Thursday, July 28, 2016

Another hot, sunny day

Early view of Mt. Baker
Twenty Senior Trailblazers showed up this morning for our hike to Yellow Aster Butte, one we do every year, usually in July. Since the wilderness area is limited to 12 per group, Al broke us into two groups, one of 12 to hike up to Yellow Aster Butte on the regular trail, and the other 8 on the Keep Kool trail, which is the original route to the Butte. That trail is no longer maintained, but it's still traveled and quite do-able. I went with the larger group.
Carol on the trail, surrounded by wildflowers
You spend a great deal of time in full sun on this hike, making it very hot, but I was prepared with plenty of water, as we ascended the trail and admired the views. They were pretty spectacular, and the wildflowers didn't disappoint.
Pink monkey flowers surrounded by green and white
When we reached the saddle, where we had unobstructed views of the surrounding mountains, especially Mt. Baker and Shuksan, three of our group decided to climb to the top of the butte, while the rest of us found some scarce shade and enjoyed our lunch. We had a light breeze, but the biting flies were a real nuisance for most of the day. It was only when we were high in altitude and moving that they weren't a problem. But it was just too nice a day to let something like that bother us.
Mt. Baker from the saddle
The other group was approaching from the left side of the mountain you see in the foreground. We never saw them, but they were able to see us (as we found out when we ran into them at Graham's, our ice cream stop).
The tarn where some Trailblazers swam last year
The Trailblazers who swam in this tarn last year were in the other group, and if they swam in one, they didn't make it to last year's swimming hole. There are plenty others for them to enjoy. We didn't venture down to the tarn, although we discussed it and decided against it. It looks a little lonely to me.
Steve and Doug in front of St. Shuksan
And then it was time to retrace our steps and return to our cars. The flowers and the scenery were wonderful, but some of us were ready for a chance to cool down. The thought of ice cream began to sound awfully good to me. I did stop to take a couple more pictures of Mt. Baker.
Mt. Baker and wildflowers
Now it's almost 7:00pm, making this a very long day, although we covered less than eight miles and around 2,500 feet in elevation gain and loss. Enough to make me feel I've earned my glass of wine! It's too bad that I didn't get to spend the day with the rest of the Trailblazers because of the US Forest Service restriction of groups to 12. I'll find out later how their trip went, but it was fortuitous that we ran into them briefly just as they were leaving Graham's. I know that we all had a good day. Another successful trip into the High Country.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Quick and dirty

Snagged from the internet
Ooops! I forgot completely about writing a post yesterday, and here I sit on Wednesday morning while perusing the news, with nothing to report, other than that I am getting more forgetful, obviously. I'll be writing another post tomorrow, after our trip on a sunny day to Yellow Aster Butte, one of my favorite summertime hikes. So here's my "quick and dirty" Tuesday post, one day late!

Stay cool (or warm, as the case may be), and we'll be seeing you again tomorrow.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Joyful summertime

Lake Padden trail
We ladies spent another Saturday morning walking around Lake Padden, as our leader Cindy was still in absentia. She's back next week and we'll do something different, but we all know and love this 2.6-mile trail around the lake. We did it twice and then went off on our separate journeys. It was a little after 10:00am when we finished, and the path was beginning to have plenty of other walkers and runners, along with the occasional bike. A day to be outside, for sure.
Oak fern
On our Thursday hike, we passed through a really lovely section that was filled with ferns of every kind. I didn't get a picture of the deer fern, but I've rarely seem them looking so beautiful. Peggy told me they require lots of shade to do well, and this area was not only shaded but delightfully cool. This oak fern caught my eye; I don't see them often, either. I think it is magnificent.
Beautiful rose
And right outside the stairway up to my apartment is this rose bush, which is doing incredibly well this year, covered with fragrant blossoms. This was taken with my iPhone, another closeup that continues to surprise me with its detail.

Several areas nearby got rain yesterday, but we didn't. Or if we did, it wasn't much. I wouldn't mind a drenching rain about now, just before midsummer. The month of August is usually our driest period, and everything is already beginning to look a little parched. But I really have nothing to complain about, so instead I'll give thanks for the beauty around me.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Welcome Pass 2016

Mt. Shuksan and the valley below
Today fourteen Senior Trailblazers set out to tackle Welcome Pass in the Mt. Baker wilderness. We've done this hike several times before, but not last year, and I had forgotten (conveniently) how difficult it is. It starts out in a lovely forest for a gentle mile before it begins 67 switchbacks up the side of the mountain, covering almost 3,000 feet (900+ meters) in 1.5 miles, which comes out onto the High Divide.
The map at the trailhead
A few of us had thought we might put a car at two trailheads (Welcome and Excelsior) and make a loop. We've done it before, but it makes for a very long day, adding significant length, so we just went up the pass and off onto the High Divide to gain some spectacular views, such as Mt. Shuksan above.
Looking back at the pass
It was very sunny but while we climbed the switchbacks we were in the trees, so it wasn't unpleasant at all, just a lot of work, and when we reached the top, there was a cold breeze that felt great and helped to keep the bugs away.
Carol and Steve in front of Mt. Shuksan
Some stayed at the pass but the rest of us went up to see the great views and settled in for a nice lunch. The flowers weren't as abundant as we've seen on other trips, and we couldn't figure out if we are just a little early for them or if they have already come and gone. It's different every year.
Our lunch view
Once we got some lunch into our tired bodies, we all began to feel better after having expended so much energy. This part of the trip was easy, but we knew that we had plenty to challenge us still ahead: walking back down those steep switchbacks, which is hard on the knees and requires close attention to foot placement.
Mt Baker
We also had great views of the surrounding mountains, and this picture of Mt. Baker has a couple of Trailblazers enjoying their lunch in the foreground. We decided to stay awhile longer.
Mel, Bob, Peggy and me (taken by Cindy)
Cindy took this picture and just sent it to me in an email. Since I'm in it, I couldn't resist including it. You can see how happy we all were to be enjoying the day and the fabulous weather.
Returning to the forest and our cars
But it couldn't be put off any longer: we had to start our return trip, going back down the steep switchbacks until we reached the gentle first mile that took us past glorious ferns and trees, and finally to our cars. We all went down to Grahams for our well deserved ice cream before heading home.

And now as I sit in my favorite chair, with my laptop helping me to record the day's adventures, it sure was a wonderful day. In the years that I have climbed this pass, not one journey has been like another. Today was filled with lots of sunshine and had no snow to navigate, which was lovely. I'll sleep well tonight and hope I wake with minimal soreness. We'll see.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

A real dilemma

Rogue flowers
What to write about? There's nothing in the news that I care to bring up, since it's all about the Republication National Convention this week. Even my favorite news shows, like the PBS News Hour, are being broadcast from Cleveland, where it's going on.

I smiled when I walked to the bus a couple of days ago and saw these flowers that decided that a crack between the brick wall and the sidewalk is enough room to send blooms out into the world. The wall is new and I think they had lots of space last year. They are pretty, aren't they?
The garden partiers
And we also had an impromptu gathering outside the garden one evening not long ago. I walked downstairs to water the garden, and they were, all enjoying an evening repast. I quickly joined them. A community garden has many facets, not the least of which is getting to know your neighbors in a different way.

I didn't forget to water my plants, which also needed some refreshment. Life is good here in midsummer. Actually, it's pretty wonderful year round, although different in January, as it would be pitch black at this time of day. Summertime!

Saturday, July 16, 2016

What a difference from last year

Iceberg Lake, one year apart in July
Last year at this time, we were sweltering in much above normal temperatures with below normal precipitation. In fact, I found this article stating that last July was the hottest on record for Seattle, which is a bit south of us. We tend to be a little cooler than Seattle, but last year it didn't matter: when we went on the Chain Lakes hike on July 2, we saw zero snow, but this year was a completely different story on July 14. It was just plain hot for the whole month of July.
Climate Prediction Center
See that little corner in the very northwest spot in the Lower 48 of the US? That's us this year. Frankly, I'll take our weather, even below normal, compared to what's coming for the rest of the country. Since they don't show Canada, I'm curious what that might look like, given that except for the coast of Alaska, the rest looks below normal, too. Strange weather!

I heard this morning from one of the ladies on the morning walk that another hiking group was scheduled to do the Chain Lakes loop today, but based on reports from the Forest Service that it is still dangerous because of deep snow, they canceled their trip. So I'm also doubly grateful that we all made it back safe and sound!

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Chain Lakes loop hike

The Herman Saddle group
It was quite a day! We had so many people that Al broke us into two groups, which would hike the Chain Lakes look in separate directions. Fortunately for me, I was in the Herman Saddle group, because as it turned out, we were the only ones that completed the loop.
We started our hike towards Herman Saddle, while the other group headed up the Wild Goose trail, a steep beginning to the hike that takes you to Artist Point, where you make a traverse to the beginning of the downward trek to Herman Saddle. There were nine people in our group, and ten in the other. Once we were out there, we have no cellphone coverage so we were on our own.
Crossing another snow field on our way to the saddle (taken by Carol)
We kept getting into more and more snow fields as we climbed towards the saddle, more than I have ever seen at this time of the year, and I was dubious about what it would be like on the other side, which gets even less sunlight. We kept on going upwards.
Roger in glacier glasses, waiting for the rest of the group
Since I was slowing down even more than usual, because of the snow, Roger and Doug, our strongest hikers, went on ahead to meet us at the top. When I got there and we assessed the situation, I was really dismayed to see the amount of snow that we would need to navigate.
The view from Herman Saddle
When we get to this spot, there is usually a bit of snow still hanging around, but this was so different: there is a trail somewhere under all that snow, leading to Iceberg Lake and our return trail. It was invisible, but some other hikers had already come up before us, so we decided we could follow their trail down. That's just what we did.
Iceberg Lake, living up to its name
This is what we found, when we finally reached Iceberg Lake. This was where we thought we might run into the other group, going the other direction, but there was no sign of them. When we were in this same place last year, on July 2, several of our Trailblazers took a swim. Not this year!
Top: last year, bottom: today
What a difference! And we still had several miles to cover before we reached Artist Point and safety. Once we began our trek towards Artist Point, we had several stretches of dry trail, which was so much easier to navigate than the snow.
Unnamed lake south of Iceberg
Chain Lakes has several lakes that were virtually free of ice, as you can see from the picture. And you can also see that our sky wasn't exactly welcoming as we headed up the final push towards Artist Point. Doug was in the lead, and I could see where we were headed by watching him. And finally we made it to the Ptarmigan Ridge junction, with only downhill ahead of us. I asked for a picture.
Sylvia, Doug, me, Melanie, Roger, Carol, Bob, Steve
(Larry took the picture)
By the time we got here, I knew that the other group must had turned around at some point instead of heading down and around. We took bets as to where they got to. Well, after this picture was taken, we had to traverse several sections of snow where you would definitely NOT want to lose your footing. I figured that if we had started in this direction, it would have been enough to decide to turn around.
Bathroom at Artist Point, half covered in snow
But we made it to safety, with nobody the worse for wear. We made a quick stop at the almost-buried bathroom and then headed for the Wild Goose trail. It looked daunting, so we decided to start our downward journey on the road. Some went the entire way by the road, and others headed over to the trail once the hardest part was over.
Getting down to the road
We learned that the other group had gone as far as the spot where the group photo was taken and decided to turn around and head back. If we had known what was ahead, we probably would have, too. But I'm glad we got to go on the entire loop, not all that long (7.5 miles total), but it was an adventure I'm glad is behind me. Another fine day in the wilderness, and we got to remember that it's always different from year to year!