Posted by: Matt | July 12, 2010

PCT NOBO from Snoqualmie

Rainier in the Distance

Rainier in the Distance

I’ve been getting ready for the section J hike at the beginning of August with Jim Nee and as a result of some email back and forth between the two of us I decided I’d test my theory that the route was clear of snow. There has been ample opportunity to view the southern exposure of the mountains north of the Interstate-90 corridor as it passes through Snoqualmie pass. Every time I head over the pass and I can stop for a minute or two I get off the road and look that direction (often with longing). The southern exposures of Chikamin Ridge show some snow well above the tree line, but otherwise the view from Gold Creek looks like most of the snow has melted.

Friday evening I hefted my pack for an overnight. The plan was to jog up the trail to Joe Lake, bivouac for the night, and then run back down in the morning. Tess and I had some errands that needed to be run on Saturday otherwise I might have just kept going.

The trail through the lower reaches of Commonwealth Basin was more or less clear of snow. I passed five people in three groups (3 together and two individuals) on their way back down to the trail head. What I noticed as I climbed is that their tracks stopped after a while. There were a number of downed trees along the way and I marked them with my GPS and snapped a photo so I could bring in the correct saw or axe for the job.

Downed Tree along the PCT

Downed Tree along the PCT

As I stated the traverse up the left flank of Kendall Peak the wild flower blooms were amazingly prolific. Stone crop, strawberries, lupine, glacier lily – but what I should have realized was that most of these were only recently exposed to the sun and had barely begun to bloom. Oops!

It didn’t take too long to wrap around the North West side of the Peak and start encountering snow fields across the trail. I crossed where I could, there’s not much wiggle room at this point in the trail and if there’s not an easy way across the field, there’s not a way along the trail. Just before the Kendall Katwalk I encountered one that made me stop and scratch my head. The head of the field was about 300 feet above the trail and extended all the way down to the tree line. The trail cuts a collier here that’s pitched at about 65 or 70°. There were old foot prints across the snow, but I decided to play it safe and cleared a block of snow from the edge to see how easily it might slide. Ouch! Good thing I didn’t head out on that, there was an ice layer over some very granular bits and the whole thing barely stayed in place after I cleared the edges.

Ok, so my view to Chikamin Ridge is giving me a false reading. At this point I can still see and sometimes hear the Interstate below, I’m not particularly interested in camping in the trail. I’m not interested in climbing around the snow field (steep and dangerous). I stop and eat my dinner (Aztec grains from Whole Foods) and think about my situation for a moment.

Ultimately it seemed most wise to head back to the trail head. It cut my intended mileage in half over two days, but the 11 miles and climb I got in on Friday was certainly welcome and helped.

Posted by: Matt | July 6, 2010

Long Weekend Report

Rainy Day on Tiger

Rainy Day on Tiger

I’ve been trying to get out on my paraglider a little more this year than I did last year. The bulky pack has been added to the drive-along ready-kit I keep in my vehicle should an opportunity to get out and about present itself. Two years ago this activity was my central preoccupation and usually a whole lot of fun. Then like most pilots I went off and found some really powerful air and scared myself silly. Now I’m doing my best to find some nice calm air; enjoyable air time spent climbing to the top of large hills, and then climbing (if things go well) well above those without the often aggravating worry of having to calculate terminal velocities or the forced remembrance of acrobatic exit maneuvers.

My long weekend commenced late Friday afternoon when I locked the door to my office in Redmond and drove like a bat out of hell toward Issaquah, WA. Between the rain showers there were pilots walking off the north launch for sled rides to the bottom. Actually there were a couple of pilots who launched, but didn’t beat the rain on their mutual way down. I hoisted my haul sack figuring that if I climbed the hill I might be able to get one in and if it didn’t turn out that way well then I’d have the pleasurable experience of packing my wing to the top and back down again in a very pleasant rain. The trail was nearly empty and I enjoyed the climb. At the north launch on Tiger the wind was coming in gently from the east (which is really bad for flying in) and the rain cycles were hitting every 4 to 6 minutes. I hung out a while on top enjoying the view, the clouds and the temperature. Then, as the sun slid below the western horizon, I lifted my bag and headed back down the hill on foot. No flying for me, but add four miles and about 1500 vertical to the tally.

Saturday morning I woke up early, loaded my truck and departed for Tiger again. I went from a nice sunny (if a bit breezy) morning in Eastern Washington to an overcast morning near Seattle in short order. But at least it wasn’t raining. I wanted to get a morning flight in before “chalk talk” with Marc Chirico and crew at Seattle Paragliding. My first climb up the hill went very well. I launched south into a very light wind and made it back down to the landing zone with time to spare. Enough time in fact to pack back up and head back up the hill for another one. Forty minutes later I was standing at the south launch wondering what conditions were like down at the LZ. I made a couple of calls and came to the conclusion the light and variable was the watch word, opened up my wing and launched. At the end of the tree line on launch I got wacked pretty good and found sink that made me think I might land at the nudist camp. I managed to clear Yarr Wall and made a bee line to the LZ. This landing was less fun than the first, but manageable.

I made one final climb on Saturday and flew from the north launch. Later in the afternoon the prevailing wind had switched to the north. The slog up the hill with the wing was a little slower and much hotter. The flight to the bottom lasted a little longer too since there was some thermal activity (but not much).

I ended the day with about 7 miles and 5000′ under my belt all with a 45 lbs pack on my back. Oddly enough I ended up going out to dinner with a much of PG buddies and mostly what we talked about was trail running. Go figure.

Incidentally, its lunch time at the office and I’m contemplating my options on the way home tonight. The wing is in the back, the forecast looks good, but I also saw the conditions along the Crest this morning and, well, it’s starting to open up a bit there. Snow is melting, the high country beckons.

Posted by: Matt | April 9, 2010

Clarity of Purpose

Yesterday I popped a bag of microwave popcorn and timed it so well that I could find only a single kernel of un-popped corn at the bottom of the bowl. This was a personal best for me and when I realized my good fortune in that very small moment I was happy for myself despite its smallness or irrelevance. I was, at that exact moment the world’s best, and perhaps more importantly, the world’s happiest microwave popcorn popper.

After eating my bowl of nearly perfectly popped microwave popcorn I went for a lunch time run. Not a long run, lacking a challenging pace, and over a course which is certainly less than remarkable. Shortly into the run I twisted my right ankle by stepping the wrong way on some mud which had hardened in an unusual fashion after hikers and horse riders had disturbed it while it was wet. My twisted ankle hurt. What was worse was the creeping sensation that maybe I’d just done myself in again. Maybe I’d just hurt my right ankle in such a way that now I’d need to take the next 11 years off. And as the run went on this paranoia built, I became a two footed, self-sufficient, completely-internalized, 12-step program of personal doubts and anxiety. Shit I may have just blown it “running for nothing”!

Eventually I made my way back to my truck and by this time I’d convinced myself that I wasn’t really sure what I was doing or why I might be doing it. I drove home and finished my day’s work, the whole time trying to put a little blush on the constant tinge of pain in my right foot while maintaining a completely false smile on my face.

Today the foot still hurts a bit, but the hot bath and taking it easy have helped. In a while I’m going to jog over to the wine shop and tip a beer or two with some friends. Maybe it’s the anticipation of beer, but I’m now able to deal with my anxiety and yesterday’s run is rose tinted a tad.

I just read a feature article about Scott Jurek in Runner’s World who, according to the article, seems to have fallen into a bit of a slump. I don’t know Scott and I’ve never met him, but, like most everyone else, I’ve read about him and I can say that what I’ve read has inspired me to be a better runner and a better person. I’d like to point out something; every other paragraph of this article seems to indicate Scott is having trouble remembering “how-come” he runs. He’s got the “how-to” down better than anyone else I’ve ever encountered.

Near the end Scott is quoted as saying “‘A lot of people want to see the champion go down,’ he says. ‘You’ve got to have ego to be at the top. I wonder if I have that anymore…’ His voice trails off.”

First, the following message is directed to Scott Jurek, second it’s a reminder to me, and thereafter, if you’re reading this post and it means anything to you you’re welcome to file it however you’d like.

The reason I was encouraged to start running again after my injury, despite the pain, and despite the discomfort was because I read Christopher McDougal’s story Born to Run. When I quit running it was because I had no other choice, that part of my life was quite literally ripped away from me and I had to come to terms with the idea that I should be happy to simply have my left foot. That’s where I eventually found my balance again and anyone who knew me in 1997 is also aware of how much that personal journey hurt and what it ultimately cost. For that matter anyone who loves to run and has ever had to stop understands this sentiment, and from the bottom of that tunnel there isn’t much light visible.

So since the early spring of 2009 I’ve been lucky enough to be able to run again. I’ve been inspired by a number of thoughts one of which is this notion that there’s a guy out there who not only has the “how-to” of running really long distances down, but that he’s got that spark that lets him do it with a smile. That his speed and his unbreakable stamina aren’t something that might separate him from me when I’m good and ready to limp across some distant finish line hours after he’s finished. And probably most importantly that there’s someone else who gets as much joy from running around like a kid in the woods.

Last season those thoughts were present in my mind as I ran longer and further in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness. They’re what got me out on the trail at oh-dark-thirty, kept me from shivering myself sick in freezing temperatures in falling rain, and all while knowing that I had to be back sitting in the office too soon. Maybe I’m reading something into a situation that isn’t there based on a second hand account from a journalist at Runner’s World, but I’m going to give this advice anyway. Here’s what you get from running Mr. Jurek. Joy, you run because it’s what you were made to do and believe me without that you will experience the difference. Stop wondering if someone is going to de-thrown you, if your there for a different reason it will never happen. Complete the course or trail or whatever with a smile and if you possess the fastest time then good for you. But that’s what you get from running, that’s all anyone should get.

Scott no one liked you because you had an ego and, be honest with yourself here, no one will ever love anyone for that. In fact, it’s probably the opposite. Most of us would cheer you on if you came in with times like ours. It’s because you’re probably a really sweet person.

I’m looking forward to reading about Scott’s recent run through the Grand Canyon. He seems like a pretty swell hombre to twitter “Back from depths of #GrandCanyon: 92+ mi, 32hr self-supported #TontoTrail traverse in memory & celebration of my mother’s life. Thanks mom!” Its nuggets like this which inspire me to hope for more and put up with what I’ve got (and that’s still an average 2.875 MPH pace). Which will continue to include my personal best popping microwave popcorn. One kernel? I can die a happy man.

Posted by: Matt | February 2, 2010

Something Much Taller Than Myself

Today was full of challenges. Short staff, early morning in the yoke, people not showing up to meetings, delays; you know “challenges”. Nearing ten hours of this voluntary self-abuse I decided that I’d had enough. I needed an honest to goodness physical challenge, and I needed it before the sun went down on this day of crappiness.

I packed my bag and a water bottle, put some shoes on and invited the dogs into the truck. Off we went, south bound to Mile Post 22. Something much taller than myself waiting to be climbed as fast as I could manage, bottom to top today was about 30 minutes of huffing and puffing. The cloud base obscured the top third of the ridge. It was cold, moist, and kind of dark. My lungs burned from the use. And yes, my blood was boiling with the happiness which I can only seem to find running up something much larger than myself.

Posted by: Matt | September 8, 2009

Summer’s Last Run

I have been delinquent and neglected to update my blog for a week and a day now. Punishments have been procured and should be arriving in the postal service any day now. This, however, is a penance which is much more suitable to the crime.

The last day of August was my first day back to work after a two week long vacation. I went back into the office and faced the mountain of email that had accumulated in my absence, the stacks of projects that I needed to address, and finished off my performance review. By the end of the day I was bushed, I crawled to my car hoping that the late afternoon coffee I had downed would carry me over the pass and into my bed. Clearly I was in a sour mood and the small collection of running gear in the trunk was really acting more like an uncomfortable mental thorn in my sock than a motivator as I crawled through Seattle traffic toward Ellensburg. I just wanted to go home.

Volcanoes Can Hide

Volcanoes Can Hide

 

Here, however, we see how much location can affect a person. By Issaquah I was enjoying a good bit of music and the traffic had cleared a tad. North Bend caught me high enough in the Cascades to be contemplating my trail options. By exit 47 I was shedding my office clothes like larval vestments and dawning my snazzy trail garb with a smile. Granite peak it would be tonight.

North into ALW

North into ALW

The trail head didn’t look too busy although there was a construction crew truck and a few signs giving notice that there might be some trail working being done. There was another sign that mentioned how little water anyone might expect on their climb up and down the hill as well.

Handhelds filled and a small pack borne I headed up the trail at a slow climbing lope. I was trying to maintain about 2.0 MPH on the climb even though this is a steep one. It was muggy and warm on the climb up; the shirt came off so I could get some evaporative cooling going. When I got to the Alpine Lakes Wilderness boundary I paused to take a photo. You can see that the climb was working its magic and that that day’s trials were broken down and washed away. That’s the face of self-healing.

Working out Work

Working out Work

I kept on chugging and pretty soon I was well above timberline. There are almost *no* mountain huckleberries on the southern climb up Granite. There are also no mosquitos and I’m not sure if losing one to be rid of the other was such a bad compromise. As I climbed the sun was sinking into the Sound and making a haze that was hard to look into. The hills below along the I-90 corridor were bright with glare and silhouetted. The sky turned something between pink and brown.

Greenway Trail Crew Mid-Yoga

Greenway Trail Crew Mid-Yoga

Once over and above the saddle the trail work was obvious. Someone has really been doing amazing work using available materials and hand tools. Mostly done with chunks of granite they’ve filled in ditches, constructed steps and raised foot paths over tarns, re-routed switch backs, built solid paths over steep terrain, and generally made something that will last many years into the future despite this trail’s constant heavy usage.

Beauty Stairs eh?

Beauty Stairs eh?

I summited and poked around the lookout tower a bit. There may be a geocache bolted to the northern cross-spar of the tower which needs to be redressed by the owner. Someone had used the ammo can as a banana peel composting bin. Not pleasant. I cleaned up what I could, looked around, took a few more photos and started back down the trail. I could see that there were a couple of more-or-less filled condensation pools in the fel field just below and east of the summit. I was down a bottle of water and figured it would be best if I started treatment on a replacement.

Condensation Ponds from Peak

Condensation Ponds from Peak

Bounding silently over an old path in the fel field I came to the larger of the condensation pools, knelled and started to fill my bottle when I heard the voices of people just above me. The trail crew, who were working for the Mountains to Sound Greenway were about ready to start a boulder-top yoga session in the fading light. I held a brief conversation with these kids and then took off down the trail not wanting to have to run too much in the dark. Most importantly I wanted them to know what quality work they had been about.

Beautiful and Long Lasting

Beautiful and Long Lasting

So, it’s been way too long since I did this, but here it is the TR. This past weekend was more or less spent tending to household chores I’ve been putting off for a month, but I’m in serious need of a good run tonight. The temperatures have been on their way down as we get closer to the autumnal equinox and day light just doesn’t stick around as long as it used to. Still my head lamp is charged. See you on the trail.

Summer is almost over

Summer is almost over

Posted by: Matt | August 30, 2009

Packing on the Miles with Friends

Wow! August is almost over. I’m a little bit sad about this. The Hike-a-Thon has given me a thirty-one day excuse to get out and go. Pretty much whenever the desire has made it itself and that’s pretty much any time. Today, for instance, I’m going to mow the lawn (because it looks jungley) and then possibly head up toward White Pass for some south end trail action. But, I’m a little sad that there’s only two more days of August left and soon I’ll be picking up all those little things I’ve been putting off.

We rock!

We rock!

Yesterday Tess and I took some friends up into the Alpine Lakes Wilderness. Matt Amend, a buddy from my paragliding days, and his girlfriend Lorie Drabant came over from Seattle Friday evening and stayed with us. Much tasty fish and crab was consumed and Saturday morning we woke up and made plans for Matt’s first trail run. I used ancient well-worn classical trail running tools to choose something special and memorable. The dart landed squarely on the Pete Lake region below Polallie Ridge. Off we went.

Matt, clad in brand new trail running shoes, and I took off up the trail. The Ohwi section was predictably full of people and dogs. We pushed through as fast as we were able and soon arrived at the Pete Lake trail head (#1323). Matt was setting pace for much of this segment as we rolled over the slight hills on our way up to the lake. At one point, while I was in the lead, there was a great yellow something off the side of the trail that made me pause. This fungus grew all over deadfall in the area and there were bigger patches than this one.

Matt and Fungus

Matt and Fungus

As we worked our way up the trail we could really make out the smell of smoke although we couldn’t really tell from which direction it was coming. When we arrived at the lake there was a Backcountry Wilderness Guard named Billie waiting at the crossroads of various trails that split off at this point. Spectacle Lake was closed to us because to get there we’d have to run right through the fire. We could climb up to Waptus Pass via Escandillo Creek basin or head on up to the real views along the rest of #1323.2 to where the PCT (#2000) climbs up and over an eastern arm of Summit Chief Mountain. We chose switch backs because it might get us out of the smoke and up high enough to see something.

Summit Chief on the Right

Summit Chief on the Right

Off we ran. We passed another ranger monitoring the fire’s progress, but kept on our way. We stopped for a bit to eat and both of us hooted at the scenery. Then on to the switch backs, oh yeah! This here is a certified collection with papers from the State demonstrating their authenticity. Soon, I mean really soon, Matt and I were well above the tops of trees and able to look out over the valley toward the Cascade Crest. Lemah Mountain and Chimney Mountain would poke out from under the smoke from time to time, the two of us would stop and gawk for a moment and then continue up the southern side of this arm of Summit Chief.

Lemah Mountain and the Chimney

Lemah Mountain and the Chimney

Just shy of a mile from the top Matt decided that it was probably best if we turned around and headed back down the trail. We’d already run further than he had in a day, we just had to turn around and get back to the cars. On our way down the switch backs we ran into Tess and Lorie marching happily up the trail. We joined up and began marching together down the trail. Re-watered and fed we made our way back to the lake stopping briefly to cool off in the creek.

What a view

What a view

Once everyone was back in the cars a couple of hours later we took a moment to review our shoes. Remember Matt’s were new, out of the box when we began this thing. Then off down the road where we ate vast plates of food and drank large glasses of cold beer at the Starlight Lodge. Fun times were had by all.

Nice shoes

Nice shoes

****

Lemah Fire (~600 acres) Diverting PCT traffic on Section J‏

Just wanted to let you all know that there is a pretty serious trail closure underway right now on Section J north of Snoqualmie Pass because of a long burning fire that has recently started to flare up again.  Looking at the maps the detour to get around the fire will probably add at least a day onto most hiker’s passage through this section.  This closure extends high enough that you cannot approach Spectacle Lake as best as I can tell.  It was really smokey most of the day and the fire is creating its own weather.

Common baby make it hurt so good

Common baby make it hurt so good

 

Be careful out there, but enjoy the views.  Incredible world we live in for sure.

Posted by: Matt | August 28, 2009

Last Call

Holy cow! It’s almost over. Soon we’ll all move on to September and then the Washington Trails Association Hike-a-Thon 2009 will be over. So far I’ve raised nearly $1200 clams for volunteer trail work and covered about 130 miles and I plan on spending part of the next four days cramming in as much as I can manage. This and I’ve been steadily painting the house too!

Now’s the time, I’d sure appreciate your help during these last four days of August. Please take a moment to donate to this great cause. If you’ve got some spare time and want to meet up to spend some time with me on the trail that’d be great as well. Give me a ring, drop a comment, send an email.

Posted by: Matt | August 27, 2009

Lightweight into Henry M. Jackson Wilderness

My son Justin and I just returned from a lightweight excursion into the Henry M. Jackson Wilderness. By comparison this is one of the least popular portions of the Pacific Crest Trail that still crosses into a Wilderness area within the State and while I don’t understand this I’ll avoid argument and just go along with it. I suppose that it’s bordered on all sides by newer wilderness areas or wilderness that is so visually spectacular that glimpses of these locals might dazzle one’s eyes for months. But hey! It is Wilderness and this is the kind of place where popularity is not necessarily a great attribute.

Unidentified flower

Parnassia fimbriata

We left Tuesday morning and drove up to Steven’s Pass where we parked, loaded packs, and headed off down the trail. Justin started feeling “tired”, but soon got into the rhythm of the walking and only seemed interested in stopping when there were really neat things to see along the way. We talked a lot, or rather Justin talked and I listened with the dogs bringing up the rear.

Valhalla from around the corner

Valhalla from around the corner

Our original intent was to walk to Lake Valhalla and see how we felt and how busy it might be once we got there. We walked through some light rain, dark clouds and wet vegetation stopping for lunch along the way. We munched our kippers and swatted mosquitos for a bit and then continued the climb. Soon we could see Valhalla looming over us and there were cloud breaks from time to time.

Jusitn in the Rain

Jusitn in the Rain

When we arrived at the lake’s basin I could see that there were a couple of parties at campsites near the lake already. Justin complained that his feet were tired, but his face was full of energy. We paused and Justin and the girls cooled off in the water. I bundled up and braced against the cold, pausing after activity always makes me colder and the clouds and drizzle wasn’t helping. After a couple of hours everyone seemed to have had their fill and so I suggested that we might want to move along.

Valhalla

Valhalla

We walked up the north pass out of the basin and sallied forth. Between the lake and Union Gap there has been a lot of trail maintenance activity recently. Most of this segment has seen a Pulaski blade and there are occasionally nice new water bars installed by someone who knows what they’re up to. It’s dusty and dry, but that will settle down by next year and the trail work looks to me like it may last a good long while. Thanks to whomever is responsible Nice work!

Dont know what this one is either

Prunella vulgaris

From Union Gap to Janus Lake the trail could use some brushing at the least, but otherwise it’s in good condition (as opposed to excellent). Near the end of this length I could see that Justin had to apply himself to the walking, but as we came down into the Janus Lake basin he nearly ran with his excitement. Day one down and everyone was super happy.

Dinner of Mac, cheese and salmon, camp set, and sooner than later a PCT through hiker by the trail name of Buckwheat wondered into camp. He ended up pitching his tarp near our encampment and thus conversation was had. Really nice fellow, I hope we can talk again soon as he seems super full of information and good intent.

The night got down into the lower 30s, I don’t think it broke freezing but I was sorry that I didn’t bring my own tarp. I ended up moving everything from the open, soft grassy spot we had originally chosen for its excellent view of the night sky to the relative protection of a Noble Fir to avoid getting completely damped out. Pepper was so cold she became a real pest and ended up sleeping inside my bag. (Note to self: need to make a sleeping bag for her so she can stay happy all by herself).

Lake Janus in the AM

Lake Janus in the AM

I awoke early, before the sun broke the eastern horizon, added a little clothing and headed up the trail about a mile or two to get my blood pumping and see if I could crest the next hill north of our camp. Justin stayed in bed and slumbered contentedly. When I arrived back at the camp Buckwheat was moving about I offered tea (we had plenty of fuel) and parked myself over near his set-up to continue our discussion from the previous night. He seems to have a particularly in-depth grasp of ultra-light trail cuisine and I’m still dumbfounded by both his base weight and the food weight of his pack. Very compact set up which will last an unusually long time without resupply, something work emulation.

Buckwheat

Buckwheat

Eventually he had dried enough from the previous night and loaded up his kit and headed off down the trial. At that point I rousted Justin from his sleeping bag, made breakfast and started to prepare for the next day. The waffling I was getting from the Justin corridor helped me make the decision that perhaps this was a two day trip instead of a three day excursion. Once we’d fueled up, dried everything and got loaded we headed off south back the way we came. There were a number of segments where Justin was really stretching his legs bringing our average pace from 1.2 MPH to above 2.0 MPH. This touched this Dad in a special way; super proud of my boy.

On the return Lake Valhalla had filled up with considerably more traffic. We more or less breezed by the lake only pausing to say hello to another through trekker (an older fellow on a horse whose trail name I did not catch) and exchange information about the trail ahead.

Keep truckin

Keep truckin'

Near the end of the return trip Justin was really dragging. We talked about food and tried to make the time pass. Finally we made our way around the last corner and the relief on his face was quite visible. “Big Mileage Justin” may be his trail name. He better slow down or someone might think he likes this kind of thing.

Awesome!

Awesome!

Posted by: Matt | August 24, 2009

Pete Creek Trail (#1323) to Tired Creek Trail (#1317)

Last night’s run was supposed to be a loop. Start at Pete Creek trail head (#1323) to the intersection of Tired Creek (#1317) then up and over to Waptus Pass and back down Escandido Creek trail (#1329/#1320) to Pete Creek for the win. All was going well and I was making good time as the sun was setting behind the Pacific Crest in the west, but eventually I ran into difficult locating the next segment of the Tired Creek trail. It’s bisected by a lumber road (which the guide book mentions, but failed to tell which direction to travel once reached).

When I arrived at this point on the trail I went left (west) because I could see signage down this way. The grade is really gradual on this lumber road and so I made really good time and covered a lot of ground … to absolutely no effect. Every lumber road leads, apparently, nowhere in this neck of the woods. Believe me I tried them all.

Pacific Crest from Polallie Ridge

Pacific Crest from Polallie Ridge

Finally the sun had set and I ran back to the point at which the foot path meets the lumber road deciding that I’d head up to Pete Lake or something if I couldn’t find the rest of Tired Creek trail. In the light of my headlamp I noticed that there was a pile of rocks which may have been a cairn at one point. This was just to the right of the meeting point of paths and upon closer inspection it seemed to be just that. I took off to the east wondering why someone would knock a cairn down and found where the foot path heads up the creek basin.

Fall Colors in August

Fall Colors in August

I don’t think they should call this “tired” anything. Rather a more appropriate name might be Masochist’s Ditch. It’s a steep, loose, and strenuous bit of trail. I climbed it anyway. Really enjoyed myself actually. Finally made it to the border of the Alpine Lakes Wilderness with meteors lighting up the dark sky above. I stopped and tried to take a picture, noticed that I had a cell phone signal and called home knowing that Tess was probably worried about me by now. She was, I reassured and then decided to run another 15 or so minutes into the wilderness.

Alpine Lakes Wilderness boundry

Alpine Lakes Wilderness boundry

There is a protected bowl at the point just below the Polallie Ridge. I wish I could have seen more of it, but even in the dark you could smell the moisture in the soil. There were wild flowers, all sorts, blooming along the path, and several owls hooting nearby. Pine and fir trees, short and tall all over the place; this would be a nice place to visit in the fall and during the day light.

Eventually I turned around and headed back down the trail. Next time I’ll be much further along and should be able to finish the loop without problems. At least I know where the trail is now.

Posted by: Matt | August 23, 2009

Packing with the Folks

Last week my parents came and my son came to visit us here in Ellensburg. The intent was to get everyone outside and up as much as possible over the course of the week. I had planned many day trips and overnighters, but the common denominator of our collective experience limited us to one of each. Still everyone had a great time and while my distances were down last week, the time I spent outside getting what I got was way up.

The Whole Crew

The Whole Crew

On Monday of last week I took everyone up to Esmerelda Basin (#1394) which is an old favorite for Tess and me. The parking lot was incredibly full for a Monday. Dad and I had to jokey two trucks into the little left over space remaining. There was another group of kids getting ready for what looked like an overnighter into the backcountry. Big frame packs and ice axes, no ropes or helmets. I tried to keep my chuckles to myself.

GP in the Distance

GP in the Distance

Considering the traffic in the parking lot the trail was undeniably untrammeled. The kids must have turned off to Ingalls Lake because we didn’t see anyone all the way up. There has been quite a bit of drying out in this valley this summer. You can still find water and there are places with blossoms showing, but where the trail is exposed to sunshine it has been ground to a fine, dusty powder and it gets pretty toasty from time to time.

Hawkins to the West

Hawkins to the West

Soon the whole family was stopping to dip bandanas into cold mountain water. Tie one of these around your neck and the world suddenly cools a few degrees.

Whos got energy?  Perhaps too much energy?

Who's got energy? Perhaps too much energy?

The summit took a while to get to, but everyone trucked along chatting and enjoying one another’s company. I tried to stay behind with the dogs and was impressed that Justin was doing so well with the addition of trekking poles.

You know ...

You know ...

We ate lunch at the pass and soaked it all in for a bit then on the return trip we started to run into more people. A camp gaggle from down the way of horse riders, several groups of young people returning from parts unknown, and some interspersed couples on their way back.

Esmerelda Peaks that-a-way

Esmerelda Peaks that-a-way

This was a predictably good way to start off the week. Everyone had a good time.

On Tuesday we spent the morning putting together packs for a short trip into Gem Lake via Snow Lake (#1013 and #1012) although I wasn’t quite certain where we’d actually end up. We drove up to the pass, got Dad a parking pass from the automated kiosk, and then started scouting trail heads. The PCT-S (#2000-S) was nearly abandoned, PCT-N (#2000-N) looked like a weekend, and the trail head to Snow Lake (#1013) looked like a convention might be taking place somewhere on the side of the mountain. I’m not quite sure what got into me, but a strange compulsion took hold of me and I stopped my truck on the far side of the incredibly large and full parking lot for Snow Lake.

Snow Lake Parking Lot Hell

Snow Lake Parking Lot Hell

Packs loaded and dogs leashed we started our trek up the hill. Again I held back taking up the rear position of our line to ensure everyone was doing ok and so that I wouldn’t start running. Mom’s right foot had some blister action going so I got to play Doctor Matt and kept her company for quite a while. Justin was moving so fast with the trekking poles that someone might have imagined he likes to hike. The way up was jam packed with people traffic. You’d take a few steps and then have to park off to the side to let someone by. Over and over again.

Ready

Ready

After we crested the pass into Snow Lake a whistle was heard off down near the lake at the end of a boulder field. “Tweet, tweet, tweet” it was the same tone and the cadence was regular. At first I didn’t think much of it figuring it was a marmot or a kid playing with a rescue whistle. It did sound like a rescue whistle. It wasn’t stopping. There were people stopped all along the short descent into the lake’s depression listening and discussing what it might be. Maybe it *was* a rescue whistle? Maybe someone should go see to whoever was blowing it? I took off down the trail, dogs trailing behind me. As I got closer I started yelling “If you’re hurt keep whistling so I can find you!” The whistles didn’t stop. Finally I got to a point where I had to leave the trail to get any closer to the whistler. I unhooked the dogs and set out over the steep boulder field.

Mom at the trail head

Mom at the trail head

Then the whistle cadence changed and I saw my prankster. A big fat marmot who hadn’t gotten the memo stating that marmots are only supposed to sound like marmots and not rescue whistles was sitting atop a boulder laughing so hard he looked like he might burst at the seams. I dubbed him “Lunch” and worked my way back up to the trail. Little bastard!

The hike up to Gem Lake from the north side of the Snow Lake depression is much improved once the snow melts away. By evening we had browsed our way through blueberries and arrived at the edge of Gem Lake. Mom, who had been fighting valiantly against blisters the whole way, was about done for so we set up camp for the night. Large plates of spaghetti were prepared and eaten with determination. Vast hoards of mosquitos were fed quarts of well spaghettied blood. Chubby bats made sport of well-nourished blood suckers as the sun went down in the west.

Morning view of Gem Lake and Hoards of Blood Suckers

Morning view of Gem Lake and Hoards of Blood Suckers

The Perseids are still falling and the five sipped our beers (it’s amazing what you can smuggle in the empty spaces of an ultra-light pack) and hooted as they came zipping through the upper atmosphere.

The next morning I woke up early, dawned my shoes, grabbed a water bottle and two dogs and started running for the Wildcat Lakes. I more or less cleared Gem Lake, but there was a party of trail workers and USDA FS Rangers camped on either side of the trail as it snaked its way through the pass to Wildcat Lakes. Not feeling like leashing the mutts (who were of course on heal and under voice command) I turned back to the camp.

By the time I returned the mosquitoes were out and swarming. We struck camp deciding that breakfast could wait until we located a blood-sucker-free-zone. We ended up making coffee and eating down near the outflow for Snow Lake which was perfect. No mosquitoes whatsoever.

Justin leading the way

Justin leading the way

The rest of the trail down was uneventful. Mom’s foot was still bothering her, but she seemed to be doing ok and took off with Justin at the lead. Dad and I chatted a bit, Tess and I did the same. We descended.

After the switch backs the people headed into the area got thicker than the mosquitoes at Gem Lake. There was at least one party of 20 or more trooping up the trail oblivious to the 12 person rule in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness. Many other smaller groups were headed up as well.

****

Caveat #1: Mom and Dad, if you’re reading this you should know that I really should have taken us along the PCT-S (#2000-S) we would have had just as good a time without the crowds. Otherwise we had a great time and are looking forward to your next visit.

Caveat #2: My GPS ran out of juice about four hours into the ascent to Gem Lake. Mileage for these two days is based on the Falcon Guide for Alpine Lakes Wilderness estimates and confirmed with the measuring tool in Google Earth. Times are best effort, but pretty close. My watch was still working.

Caveat #3: Still not sure why Tess hides from the camea’s lens.  I’m going to make September’s goal one in which I collect candid shots and post them all on the blog so that you’ll all stop wondering if I’m really married.

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