Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Mount Si, May 26, 2009

Mount Si, May 26, 2009

Whether you love it or hate it, most hikers are familiar with Mount Si. The fleet of foot and the toiling 60-plus hiker all pay admission to bask or shiver on the summit overlooking North Bend. The thin-hipped runner, the unprepared, the over-prepared, the young and the old find their way to Mount Si sooner or later. Most come back – to train or to stay in condition in during short, dark winter days or after work on a long, summer evening.

How long ago that first visit was in my mid-30s when Mount Si seemed “wild” and a hard-earned summit. A friend and I planned the hike though we were not certain we could finish the hike. We knew it would be tough. And that first time is usually tough. It was for us. When we got to the base of the Haystack, (the summit of Mount Si), it was still wild enough that bear grass, phlox, and yellow violets blossomed near the base of the peak – the flowers had not yet been beaten into the ground by years of hikers trampling their way to the rocky perches overlooking North Bend and foothills beyond.

You could even camp on the summit if you had a mind to. There were fewer hikers, rules and regulations. There were other trails that wound their way to the summit including the Old Si Trail, the Old Old Si Trail and even the Middle Aged Trail. There were “secret” connections between the Old Si trail and the Mount Si trail. And more. What is the Boulder Garden route today was Harvey Manning’s “Moss Vista” in the old Footsore series hiking books.

The Little Si trailhead (and the somewhat secretive Old Si trail) started on a residential street near the bridge, not in the parking lot today along Mount Si Road with a toilet and kiosk. There was even Robert Degraw’s “The Secrets of Mount Si”, which was loved or hated but sadly ignored. There were still parcels of private property; perhaps there still are. The mountain is still wrapped in fading roads and trails of years gone by and land-management agencies are doing their best to keep hikers on maintained trails, at times a losing battle.

Sometime in the 1980s the Seattle Mountaineers thought it was a good idea for Alpine Scramble students to hike up Mount Si with an instructor to see if they were in shape to take the class. I was one of the instructors. We expected a high turn-out but as it turned out, the only students that turned up for the practice hike didn’t need a practice hike – they were faster than we were. Then, it was considered “good” to do Mount Si in 2 hours. 2-1/2 hours was considered “OK”, 3 hours wasn’t so good. There were some, of course, that could do it in less than 1.5 hours (we hated them).

Since the 1980s, the recipe has changed. An hour and a half is considered good, two hours is considered “OK”, anything longer not so good. Packs have grown smaller (except for those training to climb Mount Rainier), sturdy boots have been replaced with trail-runners, GU for heavy but delicious lunches. Now there are runners on the trail with fanny packs bouncing up and down on their small fannies or even just carrying a water bottle. We met one today who ran up the trail in an hour - “Well, he was young” we grumbled. Envious? Perhaps. I’d like to start running and probably could if not for spindly, sprain-prone ankles that necessitate the same sturdy boots I needed in the 1980s and deteriorating vision.

Back in the 1990s I trained regularly on the trail and managed some good times (though never 1.5 hours no matter what I did). I even passed other hikers on the trail and as I got stronger, I passed more hikers. Still, there were always other hikers passing me. One day I grumbled as I heard footsteps gaining behind me, “Go ahead, pass me. Everyone else does.” It wasn’t a good day.

Now in my mid 60s I go up Si a couple times in the winter to check out the “condition of my condition”. Today friends and I went up again for the same reason, to find out how much more work we needed to do before we could work harder in the mountains and attain those summits that were so accessible in the 1980s.

Bob was sure he couldn’t keep up with Charlie and me on the Old Si trail so he said he’d meet us at the top by way of the regular trail (the top for us, meaning the base of the Haystack). Last time I did the Old Si trail, a few weeks ago, it took me an embarrassingly long time to complete the hike. Today was better, well under 2.5 hours. Charlie did fine too, he was only a few feet behind me. Bob, of course, got there much faster on the regular trail than he thought he would and had turned blue from the cold by the time we got there.

Though it took all of us longer than we would have liked to reach Mount Si on this cold, gloomy day we felt good, we weren’t “trashed”, we never hit the wall and still had a few miles in us. The three of us hiked down the regular trail, checked out the Talus Loop as well and a little bit of a “sekrit” trail before returning to the Mount Si trailhead, sweaty, tired and pleased with ourselves.

Mount Si is good for you, no matter how you feel about it. It won’t lie to you. It will let you know in no uncertain terms how much “work” you need to do in order to seek those elusive summits later in the season.

Chances are good, you’ll run into someone you know and/or if you are young perhaps someone you’d like to know.

It’s a damned popular trail and that’s just as it should be.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Rattlesnake Mountain, Grand Prospect viewpoint

This is a great hike anytime of the year - to get in condition or to stay in condition. With an early start you can have the trail pretty much to yourself except, perhaps, on a sunny summer weekend. The trail is close to home (Seattle, North Bend, Issaquah) and in good condition.

It being the first day of the Memorial Day Weekend, we did get an early start and wanted to beat the heat as well. Much of the trail is in cool, shady forest and the elevation gain (2,100 feet) is gradual.

From Stan's Overlook (1,000 feet from the trailhead) and Grand Prospect there are views to Mount Si, North Bend and a row of hazy peaks in the distance. We enjoyed the flowers and the "character" of old stumps, some charred from fires, others with cubistic patterns of lichen.

Good day, good companions.

To get there from Seattle: Head east on I-90, get off at Exit 27, follow road to trailhead parking.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

The Power of Secret Places

BUTHTAB SELAK (The power of secrets)

The first time I hiked to Bathtub Lakes (buthtab Selak) it was so secret that few hikers knew of it. So why scramble the letters of the lake? Because now too many of us know about these lakes; word gets around fast in the media and The Internet does little to keep secret places secret. Apparently I am also guilty of making the lakes easier to discover.

My first visit was in 1982, a three-day backpack planned by the late Archie Wright, a then-retired Boeing machinist who loved backpacking, his GTO, his wife, Margie, her fresh-baked cookies and strong coffee. This was before cell phones or GPSs existed. If Archie did carry a compass he never needed to use it.

Archie called Bathtub Lakes the “poor man’s Enchantments”, early guidebook writers referred to it as Twenty Lakes Basin. The basin was an elaborate tapestry of meadows, rock gardens and tarns knitted together by dim fishermen’s trails.

There were fewer rules and regulations then; there were also fewer hikers. Backpacking was popular though guidebooks were few other than those authored by Fred Darvill Jr, Harvey Manning, Ira and Bob Spring and the long out-of-print “The Monte Cristo Area” by Harry M. Majors and Richard C. McCollum.

Tents, boots and cameras were heavy and the menu of freeze-dried meals skimpy. Freeze-dried meals came in 2-3 flavors, spaghetti was palatable but the beef stew was nasty. There were no gourmet foods other than Margie’s cookies that Archie savored, saving a few for each day out on the trail.

The last time I returned to the lakes was with my late ex-husband in the early 1990s when I was researching trails for my book “Hidden Hikes”. We’d taken the Iodine Gulch route from Pinnacle Lake; as we climbed the steep path I noted it had become more of a trail than a “route” through boulders daubed with yellow paint. As we entered the basin, he sat down and said he’d gone far enough. Surprised, because he loved mountains as much as I did, I said, “But the best lies ahead” but he would not have any of it. The bugs were biting, he said. He wanted to go down so I followed. It was our last hike.

A year or so later I wrote up the hike for my hiking column in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. The hike was published on Thursday, September 13, 2001, two days after September 11, the same week I knew our marriage was over. I was still reeling from both events when the telephone rang.

A woman who would not identify herself lashed into me for “daring” to write about one of “their” favorite, secret places. She went on and on about how the place was “ruined” because of my hiking column. Then she hung up. I thought about that for a moment, did a *69 and called her back since she hadn’t revealed who she was.

When she picked up the phone I reminded her that September 11 had just occurred and that whether or not Bathtub Lakes was a secret or not didn’t seem very important under the circumstances. Then I hung up the phone and cried.

Over time the lakes became a “hot” item on hiking websites. I was taken to task again for writing about the lakes in the first place (I was not the first to mention them); others defended the right to share secret places with others. The battle continues on-line as to what places should be kept quiet, what should be shared.

It took me a while to come up with an opinion as to whether it is “right” or “wrong” to write about secret places. Hikers who were attempting to hide “their” secret places by scrambling the letters of the place name so those places couldn’t be Googled only enticed others to seek them out. These same people also published photos of these “sekrit” places so beautiful that other hikers drooled and ferreted out information on how to find them. Go figure.

Those who keep secrets needn’t worry so much – getting to some of these places isn’t a whole lot of fun for most hikers. About half the trails in “Hidden Hikes” required bashing through brush on abandoned trails and roads. Most of the trails were in bad shape then; they’re worse now since most are not maintained.

Most secret places are earned – they are not easily discovered, despite the lure of The Internet. Winter storms tear roads and trails apart on a regular basis, roads are abandoned because there are no funds to repair them. Most hikers are content with maintained trails; that is unlikely to change.

Naively, I wrote about the “trail” to Kamikaze Falls and got taken to task for that too. Recently I hiked to the falls with a DNR employee – they wanted my input on what to do about Kamikaze Falls. Though they didn’t want hikers climbing to the falls, it was getting impossible to keep them out. Too many hikers knew about it (I wasn’t the first to write about that trail either). Rightly, they worried about the impact of hikers on a trail so close to a stream and the dangers to hikers who were getting in over their heads. The trail is steep and can be hazardous to hikers who are strong and nothing else.

Hikers vote with their feet - now a genuine trail will be constructed so hikers can get to Kamikaze Falls without breaking their necks or destroying habitat. The same thing happened with Mailbox Peak. Enough feet on a trail over time can result in a trail being “recognized” by land-management agencies, no longer secret. Mailbox Peak is the “new” Mount Si.

Today I think twice when I find a “secret” place or a “secret” place finds me. Usually I keep mum. I figure if I can find it sooner or later you will too.

Do I have “secret” places? Yes, several. One is a Native American cemetery I have never written about. I know how to find it but I won’t tell you.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Mount Rainier National Park (Opening Dates)

Mount Rainier National Park (Spring Opening Dates)

State Route 123 and State Route 410 (north-south) opens to the public at noon on May 12.

State Route 410 over Chinook Pass is still closed.

Road repairs continue on the Nisqually-Paradise Road – completion date mid-August. In the meantime the road is open to traffic but visitors should expect 20-minute delays.

The Stevens Canyon Road will be closed until extensive damage is repaired (mid-August). However, visitors coming from the west (on Stevens Canyon Road) will be able to access areas as far as Backbone Ridge Overlook and from the east to Grove of the Patriarchs (about 2 miles from State Route 123). Those sections of the Stevens Canyon Road are scheduled to open May 22 (noon). Visitors will not be able to travel between the west and east sides of the park until repair work is completed on the Stevens Canyon Road (mid-August).

The Sunrise Road will open Friday, June 26.

The Mowich Lake Road will open July 3, (noon).

The Henry M. Jackson Memorial Visitor Center at Paradise is open daily from 10-5 pm weekdays and 10-6 pm on weekends. The Paradise Inn is scheduled to reopen at noon, on May 15. The National Park Inn (Longmire) is open year-round.

Cougar Rock Campground has a tentative opening date of Friday, May 22 (the campground is snowbound, campsites are still snow-covered).

White River Campground opens June 26 (noon).

Ohanapecosh Campground (Loops A, B and C) opens May 22.

Sunrise Visitor Center/Sunrise Lodge opens July 3.

For additional information/conditions visit the park’s web page at www.nps.gov/mora or for recorded information call 360-569-2211.


Monday, May 11, 2009

Twin Falls Natural Area, Olallie State Park

Mother's Day, May 10, 2009

You don't have to be a parent to appreciate the beauty of this hike - but it is an ideal hike for families with children, especially on a sunny weekend.

This is one of my favorite year-round hikes, even on a rainy day.

The trail is easily accessible - to get there from Seattle head east on I-90, get off at Exit 34 (North Bend), turn right onto 468th Ave SE, follow signs to Twin Falls Natural Area, Olallie State Park. The hike is about 3 miles round trip with an elevation gain of roughly 500 feet (expect a few ups and downs). Spectacular waterfalls and in May, spectacular wildflowers. No Forest Pass required.

For a more detailed description refer to my hiking blog, http://www.karenshikes.blogspot.com/

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

There's still time to see the Skagit Valley tulips

It’s not too late to see the Skagit Valley tulips.

May 3 was the last day of the Skagit Tulip Festival; since we missed it last year we didn’t want to miss out again. Under sunny skies we headed toward the tulip fields by way of Conway, taking the longer, scenic approach to Roozengaarde. We arrived early enough that we were able to beat the crowds and take our time enjoying the Tiffany lamp-hued, colorful splendor of the tulips.

The welcome sun made photography a bit challenging with many of the tulips in dappled sunlight. In order to get decent photographs we looked for blooms that were in the sun or fully in the shade.

The Skagit Tulip Festival is over but the tulips are far from being finished. Most tulips are still in the “summer” of their lifespan - Roozengaarde and Tulip Town are aglow and Roozengaarde is open year-round. Tulip Town will be open through Mothers Day on May 10 though you can order bulbs year round (you can also order bulbs from Roozengaarde).

Roozengaarde is located on 15867 Beaver Marsh Road, Mount Vernon, WA 98273. Call 360-424-8531 or visit http://www.tulips.com/ . Tulip Town is located on 15002 Bradshaw Road, Mount Vernon. Call 360-424-8152 or see http://www.tuliptown.com/ (to order bulbs). Admission for Roozengaarde is $4 for adults, $3 for military personnel with ID. Admission for Tulip Town is $5 for adults, $4 for military personnel with ID, children 16 and under, free.

Avalanche Risk, Cascades and Olympics - May 6, 2009

If you venture into the backcountry over the next few days, be careful out there. Given the wintry conditions, including rapidly changing temperatures and fresh snowfall avalanche risk is high. The avalanche danger extends through the coming weekend and will probably continue into next week.

For details see http://www.nwac.us/ or call the Northwest Weather and Avalanche Center at 206-526-6677 (for Washington) and for Mount Hood call 503-808-2400.

Have fun, be safe.