Mount Baring: When Turning Around is Still Awesome

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Baring’s true summit on the left

We all have to turn around on some hikes and climbs, that’s just life. You underestimated time or overestimated your speed, or conditions were worse than expected, or weather took a turn for the worse or the sun heated those avvy slopes a little too much. Or maybe there was just too much horse poop and spiderwebs and you said fuck it and bailed. Wait, who did that? It wasn’t me ok, it was me, shut up.

Two weeks ago, I took a vacation day from work (anyone who knows me understands the personal sacrifice right there, I ration vacation days like Seattle rations its sunshine) only to be turned around by time constraints on Colonial Peak, despite what I’d consider to be perfect conditions. Perfect meaning temperatures in the low teens, low avvy danger, great views, and a deep, empowering satisfaction with my ability to plow through powder mindlessly for hours on end without hating everyone and everything despite the 55lb pack on my back and the skis awkwardly extending 2ft above my head.
So the following weekend, I lowered the bar and set my sights on Mount Baring. Without skis. John and Rob had talked about how amazing it was and it had been on my winter list for a day hike, and Saturday’s forecast was “partly sunny” so I thought great, let’s see if we can get a crew together. Cue Simon, Kacie, and Cheryl all being ready with ~18 hours notice. You guys are awesome. I packed my bag at 5:30am.
  • Distance: ~6 miles round trip
  • Elevation Gain: 3700ft
  • Weather: 50’s and sunny
  • Commute from Seattle: 1:30
  • Did I Trip (/slip/posthole): The real question is “what’s the farthest you got without tripping” and the answer is “three steps.”
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Steep forest, already hitting snow

We met at Sultan Bakery at 7. I rushed everyone out knowing we were in for a 10+ hour day, and we got started from the trailhead at 9:15am, a much later start than in my dream world. Everything in my dream world starts at like 5am because I’m too impatient and don’t like waiting for life to happen. “Does anyone have a blue bag?” Kacie asked. I had a stash of them in my car, with some Immodium as the alternative. Pick your favorite!

The trail starts on the abandoned road behind the outhouse at the trailhead. Go down the road a few hundred feet, and you’ll see the trail heading straight up the slope to the right where a small creek crosses the road. It’s marked with a large cairn that looks just like a large pile of rocks. I honestly didn’t notice it until the way down, but the orange blazes were a good hint.

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I admire a cool snow formation while Kacie fights a butt-deep posthole

We started up the steep slope, and 10 feet up, Kacie says “Wait. I can’t find my water.” Uh, okay. “Is it because you forgot your water?” We laughed. “No, I filled it I swear!” She never did find her water, only an empty camelback, which she filled up in the small stream. The water will forever be a mystery. It wasn’t all over my trunk, at least. I think she forgot it.

The trail goes up, and up, and up. We hit snow almost immediately. There are a few fixed lines through some scrambly sections, but none felt necessary and they’re looking a little old so test them well before use. We did use one on the way down above what was a legitimate class 3 scramble move, covered in ice and moss and running water. Brutal combo.

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And some more steep forest snow

The trail up to the ridge is very well blazed already with orange tape, which was helpful. But the gist is “head straight up, stay to the right of the gulley, drop into the gulley for the last few hundred vertical feet, and suddenly you’ll be on a ridge.” We had some a shit-ton (is that metric?) of postholing, some root scrambling, some surprisingly legit rock scrambling, and plenty of crawling over and under downed trees. Simon took a chunk of ice to the head – the trees were shedding their snow and ice in the warm temperatures, and we all heard the thunk, followed by a string of expletives. I donned my hat for protection.

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Flat section of the ridge, gorgeous forest

It was very slow going up to the ridge, but the terrain flattens out for maybe a half mile once you’re up there. The forest was gorgeous in the sun, and the ridge was very knifey for a forested ridge, which I thought was so neat. It was a winter wonderland, with the sun lighting up the moss on the trees and snow all over the ground. At this point I knew we didn’t have a shot at the summit especially if it got steep again (spoiler alert: it did), so I settled on a conservative 2pm turnaround. We’d see how close we could get, and reevaluate accordingly depending on conditions, speed, and how everyone was feeling.

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Kacie and Cheryl downclimbing a not so flat part of the ridge

Eventually you run into a cliff band along the ridge. My advice here is to drop juuuuust low enough to the right to avoid the cliffs. Don’t go lower than that. You’ll cross a gulley beneath the cliffs. Go straight across it with a slight upward trend. We went slightly down, and had to regain elevation, which sucked, especially in the powder. It’s amazing how long it takes to regain a measly 20ft of elevation in steep powdery conditions.

Like I mentioned, some masochistic part of me loves breaking trail in powder. It sounds like I wasn’t much help for anyone else, as Simon postholed through my kicked steps, and even some of his collapsed when Kacie and Cheryl came along. We fought for every step. To be fair, I don’t think I put my full body weight on many of those steps since if you use your poles as flotation devices it spreads out your body weight so you can skitter across some of the powder without falling through. That’s my favorite trick climbing steep powder now, ice axe be damned. With powder like that, it’s tough to fall far since you sink 2ft deep as soon as you land.

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Looking out at Gunnshy, Tailgunner, Gunn, and Merchant across the valley

Well I’m in heaven minding my own business struggling frolicking in powder and eyeing the blue sky ahead of me (you know when the blue sky gets lower, and lower, and you know you’re getting close to the ridge, and your excitement starts creeping up again since you have a tangible goal and fuck it you didn’t come this far for nothing) and I hear Simon shout behind me “Eve! 2pm!” Crap! I shouted back “I’m pretty sure I’m looking at the saddle! Let’s give it a few more minutes!” I picked up my pace (from .000001mph to .000002mph) and broke out along the ridge, looking up at Mt. Baring draped in dusty white snow and hoar frost, admiring the baby cornices along the ridge, and wary of the size and conditions of the avalanche gulley that was the next step.

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Windblown baby cornices along the ridge, avvy gully on the left

I had anticipated the avvy gulley being in the shade (I had also expected to reach it much earlier in the day), and I had expected colder temperatures as freezing level was supposed to be below 4000ft. Instead, the slope was partially in sun, and was only going to receive more direct sunlight as the day progressed, and everything was melting around us in the warm air, as exhibited by the conflict between Simon’s thoroughly bruised skull and the light snow falling off the trees, which hurt. I also knew, given our slow pace down low, that realistically we’d need several more hours to get the whole team up to the summit. I figured I’d consult with everyone else, but I had a feeling we’d be calling it here. I am usually willing to push it if the team wants to, but I didn’t think anyone would.

I shouted back to the others, no response. I started to worry that Kacie and Cheryl were turning around, and I wanted everyone to see the views from the saddle. It made everything worth it, it was the icing on top of the cake that was our hilarious day. I gave them a few minutes and ran back down and shouted again. This time Simon responded, and they were all coming! Yay! I was too excited and antsy and had already taken a bunch of pictures, so I started trying to stomp the last 30 or so steps down extra good so they’d have an easy time getting to the top.

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Panorama as the clouds moved in

Breaking out onto the saddle, everyone was all smiles. We snapped pictures of everthing, Simon took 12 selfies with my camera, Kacie requested a photo of Cheryl taking a photo of Simon taking a photo of Kacie taking a selfie, and we broke out the plethora of pastries we had gotten at the bakery and jerky that Cheryl and Simon had brought. Delicious. And of course, we all agreed that we were not going any farther.

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Well okay, maybe not all smiles (looking at you Kilo Charlie)

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Tried to get mountains in Kacie’s glasses

Turning around always sucks on some level. Naturally everyone wanted to summit, but we were all wary of the gulley, and I think everyone understood that we’d need hours to make it to the summit, and although we had appropriate gear to come down in the dark, no one wanted to. Would it be worth the effort to keep going, only to turn around halfway up the gulley, and risk the gulley sliding the entire time? No way, we’ll all be happier with a casual break here. What made my day is that no one cared. I’m sure there was some disappointment, but my biggest concern is that someone will be tired and crabby about how we had to fight through all the powder only to turn around, or that someone was miserable on the way up and didn’t voice it, or that I’m the only one having fun and everyone else is just following me because it was my idea and not actually enjoying it. But no, with these folks everyone was just thrilled to be there, proud of how far we had come, and cracking fart jokes and archer jokes and laughing at how miserable some of those lower slopes had been. And that’s how it always should be. So we sat in the sun, enjoyed the views, and played the “airplane or avalanche” game as we listened to peaks shed their snow all around us.

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The dirt glissade

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Cheryl negotiating the scramble move

Clouds moved in as we sat, and after nearly an hour we decided it was time to head down. We followed our tracks most of the time with a few exceptions to save elevation (turned out we had been much much closer to the “standard” route than I thought on the way up). The way down went much faster until we were off the ridge. Getting from the ridge back to the road was possibly more difficult than going up. We could glissade the gulley for first few hundred feet, but eventually the snow was too thin. Then came the scrambles, covered in melting ice and snow, and the wet mossy tree roots, and the mud beneath an inch of snow. I slipped more times than I could count. Kacie took an axe to the face when she lost her footing downclimbing one of the scramble moves. I accidentally glissaded down a 15ft muddy stretch while everyone laughed, only to make the same mistake themselves. Ha!

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The microspike-veggie belay!

Somehow, Kacie got her microspikes snagged on a tree on the way down. She sat there in defeat, silently staring off into the distance, unable to climb back up backwards, incapable of moving forward because, well, her microspikes were stuck on a small tree. We laughed, and took pictures, and then continued a casual conversation while Kacie sat there, still silent, still dejected. Until I finally couldn’t maintain conversation anymore because I was laughing too hard at Kacie sitting there, quietly waiting for help, while Simon and Cheryl talked so casually. Cheryl helped her get unstuck (“You’re loose!” Cheryl proclaimed, as Simon and I stood below hollering “HOW ARE WE NOT DOING PHRASING!?”), and we continued our hilarious downhill slog.

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The profanity was truly impressive

We made it back to the cars at 7:15 and went straight to Red Robin for bottomless fries and burgers. It was. So good. Except just a heads up – the containers of fries are literally bottomless. Keep that in mind, and don’t spill them everywhere.

So guys, the moral of the story is it’s okay to turn around. We’ve all been there, and the more you do it, the easier it gets. I recall talking to an IMG guide who said eventually it became a mock fight to see who gets to turn back with clients. They’ve all climbed the mountain dozens of times, and you get to the point where you just think “yeah I’ll go hang out at the tents and nap and snack, that sounds wonderful!!” instead of “Ugh if I don’t summit then I did all of this for nothing and it’s embarrassing” or whatever runs through your head the first few times you need to turn around. I’ve heard (and probably thought) every reason for not turning around, and eventually you realize that none of it matters. Getting back down safe, sound, and preferably happy is what matters.*

*Often the happiness comes later. Type II fun is very common in mountaineering. Or type III, in which case the happiness is only present because you’re so happy you bailed and didn’t fuck it up even further and as a result you lived to tell the story to everyone else so you can bond over the (hilariously?) miserable times.
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Safe, sound, and so very happy!

Gunn Peak

The three musketeers!

The three musketeers!

I wasn’t totally convinced about this hike, but I hadn’t made any of my own plans for Saturday, so I figured why the hell not. Rob and John are good company, so worst case scenario I’d get a good laugh and a bit of a workout. I ended up getting both of the above, as well as a pleasant reminder that stunning, untouched scenery can be found without driving 3 hours into the wilderness. Hiked the first weekend of October, 2015!
  • Distance: no idea. 9 miles? 7 miles? Short for how long it takes.
  • Elevation: ~4000ft gain, 6210ft highest point
  • Weather: foggy until we got above the clouds, and then 40’s-50’s and sunny!
  • Commute from Seattle: 90 minutes
  • Did I Trip: I was going to count everyone’s slips/trips/wipeouts on the way down but I forgot to keep track! But yes. And we had two twisted ankles, some muddy butts, and a very tired dog.
Tarns in front of Townsend

Tarns in front of Townsend

Now I’m writing this three weeks late (and posting four weeks late) because I’m busy lazy, so we’ll see how much I remember. We drove out in pouring rain. Halfway there, sitting in traffic (on Rt 2!) in the dark dreary wet weather I realized I didn’t even care, I was just happy to be getting out. We were listening to Reel Big Fish, who can’t be happy listening to that? We even stopped on the way to get steak and veggies for a campfire meal. I’ve never really cooked over a campfire before besides sausages and stuffed mushrooms and other wrap-it-in-tin-foil-and-go, so this was new.

We pulled up to the trailhead, still in pouring rain. I set up my tent and layered up for the weather, and we started grabbing big rocks to set up the fire. With some small miracles (and a starter log, or two) we had enough of a fire going to heat up food, and John cut up the steak while I handled veggies. I eventually admitted I had never made a shishkabob when John had to assist with the peppers. The only instructions were “make them a good size so they don’t fall off the skewer” which I apparently could not handle. For you other newbies, that means like ~1″ in diameter.

Post-shishkabobs, it was bedtime. Another rainy night in a tent built for snow, though at least I remembered to open the vents this time. We had alarms set for 5am, and soon enough, we woke up to… more pouring rain. The general consensus was that we’d keep sleeping, so I rolled back into my sleeping bag burrito after peeking out the door.

Ripley looking damn good on one of the first scramble sections

Ripley looking damn good on one of the first scramble sections

We got up for real around 7, and made hot chocolate and coffee. After about an hour, the mist started to brighten, and then clear, and we got a glimpse of blue sky. We had originally resigned ourselves to doing Barclay Lake or Mt. Baring, but… you know what? Eff it, let’s try for Gunn. Might as well. Summitpost said it might take around 9 hours, and we had 9 hours. We all had headlamps and were content coming back after dark if necessary, assuming we had good blazes. Sweet.

The trail is back down the road, maybe a tenth of a mile from the Barclay Lake trailhead. There’s a small dirt road that leads to a campground, and it’s right before the campground that you’ll find the trail heading off to the right. When we were there, it was nicely blazed with hot pink blazes. Rob had brought orange tape for us to use, though we didn’t need it in many places.

Up and up and up

Up and up and up

The trail goes maybe 150ft through a forest before you cross the stream, which was easy enough with plenty of logs and stones to hop across. I imagine when the water’s higher, it’s a bit more tricky. Once on the other side, the trail continues along what might have been a logging road at one point. I couldn’t tell besides the flat grade, but when someone pointed it out, I could totally see how it might be possible.

Don’t get complacent. The trail starts to go up, up, and up after a quarter mile on the flat forest-reclaimed road. It was reminiscent of the Eldorado approach, except I wasn’t carrying 50lbs. Just lots of roots, steep sections, and eventually, something I forgot existed: scrambles in the woods! After pushing aside plenty of tree branches along the bootpath and constantly being showered by water, we reached a rocky cliff, at which point you turn right and pretty much hug the rock for a while.

I always associate scrambles with open views and exposed rock. But there are some that are surrounded by trees, moss, roots, all those foresty things. We had Ripley (John’s dog) with us, and he had brought her life jacket (it has a handle on the back) in case we had to do a doggie belay and carry her up some sections. The first scramble was just a very short “traverse” to stay on the path, covered in moss and dripping with water because of the previous night. A few minutes after this, we reached a section that is probably a beautiful waterfall on occasion, but was pretty dried up this time of year. Cross that and immediately scramble up to the left and back into the trees. Yeah, this hike makes you work for those views.

Finally getting above the trees and brush, Baring in the background

Finally getting above the trees and brush, Baring in the background

Eventually the trees shrink into bushes and brush, and it feels like you’re making progress. But the brush isn’t much better. It’s thicker, harder to push out of the way, and does a damn good job of obscuring the path. And since it was all still wet… it all rains down every time you squeeze between bushes. But thanks to those blazes and the fact that much of it was trampled, there were few spots were we had to guess. I honestly expected it to be much more of a bushwhack than it was, but I think this late in the season, enough feet have been up there that it’s a little more well traveled.

I mean there was some fall foliage

I mean there was some fall foliage

Despite it being early October, there was only one section with real fall foliage, but damn was it vibrant. Finally we were out of trees, out of tall bushes, and surrounded by low colored, blazing heather and blueberry bushes and some scrubby plants I don’t recognize. I stood around snapping pictures constantly, and since Baring was in full view standing over the clouds I couldn’t stop. I had NO idea that there were pics so dramatic so close to Seattle. I thought most of the hikes within an hour or an hour and a half were more “rolling hill” style, with rounded tops, below the tree line, things like that. Not the sharp, dark rock we were looking at here. It felt so much more remote than I had expected.

Looking back at everyone approaching the talus field, Townsend and Merchant in the background

Looking back at everyone approaching the talus field, Townsend and Merchant in the background

There was a bit of a bootpath through the fall foliage. We reached a saddle between Tailgunner and Peak 5760 (which I admittedly might be confusing with Point 5760), just east of Tailgunner and just south of a small valley with a few tarns near the base of Peak 5760. We dropped down almost to the tarns but rather than take a pleasant dip we hung left towards the talus field. The route to Gunn Peak is effectively straight across the talus field to the highest clump of vegetation right below a prominent rocky outcropping on the south face of the peak.

Aim for that highest slanted strip of trees below the rocky outcropping in center frame

Aim for that highest slanted strip of trees below the rocky outcropping in center frame

Rob on the 3rd class scramble

Rob on the 3rd class scramble

We each chose our own way across that, and rejoined below the cliff band, which is where the real scrambling starts. Ripley had been a champ so far, but the 3rd class scramble was a bit too much for a dog. Ben, Vazul, and Evan agreed to hang with Ripley and take her over to Tailgunner while Rob led John and I up Gunn. We agreed to meet back at our lunch spot on the ridge between Tailgunner and Peak 5760.

Rob scaled the scramble with ease, and I waited below for him to clear the loose sections. When he was out of sight and well beyond the trees, I went up. I will say that some people (such as Rob) are very graceful scramblers. I am not usually among those. But there was nothing too hard, and I was up and in the trees soon enough, trying to find Rob. I had been making fun of him for putting up blazes for the entire hike, and now I didn’t know where he was. Ooh look! A blaze, just beyond the trees! Yes, aim for that, he must have put it there!

Nope, just a leaf. God dammit. But I was back out on another talus slope above the trees, and saw Rob up ahead of me scouting out the path. I figured we should wait for the others, so we decided he’d scramble a little further to figure out where we were headed and I’d wait to see who else joined.

John on the way back across the catwalk

John on the way back across the catwalk

After 10 or so minutes of waiting, the two of us were ready to continue when we saw John pop out of the trees below us. Sweet! We waited for him to catch up. You keep to the base of the cliff, negotiating talus until a gully opens up on your left side. Follow the gully, path of least resistance, and cross a notch when you reach the ridge. On the north side is where you’ll encounter the catwalk. It’s not Kendall Katwalk, it’s much narrower with a harrowing drop of 1000+ feet. Don’t fall. Follow that ridge, and soon enough, you’re on Gunn Peak! Which, despite being only 6200ft tall, is #29 on the most prominent peaks of Washington list with over 3651ft of prominence. Wow.

We couldn’t find a summit register. And damn did we look. It’s either not there, or it fell off the cliffs, or some asshat buried it under too many rocks. Ugh. We took a few photos, cracked open beers, and Rob laughed and called us the three musketeers. The three who made it to the top of Rainier back in August, and now the three who made it up Gunn Peak. Kudos, guys, you’re fantastic climbing partners.
Rob soaking in the views: Townsend, Merchant, and Baring all visible

Rob soaking in the views: Townsend, Merchant, and Baring all visible

Back through the fall foliage, even more vibrant in the late afternoon sun

Back through the fall foliage, even more vibrant in the late afternoon sun

Just as we sidled up to the clearing, we saw the other three coming back down. Perfect timing! We had spent quite a while on the summit, and I thought the rest of the group would be waiting for us. We met up and took a quick break before heading back down. I thought the way down went faster than the way up, but I’m a bad judge of time. Vazul and Evan and I were flying, and I got into a nice steady downhill rhythm. We stopped occasionally to wait for the others. At one point we were convinced they were lost near the sometimes-it’s-a-waterfall crossing, between someone yelling to ask where we were, general shouting, and the warnings (“ROCK!!!”) and what sounded like mini rockslides everywhere. We sat on the steep trail and waited for them to successfully make it over to us, where we were solidly back in the trees on dirt trail with no scrambling left.

Evan on one of the foresty scrambles

Evan on one of the foresty scrambles

In my head, I was comparing it to Eldorado, which had a bitch of an approach. Going down from Gunn, that’s what I was expecting. But the forested section was much shorter than Eldorado, and I was thrilled when we were on the flat what-once-might-have-been-a-road section. Poor Ripley was exhausted, but had kept up with us the whole time! Every time we stopped on the way down she sat on the ground and tucked her paws beneath her. But she didn’t seem to want to admit it, because she still looked damn happy.

We had been hearing gunshots for a while, and as we got closer to the river, we realized we were pretty close to the shots. I was unnerved, but didn’t think much of it. I think I’ve already mentioned I grew up in east coast cities, dealing with gunshots in deep, dense woods is not among my talents. Ben and John started yelling from the back, and Evan, Vazul and I looked at each other and said holy shit, we didn’t even think of that. Duh. Make lots of noise. The shots stopped, and John and Ben kept yelling periodically just to make sure. Within 15 minutes, we had crossed the river and popped out near the campsite, and apparently surprised the shit out of a few guys doing target practice, aiming across the river. Right where we were. But they had heard us, and had stopped, and I learned rule #1 of being close to gunshots while bushwhacking: make it clear you’re a person.

The best time of day for the woods

The best time of day for the woods

Up and down within 9 hours, never lost, no injuries, amazing weather up above the clouds, and we were back before dark. An unbelievable day, well worth the soggy night at the trailhead. Ripley was too tired to jump in the car, and from what I heard, spent the next few days mostly sitting and occasionally limping around the apartment.

Beckler Peak

Finally, my first day off in a week! Took long enough. I’ve been essentially working overtime, so this was a much needed break. Well, I didn’t actually have the day off. I had to work at 6. But 6pm… that’s more than enough time for a solid hike. What would it be? Partly cloudy forecast, but fresh snow from the night. Didn’t want to drive too far, or do anything too ambitious. So no route finding, nothing too steep, no trailblazing, minimal exposure given conditions… how about Beckler Peak? It’s been a popular one lately, so I figured there’d be a solid trail and I’d be able to do it quickly. And it looked mostly forested, so I wouldn’t have to pay attention to snow conditions. I was wrong, but we’ll get to that in a few paragraphs.

Views just before entering the forest

Views just before entering the forest

  • Distance: 7.4 miles (Strava had it at a solid 8 miles though)
  • Elevation: 2260ft gain, 5060 highest point
  • Weather: 40’s and snowing, occasional breaks in clouds
  • Commute from Seattle: 2 hours
  • Did I Trip: No but I slipped on some hidden boulders if that counts. And slid 8 feet. The tracks are there. Clear as day.

I woke up and had already procrastinated. I took my time having tea, and farting around online, and eating peanut butter from the jar. It was too late to do anything longer than 8 miles, and that was assuming I’d haul ass during my hike. Okay, fine, Beckler Peak it is. This had been on my radar for a while, but I never got around to it. I tend to save my off days for longer hikes, so this half-day was the perfect chance.

This is only the beginning

This is only the beginning

The drive was uneventful, until the forest road. Muddy at first, and I got to put those mud tires to use. Awesome. the mud turned to snow, and I got to take my first four wheel drive car in snow. And let me just say something real quick. Four wheel drive is amazing. After years of two wheel drive in snow, wow. Inches of snow on a steep narrow dirt road were not a concern, somehow. Don’t worry, views opened for a split second on a flat section and I got a picture. Yellow looks pretty good backed by fresh snow.

I was unsurprisingly the only car at the trailhead. My bag was already packed, so I hopped out and started off. The first part of the hike is down an old logging road.

Even logging roads look nice in snow

Even logging roads look nice in snow

I had heard complaints, but it looked pretty nice covered in snow. There were a few vague footsteps to follow, but they turned around maybe 3/4 of a mile in, along with the snowshoe prints that were barely visible.

Speaking of snowshoes. Of all the hikes I’ve done this winter, this would have been a great one to have them. What started as a few inches of snow grew steadily deeper as I gained elevation. Most of the hike is in a forest, so no real avalanche concerns (a few mini slopes, like the one that created the perfect pinwheel), but that doesn’t mean the snow is shallow.

Perfect pinwheel

Perfect pinwheel

You enter dense forest around two miles in (after what seems like two logging roads, not one), and you begin to switchback up the slope. Here, the snow was probably around 10″ deep, and counting. There was a sneaky patch of blue sky behind me, the bastard. It never quite came over me. Just hovered in the distance. It disappeared after about half an hour, and it began to snow. By now I was trekking through maybe 15″ of snow closer to the ridge, and I was eyeing the clock to make sure I turned around in time to make it back for work. Sound familiar?

You can see the old trail at points

You can see the old trail at points

I broke out onto the ridge, and hit snow that was 18″ deep. Just enough to cover my knees. It’s exhausting. I think pride kept me going. It was my first (fake) day off in a week, I hadn’t been hiking in seven days. Plus I had technically never solo-trail-broken before, and this was a good opportunity to safely see what it was like. The trail is simple to follow even when completely buried, and there was no point where I was worried about navigation. I didn’t come this far and wade through knee deep snow just to turn around 10 minutes from the top. Or so I thought.

10 minutes passed. Okay, another 10 minutes, then I’ll turn around. Nope. Okay, five more. Still no. But it looks like there’s only a few more vertical feet and then I’m there, so one more push. What about work!? You have to teach a class! Eh, the way down will be faster. I finally realized I was staring at the summit, a pile of snow covered rocks. At least, I realized they were rocks when I postholed and slipped on a mossy boulder and lost the 8ft of elevation I had just gained. Dammit. I threw on my heavy duty gloves, and figuring no one would see me (and therefore no one would ever know) I knocked enough snow down to kick solid steps and essentially scrambled to the top.

View from the peak

View from the peak (classic Beckler pic)

I was lucky enough to have a few seconds of clarity! The clouds parted just long enough for me to see that cool square rock along the next ridge. They closed back in quickly, and I figured I’d just start back down. I turned around, and saw a little red figure on a branch. What? I walked closer, and realized it was a plastic horse from the last person who posted a trip report on wta.org, and it had been there for four days! It survived all of the fresh snow, and clung to its tiny branch.

Trusty steed!

Trusty steed!

The way down went far more quickly than the way up. Naturally it got sunny as I left, which usually I’d complain about, but I was pretty satisfied with the hike. First person to do a hike covered in fresh snow. Was it a pain in the ass? Yes. Was it tiring? Yes. Did I hobble on my ridiculously tight calves this morning, a day later? Also yes. But it was worth it.

The funny thing is, I bet most of the snow will be melted by this weekend. The temperatures are well above freezing, even overnight. The fact I would have appreciated snowshoes will be null, because this was a rare condition for a hike this winter, especially one so low in elevation. But that makes it a bit more fun.

On the way out, I ran into a guy in a Toyota pickup at the trailhead. Thank god he made it to the trailhead before I started driving away, because that road is narrow and there aren’t many good areas to pass others, especially two people in trucks on a snowy, slushy gravel road at that. But between the two of us, we had at least left pretty nice ruts for future cars, and again, I bet the snow on the road will be gone within a day or two.

I forgot how nice Route 2 can be. After spending so much time up north (Mountain Loop, Baker highway) I had started to lump route 2 in with i90, but there are a lot of good hikes up there. I’ll have to check out a couple more. Perfect for half days!

Blanca Lake

Okay, pictures of this lake have been all over the internet the past few weeks, and of course when I choose to hike it, the “partly sunny” forecast turns into “heavy, intensely thick fog.” Still beautiful, but I’m definitely going back on a sunny day.

  • Distance: 7.5 miles round trip (but took us about 5 hours between lots of breaks and a shoe casualty)
  • Elevation: 3300ft gain
  • Weather: FOG
  • Commute from Seattle: 2 hours
  • Did I Trip: My hiking buddy did! Ha! (hi Pattra)

Steep, but not too steep. I hiked this one with my roommate Pattra, promising a beautiful turquoise lake after a sunny, moderate hike that wouldn’t be as hard as what we did on our road trip this past summer. Okay, so that was partially a lie. I expected sun and turquoise lake, but the hike was just as steep as the toughest one we did back in July. Which I didn’t mention until the way back down. Despite the latest trip report saying it was snowy, we just took our running shoes (I brought my trusty goretex wildhorses again) since we knew snow along i90 had melted, and the elevation of Blanca was lower than most of those peaks. What we failed to consider was that melting snow and rain means water, and water means mud!

DSC00545Starting out, it was mostly dry. Steep right from the beginning, but there were lots of neat mushrooms to distract us from the incline. Seriously, I must have like 20 pictures of mushrooms from this hike. I’m one of those obnoxious(?) hikers who just goes fast and doesn’t pay much attention to anything besides views, so it was refreshing having a day to slow down a bit and someone to point out all of the cool things that I usually go right past.

We got some brief glances of the sun straining to come through the fog, and I had faith that it would clear up by the time we reached the top. There were a few points where it looked like there could be good views, but you couldn’t even see as far as the ridge next to you, just a wall of white. But the combo of sun and fog made for some cool forest pictures along the way since you could see all of the rays streaming through the trees. DSC00543Here’s my roommate testing out my new Black Diamond poles that I got after Silver Peak. Yes, they’re skiing poles, but you can use ski poles for trekking (just not the other way around) and they’re obviously better for snowshoeing and the like, which I’m definitely planning on trying.

Once you get up to the ridge, it briefly flattens out just before dropping another 600ft in .6 miles down to the lake. We ran into a hiker who turned around because she didn’t get to the lake soon enough and was worried that she was on the wrong trail since it was going downhill. Anyway, this flat part is were is where it starts getting muddy. Unbelievably muddy. Nothing unreasonable at first, just your average oversaturated marshy sections of trail.

Reflection in Virgin Lake

Reflection in Virgin Lake

Virgin lake is the first lake you see, and thank god we knew it wasn’t Blanca lake! We were warned by a few hikers on their way down to keep going past it. Virgin lake is more of a puddle than a lake, but it was so still that the reflections were very crisp. In fact, partly due to the fog, I didn’t even know it was there until I noticed that I was looking at upside-down trees (not pictured) and realized it had to be a reflection.

Skirting to the right of Virgin Lake, the mud continues, so be careful and hopefully you brought waterproof shoes. Just past it, there was a huge mud pit that I got through okay, but I heard a gasp and turned around to see Pattra balancing elegantly on a wet log shouting “MY SHOE!” with her sock-clad foot in the air. I asked if she accidentally kicked it off the trail, and she said no, it was stuck in the mud. But it had disappeared. Nowhere to be seen. Devoured by the muddy abyss. She started poking around with the trekking poles, I threw on my snow gloves and grabbed a stick and started digging.

DSC00553How deep could it sink? This was the quicksand of mud. What if it was already like three feet down there and we’d never reach it? There were three options. Best case scenario a) we find the shoe. If not, I had extra socks, so she could either b) wear three socks and the spare ace bandage on her foot on the way down, or c) hang out there while I ran back to the car, grabbed the hiking boots, and came back up, which would be a long wait. Luckily, after 15 minutes of digging around, I found the shoe about 8 inches deep, full of mud. Yuck. We poured it out, took out the sock liner, and wiped off as much as we could with the ace bandage. Plus, at this point we were so close to the lake we figured it would be silly to turn around. So we continued! Pattra’s a trooper. Who needs dry feet anyway when you have good synthetic socks and shoes.?

DSC00558Luckily the rest of the hike went pretty smoothly, besides a few minor slips. When we came around the corner to the lake (which was like 10 minutes post-mud-pit), the turquoise color was astounding. Due to the clouds we couldn’t see ridges, peaks, or the Columbia Glacier, which I had been desperately hoping to see. That’s the glacier that gives Blanca Lake its unworldly color that makes it so popular. But we still dropped down to the shore line to see what it was like, take a break, and have a beef jerky snack.DSC00560

After about ten minutes, the clouds dropped even lower, to about maybe ten feet above the lake. We couldn’t see the other side any more, and it was a little chilly, so we decided it was time to get moving. When we were back at the spot that the above picture was taken, all we could see was white! On the way back down, we had a few glimpses of blue sky and sun, but none that looked big enough to mean the lake was sunny.

Reading other trip reports, I realized that the lake is usually not this full, and most of the driftwood is usually dry. There are campgrounds across a log jam that was completely flooded by a running stream, and I suppose you could get there if you’re tough enough to lose the shoes and pants and wade through some frigid waters (aka not me on that day). Even more of a reason to come back on a sunny day!

Lake Serene/Bridal Veil Falls

It had to happen eventually. Lake Serene is a hugely popular hike out here, which is probably why I avoided it for so long. I’m more of a remote hike type apparently, which was surprising to learn given that I work retail and generally love people. Maybe it’s the break that adds to the experience, who knows. Anyway, here we go. Lake Serene, hiked 10/25/2014.

  • Distance: 8.2 miles if you take the side trail to the falls as well
  • Elevation: 2000ft gain
  • Weather: 50’s and rainy
  • Commute from Seattle: 1 hour
  • Did I trip: Hell no. Get at me.

I had been in my apartment for too long, and decided to go on a rainy day hike up to Serene, which was supposed to be great even on overcast days. Since it was lousy weather and pretty late in the season, the hike was relatively empty, and I only ran into five or so other hiking parties. Here’s my favorite picture of the lake. Nice and clear and turquoise.

Such clear water

Such clear water

Not Bridal Veil Falls, but still cool

Not Bridal Veil Falls, but still cool

The first part of the trail is a wide, pretty flat gravel path for about a mile. Not too exciting, but hey, there’s a destination to look forward to. You’ll pass this neat little waterfall pictured on the left, which isn’t the big falls, but I thought the rocks were too cool to pass up. At 1.7 miles, the trail splits to either Bridal Veil Falls (another half mile) or Lake Serene, which is another 2.9 miles. Honestly, do the falls first. I (and another hiker) both did it second, and agreed that while it was totally worth it, we almost didn’t do it since when you’re so close to the end it’s tempting to head straight back to the cars especially on a rainy day. Seriously, it’s such a quick side trip, just do it!

After the junction that leads to the falls, the trail to Serene starts to get serious. At first it’s just dirt with a few glimpses of views. I was lucky enough to see a rainbow! I yelled to the group behind me but I don’t think they were as excited as I was. Sorry guys, that was like my fifth rainbow in two days which is just ridiculous.

Rainbow!

Rainbow!

Anyway, the trail is very well taken care of, and most of the steep parts have been converted into stairs, so it’s more of a stair workout than a hike. But if you haven’t been doing much vertical, it might be a bit of a thigh burner. I met a mother hiking with her son and their dog who wasn’t sure how far she had gone, and she was exhausted. She asked how far we were from the lake, and I figured we couldn’t be more than half a mile, which she wasn’t too happy to hear. Half a mile of stairs in the rain is a long half mile. Turned out, we were like 5 minute away! I ran into them on my way back down (I spent longer at the lake than they did) and was glad to hear they made it.

Stairs everywhere

Stairs everywhere

After all of the stairs and steep parts, you pop out onto a talus slope (kind of) and the lake is right around the corner. Definitely go to the look out rock, which is a big sloping rock that I imagine people picnic on when it’s not raining. The rock has far better views than anything else I saw. There were a couple ice caves on the other side of the lake, one of which I saw collapse! Damn! I know they’re cool to go in but make sure they’re stable first!

You can barely see it, but ice caves in the background

You can barely see it, but ice caves in the background

It started to rain shortly after I got to the lake, so I turned around to head back down. This is where I started losing the motivation to check out the waterfall, but so many hikers on the way down told me it would be worth it.

Mediocre picture of Bridal Veil Falls (didn't want the camera to get wet!)

Mediocre picture of Bridal Veil Falls (didn’t want the camera to get wet!)

I chose this moment to realize I hadn’t put my parking pass up on my dashboard ([resulting in a string of expletives]), and could be returning to a hefty fine when I got back to the car. Race against time and hope I beat the park rangers, or assume I already blew it and go to the falls? I chose the latter, and like I said, totally worth it. It’s an extra 15 minutes to see an awesome waterfall, which soaked me more than the rain did. You’re already there, it would be silly to not go. I swear it’s far more impressive than the picture makes it look. I couldn’t find an angle where the camera could capture all of it and not get absolutely drenched.

Overall, pretty good rainy day hike, and definitely a hike I’d recommend for families. Maybe runnable on a more dry day. The first two miles or so were runnable, but the stairs were a little slippery, and I’m clumsy. As a parting picture, here’s an awesome log precariously balanced over the trail. I should have stood next to it for scale, because it’s easily three or four feet in diameter, which you can’t tell by looking at the picture.

Falling log!

Falling log!

Oh, one thing I forgot to add. Someone had left a “missed connection” note on the trailhead sign. A romantic letter to the “ginger he thought about for hours” signed with his name and number. Wonder if she ever saw it. Worth a try I guess? Or maybe he’s just getting texts from random people who saw the note. Ha.

Mount McCausland

Mount McCausland… unbelievable fall hike. Great colors, great views, even I had to sit back and spend a few minutes just taking it all in. I never do that, I’m usually too impatient.

DSC00141_touchup_2

  • Distance: 9 miles according to the WTA, I’m convinced it’s like 7
  • Elevation: 1900ft gain, almost all of which is in the last half mile
  • Weather: 60’s and sunny
  • Commute from Seattle: Just under 2 hours
  • Did I trip: NOPE

Starts out with some mild climbing switchbacks until it intersects with the PCT about a mile and a half in. I wasn’t originally going to run it, but once it joined the PCT, it was completely flat until you reach Lake Valhalla (or the base of McCausland if the peak is your goal). I couldn’t resist. There were a couple of through hikers and a few people heading to Leavenworth Oktoberfest later that day, which was my eventual destination as well. Except for the fact I had to drive all the way back to Seattle to pick up my roommate, turn around, and head back east. Worth it? Absolutely. The views were incredible and the mountain was covered in brilliant fall foliage.

McCauslandFoliage1The PCT/main trail heads down to the lake, which was also beautiful. The trail going up to the peak itself is a small social trail that veers right just before the lake, which I blew past at first (okay, maybe I’m oblivious). So if you reach the lake, you’ve gone too far. The peak trail is a bit overgrown, pretty narrow, and very, very steep. There are rocks that help, like steps, but it’s like the tough part of Bandera. A reality check for my glutes. Luckily, you have a good excuse to turn around every few steps, because the views are insane in the beginning and just keep getting better. I lucked out with timing since the fall colors were (I think) at their peak. I have no idea how foliage works out here yet, but I haven’t had any problems finding pretty hikes.

Once I was at the top, I met an older couple who were picnicking. Turned out they were hard of hearing (I stood there talking awkwardly to their backs until their dog noticed me) but they were mountain pros. I asked if they knew any of the surrounding peaks, and the wife knew the names of every prominent peak within view. She also told me that if I didn’t mind some scrambling, there were great views of Glacier Peak on the side opposite the lake. I didn’t think much of it at the time because I had never heard of Glacier Peak (Seattle newbie) but I figured hey, maybe it had glaciers, and snow capped mountains are pretty cool. So I winged it over the rocks and trees and popped out on a rocky ledge with absolutely stunning views. I think the unexpectedness is what made it so incredible. Having no idea it was there, and going from “standard” lake and foliage to popping out of the trees and seeing such a huge mountain.

mccauslandfallingThank god for that couple, because I never would have found it if they hadn’t told me. After sitting in silence and drinking it all in for a few minutes, I realized I had the perfect opportunity to finally get one of those pretend falling pictures thanks to a small ledge below the rock I’m clinging to. Of course, that’s Glacier Peak in the background. There was a summit register there as well that I signed. The signature before mine was by Jeff, who just said “I PEED HERE.” Thanks, Jeff. Hope it was epic.

That couple had the right idea, I should have brought picnic snacks. When I drag people back there to hike, we’re bringing food. There was even space for tents up top, and I bet sunrise and sunset would be amazing. Climbing that last mile with a 50lb pack would be an adventure in itself, but if the payoff is sunset views, I’ll do it.

On the way back down before the trail got too steep, I snagged one of those pictures that I think encompasses why I love trail running. My favorite trail pictures are the ones with the trails going off into the distance through some sort of scenery, and this one nailed it. Running through fall colors towards awesome views.

McCauslandtrailSomeday, when I’m done catching up on blog entries and I finally take the time to learn how to edit images, I’ll make that sky look blue. Because it was spectacularly blue, and the contrast with the foliage was too perfect. Guess my camera just can’t handle that many colors at once. Also, you can just barely make out the top of some snowy mountains way south of where you’re standing. The couple told me the names of them, but I can’t remember. Wish I did. If anyone has any idea, let me know.

Definitely going back someday. Looks like a few people have snowshoed it up there in December, so that’s a hike to add to my list of reasons to find a pair of snowshoes. Seattle itself doesn’t get much snow, and what’s winter without snow? How can I watch hockey without snow and ice on the ground? I’ll have to go find it in the mountains. Already looking forward to it, I’ll report back about McCausland in a few months!