Jim Hill Mountain Ski Tour

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Gaining the north ridge of Jim Hill

I think I can honestly say that this is the first trip I’ve had that was about the skiing and not the summit or the views or anything else. We debated many trips, but settled on Jim Hill, a peak I had heard about for years but never checked out. We saw it from Rock Mountain a month or so prior, and I had always kind of poo-pooed it thinking there were better things to do. But we needed a day trip, didn’t want to trailhead camp, did want sunny blue skies, and settled on the Stevens Pass area. Jim Hill it was. Skiied 3/25/2018.

  • Distance: 5ish miles?
  • Elevation Gain: 3400 (6400 highest point, we didn’t summit)
  • Weather: 40’s and sunny, 40’s and cloudy, 30’s and snowing
  • Commute from Seattle: 2hrs without traffic
  • Did I Trip: Some backsliding while skinning but no faceplants or tumbles
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Lanham Lake

We arrived at the trail around 8. Problem was, we had planned on starting up via Henry Creek, but couldn’t find parking anywhere and I was too lazy to figure it out so we just parked at the Stevens Pass Nordic Center and went up via Lanham Lake. Lanham Lake is a popular snowshoe, and we made quick work of the 1.5 miles to the lake. I stubbornly left my heel risers down as long as possible before finally caving and putting them up, only to have the trail flatten out. So I walked in basically high heels for another few minutes before putting them down, only to encounter another hill around the corner. I grumbled and put them back up again as Robert sang Jack Black parody songs behind me.

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Almost at the ridge!!

At the lake, we crossed the outlet stream to the east and started switchbacking up through the woods. It was a surprisingly steep skin trail. Whoever was ahead of us had great balance, or just determination, because it was a few inches of fresh snow on top of an icy crust. I was hoping the other side would be a nicer ski out, because I knew immediately I wouldn’t have fun skiing the trees down to Lanham Lake.

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Robert coming up the ridge

We got sneak peeks of the views to the south as the trees opened up, and finally I saw blue sky ahead! And rays of sun! Yes!! I whooped as I gained the ridge and broke out into snow covered trees and spectacular blue sky all lit up by the sun with the open slopes and glades below Jim Hill begging to be skiied. Oh my god. Robert hurry up. Look what we can do. I relented and agreed to have a snack, I can’t run on stoke and pride forever.

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Weather moving in

We followed the skin track up the ridge. To my dismay, weather was already moving in. We knew it was coming, but it wasn’t supposed to get cloudy until 11am, and no snow until the afternoon! Yet here was a wall of precip coming towards us. Ah, shit. Visibility deteriorated, I decided I didn’t want to tag the true summit because it was steeper than I had expected and the northwest slopes felt totally windloaded. We decided to ski back the way we came, and once we hit the ridge we’d drop into the north basin and ski out via Henry Creek.

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Visibility didn’t get too bad!

We transitioned to downhill mode and dropped onto the softest, lightest, most glorious powder I have EVER skiied. My sample size is small, but these were easily the best backcountry conditions I had ever seen. We carved two feet of powder, maybe more, whooping and hollering the whole way. It was an absolute dream. We went one at a time to be sure we liked the snowpack, and damn it was perfect. We came to a stop near another party, who was going back up for more. One more? Worth the hike? Hell yes!

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Neat textures up high

Since visibility hadn’t gotten as bad as we expected, we skinned right back up for round two. It almost got sunny (“partly sunny” is often how these days are described even though you’re mostly looking at the inside of a ping pong ball) but the light never got too flat. This time we started higher up and earned ourselves an extra 200ish feet of turns, and it was worth it so many times over. I dropped in first knowing Robert would catch up and we could just party run it (everyone at once instead of one at a time). This time we kept going to the bottom. From wide open alpine slopes to open glade skiing threading the needle between sparse trees to slightly more dense trees I mean seriously I wish this run had gone on forever. We finally hit the only patch of bad snow, which was sloppy grabby crust that I did not enjoy. But I still made it through without booting it.

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Robert shredding the north bowl. Two tickets to pow town!

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One more with moody clouds

And from there, we had some survival skiing (slide slipping on ice, dodging thicker trees, the works), some split-board-skiing (Robert’s actually quite good at it), some forest road cruising (soft and enjoyable), and a short highway walk (sorry mom) and we were back at the car just as it started to snow and visibility was officially shot. So on one hand, we had awesome timing. But on the other hand… we definitely could have gotten in a few more laps, and right now sitting on my couch I wish I was back up there. The sound of skis slicing through champagne powder is like the sound of rain on a tin roof. There’s just something soothing about it.

Lakes Dorothy, Bear, Deer, and Snoqualmie

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The far end of Lake Dorothy, neat channels underwater

Catching up on old posts, and since this is a rainy day one it’ll be a quickie. I had donated blood the previous afternoon, so I ignored all hiking/climbing requests to do my own thing in case it was similar to the last time I donated blood. Last time I thought it would be smart to hike to Lake Serene, and I was pouring sweat with a heart rate of like 180 and miserable the entire time and I did not want a repeat of that. So I surveyed the population for “boring lake hikes.” The lakes can be nice, but I don’t want any tempting peaks behind them, no scrambling, no elevation gain, a well maintained obvious trail, relatively short drive, you get the idea. Hiked 9/9/2017.

  • Distance: 14 miles
  • Elevation: 1600ft gain, 3600ft highest point (warning: you lose 500ft elevation to Snoqualmie Lake)
  • Weather: 50’s and rainy
  • Commute from Seattle: 2 hours
  • Did I Trip: No. Who’s well grounded!?
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Your first glimpse of Lake Dorothy

And I settled on lakes Dorothy, Bear, and Deer. I figured if I felt crappy I could turn around at any of those lakes. I got to the trailhead around 10am and started off, immediately being passed by two trail runners. I was jealous. Then I cruised past some park rangers, one of whom dated my friend last year (I’m awkward and announced him as such) and prayed they didn’t give me a ticket for my expired America the Beautiful pass. Lake Dorothy is about 1.5 miles down the trail, but the lake is HUGE. Tons of campsites, great for families with kids and inflatable boats and towels and big stoves.

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Closest thing I had to a view all day

It took what felt like forever to get to the other end of the lake. You finally hit some elevation gain on the far side, and switch back up a short ridge that eventually drops you to Bear and Deer lakes, which are twin lakes! There are more campsites at each lake (immediately off the trail), and you can either stop here or continue to Snoqualmie Lake.

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Beautifully maintained trail

I had all day and was moving faster than I thought, so I figured I’d carry on. I also expected there to be a turnaround destination here, which there wasn’t, and continuing trail is just so tempting. I lost what felt like a ton of elevation dropping to Snoqualmie Lake, which interestingly had some sandy shores. There are campsites here, my personal favorite (which I deemed my turnaround spot) was actually just off the main trail to the right towards a beautiful surprise tarn. So that’s where you should camp if you don’t mind a 7 mile hike.

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Local riff raff

Figuring it wasn’t going to get any more interesting from there and looking forward to a warm cozy dinner, I turned around and high tailed it back to the parking lot. I did not get a ticket from a lack of pass, thank you rangers! I had actually called their building on the way hoping to get a pass but it was close, so I swear I had tried. And I finally got the new pass a week, don’t worry. I know, I know, I live on the edge.

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Favorite tarn by Snoqualmie Lake

Overall, pleasant hike, good destination for anyone who wants lake camping with kids or a long trail run. The trail continues beyond Snoqualmie Lake all the way to Middle Fork Snoqualmie River (I’m pretty sure those two trail runners started at Middle Fork, ran to the Dorothy trailhead, and then ran back to Middle Fork), so you could have a fantastic out and back or even car to car trail run on a mellow, well maintained trail if you so desired. Just don’t donate blood the day before. Good for hot summer days (lakes!) or gross rainy days (…lakes!) or lazy days (flat trails, and… lakes!) since you can turn around at any number of destinations.

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Luxurious campsite near the tarn

Rock Mountain & Rock Lake via Snowy Creek

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Rock lake from the ridge to Rock Mountain

Could you have a more genetic name for a peak? It’s like “Blue Lake” or “Round Lake” or “Mount Peak” (okay, the last one’s kind of funny, and in their defense, it was “Mount Pete” until a bunch of people screwed it up). And Rock Lake is kind of an oxymoron, it’s like naming a peak Water Peak. You can’t have a lake of rocks. It’d be weird. Anyway, enough Monday morning ramblings. Back after a few weeks without any new trails or climbs since Torment/Forbidden! Here are the stats.

Distance: ~11 miles
Elevation: 3600ft
Weather: 50’s and foggy, eventually sunny
Commute from Seattle: 2 hours
Did I Trip: No but (spoiler alert) I peed on a wasp nest and you can imagine how that went
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Starting out in forest

We were originally planning on Lake Edna at my insistence (and I fantasized about tacking on some cragging since we’d be right off Icicle Creek Road), but decided halfway there that weather looked okay around Stevens Pass and we settled on Rock Peak, which Chelsea found on wta’s Hike Finder Map. My expectations were low. It was just a hike, pictures I had seen were mediocre, and I had wanted the alpine feel above tree line that I don’t trust Route 2 to deliver. But driving 2 hours instead of almost 3 was enticing, and I didn’t want to push it, so Rock Mountain it is! We decided to approach via the Snowy Creek Trail, which was a shorter and less steep(!) trail compared to the Rock Lake approach. We weren’t planning on a lake. In fact I didn’t even realize there was a lake there.

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Fall foliage (credit: Chelsea)

The trailhead is 15-20 minutes past the Lake Valhalla trailhead, over a lower, lesser known Rainy Pass. My car got a wash scraping past all of the dewey slide alder hanging over the forest road. I hope you don’t care too much about your paint job. Amazingly, mine stayed mostly intact. We pulled over at the trailhead next to a car with a bumper sticker informing us that we should EAT MORE KALE! I’m working on enjoying salads and I’ve made a lot of progress in the last few months, but kale is… kale is still gross. Bleck.

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The meadow! Hope those clouds clear

I wondered at where the rest of the road went, and we started hiking. It was wet at first, the past day had been pouring rain and everything was still wet. Rocking my yoga pants (yup), I wasn’t thrilled about the dew. Luckily the overgrown trail didn’t last long though, and soon enough we were in the woods. There’s a trail split with a sign a little over a mile in, and while I couldn’t entirely tell which way the signs were pointing, I can tell you that if you want the quickest way to Rock Mountain, keep going straight.

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Fiery red plants. No idea what these are

We were soon dumped into a meadow full of brilliantly red plants and yellow grasses. It’s fall! Fuck, it’s fall. I started snapping pictures. The meadow is a tease, while you can see the ridge you’re aiming for across open grassy slopes, the trail dips back into the forest and starts to switchback up. Around the third southeastern switchback there is a wasp nest. We’ll return to that in a few hours. Also, some species of plant up there smells like poop. I suggested that it might literally be poop, but Chelsea wasn’t convinced. There can’t be that much poop around.

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I believe that is Labyrinth Mountain… I could be wrong

Switchbacks usually annoy me, but not here. They were short and mellow, and gorgeous once you hit the grassy slopes. Up and up with surprisingly good views (Minotaur Lake and Labyrinth Peak look awesome!) and easy traveling with a party of two (the kale fans!) below us for scale, and eventually we hit the ridge, where the trail goes in both directions. Head right to get to the summit of Rock Mountain.

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This is what the inside of a ping pong ball looks like, if it has a peak and a cairn

From the flattish ridge you can look down on Rock Lake, which was a surprise to me since I didn’t know it was coming. It’s surprisingly pretty, especially with the fall foliage all around it. The ridge heading east from Rock Mountain might qualify as dramatic too, sharp steep rock stark against the sky and the rolling hills of Route 2. Anyway, we went left to hit the summit, and just our luck: socked in at the top. Inside of a ping pong ball. We took a few great summit selfies and decided to head down since it was chilly in the wind. On the way down, the cloud(s) blew through, and everything was back in view. Hey, we got up here in 2 hours, want to head down to the lake? Hell yes! Chelsea’s awesome.

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The best of the summit selfies (“where’s your nose guard?!”)

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Heading to the more colorful end of the ridge

We went to the opposite end of the ridge where the trail switchbacked down the opposite side we had come up, through some ridiculously red foliage. We moved quickly, until “HUCKLEBERRIES!!!!!” I looked at my feet. Huckleberries everywhere! Holy shit I forgot about berries! We started double fisting berries left and right, someone has to starve out the bears right? We finally continued down to the lake, laughing at our purple faces and hands. Worth it.

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Huckleberries!!! Go go go go go!

We arrived at the lake and set up to have snacks. I ran over to the side to attempt to get a picture with lake and fall foliage. We feasted on baked goods from Sultan Bakery, cheese, crackers, and happy corn mixed with chocolate covered pretzels which was a surprisingly delicious combo (and paired well with the surprisingly pretty lake). Eventually we knew we had to head back up, and stood back up ready to fight off the lactic acid in our legs. Ugh. And I had to pee, but wasn’t going to do it near running water, since I’m the idiot who often ends up drinking from that water.

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Fall huckleberries! I considered filling a bag but realized none actually would make it into the bag.

Heading up was frequently interrupted by more photo breaks, more blueberries I MEAN HUCKLEBERRIES (Chelsea feels strongly about this: blueberries are east coast, huckleberries are west coast, get it right), debates over what was a squirrel and what was a chipmunk, and a family of very brave ptarmigans that didn’t give a shit about us. Back at the ridge we took one last look at the views and headed back down the switchbacks, hitting forest before we knew it. We stopped to delayer, and I remembered that I had to pee.

So I ducked behind a tree slightly below the trail, just next to the meadow. I heard the low hum of wasps, reminiscent of our beehives back in Boston. Ha, it’d be funny if you peed on a wasps’ nest. I looked around. No wasps, just a fat fly being a pest. I pulled up my leggings and walked off. It took about six steps before I felt the pinching all over my legs. Fuck. Definitely bees. I shot towards Chelsea, hopping on one foot while crushing bees with my bare hands. “Shit!!! Bees!” My fingernails were full of wasp gunk. Good thing I didn’t cut my nails MOM. “Chelsea!! Are there any left on my legs?! Tell me if there are any left on my legs!!” My three layers of windbreaker, sweater, and shirt were too powerful for wasps to break through. But my yoga pants were no match. My legs were toast.
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Rock Lake

“You aren’t allergic right?” Chelsea asked, being responsible. “No, they’ll just get itchy and puffy and I’ll whine about it” I said. “Are you sure? Because one time someone told me they weren’t allergic and they ended up being very allergic.” I mean I don’t know I haven’t been stung by a bee since like middle school but it was never that bad? We’ll find out. I hobbled down the trail. The meadow wasn’t as impressive the second time around, either because we had seen so much better on the ridge or maybe because my brain was full of wasp venom.

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Looking back across the lake at our snack spot, bottom right, and Rock Mountain, center right

The rest of the hike was less eventful. Neither of us tripped (Chelsea’s nimble, I just got lucky and paid my dues in wasp stings instead of stubbed toes and facefuls of dirt). We passed the kale fans on the way back, who were surprised to see us coming from behind. I was too happy to be back at the car where I could lay off the legs.

Oh, this gets to the other interesting part! We’re driving just past the Valhalla trailhead on the way down, and Chelsea starts gasping and pointing. Speechless. I look where she’s pointing and slowly brake the car. A huge. Fucking. Tree. Is slowly falling across the road. The entire thing was in slow motion, and it didn’t make a sound, it didn’t shake the ground, it’s like the whole world was suspended watching this monster snap and tip.
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Timber! Chelsea for scale.

I was stopped in the middle of the road. Who gives a shit? We walked towards the tree. I don’t have tow straps, or a saw. I have straps that I use with my roof rack, we could try using those as tow straps? Or maybe with enough people we could roll it? Or, it’s soft enough maybe we can chip away enough to just make a ramp and drive over it. Everyone was brainstorming immediate ideas. The man in the truck behind us tried levering it with another branch. It wouldn’t budge, even with all of us.

Amazingly, at that instant, here comes a decked out pick up truck in the other direction. This guy’s gotta have something. He hops out of the car. “I have tow straps! We can move this.” Woo! He loops the straps around the log just beneath a knot so it doesn’t slip off, turns on the 4wd, and beautifully pulls the log out of the way. No hesitation, no directions needed, smooth as butter. The woman with him laughed. “This is probably making his day. He’s loving this.” I get it, I would too. Hell I’m proud just jumping other people’s dead batteries, wait until I tow someone.
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MVP making sure we got home before dark and still had time to stop for dinner!

We all cheered after he moved it. We hopped back in the car. I was weirdly shaken, if I didn’t drive like a granny we could have been right under it when it fell. It’s unnerving seeing something so massive just topple like that without any wind or outside influence, it turns out it’s just dead on the inside and no one knew.

Happy to be back on hte highway where no trees could fall on me, we sped along Highway 2 and stopped at a Vietnamese fusion place for dinner. They had this amazing lychee drink, it’s worth stopping there just for that. I got a burger with guac and bacon, and it was delicious. Post hike/climb/falling tree survival meals are always amazing. I had even forgotten about my legs. I woke up the next morning and it looked like I had been peppered with paintballs from ass down, and my right eye (only my right eye) was swollen. Cool, let’s go crush it in society. Where are my sunglasses, and can I wear them indoors?
Update: Bee stings have turned purple. Either I have scratched them to the point of bruising (possible), or I am dying.
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Looking back up at Rock Mountain and its rocky arm from the ridge