Wednesday, April 17, 2013

The Anti-Party at Lena Lake

Trying to figure out an April backpacking trip in Washington state is not easy. You can look through every guide book (which I think I did) but you're going to find that your options are few. (Unless your into snow, and have the skills and equipment to make it happen...which I have neither.) A better idea is going to the Washington Trail Association page and using the "advanced" options in your search for trip reports. You can narrow it down to the month of April, overnight instead of day hike, un-click snowshoe, and bingo! You have your list of what the hot ticket in April is.
I was happy to find Lena Lake, which coincidentally is also in my "100 Classic Hikes" book. I had over-looked it because it included "Upper" Lena Lake. (Most definitely not an April hike.) The trip reports had many warnings about Lower Lena being party central...but the truth is, I love a good party. I had yet to be part of any kind of social nighttime interaction on a backpacking trip; to date only total solitude with the exception of the father/son pair at Boundary Camp on Hannegan...and they were not exactly what you would call party animals (unless whittling is your thing).

My friend Debbie and I have been amassing our own gear all winter. It's been so nice to have friends who let us borrow everything--but enough is enough. It was time to be legit, and so every REI coupon that came our way was put to good use. Between the two of us, we had everything we needed. I watched anxiously for any sort of break in the unending April rain until at last a 20% forecast. Good enough! We were off like kids after Christmas morning, impatiently eager to play with our new toys.

We didn't get on the trail until 4:00 pm. It took a lot longer than I expected to fiddle with our never before used backpacks and trekking poles and such. The 20% rain forecast was right over our heads of course, so we also had to get out our day before purchases of backpack rain covers.
Do I look legit?

As soon as we were finally all set up, the sun came out; and so 10 minutes into the hike we were both boiling hot. Is there anything more annoying than stopping to take stuff off that you just put on--when all you want is, for heaven's sake, to just get going! No, there isn't; and so we kept going...for another 10 minutes...and then it was, "screw it, we have to stop and take this crap off, or we are going to die!"

This is not a difficult hike, but it is steady uphill. I'm glad I read the trip reports that said it takes 2 hours to get to the lake. It's hard to believe it takes 2 hours to go a piddly two and a half miles, but it does. I thought I had read that the best sites were the farthest around the lake, and so we ventured over the slightly scary bridge to find them. We didn't. On the way back my worn out legs just couldn't do the "how low can you go" limbo under a blow-down; therefore I ended up on my back like an over-turned turtle.
Hang on, Debbie!

It wouldn't be so bad looking at it
if they were at least functioning

We finally settled on a nice spot by the bathrooms. Yes, looking at this structure took away from the "wilderness" feel, but otherwise it had nice access to the lake, and great seating around the fire pit. As predicted, there were plenty signs of partying...but we had missed it. We had the whole place to ourselves, like usual. I wasn't about to complain; we can make our own party! (Party AND clean up--I mean, come on people, you really don't need to leave your trash all over the place) Only thing is, when the temperature goes below freezing, the only party you're interested in is getting in your sleeping bag and praying you don't get hypothermia. (No joke...the dampness made it colder than cold...we couldn't even get warm by the fire.)

In the morning everything was so wet and frozen that even a half tube of fire starter couldn't revive any sort of flames; so we gave up and just drank our hot chocolate by the water where the sun was. Neither of us felt much like packing up our icy gear, so we sat there a long time just soaking up the rays and trying to thaw out.

Slowly packing up--the sun finally hitting the campsite
I had really hoped to explore further on a little towards the upper lake, and it was an absolutely beautiful day for it; but the frigid night had really taken a toll on us. We really could barely muster enough energy to get our butts out of there. Oh well, this was just our season warmer-upper after all. There will be plenty of time for us to get our hiking party animal on. ;)
Party animal Debbie is on the prowl!

I do love a lot of cute bridges!

P.S. Hiking lessons: #28--an overnight in April requires a 2 duro log minimum. #29--eat your dehydrated food as soon as it's ready. If you forget and let it sit too long while it's "cooking", it will taste like absolute crap. I know the stuff usually doesn't taste that great to begin with, but it is SERIOUSLY bad if you let it sit...
like you would rather die of starvation than eat it bad. 
Does it look like we got very little sleep
 and ate only crappy camp food?
Ummm, that would be a yes. 

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Little Mountain, the Whole Enchilada


I've hiked on Little Mountain more times than I can count. It's my stomping grounds; almost literally in my backyard. So of course I never take a camera, or think about writing about it--it's too much of a snore. But this last Saturday when we had temperatures reaching almost 70 degrees (unheard of in March...heck, it can be a rare thing in June around here!) and no hope of driving to somewhere exciting, (a house full of people coming the next day for Easter...lots of cooking and cleaning and yard work to be done...ugh) it was time to turn Little Mountain into something a little more inspiring, being it was my only option. So I decided it was the day to do what I've been meaning to do for years--up and over.

Rick called the night before, antsy to go anywhere because of the weather being so good and the skiing conditions not so good. (every Washingtonian had being outdoors on the brain, I'm quite sure) Melissa's chore list was even longer than mine, so she opted out. Ken was game though, and so were our girls; (with fully charged ipods at the ready) and thus the Little Mountain expedition was in full motion.

Little Mountain has evolved tremendously in the decade plus that I've lived beneath it. The Mount Vernon Trail Builders have done a TON of work making the trails top notch. I had every intention of showing up on the Saturdays that they have work parties...I managed to show up once. I discovered what it was like to hike with a wheelbarrow of crushed rock; and I'll confess, it really kicked my butt. Not to discourage anyone from helping out with the Trail Builders...but if you do, just remember the emphasis is on "work", and not "party".

Thankfully, there are some real hard workers out there that can handle their wheelbarrows, and they have completed the trails so that you can go all the way from one side of the hill to the other. We left our car at the trailhead on Little Mountain Road, and drove Rick's car over to East Hickox. On the map it shows that there is parking--but don't expect anything like there is at the east trailhead. On Hickox there is just a little sign that shows the start of the trail, and it is super easy to miss. (We drove by it twice)

I don't think we were on the trail more than 15 minutes before the girls were out of sight. It's really not fair to have your legs as 75% of your body; not to mention how tiny of a torso it has to carry. They looked like little gazelles bounding though the forest...oh, to be young again. (Actually, you couldn't pay me enough to go back to middle school--for real.)

We took a nice break at the top to enjoy the lookouts and have a snack. Of course, the girl's break was much longer, considering they got there about 20 minutes before we did. (punks ;)) Ken had fun freaking them out by pointing out the abandoned hang gliding launch, and recalling the story of his friend who forgot to hook in. (more about that on the Sauk Mountain post)

Too bad this warning isn't on the launch at Sauk

To get down we took Sidewinder, (without the winding--not necessary without a bike) to Service Road, to Up Only (except we went down), to Laz-E-Boy, to the new Cairn and Nature Trails, and finally to our car and our not-so-patiently waiting tweens who ran the whole way down. (Is there an end to their energy? Oh yes, when you tell them to clean their room ;)) From there it was just a short drive back home, where my dirty house and messy yard awaited. But I was so thankful to have enjoyed a whole morning of sun and adventure on my faithful, always present, near and dear, Little Mountain.