April 20, 2011

Bushwhacking Olsen Creek – Act I

Filed under: Hiking, North Cascades — Tags: — geezerwriter @ 5:48 pm

On our last Senior Trailblazers hike of 2010 we explored some trails on Stewart Mountain east of Lake Whatcom in hopes of getting to a spot with a nice view of the Twin Sisters. But we were not successful – the trails that I thought would join just below the view don’t quite. But there is a point where they are only about a quarter mile apart at about the same elevation. The woods at this point looked pretty open – the usual number of fallen trees and debris but not a lot of underbrush – so I had been planning for the last few months to get back up there and see if I could find a usable path between the trails. By last Tuesday (4/12) the mountain, which is visible from the north side of Bellingham, seemed to be largely free of snow so I packed up my GPS, some orange flagging tape, a pruning shears and a small saw and set off to see what I could see.

The bushwhack is the pink line

The bushwhack is the pink line

I got a late start (9:30) so it took me until about 11:00 to cover the 3.2 miles from the Whatcom Backcountry Horsemen’s trailhead on Y Road to the point where Trail #8 comes closest to what I call the Ogallala Trail (near its start some displaced Nebraskan has tacked up a sign “Ogallala 1,450 mi”).

On the right is a map of the area. The brownish line coming in from the top of the map  is Trail #5, the one that crosses Olsen Creek and climbs very steeply up to join Trail #8 (near wear the yellow track comes in from the east) and proceeds on south and turns and heads off the west side of the map. See DJan’s blog for a description of our recent adventure in this area. The green track is the Ogallala Trail that goes to the Sisters View at its eastern end and leads back to the west to the Y Road trailhead. The yellow line is a road that goes through a new clearcut – see this blog post for a description that misadventure.

My plan was to go from the north end of the pink line to the south end. If you enlarge the map (by clicking it) you can see that the two ends are at about the same elevation, roughly 2100-2150 feet. I intended to follow along the contour and try to keep pressing uphill (to the east) and gain some elevation as I went – if I got high enough I might hit one of the other of the Ogallala’s zigs and zags, which would be cool; if I were to veer too far to the west I would lose elevation and miss that part of the Ogallala altogether, which would be very uncool.

The plan worked pretty well, if I do say so myself. There is an inviting open swale leading slightly uphill in a southerly direction. The going was slow since I stopped to put up a lot of pieces of flagging tape, and sometimes backtracked when I found a better path, but the going was not very difficult.

The worst spots were the two stream crossing – the streams are small and easy to step across once you get to them, but their steep little “canyons” present a bit of challenge. Instead of just charging down to the stream and climbing back up the other side, I tried to keep to a contour line and travel back up the “canyon” (really more of a “notch”) to meet the stream on my level. And then there are the logs that inevitably gravitate, quite literally, to the bottom of any stream bed.

After a little over an hour I ended up a bit on the high side of the destination, but not as much as I’d hoped, even though I was consciously pressing uphill the whole way. It was striking to me how easy it is to lose elevation when you are off trail. Every time you step around an obstacle, chances are you’ll choose the downhill side and it all adds up. Or subtracts down. Or whatever.

The senior hiking group is scheduled to go Olsen Creek tomorrow, but we didn’t specify which of the several trails. Perhaps if it turns out to be a fine day the lure of a great mountain view will enable me to talk my friends into trying this loop. The whole thing (up Trail #8, over to the Ogallala, up to the Sisters View and back down the Ogallala) would add up to about 9-10 miles.

GPS Aggravation

My Garmin GPSMap 60CSx is supposed to be the best thing for hikers since convertible pants but I have had issues with its accuracy since I got it. Well, not really the accuracy: the problem is inconsistency and internal disagreements. For the length of a hike, I will normally get very different readings from the odometer (and other readings which add up all the little distances as you go along) and the length of the track log (which saves points at intervals as you go along and then adds up the distances between the saved points). The latter will usually be much lower, since the gadget seems to interpret the fact that I am moving very slowly (being a very old person going up very steep hills) as if I were stopped, so it doesn’t add anything to the total distance.

On the other hand the track log usually overstates the distance because there are small errors in each position reading (maybe 10 to 30 feet) so when I really AM stopped it sees my location as randomly popping 10 feet this way and 20 feet that way, etc., etc. and adds in all those spurious distances when calculating the total. This is still, I believe, the more accurate reading especially since I can easily find and delete the extra stuff after I upload the track to my computer, where they seldom changes the length by more that a tenth of a mile.

I just hate those “usually”s – the rare instances when the odometer is actually reads higher than the track log completely boggle my mind.

(BTW, Garmin and REI have both demonstrated a stunning lack of interest in such things. The fact that everything works perfectly and consistently when using the device in a car or even when walking quickly shows that it is software failure in the way they are handling the (admittedly difficult) problem of using a (necessarily) imperfect location to detect whether one is truly stopped or just puttering around like a drunken snail. Did I mention that this device is NOT an automotive GPS and is marketed specifically to hikers?)

The most definitive, but by no means unique, errors I’ve seen are these two: One day at the start of the Goat Mountain hike, which starts with some very broad switchbacks, I noticed after 4 or 5 switchbacks that the odometer reading was significantly less than the straight-line distance back to the trailhead. Mr. Euclid would have something to say about that.

More is not better

On the Boundary Way hike one time, I happened to notice that the trailhead was very close to 4300 feet elevation (according to Garmin) and the summit was almost exactly 5300′. The overall grand total elevation gain was 750′, however. Mr. Euclid would be no less displeased with that outcome.

Anyways, on this bushwhack it occurred to me to try fiddling with the GPS’s settings. It allows you to choose to have it save points more or less often than “normal” and I wanted a very accurate track, so I selected the option of “most often”. Seemed like a good idea at the time, but the result was pretty awful. The second illustration is an enlargement of a portion of the resulting track. Admittedly I was not moving in a very straight line, but that’s ridiculous! The straight line distance for the trip (the pink line in the upper map) is 0.2 mile but the GPS track log distance was 1.6 miles. Maybe “less often” would work better.

April 5, 2011

Putting the “Lost” back in Lost Lake – Chapter 2

Filed under: Hiking — Tags: — geezerwriter @ 9:06 pm
Heading away from Raptor Ridge

Heading away from Raptor Ridge

On Thursday the Trailblazers are scheduled for a hike “Pine & Cedar Lakes / Raptor Ridge – 10 miles”. I don’t exactly remember what we had in mind when we made the schedule but the only way I can think of to stretch that hike to 10 miles would be to start at the Pine & Cedar trailhead and end at Arroyo Park, shuttling cars as necessary.

I’ve never been thrilled with that hike since the last half is on the Hemlock Trail which is a nice name for the old logging road that extends from California Street into the hills. And getting 10 miles might be a bit of a stretch, too

And I’ve been hearing about a new trail from Raptor Ridge to Lost Lake (or was it “to Lost Lake Trail”?) and thought maybe we could have a bit of fun checking that out. So I went up today to explore it.

I started up the Pine & Cedar Lakes trail at about 9:30 and got to Raptor Ridge at about 11:00. The weather was mostly dry with an occasional light shower. The only person I saw was another solitary man who passed me about halfway up the steep part of the trail – and then I ran into him again on the Raptor Ridge spur trial as he was coming down. I asked him if he knew anything about the new trail and he said “No” and that he hadn’t seen anything new. I had just a vague recollection of a conversation I’d had some time ago, but I recalled that the new trail started pretty close to the end of the trail, so I kept on going and kept my eyes open.

And Lo! at the point where the trail takes the last little left-hand turn, about a hundred feet from the viewpoint on the Ridge, there was the suggestion of a track forking off to the right. It didn’t look like much, maybe just a spur where hikers leave the trail to commune with nature, but I could see some flagging tape off in the distance. When I got to the flagging, I could see more of it heading off to the south in a small valley. As the picture above shows, the “trail” was basically a marked bushwhack – little or no actual tread. I had to pick my steps carefully but there was plenty of flagging and no huge obstacles, so I had little fear of getting lost and forged ahead eagerly.

Now I had it in my mind that this trail would go to Lost Lake. My GPS has a waypoint at the lake’s outlet into Oyster Creek from our last hike there (from the opposite direction) so I set it to point there. It indicated that it was 1.59 miles as the crow flies – and only a very drunk or stupid crow indeed would follow a route anything like what I was doing. And a bit later it said 1.70 miles – I was going down a series of broad switchbacks, usually aiming either north or south, but with the only actual progress being to the west. So I doubted that I was going to end up at the lake itself, and would at best come out on the North Lost Lake trail.

Looking ahead...

Looking ahead...

... and turning around

... and turning around

The trail got better in fits and starts as I proceeded. Some portions are pretty well cleared and built up, others not so much. I was on a very good section when I came to a pile of rocks and the sight in the picture on the left – just a piece of flag tape or two and some fresh stumps to mark the way. I turned around and took the picture on the right – a very nice trail, indeed.

The only problem occurred about halfway along when I came to a little open swale where the best looking track headed off to the west, but the flagging seemed to lead to the north. I putzed around for quite awhile trying one dead end after another and finally came across, largely by accident, a beaten track heading in a likely direction. A few steps along that track I caught sight of a bit of flagging in the distance and was back on the trail.

The rest of the trail is mostly in very good shape, except for one stretch that is pretty primitive (to put it mildly) but well flagged. The last half mile seems to be a finished, even mature, trail.

And it does come out on North Lost Lake trail (another old road). And my GPS still read about 1.5 miles to the Lost Lake outlet. I had gone about 4.25 miles at that point – I didn’t know it at the time but that point is much closer to the Madrona Crest and Salal trails than it is to Lost Lake.

On the way back I filched some old pieces of flagging that had fallen on the ground (on parts of the trail that no longer needed them) and used them to mark the tricky spots. So now I think it would be reasonable to bring the Trailblazers here on Thursday – we have to earn our name now and then!

I can see a number of possibilities for incorporating this new trail, but I’ll have to look the maps over carefully tomorrow to confirm that the distances are reasonable.

  1. Do what I did today – 8.5 miles out and back, a couple thousand feet of gain. I got to Raptor Ridge (the second time) at about 1:15, so we would probably be there close to noon for lunch.
  2. Do the 4.25 miles that I did today, and then take Lost Lake trail north to a car shuttle at Arroyo. This might be a bit skimpy, but we could pass by Madrona Crest and take the Hush-Hush trail to add some distance.
  3. Like #2, but after Madrona Crest head back up the Hemlock Trail and do a lollipop back to the Pine & Cedar trail. I like the idea of this one, I do have to check the distances.
  4. Head up to Lost Lake for lunch and back to Arroyo. This might get up into the 11-12 mile range, with a lot of hard road surface.

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