Archive for May, 2010

Mason Lake

Sunday, May 30th, 2010

An overnight makes the best use of limited time: the drive to the trailhead is the same, but the time outdoors is multiplied.  The only problem is finding a free weekend.  So with my wife out of town, I was looking for a candidate.  The constraint is that I would have to take my two dogs with me.  In the past that has not been a problem because they are well behaved and stay close.  But events conspired to make this trip a fiasco.  Not a disaster, or an epic, but a fiasco.

The first problem is that it was supposed to rain in the morning, then taper off for the rest of the weekend.  But it was still raining by mid-afternoon.  I could wait no longer, so I packed my raingear and headed out.  The trail starts out broad and relatively flat.  The mountain side is really steep, but the trail does a good job of heading uphill at a constant angle (which increases gradually the whole way).  The views would have been spectacular, except that I was wrapped in cloud the whold time and could not see a thing.

I had read a trip report from the previous weekend that said the lake was under a few feet of snow.  So I was prepared to deal with that.  But I was hoping that it had melted since then.  There were only occasional patches up to the ridgeline, where the trail starts to descend to the lake.  But that ridge was a dividing line — on the other side there were only occasional patches not covered by snow, which was still several feet thick in most places.  Picking my way carefully down, tethered to two dogs (who must be leashed in Alpine Lakes Wilderness) was a challenge.  They were constantly pulling, threating to topple me.  Why do they have better traction than I do?

Mason Lake -- From Campsite

The trouble start crossing the outlet stream.  I will skip the details, but in the end we all fell in — the dogs  up to their necks and me up to my knees.  By now it was just getting dark, but I found a good spot for my tent, on bare ground, not on snow.  The dogs were frantic, tied to a tree while I set up the tend in the continuing rain.  As soon as it was up, I got inside with the dogs, took off all my wet clothing, and got inside the sleeping bag.  The dogs curled up together and tried to go to sleep.  Unfortunately, neither one of them could get warm, so they decided they needed to get in the sleeping bag with me.  Which might have worked if they were not soaking wet and shaking violently.

By midnight, with rain still coming down, my sleeping bag was now pretty wet, the dogs were still restless, and I was ready to give up.  I got up, packed everything up, and headed back down the trail.  Despite the utmost care, we all fell into the stream again on the way out.  The trail through the snow was hard to follow in daylight, but it was even more difficult at night.  I always forget that a big challenge of hiking at night is the cloud of fog that often envelops me, making the flashlight or headlamp ineffective.  I went to get out the GPS to see if I was on the right track, and discovered it was not in its assigned place.  Damm!  I was already 10 minutes away from camp.  I could drop my pack and tie up the dogs and go back to get it, but I was not 100% sure I could get back here ( that’s why I needed the GPS).  The thought of returning was just too much, so I pushed on, found the trail, and headed back.  Maybe the GPS was inside the wadded-up tent, or maybe I put it in the bear cannister, or it is just in its assigned pocket, and I just could not feel it.

As I proceeded down the trail, at a snail’s pack, I developed a theory.  I had put it in its pocket, but had neglected to zip it, and when I picked up the pack to leave several items had spilled out.  I had picked them up, but I must have missed the GPS.  I had just finished my thorough my through inspection, aware that it would be easy to leave something behind.  All down the trail, I thought about how luck it was that REI had just put this very model on sale for the weekend.

I got back to the car at 3:00 AM, returned home, and went directly to bed.   The dogs seemed really grateful to see their beds.  On the way home, I noticed that the rain had stopped, and before arriving home I saw that the sky was clear and that there was a full moon.  Why couldn’t this have happened a few hours earlier?

At 5:30 I awoke suddenly, with the conviction that would have to go back and get the GPS.  I could run up the trail — it’s only four miles, just a normal Sunday run.  I hurried to get prepared, before I changed my mind.  I took a minimal pack — just my hydration pack, microspikes, and a camera.  I started running, but that only lasted a mile or so, until it got steep.  But I kept up a really brisk pace, racing up past all yesterday’s landmarks.  The snow was still hard, so the microspikes worked like a charm.  Crossed the stream without incident, walked up to camp, and picked up the GPS exactly where I expected to find it.

The night before I thought I could hear another party, but never spotted them.  In the daylight, there they were, camped a hundred feet away, in the snow.  It looks like they were just getting up.  Perhaps they were surprised to see a runner up there, so early — I did not stop to chat.  Returning, I was surprised to see a party of three just coming to the lake not ten minutes behind me.  They must have been moving as fast or faster than me.  On the way down, I passed at least 20 parties heading up the trail.  I guess everyone has been feeling cooped up this week.

McClellan Butte

I have learned:

  • don’t take two dogs when they have to be leashed, especially in the snow;
  • don’t take a dog camping except in warm weather;
  • double check departure inspection after putting on the pack.


More Photos

Fifteenmile Creek Grand Canyon

Wednesday, May 26th, 2010

The south side of Tiger Mountain is considerably less heavily used than the north.  One reason is that there are fewer access points.  When I saw “Grand Canyon” on the map, I knew I wanted to check it out.  But the first time I drove by I could not find a place to park.   After asking around, I found out that the closest parking to the Grand Canyon trailhead was a few blocks away, on 258th Ave.

The first part of the trail up fifteenmile creek is well made and well maintained, with signs describing the 0ld coal mining history.  A side trail overlooks an impressive waterfall and the main trail ends shortly after at an old mine entrance.  The maps are deceptive: they show a major trail up fifteenmile creek, one suitable for foot and horse travel.  There used to be such a trail, but no more.  The canyon walls are steep and narrow, and quickly eroding.  The trail has collapsed in many places, forcing a descent into the stream bed.  Everywhere else it is simply overgrown with thorny bushes or blocked by downed trees.

Waterfall at the lower end of the Grand Canyon

I considered turning back, especially because it was raining and everything was really slippery.  I did not fall into the stream, but both the dogs slipped and fell down the bank into the water.  The canyon is special, although I would call it a “Gorge” rather than “Grand” — steep sides and narrow, flowing over bedrock in places, it certainly seems remote and wild.

Typical Section of the Grand Canyon

After struggling up a mile or so, I reached the point on the map where the “trail” leaves the canyon and goes uphill to the Hobart-Middle Tiger Railroad Grade.  The route is very slippery in the rain, with a thin cover of forest duff over steeply inclined bedrock.  The dogs had no trouble racing up, but I had to hold on to roots, branches, or whatever else I could grab to make it up.  The route is marked with pink flags tied to tree branches, so the route is easy to follow.

The return along the railroad bed was pleasant — only a few difficult portions where the grade was washed out (or where there had formerly been bridges).

GPX — The GPS track is exceptionally “noisy”.  This is probably because the canyon was narrow, limiting the view of the sky.  The critical trail turnoff is marked.

Wild section of the Grand Canyon of Fifteenmile Creek

Dirty Harry’s Peak

Saturday, May 15th, 2010

The last time I tried to get to Dirty Harry’s Peak, I turned back just short of that goal because of the steepness of the deep snow and the bright sun.  This time I brought along my sun glasses and had allocated more time to get to the top.  This time I was with a meetup group heading for Dirty Harry’s Balcony and then on to the “museum,” but I found a couple of others willing to go on to the peak.

We found the museum, well off the trail up a subsidiary logging road.  It consisted of a rusting truck, originally used as a crane to haul logs around.  Interesting to see, but not worth returning for a second visit.

Then on to the peak.  In the one week since the last trip, the snow level had drastically retreated up the mountain.  It seemed like a whole mile of trail, which had previously been under wet slippery snow was not clear and dry.  That made the going so much faster and easier.  However, the snow was still present at the higher elevations, and seemingly as deep as before.  As I approached the point I turned around last week, I thought about doing so again.

A couple times I stopped, intending to turn back, but after resting a minute returned to the ascent.  Several time it seemed as the trail was nearing the peak, only to turn a corner revealing yet another steep rise.  But eventually the trail did level off and reached the summit.

The view over the ridge, my main interest in making the peak, were disappointing.  There was an impressive cliff, down to Granite Lakes.  But the lake itself looked brown and muddy, not the pristine alpine lake I had pictured.  And the slopes all around the lakes were marred by logging roads.  Oh well.


Dirty Harry’s Balcony

Saturday, May 8th, 2010

This hike, up a steep logging road overlooking I90, leads past a grand viewpoint to a ridge and peak on the north side of the Snoqualmie corridor.  I was saving it for a sunny day, to make the most of the views it promised.  So the day was sunny, after ten days of rain — time to go.

It was interesting to see what happens to a road after decades of neglect: all the dirt erodes, leaving a rocky roadbed.  Each passing creek ran down the road for a ways before veering off down the hill, making it even more like walking up the stream bed.  The trail was steep all the way up, but it is not nearly as steep as the slope it switchbacks up.

The view from the balcony was worth the climb.  Especially impressive were the peaks across the valley.

McClellan Butte from Dirty Harry's Balcony

Up to the viewpoint, there had been only hints of snow, so even though I had not brought any snow gear, I decided to see how far I could get.  Patches of snow appeared, then became continuous, then started to get deeper and deeper.  The trail was well packed though, so it never became impassible.  What did stop me though was the bright sun on the white snow.  I had forgotten my sunglasses, and the glar just became too uncomfortable, so I turned back short of the peak.

Oh well, something left for next time.

Route to Dirty Harry's Balcony and toward Peak