Mason Lake

After two weeks of no hikes for the first time since September, I’m finally back on track – at least temporarily. A friend is visiting from Chicago, I have a rental car for the week, five days off, and that means… hikes! Dave’s plane landed around noon on Wednesday, and I can’t put into words how happy I was driving a freshly rented car down i5 for the first time in weeks. Back to routine: day off, hop in the car, get to the trails. After a quick lunch we were headed out to Mason Lake/Bandera Mountain. We got to the trailhead in mid-afternoon, and I didn’t think we’d have time for Bandera, but I figured we’d make a decision at the junction depending on how long we took to get there. If the title of this post wasn’t a big enough spoiler alert, we ended up doing Mason Lake.

  • Distance: 6.5 miles round trip
  • Elevation: 2400ft gain, 4300 highest point
  • Weather: 40’s and cloudy
  • Commute from Seattle: an hour
  • Did I Trip: yes
Mason Lake from the outlet stream

Mason Lake from the outlet stream

I hadn’t been back to this trailhead since October, when I hiked Bandera. I didn’t expect it to be accessible in February, but that can be said for a lot of the hikes this winter. We brought along microspikes just in case, but didn’t expect much snow. I got my rental Subaru down the potholed road (lower clearance than my old Accord, somehow), and started out around 2:30.

River crossing

River crossing

This is a well maintained, straightforward trail. Crossing the river was fun since someone had placed a few branches across it, complete with a tall one to use as a railing instead of rock-hopping. Eventually the wide trail narrows and steepens, and it starts to feel like a real hike and less like an old road. Views open up at the first switchback, and I started to realize how much I already take this for granted. While I was whining about hearing i90, Dave was taking pictures in every direction. Despite being cloudy, we could see half of Rainier, and most of the peaks in the i90 corridor. We could even see back to Seattle, which I don’t think I noticed last time. I must have been too busy looking at Rainier.

Back along the trail towards Rainier

Looking back along the trail towards Rainier

We got to the junction of Bandera and Mason Lake after about an hour, glanced up at the steepness of the Bandera trail, and headed towards Mason Lake. I had never done Mason Lake, so that’s what I was hoping for anyway – perfect! Finally, a new hike. You continue across a slope facing i90, which I’m sure is a gorgeous meadow in spring and summer but in winter was just barren, brown grasses and rocks. Just before entering the woods again, there’s a small boulder field to the left of the trail. We stopped there to take a few pictures and scramble around, and found the Ira Spring memorial plaque, which was a neat surprise.

Greener than the entire state of Illinois right now

Greener than the entire state of Illinois right now

Continuing into the woods, I had another “holy shit it’s so green” moment surrounded by trees and moss. Like I said, Dave’s coming from Chicago, which is freezing and barren right now, and was basically happy to hike in a t shirt since this might as well be summer compared to where he was 24 hours earlier. Even crossing the exposed slope, there wasn’t much wind.

Cracks in the ice along Mason Lake

Cracks in the ice along Mason Lake

In fact, the windiest area was by far the lake, which we reached shortly after the trail junction. Mason Lake was mostly frozen over, with a few cracks running through the thawing ice. It’s crazy to think that just a few weeks ago, a couple guys camped out on top of the frozen lake. We crossed the outlet stream and followed the “lower trail” to the side of the lake to get some pictures from boulders on the shore. The “main trail” is the trail that connects many of the lakes in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness. I remember being excited when I realized Pratt was connected to Talapus and Ollalie and Rainbow and Island and even Melakwa which was connected to Tuskohatchie… well throw Mason into that mix with a few others, because the trails all interconnect. I’ll backpack that route somehow, and then scurry up Defiance to see as many as I can see.

Couldn't resist

Couldn’t resist

We turned around a little before 4:30 after taking a short break at the lake, and it was perfect timing. The way down went much more quickly, and we got back to the trailhead in just over an hour. Perfect timing, because the “hint of sun” that was peeking through the clouds had finally set. I’d say Dave had a pretty solid first few hours in the state of Washington. Even if it’s a six mile round trip off i90, there’s plenty out here that you just don’t get back in Illinois. I remember the first time I saw Rainier on a hike, I was running up Kendall Katwalk on a hike and glanced behind me after leaving the forest and seeing Rainier peaking out and absolutely losing my mind.

¬†Here’s a quick map of the hike on Strava if you want to see the trail and topography. No surprises there, we never left the trail. Overall, great quick hike, and one of the few popular ones off i90 that I hadn’t checked out yet!

Screenshot of the map

Screenshot of the map

McClellan Butte

After a long break for the holidays, we’re back! This hike is from two weeks ago (I know I know, I’m behind) and I’m finally getting around to it. 12/17/2014, to be exact. Emilie and I had been aiming to go on a hike for some time, and since the forecast was lousy, we were going to repeat Talapus and Ollalie Lakes. Half an hour down i90, we realized the clouds weren’t bad, it didn’t look like rain, so the hell with it – we’d do McClellan Butte.

  • Distance: 9 miles round trip
  • Elevation: 3700ft gain (5170 highest point)
  • Weather: 30’s and cloudy
  • Commute from Seattle: 45 minutes (no traffic)
  • Did I Trip: It could have been intentional because I was aiming to sit anyway
Scramble to the top of McClellan Butte

Scramble to the top of McClellan Butte (with a taunting hint of blue sky)

Green, dry trail. Could be a summer hike

Green, dry trail. Could be a summer hike

So like I said, we were on our way down i90 and made a game-time decision to hike McClellan since despite the clouds, every peak was in view. Emilie warned me that she had been sore after the last time she did it, but being the stubborn elitist bum I am, I didn’t think much of it at the time. I knew the parking lot was close to the highway, so it’d be easy to get to, and the ground was clear and dry. Unfortunately, we missed the parking lot (the turn off to the right looked narrow, so I didn’t believe it) and drove an unnecessary 4 miles(!) out and back on a potholed gravel road before finally finding it. We packed our bags, grabbed our trekking poles for old lady knees, and off we were.

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Fresh snow!

We were both in trail runners, so for once I didn’t look like a lone idiot. My ankle was still swollen and wouldn’t cooperate with my hiking boots, so goretex Wildhorses it was. I tossed microspikes in my bag just in case. The first mile of the trail was dry, simple dirt. A gradual elevation gain. You cross a few old gravel roads as you switchback up the side of the mountain, which connect to Annette Lake and the Ashael Curtis trail. It was about a mile in that the switchbacks started to get steep. We were crunched on time already, so I knew we had to maintain a good pace. We hit snow starting around maybe 3000ft, and it got deeper as we went. Not deep enough for snowshoes, fortunately, but enough to make it ten times more beautiful than usual.

Avalanche debris across the trail

Avalanche debris across the trail

There were no fresh footprints ahead of us, but the trail is obvious. There were a few avalanche chutes to get past (one with avalanche debris!) but nothing threatening that day. This was actually the first time in my life that I’ve seen avalanche debris up close. We saw plenty when climbing Rainier, but on a much larger scale, which made it harder to process. Over the past few weeks, I’ve seen several like this mini one, and I’m sure there will be more to come throughout the winter.

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Snack break

We stopped for a snack break. Oat bars, candy, some tea. Emilie had been making fun of one of our friends who once forgot to bring water on a hike, and I realized…. I forgot to bring water. Shit. I had like 3/4 a liter of tea and that was it. So I started melting fresh snow into each cup of tea to try and make it last longer. Win win, it cooled the tea down too. Also, gaiters and waterproof pants have secondary uses – seats. I stacked them all up so I wouldn’t just be sitting on snow. I know, I’m pretty resourceful.

Views were starting to open up

Views were starting to open up

I checked my watch. Okay, we had about an hour to make it to the top. How far in were we? We guessed 2.5 miles, so we’d have to be fast. But I hadn’t put in this much effort to turn around, especially now that views were starting to open up. We put the snacks away and continued, coming up with back up plans in case we didn’t have enough time. Drop Emilie on the side of the highway. No, that’s mean. Maybe the Issaquah Park n’ Ride. Borrow a shirt so I could go straight to work. Hike faster. Run the last few miles once we were back on dry ground. Okay, so we had some options.

Trail starting to flatten out

Trail starting to flatten out

By the way, the middle two miles of this hike are up, up, up. The majority of the elevation gain is within those two miles, the two on either end are relatively flat. So we were rushing, and mourning how out of shape we were. Or at least I was. The trail finally started to flatten out, and we knew we only had about a mile left until the top.

Remember how I had mentioned there were no fresh footprints in front of us? Well suddenly there were. Just after I took the picture to the right, footprints appeared. What? There aren’t ghosts on McClellan Butte. Ghosts float anyway, so that’s a moot point. Where the hell did they come from? We got excited at the prospect of mystery company. Looked like two sets of prints, so there was some bad-ass duo out there who took a rogue path up the side of McClellan. They were only going forward, so we knew they were ahead of us, and we’d have to run into them eventually. Assuming they followed the same path back.

Stairway to heaven?

Stairway to heaven?

Soon, we could see the peak in view. The frost on the trees was neat, so I made Emilie stop while I tried to snap a pic.

Frost "growing" on the tiny branches

Frost “growing” on the tiny branches

Not sure how to use my point-and-shoot for close up photos, I ended up using the “food” setting. Other options were “portrait,” “low light portrait,” “fireworks,” “toys,” and “landscape.” Thanks, SONY.

Once we turned the corner a few feet from the peak, we saw the two ghost climbers. They had taken an improvised route up the mountain, one that was shorter than our trek but much steeper. Ice axes in hand, they waved to us, and we walked over to say hi and see if we could scramble up to the top, the real summit.

Emilie and I in front of the icy scramble

Emilie and I in front of the icy scramble

Unfortunately, the scramble was completely iced over with several firm inches of ice. Even with full crampons, I’d have been concerned. The photo to the left is taken at an angle that (I swear) makes it look less steep than it actually is. Anyway, I’ll be going back in the summer someday for a trail run/hike and I’ll get to the real top.

View looking west-ish from just below the scramble

View looking west-ish from just below the scramble

Chatting with the two hardcore hikers, we got some history about McClellan. There were old metal pegs sticking out of the rock as well as some thick cables. Turns out there used to be a light at the very top (it’s the highest peak in the North Bend area, I believe) to guide airplanes. There were also lights on Mt. Catherine and Bandera(?) for the same reason. I love getting bits of history about the mountains. And it’s even better coming from another person.

View looking south-ish from just below the scramble

View looking south-ish from just below the scramble

The two hikers headed back down the way they came, and we spent a few more minutes snacking until I check my phone. Shit! I was on track to be late to work. We threw on microspikes to help with traction on the way down, and started hauling ass. We agreed to jog the last mile or so if necessary, and Emilie would have someone meet us at the Park n’ Ride so I wouldn’t have to drive all the way to her house. By some miracle, we made it down in under two hours, without jogging! I had been resigned to my fate, but now there was hope. With no traffic, I made it to work with enough time to both eat AND shower. Which was great, because if I had to choose, I don’t know which I’d have chosen. Either way, I probably wouldn’t be very popular at work that night.

This hike ended up far surpassing my expectations. My attitude going in was “oh, it’s in North Bend, how hard can it be” and the answer is it’s a butt kicker. I was sore the next day. But on top of that, the views were great, the snow was great, we lucked out with the weather, and hiking with friends is always a plus. Especially on trails with mindless switchbacks. When it’s warm out again (or maybe sooner, if I’m impatient) I’ll go up there and loop around from McClellan to Annette Lake and the Ashael Curtis trail. Eventually, I’m going to have to explore all the connections instead of following one trail.

One more from the top

One more from the top

Lake Twentytwo

Lake Twentytwo is another mega popular hike for everyone in the entire state of Washington. The last time I was there, we got kicked out of the parking lot because it was full and cars that had parked alongside the road were being ticketed and towed. So I figured okay, on a rainy Friday in mid December, I should be able to find a spot. Or have the whole parking lot to myself.

  • Distance: 5.4 miles, round trip
  • Elevation: 1350ft gain, 2400 highest point
  • Weather: 30’s and rainy
  • Commute from Seattle: just over an hour
  • Did I Trip: Nope

Well I ended up having to share the parking lot with four other cars. I can deal with that. There had been a big wind storm the night before, and we weren’t sure what to expect on the trail. Driving to the trailhead we had passed trucks cleaning up the downed trees (we had to drive under a few) across the highway, so we figured there would be some damage on the trail. The parking lot is just a few feet off the highway, so we knew gravel roads weren’t a concern. It was raining when we started, but just a light drizzle. My Arc’teryx rain jacket (beta AR) had arrived, and I was excited to test it out.

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Crawling beneath the first of many downed trees

The wind storm had been a big deal. Sounds like California had it the worst, but we had gusts measured up to 77mph in urban areas, nevermind out in the mountains. Six stories of scaffolding blew over in Ballard! As for trails, there were definitely some blow downs. Trees that fell over and splintered into millions of pieces. The air smelled like freshly cut wood when you got close to one, and sometimes it just looked like the trail disappeared until my brain registered that it was covered by tree debris. You could climb over/under all of them, but the trail is going to need some serious work. I know the Seattle Mountain Running Group told all their runners to get the saws out Friday morning and meet up to give back to the community since we spend so much time on the trails. I pictured a bunch of trail runners jogging along trails with chain saws to take care of stuff like this. I’m sure that’s what happened.

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Double waterfall

In addition to the downed trees, there were tons of waterfalls along the trail! I hadn’t expected them, so it was a pleasant surprise. Honestly I had pretty low expectations for this hike. Which is what I always do with short, popular hikes. The best views are typically on the longer, more remote hikes, so I never get hopes up for the “mainstream” treks. Setting those low expectations means I’ll never be disappointed, and my logic with these hikes is that it’s just good to get out and get some fresh air. There weren’t many places to take decent pictures of the waterfalls since they were all off-trail, but it was neat climbing down to look at them and hearing them the whole time. There was one point where you cross one on a bridge, and Jonathan took a long-exposure picture which will hopefully come out well. Things I wish my camera could do.

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Old growth in the fog

The forest in the area is an old growth forest. This hike is very close to Heather Lake, the first hike I did in Washington with my roommate and our mothers. It was a rainy day, and the forest looked amazing in the clouds .So I expected similar foliage, but Heather Lake seemed older and greener. That could be a side effect of seasons, since I was at Heather Lake back in August. Either way, both are fantastic cloudy day hikes, since fog and rain just enhance the experience when you’re surrounded by enormous trees and carpets of moss.

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Trees growing out of the slope

Eventually you come out of the forest and spend some time switchbacking up a more exposed slope. It had a few trees here and there growing crookedly out of the rock. I imagine there would be views on a clearer day, but we didn’t get much. But despite it being winter, and the trees having no leaves, the moss on the trees was still brilliantly green. Hang on, let me zoom in on that branch on the right of the photo:

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Ferns growing with moss on a tree branch

Those are ferns. There were ferns growing out of the moss that was growing on the tree branch. You can’t tell, but the ferns were almost a foot long. Where I come from, everything is gray and dead by December. There aren’t plants growing from other plants and being so green. Everything out here is so damn healthy.

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Lake Twentytwo framed by trees

Finally we reached the lake! We had some tea (seriously, hot tea in a thermos is a game-changer for any winter hike) and snacks under a tree, and then went to see if we could hike around the lake and take some good pictures. Jonathan brought his go pro so we toyed with that for a bit, tying it to a selfie-stick to get a few pictures. The clouds were pretty low when we got there so we couldn’t see the peaks, but like I said, sometimes that just adds to the scenery.

There’s a boardwalk that wraps around the entire lake. Mt Pilchuk rises opposite where the trail meets the lake for the first time, and there were tons of thin waterfalls cascading down the rocks. I wonder if anyone goes rock climbing up there. We followed the boardwalk to the opposite side of the lake, under the sheer rock face. I’d love to see this covered in snow. According to wta.org, it does get snowy enough sometimes to risk avalanches, especially along that back side beneath Pilchuk.

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Me looking towards the trail over the lake

We hung out at the top while Jonathan took a time lapse of the clouds with his ‘real’ camera. Thank god I had bought mittens and brought tea, or I’d have been freezing. I ran a bit for a few photos which helped keep warm too. Oh, and how have I not mentioned the arc’teryx jacket yet? It was phenomenal. I was so dry. So dry and so happy. It definitely keeps you a bit warmer too. It pretty much creates an entire micro-climate around your body since (as much as they say it’s breathable) it holds almost everything in. It’s most breathable on a dry cold day, and while it was a bit chilly during our hike, it was probably a bit too wet for much moisture to escape efficiently.

After maybe a little over an hour at the lake, we turned around to head back down. Lake Twentytwo was much prettier than I thought, and I can see why it’s so popular. The wta takes great care of the trail, too. Nearly the entire thing was constructed by hand to make drainage efficient and avoid washouts and make it as level as possible. Definitely a good hike for the casual hiker, or families with younger kids. I bet it’s gorgeous in the summer.

Trail wrapping around the side of the lake

Trail wrapping around the side of Lake Twentytwo

Franklin Falls

After sitting in the apartment from Wednesday until the following Monday, I was going a little bit stir crazy. My left ankle was still swollen like an egg, my right foot was still achey, but to hell with it, I’m going hiking. So I picked an easy hike. More of a walk than a hike. With almost no elevation or anything to worry about, and only two miles long. Hiked 12/8/2014, here is Franklin Falls, folks!

  • Distance: 2 miles round trip
  • Elevation: 400ft gain (didn’t even notice)
  • Weather: 40’s and rainy
  • Commute from Seattle: 1 hour
  • Did I Trip: I wiped out in the parking lot.
  • Trail to the falls

    Trail to the falls

I had just picked up my car from the mechanic. With my newly recovered freedom, I had to get out to the mountains. Franklin Falls was a hike to a waterfall (never would have guessed) and I expected a quick easy hour long hike. Getting out there was straightforward, but I forgot one thing: snow takes longer to melt in shade. And being in the bottom of a valley beneath i-90 means lots of shade. So the road that I expected to be clear was covered in ice. I parked a short walk from the trail head (my car didn’t have great traction) and walked the rest of the way. Once I was at the parking lot, I promptly wiped out. Was it worth putting on microspikes for the two mile hike? Ugh, I guess so.

River toward the beginning

River toward the beginning

There were no other cars when I got started, so I didn’t expect company. The river was surprisingly pretty, and I was glad to get fresh air. Despite the semi-limp I still had. I wore my trusty goretex wildhorses again since I couldn’t get my ankle into my hiking boots. Microspikes are not very comfortable on low-profile running shoes, as it turns out. And the trail was probably 60% straight ice, 40% completely clear, so I looked pretty awkward on some stretches.

Anyway, at the start of the trail, there are a bunch of log cabins. I still don’t know what they’re for. I know the Denny Campground is right nearby, so I’m guessing they’re part of that. The nice part. They were very cute if you ignore the fact that the entire trail and campground is directly beneath i90.

Small waterfall along the hike

Small waterfall along the hike

There are several places where you can get down right next to the water, and I figured since the hike was so short, I might as well check out all of them. There are a few mini-waterfalls, and the river is consistently a great shade of light green.

Franklin Falls

Franklin Falls

After around 30 minutes (I took it easy) I reached the falls. It honestly went by more quickly than I expected, but I guess I’m used to doing longer hikes. Just going a mile felt so short. The trail down to the fall was covered in ice. Like ice that was several inches thick. I had microspikes so I wasn’t concerned, but I imagine it’d have been slippery without them. What you can’t tell from the photo of the waterfall is that it is literally right beneath i-90. You can see the bridge above the falls when you reach the end. But like I said, I just needed to get out of the city.

On the way back out, I ran into a few hikers all taking dogs for walks. A few were in hiking boots, others were in casual shoes. I looked hilariously over-prepared for a two mile hike along i-90. Someone even called me out on my microspikes. Whatever, sir, at least I could get down to the waterfall. You have fun walking down that ice.

Pool of water at the bottom of some slickrock

Pool of water at the bottom of some slickrock

The hike out passed by quickly too. Refreshing, but not too much of a commitment. A long drive for just 2 miles, but I’d say it was worth it. By the time I got back to the parking lot the ice was more slush than ice, and a jetta had successfully made it to the trailhead. I walked back to my car, which was a trendsetter. Lots of cars parked behind it, so either people assumed I knew what I was doing or they had troubles on the ice too. I will have everyone know that just a few days later, my car went farther than a pick up truck (both with chains) going along icy mountain roads, which unfortunately will not get its own blog post because we had to bail on the hike and camp on the side of the road since no one wanted to hike the icy road. As for me, I’m ignoring winter for as long as possible.

Annette Lake 2

Annette Lake? Sound familiar? That’s right, it’s my first repeat hike. Oh god, have I run out of hikes that quickly? Nah, but snow/rain conditions and some friends called for a close lake hike, and Annette was the winner. And I’m glad I went back, because I think it was prettier this time around. Hiked 11/26/2014.

  • Distance: 7.5 miles round trip
  • Elevation: 1400ft gain
  • 40’s and rainy/cloudy
  • Commute from Seattle: 50 minutes
  • Did I Trip: No, but Jonathan fell in a river so we didn’t all escape unscathed

This was the fateful trail run where I took a flying wipe out off the trail and banged up my knees, leaving me out of commission for a while back in October. Why does reminiscing on that make me miss trail running? Fortunately, this time I didn’t have to hobble-jog the last two miles bleeding from the leg. Instead, it was a much more casual stroll through the woods, with plenty of pictures and snack breaks.

DSC00823We had gotten a ton of rain lately, so the rivers were absolutely overflowing. Parts of the trail had turned to creeks, and some river crossings were trickier than others. We all had waterproof boots for the most part, and Jean had a hiking umbrella that protected her from rain. Which I found hilarious. It was useful though, it doubled as a walking stick when she needed it crossing some creeks. Okay, that’s still hilarious.

DSC00825The biggest river was the first one we crossed, which had the bridge. Last time I was here, it was maybe half the size it is now. It was pretty awesome standing over it watching the water come crashing down. We could hear it as soon as we got out of the car, but since you pass it so early in the hike, the sound fades away as you get closed to Annette Lake.

Overall, the Annette Lake trail is pretty straightforward. There’s a “road” crossing (old gravel road), but that’s just about the only intersection on the trail. Elevation gain is slow and steady, which is why I chose it for running in early October. Tougher to run now with snow everywhere, but it was fantastic when the trail was clear. DSC00833There are a few open talus slopes that will definitely be dangerous when the snow builds up, but since we’ve had such a dry season so far, no worries here. When we arrived, we had been worried there would be snow (the last trip report on wta.org had said snow covered the entire trail) but the rain had melted most of it. Some of us threw microspikes on towards the top where it was snowier, but they weren’t necessary.

DSC00837Shoulder season is the season to see Annette Lake frozen over! There was a thin sheet of ice covering the top, which made the lake look way more turquoise than it had been last time I was there. I also didn’t spend nearly enough time exploring last time I was here – I snapped a few pics of the lake and turned around immediately. When you reach the lake, if you head to the left, there’s a wide open section for campsites with great places to have snacks and take pictures. We ran into another set of hikers with their adorable dog. We should have gotten her in some of the pictures. She looked thrilled to be on a hike. We asked if she ever hiked in dog booties, and they said she had refused to walk and then ripped them off immediately when they tried.

DSC00835It’s funny looking at the more recent trip reports (11/29) and seeing that Annette Lake was covered in a foot of snow just three days after we were there. I am of the opinion that everything looks best with a dusting of snow on the trees, so I’m sure I’ll do this again as a snowshoe. Speaking of which, that was the original intent. I had rented snowshoes and everything. If only I had waited three days.

DSC00848We lucked out with the weather on this one. The forecast was for something like 70% rain, and we ended up only getting some drizzle in the beginning of the hike, and clouds for the rest. Sun is too much to ask for in late November out here, so we settled for overcast. DSC00845I’m glad the weather didn’t scare anyone off – I was worried I’d have another solo hike after no one wanted to get wet. I underestimated my companions. A little rain never hurt anyone, and it’s a lake hike, so it’s not like we’d be missing out on views.

Everyone brought food! Except for me. Well I had some GU, but that’s usually all I pack along with my 2L of water in my hydration pack. And naturally no one wanted GU, even if they were salted caramel and rootbeer(!) flavored. I guess it’s a lingering habit from trail running season. Snacks on hikes were a new thing to me that I’m slowly getting used to. But I will admit that bread and hummus taste way better on a hike than sitting on my couch.

DSC00836I have to upgrade my hiking pack as well. I’ve been using my trail running Nathan hydration pack as a daypack, but all that fits in it is water, some gu/powerbars, and maybe microspikes in the back pocket, or a hat/gloves. Small things like that. I can strap an outer layer to the bungees on the back, but I think it’s time for a real day hiking pack. I’ll test the REI canvas pack on the next few and see how that is, but I think I’ll need something more legitimate. Something that can carry more emergency items in case I ever get stuck in snow. Jon had a great one that I might have to research – fully waterproof. Damn. He’s over there to the right doing photographer things. DSC00851And did I mentioned Jean and Jared were perfectly matching? Precious.

And then there’s me, running around in my neon rainbow of a running/hiking outfit. Actually I tested my waterproof pants on this hike (Novara, so technically cycling but I got them for $10 at the REI garage sale), and those are just navy blue. They have a huge reflective stripe down each side, but no one will notice that on a day hike. And now that I’m wearing hiking boots and not my beloved Peregrines, I’m a little more toned down. I didn’t get to put them through any rigorous testing since it ended up being dry and I didn’t want to sit in a river.

Overall, great cloudy day hike. Jean and Jared have a few more pictures if you want to check those out. I still have yet to see Annette Lake in the sun, but it’s so accessible from Seattle and appropriate for everyone that I’m sure I’ll be back. I’ve heard it’s a good snowshoe, too, so as long as you’re aware of avalanche conditions and appropriately careful, you can check this one out in the dead of winter.

Granite Mountain

Another well-known hike just off i90, Granite Mountain had been on the list for a while. It gains almost 1000ft per mile in elevation (meaning great views) and the trailhead is literally less than a mile from the highway, making it easily accessible with great views and a lookout at the top. Unless you hike it on a crappy day, which is exactly what we did. 11/20/2014, 30% chance of rain, close enough to sunny (ha!) that we decided to go for it.

  • Distance: 8.6 miles round trip
  • Elevation: 3800ft gain, highest point is 5630
  • Weather: 40’s and rainy
  • Commute from Seattle: 45 minutes
  • Did I Trip: No

Before I get started, Jean also has a great blog called jandjnorthbound (started when she hiked the PCT) if you want her side of things. Hopefully she isn’t making fun of me over there for the six layers I wore on this hike or the fact that all I brought for snacks were almonds and some GU.

DSC00800Starting out, the trail was covered with the lightest dusting of snow. Just enough to stick, but not really enough to say it snowed. The beginning of Granite Mountain is the same trail as the Pratt Lake trail, which I found boring but runnable last time I was there. This time I had company, so no running. But I had conversation to distract me from the first hour or so, which is just through forest. Did I mention it was raining? It was pretty gross out, but the rain let up after about an hour, which is about all I can ask for in the Pacific Northwest. We decided the hike might end up being “Type II fun.” Not always fun while you’re doing it, but you look back and think yeah, that was pretty good, I’m glad that happened!

Once you break out of the forest, you’re hiking along a slope, and I imagine have some pretty good views on a clear day. The trail can be rocky in places with big steps to get over, but poles were helpful and we weren’t in any sort of rush. The trail eventually flattens out a bit as it swings towards the lookout. I have to wonder if you can see the lookout from the lower trail when it’s not completely socked in by clouds. There were so many points when we thought we had to be close, but ended up hiking another half hour. Anyway, as the trail flattened out, the snow began!

DSC00811We’re guessing that while it was raining on us down below, it must have been snowing at the top, because it was all perfectly fresh. Just a couple inches, no footprints or anything, so we got to break the trail. It was tricky to find, but there were small giveaways every few minutes like steps and bridges. Somehow we managed to stay on it. Visibility wasn’t much more than 100 feet – no views in any direction, and since we hadn’t hiked Granite Mountain before, we had no idea how far up the lookout would be.

We finally decided to take a break and have snacks since we weren’t sure how far away we were from the top. So we put our things down and whipped out the bars and almonds and gazed into the white void. I turned to Jean and mentioned it’d be ironic if we were, you know, two minutes from the lookout and just had no idea because we couldn’t see anything. After some food we felt refreshed, and carried on. Two minutes later, we were at the lookout! Hooray!

DSC00809Except it was locked. I shook the door until Jean saw the padlock on it. God. Dammit. All I wanted was a place to sit and snack! And the last lookout I had been to (Hidden Lake) was stocked with games, books, a bed, all sorts of lovely things. Yet here we were, locked out. With amazing no views (left). So… we had more snacks, and then headed back down.

DSC00815Going down was a little easier because our own footprints were there. We never put on microspikes or any traction devices. When we got out of the clouds and were back on the snow-free slope, we noticed that a lake of fog had rolled in across i90, and just the peaks of some small mountains were peeking out above it.

DSC00819I don’t want to quite call it “Type II fun” because it wasn’t that bad, but we know we’ll have to go back someday when the sky is clear and we’ll have more impressive things to look at. But I think that being in the snow is always a good time.One thing I’ve noticed is that I’ve always loved fresh, pristine white snow – in cities, like Chicago and Boston, that snow turns brown so quickly. Out here, you’re in the mountains. That snow stays white for quite a while! Even on cloudy days, that crisp white snow is awesome. I meant to make a small snowman, but I forgot. Next time. Hopefully he’ll have some nice views too.

When we started, I was thinking that this might be one of the last “<20% change of precipitation” days before winter officially hit. I’ve been told that if chances of rain are low, you should just go. So we did! Fresh air and a workout, can’t complain about that. And hey, most of the hike ended up being dry after a rainy start, which is pretty good. Wonder when they’ll open the lookout again.

Pratt Lake Basin

Finally, an honest-to-goodness trail run! Many of my hikes have been too steep or slippery to run, but Pratt Lake was almost entirely runnable. Which is good, because if it wasn’t, I’d probably have turned back out of misery.

  • Distance: 11 miles round trip
  • Elevation: 2300ft gain
  • Weather: 40’s and rainy (and windy!)
  • Commute from Seattle: 45 minutes
  • Did I Trip: Ugh. Awkwardly stumbled and twisted my ankle. See below for details.

DSC00526

DSC00527Probably due to the weather, it was kind of a miserable hike. The type you do because you know you’ll be glad when you’re done with it. I had been sitting in my apartment for the past four days (okay, I went to work some of those days but the wanderlust was kicking in) so I figured I’d go anyway. Plus, it was a lake, so it couldn’t be that bad right? Lakes are pretty in crappy weather. Starting off it wasn’t that bad. The trail was in good shape, drained very efficiently so no muddy patches or swampy areas or rivers coming down the trail, and the mist was pretty cool at some points. I can definitely see why trail runners like this one, since the path is a wide, soft dirt path without many roots or rocks to navigate. There were a couple pretty waterfalls coming towards the trail as well.

DSC00528There were a couple bridges that were a little slippery, but that was it until the trail splits and gives you the option of continuing to lake Talapus (.2 miles away) or Pratt Lake, another 3 miles away. After that junction, it got progressively worse. There were more muddy patches and more sections of the trail covered by small rivers. Two miles past that, along a ridge, there was another junction, this time with the left path heading to Island Lake and the right continuing on to Pratt. After this junction, the trail became nearly unrunnable. You lose a bunch of altitude heading down to Pratt Lake and the trail is steep, lots of big rocks and roots, crossing talus fields, and eventually winding its way though the basin, where everything was a swamp. The talus fields are pretty exposed – the wta description says bring sunscreen, I say bring a damn hat and gloves and windproof jacket. At this point, you can see the lake, so there’s no point in turning around. You skirt the slope above the lake for a while (runnable, thank god) and eventually drop down to the basin.

DSC00537This is where my misery kicked in. It was pouring rain, windy, cold, my gloves were soaked through, and I was six miles from the trailhead. And the lake was just a lake. No amazingly clear glacial water, no turquoise color, just a blue lake. I’m spoiled. Ugh. So I snapped just a few pictures to document it, turned around, and ran back. For a brief moment I had contemplated going to Island Lake, but after reaching Pratt, hell no. I was cold, impatient, and it wasn’t as much “yay running!” as it was a “just let me teleport to my car/apartment/shower/hawaii” type of run.

I made it back in good time, with only one situation: my shoe came untied. Great. I tied it, and with my first step back on the trail (not even running) I twisted my ankle. Stepped weirdly on a rock I guess, I don’t even know. All I know is it hurt. But I was two miles from the trailhead and not about to walk through the pouring rain, so I kept running. The pain faded until I got home, which is when it decided to come back twice as bad. Luckily it only lasted a few days. To be fair I’ve been laying off it lately, so we’ll see this weekend how much better it actually is. When I got back to the trailhead, there were four other cars, but I hadn’t seen anyone besides one person. The rest must have gone up to Granite Mountain, which is a steep (1000ft/mile ish) hike with great views that shares a parking area with the Pratt Lake trail. Well, great views on a sunny day. Not sure they saw anything this time around.

As much as I disliked this run, it’s probably a pretty cool summer backpacking trip if you’re into lakes. From this trail you can also reach Lakes Talapus and Ollalie, Island Lake, Rainbow Lake, Melakwa Lake, and Lake Tuscohatchie. In the summer, on sunny days, it’d be pretty nice to hit all those lakes and go for a couple swims. So I’ll give it a chance to redeem itself in a few months.

Melakwa Lake

Looking over the lake

Looking over the lake

This was the ideal cloudy day hike. Since I’m spoiled by amazing views already (I’ve only been out here for two months, seriously) I have trouble getting motivated on days with mediocre weather. I can’t even call it lousy weather because temperatures were normal and it wasn’t raining! I left the apartment convinced I would do Mirror Lake, which is like 2 miles round trip. Unfortunately I spent half an hour doing awkward U-turns on crappy rutted gravel roads, completely incapable of finding Mirror Lake. While it was sunny. What a waste of sunny hours. I’ll be back though, after asking around I know exactly where I went wrong. The WTA claims the last half mile of the road is suitable only for high clearance vehicles, but it didn’t look like it was suitable for any vehicle. So overgrown I wasn’t even sure if it was a trail for hikers or an abandoned logging road leading to nowhere.

Anyway, I left the alleged road to Mirror Lake in sheer defeat, swearing to myself I’d hike Melakwa (back up plan) because I didn’t drive two hours (if you include my stupid mountain loops) just to turn around and drive home. Luckily, Melakwa was one of the easiest trailheads to find since it’s just past a big campground.

  • Distance: 8.5 miles round trip
  • Elevation: 2500ft gain
  • Weather: 50’s and cloudy
  • Commute from Seattle: just over an hour
  • Did I Trip: Nope

The trail starts off along Denny Creek. It crosses underneath I-90 (yes you read that right, you hike beneath a highway) about a half mile in, which was bizarre but you start between the two directions of I-90 so I suppose you had to cross at some point. About a mile in you cross Denny Creek, which is coming down slick rocks and creating a waterslide. Apparently you can actually slide down it when it’s warm out. I didn’t test it, but it looked like little kids would have a blast playing around it. That first mile of the trail is very well taken care of, probably because it’s so popular.

Waterfall along the trail

Waterfall along the trail

The last bits of fall foliage were still hanging out on the way up. I passed a couple nice waterfalls as well. The first mile of the trail was runnable, but eventually you come to some boulder fields, and while there’s still a path, the footwork was a little tricky for me. Not too steep though, and you get a decent view of the valley you’re hiking through the farther you go.

Lingering fall foliage

Lingering fall foliage

Since it was cloudy, I’m sure the views were not at their best, but you could still see some of the lesser peaks.

I passed another hiker on the way up, who was the only person I saw. No cars in the parking lot, so I was pretty surprised. I told him I was planning another hike but when the weather wasn’t cooperating I chose Melakwa, and he had the same issue. But he reassured me it was the perfect cloudy/rainy day hike, and damn, he was completely right. Once I got to the lake, it was completely worth it. I’m very goal oriented, I seem to need an actual destination. I can’t just hike though woods and enjoy it without something to attain.

Foliage

Foliage

First, some more fall foliage. Then we’ll talk lake. The trail wasn’t half bad – as soon as it was out of the forest, I had fields, boulders, and views. And the knowledge that I had a goal to obtain:e lake. And I had to make it to the lake within a certain time or else I’d be hiking back in the dark, so I had to be quick. Once you reach the top of hte pass, you lose about a hundred feet in altitude to get down to Melakwa, which I didn’t expect. Coming around a bend in the trail, I saw a lake down below (WAY down below) and thought damn,¬† that’s gotta be another mile or two. Luckiy it was another lake (something starting with an H) and not Melakwa! Melakwa was on the other side of the pass, hidden from the trail.

 

Damn, Melakwa, you pretty

Damn, Melakwa, you pretty

Melakwa was beautifully clear, another turquoise alpine lake. Man, now I’m even getting spoiled with lakes. The other hiker was totally right, it was a great cloudy day hike, because the color still stood out, and with some fall colors along the bank for contrast, it was a great destination. What I didn’t realize is that there are actually two lakes! This is the lower lake. I didn’t make it to the upper lake, since I didn’t know it existed. There’s also a pass to a ridge behind them that you can climb easily (so they say), so next time I go back, I’ll have to make it up to the ridge. The views are probably wonderful. And it’ll look even better if those peaks in the back are capped in snow.

The only downside to this hike was the hike back. I’ve never been a fan of the return hike, but obviously it’s a necessity. Since I can’t paraglide back to the trailhead like these guys did from Mt. Everest. The closest I’ve ever been was glissading down Mt. Rainier (between Camp Muir and Paradise Inn) on my way down from the summit. That was way more exciting than the hike back from Melakwa. I was totally bored. Bored out of my mind. Usually I can occupy myself with my thoughts or the trail or the views, but none of the above were working. Luckily it wasn’t too long of a hike, and I was back to the trail head quickly, and I beat sunset, which was most important. Anyway, would definitely recommend this as a cloudy/rainy day hike. It won’t disappoint. Today I tried to go on a rainy day hike that didn’t have lakes or waterfalls or views, and it was… let’s just say I’m not even going to blog about it. Stick with the lakes for rainy days, or even views if you know you’ll be back someday.

One more!

One more!

Annette Lake (and a Deception Creek failure)

I had my first failure of a trail run on September 30th. Long story short, I drove two hours to Deception Creek, it ended up raining when I arrived, trailhead was deserted, trail itself was overgrown, and that’s not even the worst of it. The trail was COVERED in spiderwebs. Every few feet. Thick, stringy, spiderwebs that I swear were all at my face height. And so I gave up after about a mile of bushwacking, slipping, dripping wet, and eating spiderwebs. But there was a neat log bridge, which was cool. Pic to come late. And to be fair, old growth forests do usually look pretty cool on rainy days. But an un-runnable trail paired with my biggest fear (spiderwebs) was enough to turn me around.

Luckily, the next day was more successful. Annette Lake, a short foggy lake trail just a short drive from Seattle.

  • Distance: 7.5 miles round trip
  • Elevation: 1400ft elevation gain, steady, pretty flat
  • Weather: 50’s and cloudy
  • Commute from Seattle: 50 minutes
  • Did I trip: Yes (and I’m still recovering from it a week later)

Solid rainy day run! Elevation gain was slow enough that I could run most of it. A little more technical than I expected since there were lots of roots and rocks, which get pretty slippery after a night of rain. But the lake was a beautiful clear turquoise color, even in the clouds, and there was a small pretty waterfall across the water. I’m sure it’s even better on a sunny day.

Annette Lake

I ran into a few people backpack-hitchhiking from Seattle back to their home somewhere in Montana, and we were equally shocked to see each other. They scared the crap out of me coming around a corner, since I didn’t expect to see anyone up there on a rainy Wednesday morning. They were relieved to see a person, though. Turned out they were told to “go over the mountain” instead of walking down I90 through a construction zone, but they had no maps, no cell service, and no idea if they were headed towards I90 or just lost on a mountain. I wish I had had food or anything to offer, but all I had was pepperoni and peanut butter back in my car. Next time.

The downside of this hike? I absolutely ate it on my way back down. No idea what I tripped over, but I tumbled pretty hard off the side of the trail. No one saw, so I lay there face down in defeat for a few seconds before determining if I broke anything. The answer seemed to be no, just some blood and pain and a little nausea, so I kept running.

knees

Who needs knees anyway? I figured I might as well get back to the car as fast as possible. I had no first aid equipment with me but I had towels in the car, so that was the goal. I stopped every hundred feet or so to try and sop up what I could with leaves. Couldn’t ruin my feetures elite socks, they were white! I spent the rest of the day at work while my coworkers mocked me for hobbling down stairs and not being able to kneel. Or squat. Or do anything involving my right leg. I tipped over helping my first customer. Just fell sideways in slow motion while trying to kneel. Bruised patellas suck. Worth it? Probably yes. The next morning I got a mass email from Fleet Feet Seattle with the owner (Brian Morrison!) saying he broke his foot on a trail run the previous weekend. It’s all part of the sport. I was more embarrassed than injured, but if a seasoned ultrarunner like Brian can break something on a run, then I’m lucky I haven’t just straight up died yet.

Here’s one last picture to make up for the legs. It’s just a bridge towards the beginning of the trail, but it’s actually more scenic than most of the hike was. Might as well leave on a good note!

Annette Bridge