Continuing this year's trend of hikes with conditions seemingly months ahead of the weather schedule, I left my skis at home to hike up to Camp Muir, the popular base camp for climbers at Mt. Rainier National Park. I wanted to test my legs on a good outing as I just underwent minor surgery and will not be able to hike, climb, or bike for weeks. I also wanted to make use of one of the new mounts I got for my GoPro, clipping it to my pack strap. With the camera set to take one photo per second, I departed Paradise (5400') and did a single push to Camp Muir (10,100') in 2 hours 55 minutes, only stopping once to change out the GoPro battery. Some other new equipment used on this journey: a Panasonic Lumix LX100 camera and a 3 liter Geigerrig pressurized bladder. The weather was sublime and I was comfortable, sometimes even sweltering, in just a base layer and a windshirt. Very much like a hike in June or July. After arriving at Muir I lounged, ate lunch and took photos, chatting it up with a HS friend of my daughter's who just happened to be there with her dad. On the way down the conditions were too sloppy for a good plunge step and I found myself sinking up to my knees on occasions higher up, but this goes with the territory. My footwear consisted of Inov8 running shoes (GoreTex lined) and some gaiters. One might get the impression from the time lapse that this is a benign hike, but the weather can turn nasty higher on this mountain and people have perished on the Muir snow field in years past. Hikers, exercise caution and good sense, especially when it comes to sun protection! But if you have ever wondered what this hike is all about, take the 6 minute journey.
A topic of discussion last year was the migrating Quinault River and how it had undercut the foundation of the historic Enchanted Valley Chalet. Read my trip report here on that April 7th, 2014 trip. The chalet was moved about a hundred feet from that position and is now safe from toppling into the river, at least temporarily. With still warm temps and a sunny Sunday (2/22/15) forecast, I decided to pop out to the Olympics and revisit the Enchanted Valley and snap some pix. This classic rain forest hike is longish in distance (26 miles roundtrip) but benign in elevation gain and loss, but what makes it a bear is the almost 4 hour drive, one way, to the trailhead from my house. Just like last year, I had to put in a 20 hour day. However, I further complicated matters by noticing that some critical items were missing from my pack when I stopped to adjust things about a mile into the hike. Worrying that I had left these items back at the trailhead or the vehicle, I backtracked to check, to no avail. Turns out I had left them at home while repacking, so with now a 28 mile day ahead of me I set off once again. The lack of snow on the trail is not unusual because of the lower elevation, but I enjoyed a 2 layer day on an uncrowded trail (saw 2 hikers all day), stopping to snap shots of ferns growing out of moss covered trees and occasional blow down scrambling and mud hopping, the usual results of winter rains and winds before annual trail maintenance. When I arrived at the Chalet I lingered for maybe 30 minutes snapping pix and enjoying the day, but cognizant of the remaining 13 miles back to the vehicle and another 4 hour drive home. The chalet is resting on its moving accoutrements of steel beams and wooden blocks, waiting for a more permanent resting spot, if indeed one is available on this ever shifting eroding flood plain. The river is running straight again rather than the turn it took by the chalet to undercut the foundation, but who knows what future path it will take? Now it seems I rather enjoy coming here on off season times and perhaps might even spend a night sometime, if I can sit still long enough.
Summerland is an extremely popular hike in Mt. Rainier National Park during....the summer. It offers spectacular views and is under 10 miles for the roundtrip. Winter is a whole different animal; usually. The Pacific Northwest is "enjoying" very mild weather and low snow accumulations. I wanted to see firshand what was up so a trip to Summerland was in order. However, access is limited as HW 410 is closed from the Crystal Mountain turnoff, meaning that access to this area of the park is usually limited to snomobiles or people on snowshoes or skins willing to trek 9 miles into the park just to access the trailhead. For me it was a matter of mounting my mountain bike and enjoying snow free roads until less than half a mile from the trailhead. The following shots are frame grabs from video I took a week earlier when I checked out the road with my buddy.
When I hit the trail I knew that the lower portion was mostly snow free but really didn't know what to expect as I ascended. What my feet found were isolated patches of snow all the way to the bridge crossing of Fryingpan Creek at 5000 feet and then continuous snow from that point. There were faint tracks, probably made by a couple of skiers from the prior weekend, and I followed these until I disagreed with their route, ascending a steep gully. I descended and explored until I found a suitable crossing of a feeder creek and from that point it was fairly straightforward and easy travel up the valley. The actual trail to Summerland ascends via switchbacks but when snow is present it is much easier to simply go up the valley and curve left to Summerland. The snow conditions couldn't have been better, with just enough grip and give to walk upward. In fact, the snow was so amenable to boot work that I was able to run my route in reverse on the way back. I trudged upward in an arc to about 6000 feet where it was easy to cross a gulley and then made a descending beeline for the Summerland shelter. Although snow covered the entire area, the depth is rather low, with no tree wells to speak of in Summerland. What with the warm temperatures and sunlit day, this hike reminded me of a late June or early July trip. I basked in the sun for a leisurely lunch and trotted back to the trailhead, all the while marveling that it was mid February and I was dressed in but a base layer and a wind shirt. With the favorable conditions the speed of the hike was also summerlike: I started the bike at 8 AM, hit the trail at 9:30, had lunch from noon to 12:30 and was back at the trailhead by 2 PM. After another snack break and with only a few hundred feet of climbing on the bike out of the park to the junction with HW 410, the downhill romp to my vehicle had me done at 3 PM. This was a 28 mile trip (18 biking) with 3800 feet of elevation gain. The fact that this was doable on February 18th is what makes it remarkable. Now, we need some snow!
This is the time of year where people are making plans for potential trips, so I wanted to share some points about Wonderland Trail planning as I get lots of the same questions over the next few months from people perusing my site.
I had been putting off purchasing a satellite communicator for a few years as I just didn't see the need until my daughter and I planned a trip in 2014 to Washington's Pasayten Wilderness for 8 days. My wife would have no contact with us for over 9 days, and questions arise like, at what point do I get worried? At what point do I call someone? What if something happens to you on day 2....by the time I realize you are in trouble it would have been over a week?
With my daughter back from school for the holidays we managed to get in a couple more hikes before we say farewell to 2014, once again taking advantage of excellent weather for the Pacific Northwest: clear and cold.
Following last year's "Willis Wall Snippets: 2013" and "Happy Holidays from Gossamer Gear" I decided to start an annual review/Holiday message, incorporating video and photos I've had the pleasure to collect over this past year. Here's wishing all readers a Wonderland Holiday season and best wishes for 2015.
A natural tendency when one acquires a new piece of gear is to share one's excitement, perhaps via blog. I try to wait until I have enough experience with a piece of equipment before I do an actual review, and an appropriate amount of time has passed to render an opinion on the ZPacks Arc Slim pack. I've put a few hundred miles on the pack, including a full day of drenching rains. In a nutshell, not too shabby.
Well, I've used the ZPacks Duplex for a year now with enough time to render some observations. To qualify, I am not talking many nights, as I use a number of different shelter systems depending on the trip. Probably the best test was this year's Pasayten Wilderness hike with my daughter where we spent 8 nights out. That said, my general impressions are this may be as close to the ideal backpacking tent as a manufacturer can come. The reasons?