Round Lake

Round Lake

Round Lake

Thoughts on keeping hikes secret? I had a big debate over it on the way back from this hike, which far surpassed my expectations. Yes, I like to share what I love, and I want to inspire everyone else out there to get out of the city and explore a bit. But at the same time, sometimes I come across a pristine, beautiful trail like this, and I’m not sure I want everyone to know. If everyone knows, that means more traffic, more trash, more dogs, more poop, more tents, and less of that remote, in-the-middle-of-nowhere feeling. But you know what? It was damn spectacular, so here it is. If you leave litter or poop or destroy the trail, I swear to god I will haunt your ass (after I passive-aggressively pack out everything you left and complain about it on my WTA trip report). But if you’re up for a challenging hike and are a professional leave-no-trace ninja hiker, put this one on your list. Hiked 5/28/2015.

  • Distance: 11 miles round trip
  • Elevation: 4300ft gain (5600ft highest point)
  • Weather: 60’s and sunny
  • Commute from Seattle: 2:30
  • Did I Trip: Yes, on the way down, on the soft trail. Complacency is my fatal flaw
Starting off through green forest

Starting off through green forest

First, I just want to say that I didn’t touch-up any of these photos. None. This is just how it looked. I usually don’t work with any photos I take unless there’s a glaring error. Maybe when I’m bored I’ll play around and see if I can make them look better. But for now, just think how amazing the scenery and colors were.

A few people had bailed on our hike, but we decided screw it, we’re going. I picked up Vernon and we made out way out to the Mountain Loop Highway, where we were either going to hike Vesper Peak (if weather was clear) or Round Lake (if weather wasn’t in our favor). Clouds were still low when we got to the turn-off for Vesper, so we kept right on driving. Little did I know I had forgotten directions to the Round Lake trailhead and had no GPS or phone service to load them, so I whipped out the huge National Geographic map and did some old-school navigation to FR-41, which took us to the trailhead (which we passed several times before finally finding it). So, secret trailhead for a secret trail. Perfect.

Patches of wildflowers

Patches of wildflowers

The drive to the trailhead had already been gorgeous, and the sun was peeking out. It looked like it might clear up after all! We started out, and quickly reached a registration box. With fresh papers. We were the first ones to sign it. First official hikers of the summer season, baby. Beyond the registration stand, the trail was narrow and overgrown with gorgeous, bright green undergrowth and wildflowers and moss. And spiderwebs. I made Vernon go first. He’s not afraid of them. He picked up an entire damn web with a spider in it and said “oh sorry buddy here you go” and placed the web on some leaves off the trail. I’m the opposite. I swing a stick in front of me destroying each and every web in my path because eff that. Spiders, whatever. But build a web in my space and it’s all over.

Entering a Disney movie

Entering a Disney movie

Guys, the hike was already breathtaking. I don’t think I’ve seen so much green in my life. After about half a mile, the trail starts switchbacking uphill through a more open forest (open is debatable – the canopy was still pretty thick). The trail, allegedly unmaintained, is flat and soft and the switchbacks are long and gradual for the most part. You can just barely make out some snowy peaks through the trees, which is just kindling for your appetite for views. I wasn’t sure how long the sun would last, so I was eager to get up onto the ridge.

First glimpse of Sloan and Bedal from an avy chute

First glimpse of Sloan and Bedal from an avy chute

You cross a few avalanche chutes, full of overgrown bushes nearly hiding the trail and previews of the views to come. Some of the bushes are thorny, so be ready for some scrapes (I promise they’re well worth it) and fighting off branches. Entering the avalanche chutes is like walking into a Disney movie: from shady forest to glorious saturated green meadows. It’s like the Wizard of Oz, when everything is suddenly in color. That’s how it felt.

Bingley Gap comes up after about three miles. Supposedly there are views, but we didn’t see many. Clouds were still in and out, and the ridge is fairly forested. We followed the trail to the right, knowing the Lost Creek Ridge trail would take us to Round Lake.

I love ridges. The more exposed, the better, but even forested ones are pretty cool. Trails looks amazing with sheer drops on either side. We were in the trees for a bit, until suddenly we came over a hump and I ran to the left since there was a clearing and I figured we could get views – surprise! Round freakin Lake!

Aptly named, it is quite round

Aptly named, it is quite round

The basin was still covered in snow, and you’ll probably want an ice axe if you’re heading to the lake. I’ve heard good things about Breccia Peak (keep that one secret too guys) and wanted to do some recon in the area to see how feasible it would be. Breccia is the peak on the right behind Round Lake in the picture above. With clouds parting and views opening up, I was eager to continue along the ridge, so that’s what we did. Bailed on the trail and stayed high.

Sloan and Bedal beyond the off-trail slopes

Sloan and Bedal beyond the off-trail slopes

We traversed a few very steep heather slopes, thankful for the ample veggie-belays that held us in place while we were drunk on the views. Sloan and Bedal are right in your face, with Glacier Peak ahead of you on a clear day (we could only see the base unfortunately) and Vesper, Sperry, Twin Peaks, and Big Four off in the distance behind you. Wildflowers were blooming, and I couldn’t believe how good rolling slopes with glacier lilies look with huge white snowy peaks in the backdrop.

Sperry and Vesper in the center (with a glacier!), Twin Peaks right in front of Big Four on the right

Sperry and Vesper in the center (with a glacier!), Twin Peaks right in front of Big Four on the right

Off trail navigation skills are essential for this one. There were a few very old tracks, but with snow conditions so different from when the last people were there, we blazed out own trail. We crossed a few snowy slopes to get to Sunup Lake, and scrambled down to the shore to trek over to the base of Breccia and the unnamed peak next to it. The maps we had recommended heading up to a saddle slightly to the right of Sunup Lake and then wrapping around the back of the ridge to the true summit, but with so little snow on the peak, it looked faster and easier to go straight up the southwest ridge. Still steep, but the path up to the saddle on the map didn’t exactly look like a walk in the park either.

Coming down to Sunup Lake

Coming down to Sunup Lake

Sunup Lake

Sunup Lake

Unfortunately, Vernon was silently suffering some leg cramps at this point, and we ended up turning around just past Sunup Lake. I wasn’t too keen on piggy-backing someone across all the steep slopes we had scaled to get here, and we weren’t about to practice our first aid skills. We scrambled back up to a small knoll along the ridge where we stopped for snacks. Vernon whipped out a foot-long sandwich and was about to take a huge bite when we heard the rumble of thunder across the lake, and I watched the hope and joy and excitement for his sandwich turn to a look of “oh, shit” as I threw my pack back on and said “Yeah that sounds like we should keep moving.” We dropped a little lower, and took a real break halfway across the veggie-belay slopes, where we could snack and look at clouds writhe over Sloan and Bedal. I have no idea how to make the movie a smaller size within WordPress, it always seems to blow them up and ruin the quality. Here’s a link to the youtube video. But check out the time lapse. I know, I know, I need a tripod. God dammit.

Brilliantly colored slopes

Brilliantly colored slopes

After an hour of relaxing on the sunny slope watching the clouds and peaks, we decided it was time to head back down. We couldn’t see the clouds behind Breccia, but they weren’t looking too fluffy or light. Going down always goes faster, and we marveled at how gorgeous the wildflower slopes were in the afternoon sunlight and how we couldn’t wait to be back, even though we were still there. We refilled water at a small stream along the trail, and like I said, it could have been a Disney movie. Or maybe I had died along the trail and this was heaven, I don’t know. Heaven wouldn’t have had thunder or clouds over Glacier Peak, though, and there would have been a five-star steak dinner at the top. With an ocean beach worked in there somehow.

One more pic of the trail

One more pic of the trail

Back in the forest, wait for it – the trail was still amazing. This trail had everything. Small waterfalls, views, old forest, green underbrush, a lake, ridges, slopes covered in wildflowers, slopes covered in snow, ridiculous mountain views. How does no one go here?!

Trail to Sauk Falls

Trail to Sauk Falls

Before I forget, Strava map of our ridge explorations can be found here. Allegedly there’s a path up to Spring Mountain (west along the ridge) as well, but we looked for it on the way up and down and never found it. Maybe the map I had just shows where to navigate off trail. Since it was still light out (sunset at 8:55? The PNW is nuts) when we got back to the car, we made two quick stops at North Fork Sauk Falls and at Whitechuck Overlook. Yes, that’s right, we decided to just drive the entire Mountain Loop Highway. We had come in through Verlot, and left through Darrington. And it was totally worth it. And that extra bit meant we got to skip Seattle traffic. Hell. Yes.

Sauk Falls

Sauk Falls

The falls were spectacular. Seriously, for a hike that’s less than half a mile, you might as well stop. The falls were not very tall, but had an unbelievable volume of water crashing over them. We bummed around the falls for a bit and tried to rescue an abandoned Pepsi can, but the wet mossy rocks proved too tricky for us. White Chuck overlook was neat as well, the mountain was mostly snow free and Vernon picked up some toilet paper and wrappers that someone had left on the ground. Those people are why I want Round Lake to stay secret.

Mt. Pugh from the ridge above Round Lake

Mt. Pugh from the ridge above Round Lake

Here’s the other secret: the Lost Creek Ridge trail goes all the way to Lake Byrne, which is supposed to be one of the most gorgeous areas in Washington. It’s 24 miles round trip, I believe, with around 7000ft of elevation gain. It’s tough to find specific summaries and reports for it. So let’s keep traffic to a minimum, but if you need a short backpacking trip, Byrne is a great candidate. I know I’ll be back. Ideally twice: I want to run that ridge, and I want to spend a few days backpacking in the area. The best thing about living here is how easy it has been to discover new places. I was getting overconfident in my Cascades knowledge, and then this came along. A region I hadn’t touched, mountains I had never seen (Painted Peak, Black Peak, hell there’s a whole Painted Traverse) and that’s just barely scraping the edge of it. There are some pretty big chunks of untouched wilderness out there if you have the time to get there. I always need to remind myself that it’ll still be there in a month, or a year, or a decade. As eager and impatient as I am, I have a whole lifetime to get out there.

One more of green forest

Admiring the green colors

Goat Lake

Foggy peak behind Goat Lake

Foggy peak behind Goat Lake

This one’s a shortie. I had the day off, felt like a trail run, and Goat Lake had been on my list since moving here. It’s funny, a lot of the hikes on my original list now pale in comparison to the things I’ve been discovering, but I still feel a need to at least check them out. Whether it’s for an “easy” day, or so I am more capable of answering customers’ questions, or so  I can say I did it, it doesn’t matter. And this was finally the day to go to Goat Lake. 5/12/2015, and just sayin, it didn’t live up to its name: no goats to be found.

  • Distance: 10.4 miles round trip (to the lake’s outlet)
  • Elevation: 1400ft gain
  • Weather: 40’s and cloudy
  • Commute from Seattle: 2 hours without traffic
  • Did I Trip: Nope (but shout out to my hardship of the day: spiderwebs for lunch)
Upper trail, wide, flat, and green!

Upper trail, wide, flat, and green!

The road was completely clear, and actually didn’t even have many potholes. I followed a jeep most of the way there, until they pulled off by the Gothic Basin trailhead. Last time I tried to do Goat Lake, the gravel part of the Mountain Loop Highway had been unpassable in my Honda Accord due to several inches of snow. As much as I miss that car, I’d have made it to Goat Lake easily that morning in what I have now. I pulled up to the trailhead, only car in the lot as usual, and hopped out with my trail running pack. Soon enough, the jeep pulled up – a couple who wasn’t entirely sure where they were going. I remember when I was like that. I’d be lurking along the highway trying to figure out where the hell to go, and now here I am probably capable of drawing a map of the southern half of the loop from scratch. Who’s a dork?

Okay, now that I had the pressure of other people behind me, time to start running. I usually like to walk the first half mile or so (especially after driving for two hours), but it was straight down to business this time. At least until I was solidly ahead of them. So they wouldn’t see me walk/running. Yeah, I know. Back when I had calf issues, I’d plan my sad recovery runs along main roads that had lots of intersecting dead end streets so no one would see me walking if I had to.

Bleeding hearts!

Bleeding hearts!

I did stop to look at wildflowers and waterfalls, of which there were plenty. Bleeding hearts! They were one of my favorite flowers as a child, and here I was jogging through patches of purple bleeding hearts covering the ground left and right. I took the upper trail on the way to the lake, figuring I’d take the lower one on the way back. The upper trail is much more gradual and well-groomed. It’s an old road, apparently. Think wide, flat, not too rocky or rooty. Until it rejoins the lower trail. Then it gets a little steeper, and a little more rooted. And of course, spiderwebs here and there for your enjoyment. Not.

Small waterfall

Small waterfall

About a half mile from the lake (slightly longer if you follow all of the switchbacks) you can go off-trail to a huge waterfall. I actually missed where the trail turned (I’m far more oblivious on my trail runs than on hikes) and was staring at the waterfall trying to figure out how to get across when I realized the trail probably just goes up to the lake. You can see on the Strava map where I farted around on the way up by the waterfall (I took the switchbacks on the way down).

Getting up to the lake is incredible. The first view you get comes if you sneak through some bushes to the huge log jam, which you can basically hop across right up to the edge of the lake. 10/10 would recommend. You can already see the snowy peaks from there, but I suggest going further along the left side of the lake, where the views are even better. It was mostly cloudy when I was there, but the sun snuck through the clouds for a hot second, and I sprinted to the shore to take a picture.

Foggy peak behind Goat Lake

Foggy peak behind Goat Lake

On the way back, I took the lower trail. I passed the couple in the jeep (“Wait, you already got to the lake?! Wait, you’re RUNNING?? Oh man I’ll never be in shape enough to do that!”) just before where the lower trail and upper trail joined. Ugh, the lower trail had spiderwebs. A plethora of spiderwebs. My caloric intake for the day was probably 15% spiderwebs. You’re welcome, hiker couple, I ate all of them before you got there.

Narrow, windy lower trail

Narrow, windy lower trail

The lower trail is more narrow and windy with much more vegetation, and dips next to the river occasionally. If you like footwork on your runs, take this one instead of the upper trail. It was nice to mix it up, though, and it almost felt like a loop instead of an out-and-back. I was back at the car pretty quickly, and while my splits weren’t amazing, I felt pretty good (maybe the slower pace is why – shh!).

Strava screenshot

Strava screenshot

I can see why this trail gets so much traffic. The water would have been gorgeously clear and blue in the sun, and even in the clouds and wind, it was still spectacular. Something about the wind whipping across the water made me miss the ocean, and I was glad to have the lake all to myself. If you look real hard at Strava, maybe you can see how many time I ran in circles trying to get 10-second-timer selfies on the logjam. Perhaps you’ll have better luck.

10-second-timer log jam selfie

10-second-timer log jam selfie

Boulder River

What to do on a guaranteed rainy day? Where to go? You could say I’m a pessimist. If you set low expectations, you’ll never be disappointed, right? I had no expectations for Boulder River. Boulder River had been on my simple hike list for a few months ever since a buddy recommended it back in December. We had to be back in Seattle by early evening, and it turned out Boulder River was relatively close. And okay, I won’t lie, I might have been sore from Defiance the day before, and the 10 mile runs the two days before that. It was adding up. Zero to sixty, that’s how I do it. So, I present to you, Boulder River. Hiked 3/24/2015, Boulder River is much more than just a stroll along a creek.

Jonathan on a huge old tree stump

Jonathan on a huge old tree stump

  • Distance: 8.6 miles round trip (slightly longer if you take some of the offshoots)
  • Elevation: 700ft gain (1500 highest point)
  • Weather: 40’s-50’s and rainy, cloudy, and sunny
  • Commute from Seattle: 1:15, until i5 turned into a parking lot, and then the rest of Seattle followed suit
  • Did I Trip: I did not. But Jonathan wiped out trying too hard to be cool crossing a log.
Steep offshoot through green canopy. 10/10 would bivvy at the top

Steep offshoot through green canopy. 10/10 would bivvy at the top

So the road wasn’t quite as exciting as the road to Mason Lake. At least until the way home, but we’ll discuss that later. Accessible to all vehicles, no big potholes, easy road to follow. Trail starts out on an old logging road. Very flat and very wide, and I can see why people trail run it. It’d be a great easy run. It was pouring, so we threw on rain pants and our shells and got started.

Ribbon falls

Ribbon falls

Within a mile I was already impressed. The trail curves to the left, and there’s a steep offshoot to the right that just goes straight up into a green canopy of trees. Of course, we followed. At this point, my camera died, so you’re stuck with phone photos from here on out. I know. Oops. (Side note – gonna plug in my camera for tomorrow’s hike!) Shortly after that offshoot, we found a few campsites near the trail, and just beyond those, a waterfall!

A tall, thin ribbon of water cascading down the opposing cliff, with moss on either side. You hear it before you see it. We ooh-ed and ahh-ed and stared, and finally kept moving. Again, we heard rushing water. Louder than the river. Wait. No way. Glimpses through the trees.

Double waterfall. Jonathan for scale.

Double waterfall. Jonathan for scale.

Another waterfall!! A double waterfall! Are you kidding me, I thought we’d just be walking next to a calm flat river, not trekking through rainforest with 80 foot tall waterfalls. Damn, Washington. You never cease to amaze me.

We stopped to take a bunch of pictures and just sit in awe. Waterfalls… are totally cool. I haven’t seen one this big since my road trip out here this summer. We finally dragged ourselves away.

Salmonberry, I believe!

Salmonberry, I believe!

Flowers were starting to bloom along the trail – salmonberry, huckleberry, skunk cabbage. Two of those will be great to eat later this year. The moss was unbelievable, and if it’s this green in March, I have to wonder how it is later in the summer. It’s accessible year-round, though my friend who recommended it said it was actually icy when he was there. Snow and icicles. I can’t imagine.

There were a couple blow-downs to get over, and some tree caves to explore. And plenty of small babbling creeks crossing the trail. Wear waterproof boots, folks. Jonathan almost lost one of his mid height boots in a mud puddle, it was that deep.

Glimpse of sun!

Glimpse of sun!

I had no issues in my new La Sportiva Synthesis – shameless plug because they won the Editor’s choice award in Backpacker Magazine, and I was fortunate to receive a pair for testing thanks to Goretex. I don’t have a big sample size, but they’re the most breathable waterproof boots I’ve ever tried. No sweaty feet, and the water that did spill over the edges occasionally actually dried up. Which is insane. Usually I just keep hiking with water in my boots. It’s going to be tough going back to my usual pair, but when it comes to steep, icy, snowy terrain, I stick with my stiffer boots. The Synthesis is very flexible, which is great for lighter hikes (I was carrying around 20 lbs in my pack) but I don’t know if I’d push it on more technical trails. Though I will say (from Defiance a day earlier) the soles grip snow surprisingly well. I was having a much easier time without microspikes than Lee in her Oboz when we were on fresh snow. So we’ll see just how much of a beating these guys can take.

Trail winding through mossy trees

Trail winding through mossy trees

Anyway, back to the awesome trail. Flat, well groomed, besides the mud patches that almost stole Jonathan’s boot. We were curious how the trail would end. Would it just peter out? Did it turn into the river and just stop? Or did it keep going? We eventually reached an area with a campsite next to the river (prime time real estate), and the trail ended just beyond it. Just turned into overgrown brush. It used to carry on to Three Fingers long ago.

Jonathan disappearing into green

Jonathan disappearing into green

Most of you know I turned into a trail history nerd. I know none of it, but want to learn all of it. I posed my question in my trip report, and got two fantastic responses. The trail was the main trail to the Three Fingers lookout until they put in Forest Road 41 back in the 1960’s. From there on out, the Boulder River trail was unmaintained beyond where you ford the river itself. Obi Tony Kenobi actually tried to bushwack up to the bottom of a waterfall from the Queest-Alb Glacier, and has a pretty cool trip report about the stretch between where the Boulder River Trail ended and where he had to turn around. There even used to be a cabin near Gerkman Creek, which joins Boulder River a few miles upstream of the current trail. It’s eerie to think how popular it must have been, while it’s completely abandoned and wild now.

Blow down on the trail

Blow down on the trail

So that’s Boulder River for you. Some neat history, second growth forests, logging roads, abandoned trails, awesome waterfalls, soon-to-be-berries, a flat green hike. Absolutely would repeat. We got a few glimpses of sun, and it turns out it’s a gorgeous hike in any weather. Strava map here, you can see the few offshoots we took that added a bit to the mileage.

Oh, and on the way out, we got this great picture of my new car. I was taking pictures through the windshield until Jonathan just said “wait, you’ll love this” (I had been snapping pictures of my car at the trailhead) and hopped out to snag this pic. Photo credit to Jonathan Lee, with Subtledream Photography.

Bring on the mountains!

Bring on the mountains!

Heather Lake

Back to the very first hike I did in Washington! I did it with Pattra and our mothers back in August (pre-blog era) and today had the chance to repeat it on a sunny day. Given how close it is to Seattle and how short it is, I’m surprised it isn’t more popular. But let’s keep it a secret, because I like solitude at the lake. Hiked 3/10/2015 – maybe I found solitude because it’s a Tuesday.

Heather Lake

Heather Lake

  • Distance: 4.6 miles
  • Elevation: 1024ft gain, 2400 highest point
  • Weather: 30’s and sunny to high 50’s and sunny
  • Commute from Seattle: just over an hour, like 1:15
  • Did I Trip: I nearly ate it like 20ft from the parking lot on the way back (so technically no)

Jonathan didn’t want to do anything too ambitious, so I let go of my dream of hiking Green Mountain or Goat Lake and suggested Heather Lake, a much closer, short hike that I’ve been meaning to revisit for a while now. And I’m glad that’s what we ended up doing.

Enormous tree stump! Over 6ft tall

Enormous tree stump! Over 6ft tall

The road has a few potholes, which are even more noticeable in his 1989 honda civic than in my old Accord. But the Heather Lake trailhead is close to the highway, and shortly we were hopping out of the car getting out stuff together. I forgot to start the Strava app, so this will have to go without a map.

The trail is straightforward. There were a few fallen trees and some slick rocks, but nothing unmanageable. What struck me was how much less green it was compared to August! “Duh,” you might be saying, but I had started to assume that Washington just never had winter. It was still damn green, don’t get me wrong. But in August, it was mind blowingly green and alive. Or maybe I was just more impressed back then because I was new, and now my standards have risen.

I did learn that there’s a name for things like the stump to the left that has trees growing out of it. “Nurse logs!” Any sort of log that’s giving life to new trees, and there were plenty of those on this hike. Most of which were huge, like over 6 feet tall and 8 feet wide huge.

Snack rock of choice

Snack rock of choice

We were at the lake surprisingly soon, and decided to stop for a snack. Last time I was here, I went left to hte closest “beach” and stopped there. So this time, we went right. Turns out, the trail goes all the way around the lake! With plenty of offshoots to explore, rocks to climb, and views of the lake. We set up on a rock next to the water first, took a few pictures, and had snacks. When the sun slipped behind one of the peaks, the temperature dropped a good ten degrees and we had to get moving again.

Sliding on the ice

Sliding on the ice

We walked around to the back of the lake. The shady side. The winter side! This half was frozen, enough that we could walk on it. I’ll never suggest that you try it, but I’m allowed to be young and reckless on occasion. We slid around, taking pictures and skating on our shoes and marveling at the air bubbles trapped in the ice. My inner 5 year old was having a freaking blast. Winter!! Or as close as you can get here. Should have brought my skates!

The cracks I made...

The cracks I made…

Unfortunately, all good things must come to an end: half an hour later, with the sun coming out from behind the peak again, we were 20 feet from shore and heard that odd ringing noise that ice makes when a crack shoots through it. And again. And I looked down, and the crack was between my boots. Wait. Shit. GREAT. I froze. And then shuffled backwards. We figured that was a good sign to get back to land.

Another frozen area with rocks strewn everywhere

Another frozen area with rocks strewn everywhere

If you look closely at the picture of Jonathan sliding, you can see that the lower foot of the rocks is brown. I’m guessing this is the water line. As in, the water is usually a foot higher. Here’s a slightly better picture to show it.

Water level lower than usual, according to the rocks

Water level lower than usual, according to the rocks

All speculation, but it would explain all the still pools and lack of streams cascading down the mountain. It was far more wet in August, which I didn’t expect. To be fair, it was raining when we went back then, but that shouldn’t make that much of a difference with stream depth since it was a single rainy day, not a week of rain.

Fish!! In the center, just above the bigger rock in the foreground. Tough to see, but I tried.

Fish!! In the center, just above the bigger rock in the foreground. Tough to see, but I tried.

There are a few campsites around the lake, and like I said, keep it a secret because it’s got to be an amazing place to camp. Just over an hour from Seattle, and two miles to be in the middle of the mountains near a gorgeous blue lake? Jeez. We had round 2 of snacks and sandwiches and headed back down the trail. We stopped to grab some water from a stream, but returned to the parking lot faster than we were on the way up. We spent probably two hours at the lake, making the round trip something like 4-5 hours.

Could be a summer pic but nope - March!

Could be a summer pic but nope – March!

But I mean we had a winter lake and a summer lake both in one, so of course it took us a while. I could have freaking swam in the summer half, it was that warm.

Frost flowers!

Frost flowers!

Oh! Frost flowers!! I forgot about the frost flowers! Ahh! I’ve never seen anything like them in my life. I’ll try not to bombard you with pictures, but they were these unbelievably delicate ice formations that were maybe the size of a quarter at most. Somehow, petals and everything had formed. Incredible. I got a few pictures of some individuals, but they were everywhere in this one shady area. Very cool.

Guys, this is a great hike. Seriously, I’m amazed at how much I like it, because it’s short, simple, and close to Seattle, and that’s not usually my style. But if you need a quick excursion, or the knees are hurting, or you have kids to take along, you’ve got to check this one out. It’s like lake-22-lite, and more secret, especially this time of year.

However, hikers beware! Mosquito season has begun, apparently. I’ve been told that compared to summers in Maine, bugs out here aren’t a problem at all. But I’ll be the judge of that. Mosquitoes don’t really show any interest in me, but Jonathan dealt with a few on the hike down. And if they’re starting this early… ugh. The water levels in the lake were very low and the streams we passed were barely flowing, meaning lots of stagnant pools. Aka mosquito heaven. Have fun, folks. Get that cancer-causing 100% deet and go to town.

Sun hitting part of the lake

Sun hitting part of the lake

Bonus picture below: view from where I stood in August, except sunnier with more color. I was told there would be tons of snow melting around the lake in the spring (even the wta page has snow in the background) but not this year! Hopefully in a bit I’ll be able to scrounge a picture up from August so you can all see how different it is. I forget how amazing lakes are in the sunlight.

Unreal color, same place where I stood back in August

Unreal color, same place where I stood back in August

Gothic Basin

You know when you have an incredible hike and you look back and sometimes can’t believe it worked out as well as it did? That was this one. I hope you guys like pictures, because there isn’t enough room on the internet for the ones I want to share. I seem to have one above-and-beyond hike a month, and this was it for February. In January it was Townsend, in December it was Glacier Vista, in November it was Hidden Lake Lookout, followed closely by Snoqualmie Peak. Well in February, it was Gothic freakin’ Basin! Hiked 2/15/2015.

Gothic Basin, with Foggy Lake beneath Gothic Peak (center/left) and Del Campo (right)

Gothic Basin, with Foggy Lake beneath Gothic Peak (center/left) and Del Campo (right)

  • Distance: 9.6 miles (more because I spent time running in circles)
  • Elevation: 3700ft gain (we went to a small peak) almost all of which is in the last 3 miles
  • Weather: Sunny! 40’s and sunny
  • Commute from Seattle: 1:45
  • Did I Trip: No, which is a feat of pure determination
  • Side note: It’s a little hilarious that in October I thought I could run this whole trail
This is what pure joy looks like [taken by Surafel]

This is what pure joy looks like [taken by Surafel]

Waterfall after breaking out of the forest

Waterfall after breaking out of the forest

I had the rental car for one more day, and had to put it to use, so I packed my things and drove out to Mountain Loop. I was debating between Dickerman and giving Gothic Basin a shot. Gothic Basin was a long shot. The last few trip reports didn’t make it to the basin, I didn’t have an axe, and I wasn’t sure how conditions would be at the top. But the Dickerman parking lot was packed. With cars. And people, and dogs. And I loved Dickerman, but I was more in the mood for a quiet hike than a trail with more traffic than Denny Way on a Friday afternoon. So I kept driving.

Gothic Basin doesn’t have a real parking lot anymore, so I parked in the Barlow Pass lot and trekked the 50ft down the road. Strenuous, I know. The first part of the hike is along an old road that was destroyed by rockslides/washouts, so it’s a flat mile with sneak views of Monte Cristo. It was sunny and foggy, and completely devoid of people. Perfect. I spent the first mile and half trying looking at tracks trying to figure out if there was anyone ahead of me. There were two cars near mine, so it was possible that I’d have company. Even when you can’t get to the basin, this hike is gorgeous.

Trekking through the snow

Trekking through the snow, Monte Cristo in the back

The creek crossing went much more smoothly than last time. Was it because I had poles? Or because I learned? I still feel like an awkward goat when I’m using the poles, but at least I didn’t have to wade/crawl across it like back in October. After the creek, the switchbacks started. And my legs complained. But I wanted those views. Eventually I head a few voices – yes! Company! They caught up to me quickly, a family of three in shorts and T shirts. We leapfrogged for a bit, stopping to take pictures as views opened up. They didn’t have traction devices, but figured (like me) that they’d see how far they got. I thought I’d have to turn around at the first waterfall above 3500ft. Nope, snow free. Okay, the second waterfall. Nope, snow free! Seriously, it could be summer. Green, thriving trees, sunny blue skies, shorts and t shirts. Oh crap, snow patch. Maybe turn around at the fourth waterfall? Nope, solid snow bridge. So far so good.

Where I thought I'd turn around, about 4.4 miles in

Where I thought I’d turn around for real, about 4.4 miles in (first use of my sweet new Julbo Explorers)

Once the snow started, there were tons of tracks, and it wasn’t hard to follow the trail. Beautiful views, beautiful waterfalls, sunny blue skies, I was already content. We made it to just below the basin (about 4.3 or so miles in) before looking up at the steep ridge that separated us from the basin itself. I ran up the first slope to scout out what was beyond and see if it was doable with boots, but it only got steeper from there.

Game on, folks! Surafel in the lead

Game on, folks! Surafel in the lead

The family decided they were going to turn around, and began to head back. I had all day, and figured I’d at least poke around outside the basin before I left. I checked out a few other routes up to the basin, decided that while it was pretty feasible, I wasn’t comfortable doing it alone without an axe, and finally called it a day.

Ibrahima looking like a mountaineer

Ibrahima looking like a mountaineer, Monte Cristo on the left

Lucky for me, I ran into Surafel and Ibrahima on the way down who had traction devices and wanted to give it a shot. No fear from these two, and as soon as they said they were going to try, I was in. Let’s do it. I’m here, and if you guys are down, I’m down. We set off and headed up the first slope. What I thought was a two-slope process ended up being probably 45 minutes of traversing and climbing.

Ibrahima again

Ibrahima again

Someone before us had left tracks that had almost frozen into a staircase at points which helped, and the snowpack was firm and perfect for microspikes. I couldn’t resist turning around to snap some photos of Ibrahima behind me, though none quite captured the steepness or how awesome everything looked.

Left side of the basin

Left side of the basin (I actually don’t know what those two peaks are)

We finally crested the ridge overlooking the basin, and I couldn’t believe it. We had made it. We made it WE DID IT I had that rush of excitement where I don’t know what to do with myself. I had known we were going up, and I had known we were getting close, but nothing compares to the feeling you get when you turn a corner or gain a ridge and can suddenly see everything just laid out in front of you. I’m still amazed. I think this was better than the last time I was up there. I eagerly ran back and forth across our small summit taking photos in every direction and ooh-ing and wow-ing while Surafel and Ibrahima got settled in. Finally I remembered I had cookie butter(!) and tea that demanded consumption. And everything tastes better on top of the world.

I mean the view is okay..  I guess we can snack here (Del Campo in the background)

I mean the view is okay.. I guess I can snack here (Del Campo in the background) [taken by Surafel]

Astounding views (Monte Cristo center)

Astounding views (Monte Cristo center)

Del Campo is the huge peak to the right of Foggy Lake, and Gothic Peak is behind the lake. If you look north, you’re staring at the Monte Cristo range, Sloan, Sheep, and Pugh. Beyond those you can just barely see the tops of several other ranges, and I can only imagine how awesome everything looks from Gothic Peak or Del Campo, which I’d love to do this summer.I was told that both are tough scrambles, but doable without ropes. Sounds like I shouldn’t solo it, but I’ll get there.

Snack place of choice, looking away from the basin

Snack place of choice, looking away from the basin

After a half hour or so of pictures, time to head down. I was worried it’d be tougher than the way up, but with such a firm snowpack, it wasn’t bad at all. There were two other hikers we never crossed paths with who had full crampons, but I felt fine in the microspikes.

Having company on the way down a trail like that is always appreciated, because nothing drives me more crazy than never-ending switchbacks through a forest, even on a sunny day after a fantastic hike.

Descending [taken by Surafel]

Descending [taken by Surafel]

We ran into some interesting groups. Some in tank tops and sneakers and no bags (3 miles up the trail at 2pm…), some who thought they were going to the Monte Cristo Ghost Town (also a solid 3 miles up the trail, past the steepest parts! damn!), and I have to wonder how they all did. But a small part of me likes being able to think that we were some of the few who made it to the basin that day.

Ibrahima and Surafel Descending

Ibrahima and Surafel Descending

Strava map and elevation/mile stats here. The small circle is when I was trying to find alternate ways up to the basin, which ended up being further away than expected. On the way into the hike, if you look closely, I took a side trail, whereas I took the road on the way back.

Surafel descending with Pugh (left), Glacier (back center), Sheep (foreground), Monte Cristo (right)

Surafel descending with Pugh (left), Glacier (back center), Sheep (foreground), Monte Cristo (right)

Both work. The road felt faster, but maybe that’s because I had company. I took just over 7 hours round trip, but that was with a solid hour of bumming around at the top figuring out if it was worth trying before meeting Surafel and Ibrahima. According to Strava, it was over 4 hours of moving, so if you go straight up and straight down with no breaks, that’s an estimate. There are some tough miles in there, though – one has 1200+ ft of elevation gain. I knew it was steep, didn’t realize it was that steep! Like I said, hilarious that I thought it’d be a good trail run. I should mention all of the rocks and mini-scramble-hops you need to do once you’re out of the woods.

Surafel and Ibrahima, I can’t thank you enough! I hadn’t had a hike this spectacular since Mount Townsend back in January, and it’s a great feeling being able to look back and feel like I accomplished something. I had been trying not to get my hopes up that entire hike, because if I did, I’d be disappointed if I didn’t get to the basin and I’m trying to avoid my baby version of “peak fever.” But that just made the hike even more incredible. Happy hiking!

Screenshot of my Strava map

Screenshot of my Strava map

Bonus picture before you go! Because after this, it’s back to job apps, and eventually a late shift at REI. And let’s be real. This is way more fun.

Looking over the left side of the basin

Looking over the left side of the basin

Mount Forgotten (okay, just Forgotten Meadows)

Hiking all day ever day was a nice break from work (I learned that in Washington, you still don’t get overtime pay for shifts over 12 hours), so it was a perfect time for a mini vacation and a week of spoiling myself with a rental car. It’s amazing how you can have a vacation here without even leaving the state – that’s not something I really considered back in Illinois!. This hike was on Saturday, the 14th, and though forecasts called for clear skies, we got plenty of cloud action.

Waterfall joining Perry Creek

Waterfall joining Perry Creek

  • Distance: 10.5 miles
  • Elevation: 3700ft, 5350ft highest point (ish)
  • Weather: 40’s and everything
  • Commute from Seattle: 1:30-1:45ish
  • Did I trip: Crap, I don’t remember. Probably. One of us almost slipped into the creek?

We spent some time deliberating Friday night between Green Mountain, off the Siuattle River Road, Dickerman, and Forgotten. Dickerman I had done so I wasn’t too keen on it, though it would have been the safe choice. Green Mountain was a stretch: Dave was unfamiliar with hiking small mountains in snow, and I was unfamiliar with the area around it. So we ended up going to Mount Forgotten, in an area I know well. I’ll admit, I never expected to make it to the summit, but I figured it would be a good recon trip for future attempts on the peak. Avalanche conditions were moderate, and while I didn’t realize just how steep the saddle up to Forgotten was, I knew it’d be a tricky one. I also didn’t want to be stuck navigating off trail in thick clouds in several feet of snow if that was how the weather turned out.

Mt. Forgotten from the meadows

Mt. Forgotten from the meadows

We parked in the Dickerman lot again, even though now I’m positive you can save a mile from the hike if you park by the road. I don’t have a good reason for skipping it. The highway was covered in those low fog clouds, but we figured we’d do Perry Creek/Forgotten Meadows anyway since at least the valley would have waterfalls and the like, whereas with Dickerman, you’re just doing steep switchbacks through forest for a while. I had previously made it about a mile past Perry Falls, but never beyond that, so this was also an opportunity to cover some new ground!

Peak peeking out from the clouds (ha)

Peak peeking out from the clouds (ha)

Clouds moved in and out, we got stuck in a few minutes of rain here and there, but the trail was completely snow free. Not even a trace. It’s a fast hike up until the falls, and the only thing that slowed us down was that the clouds were occasionally giving us glimpses of a peak next to the Big Four (which were consistently covered by clouds) and I’m obsessive and had to us every opportunity to get a picture in case the clouds changed.

I did mark the washout where those zeolites were last time I did Perry Creek. It’s almost exactly 1.5 miles into the trail from the Dickerman parking lot, so go check those out! You can also scramble up (okay, more like hike over big rocks off trail, not quite a scramble) to a few waterfalls at the top, which looked neat.

Dave at the top of the falls

Dave at the top of the falls

Perry Falls were much easier to pass this time, and we didn’t need to utilize the huge tree. After that, it’s two miles through forest! Every once in a while the fog turned into that sunlit fog that brightens everything. I got a picture of Dave next to the enormous tree that took out five switchbacks.

Huge blowdown, Dave for scale

Huge blowdown, Dave for scale

This part of the hike was reminiscent of Dickerman in terms of difficulty, but with a much more open forest. After over a mile of that, the trees thinned, and we crested a ridge. Snow! Finally! We came to a small clearing overlooking the northwest side of the ridge. Dave looked unimpressed. “Is this the meadows…?” Fortunately, no, we still had a little under a half mile to go. The trail is lost at that point, so we followed the ridge through some trees and eventually to some footprints through snow. Oh, and we experienced three damn seasons within half an hour up there. Cloudy, then rainy, then snowy for a few minutes, and then some glimpses of sun. Yay, mountains!

We made it to the flat area just before you descend the ridge next to Forgotten, and met a couple there who had the same idea as us. They said the slope looked too dicey today, and if they weren’t doing it, neither were we. My logic taking people hiking is if I wouldn’t solo it, we aren’t doing it, unless the person I’m with has way more experience than me. If I’m not confident saving your ass, I’m probably not risking mine, unless it’s a safe opportunity to learn.

Mt. Forgotten showing its face

Mt. Forgotten showing its face

Rather than descend the slope, we climbed up a small peak (hill?) to the left of the meadows to see what views we could get. It was steep, but short, so no worries there. Except Dave didn’t have gaiters. Or poles. And neither of us had ice axes (again, I figured if there was a chance we needed to self arrest, we probably shouldn’t be risking it, so why bring them – same motto I follow solo). He got stuck at one point since he post-holed up to his waist, so I climbed back down to give him a pole and explain how to kick steps. To be fair, we skirted some tree wells, which wasn’t a great choice. Again, me making the mistake of being a follower and just staying behind the other couple we met instead of looking for a clearer route.

At the top of that small peak, we sat down for some snacks. I missed a hell of an opportunity for a time lapse, because guess what! Views opened up! Mt. Forgotten itself peaked out from behind clouds, and the valley beneath it even got some sun. We chatted with the couple about the route to Forgotten, best times to climb it, other peaks off Mountain Loop, and how the hell was the Mountain Loop Highway still open in February?

Dave's first glissade!

Dave’s first glissade!

After 20 minutes or so (maybe longer, I ate a lot) we picked a clearer route down, and rather than post-hole/plunge-step all the way, we made a glissade track. Which is always a blast. I could glissade all day, it brings me back to that five year old sense of excitement! We hiked back to the first clearing, I demanded tea, and we had a few more cloud/sun combo views before heading back through the forest.

Dave looking out across the valley

Dave looking out across the valley

Fog moved back in until we were on the other side of the valley across the falls, when things got interesting. Peaks sneaking out again, some rays of sun, some rain, and my favorite: rainbows! Several of them! One was even a double rainbow. I don’t think I’d have even noticed them if I hadn’t been turning around every 10 feet to look back at the valley. Which made it harder to keep up with dave, who would literally be out of sight by the time I put the camera away and started hiking again. But the valley was prettier this time around with the clouds and rainbows, so I couldn’t help it.

Look closely - double rainbow!

Look closely – double rainbow!

We made it back to the car, and our GPS apps were drastically different. Elevation was about the same (just over a mile up!) but mine gave me 10.7 miles and Dave’s said something like 11.5. I know strava isn’t the most accurate, but I was surprised by that difference. Regardless, here’s a link to the map! Screenshot below.

But first, here’s another picture of a rainbow.

Just another rainbow

Just another rainbow

So I’d say overall, a good end to Dave’s PNW hiking. Pilchuk is tricky, but the others we did were easy. Like the ice caves, and Rattlesnake Ledge (group hike for the product testing I was doing) which didn’t warrant a blog entry, though it was a gorgeous day and I’d love to take kids to that hike. And at least now I’ve done it! It’s a classic that had been missing from my experience.

I’ll be back to do Forgotten when conditions are better. It’d be a great chance to camp at the meadows and then hit Forgotten and maybe a few others along the ridge over the next day or two. And it looks like views are phenomenal on a clear day. Dave only saw Baker and Glacier from the i90 bridge, never from a hike! But at least this vacation was like summer for him. The high in Evanston, IL the other day was 4 degrees. 4. I’ll chalk that up under the list of “things I don’t miss.”

Strava map (link above)

Strava map (link above)

Mt. Pilchuck II and Big Four Ice Caves

So it’s true I was at Pilchuck just a month ago, but since Dave was here (did I point out that it’s the perfect excuse to rent a car for a week?), I figured it was a good staple hike to check out since it’s not too difficult but gives great views of both the Sound as well as the Cascades. Forecasts were all contradictory. Mountain weather (nwac) seems to be the most optimistic, while weather.com and weather.gov are much more… conservative. The drive there was through those medium altitude, thick clouds, and I had a feeling they weren’t going to clear up anytime soon. But we still gave it a shot! Hiked 2/12/2015.

View towards Glacier and Sloan from the lookout

View towards Glacier and Sloan from the lookout

  • Distance: 5.4 miles round trip
  • Elevation: 2300ft gain, 5230 highest point
  • Weather: 40’s and cloudy, much colder and windy at the lookout
  • Commute from Seattle: just over an hour
  • Did I Trip: I don’t think I did?

I was still a little worried about the washouts on the road as we drove up to the trailhead. Last time I was there, they were bad, and this time I was in a rental car with less clearance than my old accord. Good news was someone filled them in! Not all the way, but they at least filled in the deepest parts and marked the big rocks along the road. I imagine cars driving over it flattened it out as well, regardless it wasn’t a concern anymore. So we got to the top, parked, and off we went.

Whitehorse and Three Fingers before views disappeared

Whitehorse and Three Fingers before views disappeared

The neat thing about this hike is that the views start in the parking lot. Sure, you spend some time in the forest, but I like seeing Whitehorse and Three Fingers right off the bat. They were in full view when we got started. The trail through the forest was a bit wet, but no ice like back in January. Luckily this time I remembered my microspikes and wasn’t stuck lugging snowshoes up just in case.

Base of Rainier

Base of Rainier

When we first broke out of the forest (briefly) we could see just the base of Rainier, lit up yellow below the clouds. I didn’t even believe it was Rainier at first, until I realized what else could I possibly be looking at? We continued back into the forest, and I realized that despite being short and popular, Pilchuck is fairly technical. Lots of rocks, and surprisingly steep.

Pulley system?

Pulley system?

At one point while hiking through a small boulder field there are some ruins(?) to the right of the trail – I took some pictures, but it looks like some old wires, a pulley system, and a huge concrete bunker-type concrete building (Dave had a better name for it).

Concrete structure

Concrete structure

I have no idea what they could be for. I looked up some Pilchuck history on nwhikers.net, and it looks like they blasted off the top 10 feet of the mountain to build the lookout. To get materials up, they basically winched everything up by hand, so the pulleys could have been part of that? You can see traces of the blasting all over some of the rocks in that area, so it’s possible. But what the hell is the concrete structure for?

Dave on the ladder to the lookout

Dave on the ladder to the lookout

We didn’t hit snow until the last few hundred (vertical) feet of the trail. It wasn’t quite enough for microspikes. They could have been nice, but we weren’t moving too quickly, and I didn’t feel the need to stop and put them on so close to the lookout and with such a good path thanks to previous hikers. Soon enough, we came to the short scramble to the lookout. I put my poles behind me and started making my way up to the ladder. Damn, it was windy! I got to the balcony. I checked every corner for views. Snapped pics. And I ran to the door and ducked into the lookout. Time for layers! Oh wait, maybe a time lapse? Yeah, a time lapse. Ran outside, wrapped my camera around a trekking pole, and set it on the railing. That way if it fell, it’d only fall five feet instead of off the mountain.

Unfortunately, not as many views as last time. No Twin Sisters, no Baker, no Shuksan. Even Three Fingers had disappeared into the clouds. I don’t think Dave ever got to sneak a peek at Glacier, or Sloan.

Here’s the result of the timelapse:

View towards Seattle

View towards Seattle

Views towards Seattle were good, and it still feels like the mountains. Also, it was freezing. Back into the lookout! There were a few others in there with us. Two had a freaking feast of soups and sandwiches, while I sat there with my crappy tortillas and storebought hummus. And tea. Thank god for tea. Dave had some killer trail mix too, smores flavor(!) from QFC. We later returned to buy three more boxes. I got a few great recommendations for backpacking trips from one of the guys there, and after 30 minutes we turned around to go back down. I grabbed my camera and followed Dave, and we made pretty quick progress back to the trailhead.

Here’s a link to the strava map. And here’s a screenshot.

Mt. Pilchuck trail map

Mt. Pilchuck trail map

With a solid two hours of daylight left (rainy daylight, but still light) we figured we’d knock off the Big Four Ice Caves as well. It’s a very easy trail. Sections are either paved, covered in gravel, or built on bridges full with even dirt. Nothing tricky to negotiate. And a warning sign what felt like ever five feet for avalanche danger.

Dave looking at the cave

Dave looking at the cave

  • Distance: 2.2 miles round trip
  • Elevation: 200ft gain, 1900ft highest point
  • Weather: 40’s and rainy
  • Commute from Seattle: just under an hour and a half
  • Did I trip: Yes, we both did. We got complacent, dammit
Avalanche warnings!

Avalanche warnings!

It was a quick hike. The forest was pleasant, but we wanted to see the caves. It did look like there were traces of an old trail to the caves, so I’m curious how long ago they built the current one. You don’t get as many glimpses of the Big Four peaks as I expected, but when you break into the avalanche zone below them, you can see small waterfalls cascading down the ridges which was still pretty neat. We did hop off the trail to get closer to the cave, but didn’t go in. There are memorial plaques to a 12 year old who was killed by the caves when a part collapsed, which is definitely a dampener on mood but probably necessary considering how many people go inside to check it out.

Beautifully groomed trail

Beautifully groomed trail

Even if it wasn’t a long, difficult hike, it was a classic that I needed to get off the list. I had been saving it for a cloudy day, and the time had come. One of the old headline pictures on the wta trail page showed several caves, so I have to wonder how it looks early in summer after a real winter with snow. Aka not what we’re getting right now. I can’t even believe the mountain loop highway is still open. I thought I’d be snowshoeing it by now!

Here’s a link to the strava map for the ice caves.

Big Four Ice Caves trail map

Big Four Ice Caves trail map

Wait! I got a sick panorama at the ice caves. Just found out I can turn the camera vertical and take them that way, and actually try to catch the height of the peaks. Check it out.

Panorama, baby

Panorama, baby

Perry Creek

Another “drive to the highway and make a game time decision hike,” though this time it was unintentional. I intended to get to Goat Lake to go for a trail run since I was sick of city streets and stop lights and pedestrians but wanted something a little more remote than cougar/tiger mountains. As it turned out, just because a road is “open” does not mean it’s clear, and my car couldn’t make it to Goat Lake. It couldn’t make it past the Gothic Basin/Barlow Pass area, where the mountain loop highway turns to gravel and a foot of ice and snow. So I turned around and went to check out Perry Creek, the back up run. Anyway, as usual on a Wednesday, I had to be back in Seattle by 2, so my time was limited. Hiked/run 1/14/2015.

  • Distance: 10.5 miles round trip (if you make it to the meadows – to the falls and back is only 6.5 miles)
  • Elevation: 3400ft gain, 5250 highest point (again, if you get to the meadows.. you know where this is going)
  • Weather: 30’s and sunny
  • Commute from Seattle: 1:30 if roads are clear
  • Did I Trip: Some close calls, but no Actually yes, into a river, dammit

I left Seattle around 6am. Too chicken to start a trail alone in the dark, I was hoping to get there just as sunrise was starting to lighten everything up. By the time I got there, the sun had officially risen. “If roads are clear” means two things: traffic and snow/ice. I took the road salting back in the midwest and northeast for granted. Out here, even a small layer of frost can make roads slippery. I wasn’t worried until I crossed several sets of errant tracks that all looked like spin-outs, and that’s when I slowed down and bit just to play it safe. So it took me a big longer than 1:30 to get there, especially because I passed the trailhead hoping to make it to Goat Lake but had to reevaluate my plan.

Big Four just after sunrise

Big Four just after sunrise

I will say, pink o’clock in the mountains is gorgeous. Even just driving down the highway, when I turned around to head back west towards Perry Creek, I caught a glimpse of Three Fingers lit up pink by the sun. I almost pulled over to snap a picture, but I figured I’ll have chances to snow camp and watch sunrise later this winter. When I got to the Perry Creek/Mt Dickerman trailhead, I was the only car. It was just after 8am by that point, so I was eager to get moving.

The first mile of the trail is very flat and can actually be avoided by parking near a blocked-off dirt road that led to the old Perry Creek trailhead. Wanting to get in a run, I figured I’d keep the mile.

This much green, even in January!

This much green, even in January!

I forget that the lower forests here are so damn green. It was like running through summer. The moss and evergreens are still alive and well, despite sub-freezing temperatures.

Eventually the new path intersects with the old ravel road, equally flat, that takes you to the old trailhead. Usually this would be unimportant and unimpressive, but some bum (trust me I ran through a dozen more harsh words) had left a nice pile of feces and toilet paper smack in the middle of the road. How can you be that disgusting? Does it take that much effort to go ten steps away into the bushes, or bury it, or carry it out? Leave no trace, folks! We want to use this trail too, and I prefer my trails poop-free. Bear scat, cougar crap, okay, but human shit and trash? Someone made a conscious decision to leave it there. Ugh.

Perry Creek down below

Perry Creek down below

Okay, passed that, and made it to the official trail. A few more steps through forest, and I popped out onto the east side of a valley. Cool! Bad news? Shady. Didn’t think of that. More bad news? Shade = no sun to melt the frost, and it turns out frosty leaves and rocks are even more slippery than wet leaves and rocks. Time to start hiking instead of running. Which was disappointing, because a mostly-dead-shady-valley isn’t very gorgeous. I also expected to be right next to Perry Creek, but it turns out you’re quite far above it. But hey, I was out there, and that’s all I wanted. Looking behind me, Big Four Mountain was in view with the moon just over it. Unrelated question: why the hell is it “big four” when there are five peaks? I counted several times to make sure I wasn’t crazy.

I hit some patchy snow starting about three miles into the trail, including a small avalanche that looked like it had been from a week ago. Nowhere was there enough snow or ice for microspikes. It was an annoying in-between, where it was slippery but not thick enough for spikes to bite.

The top of Perry Falls. It continues down another 20ish vertical feet

The top of Perry Falls. It continues down another 20ish vertical feet

I had been hoping to make it to Forgotten Meadows, but unfortunately, time was short, and I had planned badly. It would have been very possible to run 10.5 miles on a beautiful sunny summer day, but I didn’t factor in frost or elevation gain, most of which happens in the last two miles. Perry Falls was surprisingly beautiful, with its deep turquoise pool down below. It’s too bad I couldn’t get closer.

Snowy/icy log crossing

Snowy/icy log crossing

I had read a previous trip report about the river crossing that suggested a snowy log further upstream, which I found easily and hopped across.

Large downed tree across trail

Large downed tree across trail

And that’s where the hike became real. Up, up, up, switchback after switchback. There was a huge tree down that had knocked out four or five switchbacks. Sounds like it had been there for a while judging by past trip reports, and people had been cutting most of the trail. I could follow a few pieces of the trail, but eventually the tree was too big to climb over and I had to cut them as well and just go straight up. It’s too bad I was solo, because “person for scale” would have helped. I didn’t even have my poles with me to use for scale since I don’t usually bring them on trail runs.

I finally reached the sunshine after about an hour and a half from the start. Crossing the creek leads you up the west side of the valley, where the sun actually reaches, and stepping into it was gorgeous. Despite knowing I had to turn around in ten minutes, I figured I’d enjoy the sun for a bit before descending back into the shade. Looking back at the map, I realized I was probably only half a mile from the meadows. Bad timing.

One of the many waterfalls across the valley

One of the many waterfalls across the valley

The way back went much more quickly than the way up. If I had known, I’d probably have made it to the meadows. I did manage to trip into the creek as I was crossing it and filled my boots with water like a pro. Knowing goretex boots wouldn’t just “dry” as I walked, I stopped to dump out some of the water and put my trust in my wool socks. I could run back nearly the whole way from this point as much of the frost had melted, with the exception of some patchy snow and rock chutes. Turned out the last part of the trail was in the sun (once you exit the valley), so I had a nice conclusion to my morning escapade.

Back into the sun!

Back into the sun!

The coolest part of the hike was the detour I took on the way in. About two miles into the trail there was a drainage chute. I’m not sure what else to call it – it looked like a steep old dried-up creek bed that had a few waterfalls at the top. Thinking it might be an offshoot of the trail, I started climbing up it (not sure if it even qualifies as a scramble) and figured I’d go for five minutes, see what was up there, and turn around.

Zeolites!

Zeolites!

Five minutes wasn’t enough for me to make it to the falls, but I found something much cooler. Zeolites! Right where I was going to turn around, I looked down and spotted a rock (small boulder?) with several pockets of crystals in it, ranging from just a centimeter in diameter to three inches. Holy shit. I had never seen anything like it out in the wilderness. I had seen the polished rocks and geodes my dad used to hide for me in the yard when I was little, and these were like that except truly natural. I had no idea what they were – I thought geodes, but couldn’t imagine finding those around here, so I took a few pictures hoping I’d find someone to ask. On the way back down the washout, I found several more, some that were just off the trail. I hustled home to post a trip report and see if anyone would have information.

Old drainage chute I hiked up

Old drainage chute I hiked up

I didn’t expect many responses, but one poster noticed it and sent it off to his geologist buddy, who replied! I’m obviously late writing this blog post, so I’ll explain the guess that Dave and Randy (thanks guys!) had. Apparently, they’re formed when pockets of gas become trapped in basalt lava as it cools. The white crystals are zeolites, which grow inside those pockets when mineral-rich water seeps through the rock. It’s neat stuff, and those rocks turned what would have been a very average hike into a morning I was excited to talk about. Hopefully there will be a few others out there who think it’s just as cool.

I’ll definitely be going back. For a few reasons. I’d love to check out those rocks again and see if I can find more. I also gotta make it to the Forgotten Meadows. Mt Forgotten might be feasible with the right people and equipment given the low snow accumulation this year, so it can be a scouting trip for that as well. Regardless, the views from the meadows look amazing on a clear day, and I bet they look even better with some snow. We’ll see what happens!