GeezerHiker

June 20, 2010

Welcome, everyone!

Filed under: Hiking, North Cascades — geezerwriter @ 10:51 am

I was amazed on Thursday morning when 17 hikers turned out on a cloudy, drizzly morning for our hike to Welcome Pass. It is by far the steepest trail in the area, and was the source of many moans and groans last year when we did it as a group for the first time. A combination of a low snow line due to a lot of May snow and closures for road work had closed off most trails and we chose Welcome Pass only as a last resort.

Gore-Tex centipede

The Great Gore-Tex Centipede

The trail climbs more than 2700 feet in less than three miles, which doesn’t sound outlandish – trails that climb at 1000 feet per mile are considered pretty steep, but there are several others: Goat Mt, Excelsior Pass and Church Mt all reach that steepness at times. But the trick here is that the trail follows and old logging road track for the first mile and only goes up 400 feet – that leaves less than 2 miles for the remaining 2300 feet, working out to an average of about 1300 feet per mile.

The other striking thing about the trail is its compactness – that steep section covers only 0.7 mile as the crow flies: there are 67 switchbacks. I was setting a pretty slow pace (i.e., as fast as I could go without my heart exploding) so we were grouped closer together than usual – some of the switchbacks are so close together that only 4 or 5 hikers could fit on one segment. In the picture on the left (whose dreadful quality is probably due to some combination of rain, darkness, poor focus and camera movement) I have just passed a switchback and am looking down on the previous segment. In the lower left corner, Fred in his orange hat is on the segment below that one. Once on a snowshoe trip in the Sierras, someone commented that the chain of hikers looked like an enormous Gore-Tex centipede, but I’m not sure that centipedes can bend like that – we were more like a multi-colored sidewinder.

Welcome Pass

Welcome Pass

We encountered packed snow across the trail at about 4800 feet. That was much better than I’d hoped for, since the previous week we only got to 4400 feet on the Excelsior Pass trail just a few miles away. It hasn’t been terribly warm, so I was not expecting a whole lot of melting action, although the streams have been running very high and fast. I said as a joke that maybe this slope was too steep for snow to accumulate, but I’m not sure it’s a joke.

It was a difficult slog up through the snow, but we did make it all the way to the pass. The person who had left a set of boot tracks did a good job of following the trail, as it showed through the snow every now and then. Unfortunately, he may have been related to Paul Bunyon – I could hardly ever stretch my legs from one bootprint to the next, so I had to kick in a lot of fresh tracks. (Is there a rule that short people are never allowed to blaze trails?) And since the surface of this packed and melting snow is slippery and irregular and littered with cones and needles, it can be a real advantage to step in a spot which has been flattened and compressed by a boot.

Down thru the snow

Down thru the snow

The pass itself looked for all the world like winter had returned full force. Last year several hikers went on up the ridge to the hill to the east to enjoy the great views, but this time everyone was quite content to remain at the pass for lunch. We were right in the heart of the cloud that had been gently misting us all morning, and the only view was of the trees we had lately been walking through.

The way back down was as difficult in some ways as the way up. Several people took a tumble in the snow, and there was a lot of slipping, sliding and pratfalls even below the snow line. Did I mention that it was steep? And then there were the loose rocks and stones, the saturated ground…

This last picture I believe captures the day in a number of ways – the wet ground, the snow, the fog. Amy and Kathy are, once again, one switchback away and you can see how intently they are picking their way down the snow. And between them in the misted distance you can see Mike, in his shorts, at least one switchback further back.

I can still feel just the slightest twinges in my quads and glutes on Sunday morning, but it is much better than last year, when I didn’t regain full use of lower body until the following Tuesday. I remember going to the gym (i.e., sauna) on that Saturday and just stepping off a curb was painful. I was in a choral concert that evening and was seriously concerned that I would not be able to get down off the risers without assistance.

What was different this year? The slower pace? Better conditioning? (This was our third high country hike.) We’re certainly not getting any younger!

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1 Comment »

  1. It was the same for me, Al: last year I was MUCH more sore, but this year I was actually able to walk the day after Welcome Pass. I think the Celebrex helped me, as well as the slower pace. And other than the weather, which was not so great, I think most of us were glad we were there!

    Comment by DJan — June 20, 2010 @ 11:58 am


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