Saturday, July 29, 2017

Another beautiful Saturday

Scarlet runner beans climbing the fence
I took this picture from outside our garden fence, hoping you can see the scarlet runner beans in bloom. These are in Hedi's garden spot, because the ones over in my area don't receive anywhere the same sun, and they are lagging behind. In any event, I am thrilled because they will soon start putting out seed pods. At least I think so; I've never grown them before. The bees and hummers sure do seem to like them.

Thirteen of us ladies walked five miles this morning, enjoying the cool breeze and mild temperatures. By midweek, we'll be sweltering along with the rest of the country, so we're happy to enjoy it now. We had coffee together and then went our own ways. Lily and I went to the Farmers' Market and enjoyed a pizza together.
Just right for two people
I think we could have finished one of these each, but it was sure nice to have someone to share it with, or I would now be very full indeed. I'm home now and thinking about how to spend the rest of my beautiful sunny Saturday. Now that my regular Saturday post is finished, I'll settle in for awhile with my latest book. Hope you are staying comfy and cool yourself!

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Sauk Mountain 2017

Harebells captured in the morning light
Sixteen Senior Trailblazers decided to make the long drive to Concrete in order to hike up Sauk Mountain today, It's not a long one, but it's sure quite a distance to get there. We have done this particular hike often, although we skipped it last year. I did go the previous year, and what I remember most is how incredibly hot it was. Today was much nicer, with the temperature very comfortable, although most of the day was in full sun.
The outhouse near the trailhead
What we have enjoyed about this hike in previous years are the abundant wildflowers, and we were not disappointed this year, either. In a few more weeks, they will be past their peak, and it's been very dry throughout the area, so you'll see some evidence of that. But since we are so high in altitude, we did see some snow around even today.
Some of our hikers on the switchbacks below us
Although it's not a long hike, you do have to climb switchbacks on a mountainside to gain the ridge. We were all careful with the dusty trail and steep switchbacks, because a woman fell to her death just a few weeks ago on this trail. An article about the incident indicates that she fell 70 feet when almost to the top of these switchbacks and must have hit her head. She was taken out by helicopter but didn't make it. We all thought about her as we navigated our way to the top.
A view of the Skagit Valley
You not only see magnificent wildflowers on this hike, but you also have tremendous views of the Skagit Valley and the mountains surrounding us. We stopped numerous times to take pictures of the great views. In this picture there is a junction of the Nooksack and the Skagit Rivers. The Skagit is quite green on the right-hand side of this shot, with the Nooksack meandering on the left-hand side. If you look carefully you can make out where they converge.
Another view of the Skagit River
Here you an see quite clearly how green the water is in the Skagit. We were almost at the top of the mountain in this picture. You'll see more from this vantage point, but first, the flowers.
A riot of colors
There were so many different kinds of wildflowers it was almost overwhelming at times. It's a good thing it's not a long hike, since it was impossible not to stop and try to capture the incredible variety of them. I haven't seen such wonderful flowers on any other hikes so far this year, so I was stopping often to take pictures.
Peggy enjoying the view
Although we had quite a wonderful view, once we made it to the top, we had to traverse through a wee bit of snow. At the top, we stopped to have lunch. Some of our number decided to head down to the lake, but the rest of us carefully made our way back to the cars. Our time on the top having lunch was very delightful, as some clouds came by and helped keep us cool.
Halina at lunch
Here's one of our hikers, Halina, enjoying the view from the top. She's one of our newer recruits, but she doesn't miss very often and has become a fixture on many of our excursions.
Sauk Lake from the top, looking down
Some of the group wanted to head to the lake, which means descending some distance, but you have to know that Richard was one who wanted to go down there, since he always takes a dip if there's any water nearby. Since I didn't go with them, I'm not sure how many went swimming this year. Two years ago, we had quite a few. You can check it out here.
Time to head back
The rest of us headed back down the switchbacks, again very carefully because of all the loose dirt and sketchy spots, again reminding us of the recent fatality. We still had to stop often to snap pictures of the incredible flowers on our way back.
Tiger lily and lupines
I kept looking for just the perfect picture of lupines, and I found a few, but this one had the added delight of a tiger lily in bloom and backlit by the sun. All in all, it was a truly lovely way to spend our Thursday, with only a few glitches to keep it from being perfect, like the construction work being done on Highway 20, making our return trip a little bit longer. But we were all in a good mood from such a great day.
Me enjoying the lovely day
I had to finish with this lovely picture that Melanie took of me as we began our return trip. We covered less then six miles total, and only 1200 feet of elevation gain and loss, but it was still a challenging day in many ways. I wonder if the final adventurers who went down to the lake will have any exciting stories to tell. In any event, I am happy to be sitting here at a reasonably early hour, sipping my wine and ready to relax for the evening, feeling well exercised but not wiped out.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Happy birthday to Norma Jean

Sisters with preferred drinks, 1995 and 2012
Today my sister Norma Jean has a birthday! I know we all have one, but the two of us are not even three years apart in age and have always sort of been there for each other. Not necessarily in the same town, but sometimes we are actually in the same place at the same time. I'm hoping again this December I'll get to be there with her; I try to visit once a year.

Her late husband Pete took that first picture of us, when we were visiting family at Thanksgiving in Texas. They lived in Florida and I lived in Colorado. Our brother Buz took the second picture, with the two of us (actually all of us) having aged a few years as well as illustrating how we changed from our preferred beer to red wine.

The one constant as we have moved through our days is that we still like to quaff a brewski or a bottle of merlot when we're together. So tonight, after I finish this very tardy blog post, I'm going to raise my glass to her. Happy birthday, dear sis!

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Overcast today but still beautiful

Hertz trail
We ladies met this morning at the Hertz trailhead, a longish drive from Bellingham proper, so I stressed a little as I realized we (Lily and I) would not get there by 8:00. However, I was only a few minutes late and they had not yet taken off to walk the three-mile-long trail. And a few more ladies arrived even later than we did. Here's some information about that trail:
The Hertz Trail (also known as the North Lake Whatcom Trail) follows the eastern shoreline of Washington's fourth largest freshwater lake. The relatively flat, fine-gravel pathway traces the former Bellingham Bay and Eastern Railroad, which was used to transport coal from the Blue Canyon Mine at the south end of the lake.
One of the nicest things about this trail is that it is flat. We hardly ever have any other ones like this on Saturday mornings. We venture out to this trail a couple of times a year, and the Senior Trailblazers have also made use of it in the wintertime when we're looking for a short distance hike before a party or other gathering.

Anyhow, less than a dozen of us showed up this morning, because when we left early on, it was raining. Foggy and rainy weather doesn't make many people anxious to get going. However, it was simply perfect for walking, and the rain stopped before we started out, so it was dry, too. We did see some Pacific Northwest wildlife:
Banana slug
 This is a native slug, as opposed to the black ones that are taking over the banana slug habitat, so whenever she sees one, Peggy stops to remove it from the trail so it won't get stepped on. Look at those long eye stalks on the front end. The back end seems to have picked up some debris as it makes it way across the trail. More information about the banana slug is here. It does look a little like an overripe banana, doesn't it?
Veggies for sale
Then we made it over to the crowded Farmers' Market to get ourselves coffee and a treat. Although the skies were overcast, it wasn't a bit cool or uncomfortable, so we leisurely made our way home. I did a little housework (which is pretty unusual for me) and now I'm sitting in my easy chair, listening to the birds and other sounds coming through the screen door. A lovely day indeed.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Soaked on Yellow Aster Butte

Al on the trail
Nine Senior Trailblazers showed up at the Senior Center on a day that was forecast to be a little rainy, with showers expected on and off all day. It was raining here in Bellingham when I set out for the Center, and we were ready for any weather (we hoped). Since it's been dry for well over a month, I was not unhappy about having a little rain to freshen things up. We expected that, if we had any luck, it would clear enough to give us a view. Not even close. Here's what we missed this year. Last year it was hot and sunny.
Looking toward Yellow Aster Butte

When we started out, the rain had lessened enough that we didn't immediately put on our rain gear, thinking that it would get better as we hiked. The weather was cool and it was actually quite lovely, especially since we all expected it to get better, not worse.
Junction on trail to Tomyhoi
By the time we reached the junction to Tomyhoi Lake, it had started to rain hard enough for us to put on our rain gear. Almost everyone had ponchos, which was perfect gear for some air to move around us while hiking.  As it turned out, we didn't get to take our rain protection off again.
Al and Carol with a snowfield behind them
Much of the time, we didn't have any view at all, but every once in awhile the fog and rain would let up enough for me to get at least a smidgen of a view across a valley, as in the above picture. We had to cross that rather large snowfield, as you can see here.
Ellen smiling as we crossed the snowfield
I was enjoying the adventure, as well as the rain, since I STILL expected that it would stop coming down at some point. The flowers just kept getting more and more beautiful, although I only stopped to take a few pictures. I was worried about my iPhone in the wet conditions. It is supposed to be somewhat water resistant, but I don't know what works and what doesn't, quite yet.
Linda and Ward, hiking separately from us
After awhile, we ran into Linda, Ward, and Peggy hiking down the trail, after they had hiked a bit farther up the trail. They were not sure where the group was going today, and they wanted to see Yellow Aster for sure, so they went on their own. Plus our groups have been getting much larger than the Forest Service group size, limiting us to 12. As it was, they would have made our number exactly right. But they started earlier and at this point were busy looking for a place out of the wind and rain to have lunch. We said goodbye and the nine of us continued our trudge upward.
Looking at the fields of valerian
I didn't take many pictures of the flowers because I really was worried about how wet it was, but this picture showed that they were incredibly abundant. We also saw lupine, columbine, penstemon, heather, and much more. I wish I could have captured it better. After awhile, we looked for someplace out of the rain for our own lunch spot. We turned around and found a relatively dry place under some trees for a quick lunch before heading back down the way we had come.
Heading back down the trail
I didn't get a picture of our lunch spot, which I usually like to do, because I was unable to keep myself or my belongings dry. It was raining hard by this time and stayed that way until long after we reached the cars. After we turned around and it was still raining, I began to lose my enchantment with the rain and was very glad to finally reach the trailhead. We only went around seven miles and around 2,000 feet up and down, but because of the difficulty factor, I think we should add on another mile or two!

After a scare trying to take a picture with my phone, I was reluctant to do an more photography after this last shot. Now that I am home and was able to ascertain that my phone and my pictures are safe, I feel a little silly that I was so anxious about it all. By the time we reached Bellingham, we learned that it didn't rain here at all after those first few showers early this morning. So we drove many miles to hike in the rain, and down here everything is still parched. But we Trailblazers who hiked the Yellow Aster Butte trail today got soaked to the skin!

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Getting rather warm outside

Chicory in front of Bellingham Bay
On Sunday, my friend Lily and I went for a nice leisurely walk along Boulevard Park. Not a fast walk or anything, just a nice stroll enjoying the light breeze and morning clouds. Before we finished, these clouds were gone and it had begun to warm up. I started the walk with a light jacket but removed it once the clouds dissipated. Absolutely, to my mind, perfect weather for being outside on a summer's day.

But today I am sitting inside the apartment after discovering that it's beginning to get uncomfortably warm, with full sunshine and the temperature hovering around 75°F. Any warmer than that, with full sun, and I don't walk around without complaining. I know, I know: I'm a wimp. There's a reason I moved to the Pacific Northwest; the weather is perfect for me most of the year. I do get tired of the incessant rain now and then, but mostly I enjoy it.

Which reminds me: last Thursday we had clouds and cool weather when we went on our hike (no rain, though), but there have been only a few morning clouds like the ones in the above picture since then, but what's coming this week? Take a look:
What is it about Thursdays?
Ever since I stopped skydiving, the weather seemed to change from cloudy weekends to cloudy Thursdays. I had to laugh when I saw this forecast. However, the clouds make hiking uphill much more attractive. I'm not sure where we're headed this week, since the place we have on the schedule is probably not safe yet because of large snowfields on the trail.

Oh, well, you know what they say about how in everybody's life some rain must fall. Sometimes it appears as snow showers, too. But not this week!

Saturday, July 15, 2017

I almost forgot my blog post

Our group returning from our Thursday hike
Good grief, I almost forgot my post again today. I got involved in a thriller that I picked up at the library yesterday and am already halfway through. My sister got me involved with the author David Baldacci, and I had put a hold on his latest book awhile back, maybe two months ago. I was something like #149 in line (out of 22 books) and my name came up!

I only get to keep the book for two weeks, but I will actually be done with it before the day is over, I fear. The book is The Fix, the third in a series about Amos Decker. Baldacci likes to write numerous novels about his characters, so you get sort of involved with them, not to mention that he's one of those writers who knows how to make the book impossible to put down. At least for me.

Plus I am still in recovery mode after our Thursday hike. My friend Barb (who is not in the above picture because she took it) sent me some pictures from her phone, and since I'm in this one, I really like to look at it. I'm right in the middle of the lineup, fourth from the end. I couldn't very well say that I'm the one in the white hat, since most of us are wearing one.

Since my quads had been given quite a workout the week before, I thought that this week I'd escape the soreness, but no. I was so worn out on Thursday that I am still recovering, not just the legs, but general tiredness. This morning's walk with the ladies was lovely, however, and it did help me feel better. But I sure didn't mind curling up in my favorite chair with the book once I got home. Suddenly I realized that I had not written my Saturday post, slapped the book down and pulled out my laptop.

I'll bet you can guess what I'll be doing as soon as I finish this.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Excelsior Pass 2017

Our Excelsior Pass hikers
Eighteen Senior Trailblazers showed up this morning for our scheduled hike to Excelsior Pass. We tried this hike twice last year and were turned back by snow before we reached the pass. But the first order of the day was to get our number down to the required no-more-than-twelve in one group. Six people offered to change their destination to Welcome Pass, which the rest of us went up last week. Bob, however, decided to go again, so he went with the others, meaning he's in MUCH better shape than I am. I couldn't have done it again today. The rest of us headed off to the trailhead for Excelsior Pass.
Our beautiful trail today
The twelve of us knew that if we made it to the pass, it would be hiking more than four miles uphill and 3,500 feet of elevation. Although last week's Welcome Pass hike was less elevation gain, it was over much less distance, meaning today's switchbacks seemed tame by comparison. And it was so cool, perfect for hiking, since we had cloud cover that was supposed to clear off later in the day. More about that later.
Almost to the pass
Here we are, much farther than we ever made it last year, on our way to the pass, the final push to the top. It was already past noon but nobody was ready to stop; we did take a quick break for a snack awhile back so we could keep going, however.
First big snowfield almost at the pass
And then, there we were, almost able to look over to see the Damfino Lakes area and beyond to the Canadian border, but as you can see, those pesky clouds were still hanging on. A few glacier lilies on the right show that the area has only recently become free of snow. Lots of plants ready to bloom, too.
We made it!
And there it was, the top! Looking over to the other trailheads, you can see the dark clouds that obscured our view, which we thought would be gone by now, but no. See the other hikers just sitting down to have lunch in the distance?
Our lunch spot today
Yes, we mostly put on more clothes so we could hang out and enjoy the views, what there was of them, that is. Clouds came and went, giving us some sunshine and then more clouds. We fully expected they would be gone by this time, well after noon, but no such luck. However, it was pretty wonderful, cool and pretty much a delightful place to replenish ourselves.
Chris and Sue
Although it wasn't at all what we expected (it almost never is), we were not in a big hurry to leave and start back down. We had climbed more than 3,500 feet and now had to descend back to the trailhead, so we lingered for quite awhile.
Excelsior Peak and Jim settling in for lunch
If there had been a real view, we would have climbed to the top of the peak in the middle of the picture, Excelsior Peak, which has a great 360-degree view, but with all the clouds and snow, it just didn't give us much desire to ascend any further. If you look carefully, however, you can see that there are a couple of people right on the peak.
Our peaks hidden mostly by clouds
As we started our return journey, this was the best picture I could get of our wonderful mountains that showed themselves in such glory last week. I realized that the other group would do all that work and have obscured views, but I hoped they had a good time anyway. We certainly did.
About a mile from the trailhead, we stopped to admire what we call the "flue," which seems manmade (but I really don't know its history) and asked if anyone wanted to take a short cut by sliding down. Nobody did, so we finally made our way back to the cars and a short trip over to Graham's for some ice cream before heading home. It was a LONG day, as it's now way after 7:00pm and I'm just now finishing my daily duty, the blog post, before taking a shower and soon getting horizontal.

I did have a great day, and I made it to the top of Excelsior Pass, even if I didn't make it to the peak, and after eight-and-a-half miles and all that elevation, I'm feeling a little bit crispy. I hope the other group had a good day, too.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

I thought it was done

Ellen showed up yesterday to work on the mural
I was sure surprised to see Ellen show up yesterday with more paint to finish the mural. I didn't realize that she had way more to do. Notice the yellow on the right side? Well, she did that and started painting the white parts into colorful flowers. She's out there right now touching up stuff, but here's the finished product, or almost anyway.
Color, color everywhere
Wow! I guess I just didn't know what she had in mind. I'm pleased, but I've learned that many of the men who live in the apartment complex, they are not so happy. My guy loves it, but he was a hippie and said it reminds him of his days back then. I think we will all get used to it. What do you think? Be honest!

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Summer garden news

The whole garden, with painted fence behind
When our next-door neighbors put up a privacy fence, complete with lots of rusted metal, I asked them if they had any problem with me getting someone to paint a picture on it. When they said it was fine, my friend Ellen came out and took a look, and yesterday she did it! There's SG standing in the garden with a shovel (just for display, he doesn't actually USE it), and now you can see that our garden is looking very, very fine.
My garden plot, with flowers in the foreground
You can see that my flowers are looking good, with three tomato plants just behind them (that's one of those garden lights that uses solar power and looks fantastic at night when I'm asleep), then my sugar snap peas, right at the end of their life, and behind them are my prolific raspberries. I'll be spending some time today out there picking, since they are all ripening at once. Here are some of my gardening pals.
Lily is working in her garden spot
Lily got her corn in rather late, and it's now coming along well, but it was only a few inches high on Independence Day. You know what they say about that. (It should be knee-high by the 4th of July.) Her spot is right next to mine; you can see my flowers in the middle left of the picture.
Pat working hard in his garden
Pat's corn, however, really is knee high, right on time. He was gone for awhile on an extended bicycle trip and is now catching up on his weeding. Obviously he rarely wore a shirt on his ride, because he's brown everywhere I care to see! He also used his weed whacker to rid us of lots of pesky grass.
Hedi, with her garden on the left, under her right arm
Hedi's garden is doing really well. I think she has planted more different items in her garden than anybody else, and it's all growing like crazy. I gave her some of my scarlet runner beans and they are already beginning to climb the fence. I'll show you some pictures when they really begin to take off.
SG inspecting the raspberries
Um-hmm. Here is SG out there helping me pick the raspberries, except during his "inspection" they don't seem to be making it very far from the vine before ending up in his tummy! I know how it is; by the time I'm finished picking, I'm not hungry at all for some reason.
Ellen's painting
And finally, a closeup of that fence Ellen painted. In the foreground is our community area, which has squash plants and sunflowers, which aren't looking like much. I really like that cloud that looks like a backwards arrow. Well, that's what our community garden looks like today. Isn't it wonderful?

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Welcome Pass 2017

Dense forest cover kept us from getting too hot
Fourteen Senior Trailblazers headed out from the Senior Center to the Mt. Baker Highway and our destination of Welcome Pass. We had been scheduled to head up Ridley Creek, but we learned that it is still quite covered with snow, so instead we decided to go up what is probably one of the more difficult hikes in the area. It's not long, not at all, but the elevation gain is unforgettable. Here's some information from the sign at the trailhead:
Begin at the trailhead by hiking a mile on an old roadbed. The trail then climbs a series of tight switchbacks for the next 1.5 miles through an old growth forest. After 2.5 miles, gaining 3,000 feet in elevation (900+ meters), the trail reaches Welcome Pass. 
That's 66 or 67 switchbacks, depending on how you count them (Al counted them today both ways and judged it to be 66), never letting up from steep and painful. But it's SO worth it when you get to the top.
Welcome Pass today
 On a sunny day like today, you emerge from that wonderful shady forest onto a beautiful area that joins with the High Divide trail. Heading east (behind these hikers) takes you to Excelsior Pass. Instead, we turned right (west), heading up the steep ridge to a simply wonderful view of Shuksan and Mt. Baker. And yes, there is still snow around here, but there wasn't nearly as much as we've seen in other trips at this time of year.
Our wonderful lunch spot today
We climbed another several hundred feet from the pass to this place, where we knew we would have an incredible view of both Mts. Shuksan and Baker. I've been here before when the stiff breeze was cold enough to don our jackets, but not today. It was just about perfect up here, so we settled in and enjoyed the flowers and the sunny weather. Not to mention the company.
Glacier lilies next to the path
As we climbed, we saw places where the snow had obviously retreated only recently, since they were covered with glacier lilies. These fragile flowers only last for a short while once the snow leaves, but as you can see, today they were abundant.
Gazing at Mt. Baker
Some of the first to arrive on the top found a really lovely place to have lunch, with Mt. Baker showing off her magnificence, while to her left we saw Mt. Shuksan looking fabulous, too.
Mt. Shuksan with lupine and valerian flowers
It was hard for us to decide to leave, with such perfect conditions, but we couldn't stay here much longer. Bob showed me some lovely phlox next to his lunch spot. After a short while, we started back down the way we had come.
Bob with phlox in bloom while enjoying lunch
Snow field
On the way back down, several of us stopped to check out the view and play a little bit in the snow before our steep return trip. I knew that although it was hard to climb up those switchbacks, it would be even harder to climb back down them. But what are you gonna do when you're already there? Since it wasn't a long climb either way, we would be fine, but we did slow down quite a bit and spent some time waiting for the slower hikers. Nobody minded not hurrying down, certainly not me!
Al in the flowers with High Divide behind him
And then we were finally back at the cars, having climbed an enormous amount of elevation in a short distance of six miles or so, and feeling a little sunburned from the intense sun and everybody very happy to be heeding to our ice cream spot in Graham's before heading home. It was a wonderful day, and I'm glad to be finished with my post so I can call it a day. A very fine way to spend my Thursday, that's for sure!