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Snowshoeing: March 2017

It had been a couple of years since I had snowshoed, but my friend Lelani posted photos on Facebook last year showing a recent snowshoeing adventure, so I asked if she wanted to go.  Of course, being always up for fun, she said, “of course!”  We went twice last winter, in March 2017, and had a blast both times!
 
Both of our trips were at Mount Baker; the first time we went to the Sno-Park, which has a path heading down to the Nooksack River.  You can also opt for a long snowshoe (or cross country ski) along a relatively easy, groomed track heading quite a distance in both directions.  
The second time a few weeks later, we went to the White Salmon Road near the Mt. Baker Ski Area. The snow had mostly melted in the lower elevations, so this is a good option that’s much higher in elevation and has snow longer than the lower elevations.
Both spots were fun, both times it was snowing lightly for at least part of the trip, and each area has a different view. 
 
The silence of walking in fresh snow!  All you can hear is your breath, and the soft crunch of your snowshoes.  Stopping to looking around at the view!  Taking photos while you catch your breath!  This is one of my favorite ways to exercise!
 
On the way home, we stopped both times at the North Fork Brewery and Beer Shrine, a local institution with delicious beer that they brew on site, and fabulous pizza!  The clams are amazing too!  There is often a wait, but you won’t be disappointed!

OMG- delicious clams and beer!

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Hawaiʻi 2017: Waipio Valley

Day 6, Monday, May 15, 2017

Monday morning we got ready to go for some more sightseeing!  And out we went!  We stopped at Havi, a small town that is known for being an artist community, to have lunch with Rich’s friend at a local BBQ food truck.  It was so yummy!  I had BBQ ribs with sticky rice and macaroni salad, but there were lots of options for both the main course and the sides.  On my next visit, I would like to poke around in the local shops and explore Havi a bit more than we did.

After lunch, we drove up over the volcano again, so some of the scenery was familiar from our previous trip a few days before.  But this time, our second stop was in Waipio Valley.  Waipio has a really crazy one lane 4WD road down to the bottom.  You are on private property; they say you are supposed to be a local to go down there, but there are hikes down there and it is beautiful!  The road was very rough – it was nice to have the old, rickety Rodeo; it isn’t a road that is suitable at all for cars – although you can walk down to the bottom (and then back up!).

 

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Down at the bottom there are a couple of river crossings, and then we got to an amazing waterfall, a beach and the river’s tributary at the beach.  It’s even black sand there.

We wandered around on the beach for awhile.  Feeling the sand between my toes!  Wading out into the river tributary was so peaceful.  One day I really want to do the hikes in that area, and explore the jungle trail.  A friend of mine has done one (a 12 miler one) and had excellent things to say about the experience.

 

 

I saw a bird I had never seen before standing near the river fishing – it turned out it was a Juvenile Black Crowned Night Heron.  Rich took some great photos of Yellow-billed Cardinals that were eating from a coconut someone had split open for them.  The females aren’t as brilliant as the males, with brown backs and heads instead of the black back and bright red head of the male. We also saw several mongooses (what is the plural of mongoose anyway?) running in front of the truck too as we were driving on the road down into the valley, but I wasn’t able to get photos of them, despite my best efforts.  Those little guys are fast!

 

 

Next time, I want to spend a lot more time here!  The weather wasn’t that great when we were there, as it was periodically raining lightly and windy, so returning on a sunny day would be awesome!  Hiking, having a picnic on the beach, just hanging out listening to the crash of the waves.  Waipio Valley is one of my favorite places on Earth!

 

2017 Big Four Ice Caves Hike

Friday, September 1, 2017

My last summer hike was to the Big Four Ice Caves, outside of Granite Falls. I had one last summer Friday off at the beginning of the Labor Day weekend, so my girlfriend Katie and I took her kids to see the caves.

They are named the Big Four Ice Caves, not because there are four caves, as the number and composition of the caves changes every year; rather they are named for the Big Four Mountain.  The mountain is apparently named that because of the large “4” shaped snow patch visible on the east face of the mountain.  There is debate about whether the “4” forms anymore, but you can see an old photo of it here (scroll down a bit).

The trail starts with a paved path through the woods; you can turn right to head to a grassy field with a picnic area. There used to be an old hotel there, but only the chimney remains. Of course, I didn’t find that out until after – I would have checked it out had I known!

The trail continues over a large aluminum bridge over the Stillaguamish River; it was built after multiple floods kept wiping out the footbridge and the trail. After crossing the bridge, the trail gets a little tougher, heading up the hill, but it is still easy enough for even little kids. The trail is gravel and boardwalk and winds through the forest. The kids enjoyed checking out the stumps and the rocks and the sticks and the mushrooms and the flowers and the pine needles and the moss and… Well, you get the idea…

The Stillaguamish River – that’s a mouthful!

 

Me on one of the footbridges

The trail comes out of the woods and we were surrounded by whispy white seed pods being carried through the air. A flower was going to seed and releasing all its pods to float on the wind; it was neat to just watch them being carried along. Bonus: the kids loved it!

At this point you can see Big Four Mountain looming above, with its steep granite face. We teased the kids and let them know that we were climbing to the top of the mountain!

We came around one last corner on the trail and saw the caves; they are a fascinating sight! These caves are formed by avalanche snow and ice that slides down the Big Four Mountain each winter and accumulates here.  The caves are made from a huge slab of ice that generally remains year round at the base of the mountain, because it is in the shade. The melting ice creates caves beneath the ice pack.  Of course, the fact that they are melting also makes it extremely unstable.

The surrounding mountains

 

Big Four Ice Caves

A word of caution here: it is NOT safe to enter the caves, or even go close to them. At least half a dozen people have died here in the last decade, including an 11-year-old girl named Grace Tam who was crushed in 2011 when a giant slab of ice destabilized and rolled down the top of the cave, crushing her as her family looked on. She was standing outside of the cave.  There is no cell service here, and help is a one mile hike down the mountain and a 15 mile drive to reach an area with cell reception.

Of course, we saw lots of people standing right outside the cave, in the cave, and even walking around on top of the cave. Not only adults, but adults with their small children and their dogs. It would be hard to say they hadn’t seen the signs explaining the danger, which are numerous, so we’ll just have to chalk it up to the, “it won’t happen to me mentality.” And it probably won’t, until it does…

Darwin Award Contenders

 

At least no one died while we were there…

We stayed a safe distance back, and sat on the rocks and enjoyed a picnic with the kids. We talked with them about why we didn’t go any closer, and talked about how other people get to make other choices, and how sometimes those choices have risks. There was a slight mishap with some dropped gum (not mine!) and we decided to make our way back to the car to find some food!

A robin at the caves

The entire hike is 2.2 miles round trip, with a 220 foot elevation gain, so it is easy enough for small children and those who are less physically fit.  Even though it’s easy, the destination is impressive!

On the way back, we did a very brief stop at a mining tunnel that was carved into the mountain around the turn of the last century. A man dug it himself looking for mineral laden ore, although I’m not sure what he was mining for. Like many mining claims, I can’t imagine it was long lived or profitable, but it did make for an interesting pit stop to see a tunnel dug into the mountain…

The mining tunnel

We finished our day with lunch and a beer at RAM – always delicious and a worthwhile stop!

2017 Ape Cave Hike

Friday, August 11, 2017

In August, I took a trip to Portland with a friend and her son for a long weekend.  We made a stop on the way on the south side of Mount St. Helens, to do the Ape Cave hike!

Shelley and I sign posing

Ape Cave was formed when about 2,000 years ago lava erupted down the south side of Mount St. Helens. As the lava flowed the outer edges of the lava cooled and formed a hardened crust which kept the lava underneath in a molten state.  As a result the hot lava flowed in a lava tube and continued flowing for months during the eruption.  The Ape Cave lava tube is 13,042 feet long, the third longest lava tube in North America, and the longest in the continental United States (for people who pay attention to these sort of statistics…).  A lava tube like this is rare at Mount St. Helens because the mountain typically has thicker lava which tends not to result in lava tubes; instead it builds up pressure which then causes explosive eruptions like the eruption in 1980.

We got to Ape Cave about 1:30 in the afternoon after a several hour drive.  It was definitely time to stretch our legs and get moving.  There are two options to hike Ape Cave, the upper cave and the lower cave.  The lower Ape Cave is about 0.75 miles long with a flat floor and is considered “easy,” appropriate for kids and people that are not up for doing the upper cave.  The upper Ape Cave is 1.5 miles long, with approximately 27 boulder piles that must be climbed over.  When the lava tube finally cooled, the molten lava drained out and the ceiling began to shrink and crack.  Boulders fell from the ceiling, in some places leaving the piles and in others leaving the entrances.  Even where there aren’t boulder piles, the hardened lava is uneven to walk on.  There are also two rock wall obstacles in the cave that need to be scaled too, only one of which was in the website literature we read…

The entrance to both the lower and upper caves

We decided to do the Upper Ape Cave, because who wants to do the easy hike?!?  Pretty quickly we were absolutely alone.  In the dark…  With just our headlamps to keep us company.  We made our way through the cave, climbing up the boulders and then back down the pile on the other side.  Over lots and lots of rock piles…  Over lots of uneven lava floor.  The walls of the cave were fascinating.  There was cave slime and interesting colors on the walls and the boulders.

I mentioned before that there are two spots in the cave that are more than just moderate.  This is where the cave gets its “difficult” rating.  The first spot we came to is about a 7 foot rock wall that you had to scale.  Lucky for us, a ranger happened along at that point and let us know where the two footholds are.  They don’t seem like they are allowed to help by giving you a boost though…  The footholds help you get high enough up the wall that you can hoist yourself over, but you still need some strength to make it happen!  I had strained my knee the weekend before, so I was a little worried about it, but managed to hoist myself up and over on the second try.

It doesn’t look like much looking down, but that wall was taller than me…

The second challenge was a bit different.  You had to use a foothold to get up on a natural step – that part wasn’t hard – but then you had to scoot between the wall and and rock and then scoot your bum up and over the rock to get up to the higher level.  The other option was to just pull yourself over the rock from the foothold, but I wasn’t strong enough for that.  In short, if you don’t have the upper body strength, you have to be slender enough to scoot between the rocks.  This obstacle was the hardest part of the cave for three short weaklings!

Toward the end of the cave you reach a little garden oasis, where the ceiling has fallen in and allowed light and soil to reach into the cave.  There are ferns and other plants growing there.  We took some photos there and continued on, since we knew we were getting close to the end!

A view of the skylight – close to being done!

Due to all the climbing over rock piles, it felt like way more distance than a 1.5 mile hike.  The elevation during the hike moves from about 1,900 feet to about 2,400 feet, but you won’t notice the elevation gain with all the climbing over boulders…  We reached the end after about 2.5 hours in the cave, which the literature says is the expected time.  Admittedly, we took a lot of breaks along the way…  We were tired at the end, but we still had to climb out of the cave using a ladder.

The ladder you climb to exit the cave

 

The exit – we made it out!

Once we were back above ground, we hiked back to the trail back through ashy soil and the remnants of the 1980 eruption all around.

The surface hike back

 

Me! With a really cool dead tree

If you go…  Dress for a 45 degree cave – there’s no sun to warm you up.  Wear pants to protect your legs and closed toed shoes, preferably hiking boots or hiking shoes – trust me on this, you will appreciate the leg protection and parts of the cave are slick.  Bring a headlamp; you will want to be hands-free as you climb over the boulders.  If you can, bring someone tall and strong!  That would have made the obstacles way easier…  And lastly – you can do it, mind over matter my friends!

What a fun hike!

Mount Si Hike

July 21, 2017

With my summer Fridays off of work, I was able to do some hikes with my girlfriend Katie, because she has Fridays off too!  We went south one day and did the Mount Si hike in the Snoqualmie Region, just outside of the town of Snoqualmie.

Mount Si, for the Snoqualmie people, was the body of the moon, fallen to the earth through the trickery of the fox and the blue jay.   It is a spiritual place, with a craggy mountain rising out of the foothills.  For those of you who watch the television show Twin Peaks, Mount Si features prominently in the show, which was filmed in and around the town of Snoqualmie.  The mountain is named for a settler named Josiah Merritt, who had a cabin at the base of the mountain in the late 1800s.

Katie and I headed down early that morning, and took the scenic route down to the mountain – off on the back roads to avoid rush hour freeway traffic.

We arrived just after 8 – we got out our packs and got ready to go.

Mount Si is a tough hike.  It is a steep hike – 8 miles round trip with over 3,100 feet of elevation gain.  Mount Si is considered a training hike for Mount Rainier; if you can summit Mount Si in less than two hours then you are considered to be ready to summit Rainier.  We headed up the mountain, which is basically 4 miles of switchbacks up the mountain.  There are parts that are steeper and parts where the switchbacks are more gentle, but it is all switchbacks, all the time on this route…

 

We took breaks when we needed and encountered several groups of millennials hiking with their phones streaming music into the air.  I don’t think I will ever understand why they want to hike with music blasting out like this.  I prefer to listen to the sound of nature when I am out hiking.

Early on, Katie and I came upon a leucistic slug – it was white!  That was far more fascinating than it might have been had we not needed at rest break! But honestly, I think it might have been the high point of Katie’s day.  She was pretty excited about that slug…

At the top of the mountain, Mount Si is a collection of boulders and rock faces – lots of climbers like to climb to the actual summit here.  We weren’t going to do that, because it is a technical climb, but enjoyed seeing it still up above us.  We did scramble around and among boulders to go see close up where the technical climb begins.

 

A Gray Jay on Mount Si

 

 

Katie and Me!

Mount Si also has a fun draw.  Now, I know I will get in trouble with some of you for this, and I hope you will be able to forgive me…  I never do this.  Katie and I fed the birds…  (hangs head in shame, but only a little…) The Gray Jays there would swoop down to grab a peanut or dried cranberry from the palm of your hand!  Surprisingly, they are very gentle.  I have to admit it was pretty fun.  And the photos I got were absolutely priceless.

Yes, these are unedited…

 

We hung out at the top and ate our lunch of nuts, granola bars and fruit, and checked out the views of Mount Rainier and the Cascade Range.  It was stunning!  Certainly worth the pain of the uphill hike!

For obvious reasons, the hike back down was faster and easier, and when we got to the bottom we were more than ready for a trip to Snoqualmie Brewery for a late lunch and a pint.  I had the Muffaletta sandwich (which while not very traditional was delicious!) and the Copperhead American Pale Ale, and got myself a pint glass to take home.

On the way home, Katie and I did a quick stop at Snoqualmie Falls.  We checked out the falls, which at 268 feet tall is the 6th highest waterfall in Washington State.  It has two powerhouses generating power for Puget Sound Energy; one is actually buried underground!  Snoqualmie Falls and the Salish Lodge that is located at the top of the falls, were both also featured in Twin Peaks, giving Katie a Twin Peaks trifecta for the day.

It was a great day!

Monte Cristo Hike

July 15, 2017

In July, I went on another hike I’d never done before, an 8 mile round-trip hike over a relatively flat route to a gold and silver mining site.  The ghost town of Monte Cristo.

Between 1890 and 1907, Monte Cristo experienced a huge boom, growing to over 1,000 people at its peak, with 13 active mines and 211 active mining claims.  It was the first mine site on the west side of the Cascade Mountain range.  John D. Rockefeller took an interest in the site and for a period of time Frederick Trump, grandfather of President Trump, operated a boom-town hotel and brothel there.

At first the town and the mines were profitable, but over-estimates of the ground’s ore potential and frequent floods took their toll.  Most of the ore was near the surface; it was rarely profitable to go more than 500 feet down below the surface.  The river also flooded several times, requiring expensive repairs to the road and the railroad line in order to keep the ore flowing out to the smelter.

After mining operations ceased in 1907, for several decades there were attempts to keep the town going as a resort destination, with only limited success.  The county road to Monte Cristo was flooded in 1980 and not rebuilt, and the only remaining business, a lodge, burned down in 1983.  Monte Cristo is a ghost town today. A few original buildings and relics remain, as well as several more cabins from the various resort town efforts. The forests have grown back, so it is tough to imagine the bare hillsides with tramways and men bringing ore down from the steep mountains.

The route follows most of the old route taken by the miners over a century ago.  Floods over the years have washed out the road alongside the South Fork of the Sauk River.  The hike starts at the Barlow Pass trailhead on the North Cascades – Mountain Loop Highway and travels along the road for about 4 miles. You have to cross over the river on a large fallen tree at one point, but it is wide and flat enough that it doesn’t feel treacherous.

A view of the mountains on the hike in

There is a slight incline the entire way, with a total elevation gain of 700 feet to a final elevation of 2,800 feet.  The scenery is stunning, with the shallow river showing its rocky bed, and the craggy mountains above.  The 8 miles are pretty easy miles as long as you can handle the distance.

A Wiggin’s Lily at Monte Cristo

Once in the town it was fun to just wander around, seeing the old cabins and reading the signs showing where other buildings used to be.  There has been some remediation done in the area, in order to clean up the heavy metals that still exist in the mine tailings.  There is still a lot more work to be done, so they recommend you don’t drink the water there, or at a minimum filter it.

There is a pack-in campsite; it looks like a fun place to stay the night and explore the town.  I wonder if there are ghosts!

West 2016: Jenny Lake

Day 11, Monday, August 15, 2016

One of the activities that I most wanted to do at Grand Teton was to take the boat across Jenny Lake, and hike up to Inspiration Point.  I knew that there was going to be a lot of congestion in the area, because they are renovating the parking lot and services there, so we got up early to make sure we could get a parking spot and a spot on the boat.

The river near Jenny Lake

 

Jenny Lake

The boat ride was nice – a relaxing, short trip on a gorgeous lake.  The mountains in the background are stunning.  Once you get off the boat, you can choose how far you want to go.  The entire hike up to Inspiration Point, with a stop at Hidden Falls is about .9 miles each way.  However, the trail to Hidden Falls was closed for repairs when we were there, so I didn’t get to see it!  My mom didn’t want to hike all the way to Inspiration Point, so I pulled away from her with the agreement that I would meet her wherever she happened to end up.  That works fine with an out and back trail.

 

The trail is a gentle uphill at the beginning, but the last bit of it is steeper switchbacks along the side of a mountain.  You will need to be patient about passing, as not all spots are quite wide enough for two.  Once you are at the top, at an elevation of 7,200 feet, the view is amazing!  You look out over the lake and see the boats coming and going from the dock down below.  It is well worth the exertion! I found a family to take my photo and spent a bit of time enjoying the view. A little Golden-Mantled Ground Squirrel was excited to see me; he wanted me to feed him…

Switchbacks up to Inspiration Point

 

Me at Inspiration Point

 

On the way down I saw two different pika and spent some time getting photos of them.  It was fairly quiet since it was still relatively early, so I got some good photos before another group of people came along to scare them away.  I loved seeing those little guys!

 

Pika!

 

Pika!

On the way back I ran into my mom at another viewpoint and was impressed with how far she had made it.  She got her own view to enjoy while waiting for me to come back down.

 

Mom and me – Inspiration Point Trail

Mom and I took the boat both ways, but you can hike all the way around the lake for an additional 3 miles.  Next time I visit I want to do that!  Plus, I still need to see the falls.

Jenny Lake and Inspiration Point were certainly worth the visit!

Costs and Fees: $15 per person round-trip for Jenny Lake boat shuttle.