GeezerHiker

October 26, 2010

Rainbow’s end

Filed under: Hiking — geezerwriter @ 5:57 pm
Fron the trailhead

Fron the trailhead

I really wanted to go to Rainbow Ridge.

The first bit of cloud

The first bit of cloud

It was looking to be our last high country hike of the season. A wet, wintry weather system was approaching and over the weekend the snow level was predicted to drop down to the 3-4000′ level, which is low enough to block access to many trailheads.

Photogenic clouds

Photogenic clouds

It is a very long drive and the trail is very poor for the first three quarters of a mile, but I just love this trail. So I was watching the weather forecast closely all week and hoping that Wednesday’s nice weather would stretch out enough to make the trip worthwhile. I had been arguing with myself all week and finally agreed with myself to go for it and hope that the other hikers would agree with us.

Lunch spot

Lunch spot

And it was truly a beautiful morning. The trail was in the best shape I’d ever seen (i.e., pretty awful) but all fourteen of us made it up and down without serious mishap. When we got up on the ridge we could see the clouds coming from the south, bringing the first of the winter weather. They gradually overcame us as the day progressed, and we could watch the summer hiking season closing down before our eyes. By the time we got ready to slog back down to the trailhead, we had a sky full of clouds with only some sunbeams to remind us of a hiking season that had been unusual and frequently challenging but generally pretty fine overall.

Fare well, summer

Fare well, summer

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October 17, 2010

Goats, but no ptarmigans

Filed under: Hiking, North Cascades — Tags: — geezerwriter @ 4:08 pm
Earl on the trail

Earl on the trail

On a nippy Saturday morning Earl and I headed out the Ptarmigan Ridge trail, in hopes of finding some members of the species Oreamnos Americanus, commonly called the Rocky Mountain Goat, or just Mountain Goat, as they are native to the Cascades as well as the Rockies. Our senior hiking group had hiked this trail just a few weeks ago but this is one hike that never gets old, and I was more than happy to accompany Earl on his quest.

Hoar frost filaments

Hoar frost filaments

The sky was perfectly clear and the sun blazing bright, but the temperature had only made it up into the low 30’s when we started, and there was some fresh snow on nearby peaks. We were treated to a preview of one of the more delightful aspects of winter in the mountains – hoar frost (or rime). I’d seen hoar frost just a few times in a previous lifetime in the midwest, where it occurs when damp, foggy air contacts trees or power lines that are below freezing. It really amounts to a form of frozen dew and requires a combination of the frozen and the unfrozen that is not common in most places.

But up here in these mountains in the winter, where there is lots of damp air, especially at night, and almost daily cycles of freeze and thaw, the rime grows into long crystalline filaments of ice, forming bizarre patterns and formations. (In the pictures on the left the crystals are almost two inches long and maybe 1/10 inch thick.) In another place, the crystals had lifted the top layer of soil right off the ground – each filament had a little bit of dirt or a small stone attached to it.

Mountain Goats

Oreamnos americanus

Winter is a’coming in – and maybe that’s not such a bad thing. Viva la Niña!

We found the goats about three miles out, at just about the same place where we saw some in September, as chronicled on DJan Stewart’s excellent blog. They were just lying in the sun, soaking up the rays. When we came back a couple of hours later they had moved a few yards, but were sprawled out again. You’d think they’d be ferociously gobbling up the foliage before the snow flies in earnest, but what do I know?

Glacier Peak

Glacier Peak

Did I mention that it was clear? This is one of the few places that affords a good view of Glacier Peak, another volcano about the same size as Mount Baker, but almost 60 miles away, as the crow flies. I had never before seen it so crisp and detailed. You could also just barely make out the tip of  Mount Rainier, about 100 miles away.

View from base of Coleman Pinnacle

View from base of Coleman Pinnacle

The snow patches that gave us some trouble in September are mostly gone now, and not a moment too soon – there is a couple of inches of fresh snow in places.

Crater vapor

Crater vapor

We stopped for lunch at the end of the maintained trail, on the west side of Coleman Pinnacle, and soaked up the view. I noticed a filmy cloud stretching out from the side of Baker and got up to get a better look – often the first clouds to appear on such a clear day form a cap on the very top of Grant Peak, the main summit. But this streak seemed to be coming from the notch between Grant and Sherman peaks, the site of the active volcanic crater. I had seen the occasional little wisp of steam in this crater, but this deserved to be called a plume. Was it steam, or just a cloud that coincidentally ended at the crater?

The hike back was uneventful and gorgeous, getting prettier by the moment as the shadows lengthened. There were many other visitors, both human and canine, enjoying the day with us; they were still coming out as we got back at 4:00 and the parking area at Artist Point looked like the used car lot at the Subaru dealer. So, not exactly a wilderness experience, but it is nice to see people of all sorts and shapes and sizes, all grinning from ear to ear in the sunshine.

I’ll end with a picture that I grabbed as a cloud momentarily blocked the glare and allowed me to shoot almost straight into the sun.

Baker in the fading day

Baker in the fading day

October 15, 2010

Skyline Divide

Filed under: Hiking, North Cascades — Tags: — geezerwriter @ 12:01 pm

 

Arriving on the ridge

Arriving on the ridge

 

The skies were threatening to the west but there were blue skies to the east,  so fourteen of us hurried up toward Mount Baker on Thursday to get in a quick hike before the front moved in. Skyline Divide is on just about everyone’s short list of favorite hikes in the North Cascades – after a scant two miles on an excellent trail which climbs about 1500′, you pop out of the trees at 5800′ onto the top of a ridge that points right up at Baker. There are also great views of the Twin Sisters Range to the south, the Fraser Valley to the north, and wave after wave of mountains to the east.

 

Baker from Skyline Divide

Baker from Skyline Divide

 

When we got to the ridge we were denied the “full monty” by a layer of cloud that obscured the summit but lent a sense of drama or even danger to the scene – we were enjoying a sunny day and a temperature around 40°F, but could only imagine what it was like on that summit, only six miles away and another 5000′ feet up.

 

On Skyline Divide

On Skyline Divide

 

We hiked about another mile along the ridge, enjoying the sun. It sounds a little easier than it is, since there are some pretty good sized hills along the way. The trail goes around some of them, but still there is a good bit of up and down.

 

At a safe distance

At a safe distance

 

At one point Peggy’s sharp eyes caught sight of a black dot down in the valley to the east that seemed to be moving – a black bear. I’ve included the picture I took with my telephoto lens cranked all the way out to (the equivalent of) 400mm to show just how sharp Peggy’s eyes really are. Ah, youth! (Relatively speaking.)

 

On Skyline Divide

On Skyline Divide

 

As the morning progressed it got chillier, as the clouds around Baker expanded to fill more of the sky. And now and then the wind picked up, even to the point where you had to lean into it. Skyline Divide gets its name from the fact that it is the first high ridge you encounter as you move up the Nooksack Valley along the north side of Baker, so it forms the skyline from many common vantage points. That also means that any air that is moving either east or west around Baker has to roar right across the ridge.

But we managed to find a relatively sheltered spot to have our lunch. While most of us sat down and chewed and gossiped, Mike and Fred, two of our fastest hikers, were still too full of vinegar to sit still, and hustled on out the ridge (with a walky-talky, of course).

 

Ready to descend

Ready to descend

 

Around 12:30 I went around to the windward side of the trees and saw that the weather was noticeably closer. The blue sky was just about gone, so we headed back, hoping to get off the mountain without having to break out the rain gear. And in fact there were a few drops on the way down, but not enough to cover my sleeve, and even a couple of moments of snow flurries.

Epilog

The weather was a bit brighter than it looks on these pictures, for some reason. And the day was a huge improvement on the last time this group came here – dense fog/cloud, maybe 100 feet of visibility. If you’d like to see what the view from Skyline can be like on a truly beautiful day, I refer you to an earlier posting from last July.

October 13, 2010

Heliotropes personified

Filed under: Hiking, North Cascades — Tags: — geezerwriter @ 12:47 am

On Monday Earl and I marched up the Heliotrope Ridge trail on the north side of Mount Baker. I don’t know why it is called that – there is a flowering plant called a heliotrope but I’ve never actually seen one on this hike (although I have to admit that I wouldn’t know one if I tripped over it.) But the word “heliotrope” derives from Greek and means roughly “sun seeker” and that described us perfectly as we tried to snag one more beautiful day in the mountains. The forecast called for clear, dry weather through Wednesday (or so I thought at the time) but this was the only day we were both free.

 

Roosevelt and Coleman glaciers

Roosevelt and Coleman glaciers

 

And it worked for us – we drove out of a morning fog into sunshine and blue skies. Above is the view as we left the trees and headed up the Hogback, which leads to the most popular route for climbing to the summit of Mount Baker.

 

The Hogback

The Hogback

 

I had heard people mention “The Hogback” many times but was never sure what they were talking about, since the trail forks and the other branch goes to a prominent rock outcrop that has sort of an Arkansas Ridgeback look to it. But all doubt was dispelled when, after about half an hour of steep slogging, I turned around and looked back down the trail and took the photo at the left.

 

Ice on the rocks

Ice on the rocks

 

A bit further up, beyond the Hogback, the trail more or less disappears – it is covered by snow most of the year and there are a number of trail-ish looking pieces of ground. We had started seeing some ice in the streams at about 5000′ elevation (after we’d crossed the biggest creek, thank you very much) and by now the ice was getting to be a problem. The most desirable tracks would have led us across the larger streams, so we had to do a bit of scrambling to stay on firm, dry rock. The picture below shows Earl crossing the last stream where the ice came to a stop above the trail.

 

Earl on the rocks

Earl on the rocks

 

Earl and I both have a little problem with “summit fever” – “This is a nice place. We could stop here, or we could go on up by that big rock.” And upon arriving at the big rock, “This is nice, but how about that next little ridge?” And so on, and so forth, until we found ourselves 6000′ above sea level at the base of a very forbidding mass of black rock, with no more “little ridges” in sight.

 

Skiers from BC

Skiers from BC

 

We had seen not a soul all morning, but about ten minutes after we sat down a pair of skis popped up over the edge of the hill, attached to a young man in fashionable striped tights, and followed shortly by a half dozen of his friends. They had come from Vancouver, BC seeking some of last year’s leftover snow to slide down. They had piqued the curiosity of the border guards, shall we say, when they said they were going skiing in October, but they eventually got through and seemed to be having a wonderful time.

 

Still hunting for snow

Still hunting for snow

 

About ten minutes later, I had to crank my telephoto lens all the way out (and crop the result down) to get this picture of them making their way further up the ridge, with no snow in sight.

 

The color of the day

The color of the day

 

You can see from the photos that it was a beautiful day. The only thing missing was the brilliant red of the blueberry bushes that we’d been enjoying the last few weeks. The vegetation was mostly just turning to yellow and the best I could do was this one bush covered with red berries (I should probably know the name by now) and the purple of the moraine in the distance.

 

Earl at the Big Rock

Earl at the Big Rock

 

I had been quite comfortable sitting in the sun, but about 12:30 a cloud passed over and the temperature dropped like a stone, reminding us of how all that new ice had gotten there. Sitting and enjoying the view was suddenly a bit less charming, and pretty soon we packed up and headed back down.

 

Cloud cap forming

Cloud cap forming

 

That little cloud had been just the first of many – it seems I missed one little sentence in the weather forecast, something like “a weak front may brush the northern part of the region (i.e., us) and bring some rain.” It was still mostly clear when we got down to the tree line, but a cloud cap was forming on the summit of Baker. By the time we got to the trailhead it was winter, and back in Bellingham we were “brushed” by about a third of an inch of rain by morning.

 

One last look

One last look

 

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