Sunday, September 21, 2014

Table Mountain

Lisa used to be a non-hiker. She is now converted.

I've only known Lisa for a few years. We met because our youngest daughters are friends. She must have started reading my blog when I wrote a post about taking our girls on a hike a few years ago. (Two years, two months to be exact. It's titled "Park Butte or Baker Lake" if you want to read it) So, I started badgering her to go on a hike with me--not just a hike, actually, but a backpack. I had it in my head that we should take the girls back to the Baker Lake trail with two cars and do the whole 14 miles end to end. Did I mention she had never hiked before? Yeah, well she was sure to mention it every time I asked her.
I'm kind of an annoying friend, I'll admit. I know it wasn't fair to continue to pressure her to go "all in" like that. It paid off though; after two years of harassment, she finally agreed to go on a DAY hike...and it better not be too hard!
Of all the choices in this great state, I picked one of the very few that actually mentions death in it's trail description. (on the Washington Trail's Association page) I somehow overlooked that part when I sent the link to Lisa to read; though she certainly did not. In my defense, the trail "claimed more than a couple hikers" when it was a loop; which it no longer is. Regardless, I understand how that information might jump out at someone who is going on their first hike. 
Of course we made this, why would you doubt? ;)
Though, I have to confess it also says things like "can be dangerous" and "parts are steep and exposed" and "keep your children close" I guess I can't really blame Lisa for being unnerved. I assured her if she was too scared, we would turn around and go down to the Bagley Lakes hike, which I also sent an informational link for her to read. 
Snow angel?

"You mean the baby hike?" she scoffed. ("Easy for little feet", "bring the family", and "easy for kids over four" are a few of the descriptors. I have such devious ways of getting people to do what I want) And so, do or die, Table Mountain it was. 

I could tell Lisa was having some serious second thoughts when I pointed at the mountain as it came into view. "Are you sure that's a hike?" she bemoaned, "hiking is different than rock climbing, y'know". I pointed out the little people seemingly scaling the side of the cliff to assure her it was a hike. It wasn't helpful. 

Hiking Ninja!
After finally finding a parking spot and using the worst smelling bathroom ever, we at last got going. As we made our way up and it was getting steeper, I wanted to reassure Lisa it was safe. So as a group of older gentleman passed us going down, I asked if they made it to the top. (if they can do it, certainly we could!) Yes, of course they made it! 

Standing in line for the bathroom of death;
Tabletop in background

"It's not scary, right", I asked, wanting to seal the deal. "Oh no!" one man consoled, "not until you get to the part that's only this wide (holding hands about 6 inches a part) with nothing but a bunch of loose rocks and a cliff to fall off of"...then he left with a naughty little grin. Sheesh, I should have known no man can be trusted when faced with an opportunity to freak a girl out. 

As we passed others, Lisa had fun telling them this was her first hike. "And this is what she chose for me", she'd say with playful ire. "I think she's punishing me for saying no to her backpacking idea", she'd explain. I think she's on to my devious ways. 
Getting to the top was really not that bad. I had chosen wisely after all, because I could tell Lisa was exhilarated and proud of herself; exactly what I was hoping for. The whole thing was a walk in the park for our adrenaline junkie girls, but I know they enjoyed it nonetheless.  
I rock!!!!!

But the best part was hearing Lisa say, "I'm kind of sad it's over" as we were driving home. Baker Lake and your 14 miles of glory; it's only a matter of time.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Off the Rails at Railroad Grade

(continued from "An Overnight Adventure with My Hubby at Park Butte")

Have you ever heard of Mumbley Peg? I hadn't either, but my husband introduced me to it when we got back to camp and found we had hours on our hands with not a whole lot to do. 

If you have heard of the game, chances are you played it differently. I looked it up when I got home, and found multiple variations; but here is Ken's version: 1) Stand facing each other a couple feet apart  2) Take a pocket knife and try to stick it in the ground where your opponent has to reach their foot to touch it 3) Continue taking turns back and fourth until someone cannot spread their legs far enough to touch the knife (now for the "fun" part; the penalty for losing) 4) Find a "peg" of some sort; in this case a small twig 5) Dig a hole for the peg and stick it in until it is flush with the ground 5) Watch with amusement as loser has to pull out peg with their mouth. (harder than you think, because your teeth can't reach it due to your nose getting in the way) Oh the games boys come up with to entertain themselves!

I win?
I don't think Ken expected me to get the hang of it so quickly. Just as Ken was kissing the ground, our mysterious campsite companion came around the corner. How strange that he decided to take his tent elsewhere.

Nice to meet you!
Actually, we did know why he decided to move. The reason this camp was completely full was because of all days and places, we chose to come backpacking in the same spot as a middle school field trip. Greg (one of the teachers) explained that he was glad to have had a site "away from it all" for one night, but that he had really better camp with the group for the last night. We offered to teach the kids Mumbley Peg...can't imagine why he wasn't interested. ;) 
Everyone get in line; we have knives to pass out!
I have to say, considering there were hordes of seventh graders running around, our "away from it all" spot really was pretty peaceful...until the guys we met in the parking lot the day before showed up. Sheesh, we couldn't catch a break! 
The Project Pressure gang

It was all good though. They were interesting to talk to; working on something called "Project Pressure" and taking photos of glacial melt all around the world. We had easy conversation about environmental stuff and funny camping stories; though when Mumbley Peg came up, they were not interested in playing either. I just can't understand why some people are not excited about licking dirt. 
High camp would have been pretty awesome;
maybe next time

I'm not sure if I should explain how we got to the top of Railroad Grade the next day; because we did not use the "official" trail. The sign in the parking lot clearly said to only use "official" trails, though by the look of the trail we ended up utilizing, we are not the only naughty people around. I'll just say that if your coming down from Cathedral Camp, it's not too difficult to find a short cut climbers trail to the left. After getting close enough to the glacier to get some good photos, we "officially" came down Railroad Grade; which officially made me REALLY appreciate not going up that way. 
After finishing the hike we were in no hurry to get home, so we decided to stop for a late lunch at Birdsview Brewing Co. I'm so glad we did, because we ended up staying three hours just enjoying their beautiful beer garden, loaner guitars, and hospitality of one of the nicest restaurant owners I have ever met. I highly recommend stopping in if you can. (their Dirty Blonde beer is amazing!)
And so, after all that belly aching about Washington state, Ken found on our adventure: 1) No rain 2) No bugs 3) No wet tent from dew in the morning 4)Yummy beer. So I say, no more excuses! From now on, he has to come with me more often. Only next time, I'm bringing a deck of cards!  
Mumbley peg, shumbley peg!

Sunday, September 14, 2014

An Overnight Adventure with My Hubby at Park Butte

He said yes!!!!
My husband has always been an outdoors-man. He grew up in the mountains; hiking and fishing and hunting and climbing (serious climbing in his day) was just a normal part of everyday life. But those were CALIFORNIA mountains...and he's been a little prejudice against mossy old Washington ever since he was forced to move here as a senior in high school. 
Not that he didn't continue to do those things a midst the rain and fungus of our dear state. But there had to be a damn good reason to spend the night outdoors this side of the mountains; and backpacking for the sake of backpacking was not one of them.
Park Butte is a popular place--people don't come from all over the world to hike in the North Cascade Mountains for no reason. We are incredibly blessed! It takes less than 2 hours for us to drive to dozens of drop dead gorgeous hikes; therefore for us it's not a necessity to stay the night outdoors...except that it's fun.
Unless there's a ton of bugs...and rain...and dew that makes everything damp and gets right into your bones. This is why Ken has always said no when I've asked him to come with me. (Yes, he did Spider Meadows...east of the mountains is a whole nother animal) I'm not completely sure why he said yes this time, except it was 2 days of 80 degree weather in September; and he felt guilty for always saying no.
What's the hurry?

We arrived on a Thursday to a pretty full parking lot. I had my sights set on staying at the lookout; which meant we should have gotten there by 9 am. I hate to admit that we were late because I had an appointment to get my hair done; but there you have it. I told my hairdresser it was the first time I was getting my hair done to go hiking; but at least I would look good in the pictures. (A first!) We ran into a group of four guys in the parking lot..."Are you planning on spending the night at the look out?" I asked. Of course they were. Oh well; at least we could take our time. We enjoyed a picnic lunch before we set out.
"Take a picture while my
hair still looks good"

Now that I knew we couldn't stay at the lookout, I had a hard time deciding where exactly to camp. I put down "High Camp" in the register, (shoot for the stars!) though the truth is I didn't have a clue. We set off with a very free spirit attitude; we would just figure it out along the way. (okay...that was more Ken's attitude than mine, but I was going with it) 

I will try my best to explain the situation. The trailhead to Park Butte leads to several hikes; in just 500 feet you can venture right to the Scott Paul loop, (saving that for another day) then in two and a half miles you come to the Railroad Grade turn off. (this is where High Camp is located; much higher up, of course) Ken told me he vaguely remembered hiking Railroad Grade 30 years ago...and that he wasn't too thrilled to do it again. It seemed logical to press on to the lookout on a Thursday (hopefully less busy) and consider adding the Railroad Grade the next day if we felt up to it...surely there were campsites to be found closer to Park Butte.
At the Railroad Grade turn off
The first area for camping we came to was shut down. (?!?!) area looked promising...except it was full. On a Thursday?!?...what the heck? Checking everywhere, we at last found a spot. Yes, there was already a one man tent on it; but he wasn't even on the designated "pad". Certainly this was an invitation to share, which we readily accepted.
Sharing is caring

Do you see the lookout in the distance?
Onward and upward; we had to get to the lookout. Once we arrived it wasn't the "beehive" that Mount Pilchuck was...but it was busy nonetheless. We introduced ourselves to the couple that had claimed it for the night, (they arrived at 10:30 am-we didn't have a chance!) with the four hikers we met in the parking lot nowhere to be seen. 
We made it!

What a view!

Chatting with the lookout "hosts"
On the way down we ran into some friends and invited them to come crash our party on their way out. We had yet to meet the camper we had already infringed upon...I'll let you know about that next time.
(part 2:
I thought "What a great back drop"...
then I realized he was peeing

Wish they could have stayed...
maybe next time.

Monday, September 8, 2014

The Conquest of Excelsior

"Excelsior! Always Upward!" This is the first line on the Washington Trails Association's page for the hike I was determined to do last weekend. Sounds like a call to conquer, right? Plus it's #3 in my 100 Classic Hikes in Washington book; I had to cross it off my to-do list.

Although, trying to figure out exactly how to do it proved to be quite a frustration. Three options are available. #1: Drive most the elevation up to the Damfino Lakes trailhead on a forest road and then hike an easy 3-ish miles to the top. #2: An easier drive to the Nooksack River start, and then do 4 miles of switchbacks to the top #3: A little longer drive to Welcome Pass, with 2.5 miles of switchbacks to the pass, then 5 miles of ridge-walking to Excelsior. My oldest daughter (not a huge fan of upward) was coming with me, so I expected her to demand option #1. She didn't. I just couldn't make up my mind.
Looked like if you stepped in this moss, it would
swallow you up like quicksand
The 12 miles of forest road to get to the 'easy' option really had me worried. My car has been acting would really suck to have it break down in the middle of nowhere. Although, there should be plenty of cars passing to rescue us; it's the most popular route after all. But lots of people, with lots of kids, and lots of dogs adds up to lots of "why the heck did we choose this way"...we really should do the 'medium' one. Two miles of switchbacks shouldn't be so bad; plus I loved the idea of walking the ridge once we were on top. So we decided Welcome Pass was the ticket...until we got to the turn off for the easy route and took it last second. Who wants to hike always upward when they can drive? Not us.
Miles of switchbacks, I laugh at thee!
Much to my amazement, the forest road was paved over half was up; we had chosen wisely! We arrived at a pretty full parking lot, but found a spot right next to the trail head. So far so good! The hike was easy as promised, with pretty lakes and a couple meadows. There were quite a few dogs and a few kids, but nothing crazy. All in all it was pretty dang perfect!

After about 2 hours we arrived at what was obviously the top, with a little more 'upward' ridges on either side.To our left we saw what I assumed was Excelsior--almost there! But then I noticed a sign that pointed in a different direction saying 'Excelsior'. It seemed weird; but a sign is a sign. Amber was already headed for the peak when I called her back.

"Sorry honey, but that's not the right way." The peak looked amazing, and just within reach; but the same sign declared that way to be 'High Divide'. I had to do Excelsior! So Amber came back, and we took the other trail.
Still quite a few beautiful wildflowers in bloom
After just a few minutes Amber turned and asked, "Why is this trail going down?"

It was a good question. Always upward should, indeed, go upward; but I didn't bring the actual map with me. I mean, this was supposed to be easy--why did I need to bother with a map?! I figured this trail would go around the 'High Divide' peak and bring us to a much superior 'Excelsior Peak', as promised by the little arrow on the sign. "It must be just around the corner", I kept insisting. But the trail just kept going down. 
Twenty minutes of going down is extremely disheartening when you were just on top of the world-especially when you know your going to have to go back up the same way eventually. Enough was was time to cut our losses and turn around.
Forty minutes of pointless hiking can really take the wind out of your sails. I guess if one was feeling contemplative, they could argue all hiking is not about destination and therefore 'pointless', and I might agree...except when you want to get 'somewhere'. In that case, not hiking in the direction of the specific 'somewhere' feels not just pointless, but counterproductive. Luckily, I brought a little wine to go with lunch; which always eases the pain of being nonproductive. After eating we felt good enough to go ahead and hike to the top of 'High Divide'; even though it wasn't the 'somewhere' we were planning on.
Is this arrow not pointing to the right?
Help me out here.
Let me tell you, that last upward is REALLY upward. There was, as to be expected, a group of people already on the summit when we collapsed at the top. I knew I would look like an idiot asking where this mystifying Excelsior was, but I had to know. "Can you tell me which one of these peaks is Excelsior?" Everyone just pointed to the ground as they announced, "Your on it". 
Excelsior, thou hast been vanquished!

I'm hoping at some point in time someone will explain to me what the hell that sign was all about. (obviously I was looking at it inaccurately...but dang, it seemed pretty clear) After getting back to the car and checking the map in my book, (I didn't want to tear it out to take it with us...when will I learn?) I discovered that had we continued on the trail I thought led to Excelsior, we would have ended up at the start of option #2. (the one with 4 miles of switchbacks-egad!) How ironic that in being so determined to get to a set destination, I was only bringing us farther away from it. I think there's some very deep life lesson to expound upon here; something to do with Dorthy having the magical shoes the whole time...but I'm just too tired to grasp it at the moment.
Are the arrows not pointing in two different directions?
I just don't get it.
Instead I'll end with the more concrete hiking lesson learned, which is #41: "Signs are only helpful if your interpreting them correctly"...but I suppose one could make that quite philosophical as well. But enough of being contemplative, or philosophical, or thinking deeply; I just want to focus on my next hike. I'm sorry to say it will probably be my last backpack of the year.
Amber is contemplating the meaning
of Mount Baker
Ha, ha...Linus and I need to learn to stop thinking so much!