Grand Canyon Once Again

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.

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Pratt Lake

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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Tiger — Grand Canyon of Fifteenmile Creek

June 27th, 2010

I returned to Fifteenmile creek in the sunlight, so that I could more fully enjoy it (see previous trip).  I had two objectives: to use a pair of clippers to clear away some of the thorns and brush from the overgrown section of the trail, and to explore beyond the turnoff point I had reached last time.

I started early, and had the trail to myself.  I made slow progress since there was a lot to chop down.  I tried to do as thorough a job as I had the patience for.  I could see that most of the brush had previously been trimmed about where I was cutting it: I wonder how many years it took the trail to grow in?  Although it was not raining, everything was wet anyway.  I think the canyon is so steep it rarely gets enough sun to dry out.

Giant Lump of Coal

The trail is washed out, having cut into the side wall forming a cliff.  The only way is down, across the creek, across again, and back up.  The stream follows a yellow band of very slippery, smooth rock, making it hard to get any traction.  I managed to fall step in over my ankle at the first crossing, soaking one shoe and sock.  Oh well, press on.

Slowly I progressed up the trail, until suddenly I was at the turnoff.  The way forward, after the immediate narrow V was passed, was along the stream bottom.  I was able to put away the clippers — good thing since I had developed a painful blister on my ring finger.  At first I tried to cross on the rocks, but after falling in a few times and getting thoroughly wet up to the knees I stopped trying and just stepped in the water when I needed to.  The stream continued to flow over very slippery , very smoothly polished rock, and footing was often best in the stream bed itself.

Fifteen Mile Creek Stream Bed

Canyon Floor

We came to a series of waterfalls and narrow sections, what required a little scrambling.  Danny needed help a few times, but overall he was very skilled at getting himself up the stream.  Eventually we came to a waterfall that just looked impossible.   Looking at the picture now it doesn’t look at all head, and it wouldn’t be if there was any traction on the smooth stone.  I was able to backtrack a little ways and find a way up the hillside.  I was tempted to try to descend back down to the stream bed above the falls, but time was running short and I needed to get back.  So I continued on up the hill until I met the railroad bed trail.  About half way up to the trail I ran across a little section that had been marked with orange flags.  I could not figure out where it was heading, and did not succeed in following it very far.  Maybe it was heading back the creek.  Something to check out next time.

Upper Falls

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Anette Lake

June 13th, 2010

This gem of a lake is located a few miles south of I90, but seems worlds away.  The trail crosses the impressive Humpback Creek, then crosses under power lines and then the old rail bed, but from then on all signs of civilization are gone.  The trail is well built, with many switchbacks but not many rocky or excessively steep places.  The first sight of Humpback mountain across the valley made everyone stop and take a photo: most of the way is through dense forest.

Humpback Mountain

Eventually the trail levels out and descends to the lake, which was still frozen.

Anette Lake with Humpback Ridge

We got an early start(9:30) and were at the lake by 11:30.  We didn’t see many people on the way up, but bythe time we had eaten lunch and were headed back down, there was a steady stream of hikers on the trail.

I hiked this with a congenial group from the Bellevue Hikers Meetup Group.  We all had a good time, on the first really nice sunny day of the season.

Lunch at Anette Lake

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Talapus and Olallie Lakes

June 5th, 2010

After another week of solid rain, there was predicted to be a single day of nice weather, so I jumped at the chance to get out.  I was thinking of McClellan Butte, but I opted for something less strenuous: Talapus Lake.  I am glad I did.

There were a handful of cars at the trailhead, but not as many as I expected.  I did not have the trail to myself, but I did not feel crowded either, like on Mt Si or Rattlesnake Ledges.  The trail was indeed only moderately uphill, and I found myself at Talapus Lake in 30 minutes, long before I was expecting it.  There was a party camping at the spot by the creek, so I pressed on up the trail.

Talapus Lake

There were occasional patches of snow, then more and more as I approached Olallie Lake.  Lots of water — many creeks pouring into the lake, down the trails, making everything nice and slippery.

I circled around the lake on the snow, which was made difficult being tethered to the dog.  I saw a few others with dogs, but all leashed up, so I guess the wilderness is serious about their rule.  I was tempted to go on up the trail, but with the dog, I decided it just wasn’t worth it.

Olallie Lake

So I headed back down, making this a relaxing day exploring the fringes of the Alpine Lakes Wilderness.

Skunk Cabbage

Talapus Trail

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Mason Lake

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.

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Fifteenmile Creek Grand Canyon

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

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.

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Dirty Harry’s Balcony

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

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Rattlesnake Ridge

April 24th, 2010

I have been up to Rattlesnake Ledges a few times, and have looked up at the ridge and imagined hiking its length.  When a local Meetup group organized a hike with a shuttle, I jumped at the chance.  Too bad the weather prediction was for showers — I hoped for the best.

The showers held off for the first hour, as the trail climbed steeply up the ridge.  But the higher we went, the more rain was coming down.  At around 2500 feet elevation the rain turned to snow, and the ground was covered more and more as we ascended, ultimately to 3500 feet.  Some of the group was not dressed for these conditions, which kept us from stopping or even slowing down.  We rushed past the viewpoints (no view today), even rushing past the ledges to get back to the cars.

It was a good workout, but next time I want to go on a clear day, and take my time.

Grand Prospect Viewpoint

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