September 24th, 2011

I often see paragliders over Tiger Mountain on sunny afternoons — sometimes many of them.  Noting my fascination, my wife Kitty surprised my on my birthday with a tandem flight with an instructor.  I waited for optimal weather, but it never seemed to come so today I decided to have a go at it, even without great lift.  I made the flight fast and steep, but it was great fun nonetheless.  We did a little acrobatics on the way down, which left me a little airsick, but despite that we made a great landing.

Here is a link to the video:

Rampart Lakes and Alta Peak

August 27th, 2011

It has been a year since I have been out overnight in the mountains — far too long.  The last time, it was to Lila Lake with the hope that I could get at least part way up Rampart Ridge, perhaps to Alta Peak.  Alas, the rain began as I approached Lila Lake, and continued until I departed the next day.

The weekend weather was predicted to be sunny and dry, so it was time to finally complete the climb.  I got a reasonably early start, and headed up the now familiar trail.  The miles passed quickly, even up the steep approach to Rachel Lake.  I crossed and recrossed paths with a few parties, but still made it up before most of the campers.

I debated whether to turn right, toward Lila Lake, or left, toward Rampart Lakes.  By the time I made it to the junction, I was getting pretty tired, and so I decided that I would not attempt Alta Peak that day, so I turned toward Rampart Lakes.  The mosquitoes were thick and biting, so I set up the tent and lay down for a nap.  It was uncomfortably hot inside, but it was better than getting bit up in the shade.

After resting for an hour, I was revived a bit.  A nearby party, who had apparently been visiting Rampart Lakes from the Lake Margaret side returned up toward the ridge, so I decided I would explore up that way.  To my surprise, the trail was distinct and easy to follow, all the way up to the ridge.  I did have to climb a steep snow field, but my ice axe came in handy, and besides there were decent steps kicked into the soft snow.

Rock Run Drainage

Up on the ridge, the views were spectacular.  I could see the huge cliffs on the west side of the ridge, the Alpental ski area and the Aline Lakes wilderness beyond, and way off in the distance, Mt Rainier.  I ran into a pair of hikers that I had seen on the trail up on the ridge: they were heading back down by that time.  I wandered along the ridge as far as I could go.  The trail got more and more indistinct, until it petered out completely.  Rather than retrace my steps, I descended below the uppermost cliffs, and made my way back through the snow fields to the trail I had come up.

Back down in camp, I made a quick dinner and retreated into my tent to get away from the bugs.  Soon it was dark and I drifted off to sleep.  It seems like I woke up every 20 minutes to roll over.  The night was reasonably warm, and soon it was getting light again.  The bugs were back, so I did not waste much time in packing up and getting back on the trail.  The morning looked clear and sunny, so I decided to give Alta Peak a try. I did not know how far I could make it up the trail: it looked pretty intimidating from down below.  I made up my mind to just explore as far as I could safely go.

Alta Peak Trail

Walking along the ridge above Rachel Lake was pleasant, with great views all along the way.  I hauled my pack up to the junction where the trail to Alta Peak splits off from the Lila Lake trail, then hid it in some bushes and switched to my summit bag.  This made the climbing so much easier.  The trail climbed up through fields of wildflowers in bloom, more and more spectacular views, and many false peaks.  At times the trail was narrow and ran along the top of big cliffs, but it never required handholds or anything more than careful walking.  Finally, at what seemed like one more false summit, I was at the top.  The ridge dropped down steeply on three sides.

Lakes and Trails above Lila Lake

I observed several trails I had not expected.  They were clearly visible below, in the lakes above Lila Lake.  I need to explore those someday.  There was also a trail visible to the west, which I later identified as Kendall Ridge and Alaska Mountain.  That’s another area I need to explore.  I spent a while on the peak, and then headed back down.  On the way, I met two other parties headed up.  I am glad I got an early start and had the peak to myself.

The way down seemed longer than going up, getting sunnier and hotter as I descended.  I was surprised by haw many people I met on the trail, all going up.  A great day to explore the mountains.

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Tiger Mountain Loop

August 13th, 2011

I have been up and down the cable line trail numerous times, but this time I wanted to see if I could reach all the West Tiger peaks.  Each time I get confused or get anxious to return, and don’t make it to all of them.

Up the cable line was strenuous, as usual.  I didn’t linger at West Tiger 3: it was breezy and chilly, as always.  On along the ridge and up to West Tiger 2 went quickly.  Then along the road, past the gate, and up to the Rainier viewpoint.  All I could see was Renton.  This is as far as I had gotten before, so I studied the map and pushed on along the “Bypass” trail.  This bypasses the radio towers, which are fenced off.  The bypass trail skirts along below the ridge for quite a ways, eventually emerging onto the road on the ridge, to the east of West Tiger 1.  I was unsure how to find the trail, but I was pretty sure it was back the other way, so I followed the road up past a few more radio towers until I could go no further.  I was at West Tiger 1, and there was the Poo Top Trail.  Good.

Returning via Poo Top, Tiger Mountain Trail, One View,and Poo Poop Point Trail is really pleasant.  The trails stay pretty much on a ridge top.  No views: trees all around, but not too much up and down, just mostly gently down.

Even though it is mid August, the Foxgloves are at the peak of their bloom near the top.


Bandera Mountain

July 18th, 2011

I have not been hiking much this year — partly because I am busy, and partly because there has been so much snow.  The snow is finally melting, so I am resuming my weekend jaunts.

Last year I passed by the trail leading to Bandera Mountain, and wished I could go there, so when I saw a meetup going there, I joined in.  We got to the trailhead before the parking lot was nearly, but not completely full.  Starting up the trail brought back memories of the last time up here.  I felt like I was making pretty good progress, but everyone else was hiking a lot faster than me.  I don’t know if I am slowing down, or if this is a fast group.

Once the trail to Bandera Peak splits off the main trail, it gets remarkably steep.  There are no switchbacks — just straight up the grassy slope.  Finally reaching the ridge line, it turns to a boulder hop.  Finally, I reach the top, last in my party.  It is cold up there, especially since I am sweaty.  Nice local views, but high clouds obscure everything far away.

There were a dozen or so hikers, besides our group, at the top.  That seemed like the end of the trail — certainly no one was going farther along the ridge.  It was not until I got back and looked at the GPS track that I realized that we had not actually reached Bandera Mountain at all.  The real peak is farther along the ridge.  I guess I will have to go back.  When the sky is clearer.

The wildflowers were pretty on the high meadow below the ridge.

Mt Si with Keith

April 3rd, 2011

My daughter Carrie and her partner Keith came up from California to surprise me for my birthday. It was a great birthday gift. While they were here, Keith and I had a chance to take a hike up Mt Si. We could see that it was snowy up high, but it was pretty mild down at the parking lot. Sure enough, as we passed the half way point, there were little patches of snow, then the ground was covered, then the trail was covered. As we approached the top, it was really Winter conditions. We were mostly prepared, but could not stop for long because it was so cold.

The dogs were glad to turn around and head back down.

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McClellan Butte

September 25th, 2010

Ever since I saw McClellan Butte from I90, and especially after I had studied it from across the valley from Dirty Harry’s Peak, I wanted to climb it.  It is so steep, and rises so high above the ground below, it just looks impossible to get to.  And it was impossible, for most of the summer.  The avalanche chutes along the trail were still impassible into August.  I waited patiently, until finally there was a Saturday promising clear skies and warm temperature.

McClellan Butte from Dirty Harry's Balcony

I got to the trailhead early — there were only three cars parked there before me.  Going up, I had the trail all to myself: I did not see anyone until I was almost at the top (two of the earlier parties descending).  Although it started out reasonably, it just getting steeper and steeper.  But the trail is wide and soft, real pleasure to walk up.  The trail is well cared for, with several sections that appeared to be recently maintained.

Mt Rainier from McClellan Butte Trail

The first views of Rainier appeared as the trail crossed the SW ridgeline.  From this point onwards the views of the surrounding mountains are magnificent.  At the summit block I met one of the earlier parties, resting at the end of the trail.  I should have sat down and rested my tired legs, but I was impatient to get to the top.  Ascending to the top was scary, but quite safe: the rock was very solid, with numerous hand and footholds.  After about 20 vertical feet, the trail reappeared, leading the rest of the way up.

I had the peak all to myself for half an hour.  I relaxed, at lunch, and took a lot of pictures before heading back down.  The steep part seems so short, going down, but was still scary.  At least I was rested going down.  At this time people started arriving regularly, and a couple people even went up to the top.  I include a picture of this, because all the other pictures I could find were hard for me to interpret because there was no sense of scale or angle.

Summit Block

On the way down I enjoyed the pleasant warmth of an early autumn day, passing dozens of hikers headed up.  There was a large group of volunteers maintaining the trail.  I returned by a slightly different route: the official route is a little confusing where it cross the former railway.


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Kaleetan Peak

August 28th, 2010

The view of Kaleetan Peak from the Granite Mountain Trail stirred my imagination.  It looked so steep and inaccessible, a pinnacle standing alone.  (It is just a little left of center in this panorama).  When I discovered that it was only a second class scramble, I had to go.  The only difficulty was waiting for a clear day, because I wanted to be able to enjoy the views.

Since I had not seriously ventured off trail since I moved to Washington, I did some Google research on the best route.  Some people headed directly up the ridge from Melakwa Lake, while others went up past the lakes and climbed up the ridge farther along.

Melakwa Lake

When I got to the lake, I started up the ridge, but the trails all seemed to peter out into thickets of brush.  So I headed back down, skirted around the lake, and made my way up the valley.  I was looking for a route up to the ridge when I spotted someone coming down, trying to get my attention.  So I figured this was the right place to ascend, and started heading up.

We met part way up, and stopped for a little chat.  He had come up the ridge, and was now headed back down.  He warned me that the slope would get steeper and steeper, but that I could probably make it.  I thanked him and pressed on upwards.  There was loose talus in various sizes, steep rock gullies, slippery grassy slopes, and impenetrable brush.  I don’t know which one was hardest, but after 1000 feet I was grateful to finally reach the ridge and find an actual footpath.

The ridgetop was delightful walking: suddenly I had views in all directions.  Before long I reached a low spot, where the path dropped a few hundred feet around some cliffs.  All this time I was getting closer and closer to Kaleetan Peak, and it did not appear to be getting any more climbable.  I spotted a party ahead, and I could see they were on a trail of sorts, so I pressed on.  I just figured I would keep going until I could go no further.

Kaleetan Peak

The path kept getting steeper and steeper, until I finally found myself at the bottom of the summit block.  It is steep, but there is a gully with lots of hand and footholds.  I just kept climbing up and up, unable to tell how close to the top I was.  As I was hoisting myself up another ledge, I heard some saying hello just a foot away.  I was on the top!.  There was barely room to sit down, and steep cliffs on all sides, making me feel pretty uneasy.  I crawled over the the edge and peered down, then crawled back to a safer spot to nibble on some lunch.  I was a little clumsy getting the lens cap off, and dropped it.  Off it sailed, a thousand feet down.

Ascent Gully to Kaleetan Peak

The other party on top was occupying the only flat spot, and seemed in no hurry to move on, so I took a few quick pictures and headed back down.  Unfortunately the clouds were moving in so there was no view or Rainier or any other of the distant peaks.  I could see the lookout on Granite Mountain, and over Snoqualmie Pass to the lakes beyond.

On Kaleetan Peak

On the way back I met several other parties coming up, which surprised me because this seemed to me a pretty strenuous hike.  I stayed on the ridge path the whole way back, a far less strenuous way to go.

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PS: Here’s a view from Google Earth.

Kaleetan Peak with GPS Track

Lila Lake

August 7th, 2010

Charmed by Rampart Lakes, and fascinated by the heights above, I wanted to go back and climb the ridge to see the view.   Although the weather report said “partly cloudy, 30% chance of rain” I figured that gave me 70% chance of dry weather, so up I went.

My plan was to ascend to the ridge above Rachel Lake, then turn right and ascend the ridge to Alta Peak.  Then I would descend to Lila Lake, camp there, and perhaps climb Rampart Ridge the next day.

As I passed Rachel Lake it started to rain lightly, and as I neared Lila Lake it was coming down pretty hard.  So I decided to set up camp and wait for a break in the weather.  Learning from the previous trip, I brought my tent rather than my hammock, so I could at least set it up and jump inside quickly.  Unfortunately it is not much roomier than the hammock: there was just enough room for my sleeping pad, and I could not really sit up.

Waiting for rain to stop

So I sat in my tent all afternoon, then went out in the rain for a while to make dinner, then went back inside.  It rained all night, and was still raining lightly in the morning.  I had about a pint of water in the tent (I guess it was coming through the walls).  The mountain above was still shrouded in thick clouds, so I decided to just head on home.

Lila Lake

As I descended, the trail got dry in spots, then completely dry.  I wonder if it even rained down at the trailhead.  But I did have a pack full of wet tent, clothing, sleeping bag — everything.

I will have to come back when there is a forecast for clear weather.

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Rampart Lakes

August 1st, 2010

The trailhead parking lot was hot and dusty, almost full of cars, with many parties perparing to hit the trail.  But once I got onto the right trail, it did not seem particularly crowded.  Or maybe I am just getting used to seeing other people on the trail.

Falls at Box Creek

The first part of the trail is really pleasant: cool and green, along the creek, almost flat.  But you can see the end of the flat part approaching.  After a couple of miles the steep climb to Rachel Lake begins, switchbacking up and up.  Finally, and unexpectedly, Rachel Lake appears.  There were already a number of parties camped at the lake, as well as parties stopped there for lunch.  As soon as I sat down to rest, a cool wind sprang up, prompting me to push on.

Rachel Lake

The wall beyond, to Rampart Lakes, looks intimidating, but the climb went surprisingly quickly.  It certainly helps to pass frequent viewpoints, where you can see the shrinking lake below.  Suddenly you are on the ridge above.  The trail divides, one going to Lila Lake and the other to Rampart Lakes.  I got confused and took a third path along the ridge, leading to thick swarms of mosquitos.  It only took me a few minutes to realize this was wrong, and when I got back to the main trail I noticed the sign point to the two lake trails.  Thankfully, the mosquitos were gone.

Rampart Lakes

The hike along the ridge is delightful, passing frequent viewpoints, small meadows, and finally reaching the numerous beautiful lakes and islands of Rampart Lakes.  There were several parties here too, and I faced the additional challenge of finding a place for my hammock because the trees were getting pretty thin and many of them were stunted.  After searching for an hour I set up my hammock, but it was so windy I gave up and kept looking.  Finally I found a place that was a little more sheltered that would do.


I had a pleasant dinner, then went to bed.  A few hours later I felt light rain on my face.  I had been hoping to avoid setting up the fly, since it was still pretty windy, but I got up and set up the fly as best I could in the dark.  A while later the rain came in earnest, and I remained dry in my cocoon.  It must have lasted only an hour or two, because by morning the wind had dried my fly.

In the morning, I ate breakfast and packed up, but before heading back I wanted to see how much farther the trail went.  I followed what I took to be the main trail (it is a little hard to tell) past the last lake, and then up the side of the mountain further.  Before long, the trail either disappears, or else heads directly up the steep mountainside, under increasing snow cover.  From this vantage point all I could see was steep slopes, heading up and up, so I turned around and descended.  Later on I looked at the terrain more closely using Google Earth, and I was traces of a trail higher up, near the top of the ridge.  And what a ridge it is: sheer cliffs drop steeply off, with fantastic views.

Rampart Ridge

Next time I must go up to the ridge for the view.  I tell myself, even if I had gone on up to the top there would have been nothing to see, because everything was shrouded in clouds.  But I am determined to return when there is clear weather to see the view from the top.

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Granite Mountain

July 25th, 2010

I wanted to climb McClellan Butte, but at the last minute I read that the trail was impassible because there is still snow in one of the chutes.  So Granite Mountain was the next best choice.  I am really glad I picked it: the view was fantastic, not only toward Mt Rainier, but in all directions.

I left the trailhead at 8:00 AM, surprised that the parking lot was already half full.  I was prepared for steep, and this was indeed steep.  I was moving along up the trail pretty well, passing parties, but there were a few that passed me.  By 10:30 I met the first of the parties descending: they had left the parking lot at 5:30.

It was a great pleasure to see the first glimpse of Mt Rainier peeking above the opposite valley wall.  It was surprising how quickly it rose higher and higher.  Getting out of the forst into the high meadows felt good, partly because the steepness of the trail moderated and the lookout tower came into view (high above).

I had a choice of going up the unofficial trail up the ridge, or sticking to the main trail to the east.  I kept on the main trail, and I am glad I did so because the meadows and tarns were so beautiful.

High Meadow

I was getting seriously fatigued by the time I got to the final steep slopes, but I kept slogging on.  I finally broke down and sat down to take a sip of water, but when I glanced up I saw I was only 50 yards away from the top.  The tower was open, the ranger was welcoming, and the shade and the breeze made the stay pleasant.  I took the panorama from the tower, then walked over to the true peak for lunch.

In addition to Mt Rainier, I could see another snowy peak in the distance to the south (Mt Adams) and another to the north (Glacier Peak).  I could see the familiar peaks nearby: McClellan Butte, Mt Defiance, Bandera Peak, as well as the unmistakable Kaleetan Peak.

Summit Lookout

The descent was long and dusty, and I was surprised by how many people ware on their way up.  The parking lot was overflowing — cars were parked along the side of the road almost back to the freeway.  It was a good day to be early.


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