to climbs, like Lake Ann or Heliotrope Ridge. But some are standalone hikes, and still deserve their own recognition. One of those on the list was Green Mountain Lookout. Finally hiked 10/29/2017!

  • Distance: 8.5 miles
  • Elevation: 3,300ft gain (6,500ft highest point)
  • Weather: 50’s and sunny
  • Commute from Seattle: 2:45 if you drive normally, 3:15 if you drive like a granny on gravel roads (me)
  • Did I Trip: Just a stubbed toe!
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Fat grouse. Come be my dinner

My original hiking partner’s social life got a little out of hand, so I found myself waking up at 5am to go hike solo, which was actually fine by me since I needed the head space anyway. Green Mountain it was! Basically I drove like 6+ hours round trip just to hike for 3 but whatever, gotta get out. The Suiattle River Road sounds nice, but is actually a million miles of terrible washboard gravel road and it was a relief to get onto the Green Mountain turnoff, where the road became just rocky and not washboard. My car is awesome, but washboard absolutely destroys me. Apparently the term is “crabbing” where the car just skids sideways and it feels like the entire frame is shaking violently and falling to pieces. Potholes, get at me, rocks, you are my bitches, snow, meet my European mountain-snow-rated tires. Washboard…. ah, crap.

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Let the foliage begin!!

After an eternity of skull-chattering road I parked next to the lone pickup at the trailhead, wolfed down a ton of peanuts, and started up. I had brought my hiking boots instead of trail runners expecting a bit of snow, and I wish I had brought trail runners. I did leave the axe and crampons in the car, so I didn’t look as foolish as the last trip.

The trail through the forest is a spectacularly smooth soft dirt trail and the elevation gain is quite mellow, or felt mellow compared to Sourdough the day before. The air smells wonderful, which I thought was a one-time thing when I was at Downey Creek back in June since it had been so long since I had been to mountains but I guess it’s just delicious regardless. And you aren’t even in the forest that long! After 1.5 miles you break out onto meadows slopes that dip in and out of trees, and I imagine they’re vividly green in the summer because the slopes were covered in ferns. But this time of year, it should be called Patchy-Red-And-Brown-Mountain, because there was no green to be seen.
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“Green Lake”

I trekked up through dead and dying ferns, with occasional bursts of yellow and red foliage. The first slopes you see are not the slopes to the summit, but a lower-lying winding ridge that you could follow to the top if you so desired. But there was no snow, so I stuck with the summer trail. It wound past a small lake that had started to freeze over, which is where you get your first views of the lookout. And – blueberries!! It’s the end of October and there are freaking blueberries! They were mostly overripe, but there were a few gems in there. I alternated snapping pictures and stuffing my face. Glacier Peak hovers over you to the east for the entire hike, and Sloan, Pugh, and White Chuck decorate the horizon south and west. Pretty cool being able to say you’ve been up those (with the exception of White Chuck).

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First glimpse of the lookout (center)

The trail traverses the slope beneath the lookout and then continues its switchback pattern beyond the basin, up and up to the ridge east of the lookout. You finally top out to spectacular views of the Downey Creek drainage, where my Patagonia jacket lies in a nest for whatever wild animal found it back in June. RIP. Dome looms massively one ridge over, and you can see all of the peaks of the Ptarmigan Traverse and the lesser known Buckindy Traverse (shh, don’t tell anyone about that one). The final hike to the lookout ends in what is remarkably similar to a sidewalk, except in the sky. It was windy, so I dropped my pack and huddled on the sheltered side of the lookout drinking in views of Snowking and Mt. Chaval, two peaks that are probably underrated just because you can’t see them from any major highways.

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Ptarmigan Traverse peaks and Downey Creek drainage, RIP my jacket

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Baker, Chaval, Shuksan, Snowking (cut off)

I whipped out my peakfinder app to confirm it was Mt. Chaval, and it turned out I had cell service, so I made sure to whine to everyone in the city about how I had forgotten my peanut butter snack and was stuck with salami and cheese. A lone female trail runner caught up to me and took a break by the lookout just as I started to head down, and a few minutes later I ran past yet another solo female hiker on her way up. Ladies, represent!! I hear so many people panicking about women hiking alone, or being concerned that I’m hiking alone, or being surprised to see me on the trail hiking alone, I get pumped when I see others. It’s normal, guys. I used to be scared of people on the trails and on the forest roads leading to the trails but it turns out it’s just a bunch of other Eves. Get out and enjoy the world, there’s so much to see!

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Bad ass trail runner cresting the final ridge to the lookout

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Buckindy group beyond the first ridge

I was back at the car about an hour after leaving the top, which was almost a bummer because it was such a beautiful day. I always feel like I wasted a day if I’m back before te sun sets. Should have traversed the ridges, or chosen a longer hike. But it was awesome to finally get to see something that’s been on the list since 3 years ago when hikes like Snow Lake or Kendall Katwalk blew my mind. You need to get back to your roots and remember why you hike, or why you climb, and I’ve spent a few months doing exactly that. It’s been a long time since I was excited for every corner, for every switchback, for every patch of color and every view even if it’s a view I’ve seen a million times. And that’s how the past few trips have been.

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Looking back along the ridge from just below the lookout

Umtanum Ridge Crest & Road

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Cruising through the grass

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Sweet start

After last week’s shortcut, I figured I’d take another shot at a long run, so I messaged a few steady trail runners for suggestions out east knowing the weather everywhere (even in the Teanaways!) was going to be brutal. Yakima looked sunny, and Stuke had a phenomenal suggestion that was a 27ish mile out-and-back taking the Umtanum Ridge Crest trail to the Umtanum Ridge Road, which runs the length of the ridge and despite being a road is more like a wide trail. I thought I had thrown this plan out the window when SMR got busy on Saturday, but after being turned around without even setting foot on the trail, my long run was back in action. Ran 10/22/2017.

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That is a perfectly good burrito

I got to the trailhead around 8:30 and stepped out of the car into wonderful sunshine and what might be the most delicious air I have ever smelled in my life. Everything was covered in dew from that had just stopped, and the entire canyon was full of sage bushes. Sunshine with the smell of fresh rain mixed with tons of sage, I gotta give Yakima a little more credit. It was freaking gorgeous. You know when you start an activity and your entire body just says yeah, this is where I should be right now? It was one of those mornings. I packed my bag with way more food than I ended up needing and started off.

  • Distance: 27.6 miles
  • Elevation: 2,400ft net gain (3,480 highest point, and around 6k gain on rolling hills)
  • Weather: 50’s and a mix of clouds and sun
  • Commute from Seattle: 2:40 unless everyone crashes in the rain (RAIN) on i90
  • Did I Trip: Some stubbed toes but no casualties
  • Strava link here
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First light post rain

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Dammit Saucony. Maybe #runmostplaces not #runanywhere

The first 2.5 miles gain the 2,400ft of elevation, so needless to say I hiked those.There was no one else in sight. The trail briefly follows Umtanum Creek (you need to duck under some train tracks, or go over but I’m lazy so I went under) before hanging left and starting up through quaking aspen and sagebrush and tall grasses towards the ridge. It was quite muddy, and I found the only flaw in my running shoes that I have encountered so far. With this clay-ish-mud mix, the lugs on my shoes just got caked with mud until I was basically hiking on mud pancakes, slipping all over the place. I’d stop periodically to scrape off the bottoms and delicately tiptoe up the trail.

The last half mile to the top is very steep, and I was less than stoked doing it without shoes that had good mud traction (and poles) but soon enough I topped out at the ridge road. Stuke’s description was accurate. Rolling hills, and a road that’s more like a wide trail than a road. Sweet! I started jogging.
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Totally different topography compared to western Washington

There were two things I had only briefly considered before starting up the trail, because I don’t know much about either group. First was hunters. I had my neon pink hard shell, which is close enough to safety orange that I figured I had that base covered, and hopefully if I was being an idiot someone would tell me. Second was 4×4 teams (who I think were usually also hunting), who I hoped would be okay with me hopping off the road so they could pass, and again tell me if I was doing something stupid. Here’s the confession: I’m basically scared of random 4×4 drivers, and definitely scared of random hunters. Neither of those activities were part of my life, they’re totally foreign to me, and they’re intimidating, and I’m just a hot pink helpless nerd going for a jog.

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Almost at the ridge (not)

So the first two trucks that drove past me freaked me out. And the first hunters I passed freaked me out. But I was pleasantly surprised by everyone I ran into! The hunters were all amicable (one team on foot just laughed and said “good for you!” as I jogged past) and several trucks stopped to ask how far I was going and to flag them down if I needed anything. Everyone was totally fine about sharing the road, in fact I might even go so far as to say that they were more pleasant than a lot of the hikers I encounter on trails, who don’t hear or see you coming, don’t move out of the way, and glare or silently stare ahead when you ask if you can pass.

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Rolling hills!

So you pretty much start at the high point. This was great as I started my jog, because woohoo downhill! I hiked most of the uphills unless they were very slight. Supposedly you can see the Stuart range from the top of the ridge, but all I got were clouds. Oh, and the wind, which occasionally ripped by just to spite me. The road switches between beautiful gravel, nice dirt, and terrible rocks and mud, so you get a nice combo of footwork and space-out-cruising. I fell victim to “summit fever” – not a summit, but around mile 11 I was like okay, I’ll turn around at that high point. And then I was there, and it was 11.5 miles, and I thought no you didn’t drive 2.5 hours just to turn around at 11.5 miles, go for 13. And then I hit 13 and thought okay, that high point (I was going downhill and didn’t want to start my return trip with immediate uphill). And then I could see the road intersection that was the turnaround point from that knoll, and I didn’t come that far just to turn around 300 yards short of the end. So I tagged the intersection and began the long slog back.

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The nicest section of road ever

I didn’t let myself check mileage again until around 19.8 miles. I wanted to be sure I had less than 10 miles left next time I looked (mental games) so I waited forever. The rolling hills were kind to me though, I ran more uphills than I had on the way out and felt pretty good. The final uphill to the trail turnoff was brutal, but not as brutal as the ensuing descent, losing 1,000ft+ per mile, destroying my knees and quads and hips while I counted my steps to distract myself from everything else because I was even tired of the sage at this point.

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Trail leading off into the distance

I jogged across the bridge (surprisingly bouncy) and popped into the parking lot, pretty thrilled with how the day had gone. I had only eaten around 6 tablespoons of peanut butter, and felt fantastic the entire time. I had the perfect amount of water, my new shoes had felt great, and I didn’t have any weird aches or pains. I didn’t even know that was possible. I hopped into my car, mentally on tope of the world, and drove straight into a wall of traffic on i90 because people forget how to drive in the rain. Shit.

Oh, and I found a Hot Pocket that I had lost in my car back in summer of 2015. You read that right. Over 2 years later. Turns out there’s a void beneath the fabric on the floor below my drivers’ seat. I can only imagine the decay had spawned a mold-based life form, because the only reason I found it was because there was this odd crackling noise going on and I was panicking that there was a mouse in my car while driving on the highway. No, just a hot pocket that came to life. I was hoping I had mentioned it in the trip report but I didn’t. But for two years I’ve been assuming that there was a glitch in the matrix that resulted in the loss of some high quality sustenance.
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Sage has yellow flowers 🙂

Snow Lake, Gem Lake, Upper Wildcat Lake

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Fall foliage by Snow Lake

Occasionally, I go to bed on Friday night in my apartment. This is weird, because I usually do my best to not be in the city on Friday, but sometimes the weather is lousy and you’re lazy and everyone else is also lazy. So, just like last winter, I woke up at like 6:30ish, was bored by 7, and messaged Surafel. Are you going hiking today? I’m bored. Are you awake? Wake up I wanna go hiking. Let’s do a lazy rainy day hike. Like last year when we’d do short rainy lake hikes. He replied at 8. Yes let’s go hiking! Gem Lake? I laughed. I was going to propose the exact same idea. If Surafel wasn’t free I was going to just do Gem Lake as a lazy trail run.

  • Distance: 16 miles
  • Elevation gain: 4,000ft (~4,920 highest point, Gem Lake)
  • Weather: 40’s and rainy
  • Commute from Seattle: 1 hour!
  • Did I Trip: Probably but I don’t remember
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I’ve been here so many times and the blue color still surprises me

We met at the Eastgate Park n Ride at 9:30, sans the usual teas since I had already had my earl grey. Surafel agreed to drive since I was hoping there’d be a SAR mission I could jump into while we were there, in which case he could drive himself home and I’d just hitch a ride back to my car (spoiler alert: nothing happened. The more available I am, the fewer SAR missions there are). We were at Alpental around 10, where I immediately put on my second layer of pants because it was cold and it was wet and I forgot that summer was over. Leggings weren’t going to cut it anymore.

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Surafel on a trail bridge

We reached Snow Lake quickly, passing a few parties already on their way down. It wasn’t too crowded, probably because of the weather. We never quite got sun breaks, just “brighter clouds.” Neither of us had been past Snow Lake. Reminiscent of Lake Dorothy a few weeks ago, it took forever to wrap around Snow Lake. The fall foliage was gorgeous, though my camera has a hard time with cloudy photos. You basically follow social trails to the right of Snow Lake, which are occasionally well maintained and occasionally a bit brushy.

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More touches of fall foliage

Finally you start gaining a bit of elevation to Gem Lake, which is aptly named. It’s quite the cute gem of a lake. There were two large groups camping there that we passed on our way out, but on the way up it was silent. The trail wraps around the right of the lake, and you have the chance to bag Wright Peak (a walk up) if you so desire. We didn’t, because there’d be no views. But the trail continued on, so we continued as well. I didn’t actually know where it went but we had time and we saw a lake down below us so we figured we’d go ahead and drop down to it. It didn’t look that far.

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Almost a view!

Well that lake is Lower Wildcat Lake, and it turned out it was about a 1,000ft loss in elevation to get there. With a short bushwhack you can hit Upper Wildcat Lake as well. I was pretty pooped though, my legs had felt like lead all day, and as soon as we came upon a clearing on the trail with a nice log and a view of Lower Wildcat Lake I decided great, we’re having snacks here, and then heading back. I was soaked from all of the brush (did not bring rain pants… yes, shut up, I know) and getting cold and once you’re wet and cold… ugh.

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Tarn by Lower Wildcat Lake

I chugged the tea I had brought in a thermos (sometimes I have smart ideas) and devoured some salami and cheese. I felt better within minutes of starting back towards the trailhead, in hindsight I probably just needed snacks. We gained the elevation back to Gem Lake quicker than expected, and admired the fall foliage around the lake for a few minutes before carrying back on to Snow Lake. Gem Lake definitely had the best foliage in the area, I bet it would have been phenomenal with some sunshine.

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Almost a glimpse of blue sky by Snow Lake!

By the time we got back to the trail from Snow Lake to Alpental, most of the hikers were gone. We passed a few lingering parties and a few on their way up, but weather was deteriorating and I was surprised anyone was still out. I was happy to be headed back to the car. The parking lot had emptied, and we jumped in the car and blasted the heat and tried to dry off as best we could. All in all, not too bad for a “lazy” day hike – 16 miles, and home early for a cozy warm dinner!