Sunday, December 13, 2009

December (little hikes)

From Mushrooms to Ice and a Crappy Photo Shoot

December 7, 9, 12 and 13, 2009

We’ve been mostly doing brown hikes of late though our sanity has been saved thanks to ice formations brought about by our recent cold snap. On December 7 Silverback and I went to Cougar Mountain (his first visit) and hiked to Coal Creek Falls and other points of interest within this county park.

What is a brown hike anyway? You may have your own definition of what a brown hike is but for us it’s the time of year when there is little color in the landscape – the flame of fall color has dwindled, flowers-to-come are at best, tiny nubbins, tiny buds perched on stark branches months away from bursting into bloom. When I see Indian plum beginning to appear in late February early March I rejoice – that is when color slowly returns to the brown world. There is no need then to explain the brilliant colors, shapes and forms of summer in the mountains. Summer does not need a spokesperson! In early fall we concentrate on mushrooms and colorful leaves but by late November the mushrooms are blackened and broken, the colorful leaves all dun as they transition from leaves to duff.

Though temperatures were in the high teens we spent an inordinate amount of time at Coal Creek Falls, scrabbling around on rocks and ice formations in an attempt to capture the fleeting beauty of ice with our cameras. Neither one of us own high-end cameras; truth is, we can’t afford them. To compensate we try to combine our hikes with photography. We hope – and sometimes believe – that the ability to see what is there is as important to a photographer as high-end gear.

I believe we are surrounded by beauty – even on brown hikes but on brown hikes you just have to work a little harder to see what is there. Most of the time we are not disappointed - more on that later.

We hiked about 6.5 miles with roughly 900 feet of elevation gain. It was sunny. It was cold. There were very few other people on the trail.

Our next hike was on December 9th with the intent being exercise as opposed to a photography trip (this does not mean we leave the cameras behind!). We picked the Mount Teneriffe Road, always a good “conditioner” even if you don’t make it to the end of the road or Mount Teneriffe.

We knew we didn’t have time to get to the summit; plus, we parked on the edge of the school bus turnaround on Mount Si Road. On a weekday we’re not certain how this works though we did not block the road itself or the “turnaround” space. We “guessed” that we should get back to the car before the school buses arrived so that only left us about 4 hours or so of hiking time (we didn’t want to get the car towed!). On the weekend – or when school is out – to the best of my knowledge it is OK to park there but don’t take my word for it.

On our way up the road we came to DNR (Department of Natural Resources) rigs parked near the “new” trail that is being established to reach Kamikaze Falls. A sign warned of falling rocks as they worked so we stayed off that trail, of course, and continued up the road.

We were enticed by more ice formations along the way but still made good time to a turnaround point (a little beyond where Mount Rainier comes into view) and where you can look back to the big, forested bump that is Mount Teneriffe. Silverback was impressed when I told him I’d snowshoed all the way to the summit of Teneriffe a few years ago. I forget the mileage and gain of doing that (via the road) but I believe it’s about 12 miles round trip with a little over 4,000 feet gain. We were both feeling great though and could have continued but for the necessity of turning around.

By the time we got back to the car we were still in high spirits so after leaving the school bus turnaround we drove to the High Point trailhead on Tiger Mountain to look at High Point Pond.

There we found more fabulous ice formations, especially along the creek between the parking interchange and the turnstile. Our fingers were screaming from the cold but the ice formations along and over the creek were so lovely we found it hard to leave.

All in all a great day – about 8 miles round trip with 2,450 feet of elevation gain (Teneriffe Road).

Photographs? Some of our best.

December 12th deserves a name of it’s own: “The Crabby Photo Shoot”

Still in creative mode following the day of our Teneriffe road hike we chose to take photographs closer to home. We figured the Arboretum, especially Foster Island would be beautiful with the sunlight, especially since it was still cold enough that ice had not melted. After that we’d head over to Green Lake in time for the walk around Green Lake with Christmas carols and luminaries lighting the path.

We erred in getting too late a start. By the time we got to the Arboretum the light was already low in the sky – we had about an hour before sunset. At first the possibilities looked endless – Duck Pond was frozen over and despite signs warning of the dangers of walking out on the ice, there were scads of people on the ice. Some of them were playing hockey, others were ice skating, still others were romping with dogs and children. There was still enough light that we managed to get a few photos of the pond and folks recreating – that was a pretty setting as the trees were burnished gold by the sun and the sky a pastel blue.

From there we hurried off to Foster Island with visions of iced-over ponds and sunset colors on the ice. Instead we found little to photograph. There was very little ice and as the sun was dropping closer to the horizon the light was fading fast. Wildlife was scant – only a few cranky mallards here and there and a heron too far away for our puny cameras.

From there we rushed off to Green Lake hoping to catch the last of the sunset. The walk around the lake with Christmas carols and candles was scheduled to begin at 5:30; it was about 5 when we arrived (too early for Christmas carols, growing too dark for photography). Did I mention how cold it was?

We ended up walking part-way around the lake, growing grumpier and grumpier at our inability to get in a good photo shoot; we did try but suffice is to say that our “results” shall not be posted here!

Then, just as we were nearing the end of our walk, I tripped over Silverback’s feet and fell down. The last straw! I wasn’t hurt but somehow it seemed a fitting end to a disappointing day.

We’d started out with such high hopes!

Today (December 13th) we got in a good hike knowing in advance it would be a brown hike. This one was just for exercise.

We chose Tiger Mountain with Poo Poo Point being our goal. We parked at Tradition Plateau, hiked the Bus Trail to the Poo Poo Point trail and on to Poo Poo Point where we lingered long enough to talk about how cold it was. We hiked rather quickly as there was a possibility of snow and we hoped to beat it (if it fell).

From Poo Poo Point we made a loop back to Tradition Plateau by way of the Railroad Grade and the WT3 trail. Once we left the Poo Poo Point trail we didn’t see anyone until we reached the West Tiger 3 trail. The trail from the Poo Poo Point/Railroad Grade junction may be the most lonesome trail on Tiger. The trail has a “wilder” feeling to it and there are several creeks to cross (this area is called Many Creek Valley by some).

On the last leg of our loop (the WT3 trail) we ran into a couple of Seattle Mountaineer members, folks I’ve hiked with in the past. We chatted a bit; it was nice to run into them. You can almost always count on running into someone you know on Tiger Mountain.

The trails we hiked today were all in good condition, no snow on the trail, very little ice.

The photography? Between us we probably took 7-8 photographs but that’s OK. A brown hike can be thoroughly enjoyable when you know ahead of time there won’t likely be much to photograph.

We hiked about 8 miles round trip with 1,800 feet of gain.

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