Royal Basin & Mt. Deception

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Anita coming around a glacier boulder, Deception on the right

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Wildlife by Royal Lake

Hooooly crap, this was a good one. You know sometimes everything just falls into place last minute and your mildly half-assed plans actually work out? That’s what this was. Like 24 hours in advance Anita mentioned she was going to Royal Basin, which I had always wanted to do as a trail run. And some dude had done Mt. Deception earlier that week, so I knew it was in decent shape. And that would be a cool day trip too. Maybe I could run up early in the morning, meet her, and climb Deception? She was stoked when I suggested it, and I decided I’d head up late Sunday night after Marmot Pass/Buckhorn and camp with them so we could get an early start. “What are you wearing?” she asked. “Some yuppie lululemon outfit” I responded. My climbing pants have a 6″ hole in the butt [insert asshole joke]. “No, I mean for boots!” Oh, duh. A real gear question.

  • Distance: 20mi ish
  • Elevation: 5500ft (also ish, highest point 7,788ft)
  • Weather: 50’s and partly cloudy
  • Commute from Seattle: 2:30 without traffic or ferry delays (ha!)
  • Did I Trip: No, I’ve gotten very good at walking
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Flat beautiful trail to Royal Basin

Mt. Deception is the second highest point in the Olympics, which I didn’t know until we were done climbing it. It is one of the largest piles of chossy shit I have ever had the pleasure of touching, and it was mostly covered in snow when we did it. I have strong feelings about this. I would not have enjoyed it if it hadn’t been snow covered. But snow meant some steep snow, some 3rd class scrambling, and a more mountaineery-feeling experience than had we struggled up a one-step-up-slide-half-step-back-god-damn-scree climb.

Anyway, let’s not get ahead of ourselves here. I had driven from the Marmot Pass trailhead to the Royal Basin trailhead and was rallying to knock out another 8 miles and meet Anita and Zee at their campsite. I assumed the trail would be flat soft dirt, easy cruising. I had also assumed that the Marmot Pass trail was one mile down the road from the Royal Basin trail.
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Royal Lake with mist in the morning

I was wrong on both counts. There is a Marmot Pass trail close to the Royal Basin trail, but it is not the trail I had taken to get to Marmot Pass. And as for the Royal Basin Trail once I did get there, well… the first two miles were nice soft flat easy cruising, and particularly beautiful in the dappled afternoon sunlight. But after that it’s rocky, uphill, sometimes overgrown, there are mosquitos, devil’s club, spiderwebs to fight through (you know how I feel about that – spiders fine, webs nooooo), and a surprising amount of elevation gain, though usually gradual. And carrying an overnight pack still isn’t pleasant, especially when you did a 13mi hike right before it, and I was not too enthused every time I rounded a corner only to see more uphill, or opened up the map only to see I was somehow only 500ft closer than the last time I checked. Views finally started to open up and I got glimpses of Deception. Shit, I’m going up that? It’s sooooo far.

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This used to be a lake! Heading to the Upper Basin

But I was making good time, and soon enough I heard two hikers. And one voice sounded familiar. Same accent, same tone, a guy dragging behind her… that’s gotta be Anita. I jogged up to Zee and said hi, just as Anita turned around and saw me. And we had a nice running hugging reunion, we hadn’t seen each other in months and holy shit I was so happy to have company for the last mile of the hike so it wasn’t me vs. my mind for another half an hour. And it guaranteed I would find their campsite and not be walking up to random tents in the dark “are YOU Anita?” “are YOUUUU Anita?” “Is ANITA in there?” and blinding everyone with headlamps while I stumbled around exhausted about to give up (which may have happened before).

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Upper Royal Basin

We found a great campsite just northeast of the lake. I crashed in my bivvy almost immediately (after panicking at two things: the recently updated forecast, which showed overnight showers – not great for a non-waterproof bivvy and down sleeping bag and the bear poop like 15ft away and I was between the poop and Anita’s tent, aka I’d be the first bear burrito that evening should the bears decide we smelled delicious). Eventually it didn’t matter because I was unconscious by like 8:30pm and if it did rain, I didn’t even notice.

We got moving around 8am. There is the alpine start (the offensively wee hours of the morn), the Anita start (mid hours of the morn but as late as possible), and the bonfire start (>11am). So 8 wasn’t ideal knowing we’d be slow, but I figured if we moved steadily we’d be fine. And it was partially on me and the fact it took me 20 freaking minutes to find the stupid pit toilets. Zee turned around on the way to the upper basin, and Anita and I continued. The basin is spectacular, almost like Enchantments lite. I can see why the permits are so competitive. That’s another thing, I got SO lucky. Anita had been fighting for permits for years, and here I am mooching off her hard work. And the main attraction over the basin is Deception towering over some small glacier tarns below a dying glacier. At the base of the slopes, we decided to take a rising traverse rather than risk the rockfall on the more direct route, so we started kicking steps uphill. And so it would be for the next few hours.
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Anita on the way up

There were a few scree sections (“ugh, should I remove my crampons?” “Nope, back on snow in 50ft!”) a few loose third class scramble sections (“can i take my crampons off?” “No, back on snow in 20 ft!”) some steep snow (PERFECT conditions for bucket steps and a nicely plunged ice axe) some moats (there’s no way for them to not be awkward, would it help if we took off our crampons?) and a little more kitty litter scrambling (“can I take off my-” “no”) and we finally topped out at the col, marked with a stick to help differentiate from the myriad of other similar cols.

Here’s where the route was longer than expected. We dropped down some talus (loose, because this mountain is a crumbling POS, we’ve been over this) onto another dying glacier and traversed to the back ridge, where “can I take off my crampons” was finally answered with a resounding “YES!” and we rejoiced in the feeling of boot sole on rock instead of scraping metal. We traversed to a third ridge, which was a perfectly straight talus walk on top of the world followed by a short step of near vertical snow and a final talus walk (i’m so done with talus by this point) to the summit, where we sang and hollered and waved at Zee and marveled at the views. It truly was incredible. Long day of uphill, but high reward with the gorgeous scenery up there.
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Pieces of steep snow

But we had to descend all of the shit we had come up. Getting back off the upper talus section was easy. Crossing the glacier on the north side was easy. Getting back up to the stick-marked col was easy. Then we had the only tricky part to contend with: downclimbing a few sections of pretty steep snow. Maybe 50 degrees. Face in, kick steps downclimbing. I kicked enormous steps for Anita, and luckily some cloud cover meant the snow wasn’t total slush. We actually made surprisingly good time, and these are the parts of climbs that are so singular, so focused, that everything else goes away. I had lingering stress from my old job and nerves around starting a new one, nerves around fitness after working weekends for so long, none of that matters when you’re on terrain like this.

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Some 3rd class scramble

We even skirted most of the 3rd class scramble, with one awkward 4th class step either on a thin downward sloping slab or to hop across a moat back onto snow (pick your poison, I do think Anita’s route across the moat was better but I thought it looked sketchy from up high). From there, we cruised plunge stepping down moderate snow the entire way back to the basin after a short scree field! It was amazing! We found yaktrax prints at the bottom, I said I hope that’s Zee. Despite turning around earlier, it turned out he had rethought (almost went with “rethunk”) his decision, and gave it another shot. And I’m glad he did, the upper basin was phenomenal. We soon found goat hoof prints perfectly inside of the yak trax. They continued for maybe a mile, until we eventually found Zee, hiding in a patch of bushes from the goat that had been stalking him for literal hours. He did get an incredible picture when the goat got too close for comfort.

 

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Mr. Billy Goat (credit Zee!)

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Coming across the north face

We made it back to camp around 4. Zee went to get water (THANK YOU! I was so tired I did not want to do camp chores) while Anita and I changed our shoes and laid around a groaned. When Zee hadn’t returned for 20 minutes, we started wondering what was up. Should we be worried? Is he taking a nap? Maybe we should go look. And then we saw Mr. Billy Goat walk across the trail again, slowly, starting at us. “Zee, the goat is back!” Anita shouted. And then we hear Zee’s deep grumbly voice. “…I know.” We burst out laughing. He couldn’t get away. It’s okay, Mr. Goat will be extradited to the Cascades any day now if he hasn’t been helo-dropped there already.

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Anita coming along the final ridge

I hung out until 5, and then packed up my bags to start the slog back to the car. Anita gave me a brownie for the way out (THANK YOU! For feeding me! Everyone fed me this weekend!) and I started on my way, where I was immediately blocked by Mr. Goat. God. Dammit. I tossed a rock and whined. I just wanna go hooooome mr goat pleeeease let me pass! He eventually ambled over to the side of the trail and I darted past. Anita made a bet that I’d be back at the car by 7:30. I thought 8. But she had given me a goal, and I made it back at exactly 7:30. Even took a selfie to prove it.

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One last push to the top! Mystery in the background

Huuuuuge thanks to Anita and Zee for adding me to their Olympics permit at the last minute, and to Ranger Scott for all of the phone calls trying to get my name on there (and my payment). Seriously amazing trip, and another data point that the Olympics are far more beautiful than I ever give them credit for. And I was the perfect amount of wrecked when I woke up back in Seattle on Tuesday. Just in time for a shit ton of programming homework that I had procrastinated on. Woohoo!

P.S. This would be a sweet trail run (maybe minus the chossy shit, like we discussed above. Wait for snow).
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Olympus way in the distance, the highest point in the Olympics

Mount Ellinor

So, what I thought would be a “pop culture” easy hike ended up being a bit of a butt buster. I’ll just start with that. I was lulled into a false sense of security, especially over the first two steady, soft, forested miles. But let’s chat about the rest of the hike before the elevation gain slapped me awake first. Hiked 3/13/2015, lucky Friday the 13th!

View of Mt. Washington from the summit of Ellinor

View of Mt. Washington from the summit of Ellinor

  • Distance: 6.2 miles round trip (lower trailhead)
  • Elevation: 3300ft gain
  • Weather: 50’s and overcast
  • Commute from Seattle: 2:30 if no traffic
  • Did I trip: stubbed a toe, kicked a rock, but never fell. Like a boss.

Thanks to some top-notch last minute planning from Zanna, we ended up setting up at the Skokomish park campground on Cushman Lake. It’s about a 20 minute drive from the Ellinor trailhead, and since we didn’t want to drive there and back from Seattle in a day, we camped out! I hadn’t spent a night out since December, so it was a very welcome mini-vacation.

Rocky trail curving around a corner

Rocky trail curving around a corner

We got to the campground at night, where Zanna had already set up with Benny (her dog). I had my first taste of freeze-dried food (Santa Fe Chicken and Rice by Backpackers’ Pantry) which was surprisingly decent. I’d have it again. I also have some Chicken Vindaloo for next time, and have heard that the Stroganoff, Chana Masala, and Alfredo packages are pretty good too. I’ll have to experiment.

Zanna looking over our camp setup

Zanna looking over our camp setup

Rather than pitch a tent, the forecast was looking clear so I went for the hammock. Sleeping bag and pad inside bivy (just in case) in hammock, and I was sound asleep within minutes. It took me a while to figure out how to sleep in a hammock when I got it two years ago. I’m still not very good at it, I think because I don’t like sleeping on my back. But on an easy trip, it’s fantastic. My hammock was a bit too angled this time around, which I’ll have to keep in mind for next time.

The pleasant forest trail (taken on the way back)

The pleasant forest trail (taken on the way back)

Except for the five minutes around 2am when I woke up. Why did I wake up? Was it… oh, eerie, the wind just picked up. Was that the plink-plink of raindrops? Shit, come on, don’t rain now. How will the hammock hold up? Where’s the rain cover for the screen on my bivy bag? I’m too lazy and cozy to pack up and move into a tent. So I’ll just hope for the best. Luckily the drops lasted a few minutes and that was the closest run in I had. And it was warm enough that this time I didn’t wake up covered in frost like the last time I bivvied.

Snack break, looking over the Hood Canal

Snack break, looking over the Hood Canal

The lower trailhead is a 6.2 mile trip, whereas the upper is only 3 miles. But much steeper. We opted for the lower trailhead. The first two miles lured me into a false sense of security. The hike was so popular, I figured it couldn’t be that difficult. But as the flat, even trail stretched out, I started to worry that the last bit would be steep. The first two miles are through a peaceful, open green forest, on a soft dirt trail. Pleasant would be a good word for it. But don’t be fooled.

Glacier Peak

Puget sound, Glacier Peak and the Cascades

When the trail from the upper trailhead meets the main trail, that’s where the gain starts. At first you swtichback through a forest, and eventually you break out onto a rocky trail. A steep rocky trail. It was overcast, but you could still see the mountains. Amazing views of Rainier, Adams, St. Helens, even Glacier! And of course, if you look hard enough, you can see the skyscrapers of Seattle. Zanna asked a descending hiker how far we were from the top, and he responded “about a quarter mile, so maybe… half an hour?” You know what that means? That means damn steep! I was a happy hiker.

Encouraging rock left a quarter mile from the top

Encouraging rock left a quarter mile from the top

We followed the summer trail and essentially never hit snow. There was a ten-foot stretch of it just below the peak, but not enough to need any sort of traction. Once you’re on the peak, Mt. Washington is smack in your face, and you can even see Baker off in the distance. I wish I knew more of the Olympic peaks – I spend so little time over there, I haven’t learned any beyond being able to recognize a few looking over from Seattle.

Snacks while the true summit was too packed

Snacks while the true summit was too packed

The way down went much more quickly, but my knees suffered a bit. I was glad to have poles. Once back to the steady forest trail, it was glad to have a cool down to the workout and just stroll through the woods. We also left Benny’s leash along the trail by accident, and it was still there when we returned! We were thrilled no one took it. I didn’t think anyone would, but you never know.

Three hikers and a happy dog (true summit)

Three hikers and a happy dog (true summit)

On the way back, we stopped at the same coffee place we went to for breakfast again, but this time to get ice cream. Highly recommended if you need a bite to eat. No idea what the name was, but it’s right at the corner of 101 and 119 across from the gas station! A little coffee shop that has sandwiches, ice cream, and quesadillas too. I went there after Townsend too, since Woody and Tanna recommended it – it’s the perfect reward for a hike!

Steep open slope about a half mile from the top

The slope might as well be a stair workout (very well maintained trail)

Strava map and link are both here. If you check the elevation map, you can see how much of it is in that last mile or so! Almost 2000ft gained over 1.2 miles. It’s not quite a scramble, just very steep. Maybe the last 15 feet of elevation could be a scramble, they’re pretty close. But if Benny doggie can make it, so can you!

Strava map

Strava map

Overall, it’s a very pretty hike. A bit of a butt-buster towards the end, which is great if that’s what you’re into. I like working for my views, and I’m always willing to get my butt kicked.

Descending

Descending

Benny did a great job. I was worried about him slipping on the snowy sections, but he had no issues at all. He never even got tired, despite running with Zanna on her mountain bike for hours the day before. Bundle of energy, that guy. I had never actually hiked with a dog before, but he was easy and listened to Zanna very well. It must be nice having some company on every hike you do.

Trail run someday?

Trail run someday?

Anyway, I’ll definitely go back to repeat this hike. I bet it’s even more spectacular on a clear day when you can see Seattle and the volcanoes clearly. I hear great things about Mount Rose, too, which is another I’ll have to check out. And I bet Ellinor is even more amazing when the peaks are covered in snow. So much to do, and of course the forecast for the next two weeks looks like solid rain. Maybe winter is finally here!

Not my finest, but it had to happen

Not my finest, but it had to happen

Boulder Lake/Olympic Hot Springs

With a week between hikes, I was itching to get out again. I spent a few hours agonizing over the fact that we were sacrificing a sunny day for a forest hike: guys, I turned into a hiking snob somewhere along the progression of this blog. Maybe I can trace my gradual adoption of hiker elitism through these posts. Either way, it needs to end now. So I reminded myself to just be thankful that I had friends who wanted to hike, and were willing to drive my (snobby)? ass all the way to the Olympics. 2/22/2015, a full day of driving, hiking, and hot-springing.

Carpets of moss

Carpets of moss

  • Distance: 10.2 miles to the lake, 13.5 if you explore the lake and go to the far hot springs
  • Elevation: 2800ft gain, 4300 highest point
  • Weather: 40’s and sunny
  • Commute from Seattle: 2:30ish with ferry, 3:30ish if you drive around
  • Did I Trip: No but someone almost dropped their leg (and beer) into a frozen lake

The ferry!! I didn’t know you could drive onto ferries. I had no conception of how this worked or that it was even possible until we were there. It’s expensive, but I don’t think I had ridden a ferry since going to Georges Island back in Boston a decade ago. So that was a neat start to the day, chilling on a ferry with hundreds of Chilly Hilly riders getting ready for their bike race.

Wide trail

Wide trail

The road the hot springs trailhead is easily passable, and drops you off about 2.5 miles from the springs. We decided to hit the springs on the way back. Obviously choice, I mean really. Who wants to hike to a frozen lake after getting out of hot springs? Boulder Lake is six miles down the trail, so we got started. The first part of the trail is down a wide, old road, with a few ditches and trees to climb around but nothing challenging, and very little elevation gain.

Moss

Moss

Moss EVERYWHERE. I mean everywhere. This is one of the greenest hikes I’ve been on, and it’s February. Does it look any different in the summer? Does it get greener? Is that possible? I don’t think it’s possible. Look at those carpets of moss. It gets green after the split to hot springs and Boulder Lake/Appleton Pass, and I started to come to terms with a sunny forest hike.

Relaxing in the sun by Boulder Lake

Relaxing in the sun by Boulder Lake

There are a few small creek crossings to manage, but nothing tricky. Elevation gain starts towards the last two miles of the hike, but by then you’re almost at the lake! Which was completely frozen over, but still gorgeous. Boulder Peak looms over the lake, and the only lousy part was that the sun was right behind it, meaning pictures were hard. Dammit. We set up snack time on a log that jutted over the water, and hung out for a half hour or so. There was a couple that had camped up by the lake, and I’ll admit I was as little jealous. I ran around taking pictures of everyone and everything, and desperately tried to get a time lapse without too much glare (I failed after many valiant attempts).

Emilie along the dirt trail

Emilie along the dirt trail

After some smores “snack mix” (more like dessert) and smoked salmon, we turned back to head to the hot springs! Woo! Just over three miles to get there, and the way back went much more quickly than the way up. We cut through a campsite to get to the springs, and started walking down the road where we saw steam and smelled sulfur – all I could think of was how much I wished I could eat eggs then and there. Don’t worry, you forget about the smell quickly!

We passed five or six before taking a larger pool that was off the road up a small path to the right. I was told more recently that there are some secret springs past that one(?) or somewhere around there, and another one inside a small cave, which I haven’t heard of. I know the Goldmeyer hot springs have some caves, but the Olympics? Secret cave hot spring would be awesome, I’ll have to do some more research.

Snow capped peak along the trail - Appleton maybe?

Snow capped peak along the trail – Appleton maybe?

We got out of the springs around sunset, and it was completely dark by the time we got back to the car. Which had a note under the windshield wiper. Shit, did we get a ticket? No, it was for an espresso shop. Who advertises that at a trailhead? I guess.. I guess I’ll go stop by sometime? Turned out there was a note on the back, which I read with increasing volume as I started to comprehend what it said: “Hello – my family and I were hiking up to hot springs and found your key on the trail. I put it under your tire for you, no worries, nothing missing.”

Note from our favorite person of the day

Note from our favorite person of the day

My friend Andy (the driver) had thrown his backpack across a ditch at one point (only about 1.5 miles into the trail), broken a bottle inside it, and unpacked everything. We’re guessing that’s where his key had fallen out, and we had NO IDEA until we read the note on the car. Thank god, because finding it in the dark on a Sunday night would not have been ideal. You can have faith in people sometimes! We still have no idea who did it – I posted a trip report, but no one has mentioned it. And we can’t thank them enough. It was a great day, and thanks to that family, we could end it that way too.*

Here’s a link to the strava map, and a quick screenshot. The offshoot to the south is the hot springs. As a side note, if you have Strava, you can see slightly more detail (and follow me!)

Strava map

Strava map

Can’t leave here without sharing the outhouse. It reminds me of Shrek. Unfortunately (forunately?), I did not get to explore the inside.

Classy outhouse

Classy outhouse

*Well we missed the ferry on the way back and had to drive down and around the Sound. But I slept through that and woke up one exit from my apartment, so who cares? Kidding, thanks for driving guys, and Lucy you are my new favorite road trip DJ.