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Ready for another Round The Mountain trail? My daughter and I did Mt. Hood's fabulous Timberline Trail on August 17.

Wednesday
Sep022015

Exploring the Alpine Lakes Wilderness

The Alpine Lakes Wilderness is nestled in Washington State's Central Cascades region, consisting of 394,000 acres of glacial scoured wonder. My daughter and I spent a week transiting and exploring some of this area, albeit during a period of unsettled weather. Damp skies didn't dampen our spirits and in fact, unsettled weather makes for uncrowded trails, even at the end of summer.

Icicle Ridge (8/27-28)

Lake GraceWith iffy weather forecasts all over, my daughter and I were trying to work around possible weather, and we got really lucky on this one. We hiked from the Icicle Creek trailhead to Lake Grace on day 1, leaving us plenty of time to lounge before dark and scope out a possible foray to Upper Grace Lake, a nasty looking scramble from our vantage point. She had about 4 possible choices for day two and we agreed if the weather was good on the second day we would get up early and go for the upper lake. However, it started raining and continued through most of the night, so we stayed in for awhile and got up when it seemed to abate. We decided to continue on a shortish loop for day 2 and do as much as we could before the rains started, but the forecast rains never came and we enjoyed a dry day. We enjoyed solitude until the last part of day 2 when we ran into some hikers up around Lake Edna. We were somewhat baffled by one couple who were scantily clad with one small pack asking if the parking lot was up here (at the time we had just crested a pass at 6800 feet). They had climbed the Chatter Creek trail over 4000 feet...??? We showed them the map and pointed out that whatever the ranger told them about a 10 mile loop something was amiss, so they reluctantly turned around and descended the very steep and unrelenting trail back the way they came. We were wondering if they were still going to be a couple the next day. This trip was approximately 28 miles with some pretty good pulls both uphill and down. Overall we thought the scenery was spectacular and ever changing.

Lake Mary

Kendall Katwalk (8/30)

Kendall Katwalk, abyss obscuredJust up the road off I-90, this 12 mile round trip with 3000 feet of elevation gain and loss is a great trainer for keeping the legs loose, plus it takes one to one of the more unique spots in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness on the PCT, the Kendall Katwalk. This part of the trail is blasted into a sheer rock face with a thousand foot drop, pretty cool when you can see but very eerie when the clouds obscure the drop as was our case. It was cold and wet above 5000 feet and we didn't linger long, although staring into the white abyss was somewhat mesmerizing. We retreated around a corner and ate a quick snack before stoking the internal furnace and bringing feeling back into our fingertips on the way down. Before the relatively short drive home we stopped for hot chocolate and coffee, discussing how the summer seemed to come to an abrupt halt and give way immediately to winter like conditions, sans snow.


Enchantments (8/31-9/02)

Our first trip to the Enchantments found them virtually empty, probably because of 65 MPH winds and forecasts of snow. Some rangers told us people were bailing left and right. However, we had our permits so we were bound to take a looksee. Starting at the Snow Lakes trailhead, we began our 5000 foot climb with cloudy skies but no rain, eventually passing said rangers and then a group of 7 older campers. Quite a delightful group indeed, with whom we would cross paths the next day. There were a few other groups leaving or camped at Nada Lake but after this we would only see a couple running the transit. When we reached Snow lake at 5400 feet we took a break and discussed our options with the iffy weather forecast, where we decided to pitch our camp amidst a sheltered spot. If we had continued on from here, the next available option would have been at Leprechaun Lake at 6700 feet. We settled in for the evening, digging into our extravagant food selection and hunkered down for the night.

goat above Nada Lakelarches starting to turn above 6000'On Day 2 we got up after a very windy night and decided to leave the tent where it was and go up to explore the upper Enchantments on an out and back. If the weather turned out to be decent our plan was to tag Aasgard pass and then come back. However, once above 6000 feet we were met with driving mist most of the day and much lower temperatures, although the forecast snow was absent. Photo ops were few as just taking the camera out had to be with my back to the wind, but we still enjoyed the breathtaking surroundings wrapped in our 3 layers. I packed two cameras, one with a good telephoto for all the goat shots I anticipated, but even the goats had abandoned the upper reaches and the few shots I took lower down were the only ones to be had. Once we reached Perfection it was close to 2 PM so we decided to turn back and get over the slippery granite well before dark. Much to our delight the weather lessened its onslaught, the rains abated and the winds calmed and the descent from over 7000 feet back to our camp was almost pleasant. This entire day we saw 4 people, a couple of couples who were transiting from one trailhead to the other....not one occupied campsite was to be seen, possibly a rare event for this time of year. Once we reached Snow Lake we ran into our relocated group of 7 and chatted with them again, lamenting that we had no hot chocolate so two cups were produced for us...it's nice to have a daughter around with big eyes just glowing with hot chocolate neediness.

Lake Vivianelower Enchantment trailBack in our camp we pondered the next day but my wife was texting the weather forecasts (via DeLorme) and high winds, snow and even thunder quelled our ambitions to ascend for a second day. In fact, most of the night the gusts were loud and strong enough to keep me awake at first, assessing the tent's ability to withstand what made it through the trees as my daughter snored beside me. I was quite glad we were not camped at 7000 feet that evening for sure. We awoke to sunny skies, lingered in the chill for awhile and met lots of people coming up the trail with the sun beating down. I hope the weather treats them well despite the forecasts. Our plan is to return next year and endure hot weather or perhaps at least transit from Aasgard across in one shot, it really is a special place that lives up to the hype...especially when it is uncrowded.

one section of the Alpine Lakes

Saturday
Aug292015

Mt. Hood Timberline Trail (RTM)

Warning on the Cloud Cap sideFirst it should be noted that the Timberline Trail is officially closed over Eliot Creek ever since a washout occurred in 2006, eradicating that portion of the trail. However, one can still negotiate the entire circuit by crossing the Eliot area at your own risk. Do a quick search and lots of info will pop up from Oregon Hikers and other sources. See below for more information on this crossing. Otherwise we found the Timberline trail to be quite delightful and easily doable in two days, although in our case with the drive we didn't start the hike CW from Timberline lodge until noon on day 1. Various sources say the Timberline is 40 miles with 8,000 feet of climb. We started our hike on August 17. Timberline Trail photo set here.

Because of the 4 hour drive, with stops for food and lunch at the parking lot, we didn't actually start hiking until noon on Monday. The Warm Springs fire in Oregon made for hazy skies and washed out horizons, a typical scene in the Northwest recently for sure. The trail starts out sharing the PCT, where we crossed a creek on the only bridge we would see for the rest of the hike. There are a few things that make the Timberline "delightful", one being the abundant fresh water sources found all around the trail (no need to tanker), the other being the excellent tread and mild inclines....ultra runners must love this area, as one can stride steadily with little interruption both uphill and downhill. However, interruptions there are, and these come in the form of glacial torrents which must be negotiated on one's own, don't expect any blow downs to assist. Each crossing requires study for the best passage, and we found that 5 times we had to go feet wet. In any event, our first day was just trying to forge at least 15 miles up the trail to get established so our second day wouldn't be too extreme. Luckily, right at 7 PM and 15 miles in we found an excellent bivy spot in the woods and settled down for some good sleep in anticipation of the next day.

Day 2 had us wondering when the great trail would peter out, but it never did. We did a crossing or four and strode with the heat in mind until we finally came to the infamous Eliot Creek crossing, where an ominous sign just begged for us to peek over the edge. What we saw was a little daunting, but the unofficial trail kept going up and we followed this to an obvious point where we could descend, very hard to miss. This trail brought us to the western rope, which was supposed to be the steepest, but in truth the slope looked very doable without assistance. However, we utilized the rope anyway and eventually made our way to the creek proper. In my impatience I just forged across right across from the opposite trail but I would highly recommend that one avoid this, as the rushing water was boiling up to my waist. There are some big rocks that can be lept for those going light and agile enough but we opted out. Even before I was across Cassie was thinking "no way am I crossing there", and I was thinking "no way is she crossing here." She made her way upstream with me paralleling her course on the other side until a much milder shin deep ford was possible, and I was thinking "I shoulda gone there." We made our way down stream to pick up the even milder trail and rope assist that took us back to the top of the moraine and down a short section of unofficial trail to reintercept the "real" Timberline.

setting sun on Mt. Hood's Yokum Ridgecrossing the freezing and raging Eliot CreekFrom there we began a gradual climb up to the highest point on the trail (7300') past the Cooper Spur trail with wide open views of the mountain and the hazy horizon. After a long chat with a couple camped at the high point, we started a nice trot on excellent trail that took us into nightfall, where we negotiated two more river crossings in the dark. However, the final crossing at the White River before finishing up was described as "most difficult" and we decided that we would get within 5 miles of the destination and find a place to bivy, allowing us a full night's sleep, an easier drive and a daylight crossing of the "most difficult" river, which turned out to be a relative piece of cake. However, the wide flood plain in fact would have proved difficult for night navigation so we were glad we waited. We arrived back at our vehicle well before 10 AM so enjoyed the rare experience of cleaning up, eating lunch and driving IN DAYLIGHT back home....wow. To sum, we enjoyed this trail so much we both agreed that a future repeat visit was not out of the question. sunset on the Cooper Spur


Friday
Aug142015

Mt Rainier Grand Tour: Part 2 (Elysian/Moraine Loop)

our route across the Elysian Fields and Moraine ParkI’d venture a guess that the majority of people hiking Mt. Rainier’s Northern Loop Trail are unaware that they are orbiting one of the most pristine and picturesque areas of the park, guarded on all sides by tall ramparts that shield it from the hiking masses like a lost world. One must pay dues to pass these barriers, dues only acquired by venturing off trail and developing cross country skills that befit the task. Fortunately, people who pay these dues are also most likely to be familiar with LNT practices and awareness of the fragility of places like the Elysian Fields and will tread accordingly. In crafting the Grand Tour, transiting the Elysian Fields and Moraine Park in one fell swoop seemed worthy of a separate hike in and of itself. See all the photos of the Elysian Loop here.
The 3 Barriers
What makes this hike difficult is transiting the entire interior. Accessing the Elysian Fields isn’t so hard and many a climber have entered to knock off the local peaks, staying high and above the fields. Also, getting into Moraine Park from the other side is only a moderate scramble. However, the terrain that lies between proved to be the most difficult, not so much exiting the area of the Fields, the latter part being a solid class 3 boulder climb, but descending into Moraine Park. This area of rocks and boulders on a steep slope required testing of every handhold and footstep, as the whole caboodle seemed to be precariously perched on top of each other just waiting to become unglued and cascade down the slope. There were perhaps slightly better lines on either side when we surveyed at the bottom but probably not by much.
Day 1
Sunrise to Windy Gap (13 miles/2000’)
Windy GapWe started out around 9 AM with this first day positioning ourselves to hit the interior the next morning by camping on a cross country permit in the vicinity of Tyee Peak at Windy Pass. As this was my daughter’s first real hike since returning home, it made for a nice warmup. The skies were strangely white, making the mountain blend in seamlessly against this backdrop, cool in a way but terrible for photography. We ran into a fair amount of people doing the NLT in the opposite direction, some with packs so huge it looked like they borrowed the one from “Wild.” It also seemed their suffering was proportionate….we saw a lot of hikers in pain. We enjoyed a bug free journey most of the day with just a few near Lake James, taking in the vistas of Grand Park and the picturesque creek rambling through Berkeley. Anticipating perhaps scant water at Windy Gap we made sure we tankered for the evening and set up camp next to a waning tarn that housed a lone duck. Due to our short evening the night before we were anxious to hit the hay early, and after bean burritos for dinner we were both fast asleep by 8 PM.

Day 2
Windy Gap to Sunrise via the Interior Total: 17 miles/5500' (Elysian/Moraine transit 6.8/2500’-WT return 10 miles/3000')

surmounting the second barrierWhen looking at our entry point from our camp site, our first thought was “wow, that looks steep from here.” However, we had already done this 5 years ago when Cassie was 15 so we knew it was a go and that the angle was exaggerated from a distance. The weather looked good and we struck off at 8 AM, reaching Crescent Gap just past 9. As you crest the gap the mountain explodes in your face. This mini lost world houses bear, elk, birds, bugs and amphibia galore. We descended towards the floor, looking for a spring fed creek we knew was there and were relieved to see it was still trickling. We tanked again and proceeded to tread lightly across the grass to the first of a series of shallow ponds. One of the delights of being here is to shed shoes and partake of the cleansing foot massage that comes with wading in the muddy shallows. The tadpoles were mostly gone, having already sprung legs to assist in their hiding from the white legged creatures. We lingered and snacked and took in the sights, enjoying the utter solitude that comes as a reward for surmounting the first barrier. However, not wanting to wear out our welcome, we reluctantly left this small paradise behind and climbed the steep treed slopes to the boulder field above. If we had peak bagging in mind this is the spot we would have continued up to Old Desolate, but we still had a long day ahead so climbed straight up a nicely glued boulder field to assess our options for dropping down to Moraine Park. We had studied photos I took looking across to this area from last year and were surprised that the slope was more intimidating than the photos seemed to show. As mentioned earlier, our route went down a steep unstable rock and boulder field and we were relieved to finally make it to the bottom fields of Moraine Park. Once again we lingered for awhile, finding another spring fed creek where we tanked yet again, having consumed liters of liquid through the strenuous activity of a rather warm day. We briefly explored the option of descending to the Wonderland via the outlet creek but found that was a sheer droop off. This meant we had to ascend yet again, climbing up to the plateau that overlooks Moraine Park. However, the going was relatively easy and the only barrier left was the descent down a relatively mild wash, at least compared to the rest of the day. We emerged from the trees into the meadow with the Wonderland Trail in sight and finally stepped foot on this highway at 5 PM. All that was left was a 10 mile jaunt back to Sunrise and another 3000’ of climb, but the trail was so mellow on our feet that we couldn’t complain about anything. When we arrived at Mystic Lake we stopped by the shore and enjoyed a dinner of margarita pizza (Packitgourmet) while basking in a slightly red setting sun, sparkling in reflection on the water. We finished the hike on tired legs in the dark, arriving back at Sunrise amid throngs of people watching the Perseids. campsite below Tyee Peak (ZPacks Duplex)



Saturday
Jul252015

Mt Rainier Grand Tour: Part 1 (East)

Morning on the Grand Tour (7000')My familiarity with Mt. Rainier led me to consider a trek that would cross all zones, climb high and go off trail, using the Wonderland and other trails for access. Witness the Mt. Rainier Grand Tour, a 150 mile trek with 50,000 feet of climb and descent, which could be subtitled "Beyond the Wonderland." On July 22-24, I did what might be considered the "easy" part of the journey, traveling from Longmire CCW to White River. Now I've done this portion of the Wonderland Trail in one day many times, but the Grand Tour is what one might call "slightly harder." View the full photo set here.

Day 1 (19 miles/7500')
First many thanks to my wife and her friend Debbie, who repositioned my vehicle from Longmire to White River, saving me a half day of biking. I arrived at Longmire just as the ranger station was opening and waited a short time in line to get my permit, staying at Maple Creek campground on the first night and in a cross country zone on night two. The weather forecast was neither good nor bad, so I wasn't sure what to expect. I did have hopes of climbing above the cloud sea and enjoying some sunshine on this first day. My route used the WT to Narada Falls, then the trail to Paradise, to Muir, to Pan Point where I took the Skyline Trail to the Lakes Trail to the WT to finish. This day was interesting in that it was a basic 7500' push all the way to Muir, then a descent back to 2800 feet. My legs were feeling the constant descent but I needed to get them back into hiking shape anyway. The challenge of the Grand Tour is packing for all conditions one will find from low elevations to 10,000 feet, but I've pretty much got my gear dialed in and still enjoyed a fairly light pack. My entire sleep system is rolled in a "taco" where I leave my EE quilt attached to a NeoAir XLite inside a custom eVent bivy and just throw it down when it's time to sleep. This section was mostly on trail and I had some great encounters chatting with people over these 3 days, from day hikers to thru hikers to fastpackers to climbers. Anyway, I rolled into the Maple Creek camp at 10 PM and planned on sleeping in as I was sleep deprived from a recent overseas trip....no alarms for me!

Narada Fallstypical scene, Muir snowfieldDay 2 (14 miles/4000')
I did indeed get some good sleep and consequently got back on the trail like at 9:45, but this was a planned kick back day, almost all on trail. The weather cooperated and I enjoyed mild temps and no bugs (again), lingering at Indian Bar and sauntering up to the Panhandle Gap area. I wasn't sure what to expect higher up near Banshee as the clouds were dark and ugly looking over that area so I chose a bivy spot amongst some trees lower down. By evening it was getting quite chilly so I pulled out all the stops for sleeping and hit the rack at 7 PM, wanting another night of good sleep but planning on an early morning get up. It got cold enough during the evening to have frost on my bivy the next morning but I stayed relatively toasty with a great view to the stars (after a clearing night) and the mountain.

Idyllic Indian BarDay 3 (12 miles/2600')
Up at 5 AM, I got dressed and left for Banshee, a 1000' climb with only my camera tucked inside my jacket, stopping constantly to snap the rising sun on Rainier. The views were so incredible, with low angle light hues, the company of the goat herd, the thick ground cover of still blooming flowers, the sun rising above a flowing mass of clouds between the Cowlitz Chimneys, and the lingering cloud sea still covering the folks camped at Indian Bar, that I took two hours going up and down. Then I ate breakfast overlooking Ohanapecosh Park with ever changing cloud fingers below. But hoping to finish by early afternoon, I eventually left and transited a snowless Panhandle Gap. I chatted with some folks at the bridge above Summerland but when I arrived there no one was to be seen. I tanked up and headed out cross country, negotiating the terrain that eventually deposits one at a saddle to access Goat Island Mountain. This area is especially impressive as views abound both left and right, allowing an all encompassing view looking over to Banshee and down on Summerland, sighting the trail all the way to Panhandle Gap. Once the descent off the ridge on the other side begins the fun meter starts to rise, as one must negotiate a steep heather section to work over to the ridge that will deposit one eventually on the Wonderland. I made the error of getting off the spine and found myself on very steep treed terrain where I fell on my arse 3 times accompanied by a string of epithets. I eventually emerged from the trees, with pine needles plastered to my sunscreened neck and dirty buttocks. It was nice to be on gentle trail by that point and I strode to the White River crossing. It was interesting to see that the bridge over the White River didn't span the whole river, but no mind as I knew my vehicle was just across the way, so I waded through ankle deep chilly water to mount the shaven tree. I was about an hour and a half later than I wanted to be but when I got to my car my wife had left a thermos of hot coffee and a cooler with drinks and food, eliciting a giddy "Oh Boy!" response from me as I partook after cleaning up and changing.

sunrise below Bansheegoats below Goat Island MountainNow that the warmup section is done, I'm looking forward to the remaining 100 miles and 36,000 feet of climb..... at least until I'm actually doing it.


Sunday
Jun282015

ZPacks Carbon Fiber Staff Review

I've been using trekking poles for almost 30 years for lots of reasons, including stability for creek crossings, upper body use for ascending and descending, camera mount platform and general pace making. However, this year I decided to return to the venerable staff in the form of the ZPacks Carbon Fiber Staff. Why would I change a piece of equipment that has proven useful over and again for decades?

ANS: Off trail travel and scrambling where I need one hand free, and the ability to reach further and deeper during creek and river crossings. Although I've used the staff on a number of trips this year, including the Loowit and Wonderland trails, my latest excursion around Mt. Adams in Washington provided the ultimate test. I spent the better part of a day, almost 8 hours, negotiating the rugged eastern part of the mountain where there is no trail. What I did have to negotiate were steep scree slopes, mounds of rocks and boulders, wild creek and river crossings, thickets and dense trees and steep meadows. I was only able to stride normally in just a few places; otherwise I was scrambling over something, down something, or under something continuously. I used my free hand for scramble aid, veggie belays etc and used the staff not only for balance but as a battering ram when I encountered thick brush. I've used it as a mini pole vault for creek crossings, it's been slammed into the ground on numerous occasions during a scree slide or slip, including longitudinal forces that would have snapped my regular carbon trekking pole(s). It has taken enough abuse over these various trips that I keep wondering how long it's going to last before something gives, but aside from marring of the tape around the bottom and pitting of the copper piece, I've had no problems.

Another selling point for the staff is the ability to break it down into small sections, allowing me to carry it in a side pocket without it sticking up too far past the pack. This proved invaluable on a couple of trips where I biked for positioning and had to stow the staff. I've also mounted a camera on it. About the only thing I haven't used it for is fighting off a cougar or bear, but hopefully I won't have to do that any time soon. If I do I better have a camera mounted on it to capture the moment.

The following video shows how I used the staff to cross the Big Muddy on the east side of Adams. I found a place where the hydraulics looked just good enough for me to cross, and I was glad I had the extra reach of the staff for the center torrent. This sort of situation is where the robustness and extra length of the staff proved superior to trekking poles. One last comment about the staff's utility, the surface is conducive to gripping anywhere which is invaluable when negotiating steep slopes....I have easily adjusted the height of my grip to match the terrain, for instance gripping low when the staff is uphill, and gripping high when downstepping.

Am I giving up trekking poles? Certainly not, for well maintained trail I still like the two hand approach. But for off trail travel, I'll take the ZPacks Carbon Fiber Staff everytime. Disclaimer: I have no affiliation with ZPacks and purchased this item for full price.

Big Muddy Crossing with ZPacks Staff from Willis Wall on Vimeo.

 

 

Friday
Jun262015

Mt. Adams Round-The-Mountain (Truly)

Battlement Ridge/Mt. Adams east sideThis copped title is from Mike Woodmansee's book, "Trekking Washington." Mt. Adams "round the mountain" trail doesn't go round the mountain. There is a rugged no-man's land on the east side, seeing few visitors with approximately 5 miles of terrain extending from the viewpoint overlooking Hellroaring Meadow to a minimal trail on the far side of Avalanche Valley. On this 2 day trip (full photo set here), day one started from the Cold Springs campground (where I truck camped the night before) and proceeded CCW on good trail through the lovely Bird Creek Meadows area, ending on an overlook at 6500 feet. It took me nearly 8 hours to negotiate this approximately 5 mile section, starting with a sketchy descent into Hellroaring Meadow, a strenuous climb on the other side to the left of Little Mt Adams, then on to the Ridge of Wonders.

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Friday
Jun122015

Wonderland Trail: West 57 miles

just a ridiculous flower showWhat better way to really do a conditions report on the Wonderland Trail than actually hiking the better portion of it? My June 9/10 clockwise hike from Longmire to Sunrise can be summed up thusly: for snow and general conditions, it's like August. For trail maintenance, it's like June (iow, nada). This is probably the only time I would consider hiking the Wonderland a "wilderness experience" due to the fact that one of the major access points is not open until June 19 (Mowich Lake road) and both crossings over the Mowich Rivers are out. Throw in blowdown and a few eradicated sections of trail, schwacking and log crossing the Mowich rivers, and negotiating some snow at Skyscraper Pass, and the traditional backpackers that come to hike the Wonderland from all over might be discouraged at the moment. Every park I transited above 5000 feet was bursting at the seams with a riot of flowers. Unfortunately, those hiking the trail during the more "normal" season starting in July will probably not enjoy the spectacle I witnessed, but at least the trail crews should have fixed the problems I've mentioned. One thing's for sure, Wonderland hikers coming this summer will enjoy a snow free trail.

This link to a trip report I posted on NWHikers provides some details about the trip, including the difficulties enocountered, along with myriad photos. The photo album can also be viewed on the Willis Wall facebook page. The following video will give the reader a good idea of the August like conditions I experienced and perhaps an incentive for people with a date for the trail.

Monday
Jun012015

Mt. St. Helens: Loowit Trail

eroding deposits in "the Breach" Mt St HelensVolcanoes dominate some skylines in the Pacific Northwest. Just witness how many photos are published of the Seattle area with Mt. Rainier in the background. We climb them, ski them, and hike around them. Which brings me to Mt. St. Helens, the show stopper of 1980 when the summit collapsed and produced the Earth's largest recorded landslide in an eruption that displaced 3.7 billion cubic yards of material from the mountain. Lahars, mud flows, ash deposits and blown over denuded trees made the landscape surreal. Now, 35 years later, my daughter and I decided to hike the Loowit Trail which circumnavigates the mountain and takes the hiker through the impact area in a transit that sees the lingering effects and amazing recovery of the ecosystems.We took two days to make the 32 mile trip, sleeping in on the first day and driving the 3.5 hour trip to our hop on point at Climber's Bivouac on the south side of the mountain. A 2 mile trail took us to the intersection with the Loowit Trail for us to start our Counter Clockwise transit. Sticking to our plan, we hiked approximately 12 miles the first day and bivied on the Plains of Abraham, an area just before entering the restricted zone, where camping is not allowed. (Full set of photos here)

How does one adequately describe this hike in a few paragraphs? The south side sees trail crossing boulder fields with adequately spaced wooden posts placed to guide the hiker as there is no real trail in these sections. Gradually we entered the impact zone where trees were mown over like toothpicks, all pointing away from the blast direction, but some half covered in deposits, some still standing, and some being surrounded by meadow and flowers and new trees. The impact zone itself can be characterized by ravines, gullies and an occasional chasm. The deposit of this vast amount of ejected material is easily cut by creeks and rivers, with near vertical walls to contend with. At the South Fork Toutle River crossing, there are ropes to assist the hiker in ascending and descending into the ravine because of the loose and steep material one must try to find purchase in. And don't expect any bridges either, making for a few wet crossings. Did I mention the heat? Miles of hiking with no shade and the sun heating up the lava rocks all around you. Better carry enough water too, as sources are scarce. But I don't mean to complain about the various challenges on this hike, as the geologic interest, vastness of the area, expansive views and hidden surprises (like our visit from a Northern Pygmey Owl during a rest break back in old growth) more than compensate for the conditions. Prepare for a little grit in your socks and be amazed at the power of nature, both in its destructive capabilities and in its amazing ability to recover and rebuild.

bear grass on the south sideno water for Chocolate Fallsevidence of event transitioning to the impact zoneMSH Plains of Abrahamentering MSH restricted zonehalf buried reminders of the blast directiondescending to cross S Fork Toutle rivertypical verticality of eroded stratamountain alpenglow at 5:30 AM/east side

Friday
May222015

Wonderland Trail Snow Outlook 2015

Glacier lillies already at Indian HenrysOne to two months ahead. Pretty much sums it up when it comes to this year's snow levels in most parts of the Cascades. Usually I take a trip up to Panhandle Gap in June or July and report on the snow conditions, but this year it hardly seems necessary. Yesterday my daughter and I took a jaunt to Indian Henry's Hunting Ground on the Wonderland trail, nestled in a picturesque area at 5400 feet. There were no snow patches until above 5000 feet and what remains is patchy and sparse, with depths of no more than a foot. If current warm weather trends continue, this snow will be gone in a matter of days. I dare say one could hike the Wonderland beginning in June and experience the same kind of conditions normally seen in late July. Problem areas may occur due to the lack of park personnel this early, as in facilities are not open and trail maintenance has not begun. Expect blow downs and possible river/creek crossings where the bridges have been washed out, although these will be high priority as soon as the crews get out. There is always a problematic area on the Wonderland below Martha Falls in the Stevens Canyon area that sees erosion and washout every year. Additionally, the steep areas on the trail between the North Puyallup camp and Klapatche park may be difficult to navigate if snow is still present. However, this can be bypassed if necessary by taking the St Andrews trail out of Klapatche Park and circumventing via the West Side Road to the North Puyallup camp. And of course the park service always issues navigation warnings concerning snow over Panhandle Gap. In a nutshell, anyone hiking the trail during the "usual" season starting in late June should enjoy snow free steps.

sparse snow at Indian Henrys and melting fast

 

Tuesday
May052015

Panasonic LX100 Initial Review

I finally pulled the trigger on the Panasonic LX100 after much consideration. I lugged a GH2, sometimes with good lenses but mostly with a pancake, on many a trip these past few years. Everything is a compromise and I needed a camera with a smaller form factor for backpacking. I'm probably like a lot of users, not quite point and shoot but not real savvy on the ins and outs of manual control. I know the basics of aperture and shutter speed but I'm sure I could get a lot more out of my camera, and consequently a lot better photos, if I spent some quality time with it. The LX100 is versatile enough that it begs further investigation into its guts. A quick search will bring up in depth reviews, but why do I like this camera?

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