Thursday, July 31, 2014

Yellow Aster Butte

Mikey, Diane, and Peggy at the trailhead
Eight of us Senior Trailblazers showed up on a hot day to hike up the Yellow Aster Butte trail. We do this once a year, and this is just about the earliest it has been accessible, as we still had to cross several snow fields to get to the summit.
Mt. Baker from the trail
We have some spectacular views of the mountains around the trail, and this one of Mt. Baker is just one I took, showing the brilliant blue sky and the white snow that graces our beautiful mountain. It was hot and steep at the same time, and a new hiker and Al decided they would not try for the summit and would travel up at a slower pace. The rest of us made our way up the 2,500 feet of elevation we had to climb to get to the top.
Mt. Shuksan on the right and a snow field we had to cross
The higher we climbed, the more beautiful it became, and we had a light breeze that cooled us down somewhat, but the relentless climb began to wear on me. I was setting the pace since Al and Charlene were below us, and I think I might have gone a little faster than I should have to conserve my energy. However, beautiful scenes like the one below kept me going.
Flowers next to the trail
The flowers just got thicker and more beautiful as we climbed upwards. Although the trail doesn't look very steep, we climbed to the top in less than four miles, covering 2,500 feet of elevation, so it was never exactly relaxing, but it was pretty gradual, until...
The steep summit push
We got to this point, where it just goes pretty much straight up. I lagged behind the other four ladies (Mike was behind me, unwilling to leave me to be last). At first I wasn't going to go any farther, but once I saw them heading up, I couldn't manage to stay behind.
Carol, Chris, Peggy and Diane pulling me upwards
What I realized as I struggled my way up that final push is that I just don't do very well in full sun and steep upward climbs. It just about wore me out, to finally get to the top of the Butte. But I did make it, my second time ever, and here's the proof.
Chris, Carol, me, Peggy, Diane, taken by Mikey
I asked Mikey if he would take a picture of the ladies who made it to the summit. Charlene and Al are down there somewhere, and we were able to call them on the phone, since we were high enough to catch a signal, and they were right at the place I thought I should have waited. We had our lunch and then headed back to join them. Below us, we saw several lakes that are in the process of melting out.
Lake below us looking like it will be clear of snow shortly
If it had not been so far away, I was hot enough and tired enough that I would have loved to dip my body into that water. So, the next stream we came to, I dipped my neck scarf in and dipped my hat into the cold water, pouring it over my head. It was heavenly!
Carol, heading back down
I captured this picture of Carol, showing the amount of snow that still hangs out in our High Country, and looking like the fresh sprite she is. I love these hikes for many reason, not the least of which is getting to know my fellow hikers better. I'll see her tomorrow in exercise class, along with Al. Now that I am home and sipping my wine, life feels pretty darn good! I hope it's doing as well in your part of the world. I'll sleep well tonight.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

We had a great time

Vlad and Terry in the airplane
On Sunday, the skydive that Terry had scheduled at Skydive Snohomish was finally accomplished! Last Sunday, when she first scheduled, was canceled due to weather, but the skies this past weekend were blue both days! Since Terry works five days a week, it had to be on the weekend, and I decided to just make the one jump and drive down with her. We headed off for Snohomish an hour earlier than we had to, because we were both a little on the anxious side. Me more than her, it seemed.
Terry signing her life away
She breezed through the long waiver she had to sign and watched the 30-minute video. Then the entire class of twenty lay down on the floor to practice the arch position while an instructor watched. We were in the first airplane out of three scheduled for the class. While she did all that, I got my gear ready, so I could jump out with her under my own parachute.
Vlad dressing Terry with the jumpsuit and harness
And off we went in the airplane. There were five people getting out in front of us, so Terry watched them as they seemed to just disappear when they leapt out of the plane. (I remember how scary that was for me the first time.) And then she was moved to the door by Vlad, her instructor, and THEN she got scared. But by that time, there was nothing to do but just jump. They went, and I left a fraction of a second before them, having climbed outside the plane.
Vlad took this picture with a camera on his left wrist
That is me flying in to take a grip on Terry's hand. She was so overwhelmed by the experience (naturally) that I took Vlad's hand instead and moved it over to Terry's. As you can see from the expression on her face, she was otherwise occupied looking at the ground. We are in freefall, and that is the drogue chute's line above the tandem parachute. It slows down the two of them to normal freefall speed. Tandems also need to open a couple thousand feet higher than individual skydivers, so they got under a parachute while I continued to fall for a few seconds longer. That meant I would land before them and get a picture of their landing.
Here they come!
I was able to grab my camera out of my jumpsuit and get this picture of them as they came in to land. They are only a few seconds from landing, and that was a piece of cake, with Vlad as the instructor. (He only has around 9,000 tandem skydives under his belt.)
Terry simply sat down when she landed. You can see that Vlad actually stood up as they came in. You can also see the drogue chute and the parachute are still inflated. I was just a hair behind on capturing the actual landing. After all this, we walked back to the staging area and Terry was given a certificate of accomplishment, as well as taking off the harness and jumpsuit. I had to get my own parachute packed up before we could leave for home, but we were done with the "bucket list" experience that Terry wanted to rack up. She did great, but she said she doesn't think she would do it again. The freefall part was way more overwhelming than she expected. I know all about that feeling; it was what made me go again and again.

With that behind us, we drove north for the 75-mile trip back home, and me in the car with a fellow skydiver! We really had fun, and I hope maybe sometime this year I'll get a chance to do this with another friend who turns from a whuffo (someone who has never jumped) to a skydiver!

Saturday, July 26, 2014

A beautiful Saturday

Blackberries and raspberries
This morning I went on a really nice five-mile walk with the Fairhaven ladies. It was just beautiful out, a perfect temperature and after a few clouds, a sunny day. The light breeze made it even nicer as we walked along the waterfront. Then I went over to the Farmers' Market to take some pictures, although I didn't have anything to buy.
Honey for sale, and lots of people
I liked the look of the honey with the sunlight coming through. I didn't buy any, but I did think about it. Everyone was in a very good mood, and I enjoyed walking around and looking at the sights.
Amazing vegetables
Aren't these pretty? I sure do enjoy the abundance of produce we have available to us here in the Pacific Northwest. And all of them are local, too. Then I came home and puttered around in the garden and came in to write a post, when...

We lost power, and it didn't come on for a long time. The other apartment dwellers started coming out of their apartments, as it turned out we were all in the same boat. It's interesting how dependent we all are on electricity. No TV, no lights, no internet! But then a few minutes ago it came back on, and I thought I'd better get this post up before it might go out again. So far, so good.

I do hope you are having a wonderful weekend in your part of the world. Tomorrow I will be going off to Skydive Snohomish to make that skydive that didn't happen last weekend because of weather. That doesn't seem to be likely tomorrow, as we have full sun projected for the foreseeable future. After having set two rainfall records in a row, for Wednesday and Thursday (our hiking day), it sure is nice to see this sunshine. We reached 75 degrees today (23 C), which is pretty darn perfect, if you ask me. Tomorrow it might reach into the 80s, but I'll bear up.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Damfino Lakes

Mel at Damfino Trailhead, and yes it's raining
We were scheduled to hike up Hannegan Pass today, but after setting several records for rainfall in the area yesterday, with rain continuing all night long and into the morning hours, I really wondered if anyone would show up besides Al and me (I am addicted, after all). But lo and behold, there were actually six of us, showing up to drive fifty miles to hike in the rain!
Al, Mikey, Rich, Chris, and Mel (I'm behind the camera)
Al suggested that we consider hiking up the Damfino Lakes trailhead and possibly to Excelsior Pass if we were able, instead of Hannegan, which is exposed to the sky for most of the way, not in trees like this hike would be. We were all in agreement, and we headed up to the trailhead. Surprisingly, there was nobody else there (smile). Rich and Chris actually were excited by the rain this morning, since they are going to walk the Camino de Santiago in Spain next May, and are in the process of getting their gear ready. Rich has rigged a clear umbrella that is hooked to his belt so he can still use his trekking poles, and Chris is trying out a poncho setup. Both will need some tweaks, but today's hike helped t hem to figure out the next steps.
Running into snow
We had not gone far before we began to run into snow. The lakes were behind us, though, and we hoped that maybe we could make it all the way to the pass, which is only a 6.5-mile round trip. But no, we began to have issues trying to find our way through the snow, and the farther we climbed, the more snow we ran into.
Trying to find the trail
This is as far as we got. The pass is about a mile straight ahead, but there was no way we were going to be able to get there. Plus, the idea was to have a nice day in the wilderness, and so far we had done just that. We turned around to find a sheltered spot in the trees for lunch.
Our standing lunch spot
Nobody sat down to enjoy lunch; we simply fueled our bodies and started our trek back down. We did notice, however, that the rain had begun to diminish, and by the time we actually started back, it was almost nonexistent. We only covered a scant five miles or less, round trip, but part of it was through snow, and most of it was in some serious rain.
Damfino Lake
These small lakes are surrounded by pretty boardwalks, and we've enjoyed this hike many times before. If you're at all interested in what the hike is like on a nice day, you can read this link for more information. WTA tells how the lakes got their name, and has some nice pictures of the view we didn't have today.

But none of that really mattered: we got out in the wilderness, enjoyed seeing the beauty and having a chance to test out our rain gear (mine needs some work), and now we are home safe and sound. Next week is Yellow Aster Butte, which can be one of the buggiest hikes we do, and I'll be ready for it. But today, no bugs! They were all hiding out under the leaves, I think.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

A month into summer and all is well

Gene and Paula at Avellino's
I met Gene six years ago at this coffee shop, and now I feel he's part of my family. Here he is with his girlfriend Paula yesterday morning. I was so pleased to see them, as Gene has been salmon fishing in Bristol Bay for the past six weeks. Seems like a different town when he's not around. And Paula doesn't come to the coffee shop by herself. So welcome back!

I have got lots of stuff out of my garden, and the sugar snap peas have finished, so I need to spend some time in the garden getting rid of things that have already been harvested. I pulled up a six-and-a-half-pound red cabbage (that's almost 3kg) and we're still eating it. It's pretty wonderful. And I planted a new vegetable a few weeks back that is almost ready to harvest. Do you know what it is?
My little alien
It's a kohlrabi! I've never had one before, but I sure do like the way it looks, a bit like something from another planet. You can't make this stuff up, and why would I bother? I'm having fun in the garden, that's for sure. I wandered around the rest of the garden before coming back in to write this post, and I must say Nate has some of the most interesting things around (other than my alien, that is).
Nate's artichokes
Look at those pretty artichokes that are coming into being. I've never seen them grown in a garden before, so I wasn't exactly sure what the plant looked like. And he's got a massive crop of sunflowers that are all beginning to flower. They are going to be huge.
Nate's first sunflower
I was standing in the garden looking up at his plants, which are already way, way over my head. Considering that I'm more than five feet tall, these must already be seven and on their way up even more, don't you think?

By the way, Trish made it back to Seattle just fine, and it makes me very happy to have Facebook so I can keep up with all the happenings in her life, as well as the rest of my extended family. I didn't get to skydive this past weekend because of weather, so we're going to try again this coming weekend, which looks really good in the long-range forecast. So, life is good here, and I've got many happy hours ahead to tend my garden, read books, and just plain enjoy summer. Hope yours is going well, too.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

A late Saturday post

Trish and her Aunt Jan at Busara, a Thai restaurant
It's been a fun-filled two days, yesterday and today, with my niece Trish visiting Bellingham. She has just recently arrived here, after a road trip from Connecticut, where she was living and attending college. She is presently trying to find out where she wants to live next. She's been staying with friends near Seattle and came up to visit me and check out Bellingham. She arrived yesterday around noon and we've spent the majority of our time going around town while I've shown her my favorite haunts.

She planned to leave in time to catch the Edmonds ferry to Bainbridge Island, but it was not to be. Just a half hour or so after she drove away, I got a call that she had a flat tire about ten minutes outside of town. She drove the entire distance from the East Coast without a problem, but now we needed to find some way to get her to a place where she could buy a new tire on a Saturday night. She had already decided to go to the Bellingham Walmart, where she would be situated for a purchase in the morning (it's open on Sunday), but the tow driver suggested that the Mt. Vernon Walmart was only five miles farther, and going south, the right direction.

I drove out to where she was stranded on the highway and we spent another nice period of time together while we waited, and I just received a text message from her that she's safe and sound at the Mt. Vernon Walmart for the evening. I had planned to write a Saturday post all day long, but things kept transpiring to get in the way. Now I'm happily ensconced at home and she's safe.
A selfie showing the eyes
You can see that we both have those blue eyes with the dark ring around them that most of us Stewarts share. All my sisters have them, but my brother Buz has brown eyes like our mom. His daughter, however, inherited the Stewart blues.

It was truly a great visit, and I hope if she decides to stay in the Pacific Northwest, that it's close enough for a visit or two. We laughed a lot. She's a very special person.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Keep Cool Trail

Partly shady and sunny, steep trail
We do this hike once a year, sometimes more than once. Where we climb to is not long, but it's the original way to get to the top of Yellow Aster Butte. Now it's an unmaintained, rarely used, brushy trail that takes the hiker to great views and a good way to get to the top of the butte (we only went to a nice viewpoint, then turned around and returned). Nine Trailblazers gathered today to do this hike, some who had never done it before and wanted to see what it was like, and the rest of us who knew we'd have a good workout, at the very least.
Our first meeting with snow
After making our way through the brush, fighting mosquitos and other pests, we met the first snow after a couple of miles. It was spotty, only in the places where there was shade or sites where the intense sunshine didn't reach. We went up, up, up, and finally reached the meadow that would lead even more upwards.
Crossing the snow to the meadow
Most of the meadow, after we crossed these parts, was mostly clear of snow. By the time we reached it, and we picked our way across places like this as well as places like we saw below, there were beautiful streams free of snow and filled with heather and marsh marigolds.
Stream and heather
Is this beautiful or what? We knew that from this place we would begin to climb again, so we could have views of many of the nearby mountains, and we were right. By the time we reached our lunch spot, around 12:30pm, this is the view we enjoyed.
Mt. Shuksan from our lunch spot
Ahhh. And not only that, after a mere three miles from the beginning, we had lunch at a spot above 5,000 feet elevation, with sun and a nice breeze. Here's a picture of our brand-new Trailblazer, joining us for the first time today.
Paula snoozing after having a nice lunch
After a leisurely lunch, we reluctantly gathered up our gear and started our way back down the way we had come. It was about six miles or so round tril, with a fair amount of elevation gain and loss (over 2,000 feet). We finally reached the cars around 4:30pm, to begin our drive back home.
Sue and Mel starting down the trail
It was a very good day, with lots of sunshine and beautiful views, mixed with a few bugs and lots of downed trees and logs to clamber across and around. But it was nowhere near as hard or as long as our Monday hike, which was just fine with me. And now I'm home and enjoying my you-know-what (my wine).

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Lost Creek Ridge

Start of Lost Creek Ridge trail
Yesterday, Monday, the Trailblazers went on our first "extra" hike of the season. I don't know where anybody had heard of this hike before, Lost Creek Ridge, but only two of the twelve who went had ever been there before: Mike and April, who only go on our Monday hikes in the summer. We met early in the morning to carpool, and managed to get 7 in Mike's car and 5 in Fred's, and then we set off for the Mountain Loop Highway and our eventual trailhead, a good 100 miles away. We started the hike just before 10:00am.
April and Hank looking at the spiderweb
Someone saw this spiderweb as we were hiking along, and I tried to get a picture of it. Although I really needed some dew or mist for it to be fabulous, I did actually capture it better than I expected. The nice thing about digital photography, you can just snap away and if it doesn't work, it's an easy fix to delete it. The temperature and terrain were quite comfortable as we began the hike, which starts out almost level in the first mile, and then it begins to go upward, without letup.
April, Mike, Chris, Rich,  Diane, Steve resting
You can tell by the way we were dressed that it was hot, and getting more so all the time. By this time it was almost noon and some hikers started up the trail while others proceeded more slowly. I ended up hiking for more than a mile by myself, with some behind me, but the majority ahead of me. I stopped to take a few pictures, but mostly just kept plodding along, enjoying the views now and then of unfamiliar mountains, until I reached Round Lake after almost five miles and 3,800 feet of elevation gain. I was really pooped, but the payoff was worth it.
Frozen Round Lake
It was not only a beautiful sight, but the breeze was incredible, cool and strong enough to keep all the bugs away. You can see in this picture (below) that the sweat on my shirt was nowhere near dry when this picture was taken, and I almost didn't use it because of that, but it's just too good not to. We had our lunch overlooking this lake. We knew that if we had gone just another short distance, maybe half a mile, we would be able to see Glacier Peak, but since it was getting late, after 2:00pm, we headed back down.
Diane and me
The views were stupendous, and we even got a glimpse of our old friend Mt. Baker in the distance, from a side we don't usually see. I didn't include a picture, because it was so hazy in the distance that it didn't show up. But we sure did get some other mountains in high relief.
Sloan Peak and more: Doug, Al, and Hank
It was after 5:00pm by the time we reached the cars, tired and very ready for the day to end with a trip to Granite Falls and our favorite eating spot, Omega Pizza. I had a new (to me) beer called "Irish Death." It was great, and went well with my pizza. We didn't get back home until almost 10:00pm, and I was too tired to do anything but collapse. Hence the post in the middle of the afternoon on the day afterwards. Well, I finally did get 'er done, and now I can pick up my book and do next to nothing for the rest of the day.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Garden update, and crafty wildlife

Still life with sweet peas
It's really beautiful in this part of the world right now, if just a bit on the hot side (we made it all the way to 82F yesterday), about fifteen degrees above normal, with the first cool-down looking to come at the end of next week. Other than having to keep a close eye on my garden, with all this sunshine and lack of rain, I'm truly enjoying myself.

I was supposed to be skydiving today, but my friend Linny called and told me that she isn't doing very well at all and will try again next weekend. Plus two of my other skydiving friends aren't going to be out today or tomorrow, so I just decided to let it go. It's a long drive down south without my friends to play with. So instead I joined the Fairhaven walkers for my usual Saturday trek around town. We stopped frequently to hydrate and let the slower walkers catch up. We walked down by the bay, so the breeze off the water and the early hour made it especially enjoyable. Then I went out to get some pictures of my garden.
Happy bumblebee
My garden neighbor Nate has allowed his leeks to flower, and this bee is certainly happy to see this blossom. It was simply vibrating with delight, or at least that's what it seemed like to me. Everything is going pretty darn well in my neck of the woods. The garden has been giving us beets, sugar snap peas, broccoli, lettuce, and more zucchini than we can eat. I've been giving them away to the neighbors, since they are not taking them out of the community garden.
Mr. Big Crow
We have four crows who have discovered the cat food I've been leaving out during the daytime. After a few days of chasing them away, I decided to just let them be. They are a lot of fun to watch. Plus I got a larger container for water, since I realized that many birds are having a hard time finding fresh water as it gets drier around here. This is the biggest of the four, and although it's hard to judge how big he is, with nothing to measure him by, many ravens I've seen are about his size. They are very clever, and they have already figured out that I'm the feeder and watch me going about my business.

I also ran across an interesting YouTube video that was posted by a Facebook friend. I really enjoyed watching this a few times. Some information about the making of it is as follows: "This takes place in England - the owners of the yard added each piece of the Rube Goldberg contraption slowly so that when the squirrel learned one section and got the nuts, they then added the next section. Finally it ended with what you see on the clip! It took over 2 weeks to get to this point."

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Three weeks later, a different world

Goat meadow on June 19, and the same place today
In these two pictures, in one we are heading up to Goat Mountain three weeks ago, and the other is us descending on the exposed trail today. Night and day. We had nine Senior Trailblazers with us for today's hike, and the ascent to the overlook was ten times easier than it was plowing through the snow three weeks ago. Today the temperatures were warm because of the brilliant sunshine, and back then we had overcast conditions for most of the day, and at least a mile of snow to navigate.
When the snow leaves, the glacier lilies come out
We were all surprised by how much snow was gone, as in almost all of it! The trail in the meadow, which was obscured by snow then, was now completely visible, with only about fifty feet of a single snowfield to cross. And it was all so dry! Since the season is so short here, the flowers are all coming into bloom quickly. Glacier lilies are only around for a very short period after the snow melts, and I was so happy to capture this field of them today.
Lunch spot and Mt. Shuksan
We made it to the overlook, where we had spectacular views of Mts. Sefrit, Shuksan, and Baker. See if you can imagine this: a cloudless sky with incredible views, a light breeze to cool us down and keep any stray bugs away, good company with whom to enjoy our lunch, temperature in the low seventies, and nine happy satisfied people.
Me with Mt. Sifrit on the left and Mt. Shuksan on the right
There was no place in the universe that I would have rather been to enjoy my lunch today. Al took this picture of me when I asked, using my camera and the fill-in flash. If you want to see what it looked like three weeks ago, here's the link. We did this hike for a second time, since the snow has been slow to leave, and our other options were limited. But now, it's full speed ahead! On Monday, we will have our first "extra" hike of the season, and many who were on today's hike will try it. It's a long drive to the Mountain Loop Highway, so we'll be starting early and having dinner together before coming home more than twelve hours after we leave the parking lot.
Heading back to the cars, with Mt. Baker in view
That last picture shows the view as we headed back down to the cars. We ascended and descended 2,700 feet of elevation today, and covered more than seven miles there and back, so I'm tired tonight as I drink my well-deserved wine. My knee is doing pretty well on these hikes, but as I've said before, I could not have done it without my trusty trekking poles and a knee brace.
Me, Doug, Peggy in the back
I know it might be a bit tacky, since I already put in a picture of me, but I took this selfie with my cellphone after complaining that I couldn't get a picture of me AND the other hikers, since Doug is so tall and I'm so, well, vertically challenged (he bent down for this), but I like it so much that I'm throwing caution to the winds. Until next time, be well and CARPE DIEM!