Archive for July, 2010

Granite Mountain

Sunday, 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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Grand Canyon Once Again

Saturday, July 17th, 2010

The last time I hiked Fifteenmile Creek, I was stopped at a falls by steep and slippery rocks.  The pictures I made at the time made me feel like a wimp — it did not look that difficult!  And I am noticing that the streams that last month were full and flowing are now dry or mere trickles, so I wanted to give it one more try.

After two weeks without rain, the creek level was a little down.  And this time I was prepared to get wet: I would wade up the streambed if necessary.  I made quick progress up to the “trail junction” where the pink ribbons lead up and out.  My previous efforts at chopping down the jungle of brush definitely paid off, although it was growing back rapidly.

I made good progress up the wild portion of the canyon as well because the slick yellow bedrock was mostly dry: if I am careful I can walk on it.  Wet, it is more slippery than ice, and I cannot even stand up on it.  One waterfall that almost stopped me last time was easy to ascend.  When I finally made it to the big waterfall I climbed to the top cascade, but that one was still impassible.  It is not that it is so steep, it is just soooo slippery.  Besides that, my dogs were not able to get up even the lower cascades, so it looked like even if I could get up, I would have to turn back on their account.

But up near the top I spied what looked like a little trail on the other wall of the canyon, up and around the falls.  So I descended and climbed up the far side.  I did not really find the trail I thought I saw, but nevertheless I pulled myself up the canyon wall by hanging on to ferns and tree roots, getting up to the top of a ridge, where I could descend back to the stream above the falls.

The stream above the falls is more open and less steep, making for easier travel.  I sensed that the railroad trail might be close by, but continued up the streambed.  Eventually I came to a fork: off to the left the canyon was filled with foxglove in bloom: pictures don’t capture the true beauty of the sight.

Upper Fifteenmile Creek

Up above this fork, the main branch narrows and becomes choked with vegetation, so the only way up is over the moss-covered rocks on the middle of the stream.  I decided this was enough, and headed over to the trail.  It was only a short distance, but in between were the most nasty thorn bushes I have ever hiked through.

I wanted to continue up the trail to see the junction and the actual stream crossing.  I would have missed the junction if not for the dogs: one ran up each trail.  In other words, the trail across the stream was pretty obscure.  After crossing the stream, it ascends the far wall through open forest.  I looked at my map and decided I would make this a loop by following the railroad trail on the other side of the creek.

When I intersected the railbed, I would have missed it if I were not looking at the GPS.  Theis trail, the “15 Mile Railroad Grade” was completely overgrown in many places, with thick brush (including stinging nettles and thorny berry bushes) up to waist level.  In between these spots there were stands of trees, where the trail was quite distinct.  But mostly I was just wading through greenery, trying to stay on the faint remnants of an old rail grade.

By and by the grade intersected with the “foxglove” side canyon.  There must have been a bridge here at one time, but now it was long gone, necessitating a long detour looking for a place to cross the steep ravine.  After I had crossed, I was cautiously making my way along a narrow pathway, engulfed in vegetation, feeling my way along because I could not see my feet.  I put my foot down, tentatively at first, then put my weight on it, when the ground gave way.  I grabbed at the brush, but it all just pulled out and I went tumbling down head over heels, fifteen or twenty feet, into the stream below.  The dogs came down on top of me to see what was the matter: luckily nothing but a few scrapes.  Unfortunately there was no other way out, so I had to repeat the process, this time even more carefully.

The rest of the way back was increasingly more and more of an exercise in thrashing through overgrown nettles and thorn bushes.  I hurried along after noting several large piles of bear scat.  The bear has apparently been feasting on berries.  At one point I followed a faint trail through berry pushes over my head.  It didn’t take long to conclude this was not the right trail.  Now I suspect the bear trampled down that path.  It was a big relief to get back on the road.

Although I am now covered with scratches and sitting is painful (because of a spill I took on the slippery rocks), the journey was worth it all to see the wild part of Fifteenmile creek, and especially the foxglove in bloom.


Pratt Lake

Monday, July 5th, 2010

Although it can easily be done as a day hike, I wanted to explore the territory around Pratt Lake and spend the night.

I was planning to go Saturday afternoon and return Sunday, but the weather Saturday morning was cloudy and cool.  Since it was a three day weekend, I decided to go Sunday instead, returning Monday.  Saturday afternoon turned out lovely, but it was too late.  Sunday was more promising, but by the time I got on the trail it began to rain, and the rain continued all night and into the next day, so I definitely mis-called this one.

On the way up to Talalapus and Olallie I saw only people retreating to their cars.  The miles passed quickly, even though I was wrapped in fog and could not see anything.  I crossed the ridge into Pratt Basin, and descended toward the lake.  As I caught sight of the lake it started raining much harder, so I decided to set my hammock up in a flat spot off a ways off the trail.  I found two suitable trees, covered up my pack, and slipped in to the hammock at 9:00.

Pratt Lake

I had no trouble dozing off, but I kept being awakened by giant drops of water hitting my face.  For some reason the tent fly left a little corner uncovered, depending on how I was perched in the hammock.  The rain made quite a racket all night, and I never really escaped the dripping.  And the hammock catches everything that drips into it, pooling it at the low spot.  So by the morning, the sleeping bag was pretty wet underneath.

I kept waking up every hour, observing the first glimmer of dawn at 5:00 AM, then real light at 6:00.  I thought of getting up and moving out, but by now the rain was stopping, so I dozed off again.  I awoke again at 8:00 to see two runners flash by on the trail.  Still unmotivated to get up, I dozed off again until 10:00.  The best parts of using a hammock are:

  1. it is quick and easy to find a place to stay, anywhere, and
  2. it is so comfortable to sleep in.

Pratt Lake Basin

For some reason I was not motivated to return to see Pratt Lake, so I returned up the trail, and then over to Rainbow Lake.  The last half mile to the lake was mostly across snow, but I found a nice place by the lake to set up my stove and cook lunch.  The clouds still enveloped the surrounding peaks, so no views.  I considered exploring Island Lake, but left that for another trip.

Rainbow Lake

The return from Rainbow Lake was pretty muddy, after a night of rain.  There were more parties headed up than I could count.  When I got back to the parking lot, cars were parked a long ways down the side of the road.  Popular day hike, but secluded at night.

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