Mount Washington

Views from Mt. Washington

Views from Mt. Washington

I had to come back down to earth eventually, and this hike was a “normal” hike. That doesn’t mean it lacked views by any means, rather, it was a section of i90 I’ve actually never really looked at before. So despite being a 45 minute drive from Seattle, it was territory I hadn’t seen besides peeking out the window driving down the highway. Let’s see how many peaks I can remember.

  • Distance: 8.5 miles round trip (Strava said 9.4)
  • Elevation: 3250ft gain, 4400ft highest point
  • Weather: 40’s and sunny
  • Commute from Seattle: 45 minutes
  • Did I Trip: No

Fresh snow along i90! We knew it after driving through the Snoqualmie Blizzard (slight exaggeration, but flakes of snow might as well be a blizzard when I haven’t seen it in months) the day before on our way to Navaho Peak. The trailhead for Mt. Washington is right off the highway. This used to be a relief, now I’m a little bummed when I don’t get to take crappy dirt roads.

Waterfall shower along the trail

Waterfall shower along the trail

I forgot my discovery pass like a champ, so we parked just before the actual permit area and hiked about .1 mile to the actual trailhead. The trail is steep for about 500ft and then joins up with the John Wayne Trail, a wide open road-like trail. One you’ve reached that, you will pass two small trails heading off into the woods on the left. The second tiny trail is the one you’re looking for. We weren’t positive about even being on the right trail at first, but we figured what the hell, we’ll get to the top of something and figure out what it actually is later.

Slushy trail

Slushy trail

The trail winds through the forest, crossing a few small creeks and waterfalls. Snow started low, maybe around 2000ft. It was slushy. For anyone who hasn’t hiked in slush, it’s like running in sand. Ugh. The trail is easy to follow even when covered for the most part, though there were more than enough boot prints to follow if you’re ever worried. No microspikes necessary, but I did appreciate the grip on my La Sportiva Synthesis that I was raving about a few posts ago.

Rattlesnake Ledge

Rattlesnake Ledge

Sneak peeks of views came through the trees – Rattlesnake Ledge, Mailbox, Si. In the pic to the left, you can just barely make out Rattlesnake Ledge – that rocky outcropping on the left. It was cloudy when we started, but the clouds lifted as we went along, and rather than be socked in by clouds at the top, we actually had views in every direction.

Tarn on the way up

Tarn on the way up

The party that got there before us said they could only see a few feet in front of them at the top, so we lucked out with timing. The last ridge up to the summit looks over Chester Morse Lake, which supplies the Puget Sound area with water.

Mailbox Peak on the left

Mailbox Peak on the left

From the top, you can see Mailbox Peak, Mt. Si, Mt. Teneriffe, Chance Peak, and I’m sure on a clear day, plenty of others. It was the first time I had a visual of what the beginning of hte i90 corridor looked like – I didn’t even realize that the Snoqualmie River fork meant several ridge lines, I had always just assumed there were two: one on either side of i90. Turns out, Mt. Si and Teneriffe are along a completely separate ridge from Mailbox Peak, the infamously steep hike that seems to be a rite of passage for trail runners out here. Confession: I haven’t done it yet.

Looking back along the final ridge

Looking back along the final ridge

Geocache on the ground, summit register in the tree

Geocache on the ground, summit register in the tree

Once we reached the top, there were two areas to sit. On the actual summit in the sun (and wind) or in a clump of trees in the shade (no wind). I chose sun, but Kyle went to check out the shade. And found a summit register! Hidden in a length of PVC pipe stuck in a tree. And buried in the snow was an official Geocache… box. I’ve actually never seen on up close before, though I’m pretty sure there’s one beneath the boardwalk at Lake TwentyTwo if you head left when you reach the lake. I saw that one. Nothing too exciting inside this one, except someone’s credit card. I hadn’t brought anything neat to leave, so we just closed it up and put it back. But I have to wonder how many of these I’ve passed on hikes and just never noticed. I bet there are tons up here.

If you look very closely you can see places to clip in dangling on the right

If you look very closely you can see places to clip in dangling on the right

Sitting at the summit, I realized how tired I was. It felt like it had taken forever to get there, and now we had to get all the way down. And quickly – I was aiming to be back in time for the Furious 7 premiere. I had work at 8am the next morning, and a pre-movie nap was in order. After downing some easter m&m’s, we packed our stuff back up and were on our way. We did notice a rock climbing area that we completely missed on the way up – perfect for sport climbing. Apparently there are a bunch of places to climb in the area, but since I’ve never tried it, none are on my radar. Here’s a pic on the right of the climbing area. I’m assuming the signs for “Great Wall” along the trail are directing hikers to another good rock climb. Good to know for when I decide to give it a shot.

Strava map of Mt. Washington

Strava map of Mt. Washington

Overall, a very straightforward trail that’s a great introduction to the North Bend i90 area if you don’t want to deal with the crowds on Si and Mailbox. Almost no avalanche danger whatsoever since it’s mostly through trees, but you still get a nice view at the top. Apparently you can even see Rainier on a clear day. Strava map here. Also, a few hikers lost their car keys on the trail! We saw a sign written in snow that said “KEYS!” in bright red (no idea how they did that, it wasn’t just red juice) followed by “PARKING LOT” (I think). Safe to say someone dropped their keys and another hiker found them, and according to the trip report on WTA later that night, that’s exactly what happened. Hikers out here are great. By now, I’ve had car keys returned, snowshoes taken (kindly – they thought they were doing us a favor), food shared, directions shared, a dog leash returned, teamed up with random hikers to get farther than I would solo, someone even left a note on my buddy Jonathan’s car when she thought we might have left his GoPro on a rock at Heather Lake. We were just taking a timelapse, but still. Someone give me a chance to pass it forward, dammit!

Navaho Peak (yes, with an H)

View of Stuart from along the ridge

View of Stuart from along the ridge

After a ridiculous day at Lake Ingalls two days prior, I was on my way back to the Teanaway region again on 4/1/2015 – Wednesday morning. It’s like I’ve discovered a secret beautiful area that’s always sunny with amazing views. Don’t tell anyone. There’s something special about going for a hike and knowing you’re the only people for miles. Anyway, Navaho Peak ended up being far more doable than I expected after seeing the Ingalls basin, and damn, did those views take my breath away.

  • Distance: 12 miles round trip (12.3 for us)
  • Elevation: 4200ft gain, 7220 highest point
  • Weather: 50’s and sunny at the bottom, freaking cold and windy at the top (maybe low 30’s?)
  • Commute from Seattle: 2:15, longer if you get stuck in Snoqualmie Blizzard
Dusted trail in the beginning

Dusted trail in the beginning

Snoqualmie Pass was the hardest part of the drive. Heavy snow, limited visibility, and trucks using their chains. It felt like playing frogger, except in a car, and more stressful. I wasn’t driving. I just resigned myself to my fate that maybe it was my time and Ingalls was just a good way to end my hiking career on a good note. The weird part? It made me a little homesick for the east coast. Yeah, that’s what I miss. Spinning my wheels on hill starts because there was 6 inches of snow on the ground and tire chains were unheard of. Or that one time a BMW in Chicago spun into a snow bank as I smirked behind him. Don’t worry, I helped dig him out, I’m nice. But we made it, thanks to Kyle, and about 5 miles from our exit, the skies started to clear. The light at the end of the tunnel! Yes!

Looking up at Navaho and a small avalanche/slide area (before pic, see after pic below)

Looking up ay a small avalanche/slide area (before pic, see after pic below)

The road to the trailhead was a piece of cake. A few potholes, but nothing too rutted, no washouts, no snow or ice patches besides a light dusting of fresh snow twinkling in the sun. Gorgeous. We got started right away and followed the summer trail for the first 2 miles, stopping to take pictures along the river. Little Navaho and Navaho were both covered in snow, but it didn’t look deep. I started to think this might not be as tricky as I expected. Hell, it was already easier than Lake Ingalls. And the first few miles of the trail are pretty much flat.

Almost at the ridge, Earl in the background

Almost at the ridge, Earl in the background

We did lose the trail at one point. I blame the fresh snow. We went off trail for a bit aiming for Navaho Pass (more on this later) and eventually ran into the trail as it started to switchback up the slope. It went in and out of snowy patches, and we finally lost it for good about two miles from the top. At that point, we just started trekking straight up the snow to the ridge. Steep, but snow conditions were fantastic. Far less concerning than the conditions getting to Lake Ingalls. Fully consolidated, no slushy layer, just nice firm snow with a bit of powder on top. A few of my buddies put on microspikes, I found that kicking steps was more than enough.

Stuart with wispy clouds

Stuart with wispy clouds

Earl grew smaller and smaller as we got higher and higher, and finally we gained the ridge. Boom. Stuart! From the other side! Damn, the Stuart range is photogenic. We were still in a sparsely forested area, so trees occasionally got in the way, but the views were unbelievable. Just don’t look back towards i90. It’s still nice, but it’s a highway. Looking at the snow covered peaks makes you feel like a bad ass in the middle of the wilderness. And I bet Earl doesn’t look half as good once all of the snow has melted.

Heading along the ridge to the summit

Heading along the ridge to the summit, Earl again

We turned right to head up towards the true summit. Behind us was Earl, to the left was Ingalls (in the clouds), Stuart, Sherpa, Argonaut, Colchuck, Dragontail, Little Annapurna, and McClellan Peak. Straight ahead was Navaho, and beyond that, Little Navaho. Snow conditions were still great, and staying to the right of the trees blocked some of the wind that was whipping around us. It was steep going, but that doesn’t matter. When you’re somewhere that beautiful, you want to stop every 20 feet to get pictures of everything. The peaks, the ridge behind you, the valley, every step is amazing. Or maybe that was just our excuse to take breaks, you’ll never know.

Panorama looking northwest from the peak

Panorama looking northwest from the peak

Finally we came out of the trees, and the summit was just above us. Hey guys! I found the trail! I laughed running up the last clear 15 feet to the rocky summit. What I didn’t realize is that Three Brothers was right beyond where we were. I didn’t even get a picture! How did I miss?! We snapped pictures of everyone at the top, until I couldn’t feel my fingers or feet anymore. Dammit. Three socks isn’t enough, apparently. We trekked back down the ridge a ways until we found a spot secluded from the wind by a cluster of trees (but in the sun!) and settled down there for snacks. I had a valiant attempt at getting a time-lapse, but my camera fell over just as clouds brushed the peak of Stuart. Because I don’t have a tripod. I prop it up on a rock or two and hope for the best. The plebeian photographer. But here’s what I got, a slightly less exciting version of what I saw.

Stuart range from the peak of Navaho

Stuart range from the peak of Navaho

Stuart is one dramatic peak. The dark stone (all granite, I was told) contrasts amazingly with the snow, and it just looks so sharp from this angle. I’ll climb that someday.

Glissading down

Glissading down

After making sure everyone knew how to self arrest, we glissaded most of the way down. That made the trip back down the ridge much easier than the way up. And glissading is a blast. It’s like sledding for adults. I’d recommend bringing microspikes and an axe, though I never felt like I would be relying on the axe at any point like I did occasionally at Ingalls. It was just a fun tool to steer and brake when glissading.

"after" pic - no snow left on the lower peaks!

“after” pic – no snow left on the lower peaks! Taken from next to the huge log in the “before” pic

We followed our own steps down from the ridge, and eventually met up with the summer trail again, which we followed all the way to the parking lot. The snow had mostly melted, leaving the trail dry and sunny. An entirely different day. Oh, and it turned out our “off-trail navigation” around miles 2-3 was a hilarious 15-30ft from the trail at any given point. Oops.

Strava Map of Navaho Peak trail

Strava Map of Navaho Peak trail

I’m too lucky. Two spectacular hikes in a row. I came back down to earth on Thursday – it had to happen eventually. Here’s to hoping the snow will stick around just a little bit longer, or I’ll be forced to chase it up high.

Here’s a strava map if you’d like to see where we went. I imagine we left a pretty good boot path between the five of us. Highly recommend checking it out now if you have the chance. I’m a newbie out here and don’t know how long those peaks will be snow capped. All I know is that the title picture on the WTA trip page doesn’t do it justice. It’s an incredible horizon to look across. And knowing that the enchantments (allegedly the best hikes in the entire state) are on the other side is intriguing. It’s like a secret within a secret, blocked by peaks on all sides. I’d love to do those in shoulder season with some snow someday.

Mount Defiance (and Mason Lake on the way)

It’s official, folks: I am the proud owner of a new (well, 9 year old) Nissan Xterra! Watch out Cascades, there’s a new bright yellow gas guzzling beast in your midst with an impatient Bostonian behind the wheel. Except you can’t tell anymore, because I got Washington plates. I’ll admit, I’m a little bummed. Now I have no excuse when I do something stupid. Instead of “oh, they’re from Boston, of course they suck at driving” it’ll be “oh, there goes a jerk in an outrageous car.”

McClellan Butte lit up by some brief sun

McClellan Butte lit up by some brief sun (anyone know what peak is to the left?)

Anyway, it’s time to hit the trails again. Yesterday’s endeavor was originally going to be lakes Talapus and Ollalie, but driving out to i90 views were actually decent. Overcast, but you could see much of the Cascade range, so we regrouped and decided to attempt Mt. Defiance. Being an ambitious idiot, I thought it was 10 miles, and figured it couldn’t be too steep since it was just past Mason Lake. This will be important later. Spoiler alert: it’s 11 miles, and I’m dumb. And this morning my legs were sore. That’s rare.

  • Distance: 11 miles
  • Elevation: 3584ft gain, 5500 highest point
  • Weather: Sunny, rainy, snowy and 30’s-40’s (aka everything besides wind)
  • Commute from Seattle: 1 hour
  • Did I Trip: Yes. So did Lee. Turns out we’re kind of clumsy.

We pulled off the highway to drive down to the Mason Lake/Ira Spring trailhead. The road gets worse every time. Last month I had a Subaru struggle to clear the potholes going 5mph. This time… 10 inches of clearance. Four wheel drive. Mud tires. Great suspension. I had a blast. I can’t imagine Lee was very comfortable bouncing around in the passenger seat while I bombed through puddles. I didn’t make Lee get out to take a picture, but next time. There were a few other cars at the trailhead (curious, as we only ran into one other person – the rest must have been camping), and before we knew it, we were on the way. I figured we had about 4 hours tops, if I wanted time to get back and shower before I had to work at 3.

Sunlight got our hopes up

Sunlight got our hopes up

Snow covered Mason Lake

Snow covered Mason Lake

Beginning of the trail is just as it was a few weeks ago when I hiked with Dave to Mason Lake. The creek that was tricky to cross in February was much lower now, and we could just rock hop across. Trail isn’t too steep until the wide old logging road ends, and then it starts getting steeper. I passed those old steel cables again, and still have to wonder what the hell they were used for. I was told a few months back on McClellan that there used to be lights for airplanes on Catherine, McClellan, and Bandera peaks, so that’s my best guess. It’s just a few scrappy remnants at this point, so I might never find out. I’m a dork, guys, I like finding the history behind certain trails and areas.

We were at Mason Lake within an hour and a half. I knew we had to push the pace if we wanted to make it to Defiance without making me be late to work. Remember when I’d wake up at 5 to go hike and be back for work at 2? And how I’d consistently underestimate the time it’d take me to complete a hike? Yeah, that’s happening again.

Summit of Defiance visible from the Mason Lake trail

Summit of Defiance visible from the Mason Lake trail

I briefly considered heading to Bandera at the trail junction, but was feeling a little lazy and didn’t want to tackle that last mile. So we headed to the lake, with the hope of reaching Defiance. No views of Rainier at this point, but still clear so far! Mason Lake was actually spectacular. Half melted, but with a light dusting of snow all over the logs and surrounding rocks, the lake was a respectable destination in itself, and one that I would have been happy to repeat.

Sneak peek of views before cloud level dropped

Sneak peek of views before cloud level dropped

We kept moving, and met up with the main trail, which was signed right at the lake. Following that for a few minutes, we came to a sign pointing to the Defiance trail (or Mason Lake, or Pratt Lake, or Thompson Lake) and took off towards the peak. The trail had become covered in a light dusting of snow, and we plugged along. We had a few sneak peeks of views, but nothing too open. Soon it was actually snowing, and I started to wonder if we’d even have views by the time we got to the top.

Lee traversing the meadows below Defiance

Lee traversing the meadows below Defiance

By the way, the last two miles to the peak are steep! I underestimated it, and it was a wake up call for my buns and thighs. I’ll trail run it someday (besides the steepest parts) because it’s close to Seattle and a good distance for a morning run. And it has long flat sections. Which, of course, mean short very steep sections. But you know what? We were in a winter freaking wonderland. I don’t think either of us had seen snow since December. It was amazing. There were just a few inches, not enough for spikes, but poles were nice.

Mason Lake and Little Mason Lake down below

Mason Lake and Little Mason Lake down below

We broke out along the meadows about a half mile from the top of Defiance, and despite the clouds dropping lower and lower, were impressed by the scenery. We could just barely make out Mason Lake (and Little Mason Lake, I believe) in the background.

Lee looking tiny down below

Lee looking tiny down below

When the steep section of trail started, I left Lee behind for a few minutes to see how quickly I could get to the top. We figured it’d be socked in by clouds so it wouldn’t be worth bringing all our gear and trudging up there, especially since we were short on time.

Lee tries to catch snowflakes on her tongue

Lee tries to catch snowflakes on her tongue

We were correct. Nothing but a wall of white, which was disappointing because I was hoping to see the topography and lakes Mason and Kulla Kulla laid out beneath me. But we’ll just have to go back another time. I ran back down the trail to meet Lee, and we headed back to Mason Lake. On the way down, it started snowing even harder, all the way down to 3500ft, maybe further. It brought out our inner Bostonian snow-loving joy (or maybe just hiker’s high? Like runner’s high? Damn endorphins) and we stopped in amazement for a bit to try and catch flakes. Soon afterwards, the snow turned to rain (of course) and we speed-hiked the rest of the way. Made it back to the car in just under 5 hours round trip, and just enough time for me to drop Lee off, grab a change of clothes, and go straight to work. Shh, don’t tell my coworkers.

Strava map and link here. Turned around along the ridge before the true summit since Lee was waiting below and there weren’t going to be views at the top anyway. Next time!

Strava map

Strava map

It’s great having the hiking freedom again. With spring coming up, there’s going to be so much to do, and this is why I moved out here. I packed up my bags and drove out here to be surrounded by mountains, not for a job, or for friends, or for the hipster flannel beanie coffee lover vibe. Mountains. Hiking, climbing, trail running. Let’s do it.

EDIT: Just found out that they’re considering logging the bottom of this trailhead, as well as a few others in the area. The old logging road that this trail follows at first will be re-opened as just that. It will affect Talapus and Ollalie, Granite Mountain, Pratt Lake, McClellan Butte, and a few others. All close, popular, accessible hikes. Bummer. I was too late to give input, but hopefully they’ll decide to at least avoid the trail areas. I just moved out here, give me a few more seasons before moving in the loggers!

Mason Lake

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

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

Mason Lake from the outlet stream

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

River crossing

River crossing

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

Back along the trail towards Rainier

Looking back along the trail towards Rainier

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

Greener than the entire state of Illinois right now

Greener than the entire state of Illinois right now

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

Cracks in the ice along Mason Lake

Cracks in the ice along Mason Lake

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

Couldn't resist

Couldn’t resist

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

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

Screenshot of the map

Screenshot of the map

McClellan Butte

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

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

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

Green, dry trail. Could be a summer hike

Green, dry trail. Could be a summer hike

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

DSC01022

Fresh snow!

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

Avalanche debris across the trail

Avalanche debris across the trail

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

DSC01028

Snack break

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

Views were starting to open up

Views were starting to open up

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

Trail starting to flatten out

Trail starting to flatten out

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

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

Stairway to heaven?

Stairway to heaven?

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

Frost "growing" on the tiny branches

Frost “growing” on the tiny branches

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

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

Emilie and I in front of the icy scramble

Emilie and I in front of the icy scramble

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

View looking west-ish from just below the scramble

View looking west-ish from just below the scramble

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

View looking south-ish from just below the scramble

View looking south-ish from just below the scramble

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

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

One more from the top

One more from the top

Franklin Falls

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

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

    Trail to the falls

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

River toward the beginning

River toward the beginning

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

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

Small waterfall along the hike

Small waterfall along the hike

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

Franklin Falls

Franklin Falls

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

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

Pool of water at the bottom of some slickrock

Pool of water at the bottom of some slickrock

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

Snow Lake

DSC00876A casual, 24-hour-post-marathon hike. This was the first hike I did in Washington ever (back in August) and it was shocking back then. The fact that within an hour of Seattle, I could be on a hike to a beautiful alpine lake was incredible. And look at me now – I’ve been on hikes far more remote and beautiful and strenuous. But the day after a marathon, I figured I should stay close and keep it simple. Jean came along with me, and was beyond patient when I stumbled and whined and couldn’t bend over to pick up my hiking poles when I dropped them. Hiked 12/1/2014.

  • Distance: 7.2 miles round trip
  • Elevation: 1800ft gain (4400 highest point)
  • Weather: 30’s and sunny
  • Commute from Seattle: 50 minutes
  • Did I Trip: No, and thank god, because I don’t know if I’d have gotten up if I did

We got to the Alpental parking lot a little late. It took me a while to get up, hobble around my apartment making tea and whatnot, and realize that I’d definitely regret sitting around the house all day on one of the few crisp sunny days Seattle gets this time of the year. So I texted Jean. Hey, you know what, I’m down to go for a hike. Let’s check out Snow Lake. I had rented snowshoes hoping to test them out for the first time in my life, so she tossed hers in the car and we headed out.

For starters, my hiking boots were heaven for my feet. I think it was the utter lack of flexility after running the race in a low profile shoe (Saucony Kinvaras, what up) but my feet have never been so happy. It was short lived, though. Unsuprisingly. Can’t have happy feet during a hike the day after a race. That’s too much to ask. But I could drive, and we made it to the parking lot despite trip reports warning of a slick, frozen road. Yes, there were two inches of ice on the road, but they had tossed sand all over it and there were tracks all over it, and we had no issues.

DSC00863We got out of the car, and checked out the trail. Not too much snow, but we thought we’d throw on the snowshoes and just go for it. After all, the most recent trip report had said no snowshoes necessary for the first half mile, but that they were great after that. So we did. Jean had to help me get mine on (yeah I know I’m like a five year old) because I wasn’t flexible enough to stay bent over for more than a few seconds without every muscle in my legs screaming in agony. Freakin marathon tightness.

We got on our way, and I was surprised to learn that snowshoes aren’t exactly connected to the heel of your shoe. They just flop around a bit. Weird. And I felt a bit like I was waddling to prevent them from clacking against each other. But I got used to them quickly. Until we ran into a hiker on his way down (already! it was like 11am) who told us we definitely wouldn’t need them for the whole trail. Cool. I’m just not meant to snowshoe, I guess, considering this was the second failed attempt. So we took them off and stashed them behind a fallen tree. And half buried them in snow so no one would find them. And put on microspikes and continued on our way.

DSC00873There were plenty of ice patches, plenty of rocky patches, and plenty of deeper snow patches. I’d say microspikes were the right choice. And gaiters! Oh god, was I happy with my gaiters. It’s great being able to blast through snow without getting any in your boots. A freedom I didn’t know I had. There were a few areas where you could see icicles hanging off of rocks. No part where they’d fall directly on the trail, though.

This trail does turn into a very avalanche-prone trek in the winter months, and I could absolutely see why. That’s why I figured I should go back when there’s just a little bit of snow, pre-avy danger but post summer crowds. Seriously, last time I was there, everyone and their mother and kids was there. It was amazing having it mostly to ourselves. I also can’t put into words how much I love fresh snow. When it just dusts the tops of the trees. There’s nothing better. This was probably the first time I had seen that since Silver Peak a month ago, and I was glad to get it again.

DSC00867The great thing about Snow Lake is that views just keep getting better. I don’t think I realized it in the summer, maybe because of the crowds or maybe it was just “an average valley” without the snow. But on Monday, I kept turning around to take pictures as we gradually climbed. The snow muffled the sound of i90, and it was easy to forget that we were right off a highway. Perpendicular to it, at least, unlike Granite Mountain where you parallel it for the first three miles of your hike.

We had prepared for a mid-teens hike, but it ended up being around freezing (maybe mid 30’s towards the end) for most of the hike. Not warm enough for a ton of melt, but enough that I didn’t need half of the 800 layers I had brought. Definitely didn’t need the two pairs of pants I was wearing. Being in the sun made a huge difference – we did take a break in the shade for a bit, and I threw on some extra layers. DSC00874

Turning around just before we reached the ridge line, we saw the entire valley laid out in front of us. Damn, that dusting of snow. It was beautiful. The Alpental parking lot and resort are down in the valley if you look closely.

DSC00879After crossing the ridge, there was a small side path to a rock overlooking Snow Lake. That was the shady spot we decided to take a break, and have some snacks. I had eaten cheez-its throughout the marathon the day before, and brought the rest on the hike. By some miracle, Jean had cheez its too, though she brought the white cheddar ones. So we had some good variety. We snacked, took some pics (gray jays were harassing us, but they’re so round and cute) and eventually decided to head down to the lake. I stood up, and nearly fell over. My feet were not happy campers. The first few steps were agony, but once moving, everything loosened up.

Five minutes later, Jean realized she was missing her iPhone. Which was white. You know what else is white? Snow. Good. We turned around to retrace our steps, hoping it fell out at the rock we say on and not in the fresh puffy snow where it would probably just disappear into the fluff and never be found. And that’s where it ended up being. I didn’t go up to the rock. Getting down with my pathetic legs was enough of a struggle the first time (I almost went face-first), I wasn’t doing it again. But I heard a celebratory hoot from Jean, and assumed she had success. Woo!

DSC00883We finally made it down to the lake. Okay, it was probably like another half mile, but for me it felt like it took forever. We found another rock that stuck out over the lake – I think in August, people were jumping off it into the water. We sat down to have cheez-it snack, part II. Took an obligatory REI pack pic, too. DSC00894

The middle of the lake was frozen over, but it was too fresh to have accumulated snow. The neat part about that is that you could see all of the cracks crossing the ice where it had split while melting and re-freezing. We spent a while just looking out over the lake enjoying the sun. I will admit I think I singlehandedly ate at least half a box of cheez its while Jean munched on a cliff bar.

DSC00884Eventually, I knew I had to fight the sore legs and get up, because technically we were only halfway there. You still have to hike all the way back down. It’s like mountain climbing. Don’t get complacent when you reach the summit. Going up is optional, going down is mandatory. Suck it up Eve, you have to walk out of here, Jean’s not gonna give you a piggyback and you can’t crawl. Okay, that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but you get the point. It was slow going. We did run into a girl wearing casual boots. As in one in heels, no waterproofing, open ankles, no traction, yeah. She made it to the lake which was impressive. If that had been me, I’d have called a helicopter to get me out a mile into the hike. “Nothing like Snow Lake to bring out the casually unprepared,” as one commenter on my trip report wrote.

DSC00895There were a few creek crossings that got a little icy. The first was only a mile or so into the trail, where we ran into some dads with their young kids who decided to turn around since the kids were already tired and crossing 15 feet of ice didn’t seem ideal with a bunch of 2-5 year olds. The other memorable one was the one to the right, where you had to hop across some rocks since the ice wasn’t thick enough to stand on. Stop it, I know what you’re thinking. “Oh that looks easy.” Okay, you run 26 miles and then try jumping from one leg 3 feet to the other leg and landing steadily. This was my Everest. I pawed around like a cat does before attempting a jump it knows it probably won’t make. But I made it. And with that, I knew it would be smooth (ish) sailing to the bottom.

The end of the hike went by surprisingly quickly, or maybe I blocked it from memory. Or maybe it was overshadowed by the last obstacle we had to conquer. Oh yeah, we had stashed snowshoes! Wouldn’t it be funny if they were gone? Ha, ha, right. We got to the stash site and Jean looks up at me after I joked and says “…they aren’t here.” No way, maybe they’re just more buried than before. We poked around the snow, dug a little, nope. Nothing. Nada. They were gone. Seriously?! The world is just telling me that I should give up trying to snowshoe. We got back to the car hoping someone just brought them down to the trailhead, but no luck. We asked other hikers if they had seen anyone with snowshoes, nope. We filed a police report and posted all over the wta trail reports, but nothing turned up. I called REI that night, embarrassed and ashamed that I had made such a stupid decision and asked how much I’d have to pay. $140, which was half of what I expected, but not ideal.

DSC00901Now since I’m writing this blog post six days later, you get a conclusion: we found the snowshoes! Someone picked them up thinking he was doing us a favor, assuming we had lost them, or forgotten them. Ugh. No. Sir, stashing is a way of life. But at least they’re back, and I dodged a $140 bullet. You’d think my lesson would be “don’t stash things!” but it’s more like “stash them better” or “leave a note.”

Anyway, back to Snow Lake. Great hike, even more amazing in snow if you can find a time during the shoulder season to do it! There is a snowshoe route you can take in heavier snow that’s a little longer, but there’s still significant avalanche danger until you’re at the ridge, so make sure you’re familiar with the terrain and avy danger evaluation. There’s also Avalanche Mountain nearby and Chair Peak which are both great in winter (again, with experience). Nothing like a crisp, sunny day in the Cascades in winter!

DSC00882

Annette Lake 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Granite Mountain

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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