Saturday, September 29, 2012

Early fall day

I woke this morning to clouds and sun. This view from my new front porch shows Mt. Baker obscured by clouds, but a lovely sky. I also, unfortunately, woke to the realization that I'm coming down with a cold. Sore throat and lots of sneezing. This means I probably will not be able to go skydiving tomorrow. Blocked sinuses are not compatible with going up to altitude in an unpressurized airplane. I know: back in the days when I couldn't stay away, I tried. Not a fun experience, plus I could damage my hearing. So I'm probably not going.
I went to the Farmers' Market to check out the produce and pick up a few things. I was impressed with all the lovely colors of these winter squash, and I asked my favorite farmer if it is appropriate for me to leave the delicata squash in my garden after the leaves have wilted. She told me yes, but be sure and harvest them before the first frost, or they won't keep well.

As I was leaving her booth, a man walked up to me and asked if I am "DJan-ity." I smiled and acknowledged that is me, all right. He said he never misses my blog and wondered how he might join our hiking group. I told him that he needs to join the Senior Center and meet us before 8:00am on Thursday. "Yikes! That early?" he said, so he may or may not join us. It is curious to realize that people I have never met feel like they know me because of my blog. It's not an unpleasant feeling for me, but it makes me realize that I need to be sensitive to what I write about others; privacy needs to be honored. I knew that already, but a reminder is always welcome.
My new next-door neighbor (who will remain anonymous) has these lovely geraniums on her front porch. They were vibrating from the rays of the sun and I couldn't resist a picture. Every time the early morning sun catches them, they light up the entire area. Aren't they pretty?

I have taken some cold medicine and am now ready to nestle into my easy chair and read a book. My short excursion out of the apartment was enough to make me realize that I need to rest today, wrap myself up in a nice blankie and hunker down.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Yellow Aster Butte 2012

Today twelve Senior Trailblazers headed up to Yellow Aster Butte, one of our favorite hikes of the season. This hike starts at a pretty high elevation and gains around 2,500 feet in about four miles of climbing. We get spectacular views of Mt. Baker (such as the one above) and the surrounding mountains as we ascend. Today it was another blue sky day with haze caused by the forest fires still burning in the east. As the day wore on, our view of the mountains became more and more obscured, but the picture above was taken fairly early.
It is late enough in the season that the fireweed plant has created cotton instead of pretty purple flowers. You can even see it rising in the breeze. As we headed up toward the summit of Yellow Aster Butte, several of us discussed the possibility of making a loop rather than returning down the same trail. Of course, this would mean that someone would need to get the cars from one trailhead to the other. This next picture shows the loop:
All twelve of us navigated the green section of the map. Once we got to the end of the green, some decided to stay and have lunch, and others hiked to the Yellow Aster summit (I went along with them). The higher we climbed, the more breeze we encountered, and because of the months of dryness that we've had, there was quite a lot of fine dust in our faces, as well as in our lunch.
I followed these hikers as we made our way to the summit. You can see the fall colors and the dryness around us. But even so, it was a beautiful hike, a very special kind of day when we could all follow the trail towards which we were drawn. I caught the picture below near the summit; the person in the left is someone who believed she was all alone in the vast expanse around her.
I love the beauty of these mountains; every time I come up here I am reminded again of the grandeur of this environment. We headed back down to consider our options. We gathered in this place, a light breeze in our faces and Mt. Baker and the surrounding mountains beginning to be obscured in the haze from the forest fires.
This is the last time all day that we were all together. Five of our hikers decided to follow the trail marked on the map in red, called the "Keep Cool Trail," to the road. We decided that we would drive two cars to meet where they would come out on the trail, and the other driver piled five people in his car to head back down to Bellingham earlier than the rest of us. I drove one car, and Ross drove the other, and we met our cohorts a few miles down the road. Here's three of them as they emerged from the trail.
As it turned out, we only had to wait twenty minutes or so for them to appear from this trail. Everyone was extremely happy with the way the day had turned out. Nobody had to wait long for us to get back together, and by early evening I had arrived home and am now writing this post so that everyone who reads it can be envious of the wonderful day we had! We hiked somewhere around eight to eight-and-a-half miles and covered 2,500 feet of elevation, at least, in full sun at the end of September! Now I can take a shower and watch the dust go down the drain.

Monday, September 24, 2012

What makes a skydive special?

Dave, Tyson, Kevin (back), Linny, Christy, me (front)
Sometimes on one of my skydiving posts, I am occasionally asked what might make a skydive a special one, when you've got more than 4,000 of them under your belt. Yesterday I had one that I won't forget any time soon. Christy made her 1,000th skydive on our fourth jump of the day. Tyson is the Drop Zone Owner (DZO) and arranged for us to have a video of it, which usually doesn't help us out much. (It seems every time a videographer joins us, the skydive doesn't usually go as planned, but this time it worked out very well.)
Walking through the skydive
Once we knew the number of people who would be on the skydive, we decided to do what Linny has dubbed "the six-way slide-by." It's almost like a do-si-do dance, but in the air instead of on the ground. We practice the skydive so we will know where we are supposed to be at every moment in relation to the others. The anticipation was high for this one, as there's only one time that you get to make your one-thousandth skydive. On board the airplane we worked out the final details so that everything would hopefully go as planned.
Snagged from Jason Richert's SkyDrive
Jason, our videographer, took lots of pictures and a video, which are all available to be viewed from the link under the picture. You need a hotmail account to see the video, which I don't have, but it's easy to sign up. We completed the entire skydive and started to repeat it again when we ran out of time. We had about a minute of freefall time to play in the air, and then we separated and opened our parachutes. There was a lot of whooping and hollering under canopy, as we were all so happy to have been together on this wonderful jump.

As it was getting late, I watched the video with the others and hurried to pack everything away in my car to begin the long drive home. Everybody else stayed and made at least one more jump and possibly two more, before sunset. I felt very fulfilled and smiled all the way home. This morning when I woke, I remembered the skydive and smiled some more.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

First day of fall

Grey skies, muted colors at Lake Padden this morning. It's the first day of fall, and I took this picture right at the equinox, 7:49am as I waited for the other walkers to appear for our 8:00am meeting time. Around twenty of us walked twice around the lake, a total of 5.2 miles. I'm glad to have the cooler weather, but I'm still hoping that the "partly cloudy" forecast for tomorrow will allow me to get a few skydives in.

This morning was the first time I've joined the walking group in a couple of months, since my Saturdays have been filled with blue skies and week after week of being able to spend money at Skydive Snohomish. I just looked at the Harvey Field webcam and see that it's raining at the moment with skies that look similar to those around here. Although only 75 miles separate Bellingham from Snohomish, the weather can be completely different.
As I unlocked my car before leaving Lake Padden, I saw these pretty red berries (not sure of the plant), but they also make me think of the changing season from summer to autumn. Although I'm sure we have plenty of blue sky days ahead of us, today (so far) and yesterday we have not seen the sun or even had any sun breaks.

This afternoon I'm going to visit my Russian friends who have promised me they will have borscht made especially for me (vegetarian). I'm looking forward to it. Now that I have written today's post, I think I'll delve back into the book that is consuming me. It's Isabel Wilkerson's book about the Great Migration of blacks from the South to the North and West of the country. She follows the lives of three people, and although it's not a novel, it reads like one. The book is called The Warmth of Other Suns and I'm truly engrossed.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Last summer hike for 2012

Al starting the counter-clockwise loop
Today the Senior Trailblazers made our last hike for the summer of 2012. Sixteen of us headed up to the Chain Lakes wilderness area, after having been admonished by the Forest Service to keep our numbers lower than the maximum number of 12 in wilderness areas. So we broke into two groups to do the loop hike, going in opposite directions. Nine went clockwise, and seven went counter-clockwise over the almost-eight-mile loop.
At the last minute, I joined Al's group, the smaller one. As you can see in the picture above, we had incredible views, but some haze as well, probably from the forest fires burning on the eastern side of the Cascades. That's Shuksan fading into the mist, looking wonderful nevertheless.
We met the other group as they were coming up from Iceberg Lake after having lunch. They had seen the calving of an iceberg as it sent out floes into the lake. We stopped to enjoy our own lunch somewhere around the same place they had stopped earlier. Two youngsters nearby (not in our group, obviously) decide to strip to their underwear and take a dip in Iceberg Lake. They didn't stay long, but it was fun to watch them. It's a beautiful place to stop and enjoy yourself for awhile.
We contemplated the beauty and noticed that a few ice floes were still floating in the middle of the lake. After lunch, we started our upward hike back to join the others. We moved from this idyllic spot to begin our final push up to Artist Point. Although we had to drop into this area to visit the lakes, our hike out was much less difficult, but we still had to deal with the sun and heat after we left Iceberg. I noticed that we had a fair amount of wildflowers, even on our last summer hike, as you can see here.
You can see the wildflowers on either side of the trail, and the last of the Chain Lakes below. At this point we knew we would be heading upwards and onto the final trail that would lead us up to Artist Point. The view of both of our favorite mountains, Baker and Shuksan, were simply breathtaking.
This would be our last full view of Mt. Baker (on the left) before we exited from the wilderness area on our way back to join the others. The light was flat, as you can see here, and we speculated that it was most likely caused by the forest fires. It didn't really matter to us, as we had enjoyed a wonderful day in the wilderness with good friends. When we rejoined the others, Amy (our social secretary) had made cupcakes to celebrate the birthdays of two of our members, Diane and Steve.
Trailblazers enjoying Amy's celebratory cupcakes
Although we were tired from our exertions, we were ready to call it a day after less than eight miles and less than 2,000 feet up and down. For hikers of our caliber, it was a "moderate" day. What I can't figure out is why I feel like I did more than twice that amount! Tired and happy as I write this, I am pleased to give a final THANK YOU to the Trailblazers for another wonderful summer!

Sunday, September 16, 2012

A bit of this, a bit of that

Still getting used to mirror image
Since the successful move into the new apartment, we are STILL having situations like the one in the picture: where the drawer is supposed to be, another one has taken its place. Smart Guy put the utensils in the first drawer as you see them, and was astonished when he opened it later and saw what he had done, without noticing! The second picture shows where they belong. Isn't it amazing what we THINK we see when we open a drawer? I really had to laugh at that one.
Finally! An eggplant
I had two Asian eggplant starts that I bought when I first started the garden. One of them just withered and died, so I pulled it out, but this one looked a bit better. And look! It's not much of an eggplant, but there are more blossoms and I'm hoping for the best. Not going to exactly feed us much, but I was so pleased to see that I finally had some kind of fruit from that plant.

And my friend Judy and I just returned from seeing Arbitrage, a new movie with Richard Gere and Susan Sarandon. Not exactly what you might call an uplifting movie, because the gist of it is that if you are rich enough, and smart enough, you can get away with just about anything. However, this is the best work that Gere has done in years, and Susan Sarandon was wonderful but not a central character. If Richard does not earn at least an Academy Award nomination for this work, something is wrong with the way they do things. He was simply wonderful. Engaging, totally outside the moral world that anybody but the super-rich live in, and completely believable. I loved it. Not my favorite movie of all time, but well worth seeing.

Well, that's my "bit of this, bit of that," and I am happily drinking my glass of red wine as I write this. Yesterday I had one of the best days of skydiving I've had for awhile, and although the weather was perfect for more of the same, I was sated and happy to be doing something else with my day. After I finish my glass of wine, I'm heading out to water my garden with hopes that eggplant will continue to grow!

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Skyline Divide

Terry, Al, Amy, Rita, Liz, Karen and Shuksan 
Well, another glorious day today. I'm sitting here in front of my iMac happily perusing the pictures I took of today's hike to Skyline Divide. When I got to the Senior Center this morning, I realized that we had twelve people show up to head up to the High Country, and then Al told me that the Ferndale Four would be joining us at the Ranger Station. Sixteen! Not to mention that the other group of Trailblazers from the Senior Center that doesn't go quite as far and hikes a bit slower were also scheduled to head to Skyline Divide, and they had fifteen. On a beautiful sunny Thursday, we would be having 31 hikers heading up to the Divide!
Before we entered the wilderness area, Al called an impromptu meeting, telling us that the 16 of us would need to break into two groups, since a maximum of twelve hikers per group are allowed in the wilderness area, with at least five minutes between us. Fortunately, eight hikers decided to follow Jonelle, and the rest of us stayed with Al. They took off and were out of sight pretty quickly (they were all good, fast hikers). And then we reached the ridge:
The views of Mt. Shuksan and Baker are enough to take one's breath away. We had at least three hikers who had never been here before, so Al asked them to hike ahead around the last switchback while the rest of us followed. The ooohs and aaahhhs were expected; I remembered when I was one of those who went first. Although the wildflowers are past their peak, there were still plenty of them, and the views just kept getting better. Mike was busy setting up his tripod to take some fabulous pictures, and I captured this one of him in the foreground, with Baker in all its magnificence.
As the day wore on, we kept in contact with the other group through Al's walkie-talkie (Steve had the other one). We knew where they stopped for lunch, so after our repast we hiked on along the ridge until we joined up with them. I used the time to take some pictures of my favorite people.
Linda, Diane and Baker
After we had hiked somewhere over three miles (but under four), we turned around to head back to the cars. We figured by this time we could just tell any ranger we might run into that we just happened to run into our friends on the hike and wouldn't receive a ticket for having a group larger than twelve. Although it remained very sunny and bright, Mt. Baker began to take on a different look as we descended, with either clouds forming, or possibly smoke from a forest fire to the east of us obscuring our view.
Although Mt. Baker began to disappear in the mist or clouds, Amy pulled out her fan to keep the bugs away, and I couldn't resist the picture. We were just getting ready to head back down anyway, and the best part of a wonderful day was behind us. As usual, I was able to get a picture of the group on the downward journey.
Another wonderful day spent in the wilderness with sixteen of my best friends. We went up and down around 2,500 feet of elevation, more than seven miles, and now that I am home, drinking my glass of wine, I am thinking that I am one of the most fortunate people in the world: two fantastic hikes in one week, and my recalcitrant old almost-70-year-old body still in one piece, still going strong!

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Cascade Pass and Sahale Arm

Twelve Senior Trailblazers headed out for another "extra" hike yesterday, this time to Cascade Pass and Sahale Arm, a pretty long drive. We decided not to go on Monday because of the weather, and it turned out to be a very good call. We learned from several hikers we met on the trail that the day before was white-out conditions and nasty weather up here in the High Country. You can see new snow on the mountains in the picture above, along with the beginnings of fall colors in the foreground.
Early in the morning as we began our hike, we saw the remnants of yesterday's snow on the peaks and some low clouds; otherwise the skies were perfectly clear. It was also cold; the temperature was in the forties and cold enough for us to stay bundled up most of the day. We climbed up 33 switchbacks to Cascade Pass, where we met a forest ranger and several other hikers. And a bit of wildlife, although this marmot was obviously foraging where he knew he might get a snack from the hikers; he was almost within arm's reach.
The views were absolutely stunning. Although we weren't exactly warm, by the time we reached the Sahale Arm to continue upwards, the wind began to blow hard enough to cause us to pull out gloves and warm hats, along with parkas, if we were smart enough to bring one. The picture below is of Johannesburg Mountain, the only one I know by name. Its grandeur continued to cause me to stop and admire it often as we gained altitude.
You can see that as the day wore on, more clouds formed in that brilliant blue sky. Every time the sun disappeared, the temperature dropped as I shivered and wished I had brought more warm clothes. Some of the hikers went on up the Arm and gained a full 360-degree view, but I along with half the others stopped short of that spot. We could see Doubtful Lake below us as we enjoyed our lunch.
It's rare for me not to include more pictures of my fellow hikers, but the view on this incredibly beautiful trek caused me to forget to incorporate people into my shots. I did get this pretty nice one of Al, however.
We were all happy and tired as we headed back to the trailhead, ready to make our way to Annie's Pizza Parlor outside of Concrete. By the time we reached the cars, we had covered nine miles (or eleven if you made it all the way to the top) and more than 2,500 feet of elevation gain and loss. Our high point was at 6,200 feet of elevation, so it's not only a pretty good hike, it was much higher than our usual hikes. Here's another people shot as we headed back down, showing the trail we followed.
All in all, each of the Trailblazers agreed that it was one of the best hikes of the season, and Al received many compliments for his decision to change both the date (from Monday to Tuesday) and the destination to this one, a real delight for us all. Now on to Skyline Divide tomorrow!

Monday, September 10, 2012

Fall is in the air

When I stepped off the bus today, coming back from the gym, I saw this fruit on our neighbor's tree. I think they are plums; you can see the pretty pink house underneath where they live. I have been watching this heavily burdened tree as the fruit ripens. They have a wonderful garden in their backyard as well, and they donated a few plants to our community garden earlier this summer. Yes, summer is definitely winding down.
They also have a small grape arbor. I think the birds have been making off with most of the grapes before they are ready to harvest, but I saw this pretty bunch in the sunshine that is still intact. I don't know what kind of grapes they are, but I don't think they are concord as I haven't seen any of them darken up.
When I walk up the stairs to my new place, I get to admire the lavender plant that one of the downstairs neighbors in the apartment complex has planted. Since we have been without rain for more than six weeks now, the grass behind the lavender is very brown, also a sign of the season. Last night, however, we received our first rain in awhile. Not enough to help the lawn, but enough to keep me from watering the garden this morning. It was supposed to be cloudy all day today, but you can see it's sunny, although the temperature has cooled down considerably from yesterday.
This lovely Japanese maple tree is beginning to turn; I know from past years that it will turn fiery red before the leaves fall. You can be sure you will see a picture or two. The change of seasons is just around the corner; the autumnal equinox is less than two weeks away and we are losing three-and-a-half minutes of daylight every day. In a week, that's almost a half hour, enough to notice.

Our usual "extra" Trailblazers' hike that was scheduled for today was put off until tomorrow, since we expected the weather to be cloudy and rainy. Tomorrow should be beautiful, and I'll be busy taking pictures so I can share them with you, probably Wednesday morning since we won't be getting home until after dark. Until then, I hope you have fine weather and blue skies yourselves!

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Back in the saddle with Park Butte

Stream crossing in the morning
At last! I have returned to hiking with the Senior Trailblazers after having missed two pretty wonderful hikes. All my energy went into the move, but today I feel that I have begun the next phase to returning to my normal life. This morning, twelve Senior Trailblazers hit the trail at Schreiber's Meadow to hike up to Park Butte on a brilliantly sunny day. The trail to the Park Butte Lookout is filled with many views of Mt. Baker. We only had to hike four miles to get to the lookout, so we got a few geology lessons from Al on the way.
As we climbed, we saw Mt. Baker and the two glaciers that reside on this side of the mountain, as well as the Black Buttes (to the left of snow-covered Baker). The higher we climbed, the more magnificent the view became. We were headed to the Lookout on Park Butte. Here's one of the first views we got of it:
We passed a group that spent the night up there last night. It's a first-come first-served situation, and the six of them witnessed the sunset from there last night, as well as the sunrise this morning, and they said it was simply wonderful. As we climbed we saw lots of other people already up there at the lookout, but they must have seen the twelve of us coming; by the time we got there, they had begun their descent and the lookout was empty. Here's a picture of me on that deck.
The view was amazing, with a 360-degree panorama showing the mountains all around us. Since it was lunchtime, we stopped here to replenish and get ready for the return trip. There was a light breeze; the temperature was in the low 70s, and the brilliant sunshine just wouldn't quit. It was perfect. Linda and Ward had lunch on their favorite rock, and I asked for a picture, which they were glad to allow once they stopped eating for a moment.
After our lunch, we began our descent to the cars. It was simply a beautiful, perfect day, with an 8-mile round trip hike in perfect weather, ascending and descending a mere 2,000 feet (rather than our regular hike of more than twice that elevation). The night before, Wednesday, we had attended a soiree at Jonelle's magnificent condo. She had asked the Trailblazers to come to her place for some libations and a wonderful spread of cheeses and dips (and other wonderful treats) that were to die for. The only hitch was that we were to dress up a bit. Anything but hiking clothes, she said. Most of us wore slightly dressy clothes, as seen here.
Gina, me, Noriko, Peggy, and Norm
Jonelle suggested to Norm that he might be able to dress a bit more formally next time (he's in the orange shirt), and when he showed up for the hike this morning, he was wearing those same shorts BUT with a shirt and tie! Jonelle could hardly stop laughing. The rest of the crowd dressed up more formally last night. Here you can see the most formal.
Our fearless leader Al, our hostess Jonelle, and Steve
We had such a good time last night at her party, and today we had a most wonderful hike. I am feeling incredibly blessed to be a part of this amazing group of people, who not only have a sense of humor, but arrange for us to be outside in the wilderness together. This has been a wonderful day, and now as I finish my post, I am settling in for a nice relaxing evening. Blessings to you!