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!

Mt. Pilchuck

Looking out my window at the dreary rain, I figure it’s a good time to chat about last week’s Wednesday hike. 1/7/2015. First I have to vow to remember the second “c” in “Pilchuck.” My first inversion day!

Trail along a talus slope just above the trees, inversion fog in the background

Trail along a talus slope just above the trees, inversion fog in the background

  • Distance: 5.4 miles round trip
  • Elevation: 2300ft gain, 5300 highest point
  • Weather: 60’s(!) and sunny(!!!!!)
  • Commute from Seattle: Just over an hour
  • Did I Trip: Yes, faceplant into snow.

So, what’s an inversion day? I’m still not sure of the science behind it (read several articles but none sounded particularly strong) but what it results in is lower temperatures down low, and higher temperatures up high. Usually, the higher you go, the lower the temperature. What’s neat is that those low temperatures keep fog trapped at lower elevations. That means you can climb above it. Actually, here’s an amazing pic of the Grand Canyon on a rare inversion day. Pilchuk was a bit too far away from the lowlands to feel like I was touching it (Snoqualmie Peak probably would have been perfect) but it was still pretty amazing.

I left Seattle around 7:30 in the morning. It was cloudy in the city, and I couldn’t see the Space Needle from my breakfast window, so I picked a short easy hike. Big Four Ice Caves was the goal. 2 miles, flat, see some ice caves, minimal views besides the actual Big Four Mountain, good for a cloudy lazy day. But as I was driving down i5, I started going through some of the coolest patchy fog I’ve ever been in. Unfortunately my camera skills while driving are sub par (is that good or bad?) so I have no examples, but it went from 10 foot visibility to misty to fog illuminated pink by sunrise surrounding green trees to fog lit up whitish yellow once the sun had risen. And by the time I got to the Mountain Loop Highway, it was clear.

Okay, regroup. Can’t waste a clear day on a two mile hike. Gotta be at work by 2, it’s already 9, it’s an hour drive at least to get back. Game time decision: Mt. Pilchuck. If my car can make it. And I’ll haul ass, I swear. If not, I’ll turn around and do the ice caves, since it’s so short I’ll have plenty of time. And I took that right turn, and headed up to Mt. Pilchuck.

Good news: road was completely melted out. Some rough washouts that I’d definitely recommend high clearance vehicles for, but we made it. Bad news: I forgot my microspikes. The trail was supposed to be icy and snow covered at the top Cool. I had snowshoes in the trunk, so I lashed them to my backpack with a nasty dirty ace bandage that I got after my knee incident at Annette Lake a few months ago and got moving. I had just under three hours to make it up and down. Doesn’t sound too bad, until you consider 1) not having traction on ice and snow 2) post-holing in snow 3) I’m relatively out of shape (don’t say anything).

Fog covering the towns below

Fog covering the towns below looking towards the Sound

Ice was avoidable on most of the trail in the woods. Last time I was here, I was racing Emma, Emilie, and Andy to the top to beat sunset, which we were dying to see. We made it just in time, and I do think it was one of the best sunsets I had ever seen. We’ll see if I ever have a day to take a stroll up Pilchuck. I passed a few people who had microspikes (jealous) and briefly said hi before continuing up.

Glacier (center) Sloan (right)

Glacier (center) Sloan (right)

Once you hit the snow, peaks stark making their presence known through gaps in trees. Eventually you’re crossing some small talus fields and views take over. Looking back towards Seattle. Over the Puget Sound. The first time I hiked Pilchuck I looked at the sound, turned to Emilie, and said “Is that Lake Washington?!” By now I know at least a few. Glacier Peak, Baker, Shuksan, Twin Sisters, they’re all out. A surprisingly convenient viewpoint for so many peaks in the Cascades, so close to Seattle.

Twin Sisters, Baker, Shuksan, something, El Dorado(?)

Left to right: Twin Sisters, Baker, Shuksan, Bacon; Whitehorse and three Fingers closer (Thanks Luke!)

I started post-holing around the time the views opened up. On a regular, slow-moseying day, it might not have been an issue. But I didn’t have time for maneuvering, so I strapped on the snowshoes and continued on my merry way. I passed a young couple in casual shoes taking a break, hoping they were close to the top. Not quite yet, my friends. Someone once told me “20 minutes!” around that point and it took me another hour. That was this past summer, with an over-stuffed 60L backpack. I was a bit faster now. I was recognizing landmarks, too.

Thin rock - taller than me and just a few inches thick

Thin rock – taller than me and just a few inches thick

The weirdly skinny rock. The bamboo pole. The steps where Andy picked blueberries last time while Emma and Emilie and I jog-hiked to try and make sunset. And finally, the turn where you reach some boulders to scramble over in order to get to the summit. Which, turns out, is quite awkward in snowshoes. The two guys at the lookout heard me coming. Dragging my spikey snowshoes up the ladder and across the clear wooden lookout deck. Taking them off would take a few minutes I might not have if I wanted to safely get to work on time. It’s like wearing flippers on a pool deck, but more goofy and less fun. And louder. I looked down at these guys’ feet and what were they wearing? Vans. Freaking vans. And there I was in snowshoes. Hilarious contrast. Oh, and pouring sweat (don’t let that happen in winter folks), because for every 500 feet I gained in altitude it warmed up 10 degrees. I was down to base layers and even that was too much – I should have worn shorts and a t shirt.

Looking out over the Sound

Looking out over the Sound, Olympics on the left in the distance

I clomped over to the side of the lookout that gazed over the Sound, and for once, that view was more stunning than the mountains behind me. Most of the snow had melted, and the peaks didn’t look as imposing as they usually do. But the fog over the Sound, Rainier peaking out over the clouds, the Olympics in the distance, those were breathtaking. I handed my camera to one of the Vans kids and asked if he could snap a quick picture, and he nailed it. I thanked him and turned around to head back down, after spending probably five minutes up there. Oh, I did take a quick trip in to the lookout – it has maps of the peaks in every direction, and I had to know what the hell was poking up next to Baker. It had never occurred to me that there was another significant mountain in that direction. Twin Sisters! The south twin is just over 7,000ft, the north is around 6600ft, and there are several glaciers on the northeast slopes. That’s another idea I’ve had to come to terms with living out here. The fact that there are glaciers even on lower peaks. I always assumed it was something reserved for enormously tall mountains, not something I’d have to consider hiking to Three Fingers or scrambling Mt. Stuart.

Rainier over the clouds

Rainier over the clouds

I also learned that going down a ladder in snowshoes is awkward and difficult. But after that eight foot ladder, I high-tailed it down. I ran into the same couple I passed on the way up (almost there, for real!) and then into the two ladies I had passed first, who told me it had been below freezing at the trailhead and was mid 60’s near the top! They confirmed that it was an inversion day. Fantastic. I kept up my quick pace, made it back to shallow snow, took off the snowshoes, face planted, carried on. Back through the woods. Finally ran into a group of guys on their way up – “how much longer to the parking lot?” I asked. “Eh, maybe… 10 minutes? You’re pretty close.” Holy shit. That meant it had not even been an hour since I was at the top. Thrilled (I won’t be late to work! If I don’t hit traffic…) I assumed they had miscalculated. A few steps later, I saw a familiar looking shaggy white dog: it was Merritt, from when I hiked Mt. Dickerman back in December! I stopped to say hi to her owner and wish him a good hike. Turned out the group of guys had been right: ten minutes later, I was at the parking lot. Made it down in just over an hour.

I tossed everything in the car and drove home. No traffic, just in time for work. Oh, and “work” was taking someone’s dog for an hour run. Dinner was extra delicious that night.

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

Gothic Basin

Recommended to me for its fall foliage by one of my customers after I hiked Ingalls, I had to get this one out of the way before the snow hit (which happened yesterday!). I hadn’t been up to the Mountain Loop Highway since hiking Pilchuk with a few friends, so it was nice to get some fresh new views.Hiked 10/16/2014. The fall foliage was past its peak, and I was totally spoiled by the larches at Ingalls, but this was still beautiful. I’m slowly learning that I’m the peak-bagger type. Basins are nice, lakes are nice, but I really just want to be at the highest point possible.

  • Distance: 9 miles (including the old road I think, or I could be a damn fast hiker)
  • Elevation: 2840ft gain
  • Weather: Sunny! 50’s, probably low 40’s at the top and bottom by the time I got down
  • Commute from Seattle: 1:45, unless you get stuck in the parking lot that is I5 during rush hour
  • Did I Trip: No, but to be fair I went down some rocks on my butt

DSC00345 Even from the road, you get pretty good views of the Monte Cristo peaks. That pic is from higher up the trail, but the sneak peak on the road just whets your appetite for views. Someone had written “trail run!” in the registry towards the beginning of the trail and I got all excited to run it, but the last few miles are un runnable. If they ran this… damn. Lots of muddy patches, rivers running down the trail, slick rocks to scramble over, obstacles on the trail, things like that. I’m impressed if they were serious.

You actually have to park on the side of the highway, near the Barlow Pass trailhead, and hike about a mile down an old road (blocked off by a sign covered in bullet holes) to reach the old trailhead. I’m impatient, so I ran that part plus everything to Sauk River, which is about half a mile past the toilet at the old trailhead. Crossing Sauk River was an experience. I couldn’t figure out a good way to rock/log hop, but being a Polack I took off my shoes and socks, rolled up my pants, and waded across. From there, it starts gaining elevation steadily. DSC00324 Oh, did I mention that October is apparently orb spider season? Yeah. Eeuuuuugh. Bastards made webs all over the trails. As one hiker put it, if you aren’t careful, you’ll wear them like jewelery. I should add that yes, I ran the first mile and a half, but I did so while waving a long stick ahead of me to destroy their sticky ass webs before they reached my face.

There are plenty of waterfalls along the way to distract you, some tougher to cross than others. I got absolutely soaked at one, but hey, I was committed. Bring waterproof shoes! I have never been so thankful for my goretex Wildhorses. When I first got seeded for them last year I was unimpressed, but they’ve been beyond useful out here. Turns out Chicago just doesn’t have the right terrain to use them. The mud, the streams running down the trail, everything was soaking wet. It’s nice knowing you can submerge your foot and not suffer from it afterwards. Speaking of which, I need a fresh pair. They’re looking pretty nasty right about now. Still waterproof after a year of use, though!

DSC00367Coming into the basin was a surprise. I thought I was still another mile or so away since I wasn’t sure whether the trail’s distance included the old road or not. The basin was still covered in green, with huge rock outcroppings and small lakes (more like ponds) everywhere. Social trails leading everywhere. I have no idea if I found foggy lake or another lake before it or what since there were so many. I would have loved to scramble¬† up to the ridge behind the basin, but it’s a class 2 scramble with a section that’s class 4 due to a washout(?) right now, not to mention I was alone and had to figure out just how stupid I wanted to be. So I stuck with the lower levels of the basin.DSC00366

Here’s a pic of what I think is Foggy Lake. Small lake, surrounded by rocks and small plants. What’s crazy is that most of this basin is covered in snow all the way into late July. I was looking at pictures on wta.org and it looks like a completely different place. I’ll have to try it again next spring/early summer when I’ve got a little more avy experience.

Views were great, there were four snow capped peaks that I noticed. The only one I know for sure is the Monte Cristo bunch. There were two more to the left, one of which was mostly shrouded in clouds. Someone told me the one to the far left might be Sloan, but I don’t think so. No one I asked knew for sure. There was another one to the far right that you could only see if you were high up in the basin, so I imagine views from that ridge I couldn’t get to are amazing on a clear day.

DSC00355The best self-timer pic I could get. Monte Cristos to the right, cloud-shrouded peak just to my left. I’ve got a few panoramas as well, but I never really like how they turn out, so you’re stuck with normal pictures. For once I had around half an hour to explore the basin in order to be back down by sunset. I hopped around some rocks, took some pics, found two ladies walking a dog, explored some old snow fields, and looked for lakes. I was way above the two ladies, and followed their voices to get down from where I was. So basically, they were having a great time with their dog, and I was following them from a distance like a creepy mountain goat. The were the ones who called me out for wearing trail running shoes. To be fair, my shoes were Nikes so they look very unimpressive and not technical at all, but at least they were waterproof trail runners. Anyway, they were the ones who inspired me to grab a pair of real hiking boots, which I did yesterday at REI’s garage sale. For $5. As in “five dollars.” Even if it turns out they’re flawed, they were five dollars.

DSC00369Who made that cairn? That’s a sweet cairn with a sweet view. I tried building my own elsewhere in the basin but it didn’t work out as well. There might be some level of actual artistic talent involved. I’ll work on it. Anyway, the trail was a knee destroyer on the way down. Big steps, navigating those slippery rocks, decent amount of elevation lost in a short way down. When I got back to the Sauk River, I had caught up to another hiker, who had found a way across without wading. Guess I didn’t try hard enough the first time. But I followed his example (hands and feet across some logs and rocks) and it was easy enough. From there, it was just a matter of jogging through the surprisingly cold air back to my car. Glad to be back on flat ground for once. My knees weren’t prepared to deal with a full week of hiking.

In other news, it looks like rainy season has begun. The Olympics are covered in snow (I can see them from my apartment building) and word on the street is that Mt. Baker is supposed to get several feet of snow this weekend with snow levels dropping to around 4500ft. Mt. Baker actually holds the world record for most snow in one season, 95 feet exactly in the winter of 1998-1999. So it looks like any hikes that get even remotely high are about to have snow. I’ve got the goretex hiking boots, now I need some snowshoes and a good mountain winter education.

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One last pic. Cute little stream coming out of a rock. Like a natural water fountain. No idea how that type of thing forms or how common it is, all I know is I’ve never seen one before. Maybe in a year when I’m more seasoned I’ll look back and laugh at some of the things I was excited about on my first few hikes.