Thursday, August 30, 2012

A different kind of Thursday post

I didn't go on the regular Thursday hike today, because I'm using my energy to clean our apartment in anticipation of the move this weekend. It's Labor Day Weekend in more ways than one for me!

After Monday's long hike, I realized that today's hard hike to the summit of Church Mountain was not a very good way for me to expend my energy, even though it would be fun. And even though the weather is supposed to be wonderful this weekend, I won't be getting my knees in the breeze, either. Instead I will be on my hands and knees scrubbing floors, dusting places that haven't seen a duster since we moved in. The more I can clean, the less I will have to pay the landlord for cleaning in readiness for the next tenant. And I learned yesterday that this place has already been rented! That means one day in between for the rug to be steam cleaned and any other cleaning to be done. This is a huge job, and we are only moving from one end of the apartment complex to the other. Still, everything needs to be boxed up other than perhaps the clothes in my closet, which I can carry from one place to the next.

We've hired two high school seniors to help us move on Sunday. I will pick them up, take them home after paying them, and am incredibly happy for their strong backs to do most of the lifting. I'm frazzled from all the tasks that need doing, and I find myself starting one thing before another is finished. Got to get a grip! This weekend will be the big push, and after that, we can move in a little at a time. We'll be sleeping in our new apartment Sunday. I will be without internet connection for a whole day! Hope I'll be able to survive that.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Thornton Lake one year later

The difference is hard to believe
Today the Trailblazers made our third "extra" hike of the year, a longer one than our usual Thursday hikes. We did this for the first time last August, and I thought this picture shows the amazing difference we saw today, versus the frozen lake we encountered last year.
Eight of us headed up to Highway 20 to begin our hike. It was an exciting trip to the trailhead, as the very steep road had recently been reconditioned, and we spun our wheels, all eight of us in Mike and April's Honda Odyssey. We had to get out and let him gain a running start to get up the hardest and steepest part of the rough road, but we made it with no further excitement. We saw only a few other cars at the trailhead.
The trail starts out very mild, with a gentle grade for the first two-and-a-half miles. And then... it begins to ascend up steep switchbacks on a fairly obvious trail. We decided we would like to attempt to make it up to Trapper Peak, which is another thousand feet after we get to the place you see in the first two pictures. We split into two groups, one faster than the other. I stayed behind with the slower group because in the sunshine and warm temperatures, I simply could not go any faster. I made it partly up past the junction to the peak, but I was not feeling all that well, pushing harder than I was comfortable with. I was not alone.
This is the view from the highest point I gained, and I was still 600-700 feet below the summit of Trapper Peak. Three people went on up, while the rest of us headed back down to the overlook of Thornton Lake. We had lunch and I recovered somewhat. I tried hard to get a picture of our fellow hikers on the summit, and while we could spy their movement now and then, they were too far away to get a good shot.
It was a lovely day after all, since I didn't try to make it to the summit (seen on the right-hand side of this picture). I hiked ten miles and ascended and descended more than 3,000 feet. The summiteers had even more distance and elevation. Once we were all together again, we hiked back down to the car and made it to the Marblemount Diner for a wonderful meal before heading back to Bellingham. It's been a long day, more than twelve hours, and since I had a glass of wine with my dinner I'm skipping a second one as I write this. Now for a nice shower and getting horizontal with a good book until sleep overtakes me.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Oh, my aching back!

I've been weeding for what seems like days in the garden. Actually, it was only about four hours, but they were definitely backbreaking, tough hours on my knees and back, pulling out buttercups. That pretty name doesn't tell the tale of the tough work it is to get that plant out of my garden. In that picture, just a little right of center is a HUGE pile that I pulled today. They are heaped in an unused garden plot and represent perhaps half of what I still have to be completely free of them. I will NEVER AGAIN go so long without weeding. They grow in a long vine and stick roots in every couple of inches. Here's the undone part of my plot:
That green stuff between the plants is mostly buttercup weeds, and I will hopefully tackle the rest of them before too long. They are fairly easy to pull out of the non-compacted soil, but I wrestled with them long enough to feel unable to continue to do any more today. My garden neighbor to the west of me never has ANY uncontrolled growth in his section; he told me he rips it out as soon as he sees it. I will do the same once I get all this under control. That's my hope, at least.
This shows some of the garden fruits. The pretty cabbage in the upper left is probably ready to be harvested, but I am too tired to even think of it right now. We ate one of the cabbages already, and it was divine. The tiny tomatoes just about to ripen are on the upper right; every time one gets close I pop it into my mouth, so I'm the only one to have enjoyed them yet. In the lower left is a beginning baby zucchini. I didn't realize until this summer that the fruit develops UNDER the blossom. I'm watching this one so that it won't get too large, since they are best when under six inches long. And last of all, lower right, is one of the delicata squash. I accidentally knocked one off the vine today, so I cut it open to see how close to ripe they are. Not close, but the seeds have begun to form in the middle; the flesh is not yet orange. Oh, these will be good to eat when they are ready, I just know it.

I made that collage with a new app I bought ($5, TurboCollage) from the Mac app store this week. If you click on it to enlarge, it makes the pictures full size, the better to admire the fruits of my labors. It's time for my wine, and I'm pretty sure my back will be feeling much better after I finish it!

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Scott Paul trail

Today eleven Senior Trailblazers drove up to Schreiber's Meadow to hike the Scott Paul trail. We were at this same meadow only two weeks ago to hike up to Railroad Grade. Although that day was wonderful, it was even more wonderful today. We started the hike at the same trailhead, but almost immediately we took a different trail, the Scott Paul. This trail was renamed in memory of Scott Paul, the Mt. Baker District Trails and Wilderness Coordinator who was killed in an accident in 1993.
On clear days, you have magnificent views of Mt. Baker and Shuksan on this hike. Today we had fog and low clouds, but after the last few weeks of very warm hikes, it was actually pleasant to be in temperatures that worked hard to reach 50 degrees F. Although these vistas were truncated, it didn't matter much as we kept exclaiming over the stunning wildflowers. This bouquet caught my eye and I had to take a picture.
As we hiked along, we had many different obstacles to surmount: fallen trees, streams with no obvious bridge, and a couple of snowfields. Here's one of the snowfields (with apologies to all my blogging friends who have been dealing with really hot temperatures; maybe this will cool you down).
After we had lunch and began our hike again, we  knew that we would be confronted with a suspension bridge that is only in place during the summer months. And before we knew it, there it was. We decided to walk across it one at a time, since it didn't fill any of us with assurance that it would remain in place if we ALL walked across it at the same time.
It was kind of fun, walking across it and feeling it sway in the breeze, with every one of us thinking of movies we've seen with suspension bridges failing halfway across. But we all made it across without even a little problem. Then we started our return trip to the cars. Along the way, we had to cross through some of the most amazing fields of lupines in bloom I have ever seen.
I didn't know that lupines had such a lovely smell. Every once in awhile we would get a whiff that reminded me of delicate lavender bouquets; I can't describe it any better. And the cool temperatures, the company, the incredible wildflowers... well, we were all in a very mellow mood by the time we reached the cars, after having traveled more than eight miles and 2,100 feet up and down. Another day that makes me happy I live where I do and that I have the ability to visit these places. I must be doing something right.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Moving right along

Our plans to move from the southernmost apartment in this complex to this one, the northernmost unit, are coming along. The previous tenant is moving his couches and furniture (he has three couches, one on the porch and two in the living room) and will be out by the end of August. He said he hopes it will be by the 27th, which is next Monday. But the manager said he needs to get in there and check it all out before he can give me a date. That's all right, as I've been taking the time to get things cleaned up around here.
This is a picture of our front porch, taken last winter when I was feeding the birds in earnest. As you can see, five feeders hang by hooks for the birds to enjoy a steady food source during the lean months, when it's cold and the pickings are very slim. I tried last summer to stop feeding them, but I was unable to let myself think of them not coming to visit me. The very best time to stop feeding birds is after they've had their babies and there is an abundance of food sources. So, this summer the move has forced me to finally do it. I'll miss seeing scenes like this:
The picture was taken in the summer; you can tell by the brilliant colors of the male goldfinch (the top one in front, for example). I've learned many things during these years of birdwatching. I managed to establish a place that many goldfinch congregate. They are still around, although not on my porch in such abundance. Other tenants also feed the birds, so I will still see them. The chickadees and nuthatches are attracted to the suet feeders, and I'll continue to keep those on my new front porch.

The one thing I won't miss at all are the squirrels. They wouldn't stay away, always hoping to get a handout from the stuff dropped on the porch by the birds. They couldn't get to the feeders, although they were absolutely ingenious in their attempts. The overhang of the porch made it very difficult, so they spent their time going around to find what had dropped to the floor.
Cleaning bird droppings from the past four years has not been a lot of fun, but it's a necessary part of my duties as a tenant. It's been days and I'm now almost finished with the porch. We've got another week or ten days before we can actually move, and I'm hoping to have the majority of the cleaning done. Everything else will be in boxes and moved across thirteen apartments to our new abode.

Probably the very best part of the move has been getting rid of what I've accumulated in the last four-plus years. The clothes I brought from Boulder that have not been worn, books I won't read again, and various other parts of my past that don't need to come into the future: they've all been passed along. It's amazing how much more mobile I feel. And! The next very best part: I'm getting to keep the garden I tended all summer long!

Saturday, August 18, 2012

An August garden

My community garden patch
I've been watering this garden for two-and-a-half months now, with almost everything planted from little sprouts I bought at the store. We didn't get a very early start on this, since the owners had to wait for the ground to dry out some before putting up the fence (important to keep the interested deer out). We didn't plant until early June, and once we got the ground all cleared out, we had to "amend" the soil, something I knew nothing about until I became a community gardener. My first post about the garden is here. Let's go take a closeup of the garden and see what's there.
I've got several cabbages like these. I don't really know when you are supposed to harvest them, but they keep growing so I keep talking to them. Will it say "pick me now!" one of these days? I had to squirt them with soapy water early on to kill the aphids, and some of the cabbage plants didn't recover. But some did, and they sure do make me happy to see them growing so well.
Right in the middle of my little plot is a tomato plant. I chose one that is a kind of cherry tomato that ripens early, and it's grown by leaps and bounds; I keep stringing it up to keep it off the ground. You might have to enlarge this picture to actually see all the tomatoes on there. (There are lots!) Every time I see one has turned orange, I eat it, which is why you don't see any ripe ones at the moment. They are so sweet and delicious.
The delicata squash plant is not only very healthy, it is almost scary in the amazing way it's grown. Every time I go out there to see how things are going (that would be every evening when I water), the tendrils have extended another several inches. In a day! And underneath all those leaves are beautiful squash plants growing merrily along. These will eventually become striped.
I also planted these baby zucchinis that are edible when they are as little as a few inches long. I've been harvesting them when they are about the length of my hand, but today I saw that I had missed one, which had grown enormous! It was hiding underneath the leaves and when I pulled this humongous zucchini off the plant today, I thought it looked as big as a watermelon. I had to take a picture so you can be suitably impressed:
And I SWEAR it wasn't there yesterday! Okay, I must have missed it from the day before. Wow! Am I glad I listened to my blogging friends and only planted ONE zucchini plant.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Waterfalls and wildflowers

Ten Senior Trailblazers headed up to Heliotrope Ridge in the Mt. Baker wilderness area today. Seven of us met at the Senior Center and the Ferndale three joined us at the Glacier Ranger Station. Once we started our hike, we were all ecstatic at the cool temperatures that greeted us at the trailhead. The temperature was in the mid-sixties. (It reached 90 degrees F in Bellingham yesterday, and we were ready for a change.) We knew this is rated as a "moderate" hike, which suited me perfectly after Monday's all-out trudge.
We also knew we would have some challenging streams to cross on our way to the viewpoint of Mt. Baker and the Coleman Glacier. The interesting thing is that every time we crossed one of these streams, a cool breeze blew down the valley and cooled us off even more. The higher we climbed the more the profusion of wildflowers and waterfalls made us gasp. Do you know what negative ions are? Some people believe they emanate from waterfalls, mountains, and beaches. (Check out the link for more.) Well, I think I experienced them today.
When we passed under this waterfall, there wasn't one person who wasn't feeling uplifted and glad to be right where we were in the moment. I know those of you who are in drought-stricken areas know exactly what you are missing. I hope some of the negative ions make their way through this post into your living room. But then we reached an impasse on the trail.
Once we reached this major stream, we could not find a good place to cross it. The roaring, rushing water kept us from finding a good crossing spot. This spot is far above the trail, but nowhere did we find a place that might make us feel okay to bring all ten of us across. It was actually even a bit cool when we each settled down on the side of this stream to have lunch, and then we headed back down to the trailhead. We had some magnificent views from here, even though we didn't get to the viewpoint.
That's Indian paintbrush in the foreground, and Mt. Baker and the Coleman Glacier in the background. The glacier was visible (in the upper left) but we just couldn't get close enough to get great pictures. I was happy sitting here having my lunch in the sunshine, a nice brisk cool breeze in my face, and some of my favorite people in the world sharing the day with me.
The wildflowers are at their peak of the season right now. Here you see mostly lupine, with a little bit of Indian paintbrush in the middle, mixed with valerian. We had discussions about what flowers we were looking at, but who cares? The day couldn't have been any better. We covered about six-and-a-half miles in total, going up and down somewhere around 1,750 feet. Compared to Monday's hike, it was a stroll, but the exciting stream crossings and all those negative ions made it seem, well, absolutely perfect!

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Second extra hike of the season

Al, Holly, April, Mike, Terry (me behind camera)
Six of us went out the Mountain Loop Highway yesterday, for our second "extra" hike of the season, to Mt. Dickerman. We didn't know that Mike and April would be joining us, as they didn't have a way to get ahold of Al, seeing the extra hike schedule on the Senior Trailblazer website and having some interest. (Al keeps it up but it changes often; sometimes we don't go where we were originally scheduled for various reasons.)
The wildflowers were out in amazing abundance this year. We did this hike as our next-to-last extra hike last year on September 19. It was a cloudy day, which I found contributed to a comfort level we didn't have yesterday. The sun beat down on us relentlessly. As we made our way upwards, I noticed that the mountains were partially obscured in haze. (If you look at the pictures in the link from last year, you can see it almost seems like a different hike.)
Just like any other trek, it was a simple matter of putting one foot in front of the other and going one step at a time to the top. Every guidebook that I saw warned to be sure and take plenty of water on this one. Last year it was cool and cloudy and I didn't use up all my water, but yesterday was another story. I ran out about a mile from the cars, and although Al had stopped to filter some water in one of the few streams for himself, I didn't realize I was so low.
As Al headed over to get that water, I asked Mike to take my picture, and the result was this good one.  Funny, all the pictures I take need to be straightened, but Mike's was perfect right out of the camera. It was nice to meet these wonderful people, who are interested in continuing to go on the extra hikes with us. They are very experienced trekkers and had no problem with the nine miles and almost 4,000-foot elevation gain. In fact, as we reached the parking lot, Mike, who drove, ran (RAN!) across the parking lot to get his van, and then opened a cooler with water, V-8, and even one beer, which Holly commandeered, and offered them to us first. After that, we drove to Granite Falls and had a really nice meal together.
Our new friends, Mike and April
Once I got home, I realized that I was still thirsty and drank down quite a bit of cool water before taking a shower and relaxing. I got up this morning and was, amazingly, not a bit sore or tired. After a good workout this morning at the gym, I headed home to write this post. It was a GREAT day, and Mt. Dickerman was once again a thriller.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Another great day at the DZ

Dave, Donovan, me, Linny, 11 Aug 2012
Another great day at the Drop Zone yesterday! I didn't write a post on Saturday because by the time I got home at 5:30pm I was ready to drop. I know that Linny can make twice as many jumps in a day as we did yesterday, but I can't. She is only five years younger than me, but she's got more than twice my stamina. She had to leave at 3:30pm to go to her second job, probably worked past midnight while I was snoozing away in my bed. She's simply amazing. Whenever we land from a good jump, that's the word she always says as her feet touch down: "Amazing!"
As we were waiting to load the plane for one of our jumps, we commented on the cute outfit on this young man. I went over to investigate. It turns out that his friends gave him a bachelor party, and part of the event included taking him to the Drop Zone in costume as a cheerleader, where they would all make tandem jumps together. They were quite amenable to me taking their picture, and I was on the ground when they came in under canopy. I knew it had to be them because they were making quite a ruckus. I ran out to the landing area and got this picture after their jump.
The "cheerleader" is the one in the middle. They were all bouncing with the exuberance that only comes from men that young, and they were quick to get the guy back into costume after the removal of their jumpsuits. I waved goodbye to them as they left, all thrilled to have made their very first skydives (and probably their only ones).

All in all, it was a great day playing in the sunshine. As you can see, their wasn't a cloud in the sky, the temperature was in the mid-seventies, and a light breeze assisted our landings. Couldn't have had a much better day. I'm ready to take it easy today, since tomorrow I'll be heading back south with my Trailblazer friends to climb Mt. Dickerman, a fairly hard hike. You know I'll be taking pictures!

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Railroad Grade 2012

Al signing us in at the trailhead
Ten of my favorite people, who belong to the Senior Trailblazers, met at the Senior Center this morning to plan our hike to Railroad Grade this morning, with the sun shining immoderately and even with some fairly warm temperatures. Last year when we did this hike, we didn't have nearly as nice a day. Check it out here.
There is still snow in the High Country, but today we didn't have to worry about it; the hike is moderate through Schreiber's Meadow as we trek towards the place where we need to make a decision to go right to Railroad Grade or left to Park Butte. Once we turned toward Railroad Grade, we began to climb until we reached the really amazing trail that ascends towards Mt. Baker. This is a climbing route, and here is the description from Ken Wilcox's book, Hiking Whatcom County:
At a junction in the broad meadow (2.2 miles), continue straight for Baker Pass and Park Butte, or head up the stone staircase to the right to view the snout of the Easton Glacier by way of the Railroad Grade, a lateral moraine leading smoothly up to the glacier. This is the climbers' route, and the home of hordes of hoary marmots.
Every one of us decided to take the precipitous trail, which has a few scary spots but is basically pretty easy to follow, moving ever upwards towards the climbers' camp (which we didn't reach). The clouds came and went, but the breeze kept us cool.
Here we are on the Grade, following our leader, Al, who decided to try to get a bit farther towards the camp than he has ever done before. We followed, some of us anxious to stop for lunch, but our two new hikers (Ross on his second hike with us) and Liz (on her very first one) decided to follow Al. Although as you can see from this picture it looks like a short stroll over to the glacier and Mt. Baker's summit, it's actually quite far and a technical route.
This is Ross, showing how close to him Mt. Baker looks. But it's really quite a ways. Five hikers followed Al as he decided to add another fifteen minutes to the hike, while the rest of us retreated and stopped to have some lunch. It was after noon, but they went another quarter mile before turning around to join us. You can see them coming towards us here.
Those are the Black Buttes behind them, with lots of beautiful wildflowers in front. Once they reached  us, they joined the rest of us who had already satisfied our appetites and were spending some time just looking around at the incredibly beautiful place we had reached. The light breeze and the cool temperatures, the view and the company made us simply grateful to be there. And then we started to head back down.
You could tell that this was not a really hard hike for us hardened Trailblazers, because the conversation continued all the way to the cars. By the time we got there, we had covered around seven and a half miles there and back, and covered around 2,300 feet up and down. It was another really satisfying day, and I am so grateful to be feeling not even a little bit tired as I sit here writing this post. When I think of the fact that I am four years older than when I started hiking with this group, I realize that I am stronger than I was back then, when this hike wore me out. I'm ready to make another "extra" hike next Monday! Stay tuned!

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Summer wildflowers

Church Mountain trailhead 19 July 2012
Although we haven't had much of a summer yet, the wildflowers are just now coming into their peak weeks in the High Country. Last year we had spring and summer wildflowers all come out at once, since the snow didn't leave until very late in July and early August. Any spring flowers that had a chance to flower had to wait until then, and all the summer flowers came out at the same time. We had an abundance of wildflowers well into October. I look forward to this year's crop. Here's where we stand at the beginning of August.
Last Thursday I captured this picture of red columbine mixed with tiger lilies on the trail up to Hannegan Pass. They were right there on the side of the trail as I plodded uphill with my nose toward the ground, not wanting to slip and fall on the rocks. Which of course I did anyway, but I waited until I was on the way back down. My knee and right leg are still a bit banged up. Here's a closeup of that pretty tiger lily in the middle:
When I looked at this closeup as I downloaded my pictures at home, the two drops of water looked a little like bug eyes on an extraterrestrial creature. It had rained that morning but by the time we started our hike the temperature was perfect, although the humidity was on the high side. Then the sun came out, and we marveled at the raindrops on these grasses.
They looked like little diamonds perfectly placed on the blades of grass. Although this is not technically a picture of a wildflower, I think it deserves to be appreciated by as many observers as possible. Not too many people appreciate thistles, either, but I thought this batch of pretty pink thistles deserves to be admired as well. One person's weed...
Finally, we saw little patches of phlox by the side of the trail, sparkling in the sunlight and delighting us with their beauty. Phlox is usually in abundance in the High Country in late summer, and finding this patch in early August reminded me that summer is not only incredibly beautiful in the Pacific Northwest, it is also fleeting.
I read the other day that once we reach August 2 (when the majority of these pictures were taken), we begin to travel toward the fall weather, meaning we are not likely to have another heat wave like we experienced last week. The joke I heard to illustrate the brevity of our summer weather: one visitor to Seattle asked a native about what we usually do here in summer, and the native replied that if it falls on a Sunday, we go on a picnic!