February 8, 2013

Hot air Mass

Filed under: Hiking, North Cascades, Weather — Tags: — geezerwriter @ 1:30 pm

Yesterday the Senior Trailblazers took our weekly hike, this time to Gates Overlook in the Chuckanut Mountains. In addition to covering almost 2000 feet of elevation change there was a front coming through, so we encountered a broad range of weather as day went on – fog, drizzle, snow flurries and brilliant sunshine. My pictures were pretty poor but I’ll include a few to make the post look more interesting. But the main impetus for my current bloviation was something I read in another blog.


In my last posting I included a link to the Cliff Mass Weather Blog, since he is generally considered to be the Go-to Guy for weather around here. I am starting to regret that after reading his most recent post, where he made a really stupid comment.

Finally, the meteorological honor of Seattle citizens is at stake. Atlantic Monthly has called us “weather wussies” because we are sensitive to a little snow. Let them check out our hills or the ice that tends to develop after light snow. Consider that East Coast types, such as the Atlantic editorial staff, give names like “Storm of the Century” and “Perfect Storm” to events that would invoke a tepid shrug from a Northwesterner. We know who the real weather wimps are.

A cascade along Fragrance Lake Road

A cascade along Fragrance Lake Road

Can he really think that there are no hills or ice east of the Cascades? And is he really sneering at the tornados, blizzards and hurricanes that occur every year elsewhere in the country when he has to dredge up fifty year old storms like the “Columbus Day Storm” to get a decent example of inclement weather? Is he saying that a city that vilifies and throws away a perfectly good mayor because he didn’t show adequate deference to the city’s courage in facing a modest snowstorm deserves to call anyone a “weather wimp”?

No, that would be too outrageous for words. So I choose to assume that he was just kidding, and is not really an ignoramus. Maybe a bit provincial, maybe a little juvenile, but not an ignoramus. And he does seem to know a thing or two about meteorological processes so I won’t ashcan his bookmark just yet. [I left a comment on the blog – I’ll be interested to see if it is approved. It has only been a couple of hours – I’ll update when and if it appears.]

Trees and Weather

I love living in the Pacific NW, where we have been for the last 13 years, and would not gladly move anywhere else. But one of the main reasons is that the weather is so incredibly mild. One a fairly typical day recently, in the middle of “winter”, the temperature swung wildly all the way from 39 to 40 degrees! As a general rule the best way to forecast the weather for tomorrow is to look out the window today. On our hike yesterday we encountered drizzle, snow and bright sunshine, but we had to climb to 2000′ above sea level for that – in town they had mild sunny weather all day.

And I love the fact that snow is available throughout the year, but not in my driveway!

Another grand "view" - just trees in the fog

Another grand “view”

Of course everyone wants to believe that one’s own experiences are the toughest anyone has ever faced, and faulty memory can gild one’s lily (“Why when I was a pup, we walked to school fifteen miles in 40 below, dadgummit!”) but seriously, folks, even a tiny garden-variety tornado is probably more intense than anything the NW has ever seen.

The one thing that is not mild here is the wind and that may help explain why NW natives can convince themselves that the weather here is harsh. We get frequent windstorms that blow trees down left and right – we find fresh “blow-down” on almost every hiking trail in almost every winter. And that is not something I remember seeing much of before I moved out here – a big ice storm might break branches off trees, but a huge, mature tree just toppling over is not a common sight most places.

But I think that may have more to do with the nature of the trees than with the strength of the wind. Most of the trees that topple are big cedars, hemlocks and firs that have very shallow root systems, lacking the big tap root that most trees drive deep into the ground to serve as an anchor. The geology does not permit such deep roots, since in most places other than broad river valleys there is only a thin layer of soil over the bedrock.

On yesterday’s hike down the Fragrance Lake Trail in the Chuckanut Mountains south of Bellingham, as I was thinking about writing this posting, we came across an almost perfect illustration of this phenomenon.

a root plate

A root “plate”

(I didn’t do a very good job of framing the photos, but I hope you can get the idea. The two pictures are right next to each other; stepping back and taking a single photo would have shown the scale of everything better.)

In the photo on the left Amy (who is only about 5 feet tall) is giving scale to a fallen tree. This would be called a “root ball” in a horticultural publication, but root “disc” or “plate” would be a better word. These large, flat root masses are a very common sight around here. This one is about 8 feet across, but they can be much larger; there is one at the north end of Lost Lake that must be about 20 feet tall.

a nurse rock

A “nurse” rock

Right behind where Amy is standing is a fine illustration of the reason for these “plates”. What you are seeing is a set of three decent sized trees (trunks are a foot or two in diameter)  with their roots spreading across on top of a large boulder. Only in the lower right hand corner can you see the roots making contact with anything that passes for soil.

Another phenomenon associated with these fallen trees is called a “nurse log” – as a fallen tree gradually decomposes you will see other plants and even whole trees growing directly on top of the log and drawing their nourishment directly from the log. This boulder is providing very little nourishment, I imagine, but I can’t resist calling it a “nurse rock”.

sunshineBy the time we got back to the trailhead the little bits of sky that we had seen poking through the clouds for most of the day had coalesced into a glorious wall-to-wall blue. This allowed me to get one picture of the group without the blur of a shaky camera.

May 8, 2012

Mud Lake

Filed under: Hiking, North Cascades — Tags: — geezerwriter @ 9:38 am

After sitting in a meeting for most of a lovely, sunny Sunday afternoon and with the promise of another great day on Monday, I couldn’t resist the urge to get out in woods. My main excuse reason for going was that the senior hiking group is scheduled to go to Pine & Cedar Lakes this week – a popular hike that we have done many, many times – and I had heard from reliable sources that there is an unmarked trail leading from the Pine Lake spur trail down to the seldom visited, and unappealingly named, Mud Lake. The Pine & Cedar hike is fairly difficult (the first mile is quite steep) but rather short so we generally pad it by popping over to Raptor Ridge – maybe a side trip to Mud Lake would spice things up a bit.

It would definitely add a significant amount of effort to the hike. From what I could tell from two maps it would add about 2 miles to the hike each way, bringing the total to about 8 miles. Also, Mud Lake is at an elevation of about 1000 feet, 700 feet below Pine Lake, which would bring the total elevation gain for the hike up into the 2500 feet range. It did not look as if the extra 700 feet would be particularly steep, since it is spread over 2 miles; and 8 miles with 2500 feet of gain puts it among our more challenging hikes, but still within our comfort zone. (I almost choked on the word “comfort”.)

Old railroad cut

Old railroad cut

The weatherman had been right on the money – it was a beautiful morning and I dared to leave my fleece vest in the car and stuff my raincoat and long-sleeved shirt into my pack. I got a late start, hitting the trail at 9:20, and took my time on that steep first mile but still got to the Pine Lake trail (about 2 miles) at around 10:30. The turnoff to Mud Lake was not hard to find – on our last trip to Pine Lake I had noticed and wondered about it. This time it was pretty clear to me that the first part of the Pine Lake spur runs along the remnants of an old logging railroad and the Mud Lake trail is the continuation of that line. There are a couple of places where the trail passes through a narrow, and obviously artificial, cleft that is too narrow for a road but way too much effort to put into building a trail. There is also the occasional rusted piece of one-inch thick steel cable partially buried along the way.

[Most of these small mountains along the coast are laced with old logging railroads. In the latter half of the 19th century, when these hills were being stripped of timber for the first time (or two), railroads and horses were the only means of getting those pesky trees down to the saw and shake mills.]

A large mud puddle across the trail

Little mud lake

This old railroad trail continues, with occasional ups and downs and mud puddles where the slope has slumped away or an old trestle crossed a ravine, for a little over half a mile until it pops out onto a broad old logging road and begins the descent into the Samish River drainage basin. This section of road has been decommissioned and the stream culverts removed – it is shady and there is a fair amount of organic matter underfoot, so it is not an unpleasant walk. This mile is where most of the elevation loss happens.

I had thought that these conditions might continue all the way to the lake but I was pleasantly surprised when the main road turned off to the south and the way to the lake became more trail-like for the last half mile – it had also been a road at one time but was thoroughly overgrown so that only a narrow path remained.

Just as I reached the lake another newer road went off to the south and a couple of big Honda dirt bikes were parked at the side. I looked up the road and saw a medium-sized gray dog checking me out. A dog without an owner always makes me kind of nervous and I was pleased when it turned and trotted away – only then did I realize that it was a coyote. I tried to get a picture but had an episode of extraordinary clumsiness with the camera and caught little more than his ears as he passed over the crest of the hill.

Mud Lake

Mud Lake

The lake itself is pretty but unremarkable. The dirt bikes belonged to two fishermen who were out in small boats. It was now about 11:30 and I was getting a bit peckish;  I didn’t want to disturb the fishing so I just had a quick snack and headed back up the trail.

I definitely knew I was going uphill on the way back up the road, but it was just normal logging-road steepness. I got back to Pine Lake by about 1:00 (which would have been noon if I’d left at the usual time – I was on Daylight Wasting Time) and sat down for a leisurely lunch overlooking the lake and then toddled down the trail, arriving at the car at about 2:30. And I had done the whole hike in a T-shirt!

So what’s the verdict? The addition of the trip down to Mud Lake (and more importantly the “up” part) turns a moderate hike into a really good workout – it came to about 9 miles and 2600 feet of gain. There is another lovely little mountain lake but no dramatic views or other excitement. And no unpleasant surprises.

January 25, 2012

A Blustery Day

Filed under: Hiking — Tags: — geezerwriter @ 3:25 pm
Snow on trail

Snow at the Lost Lake junction

I began to question my decision to celebrate my 72nd birthday with a solo hike in the Chuckanuts as the wind began to whistle through the trees on my way up the South Lost Lake Trail. The trail was littered with debris from previous windstorms but I comforted myself by observing all the places on the trail that were NOT covered by big branches and sticks. Even if something were to fall from one of the very tall trees around me, the probability that it would happen to land on me was still very small –  on the same order as getting hit by lightning in a thunderstorm, I should think. If we worry about every bad thing that could possibly happen we would never get up the nerve to go outdoors.

That said, unlikely things do happen. In fact, unlikely things happen all the time – it is extremely unlikely that I would be typing the word “unlikely” at exactly 2:15 PM PST but that did in fact just happen! If you were dealt the poker hand {2 spades, 3 diamonds, 4 hearts, 5 clubs and 7 spades} you would think nothing of it, but that is a very rare hand: there is only one chance in 2,598,960 of being dealt that hand. It is just about the worst possible poker hand you can get, but it is just as rare and unlikely as a royal flush in spades.

Debris on trail

Debris on trail

I’ve heard characters on cop shows, when someone relates an unlikely story, say things like, “There are no coincidences.” I hope (without any conviction) that real people involved in the justice system have more sense.

But I digress. I came up on this trail to check out the state of things for Thursday’s hike by the Senior Trailblazers of Bellingham. Last year a plot of private land located along the Skagit County line and just outside of Larrabee State Park was clearcut and in the process a couple of old, unofficial trails were damaged (I.e., obliterated). Last year Fred and I went exploring up there and found what seemed to be a new connector trail skirting the destroyed area. But we didn’t follow it all the way at that time, so I thought I should check it out before taking the whole crowd down a primrose path. Again. Just before Christmas I made a wrong turn on another unofficial trail and led the group down a ridiculously steep trail that I wouldn’t recommend to anyone with any sense. (It is for mountain bikers only :-))

Dangerous missile

Dangerous missile

The outcome was mixed. The new trail does in fact connect up with the old trail to the east side of Lost Lake but it is not in terrific shape. It is quite steep in a few spots and has 2-3 inches of wet snow (which may have been washed away by today’s downpour) but is generally manageable – and it is only about a quarter mile altogether.

There was one spot, near the edge of the clearcut, where I had a lot of trouble finding my way through some fallen trees. It might be wise to reroute this trail and stay further from the clearcut – I couldn’t be sure if the deadfall was debris from the logging operation or if they had fallen because they’d lost the protection of the logged trees upslope, but I don’t think the fact that all this stuff was right outside the clearcut is a coincidence. (Of course, it could be – unlikely things do happen, after all.)

Anyways, it wasn’t at all obvious but I did find a pretty decent way through that obstacle, so I give it a “thumbs up” for Thursday.

About noon the wind was really picking up and the trees were beginning to make some alarming motions, as you can see and hear on this video clip. When a wind gust came along, most of the sound was the familiar whisshhh-ing of wind through evergreens, but quite a bit louder. But now and then it was accompanied by an ominous low-pitched roar that reminded me of a passing ‘L’ train from my days back in Chicago.

So I kept an eye on the tall trees as I hustled back down the trail – my brain was still droning on about probabilities but feet were skedaddlin’.

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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