Monday, May 25, 2015

The Greider Lakes Convergence Zone and the Curse of Heather

Well, I can't say I wasn't warned. (about the convergence zone; if I had known about Heather's luck, I might not be telling this tale!)

I was chopping at the bit when I saw the weather forecast for my two days off work. Upper seventies in May!? I had to do another backpack.
Looking perky at the "beginning"
I didn't want to drive too far, I didn't want too many miles, I wanted to see a few mountains, I wanted a good campsite with a fire pit...I was feeling a bit more picky than usual, because I really wanted to make it count. And I wanted it to be a good experience for Heather; my new convert.

Heather is no stranger to camping, or the woes of nature, (she had some tales!) but her "new" two year old backpack had yet to see the light of day. The woes of parenthood had restricted her schedule, (we connected years ago when she roped me into helping out with her girl scout troupe, and recently reconnected when spending countless hours cheering our girls on at the volleyball tournament scene) but somehow she was able to carve out a couple days to getaway, and she was ready to break that backpack in.  
While researching early season trips, I came across Greider Lakes; a place I've never heard of before. The trail description on the WTA website does it no favors: "Start by skirting the Reflection Ponds, two insect-incubating wetland pools"... that sounds appealing, right? "Hey Heather, want to go to a cesspool?" But the trip reports were pretty positive, so I decided to ask around a bit more. I posted a question on my other favorite website, NWhikers, and got some very specific instructions about this hike: "Whatever you do, don't go on a rainy weekend! This is where the convergence zone converges! No matter what rain gear you bring, you will get wet! " This place was sounding better by the minute!

Still sunny!
So why did I decide to go there? Ironically, it was the weather forecast--Sultan looked more favorable than my 2nd choice of Annette Lake at Snoqualmie Pass. Those frickin' lying forecasters!!!! Though, I suppose the forecast for Sultan is not specifically the same as "the convergence zone" of the Greider Lakes; something I will not soon forget. 

To the forecasters credit, the weather was perfect when we parked at the trailhead. It was perfect for the first mile or so...and then the thunder started. We talked a good game about it not being a big deal, that it would blow over...but neither of us could deny seeing the very nasty clouds directly over where we assumed we were headed.

I have to mention here that the first two miles of this hike are not mentioned at all in the "cesspool" trail description. Because I was going completely off of the trip reports, I knew all about the added mileage, (it's because part of the old access road has been given back to nature) but I foolishly assumed the WTA website had updated it's "8.6 roundtrip" status to reflect the change, so thankfully we got an earlier start than expected. We also nearly made a fatal mistake of taking an unmarked trail at what was almost two miles in. There were very large posts in the ground directly in front of the trail, making me think that possibly the sign had just been taken down. I'm glad hiking lesson #9 came to mind: "never assume that a trail going off the main trail is the one your looking for, unless it is clearly marked" we decided to push on. 
A little less perky at the 2nd trailhead
It was not much further when we came to the obvious trailhead and "started" the hike. I was a little shocked when Heather asked me if I was ready for the 40 switchbacks...40 switchbacks? Did I even research this hike at all? I guess I was just excited about the nice campsites with fire pits and the short drive. Sheesh. 

At about switchback 35 the thunder and lightning could no longer be ignored...time to get out the rain gear that was already promised not to matter. As Heather opened her pack, it tipped over, and something fell out. We saw it start to roll. I realized at that point that the "something" was one of my two $200 Therm-a-Rest NeoAir sleeping pads (both my husband and I have one; they are the BEST) that I insisted Heather borrow. So nicely compacted and round, it really rolls well! Right down the very steep cliff we had just switchbacked up, it rolled quite quickly until it slowed down and teetered on the last edge in view. This is when Heather pulled out an awesome mom voice, and with an almost God like authority shouted, "you stop, NOW!!!"...and for a second I thought it worked. But I swear if that pad had a middle finger, it would have flipped it as it pitched itself with force over that edge and out of sight.
Up until this point, Heather had been trying to make me feel better about the ever increasing thunder and lightning by telling me all sorts of "trips gone bad" stories, and how even though she was doomed to always have something go wrong, she had learned that the "joy was in the journey", and not to worry about it. (I can't say I wasn't thinking "wish you would have told me about your bad luck sooner") But when that pad rolled away, Heather was not smiling and telling me not to worry about it...she was already 3 switchbacks down before I could even blink. I didn't think there was a chance in hell she'd find it--I was already wondering if I'd give her one out of every two hours I slept on mine--but somehow she did.
By the time she made it back up and we got our gear back on, the skies had opened up. Massive hail that quickly turned into massive droplets, we were steadily pummeled until finally reaching the first lake. The campsites were great as promised, but there was only one problem; they were under after the other...not to mention the mosquitoes were all over us. Joy in the journey, my ass!!!
How about this one?
We were far too committed at this point to turn back, but the situation was really not looking good. Heather was keeping an annoyingly good attitude, and pointed out we could pitch our tent on the trail if needed, since we were pretty sure nobody else would be showing up. I knew there were a few inferior sites at the upper lake, but the thought of pushing on to those, only to possibly find them flooded too, was really disheartening. Then suddenly the forest opened up, and we stumbled upon this...
It felt like we had found a life raft!! Sure, we still had to slosh in the mud around our little ark, but it was all good. We had an awesome view of the lake, a nice fire ring complete with bench (we were not the ones to make such a big fire as to scorch it--I promise it was like that when we got there!) and of course the confidence we would not be eventually washed away. Things were starting to look up.
All our stuff out of the mud--hooray!
See one of our mosquito friends in the corner?
After setting up camp, we thought we might as well take our soggy selves and check out the upper lake. After breathing mosquitoes and gnats the entire way, we took one picture, turned right around, and breathed in bugs all the way back.
Big Greider Lake...I think I can count 5 mosquitoes in this one and only shot
Heading back--see our tent?
Back at camp, our hopes for the rain easing up came true; and after we finally got the fire going strong, it actually turned out to be a very lovely evening.  
I don't know if I can be as exuberant as Heather with a "the joy is in the journey" mantra...because frankly I think sometimes the journey really sucks. I believe the joy is at the end of the journey, when your playing "Spot It" around a cozy campfire, and getting to sleep the whole night on your own $200 sleeping pad, and not waking up in a puddle of water. But, a not so smooth journey always makes a better story, that I know for sure! And being able to laugh through the crappy parts certainly makes any journey more joyful; so for that, I give Heather a very big "thank you!", and I hope we can do it again. (bad luck and all!;))

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Goat Lake with Mouse Turds

Goat Lake...what a name, right? I've been avoiding it because I thought it sounded a bit ugly. I'm not sure why; I guess I think goats are unattractive? Nevertheless, I started looking into it because the options for a non-snow encounter in April are very limited. The name is deceiving though, because whether you find goats to be attractive or not, you will not find any here. But what you will find is a good warm up to the season, not too difficult, get in and out type of 1 night backpack; and that's what I call attractive!
A goatless beauty of a lake!
I haven't had any lessons learned in awhile, but this trip provided #42 before I even got to the trail head. Jabbering away with my friend Debbie, I was far too engrossed in gab to have a single thought about my gas tank when we drove through the somewhat remote town of Granite Falls. (last station on the Mountain Loop Hwy) Twenty minutes later I happened to look down (trust me, we were still yakking away) to see my fuel warning light on. Crap. We considered pushing on and just hoping for the best. It's only a warning, after all...I had yet to test exactly how much leeway my car would give.
I'm happy to say we were smart enough to avoid having to learn the "don't test how far you can go when running low on gas while driving in the middle of nowhere" lesson, because we both decided heading back to Granite Falls was our only sane option. The lesson I did learn was: "fill up the car before leaving and getting distracted with chit chat". Needless to say, we got to the TH a bit later than planned. I had read that it only took 2 hours to reach the lake; so even though we didn't hit the trail until 4:30, it didn't concern us too much. I had also read there are two options for your hiking pleasure: upper or lower.  The majority said the lower creek-side stroll was superior, so that's the way we went. It was lovely for sure, but also a muddy mess. We were glad to be heading up, because there were places you could tell people had slipped and skidded their way down. I didn't exactly see butt imprints, but it looked like a few people got more than their shoes dirty.
There were also more than your average blowdowns across the trail. Nothing too hard to go under or over, but it inadvertently lead to my next lesson. I had already learned a long time ago lesson #10, which is "if a trail looks purposely blocked, that means it was PURPOSELY blocked (duh)", but because of all the debris we had already stepped over, neither of us noticed the deliberate branches to divert us, and just hopped right over them. In our defense, we were in no way the only ones, because there were plenty of footprints in the mud leading the way. The really stupid part though, was thinking that the field of horizontal trees in front of us could have been a recent mudslide, and I should venture through it to see if the trail would make itself known on the other side. (this was my suggestion...maybe I wanted to show off? "No worries Debbie, I got this"...oh brother!)
The blockade looked a little more obvious on the way down.
Flight attendant wannabe Debbie is pointing to the correct direction
This is how it looked going up...stay left!!
I'm a little ashamed to admit to this rookie mistake, because I thought after all this time I was getting closer to "pro" status. But considering where I started, (putting my hydration bag in upside that's embarrassing!) I have to remind myself that I really have come a long way. So anyway, the official lesson #43 shall be: If the trail suddenly comes to an end, don't jump to the conclusion that there has just been a massive mudslide, because that is highly unlikely. Just backtrack a little, idiot. ;)
Loved the color of the water
After getting back on track, we soon arrived at the "large root ball" where we had read we could venture off trail to explore a waterfall. "Off trail" was not sounding very appealing at the moment (I still have thorns in my hands from grabbing some God awful plant when I was scrambling) not to mention the fact our time schedule was completely we passed on that adventure. 
We didn't arrive at the lake until 8:00 pm. Even though our mistake cost us some time, I don't think 2 hours is a reasonable estimation of how long this hike takes; though I think the trip report I was reading was a day hike, and I didn't consider what having a 30+ pack would make on time management. 
Once there, we found as usual we had the entire place to ourselves, (can you believe our luck? I read this place is always busy!) so we claimed the best spot and had a fantastic evening. 
Debbie getting the tent view shot
The traditional lights out silly pic
We were visited by a very brazen mouse before we turned in, and in the morning found a bunch of mouse turds on the bear bin lid. Yuck! I tell you, it's not the big creatures you have to worry about killing you; it's the little ones carrying the horrors of hantavirus or Lyme's disease...lesson #44, always bring disinfecting wipes.(and always check for ticks, of course; which I forgot to do. I hear they are going to be bad this year.(shiver))
What a beautiful morning!
We both agreed it was great having the option of the "upper trail" to head back on. It may be a little longer, but it's always nice to have the different scenery of waterfalls and mountain views. Reviews called this section "monotonous", and I suppose that's because it is very straight forward...which is exactly what we both liked about it. Even though it is longer, it took us an hour less time to hike it than the lower trail. With no tricky detours or mud to maneuver around, I would say it was monotonously pleasant.
Thankfully, because of our earlier good decision making, we had plenty of gas to get home, so we didn't have to worry about trying to coast into Granite Falls; though we did stop there to treat ourselves to a greasy burger and ice cream. And speaking of treating yourself...I have big plans for my birthday adventure next month. Cross your fingers for me and check back soon.