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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: Chair Peak Lake

Posted by gck Monday, September 22, 2014 0 comments

Distance: 13 miles?
Elevation gain: 4000 ft?

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Left: I-90
Center: Denny Creek
Right: tree fungus

I spend a lot of time looking things up, and over time, I’ve accumulated a list of hiking destinations that I “stalk.” These are all hikes that are beyond my current ability, many involving off-trail navigation and long distances. Chair Peak Lake is one I’ve watched for a few years. The difficulty was a big factor: it was a giant boulderfield past Melakwa Lake, which wasn’t a short hike on its own. The lake doesn’t get much sun and doesn’t even melt out completely every year, and I didn’t want to do the long slog just to see a snowfield. This year, the stars aligned. I was in the right condition to manage the hike, we had an unusually warm summer, and I had a sunny Saturday available. Sure, I had to run a 10k the next day, but tomorrow is another day?

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Left: Keekwulee Falls
Right: Melakwa Lake

Started hiking a little before 8, which is super early for me, but it’s a good idea for the busy hikes on the I-90 corridor. I got a good parking spot (cars were parked way down the road when I got back) and the trail was very quiet. I made good time up to Melakwa Lake, reaching it around 10. The Denny Creek waterslide and Keekwulee Falls were nice sights along the way. The steep switchbacks heading up to Hemlock Pass still kick my butt. The water color was really nice in the morning, definitely the prettiest I’ve seen it. I walked to another solo hiker at the lake, and he said he was heading towards Melakwa Pass, so it made me feel better that someone would be ahead of me.

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Upper Melakwa Lake

I walked around the side of Melakwa Lake and found myself looking at Upper Melakwa Lake almost immediately. This was my third time at Melakwa Lake and I never realized that the upper lake was like TEN STEPS away. Grrrrr… it’s a smaller lake, but very beautiful and not nearly as popular. I followed a trail around the west side of the lake. It quickly disappeared, and I found a way up higher to a route that went through a boulderfield. There was occasional pink surveyor’s tape that reassured me that this was a indeed a route, but it wasn’t fun. I also hit some patches of trees that I had to shove my way through. Once I got to the other end of the lake, I looked over and saw a real trail on the other side, and I swore loudly.

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Left: heading up to Melakwa Pass, Kaleetan on the left, Chair Peak on the right
Right: One of the very few cairns I saw

I was higher than the trail, so I decided to keep going toward the pass instead of going down to meet the trail. This led to some extra tree hugging because I wasn’t able to get to the creek path through a tree section but otherwise wasn’t a big deal. The endless boulderfield was slow and tedious. The reason I was doing this as a solo hike was because no one would agree to go with me! On my way back, I saw two guys come from Upper Melakwa Lake, take a look at the boulderfield, and turn around. Fortunately, there didn’t seem to be much elevation gain until near the pass. At that point, there was a cairn and a nearby path that went into the trees and steeply upwards. Kaleetan Peak towered above me on one side and Chair Peak on the other.

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Left: Chair Peak Lake
Right: Snow Lake

The view from the pass was amazing. The deep blue color of Chair Peak Lake stood in contrast with its rocky surroundings, and Glacier Peak and Gem Lake were visible in the background. The descent to Chair Peak Lake was REALLY steep with loose rock, especially at the beginning. There were still a few snowfields remaining. I poked at the first one with my pole, and it was hard ice, so I walked around it. The lower snowfield was unavoidable, and it was a direct slide into the lake if I slipped, but fortunately the snow there was soft enough to walk on without traction. I talked to a few solo hikers here, both doing the full traverse through to Snow Lake. One guy had received bad advice to stay high when going around Chair Peak Lake, and he was having a hard time up there. Walking close to the lake, as sketchy as it looked, was certainly the better route. It was easy to hear where people were because everyone would trigger small rockslides every once in awhile. One guy told me that going through to Snow Lake would probably be quicker than heading back the way I came, and he offered me a ride back to my car if I wanted to go out that way, but I decided that I’d save that for another day when I’d done more research on the route.

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Left: Creek “trail”
Right: Steep ascent to Melakwa Pass

I walked a little further to get a view down to Snow Lake. Apparently Harvey Manning described the Melakwa Pass route as “the connoisseur’s route to Snow Lake.” Between this and his insistence on taking the Snow Lakes route into the Enchantments, I’m pretty sure this guy is a masochist. Anyway, it was a far more peaceful way to see Snow Lake. I had complete solitude in my lunch spot, with a view of Chair Peak Lake on one side and a view of Snow Lake on the other. Incredible beauty and the feeling of wilderness on an I-90 hike.

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Chair Peak Lake (Melakwa Pass in the back)

It was a long way back. I had to climb back up the pass, do the endless trek across the boulderfield, then hike with all the dayhikers from Melakwa Lake back to the trailhead. I took the correct path around Upper Melakwa Lake this time, and it was much easier. Talked to two guys who climbed Kaleetan that day (sounded like a fantastic view… maybe next time?). Made it back to the car by 6, way before sunset. It felt like a satisfying accomplishment to finish this hike, possibly the first time I’ve felt like a “serious hiker” for taking on a challenging route and maintaining a respectable pace. I’m also concluding that I’m a lakebagger over a peakbagger – seeing 5 lakes in one day was awesome. Now back to stalking bigger destinations! We’ll see what comes next…

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.

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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.

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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:

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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.

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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.

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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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Trail 


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!

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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.

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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.

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