Chain Lakes Loop

2015 Trip, Day 6: Thursday, August 20

When we woke up this morning, all traces of yesterday’s clear weather had vanished and the skies were completely overcast (so much for the “partly sunny” forecast). We drove up to Artist Point anyway, where we planned to hike the Chain Lakes Trail. We hoped things would be different there. Maybe we’d be above the clouds. Nope. This was the “view” of Mt. Shuksan from Artist Point:

How disappointing. This trip was plagued with bad luck. We’d only had three clear days so far, and one of them (yesterday) was spent mostly in the car. We decided to do the hike anyway and see what would happen.

The trail descends from Artist Point and heads towards the Austin Pass trailhead and Bagley Lakes, all of which we could see below us:

At Austin Pass we stopped in at the Heather Meadows Visitor Center. This neat old building was built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in 1940. Those guys really knew how to build structures that last, and attractive structures at that. This building was originally built as a warming hut for skiers, but now serves as a Forest Service information center.

After the Visitor Center we descended the trail down to Bagley Lakes. This is looking back:

In addition to Bagley Lakes there are a few smaller lakes, more like ponds.

This photo by Eric Rolls shows how the scene just above should have looked:

We crossed a beautiful stone bridge:

Then the trail climbs up, up, up toward Herman Saddle:

After which we went down, down down to Hayes Lake:

Just beyond is Iceberg Lake, where we stopped to have a snack, and caught a brief glimpse of a patch of blue sky. The mountain on the right is Table Mountain, which we had hiked up the evening before:

Iceberg Lake is really low. All this gravel area should be underwater:

After resuming our hike we passed by Mazama Lake:

See those people down by the lake? They had an off-leash dog that was running around everywhere, trampling the sensitive alpine vegetation. Dogs are not allowed off-leash here, but I guess these people don’t care.

After Mazama Lake the trail climbs yet again. This hike has a lot of ups and downs! There are supposed to be views of Mt. Baker here:

The last stretch back to the car. By the this point we were incredibly discouraged by the clouds and lack of views:

After our viewless hike we checked out the weather forecast and saw that there was a 40% chance of rain the next day. Translation: “it WILL rain, and it will be overcast and you will have no views.” The forecast for the day after that was partly sunny. Translation: “overcast.”

Now that Plan C had failed, we gave up. We packed up and started heading home, three days earlier than planned.

We got to see some beautiful scenery on this trip, but the constant uncertainty about smoke and weather was stressful. Since August hasn’t been good to us for two years now, we may take out trip in July next year.

< Day 5

Table Mountain and Artist Point

2015 Trip, Day 5: Wednesday, August 19

The smoke from yesterday had not cleared from the Snoqualmie Pass area today, much to our sadness.

I was feeling incredibly discouraged. So far our vacation had involved a whole lot of worrying over what the conditions would bring each day. Every day we were making lots of phone calls to ranger stations and checking online for weather forecasts, fire conditions, and smoke reports. Now after 24 hours of smoke there was still an air quality advisory through the next day for the Snoqualmie Pass area. After making a phone call to the Glacier Public Information Center, Greg suggested we head to the Mt. Baker area, which was currently experiencing clear skies. So we headed north.

We had expected to spend the last three days of our trip backpacking, but we weren’t doing that now. So we needed more groceries for car camping and stopped at the Woolley Market in Sedro-Woolley. Also got some sandwiches for lunch.

Since we hadn’t planned on going to Mt. Baker, we hadn’t brought any of our books and maps with us. I downloaded hike descriptions to my phone and then we stopped at the ranger station in town to buy a few maps.

The Mt. Baker area was indeed clear and we enjoyed a sunny drive along Highway 542. We arrived at the Silver Fir Campground (the only campground in the area, not including the Douglas Fir Campground that’s 20 minutes back in the other direction) only to find no empty campsites. Well, there were empty campsites, but we couldn’t use them. Some people had reserved sites but then failed to show up and use them. The Weebers here were one such group.

Just before leaving the campground, we happened to see the Hoodoo camp host who is stationed at Douglas Fir Campground and also looks after Silver Fir. We told him we were looking for a campsite and he said the campground had been full for weeks, then turned away to finish cleaning the bathroom. Good grief. Hoodoo employees, in my experience, are some of the most unhelpful people! (We found out the next day that people are allowed to camp in the campground’s day use area when all the sites are full. No one had yet claimed the day use area and we could have taken it, but Mr. Unhelpful failed to mention that to us.)

On the map we saw a campsite symbol at Hannegan Pass so we headed up there. The road is a pothole-plagued mess, but when we got to the end we did indeed find a few campsites and we snagged one:

It was only 4:30 so Greg suggested we drive up to Artist Point and do the short hike up Table Mountain. So we drove back down the potholed road, then drove the curvy winding road up to Artist Point. When we got there I felt like doing a jig. We finally made it to Artist Point! When we visited this area in July 2010 the snow melted really late that year and Artist Point was inaccessible. When we visited last year it was raining and we didn’t even bother driving up there. Third time’s the charm! The evening light on Mt. Shuksan was divine.

Rugged mountains north of Mt. Shuksan:

Heading up to Table Mountain:

Some sections of the trail cling to the side of the mountain. See Greg on the left?

We reached a viewpoint that we thought was the summit, but it wasn’t. It actually proved to have the best views, we would later discover. It also had tons of annoying “rock art” stacks.

We kept going across the plateau towards the true summit, which we needn’t have done, it turns out. We lost the trail at one point and just headed cross country.

The point we designated as our turnaround point was not really the summit, but the views weren’t going to get better than we already had, so we called it good. Nice view of Mt. Baker:

Looking down the length of the plateau that is Table Mountain:

The jagged peaks of North Cascades National Park:

Glacier Peak to the south:

And of course a fabulous view of Mt. Shuksan:

Some panorama shots from my iPhone:

All the peaks to the south of us were somewhat shrouded in smoky haze:

A shot from the way down, with Mt. Baker in the background:

When we got back down to the car sunset was already well underway. We had wanted to photograph sunset at Picture Lake, back down the road a bit from Artist Point, so got in the car and headed down there. We needn’t have bothered though. Winds often calm down in the evening, but they didn’t today and the lake was not doing any reflecting:

Screw the lake. I’ll focus on the mountain:

Earlier at Artist Point we talked to a nice woman named Suzanne who told us about seeing amazing stars the night before, and even a bit of the northern lights. We wanted to stay and see the stars, but our pots, pans, and stove for making a car camping dinner were back at the campsite. Fortunately all our backpacking gear and food was in the car, so after driving back to Artist Point from the lake we made dinner backpacking style. I don’t think we’ve ever used our JetBoil in a parking lot before:

We sat in the car and ate our dinners as dusk fell:

We were glad we stayed because the stars were a sight to see!

We got to bed pretty late that night (11:30), but it was worth it!

< Day 4 | Day 5 >

Snoqualmie Tunnel

2015 Trip, Day 4: Tuesday, August 18

When I got up first thing this morning and headed to the bathrooms, I noticed that the guy in the site next to us was sitting in the driver’s seat of his car, bundled in a blanket or sleeping bag, engrossed in his phone, with the engine running. Idling one’s car and polluting the air (not to mention wasting gas) is one of my all-time hugest pet peeves. It’s even worse in a campground where people are eating and sleeping outside.

Our plan for the day was to pack up, hike Snow Lake, then move camp over to the Cle Elum area. As we drove to the Snow Lake trailhead, though, we were horrified to discover that our luck had changed. The winds had changed direction and the entire area was blanketed in smoke.

When we got to the trailhead, even the nearby mountains were faint due to the smoke.

We decided we’d hang around for a day and see if the smoke cleared out. So we headed over to Iron Horse State Park to hike through the Snoqualmie Tunnel, which is almost 2.5 miles long. It was built by the Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul and Pacific Railroad (also known as the Milwaukee Road). Survey work began in 1908 and the first train went through in 1915. The last train went through the tunnel in 1980 and eventually the entire rail line was removed. The right-of-way is now a trail in the 1,612 acre Iron Horse State Park, with 100 miles of trail stretching from Cedar Falls to the Columbia River.

We set out down the wide gravel trail (really more like a road) under the eerie light of the smoke-filtered sun.

We quickly reached the tunnel.

In we go! That light in the distance is the other end of the tunnel. It is straight as an arrow. Once we were out of reach of the daylight at the east end of the tunnel we turned on our headlamps.

Inside the tunnel are all sorts of weird old contraptions whose function I can’t even guess at.

At the other end of the tunnel you get a better sense of the mountain through which the tunnel was bored.

Looking west through smoky skies at Mount Kent, McClellan Butte, and Bandera Mountain.

Looking northwest:

We had a smoky view of Granite Mountain, which we’d hiked up the day before.

After hiking the tunnel the day was still young and still smoky, so we went over to Dru Bru and pored over our books and maps, trying to decide what to do if the smoke hadn’t cleared the next day. I felt very stressed.

We wanted to stick around and do Snow Lake, but we were not excited about going back to Denny Creek Campground and the freeway noise. So even though it was out of the way we headed over the campground at Kachess Lake where we had no trouble getting a site, much to our relief. The lake, like all lakes in the Pacific Northwest this summer, was exceedingly low.

We hoped for the best in the morning and went to bed.

< Day 3 | Day 5 >

Granite Mountain

2015 Trip, Day 3: Monday, August 17

We’d heard a lot about Granite Mountain. Despite the steepness and difficulty of the hike, it is EXTREMELY popular, which is why we hiked it on a weekday instead of a weekend. We were not disappointed.

We hit the trail at 9:30. The first mile of trail was the same as we hiked yesterday on our way to Pratt Lake, then we branched off to begin some majorly steep hiking up the mountain. This trail is not fun. It is very steep in places and incredibly rocky, requiring patience and concentration to navigate.

The trail spends a lot of time going across and up several different avalanche chutes on the south face of the mountain, from which we started to get views.

The trail crosses a huge open and mostly treeless area on the summit as it continues to wind its way up. There were thousands of dead beargrass stalks from the fabulous 2014 bloom up here.

Our first glimpse of the lookout!

The trail reaches a flattish area below a towering wall studded with granite rocks. Cool!

Marmot chilling out.

While we were resting, a chipmunk started licking the salty sweat off my trekking pole!

The trail passes beneath the lookout before coming up the backside to the summit. You can see how this mountain got its name.

Finally at 1:30 we reached the top. Views, views everywhere! Mt. Rainier to the south:

Looking northwest:

Looking northeast and east. WOW. We had mostly clear skies, but could see smoke off to the east. Mt. Stuart was barely visible through the haze. (Click photo for bigger size.)

The lookout was built in 1955, replacing an earlier 1924 lookout. It’s no longer staffed, but it’s maintained by volunteers, who sometimes open it up on weekends. Today it was locked.

There were SO MANY chipmunks at the summit. They were brave and tenacious little buggers, and clearly expected handouts. This hike is very popular and I have no doubt that these guys are fed by hundreds of hikers every week.

At 2:50 we reluctantly started heading back down.

A peek through the trees at more mountains to the north:

Kaleetan Peak and Chair Peak towering above Crystal Lake and Denny Lake:

Down, down, down, the steep trail.

We finally got back to the car at 5:45, extremely sore and tired. Tough hike, but beautiful! 3,800′ elevation gain, 8 miles. We rewarded ourselves with post-hike beers at Dru Bru. We even got pizza, delivered from Pie For the People across the street. Delicious!

< Day 2 | Day 4 >

Pratt Lake

2015 Trip, Day 2: Sunday, August 16

The campsite at Denny Creek Campground was only ours for one night, so we packed up camp this morning (royal pain in the ass) before heading over to the trailhead to start hiking. Our destination was Pratt Lake but the Granite Mountain hike also starts here and it’s VERY popular. There were at least 100 cars at the trailhead.

We started hiking at 10am. I’ve never seen ranger reports at trailheads before, but I like it. I wish more forests did this.

At some point along the trail is this long boardwalk:

About 10 seconds after I took that picture I was about a third of the way across when some trail runner came blasting up behind me. He asked if he could pass and I said I would let him pass once we were off the too-narrow-for-passing boardwalk. He told me he was trying to win a $500 race and I repeated what I’d said before. Learn some trail manners, jerk. I’m not falling off this boardwalk so you can win $500.

For the first four miles of trail we were stuck in the forest with nothing to see. It’s an extremely uninteresting stretch of trail and I was starting to get antsy. We got a tiny view of Olallie Lake and Mt. Rainier through the trees, but that was it.

Near that spot was a patch of fall color on a rock slide. No! I’m not ready!!

We encountered some bizarre discrepancies in our hiking books that we could not reconcile with reality. In the third edition of 100 Hikes in Washington’s Alpine Lakes the authors mention a spot at three miles called Lookout Point. In Day Hiking: Snoqualmie Region the author says “At around 3 miles you’ll find a fine viewpoint at 3400 feet. Pause to take pictures of the Snoqualmie Valley and the peaks above the Olallie, Talapus, and Pratt Lake basin.” Sounds like a mighty fine view, not one that would be easily missed. And yet we saw no sign of this viewpoint. Weird.

After two hours and four miles we reached a junction with the Mount Defiance Trail where we expected some views. The authors of 100 Hikes mention a “view south to Mt. Rainier at a junction with the Mt. Defiance trail.” They also have a picture looking down on Pratt Lake from the “4150-foot saddle” which in the text is described as being right before the trail junction.

We saw no views in any direction and it seems like it would be physically impossible to see Pratt Lake and those mountains from this spot. The angle is all wrong. In any case, all we saw was a wall of trees:

From the saddle the trail goes down, down, down into the lake basin. This section of trail is rough and rocky and it makes for slow going. I took this picture of Greg ahead of me on the climb back out of the lake basin later:

FINALLY we had some views, looking down into the lake basin (trees block the view of the lake from here) and pointy Kaleetan Peak (kaleetan is Chinook jargon for “arrow”):

Just before the lake the trail passes through a lush green forest with a lot of moss.

The trail traverses the slope above the eastern shore of the lake.

The day use area and campsites are at the far end, where had a nice view down the lake. This lake was named after Mountaineers member John W. Pratt of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.

We sat and rested for awhile and then I decided I wanted to go half a mile further down the trail to see Lower Tuscohatchie Lake. Greg decided to stay at Pratt Lake and chill out. Almost immediately I was pleased with my decision to explore further as I encountered a nice mountain view from the trail:

Looking down the valley of the Pratt River:

The trail crosses a logjam at the outflow of Lower Tuscohatchie Lake via a bridge.

I went out on the logs for a good view and was not disappointed. Pratt Lake is pretty, but this one is more beautiful. The name may come from the Muskogian Indian name for “stream of the warrior” (“tushka” is warrior and “hachi” is a stream”.)

I reunited with Greg back at Pratt Lake and at 3pm we began the long long slog back the car, getting back at 6:30. It was a 13-mile day for Greg and a 14-mile day for me. I was so sore and tired and just wanted to eat dinner and go to bed. But the Denny Creek Campground was full and it looked like we might be homeless for the night. Fortunately the camp host let us stay in the large “multi use” site. It was a huge non-reservable group site and had the longest picnic table I have ever seen.

< Day 1 | Day 3 >

Wallowa backpacking canceled

2015 Trip, Day 1: Saturday, August 15

A day late, we finally left on our annual week-long trip to the mountains. We were supposed to have left for the Wallowas yesterday morning, but they have some major fires over in that area and this was the smoky view from a webcam in Joseph Thursday evening:

Time for Plan B! We decided to head to the Snoqualmie Pass area. There were fires to the north and south but no smoke, and no fires in that area, so we hoped for the best. It was gray and bleak and overcast when we stopped at the visitor center at Snoqualmie Pass and picked up a few maps we didn’t already have.

The Denny Creek Campground was full when we arrived. The camp host told us there was one site available (apparently a reservation no-show), but it was only after we paid for two nights that they told us the site was reserved for the following night. They had failed to put the reservation card on the post stating that fact. Too bad there is no place else to camp in this area as the freeway is right above us and it’s VERY loud here.

Day 2 >

Jefferson Park

We were in Jefferson Park three days and we ran across Eric the wilderness ranger all three days. He was enforcing the campfire ban, checking permits, and reminding people about the wilderness rules. What a thankless job. He told us he also patrols Marion Lake and that people abandon broken tents and rafts there all the time. The previous weekend he had hauled out 40 pounds of garbage from there and ran into a hiker who also had picked up about 40 pounds worth of other people’s trash. WTH, people! Rangers and fellow hikers are not your maids. Pack out your damn trash.

On to the photos.

We got a later start than usual, hitting the trail at 1:40pm and crossing Whitewater Creek later in the day than we usually do. In the afternoon the creek was high and full of glacial sediment.

On the PCT just before reaching Jefferson Park is a sign with an EXTREMELY bad map showing where the campsites are. (Before you go, print out this much better map.)

There are now signs throughout Jeff Park so it’s easier to find your way around the maze of trails. It’s about time! This idea is LONG overdue, especially since the use trails around those lakes are not on any map.

Extremely low water at Scout Lake:

We got a really nice campsite with a view of Park Butte and Rock Lake.

A lovely evening at Bays Lake:

Milky Way over Mt. Jefferson:

Peaceful morning at Bays Lake:

Since we had never been there before, we stopped by Park Lake on our way up Park Ridge:

Crossing the outflow of Russell Lake. Bone dry!

Park Ridge straight ahead:

Looking north from Park Ridge at Mt. Hood and Olallie Butte:

View of Mt. Jefferson from Park Ridge:

The snowfield just north of the ridge is all melted:

Attempting to follow Park Ridge over to Park Butte. We had hoped there would be a booth path, but there wasn’t, and the sandy rocky terrain made for slow going:

We gave up on that and descended to the unnamed meltwater pond below:

Looking back up at where we were:

Heading cross country back to the trail:

Saw a buck!

Just about all the wildflowers are done and gone, but some gentian are still hanging around.

We stopped and hung out at Russell Lake for awhile:

Back at Bays Lake Greg decided to go for a swim:

It was pretty windy that evening, so there were no lake reflections, but we had a great sunset:

Heading out the next day under overcast skies. We’ll be back!

Castle Rock

I did the short hike to Castle Rock on Sunday morning before heading home from a weekend spent in the area. The whole hike is just 2.5 miles round-trip, although before the road was built the hike up from the bottom was MUCH longer.

There was once a series of lookouts here. This is the one that was built in 1925:

The trees have really grown up since the last lookout was removed in the 1970s and you have to move around to different parts of the summit to see in the various directions.

Mt. Washington:

Looking south and west:

Looking north and east:

The Three Sisters, backlit by the HOT morning sun:

Looking north:

Cool tree!

I sat on the summit eating my snacks and enjoying the view. I had the place to myself for a little while, but then several loud families arrived in quick succession, so I beat a hasty retreat. On the way down I did some maintenance on the switchbacks, nearly every one of which had been short-cutted. 🙄 🙄

Great little hike where you get a nice reward for very little effort. It was perfect for a morning hike before the LONG three-hour drive home.

Mount Seymour

Greg and I took a five day weekend to hang out in beautiful Vancouver, BC and while we were there we did a hike on the North Shore. We chose the trail to the summit of Mount Seymour in Mount Seymour Provincial Park.

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The parking lot at the trailhead is HUGE because this is a ski area in winter. You can hike up the ski run (ugly) or the trail, and we chose the trail, which we quickly realized was a bad idea. “Trail” is actually too generous a term for what we were on.

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The trails are utter crap, but the signage is great!

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We took a short detour over to the lamely-named First Lake. It’s just a shallow little pond, but was surprisingly pretty.

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Back on the main trail, Greg wanted to take another detour to hike a shot section of the Suicide Bluffs Trail to a viewpoint with a geocache. This turned out to be a mistake since we wasted time and effort we could have used later. More scrambling on rough trail:

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From the viewpoint we could see some mountains, but it was nothing compared to what we’d see later.

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We could also see our destination: Mount Seymour.

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Back on the main trail we paused at Sugar Bowl Pond.

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More climbing/scrambling, and we started getting tantalizing views of the mountains around us, including Mt. Baker.

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The trail did not improve:

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At one point Greg said “I can’t decide if this is really hard hiking or really easy mountain-climbing.” Later I decided what we were doing was “boulder navigation.”

We broke out of the trees and into the alpine, which was quite gorgeous, although very hot (it was cooler in the Vancouver area than it was in Portland, which was hovering around 100, but still PLENTY hot).

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Mount Seymour consists of three bumps known as First Peak, Second Peak, and Third Peak. We reached the base of First Peak, but didn’t have the energy to climb it.

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But there still plenty of views without going up there.

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It’s kind of hard to see, but right of center is a white “blob” in the sky. Distant Mt. Rainier!

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Greg was off hunting for a geocache while I enjoyed the views alone. Alone except for this guy, that is.

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We were meeting friends for dinner and were worried about afternoon traffic. We didn’t think we had time to go to Third Peak, so we decided we’d make Second Peak our turn-around destination. See that light-colored gully going up it? That’s the “trail”.

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Greg got this shot of me scrambling up it.

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Looking back at First Peak from the chute:

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Finally, Second Peak!

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The views were nothing short of AWESOME. Mountains, mountains, mountains as far as the eye could see. Looking east:

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Snowy Coast Mountains to the north:

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Coliseum Mountain just to the northwest:

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A bit of Indian Arm visible far below. There is a powerline corridor there, yet the area is roadless.

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The views here beg for panoramic photos. Looking north and east:

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Looking north. That’s Third Peak in the right foreground (not as easy to get to as it looks, according to the description in our book):

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Looking east and south:

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I would have loved to linger longer admiring the views, but we had no idea how long it would take us to get back. So we navigated our way back through the root and boulder obstacle course. For the last mile back to the car you have the choice of trail or ski run. We chose the ski run. “I’ve never been so happy to hike an ugly ski run,” said Greg. Agreed.

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The scenery on this hike was so so so beautiful. And it was worth it, even though this was by far one of the hardest hikes I have ever done. The constant scrambling over boulders and roots was completely exhausting. I feel very lucky that we had such good views a the top since weather can change fast up there. Also, the area was blanketed in wildfire smoke just a few weeks ago. So we lucked out with clear skies. Also, as it turned out, the traffic wasn’t bad at all we were an hour early for dinner. We could have had more time at the summit!