Friday, January 29, 2010

January hikes 2010

Recent Hikes (Mailbox Peak (1-19), Mount Si (1-14), a couple of hikes to Cougar Mountain

The combination of Mailbox Peak, a post-hike cigar and Raymond Carver just about did Silverback in. You have to admit that’s quite a combination!!

After we got home from Mailbox Peak I plunked myself down on the couch while Silverback went down to the basement to smoke a cigar (there’s a lot of books down there too – hence, Raymond Carver).

I hike Mailbox Peak once a year whether I need to or not. It’s that kind of place. Long ago I resigned myself to never breaking a record in the length of time it takes me to summit. Let’s just say at best it’s respectable for someone my age.

But this was Silverback’s first visit to this hoary peak – but certainly not his last. We were denied the summit not because of age or lack of conditioning but rather conditions. By the time we reached the boulder field there was enough snow to slow us down (why didn’t I bring my ice axe?) and by that time Silverback had had enough “uphill” anyway. While I still had energy to keep going, I wouldn’t have been comfortable without an ice axe nor would I expect Silverback to wait for me while I trudged onward.

Lest you think us weaklings, consider this: Silverback has lost about 75 pounds since moving out here in April. At that time Grand Prospect via Rattlesnake Mountain was too much for him. By the way, he isn’t dying – he lost the weight on purpose. I lost some as well but not nearly as much. My 21-pound weight-loss has made going uphill a lot easier for me, too. It’s surprising what a difference weight can make when it comes to hiking.

The Mailbox Peak trail was in good condition, the main route now marked with silver, reflective diamonds. It appears there has been some slight rerouting since my last visit but that’s all to the good. I do miss the huge, mossy log that marked the beginning of the initial climb (you hauled yourself up that first pitch by pulling on branch stubs attached to the log) but I didn’t miss it enough to look for it. I also remember when the trailhead was marked by a toothbrush – now the trail is actually a designated trail with a sign warning hikers of potential hazards (not a bad idea, that).

All in all it was a great hike – our only concern a shady-looking character that had been parked at the trailhead and didn’t appear to be a hiker. We take everything with us – including car registration and any piece of paper that has our names/addresses on it just to play it doubly safe. As for items worth stealing, we don’t have anything worth stealing in the first place – though a hooligan wouldn’t know that. Anyway, despite our initial paranoia we came back to find the car unscathed.

Last week I hiked to the base of Mount Si on the regular trail. I made good time (for me) – I even passed a few hikers and only felt fatigue just below the boulders. The fatigue came on without warning, so intense I had to sit on one of the steps and pretend I was taking a photo (we writers have a reputation to live up to after all – fatigue must never be admitted!) As of last week the trail and the mountain were snow-free. That may have changed by now.

There’s not much new to say about Mount Si except I’d hate to think how we hikers will be affected if Mount Si, Little Si and other popular trails in the area are closed due to budgetary woes. I’m not much into politics but I sure hope this doesn’t happen. Where would we hike in the winter close to home or after work on a long, summer evening? Tiger Mountain is handy but it doesn’t have the “heft” of Mount Si. Other hikers have suggested a lot of this political stuff is just scare tactics and that may be the case. I sure hope “they” get whatever they need to keep these trailheads open. If it means ponying up more cash I’d be willing to pay $1 to park at the Mount Si trailhead – wouldn’t you?

Other recent hikes include a couple of visits to Cougar Mountain – these were “brown” hikes but it’s exercise and fresh air. Sometimes that has to be enough. There are a few signs of spring here and there; Indian plum leafing out, its flowers just beginning to emerge. I haven’t spotted any Coltsfoot yet but nettles are popping up “johnny-on-the-spot”.

Closer to home I spotted my first skunk cabbage last week in Discovery Park along the Wolf Tree nature trail and crocuses in bloom at Green Lake.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Squak Mountain, January 16, 2010

Central Peak Loop, Squak Mountain (January 16, 2010)

It was just like a Mountaineer hike; 12 of us were desperate enough for a hike to venture out to Squak Mountain despite the likely chance of rain. Of the 12, only Silverback was not a Mountaineer; the rest were members of that hoary organization.

Every time I hike in the Issaquah Alps – whether it be Cougar, Tiger or Squak – I always claim that particular peak as being my favorite. So I guess you could say that Squak Mountain was my favorite peak yesterday. Next week it could be Cougar, Tiger or perhaps another “summit” along the I-90 corridor. Just call me fickle.

We parked in Issaquah, hiking up the Squak Access trail to the East Side trail, checking out Issaquah Creek on our way. The water was running pretty high in the stream though far from flooding (thank goodness). Starting out that way always feels odd as the trail weaves around townhouses and apartments before becoming genuine “trail”. As always, I envy the folks that live so close to a “real” trail!!

The trail begins in a forested blend of evergreens and deciduous trees; it is an especially pretty hike in the fall when the leaves of deciduous trees turn from green to red, orange and yellow. The trail crosses Crystal Creek and small tributaries; all waterways spanned by bridges (all slippery given the recent rain). Part way up the trail is one of my favorite stretches through a boulevard of vine maples where the ground is shad-carpet thick with moss.

Once past the vine maple the trail climbs more steeply to intersect the East Side trail. Here you can access Central Peak by continuing (straight) on the East Ridge Trail, following signs to Central Peak, or turn right on the East Side trail, then take a left (uphill) on the Old Griz trail, following signs for Central Peak. It makes a nice loop; we did it in reverse.

By the time we reached the junction with the East Side trail the nature of the terrain had changed; now we were mostly in evergreens, salal, Oregon grape, bracken and sword ferns. This area has been logged in the past; therefore, most of the trees are second or third-growth trees, there is little – if any – ancient forest.

The last stretch along the East Ridge trail is steep as it switchbacks through sword ferns, finally emerging onto the service road that makes a quick climb to the summit of Squak with it’s array of microwave towers (one of the hikers mentioned that the towers were 20th century old growth). There’s no view here but it is a “summit” and deservedly makes a good spot for lunch. If the summit is too bleak it is only a short distance from here to the Bullitt chimney where there is a picnic table or two.

After lunch we began our descent, following the well-signed trail system to the “Old Griz” trail. The Old Griz trail is an old trail and here and there you will find old signs here and there designating the trail as such. As trees have grown over the years the aging signs are now out of reach unless you are Jack and the Bean Stalk.
Since the Old Griz trail has not been as heavily traveled as other trails on Squak, this stretch has more of a wilderness feel to it. Here we found more lichen, fungi and a larger variety of vegetation than on the other trails. We met only one other person on this trail.

The trail descends steeply in places then intersects the East Side trail (the East Side trail goes all the way out to State Route 900) where we turned right in order to intersect the East Ridge trail again, hence making a loop. We saw no one on the East Side trail and hardly anyone else on the other trails.

The East Side stretch provides a slippery bench where there is no view; perhaps there was a view once-upon-a-time. Still, if it’s not raining, it provides a good spot for a break or lunch or simply to enjoy being surrounded by recovering forest lands. Here is the most dramatic scenery (thus far that I’ve discovered on Squak) where the trail weaves between big boulders before crossing a tributary.

After crossing the stream the trail climbs a bit before reaching the East Ridge trail and our return to Issaquah via the Squak Access trail. This hike was new to most everyone in our group; those who had never hiked on Squak Mountain were pleased with this loop that can easily be hiked year-round.

Our loop was about 8 miles with roughly 2,000 feet of gain according to the GPS. That’s good enough to help us stay in shape for more mountainous trails in the near future. If you’ve got the Green Trails map No. 203S (Cougar Mountain, Squak Mountain) you’ll see there are other ways to approach Central Peak as well.

Friday, January 15, 2010

January hikes

Hiker’s Block (January 15, 2009)

You’ve heard of writer’s block … well, I’ve been suffering hiker’s block as well as writer’s block.

Sorry for the long silence, for the long sleep so to speak. I have been hiking and hiking a bunch - two to three times a week – and as I have written perhaps once too often, most of these hikes have been “brown” hikes in and around North Bend and Issaquah (trails sans snow, flowers or fall color). Sometimes these hikes are conditioner hikes like Mount Si -these are always enjoyable and Mount Si is not devoid of beauty. The boulder gardens on the Old Si trail are gorgeous; I never get tired of walking through that mossy accumulation of “big” rocks adorned with fluttering licorice ferns.

We’ve done several hikes on Cougar Mountain as well as Mount Si. When we hike Tiger Mountain we usually make a loop and/or hike lesser-traveled trails (the Hiker’s Hut via the High Point and Preston trail). While the Hiker’s Hut is not a thing of beauty on a raw, windy day it made an ideal retreat for four chilled hikers and a good place for lunch. We got a kick out of the gray jays that have also discovered the hiker’s hut as a potential food source. Some of them even ventured inside!

We showed our friend Kelly a trail on Cougar Mountain she’d never done before and stopped for photos at the Erratic Boulder, also checked out the “new” trail to the Talus Development and its fancy houses (sigh). We’ve hiked up the Teneriffe Road a couple of times just for the exercise and also the road to Green Mountain via the CCC Road. There’s no lack of places to go.

One of the most interesting walks that Silverback and I have done recently is walking all the way around Lake Union, stopping at various parks and points of interest along the way. We especially enjoyed our stop at the Center for Wooden Boats – in addition to wooden boats in various stages of being rebuilt (or built) there are photographs of local shipyards taken years ago, including one of Blanchard’s where my Dad once worked (though the old photograph was slightly blurry, I am almost certain my Dad was in one of the photos on display). My Dad was a shipwright who also worked on tugboats (in Alaska) and at the Bremerton shipyard during World War II. The Arthur D. Foss (a tugboat), the Swiftsure (lightship) and the Duwamish (fireboat) are on display as well.

There’s a lot of history mixed in with the fancy houseboats and new businesses springing up – old railroad tracks, abandoned buildings, pocket parks and the occasional Starbucks where one can get a cup of coffee or a bite to eat (also fancy restaurants we couldn’t afford to set foot into). There’s so much more to see when you walk as opposed to driving or even riding a bike.

It’s just a little over 6 miles to walk around the lake – no appreciable elevation gain!!