GeezerHiker

October 25, 2009

Up Swift Creek…

Filed under: Hiking, North Cascades — Tags: — geezerwriter @ 6:39 pm
Looking up Swift Creek

Looking up Swift Creek

As we started down the Swift Creek Trial I was immediately struck by the greenness. It had been raining on and off for a few days, including just a half hour earlier as we drove up highway 20, and everything in sight was sumptuously damp and almost aglow – an archetypical northwest rain forest scene.

The two and a half miles of the trail that we hiked is all lowland forest, between 1200 and 1700 feet in elevation, but the trail continues on for another 5 miles or so to a junction with the Lake Ann Trail. At one time, development-minded folks in town hoped that Mount Baker Highway would be continued into the Baker River area to connect up with highway 20, and this trail pretty much follows the route that would have been used.

Who wants to go first?

Who wants to go first?

The reason we didn’t hike further was that the creek was roaring and impassable. We went as far as the site of an old bridge that is long gone, replaced by a cable which was installed by the Pacific Northwest Trail Association. They have been working for years to restore this trail to the point where it can be a part of the PNT system of trails. One of our members, Pat, has been working long hours with them and served as our guide for our introduction to this trail. The PNT workers string a boatswain’s chair from that cable and drag themselves over the creek to work on the upper parts of the trail, but the chair is gone for the season. (I don’t know if it will be available to the general public in the future – maybe we can get some stimulus money for a bridge!)

As I said, the creek was running full, so we settled down on the rocky shore for lunch.

Lunch on the Rocks

Lunch on the Rocks

DJan has recovered (mostly) from her tumble at Rainbow Ridge, so we once again enjoyed our accustomed dessert of fresh brownies.

Rainbow Creek.JPG

Nearing the Rainbow Creek crossing

The other major creek crossing is at Rainbow Creek. about 3/4 of a mile from the trailhead. There are two big logs spanning two branches of that stream, and the PNT has installed a steel cable as a handrail – it probably wouldn’t be much good if you actually fell off the log, but it really helps those of us who tend to be unsure of our footing and/or shy about heights.

Fungus

Fungus

There were no grand views along the trail, but there were some great fungi. This fluorescent orange one caught my eye on the way back from the springs.

We got back to the cars early, so we decided to walk the quarter-mile trail to Baker Hot Springs, which meets the road at the same parking area. There was one gentleman in the water, who claimed to be “cleaning the bottom”. Presumably he meant the bottom of the hot springs, since his own bottom looked quite clean indeed, as we learned when he exited the pool. This clearly fit in the category of Too Much Information, and we soon walked back to the road.

It was still pretty early, so I tricked encouraged the group to go on one more adventure – trying to find Rainbow Falls. When I was up in this area several years ago there was a sign at a bend in the road indicating a trail to the falls. I recall making an attempt at following the trail, but giving up rather easily when it got brushy and I came to a steep washout. We were considerably more persistent this time and struggled on for almost a half mile, through at least two washouts and many alders, along what had once been a road (sometime in the Mesozoic Era, I believe). We did get one leafy peek at some white water in the gorge below, but it was pretty much a waste of effort.

Just after we turned back toward the cars we discovered that we were missing two fairly valuable items: my GPS receiver and Pat, our leader! It was a little tense for awhile, but Pat emerged from the brush after a few minutes and Marjan miraculously found my GPS where it had come loose from my belt clip about half way through the bushwhack.

Check out Djan’s blog posting, also:¬†d-jan-ity

I’ll end with a couple of pictures. The first is a small butterfly that we found on the trail near Rainbow Creek and the other is the view from the road of Shannon Ridge on the side of Mount Shuksan.

The last butterfly of the year?

The last butterfly of the year?

Shannon Ridge

Shannon Ridge

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October 17, 2009

We don’t need no stinkin’ pineapples!

Filed under: Hiking, North Cascades — geezerwriter @ 1:19 pm

Last night the dry season in Bellingham slammed shut as a warm “Pineapple Express” storm rolled in and dumped 2.5 inches of rain on us since midnight. We get a fair amount of rain here (in the last year we’ve gotten almost as much as Detroit and about half as much as New York City) but it rarely rains hard. It can rain all day and only amount to a tenth of an inch, so two inches in a day is a big deal.

Pineapple

Pineapple Expressions

And when it does rain hard, bad things happen. We’ve been spared most of the West Coast disasters that make the national news, like houses sliding off cliffs or into sinkholes, but we do have roads and railroads that are routinely closed by mud- and rockslides.

Up in the mountains where we love to hike there is only a thin skin of soil over the bedrock in most places, and the big trees have startlingly shallow root systems. When the ground gets saturated on the steep slopes the trees can topple over and whole hillsides can slide off in a moment.

I’m writing this at noon on Saturday, and wondering how many trails were damaged last night and how many of this summer’s lovely new repairs road repairs were washed away. I guess we’ll have to hiking again to find out. Darn. ūüėČ

Update at 5:50: It’s has stopped raining. It drizzled all afternoon and then turned into that rarest of weather events here: an actual thunderstorm! With lightning, even. And the rain gauge has topped 3″ for the day.

And another update: On Tuesday, Mike informed me that the Church Mountain Road is again impassable at the point where it was just repaired in August. But this time the road didn’t wash out: the new concrete section is just covered with debris – sounds like an easier fix.

I prefer going to Church on Thursday

Filed under: Hiking, North Cascades — geezerwriter @ 12:58 pm
Lunch in the Meadows

Lunch in the Meadows

We cheated the winter once again! To all you hikers who stayed home on Thursday because of the gloomy weather forecasts, I can say only this: “Nyeah, nyeah nyuh nyeah, nyeah!”

As eleven intrepid souls set off for Church Mountain the clouds over the mountains looked pretty grim, but the clearing followed along as we drove. The sun peeked through the trees as we climbed¬†up in the woods (at a pretty swift pace for us, I’d say). When we reached the meadows at about 5000′ around 11:30 it clouded over for awhile and got a bit chilly as about half of the group stopped for a rest and an early lunch while the others pressed on for the summit lookout site, everyone agreeing to start back down at around 1:00.

Shortly after noon, most of us laggards took off at a leisurely pace up the trail. We got in sight of the summit just in time to see some of the advance group coming down – we learned later that three had made it to the top but the cold winds drove them back down to ledge just below the summit scramble, where they had lunch with the others.

Tomyhoi and the Border Peaks

Tomyhoi and the Border Peaks

There was a fair amount of sun most of the time that we were in the alpine terrain and there were still huge numbers of berries; and though they are getting a bit saggy and flaccid (there’s a lot of THAT going around!) they are still bursting with juice.

Tris and Dot in the Meadows

Tris and Dot in the Meadows

Shuksan over Barometer Mtn

Shuksan over Barometer Mtn

We all got back together in the meadows and stayed pretty close for the descent in the woods. After last week’s adventure I hope we continue to be scrupulous about this, since the descent is the most likely occasion for an injury, in which case we can use all the help we can get. A number of years ago on a trip to Church¬†(with another group, which will remain nameless) I got left behind with one other person, who suddenly felt weak and unstable. I was able to take her quite heavy pack and carry it, which allowed her to slowly make her way down the trail, but it would have been nice if there’d been more help.

October 13, 2009

Some old goats on Goat Mountain

Filed under: Hiking, North Cascades — geezerwriter @ 11:22 pm

On Monday four of us (Fred, Mike, Tris and I) set out for Goat Mountain to take advantage of the good weather. It was clear and cold (high 30’s) when we left the trailhead, but we warmed up quickly. By the time we reached the open meadows above the tree line it was definitely below freezing – there was no liquid water anywhere and long needles of hoarfrost in every depression on the trail.

Goat Mountain in the fall

Goat Mountain in the fall

There are still lots of blueberries on the bushes, but the leaves are turning from red to brown and the berries are starting to shrivel. Not too shriveled for me to eat, mind you, but their taste is getting a bit flat. We stopped for lunch at about 5200 feet, at the ledge with the grand views of Mounts Shuksan and Sefrit and friends. We dragged every bit of clothing we had from our packs because we were now sitting atop the ridge that had been sheltering us from the winds. Sometimes the high clouds covered the sun, but the views were still splendid.

Lunch on the Ledge

Lunch on the Ledge

We had so far been traveling at my speed, but I knew that continuing at that rate would mean either not reaching the summit lookout site or hiking in the dark. So I encouraged the others, who are all much faster hikers, to go on ahead. We agreed that we would turn back at around 1:00, wherever we were. So they took off and I could generally keep them in sight as I padded along behind. When I got to the bottom of the very, very steep slope that leads up to the summit ridge at about ten to one, I could see that they had reached the ridge. At that point the trip was a success, by my lights, since that ridge is a seriously cool place to be. At lower levels you are limited (!!) to the stupendous views of Baker, Shuksan, Sefrit, Hannegan peak, the Ruth Creek Valley and Mount Challenger and the Pickett Range, but at the ridge you can see to the north to Tomyhoi, Winchester, Larrabee and the Border Peaks, Yellow Aster Butte and many mountains of southern BC. But I hoped they wouldn’t take our “deadline” too seriously, as they were within a fifteen or twenty minute walk of the summit.

Ruth Creek Valley from Goat Mountain

Ruth Creek Valley from Goat Mountain

As I put my head down and started plodding up the steep slope, using a climber’s (or bridesmaid’s) step, I was too close in against the hill to see the top. I was just killing time, with no real intention of getting anywhere when, at about 12:55, I saw an orange jacket heading down the trail toward me, and another figure following. I was a tiny bit annoyed that they had turned back so soon, but I didn’t have to coaxed to skip the slog up that slope and I turned around and headed down. I checked behind me from time to time and could never see all three, but that was no big surprise, since the trail had turns and valleys and was never fully visible.

When I got down to a lovely level spot with a good view up the trail I decided to wait and rest and take some pictures. As they got closer it finally dawned on me that the hikers I was watching were the young couple that had taken off from the trailhead just ahead of us that morning. Who could ever have imagined that there could be two orange jackets in the world! Shocking!

At this point I started back up the trail, not very energetically, and in just a few minutes saw all three figures up on the ridge, heading down. So I turned again and headed back down. We all gathered again at the lunch spot for an uneventful trip down the trail (which for some reason was several miles longer than it had been on the way up). By the time we got back to the car, the clouds had closed in and thickened, giving us a self-satisfied feeling that we had just barely sneaked in one more high country hike before the season slams shut.

P1000913

Mount Sefrit from Goat Mountain

October 6, 2009

Heliotrope Ridge

Filed under: Hiking, North Cascades — Tags: — geezerwriter @ 11:35 pm
Mount Baker over Coleman Galcier

Mount Baker over Coleman Glacier

Nine intrepid hikers set out for Heliotrope Ridge this morning.¬†The air was clear and cold on our way up the trail and we came upon some snow as we neared the 5000 foot level. Usually it is the creek crossings that give us trouble, but today it was the packed snow and ice on some steep parts that slowed us down. But they didn’t stop us and we made it to the edge of the moraine overlooking the Coleman and Roosevelt glaciers, where we found this view. There was fresh snow on Baker and the sun was behind the mountain, so everything looked fresh and icy blue.

We tried to make it all the way up the moraine to the big knob, but it got pretty steep and dicey so we pulled back to a nice sunny spot for lunch. I wanted to get to the bizarre-looking formation of ice spires that is visible near the upper right of the picture on the right, but had to settle for a telephoto close-up, below.

P1000873

The most rare and wonderful thing about this hike is to look down on a glacier. The light was hitting the Coleman Glacier at a sharp angle that emphasized the deep fissures and crevasses.

Coleman Glacier

Coleman Glacier

We made it down with some slipping and sliding and one pretty pretty good pratfall, but no injuries. The sun stayed out until we were well down into the woods, but it was pretty gloomy when we got back to the trailhead. Let’s hope the sunny weather returns for the hike to Rainbow Ridge on Thursday!

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