Park Butte

Greg and I spent four days and five nights up around Mt. Baker last week. Our original plan had to been to go backpacking into Garibaldi Lake, which is south of Whistler, BC, and use it as base camp for day hikes up to Panorama Ridge and Black Tusk. But ten days before we were to depart, we checked trail updates and realized that this trip would be impossible with the monumental amount of unmelted snow around there. We looked into backpacking options in North Cascades National Park, but realized we would run into the same problems there. So we car camped and day hiked (although more than half the day hiking options were also under snow) and saw some AMAZING scenery.

The first day we hiked up to Park Butte. This is on the south side of Mt. Baker and is a doozy of a hike. 7.5 miles and 2,200 feet of elevation gain and 360 degree views at the top. We had read reports online that there were still parts of the trail under snow. I LOATHE hiking in snow. But this hike just sounded too spectacular to pass up, so we did it anyway, hoping for the best.

The trail starts out nice and easy and flat as it passes through Schriebers Meadow.

But before long, the trail begins a series of switchbacks and you climb up and up and up and up. Just past the two-mile mark, at 4,600 feet, you hit a big meadow. It’s very hard to picture what this meadow looks like in a normal summer. When we arrived, it was completely buried in snow. Yes, we hit solid snow at 4,600 feet. In late July. It boggles the mind.

We donned our gaiters and struggled across the meadow. We soon had awesome wiews of Mt. Baker looming to the north.

We followed the “trail” into an area of sparse trees where at least half a dozen different backpackers had found bare ground to set up camp. It soon became apparent that we were headed in the wrong direction, towards the Railroad Grade trail. So we turned back. When we approached a junction that we had sailed through earlier, I saw the two-foot-tall sign and pointed it out to Greg, noting aloud “Here’s the sign. We missed it earlier.” One of the hikers in a group that had just finished eating lunch there said, not apologetically, “Oh yeah, probably because I was sitting in front of it.” Uh yeah, ya think?

Despite the enormous popularity of this trail and the 30+ cars at the trailhead, not many people had braved the deep snow to head up to Park Butte recently. We completely lost the trail and just started heading cross country. We were in open meadow areas and we had the GPS and after awhile we could actually see the lookout atop Park Butte, so it wasn’t difficult to navigate. It was difficult, however, to walk. The snow was soft and unstable and the going was slow. The hardest part, though, was how bright it was. The midday sun reflected off all that white snow and I quickly ended up with a headache from squinting, even though I was wearing sunglasses.

Soon we were on the final push to the lookout.

Our timing could not have been better. Two other small groups of hikers started heading down from the lookout about ten minutes before we reached it. Later, when we left, we would pass a couple heading up there. But the whole time we spent up there, we had the place all to ourselves. Divine! And the views! These pictures simply don’t do it justice.

Mt. Baker is RIGHT THERE.

To the east are the high rugged mountains of North Cascades National Park. You can see a bit of Baker Lake down in that valley. That’s where we were camping.

To the south is Loomis Mountain (and although you can’t see it well in this pic, we could see the snowy mountains of the Glacier Peak Wilderness in that direction too).

To the west we could see Twin Sisters Mountain.

And to the northwest, our only snow-free view, the Middle Fork Nooksack River flowed away into the distance.

You can stay in the lookout; I don’t think you even need to make reservations. There was a logbook in there and I took a quick scan through it. I was astonished to see entries all throughout the winter. But I was saddened to see that most of the winter visitors arrived by snowmobile (although there were a few snowshoers). I find it hard to imagine enjoying this beautiful place when your mode of transportation is a loud obnoxious machine.

Here’s me and Greg at the lookout. You see that bare skin above my gaiters and below my shorts? Yeah, bad sunburn there. I don’t ever put sunblock on my legs because I don’t need to. But then, I never hike on snow either, which has amazing reflective qualities. I also got a slight burn on my face, another place I don’t put sunblock since I always wear a hat. But a hat does nothing for light reflecting off the snow beneath you! Doh!

After enjoying the stunning scenery, we made our back through the miles of snow.

Eventually we made it back to bare ground. I never thought I’d be so happy to see dirt. I will never again take it for granted! It’s easy to walk on and doesn’t blind me when I look at it!

Despite my aversion to snow and hiking in it, I’m glad we did this hike. The views are nothing short of spectacular.

Enchanted Valley

I had a three-day weekend for the 4th of July and I knew Greg wasn’t going to be around, so my sister and I planned on a weekend backpacking expedition. We weren’t sure where we would go because of the late snowmelt, but we had a short list of low elevation hikes. The Enchanted Valley in Olympic National Park sounded beautiful. We checked the weather forecast on Thursday and it looked decent enough, so we went for it.

We drove up to the trailhead Friday evening after I got off work. (One of many awesome things about the long days this time of year is that we had daylight nearly the entire way!) Despite hitting some traffic getting out of Portland, we got to the trailhead in exactly four hours. We set up camp at the Graves Creek Campground in the dark and rested up for our long haul the next day.

The trailhead was just up the road, and when we drove up, there were more than 30 cars there. This I was not expecting. I knew it was a popular trail, but I hadn’t realized that many people would take Friday off instead of Monday, so despite our relatively early start we didn’t get a jump on the crowds after all.

The first two miles is along a long-abandoned road, and then you descend down, down down for half a mile to Pony Bridge. This is significant because you have to hike up, up, up that hill on your way out! Pony Bridge crosses the river in a cool canyon.

As we were hiking in, I realized it was exactly two months ago that I had surgery. Hiking amongst those big trees, surrounded by the towering mountains, I sent up prayer of gratitude that I’m recovered and feel better and am able to be out there backpacking!

There were a number of stream crossings, but the bigger streams had log bridges. This is Fire Creek.

Our hiking book said we would reach O’Neil Creek Camp just after crossing a dry creek. We crossed a dry creek but never saw the camp, so we figured we just missed it. An hour later we crossed another dry creek and Deborah turned around and said “Guess where we are?” Here we had thought we were further along the trail than we actually were!

It had taken us four hours to get to that halfway point and we pushed on, prepared for another four hours before reaching the valley. Fortunately, this is a very easy trail and it passes through some gorgeous forest. This area has never been logged, so there are some HUGE trees.

And we passed through all these really pretty meadows that were “lightly forested” (as I called it). They were completely charming and lovely!

The picture below was taken near Pyrites Creek, where there are places to camp and a bear wire. There are these huge tall bigleaf maples and these wide green meadows and the river rushing by…oh man it was so pretty. Next time I’m going to camp here AND at Enchanted Valley.

In addition to big standing trees, we saw big fallen trees too.

We were expecting bears and finally saw one in a meadow far from the trail (so far away that even with my 105mm zoom it was just a black dot in the middle of the photo). It paid us no mind.

We reached the river crossing and knew we were very very close! We were surprised to see a log bridge here. Doug Lorain’s Backpacking Washington book, the back cover of which claims that all trips were fully updated in 2007, mentions a hikers-only suspension bridge at this spot. We asked the ranger about it later and found out that the bridge was damaged in the winter of 1999.

And then we arrived at Enchanted Valley, exactly eight hours after leaving the trailhead (probably seven hours of hiking and an hour of rest breaks). What a sight for sore eyes!

I have heard this valley called the “Valley of 1,000 Waterfalls” and the “Valley of 10,000 Waterfalls”. I think even 1,000 is a bit of a stretch, but there is a definitely a lot of water flowing down from the melting snow above. It is really beautiful! We didn’t know it then, but that would be the only time we would see the mountain tops all weekend.

We were pretty disheartened to see how crowded it was back there. We were mentally prepared for holiday weekend crowds, but not like this. Our only other backpacking experience in Olympic NP was Royal Lake, where there are quotas and designated campsites and everyone’s not camping on top of each other. There are not designated sites at Enchanted Valley, just designated areas where the ground is flat and everyone has to pitch their tent within 20 feet of each other. After wandering around for 20 minutes growing more and more discouraged, we finally selected a site in the trees where half a dozen other groups were set up.

There are only two bear wires in the valley, and one of them was near our camp. Unfortunately, the cable that goes through the pulley was busted. The high horizontal wire was still there. We had rope, but to suspend our food on a rope from the wire meant getting the rope OVER the wire first. This turned out be a big FAIL for us. We tied one end of the rope around a rock and threw. The rock made it over the wire and the proceed to loop back around. We couldn’t for the life of us get it unstuck. One of our campsite neighbors had been more successful in their attempts and offered to let us share their rope. So we cut our losses and cut the rope. Our rock-rope combo dangled on that damn wire all weekend, getting more and more tangled with the rope our neighbors used. [Insert head slap here.]

We saw a deer near the privy later that evening. The deer here are clearly used to humans standing around and gawking at them.

There is a beautiful creek that circles around the edge of the valley. You have to cross it just before reaching the chalet. We walked over to check it out after dinner. This was the first field test of my new backpacking tripod (my regular one is FAR too heavy to carry on backpacking trips). If any of you are thinking of getting a Tamrac TR406 ZipShot tripod, save yourself the trouble. It is advertised as being able to hold three pounds. My camera and lens together weigh two pounds and the ball head could not support it. It kept sliding forward or sideways. So the search for a lightweight backpacking tripod continues. Anyway, here is the creek, shot with a log serving as my tripod!

A note about mosquitoes: they had been bad at the campground the night before and although we had no trouble with them as we hiked, they swarmed us whenever we stopped. Fortunately, we encountered virtually no skeeters at Enchanted Valley.

Sunday morning we did a day hike, heading up towards Anderson Pass as far as we could go until we hit snow. The ranger told one of our hiking neighbors that he had hiked up there the previous week and had hit a wall of snow about a mile before the pass. Our hiking neighbor, Ian, joined us for the trek.

About 15 minutes beyond Enchanted Valley is another little valley where people were camped. It looked a lot less crowded here, and was just as scenic. I’ll have to remember that for next time.

The trail starts climbing up and up. The steep walls of the mountains here are prone to avalanches in winter. Check out the pile of downed trees at the base of this mountain.

We crossed White Creek, where there’s a debris-choked waterfall just upstream of the bridge. We also noticed another falls further upstream, way up the hillside. I wonder if anyone has ever bushwhacked up there.

We left summer behind and entered spring. Then soon enough we were hiking through winter. Nothing growing yet, snow everywhere. Here’s Ian checking out a snow cave on one of the creeks we had to cross.

And then we saw a distant mama bear and her cub. They were out on a snowfield and from one of the trail switchbacks we could see them through the trees. Thank goodness Deborah had binoculars. We were able to get a pretty good look at them. The bear cub was like a kitten, playing with a branch and frolicking in the snow. Very cute. This is the best I could do with my camera:

The trail actually crossed that snowfield further up the hill, and that is where we decided to turn around. We rested there for awhile, watching a distant herd of elk on the slopes across the valley. There was a large group of Seattle Mountaineers watching the elk too. They decided to keep pushing on and see how far they could get. I don’t know if the whole group made it to the pass, but we chatted briefly with one of them the next day on the hike out and he said he made it to the pass, despite the snow.

On the way back, we took a side trail to see the world’s biggest mountain hemlock. According to a brochure we picked up in Quinault later, this is the largest mountain hemlock in the world, over six feet in diameter and 152 feet tall.

We saw more elk, this time a lot closer! They were munching away on the hill above us.

There were a lot less people around Sunday night, since all those people that hiked in on Friday had hiked out on Sunday. Campfires are allowed in Enchanted Valley, so that night we made use of the nearby fire ring and Deborah made an excellent fire around which we ate our dinners. Nothing like a warm fire and a warm meal after hiking all day!

With a long hike and a long drive ahead of us on Monday, we got up at 6:15 a.m. What with filtering water, making breakfast, and packing up, we actually didn’t hit the trail until 7:45, but that’s still not bad. We saw our fourth and final bear of the trip when we were filtering water. It was actually pretty close, maybe 75 feet away? It saw us before we saw it, and by the time we spotted it, it was ambling away up into the trees.

On the hike out we noticed something we hadn’t seen on our way in. Someone had carved a happy face into the end of this log. Cute!

It took us about 6.5 hours to hike out. We were tired and very footsore, but we had a really great time. And even though the clouds persisted all weekend long, we didn’t get rained on even a tiny bit, which is pretty decent for a rain forest that gets 14 feet of rain per year. What a gorgeous hike! I can’t recommend it highly enough.

Mt. Mitchell

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Today I hiked up Mt. Mitchell, a former lookout site near Swift Reservoir just outside the boundary of the Gifford Pinchot National Forest on land owned by the state of Washington. The hike is about 6.2 miles round-trip with 2,100′ elevation gain. The trail starts off in the trees and stays there for most of the way, but I did get a glimpse of Mt. St. Helens

First glimpse

Hiking through a beargrass meadow on the way to the top:

So much beargrass!

The summit had 360-degree views. Here’s Mt. St. Helens and Mt. Rainier with Swift Reservoir below:

Beautiful view

Closer view of Mt. St. Helens:

Reward for the climb

Mt. Adams:

Mt. Adams

Looking south to Mt. Hood:

Distant Hood

Phlox was growing all around the summit area:

Summit wildflowers

Spreading phlox

Looking east over Sugarloaf Ridge. There is a faint trail that goes out that ridge, I’ve read, but I didn’t tackle it:

Sugarloaf Ridge

It was a warm day and shortly after beginning my descent from the summit I ran out of water. (I carried two liters, but it wasn’t enough.) Still, this was a really great hike with fantastic views!

2011 Update: Unfortunately this hike is no longer doable. The access road crosses a piece of private property that changed hands in 2011 and was bought by a company called Cougar Cabins LLC. They refused to allow recreation access across their land. Not cool! Read more here and here.┬áThere is a longer “back door” route which you can read about here.

Royal Basin and Royal Lake

My sister and I spent five days up at Olympic National Park in early August. Despite living in Portland my whole life, I have never set foot on the Olympic Peninsula. It was amazingly gorgeous up there and we will definitely be going back!

With limited time, we only spent one night backpacking. We chose Royal Basin as our destination, where beautiful Royal Lake lies surrounded by rugged mountains. Depending on which guidebook you consult, it’s either six or seven miles to the lake, and about 2,300′ elevation gain. Whew! This is a very popular place, so you have to reserve ahead of time and then pick up a permit from the Wilderness Information Center in Port Angeles. Plus you’re required to carry a bear canister, which you can rent for cheap from the WIC. It’s a preventative measure; they don’t have a bear problem yet and they want to keep it that way. But those canisters are pretty heavy!

The hike starts out easy, climbing ever so gradually through a beautiful and pleasant forest for the first couple miles. You start out alongside the Dungeness River, and then the trail cuts over to follow Royal Creek upstream to Royal Lake. Soon the forest thins out and every once in awhile you cross an avalanche chute or rockslide. This was the first one, where we finally got a view of our distant destination.

The trail climbs up and up and up, getting pretty steep in some parts. The warm day felt quite hot, especially in the open areas where the sun beat down. I spent all of May and June laid-up with my broken foot and lost a lot of fitness which I have not yet regained. So I was really hurting on this hike.

I don’t have many pictures from the hike in. I was too busy sweating. My sister, in better shape and a faster hiker anyway, had hiked ahead of me after lunch and I hadn’t seen her for hours. When I finally reached the lake, I saw from the little map of campsites that they were quite scattered around the southwest side of the lake. So I set off to find her, pausing often to admire the gorgeous lake.

I spent half an hour looking for her. There were plenty of people and nearly every campsite had been taken, even on that weeknight (don’t come here for solitude). But I ended up exploring nearly every single scattered campsite before finally finding her in one of the last few spots I hadn’t looked yet. Man, I was SO ready to take that pack off! She had set up the tent and was holed up inside hiding from the mosquitoes, which were quite prolific. We rested awhile and then decided to hike to the upper basin. We were tired, but we knew it would be pretty and that we would regret it if we didn’t go. At least we didn’t have to put our packs on again.

It WAS worth it. It was really pretty up there, even though it was all in shadow because the sun had dipped below the high mountains. We saw a marmot….

…and admired the awesome view.

There was a surprise waterfall flowing down into the basin. It’s not on the topo maps and seems to have no name. I climbed up the hill a little bit to photograph it while Deborah continued the last stretch to the upper reaches of the upper basin (I was too tired for that).

Deborah took some shots on my point-and-shoot. Here is a pretty little tarn…

… and a look down at the meadow that was my stopping point.

On the way back down to the lake, Deborah saw a doe and two fawns. Awwwww….!

After photographing the waterfall in the upper basin, I had hiked back down to the lake. While waiting for Deborah to return, I took pictures of the GORGEOUS lupine near the lake. There were several little meadows like this chock full of blooming lupine. It smelled fantastic!

Once we were both back at camp we set to work making dinner. It was a challenge since we wanted to keep our gloves on to protect our hands from the mosquitoes, but we couldn’t prepare the food wearing our gloves. Thank God for the headnets at least. Here we are sporting our stylish nets and our mugs full of wine (yes, my crazy awesome sister hauled a heavy bottle of wine up there!)

At dusk, a deer wandered into our camp. She was clearly used to humans.

I went down to the lake with my accompanying hoard of mosquitoes and experimented with some long shutter speed shots of the lake at dusk, not knowing what kind of results I’d get. Turned out pretty nice!

We slept pretty well that night since it didn’t get very cold at all. We were at 5,100 feet and were expecting colder temps but it was actually quite comfortable. We woke with the light at 6 a.m. and decided to go around to the east side of the lake to watch the rising sun paint the western mountains with light. It was a beautiful and peaceful morning and the mosquitoes were only out in half-force at that hour, lucky us!

Before we headed back to the trailhead, we decided to find the waterfall that we had caught glimpses of and could hear from many areas around the lake. It looked to be near the ranger tent (unstaffed during our weekday visit) so we followed the trail to the tent. The trail kept going so we kept following it and sure enough it led us to an amazing waterfall. Like the one in the upper basin, this one is not on the topo map and appears to have no name, which is a shame since it’s so huge and cool.

We hung out by the waterfall for a long time, not only because it was so pretty and the day was so warm and beautiful, but because the mosquitoes were pretty much non-existent there. Ah, the relief of escaping those little bastards!

After we packed up camp, Deborah took a little swim in the lake, brave girl. The water did look very refreshing, but I didn’t want to expose so much skin to the blood-sucking mosquitoes swarming about.

And then we headed out, sadly leaving behind the gorgeous mountain lake and the stunning scenery around it. Here’s Deborah hiking across the lower part of Royal Basin, where there are a few campsites.

The hike out was long and hard because we were tired and sore and it was quite warm. I was so tired that I tripped and fell twice, twisting both my ankles. Thank goodness for hiking poles or the fall would have been worse. But we finally made it back to the trailhead. I look a little worse for wear.

But I made it and it was totally worth the trip. What a beautiful backpacking destination! I highly recommend this hike. As I said, it’s quite popular, but since they do limit the number of campers allowed that helps. I hope to go back again someday, hopefully when the mosquitoes are not around!

Wildflowers still late at Dalles Mountain Ranch and Rowena

If you’re planning on going to Dalles Mountain Ranch or Rowena Plateau tomorrow to see wildflowers, don’t bother! Greg and I got up early again this morning and headed out to Dalles Mountain Ranch. A beautiful morning out there, but it’s hard to believe that it’s been two whole weeks since our last visit. The flowers have made very little progress in those two weeks. At the trailhead, the balsamroot are just barely starting, and there are no lupine blooming.

Still no flowers

I would guess it’ll be a good two weeks before it comes close to peak bloom.

Same at Rowena Plateau. Balsamroot blooms just getting started. Lots of lupine leaves but no lupine blooms. And to think that on April 30 last year it looked like this:


One place we DID see lots of balsamroot – rather unexpectedly – was at Mosier Twin Tunnels. Lots of them in full beautiful bloom right before you get to the tunnels (coming from the east). No lupine yet, though.

Balsamroot everywhere

Dalles Mountain Ranch

Greg and I got up EARLY (5:30!) so that we could head out to the eastern Gorge on Sunday and catch the good morning light. Our first stop was the Dalles Mountain Ranch. Unfortunately, it is still too early for wildflowers there. There were a few patches of Balsamroot near the parking area, but we still have a ways to go before the big showy displays.

But the trek was not for nothing. We saw quite a few deer. Several crossed the road in front of us just as we approached the parking area, and then more followed. I got this shot from the parking area, looking back down the road.

Morning wildlife

And we had a lovely view of Mt. Hood, shining in the morning sun.

Mt. Hood morning

Looking up the road from the parking area. Not many flowers yet.

No flowers yet

One patch of Balsamroot, ahead of the game.

Early bloomer

Look at that blue sky! It was a really gorgeous morning out there. Warm and pleasant with no wind, and the birds singing like they were just as happy as I was for the glorious spring weather. We will be back here in a few weeks to see the wildflower show.

Oh, by the way, Rowena Plateau is even further behind than this spot. We saw even fewer Balsamroot down there than here.

Lyle Cherry Orchard hike

My sister joined Greg and me for a hike up the Lyle Cherry Orchard on Saturday. It was a REALLY gorgeous day out there. Sunny blue skies and so warm! A perfect day to be out there. The very bright mid-day sun did not make for the best photos, but here’s what I got. (See the entire set here.)

Walking through the camas

The Meadow Death Camas are blooming in quite a few places.

Slope of flowers

The hillsides have a nice covering of flowers, mostly Desert Parsley but it looked like there was some Balsamroot up there too. This was a TOUGH climb! I’m out of shape from the long winter and it was hard going up this hill.

A fine view

Looking west down the Columbia River.

Lunch with a view

Looking east towards The Dalles from what I assume is the end point of the trail (a big open meadow-like area with east-facing views). We ate lunch here and enjoyed the warmth of the sun. It is SO nice to be warm when hiking, instead of bundled up, cold, and soaking wet.

If you own hiking poles, bring them on this hike. It is tough going up, and you’ll really want them on the way down for your knees. My knees don’t normally bother me on downhills, but even with my poles they were hurting bad by the time we got back to the car.

We saw LOTS of lupine leaves, especially in the forested area at the very beginning of the hike. They will be busting out in bloom soon. More wildflower shows on this hike soon!

Dog Mountain kicked my butt

We hiked the Dog Mountain trail today, hitting the trail nice and early at 8:45 to avoid the crowds and the heat. I haven’t done this one since I was a grumpy teenager, forced to do the trail by my parents on a really hot Memorial Day. The hike was brutal and hot and I ended up with heat exhaustion. I had such negative memories of that day that I swore I’d never go near Dog Mountain again. Well, I’ve been forced to eat my words, because the motivation of all those wildflowers was too much to resist and I hiked the trail today. The wildflowers were worth it, but man!…. that trail kicked my butt just as hard as it did the first time. We made it to the top in 2.5 hours, and made it back down in 2, probably faster than I should have pushed myself. By the end, I was just about out of water, and once again suffering from heat exhaustion. But the flowers were worth it!

The wildflowers are just past their peak and beginning to fade. Also, the trail is super dusty since it hasn’t rained in awhile. You all know this hike, so I won’t go into further details. But one thing I’ll mention that I haven’t seen mentioned anywhere else is that it’s already starting to get buggy up there. The last 15 minutes of forest hiking before emerging onto the open slopes (on the Dog Mountain Trail, not the Augspurger Trail) I was swarmed with bugs. They were most not mosquitos, but I have a few itchy spots this evening so some of them were biting. And I wish I’d had my head net to keep them out of my face! Fortunately, on the windy open slopes the bugs weren’t a problem there.

You can see the yellow carpet of summit wildflowers at the first viewpoint, there are so many of them!

Wildflowers all over

Right after emerging onto the open summit slopes from the forest.

Balsamroot everywhere!

Yellow balsamroot as far as the eye can see.
Egging me on

Mt. St. Helens in the distance with Balsamroot lining the trail to the summit.
A view to beat all views

The Balsamroot may be past its peak, but there are still lots of other wildflowers blooming, including Paintbrush.
Vivid red

Steep slopes of wildflowers above the Augspurger Trail.
Can't get enough of this