Yellow Aster Butte

Look guys, I have friends! First blog post centered around a hike that actually involves other people. I’m way overdue (this was hiked 10/18/2014, over a week ago) but since I didn’t hike much last week I didn’t want to use up all of my content in two days.

  • Distance: 7.5 miles round trip
  • Elevation: 2550ft gain
  • Weather: 50’s and mostly cloudy, effing freezing at the top
  • Commute from Seattle: 2 and a half hours
  • Did I Trip: No. Maybe uphill once.

Shuksan over Picture Lake

So I thought we’d be driving out Saturday, hiking out to a campsite, and camping somewhere beautiful, but I was wrong. We didn’t arrive until after dark, so we set up camp in a lovely parking lot (Bagley Lakes/Chain Lakes trailhead) next to an outhouse. How luxurious. We were near Picture Lake and had a great view of Shuksan at least, so that was nice. And we could make a bonfire without concern, which we did to cook dinner. The next morning, I woke up to the entire side of the tent glowing pink, and assuming there was a beautiful sunrise, I leapt out of my sleeping bag and ran out of the tent to see Shuksan lighting up in the sun. But classic northwest, it was just a weird hold in the clouds that lasted about 45 seconds before being covered up again. Shuksan was still looking majestic, but I have yet to see its peak.



It was another half hour or so to the Yellow Aster trailhead, which had the worst outhouse I have ever seen. You could smell it from 50 feet away. Hold your breath past that, and the rest of the hike is gorgeous. It starts switchbacking up the meadow, then the woods, and as soon as you pop out of the woods, huckleberries everywhere! The biggest, sweetest juiciest huckleberries I have ever had in my life. I was surprised they were still there in October. The trail was open to hunting (we did meet a few hunters) but I saw nothing even resembling wildlife, and apparently the bears are missing out on the berries.

 DSC00437Views of Shuksan were beautiful, even if we couldn’t see the peak through the clouds. Fall foliage was still everywhere, despite it being late October, and we lucked out because apparently the end of the road is already closed because of snow. From the top you could see Mt. Baker as well, and I imagine the views are insane on a clear day. The trail was well maintained, no tricky crossings or anything like that, and not too steep until the very end. The first summit is a false summit, and you have to hike down a bit and along a ridge to get to the real summit, which unfortunately my friends weren’t too keen on pursuing. One was wearing a t shirt and jeans (I don’t know how he wasn’t freezing), and it was freezing cold at the top with wind around 30mph (gusts up to 40mph) according to a few trip reports. I had on four jackets, one of which was windproof, thank god. Next time, when I go on a clear day, we’ll be getting across to the real summit.

Sun and berries!

Sun and berries

On the way back down, we had some patchy sun and more berries! I do think most of the trail would be runnable if you don’t mind heights and ridge lines, because it was pretty gradual and scenic besides that last push to the top.I’m actually not sure where we would have camped. I wasn’t looking very hard, but there weren’t any obvious sites, and we would have had to find somewhere out of the biting wind. There’s a lake on the other side of a pass that you can reach from the same trailhead, so that might have made for a good campsite and extra hike. I didn’t get as many pictures as I wanted to (friends are distracting, who knew) but at least I’ve got the most important pieces, which are berries and views.

Mt. Shuksan got all of my attention (sorry Baker) because I’m dying to climb it next summer. I don’t know why it appeals to me over Baker. It’s pretty short (only 9131ft) but is supposed to be incredibly scenic. Looking back, I didn’t even get Baker in a panorama. It wasn’t as visible as Shuksan either, but again, on a clear day… I bet it’s amazing. Anyway, the sun came out for brief periods of time, but those damn blue patches never centered over Shuksan or Baker. Next time!

Panorama from the false summit

Panorama from the false summit (Shuksan on the right, Baker off to the right outside the frame)

Rachel Lake/Alta Mountain

This hike is a double win. Beautiful lake and beautiful peak all in one trip, though I’ll admit the effort to scenery ratio was pretty high in the beginning. Hiked 10/13/2014, definitely a good fall hike.

  • Distance: 12 miles round trip
  • Elevation: 3300ft gain
  • Weather: 50’s and sunny at the bottom, way colder at the top
  • Commute from Seattle: 1:20 without traffic
  • Did I Trip: Yes, and slid five feet down a muddy rock like a pro
View down the ride, plus Rainier

View down the ridge, plus Rainier

Somehow, I severely miscalculated time and ended up power-hiking/running this entire trail to avoid being late for work. I debated turning around at the lake, but figured I didn’t get all the way out there to not make it to the peak, so I pushed on and figured I’d just go straight to work with the help of baby wipes and perfume and a change of clothes. The first mile or two were flat, so those were a piece of cake. But after that, it’s up, up, up. There are a few waterfalls along the way, but nothing really spectacular until the lake itself. At one point, I realized I smelled burning, and suddenly was surrounded by a smokey haze. I freaked out, and worried that I was in an area where the underbrush was burning and I just hadn’t realized it (okay, I had been reading forest fire survival stories the night before). Turned out someone left a campfire going (I yelled around for people) that I took the liberty of putting out. I didn’t see anyone for hours, so I’m assuming they left and didn’t put it out all the way and it reignited and started spreading. Guys, that’s how forest fires can start. Come on.

Rachel Lake

Rachel Lake

Anyway, after lots of steep switchbacks (several of which I hiked right past – pay attention! I space out too much sometimes), some slick rock to scramble over, and a few small waterfalls, you arrive at Lake Rachel. Which is beautiful. It looks like a Carribbean coast. Talapus and Olallie were cool, but this was unbelievable. I’d have been perfectly happy turning around here and having time to take pictures and just take in the scenery, but of course my pride forced me along the side trail going up to the ridge.

The trail up to the ridge was much narrower and just as steep. There were a few areas where you had to scramble over some rocks, one of which was in the middle of a switchback. Took me a while to figure that one out, since it looked like there was a stick blocking it (the WTA volunteers will usually put branches across paths that are out of commission or just the wrong direction) but I think the branch just fell and rolled that way, because the only path nearby was the one that continued a few feet up the boulder. But after fifteen or 20 minutes of that trail, I popped out along a ridge and the trail came to a T. To the left is Rampart Lakes, to the right are Alta and Lila Lake, which (I think) is in the basin below Alta. Go right, until the trail splits again, and then bear left, which goes up to Alta.

Rachel Lake down below

Rachel Lake down below

The ridge is very exposed, and it was crazy windy and quite cold. I unpacked all of my layers and put them on (gloves!), and wished I had brought light pants. But the views were worth it, not to mention the Vitamin D that Seattle so frequently lacks. Here’s Rachel Lake from above, just before I started running along the ridge. “Hauled Ass” I believe is the correct phrase for what I was doing. Didn’t have much time to enjoy views, but that ended up being okay since it was freaking freezing anyway. The foliage was still pretty bright, which was a pleasant surprise since I thought fall was nearing an end.

Rocky peaks over Alta tarns

Rocky peaks over Alta tarns

The higher up I went, the rockier it got. Most of the surrounding peaks were craggy, which I imagine will look cooler with a dusting of snow. I could see down into the basin, where Lila lake was. If you look closely, there are some snow capped peaks peeking over the closest ridge. No idea what those are. If anyone knows, comment. Next time I go back, I’ll hopefully have more time to explore Lila and the Ramparts, which I hear are beautiful. But like I said, I was busy trucking it trying to get back down in time, so I turned around pretty quickly. But not before snagging a picture of me pointing at Rainier. Too windy for ten second timers, so I had to settle for an actual selfie.

Hi Rainier!

Hi Rainier!

Going back down was brutal. Plenty of pounding on the knees, knowing I had to go fast to make it back in time, trying to regain feeling in my frozen fingers. Running down the ridge warmed everything up quickly, but once it got too steep to run that’s when I started getting (this is shocking) bored. I’m an impatient person, and going down all of those switchbacks with no views or time to just enjoy where I was led to boredom and impatience. I wiped out and slid down a rock, covered in mud, so that was cool. A second later, I heard a bunch of clapping. Though someone saw my slip, but it was actually a hiker who thought I was a bear until he saw the neon pink jacket. He was clapping to scare me off, and when he saw me he just said “holy SHIT Ithoughtyouwereabear” with a huge look of relief on his face. Glad I sound like a bear. I’ll take it as a… compliment…? He had a fishing pole, so I guess there’s some life in Rachel Lake! I wonder what lives up there. And if it freezes over. My questions are getting redundant. I need answers.

One last view of the basin

One last view of the basin

I ran into a few others on the way down (a tourist family shocked they had another half hour of vertical before the lake). It warmed up as I was going down, the campfire had not reignited, and I ran the last two miles and made it back to the car in time to stop at home. I double-parked, threw on the hazards (hazards = free parking), spent 5 minutes in my apartment grabbing food (thank god), hopped back in my car and was off to work. When I walked in the door, my boss asked if I wanted to go on early. I thought he meant 10 minutes early, since it was 2:50, and I said yes. Turned out, I didn’t have to be there until 4. And I woke up the next morning more sore from Alta than I had been for my 18 miler a few days prior. But you know what? It was worth it. My real regret? Not jumping into Rachel Lake. Oh, the things I could have done if I had known I had that extra hour.

Trail going through fall foliage along the ridge

Trail going through fall foliage along the ridge

Lake Ingalls

I was all the way out in Leavenworth this past weekend for Oktoberfest, and figured since I was already out there I might as well find a hike to do in the area. Something too far from Seattle to justify in a day trip, but “on the way back” (loosely defined) from Leavenworth. Lake Ingalls was the answer, and I’m pretty damn glad it was. 10/10 would hike again. No, 100000/10. Just spectacular.

  • Distance: 9 miles round trip
  • Elevation: 2400ft gain in elevation
  • Weather: 70’s and sunny
  • Commute from Seattle: 2:30 ish without traffic
  • Did I trip: A few stumbles, but nothing legitimate

I’m just going to center this picture now because it might be my favorite of all the pictures I’ve ever taken in my life ever. The rocks on the right were way too cool to pass up, and the larches were bright yellow and the sky was a clear blue and I didn’t even realize this was a good picture until I got home. I swear I’ll figure out how to make that damn sky blue. Edit: Fixed the sky! Not perfect, but for a first touch-up, come on it’s okay.


Okay, now that we’ve got that out of the way, I can focus on the actual hike. Which was incredible! I’m too excited remembering it to type about it. I’d go back in an instant. Skip work, toss the tent in the car, and go. Which is what I should have done. I had run a half marathon the day before, and I wasn’t sore, but I was lazy and ended up strolling this. I forgot my trail running shoes too. Usually I have a spare pair in my trunk, but not this time, so I wore regular sneakers. Anyway, parking lot was absolutely packed, but I was lucky enough to get a spot right next to the trailhead since someone was leaving (the car right behind me ended up parking a mile down the road – ha!). So many people means it would have been tough to run anyway, so no big whoop.


Bonus mountain goat

 I passed tons of people on the way up. Gradual uphills and switchbacks for the first few miles. Good views of Rainier and Adams. Embarrassingly, I had to ask people “What’s the big mountain that’s not Rainier?” but it took a few tries to find someone who knew the answer. Lots of red rock, which I didn’t expect, but it made everything look very cool. Once you cross over the ridge overlooking the valley, you get great views of Stuart and all of the larches down below. There were a few mountain goats along the trail, completely unphased by people. I had never seen one before, so everyone was snapping pictures and I was standing there like can I just walk past? Will it get angry? Should I be worried? The answer is no, they’re basically waiting for you to pee because they like the salt in your urine. So go pee on a rock and consider it a fair trade for the 50 pictures you probably took of them.


This girl knows where it’s at. Her tent was perfectly situated near the edge of a rocky drop-off which you can’t quite see down to the valley, with great views. She gave us permission to take a pic. I think she knew I was wallowing in self pity and jealousy because I can imagine nothing better than seeing sunset and sunrise over Mt. Stuart and that valley in fall. What’s funny is the larches were all green towards the bottom of the trail, which started around 4000ft above sea level. I was worried when I started hiking, but the higher I got, the more yellow they became.

The trail completely flattens out once you reach the valley. At least, until the rock fields that require some scrambling. Definitely follow the cairns in those areas – I have terrible trail skills and ended up climbing some pretty large boulders. On the way down, I ended up jumping off one that was three feet taller than I am – too impatient to backtrack and find a new path. But if you pay attention, it’s doable for everyone. Lots of families hiking that day.

lakeitselfThe last stretch up to the saddle (terminology?) that cuts through to the lake is pretty steep. No particular path to get up, just follow what seems reasonable. The lake was almost anti climactic compared to the views in the valley, but looking back on it, it was still pretty beautiful. Lots of people at the top having picnics, enjoying the views, even a few guys fishing! I didn’t see them catch anything, but they said there were fish up there. The water was so clear I was hoping I’d see some, but I never did. I only spent 10 minutes there since I had to be back in Seattle in time for dinner reservations (and looking presentable, not like I had just hiked for hours).


On the way back down, this stretch looked nice, and there was a fat, bold marmot off to the left that you can’t see in the pic (he was there, I swear). People must have fed him, because he was a foot off the trail and just sat on his hind legs staring at everyone that passed. I got called out by several of the groups I had passed on the way up, they remembered me and knew I had only spent a few minutes at the lake. “What, five minutes at the lake and you’re already leaving?!” I laughed, but it killed me to leave. I wish I had camped there, spent the night, enjoyed the views, had a picnic on the rocks by the lake, had time to climb around to the other, less populated end of the lake, maybe even gone for a quick swim. I considered bailing on dinner 100 times over, but I couldn’t pass up a Lecosho pork chop. Next fall, for sure. I’m not missing that opportunity again.

kinggoatTwo silver linings on the way down, if you’re really trying to look on the bright side of things. First, this goat was basically begging to have his picture taken. Okay, King Goat, I’ll take it. But I’m not going to pee for you. How’d you get up there anyway? How will you get down? You don’t look like those goats that climb dams. Too white and fluffy.

And one last picture another one that’s an Eve trail classic. Trail turning around a corner, great views on one side. The type of picture I look at when I’m unmotivated and don’t want to drive an hour to the trails. Side note for those who know me: yes, I do get sick of driving. It has been known to happen.


I saw two trail runners, one doing hill repeats on the way up (long and slow to get heart rate up he said) and one who hiked to the top and then ran down. You can’t tell how step the drop is in that picture, but it’d hurt a bit to slip off of that. But that’s never stopped trail runners in the past.

I’ll go back there to run it someday. Maybe when I’m more in shape and my uphills aren’t so slow. Once I’ve adjusted from my flatlander years in Chicago. Hike up, camp, wake up the next morning, run, and then hike down maybe? I have another 11 months to figure it out before the larches are yellow again. Plenty of time to plan, and wait. I hate waiting.

Should have gone for a swimLook at that clear water. Should have gone for a swim.

Mount McCausland

Mount McCausland… unbelievable fall hike. Great colors, great views, even I had to sit back and spend a few minutes just taking it all in. I never do that, I’m usually too impatient.


  • Distance: 9 miles according to the WTA, I’m convinced it’s like 7
  • Elevation: 1900ft gain, almost all of which is in the last half mile
  • Weather: 60’s and sunny
  • Commute from Seattle: Just under 2 hours
  • Did I trip: NOPE

Starts out with some mild climbing switchbacks until it intersects with the PCT about a mile and a half in. I wasn’t originally going to run it, but once it joined the PCT, it was completely flat until you reach Lake Valhalla (or the base of McCausland if the peak is your goal). I couldn’t resist. There were a couple of through hikers and a few people heading to Leavenworth Oktoberfest later that day, which was my eventual destination as well. Except for the fact I had to drive all the way back to Seattle to pick up my roommate, turn around, and head back east. Worth it? Absolutely. The views were incredible and the mountain was covered in brilliant fall foliage.

McCauslandFoliage1The PCT/main trail heads down to the lake, which was also beautiful. The trail going up to the peak itself is a small social trail that veers right just before the lake, which I blew past at first (okay, maybe I’m oblivious). So if you reach the lake, you’ve gone too far. The peak trail is a bit overgrown, pretty narrow, and very, very steep. There are rocks that help, like steps, but it’s like the tough part of Bandera. A reality check for my glutes. Luckily, you have a good excuse to turn around every few steps, because the views are insane in the beginning and just keep getting better. I lucked out with timing since the fall colors were (I think) at their peak. I have no idea how foliage works out here yet, but I haven’t had any problems finding pretty hikes.

Once I was at the top, I met an older couple who were picnicking. Turned out they were hard of hearing (I stood there talking awkwardly to their backs until their dog noticed me) but they were mountain pros. I asked if they knew any of the surrounding peaks, and the wife knew the names of every prominent peak within view. She also told me that if I didn’t mind some scrambling, there were great views of Glacier Peak on the side opposite the lake. I didn’t think much of it at the time because I had never heard of Glacier Peak (Seattle newbie) but I figured hey, maybe it had glaciers, and snow capped mountains are pretty cool. So I winged it over the rocks and trees and popped out on a rocky ledge with absolutely stunning views. I think the unexpectedness is what made it so incredible. Having no idea it was there, and going from “standard” lake and foliage to popping out of the trees and seeing such a huge mountain.

mccauslandfallingThank god for that couple, because I never would have found it if they hadn’t told me. After sitting in silence and drinking it all in for a few minutes, I realized I had the perfect opportunity to finally get one of those pretend falling pictures thanks to a small ledge below the rock I’m clinging to. Of course, that’s Glacier Peak in the background. There was a summit register there as well that I signed. The signature before mine was by Jeff, who just said “I PEED HERE.” Thanks, Jeff. Hope it was epic.

That couple had the right idea, I should have brought picnic snacks. When I drag people back there to hike, we’re bringing food. There was even space for tents up top, and I bet sunrise and sunset would be amazing. Climbing that last mile with a 50lb pack would be an adventure in itself, but if the payoff is sunset views, I’ll do it.

On the way back down before the trail got too steep, I snagged one of those pictures that I think encompasses why I love trail running. My favorite trail pictures are the ones with the trails going off into the distance through some sort of scenery, and this one nailed it. Running through fall colors towards awesome views.

McCauslandtrailSomeday, when I’m done catching up on blog entries and I finally take the time to learn how to edit images, I’ll make that sky look blue. Because it was spectacularly blue, and the contrast with the foliage was too perfect. Guess my camera just can’t handle that many colors at once. Also, you can just barely make out the top of some snowy mountains way south of where you’re standing. The couple told me the names of them, but I can’t remember. Wish I did. If anyone has any idea, let me know.

Definitely going back someday. Looks like a few people have snowshoed it up there in December, so that’s a hike to add to my list of reasons to find a pair of snowshoes. Seattle itself doesn’t get much snow, and what’s winter without snow? How can I watch hockey without snow and ice on the ground? I’ll have to go find it in the mountains. Already looking forward to it, I’ll report back about McCausland in a few months!