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This is yet another incarnation of my personal blog. Here's where you can read about what I do when I'm not at work: hiking, seeing plays and other shows, eating, traveling, etc.



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TR: Sauk Mountain

Posted by gck Sunday, September 14, 2014 0 comments

Distance: 4.2 miles
Elevation gain: 1200 feet
Trailhead directions and more on WTA.

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Left: view of Sauk Mountain from the beginning of the trail
Right: fancy trailhead toilet

It might be mid-September, but the hot, sunny weather we’ve been seeing lately makes it feel like we’re still in August! My mom wanted a shorter, easier hike for the weekend, and I wanted to take advantage of the clear skies to see some mountains, so our group decided on Sauk Mountain. It’s a long drive with 7.5 miles of steep, bumpy forest road at the end, and we definitely spent much more time driving than we did hiking. No regrets.

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Left: steep switchback shortcut
Right: many, many switchbacks

Most hikes start out with a mile or two in the forest before the views start. With this one, you’re switchbacking up the side of the mountain immediately with little shade. There were a lot of “shortcuts” up the switchbacks, some of which were so well defined that we’d accidentally take the shortcut instead of the longer trail. This hike would be really beautiful earlier in the summer when the fields were full of wildflowers. At this point in September, most of the flowers were already gone, and it was still early for fall colors.

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Left: getting closer to the summit
Right: geocache

Views were good from the beginning, but as we got higher up, we got to see more. Glacier Peak, the top of Mount Rainier, and a magnificent Mount Baker were visible midway up, with a long line of smaller mountains in between. At the top, there are a lot of social trails, and we ended up getting off the main trail by accident. There are a lot of spots to spread out below the summit, and there’s a really nice view down to Sauk Lake. A trail also heads down there, but it’s a 1000 foot or so loss of elevation, so we didn’t see anyone heading down that day.

Sauk Lake

There are a few high points to scramble up (I went up one) and a more reasonable trail that leads to a former lookout point, which I guess must be considered the Sauk Mountain summit. We took pictures and ate our lunches here, gazing down at the busy pikas gathering plants for their burrows. I also located a geocache on a rock at the top. No one else joined us at the lookout point while we were there. For such an easy hike with great views, it was remarkably uncrowded.

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Left: Mount Baker
Right: pikaaaaa

On the way down, we heard a loud whistle and quickly located the nearby source: a marmot enjoying the sun from a rock. Sadly, he ran off before I got a good picture. Made our way down the switchbacks, passing a good number of people coming up in the late afternoon. A great little hike! I’m considering going back to spend the night at Sauk Lake, which would make the long drive more worthwhile.

View from Sauk Mountain (view in Photosynth)

Hike-a-thon wrap up

Posted by gck Tuesday, September 2, 2014 0 comments

My first Hike-a-thon is over! I’d call it a success, since I was hiking almost half the days this month, and I exceeded both my mileage and fundraising goals. HUGE thanks to everyone who sponsored me! (Fundraising is still continuing, if you’d like to sponsor me) In this post, I’m including some photo highlights and general highlights of the Hike-a-thon experience, followed by a Tableau dashboard of my hiking data for the month.

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Left: Fireweed and mountains on the way to Kendall Katwalk
Right: Looking down on Mirror Lake on the way to the Palisades

Highlight #1: Exploring regional parks
I usually ignore the stuff close to me, discounting it as crowded, boring, or both. However, trying to get hikes in during the week forced me to look closer to home. I discovered that I could go to Google Maps, scroll around a little, and look for interesting green spots. Most of these were state or regional parks that had well-maintained trail systems with maps online. During Hike-a-thon, I hiked at Bridle Trails State Park, Soaring Eagle Regional Park, Cougar Mountain Regional Park, and Paradise Valley Conservation Area. And there were even more parks I considered but didn’t have time for, like Lord Hill Regional Park, Tiger Mountain State Park, St. Edward State Park (I hiked it last month), etc. The park system here is simply amazing!

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Left: Eagle Lake
Right: Perfection Lake

Highlight #2: More backpacking!
I hadn’t been backpacking since 2011, and I got really excited as soon as I won the lottery for Core Enchantments permits in August. I ended up doing that as a 4d/3n trip, and I did two overnight trips in preparation. One was to Sahale Glacier Camp at the end of July (so technically not Hike-a-thon) and the other one was a quick Sunday overnight to Mirror Lake so my brother could do a last minute test of all his new backpacking gear before the Enchantments. All of these trips were great experiences and has me itching for more. We weren’t in positions for amazing sunsets, but we did get great night sky views on all three trips, complete with Milky Way and meteors. And the bugs were surprisingly light this year.

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Left: Night sky from Mirror Lake (photo credit: Daniel Tang)
Right: Enchantments from Little Annapurna

Highlight #3: The people and the destinations
It’s been really fun being able to go hiking with so many different people this month (including two babies and one person visiting from out of town!). I’ve always meant to do some hikes each year that are accessible to more people than my “somewhere around Mt. Rainier, ~3000 ft elevation gain?” type hike ideas, and this month got me to do that.

And of course, the destinations have been beautiful. Finally made it to Kendall Katwalk, after talking about it for years. Spent some time at Rainier to make use of an annual pass before it expired at the end of the month. And of course, the Enchantments.

Aaand… here’s the data:

Tarn below Panhandle Gap

I don’t know how September and October could possibly measure up to August, but I’m looking forward to the fall hiking! And I’ll definitely be back next year for more Hike-a-thon.


TR: Enchantments

Posted by gck Thursday, August 28, 2014 0 comments

The 4 day backpacking trip that I’ve been training for all summer has come and gone. It was everything I wanted it to be! I enjoyed the incredible beauty of the place, and I’m looking forward to more trips like this in the future.

I had so many pictures that I wanted to share that I wrote up my trip report this time on Exposure. You can view it by clicking on the image below.




TR: Soaring Eagle Regional Park

Posted by gck Thursday, August 7, 2014 0 comments

Distance: varies (my hike: 2.6 miles)
Elevation gain: varies (my hike: ~180 ft)
Directions, map, and more information on the park website.

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Left: Pipeline trail
Right: signs to keep me from getting lost

I’m continuing my Hike-a-thon weekday hikes with Soaring Eagle Regional Park in Sammamish. This park offers miles of multi-use trails, and it’s perfect for me because they number all major trail intersections and have clear maps and arrows at each intersection! Even a hopeless navigator like me didn’t make any wrong turns. The Pipeline trail is the main trail that cuts diagonally through the park. It’s wide, smooth, and mostly flat and perfect for the casual walker. I took this trail most of the way before turning onto the smaller trails, and based on my experience, I think this park should be renamed “Soaring Eagle, Crawling Slug” because there were SO many slugs.

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Left: one of many slugs
Right: smaller trail

The smaller trails are still very well maintained, but there’s some minor elevation change. Walking on these trails felt more like hiking than the Pipeline. I saw some mountain bikers heading out when I started walking, and it looks like it’s a fun and popular mountain biking destination. I’m not sure if the walking experience on the narrower trails would be as pleasant on a busy biking day, but it wasn’t a problem tonight. The forest seems newer and more sparse than Bridle Trails, but you don’t end up looking into people’s backyards or hearing car noise.

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Barred owl 

I was on my way back to the entrance with sunset approaching when I heard a whoosh and saw large wings not far above my head. Looked around and saw a barred owl staring at me from a nearby tree. Pretty cool! Then I thought of the reports of barred owls clawing at ponytails in Bridle Trails awhile back and I was thankful that this guy left my head alone. I checked the internet later to see if the owl was commonly spotted at this park, and it turns out that this exact section of the park was closed 2 years ago when an aggressive barred owl was attacking people’s heads. Eek. Well, maybe he’s better behaved now. I only had the wide angle lens on my camera, so my pictures are really bad, but maybe I’ll go back and look for him sometime (with a helmet on?).

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On my last leg of the trail, I stumbled upon two teenagers smoking weed. They immediately started heading out, and I followed, which freaked them out because they started walking faster and kept turning back and looking at me. But other than the teenagers at the end and the mountain bikers at the beginning, I saw no other people on the trail that evening. A nice escape into the woods!


TR: Eagle Lake Backdoor

Posted by gck Sunday, August 3, 2014 0 comments

Distance: 5 miles
Elevation gain: 400 feet
Trailhead directions and more on WTA.

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Left: tree fungus
Right: fireweed

I couldn’t hike until the afternoon today, so I decided to try one of the shorter hikes that I normally don’t consider. I was originally going to do Barclay Lake, but I decided to save it for when I’m hiking with someone who wants an easy hike, so I decided instead to do the alternate route to Eagle Lake. The traditional route is supposed to be a painful upwards slog from Barclay, but the alternate route starts from a high trailhead, so it’s short and has little elevation gain. WTA refers to it as a fisherman’s trail, but the trail is in good shape and has gotten a bit of maintenance (cutting steps in blowdowns, etc.) so I think it’s more of a “backdoor” than a fisherman’s trail.

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Cliffy FR 6514

To get to the high trailhead, your car has to do the work for you. You turn off of Highway 2 onto Beckler River Road, a nice paved road, but soon, you turn onto another forest road and it gets interesting from there. Most of the ~6.5 mile forest road drive is on FR 6514, a rocky, cliffy, narrow road that gains quite a bit of elevation. Pretty rough on my Camry, but I made it. I’m not sure what I’d do if I encountered a car coming in the opposite direction because there are plenty of areas on the road where there isn’t room for two cars, and backing up doesn’t sound like fun, either. I didn’t see any cars on my way up, but I did see two dirt bikes coming down when I was on one of those “is my car going to make it?!” sections and that did not make me feel better about my chances! The forest road drive took me almost an hour, making it about a 2 hour drive each way. A beefier car would be able to go up faster. The views from the road were really beautiful, though, and I saw a camper vehicle parked in a turnout area with the intent to stay the night.

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Left: garter snake eating something?
Right: Mount Townsend and Paradise Meadow

The forest part of the trail (which is most of it) isn’t very interesting, but it also isn’t very hard and you can get through it quickly. I was startled by a garter snake early on and chose to go around it instead of over it on the trail. After about two miles, the trail enters Paradise Meadow, or as another trip report writer called it, Paradise Mudow. It’s scenic, with views of Mount Townsend and Merchant Peak, but there are all these muddy areas that are hard to avoid and hard to pass through. I was happy for my boots because my running shoes would have been swallowed up by one of those mud puddles for sure. The trail splits, one way going to Stone Lake and the other to Eagle Lake.

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Left: Merchant Peak
Right: Merchant Peak above Eagle Lake

Despite the 100% sunny forecast, it had been raining when I started driving to the hike, and I had been listening to thunder for awhile. Light rain started coming down, and I didn’t want to chance driving down the fun forest road in a downpour, so I didn’t spend much time at the lake before rushing back. Turns out I could have stayed longer, but it’s better to minimize risk when hiking alone. :) There was a group of adults and kids camped out at the main campsite and a guy in a raft fishing in the lake.


The lake was very pretty, especially for how easy the hike was, and it would be even prettier on a sunny day. While the 2 hours of hiking wasn’t really worth the 4 hours of driving, I’d like to come back on a better day and do more exploration. There’s an old cabin on the side of the lake, the side trip to Stone Lake, and a possible scramble up Mount Townsend for even better views.


TR: Bridle Trails

Posted by gck Friday, August 1, 2014 0 comments

Distance: varies (Raven trail – 1 mile)
Elevation gain: varies (Raven trail – 100 ft)
Map, directions, and more on the Bridle Trails website.

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Left: Cascade Classic horse show
Right: Beginning of Raven trail

What better way to kick off Hike-a-thon than a hike in my own backyard? Bridle Trails State Park is just a little ways down my street, and it’s part of my normal running route. They’ve got a fine series of trails that I haven’t explored much, so I hope to do more walking in the area this month. To park in the lot, you have to have a Discover Pass, but there’s plenty of parking near the park that doesn’t require it if you don’t have one. Tonight, the lot was full anyway – I happened to stumble upon day 1 of the Cascade Classic horse show. Riders were busy competing for high scores in the big ring. I watched a little and then headed for the trails.

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I normally run down the straight power line trail in the center of the park. The last two times I’ve attempted to incorporate any of the other trails into my run, I’ve ended up getting lost. There are three main trails in the park, but many smaller trails branch off of the main ones. This time, I had planned to hike the Trillium Trail, but I accidentally got on the shorter Raven Trail instead. The path was nice and it was easy to follow the main trail. Since this is an equestrian park, horses have the right of way and there’s definitely horse “evidence” on the trails. It’s common to see horses on the trail or in yards along the power line trail, which could be fun thing for kids. The forest was pretty and peaceful, but this specific trail runs pretty close to busy roads, so I could hear car noise while walking. The other trails go deeper into the park and don’t have that issue as much.

Trail map

Next time I’ll have to find the Trillium Trail, which is supposed to have a few interpretive signs. I got back to the big ring, watched a little more of the horse show (they were moving to the “handy round” as I left), then walked back to my car. Great start to Hike-a-Thon! Now onto the weekend.



TR: Crystal Peak

Posted by gck Wednesday, July 23, 2014 0 comments

Distance: 8 miles
Elevation gain: 3100 feet
Trailhead directions and more on WTA.

Four hikes so far this year, and I’ve used all four of my main hiking books – Snoqualmie, Central Cascades, North Cascades, and now Mt. Rainier. (I also own Olympic Peninsula, but I can’t find it!) I have an annual Rainier pass from last year and I’ve been itching to use it, so I looked for a trail in that book. Go figure, while the Crystal Peak trailhead is within the national park boundaries, it isn’t within the pay gates, so no permit is required.

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Crystal Creek

It was definitely going to be a scorching hot day, so we started out early, hitting the trailhead around 9:30. To my surprise, the lot was already close to full, and an abnormally large percentage of the people we encountered were already going down. Since this trailhead is so close to Enumclaw, I think it serves as the “Mt. Si” for that region, and many people do a quick & early up & down and then get on with their day. As we were getting our stuff ready to go, a car pulled up next to us, playing really loud club music with really powerful bass. And they kept it on as they were preparing for their hike! Daniel and I just stared at each other with “Whaaaa…” looks on our faces. Eventually, a lady came over to their car and told them sternly to turn their music off. I couldn’t really hear what she was saying other than “it’s painfully loud.”

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The trail 

It seems like a lot of trails follow this pattern: forest – creek – forest – creek – climb climb climb climb – views! – climb climb climb – SUMMIT OR LAKE! Well, this one starts off immediately with a nice creek view, then it’s a lot of somewhat unexciting forest (with a bridge over the creek somewhere in there) before the trail enters the sun/view section. We started off early to get as much of the hike done as possible before the heat of the afternoon set in. The forest section passed by pretty quickly, and the climb wasn’t too bad. We caught a glimpse of a pika in a boulderfield when we hit the sunny part (that’s 3 for 4 on my hikes for pika sightings so far!).

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Beargrass and Mt. Rainier

As soon as we cleared the woods, the views started. We had gotten peek-a-boo views at Mt. Rainier through the trees, but we got to stare at the mountain in all its glory for the entire last part of the hike. Photos of mountains can’t come close to showing the giant presence they have when you’re there looking at them in person. Daniel had the Peakfinder app on his phone, so we were able to see what the surrounding peaks were named (much better than my very helpful “uh, that’s Mt. Rainier” knowledge). From this direction, we could see some of the destinations accessible from Sunrise, like Burroughs and Dege.

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As is probably obvious from the pictures, the beargrass was also a highlight of the hike! I had considered doing Granite or Defiance instead because of spectacular beargrass reports from I-90, but I stuck with the plan, since someone else had reported that there was beargrass on this hike. When we first started seeing it, it was pretty sparse and unimpressive, and it was making me sad. But as we climbed up higher, we got more and more bushy beargrass! It hadn’t quite hit the peak, but it was still a pretty sight, and I kept stopping to take pictures, possibly spending more photo time than any other hike I’ve done that I can remember. Regular wildflowers were out, too, giving pretty bursts of color along the trail.

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Left: lupine along the trail
Right: more beargrass

As usual, I had no idea what Crystal Peak actually looked like, so we played the game of, “Is that it?” as we switchbacked up. Seriously, longest switchbacks ever. I’m not one for the straight-up fireman/fisherman trails, but I was ready for one of those by the end of this back-and-forth trail. I got my wish – the last little bit up to the summit was steep and direct.

We had views in all directions from the summit, but the mountain views weren’t better than what we had been seeing on the way there. Mt. Adams and Mt. St. Helens (barely) were in good view from the top, but we had glimpsed them before reaching the summit. And the view of Rainier wasn’t as good as it was below because there were trees blocking parts of the valley below. However, we did get to see the other side, where we had a nice view down to Upper and Lower Crystal Lakes. It was hazy looking northwards, so we didn’t get to see Glacier Peak and could barely make out the smaller mountains in that direction. I’ll have to go back and do Norse Peak, a similar hike that has a view of the Stuart Range.

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Left: Upper Crystal Lake from Crystal Peak
Right: Valley view from Crystal Peak

No real shade up at the summit (a woman was curled up in fetal position under some low branches to get out of the sun) so we ate and didn’t linger too long. By the time we were heading down, it was HOT. It was definitely an upper 90s day and it felt that way. Not nearly as many people were coming up as we went down, and I was glad I wasn’t one of them because I’m not sure I would have made it.

We were happy to finally make it back to the car (no club music this time). As we were getting ready to leave, a woman came up to me and asked what all the cars were there for. Must have been a Mt. Rainier tourist who thought there was some sort of viewpoint! Well, there is, you just have to climb up a bit to get to it. :)

Mt. Rainier panorama (Photosynth)