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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: 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)

WTA Hike-a-Thon

Posted by gck 0 comments


Everyone loves a fundraiser, right? Over the years as I’ve read people’s hiking trip reports, I’d hear mentions of “Hike-a-Thon” and I wondered what it was. I liked the idea of trying to hike as many miles as possible while raising money to support the trails. Each year, I’d forget until it was too late, but not this year! I am officially signed up for Hike-a-Thon.

You can read more and/or SPONSOR ME on my fundraising page. I plan to hike as many weekend days as possible, including a backpacking trip to the Enchantments. But in order to try for more mileage, I’ll also be throwing in some weekday hikes, which means urban hiking! I recently scoped out St. Edwards Park (still owe a blog post for that one) and I’m looking forward to hiking those trails and more.

Many people here use and love the trails in our forests, and better maintenance makes for a better and more sustainable experience. I hope to contribute to this cause, and a goal of mine for next year is to participate in WTA work parties for trail maintenance. If you can and would like to, I hope you’ll help by sponsoring me for this year’s Hike-a-Thon! And look forward to more trip reports as I hike my way through August.

TR: Lake Twentytwo

Posted by gck Monday, July 7, 2014 0 comments

Distance: 5.4 miles
Elevation: 1350 feet
Trailhead directions and more on WTA.

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Left: Twentytwo Creek
Right: The forest -- “the real treat on this hike” according to the book

“The view is just okay,” Daniel said. “There are too many trees.”
“You’ve become quite the view snob,” I replied.
“I learned from the best.”

Yep, that snobbery has made it so I still haven’t hiked Mount Si, and it took me many years before hiking Tiger Mountain. A similar sort of snobbery – not wanting to spend the time hiking without putting in at least a certain number of miles or feet of elevation gain – has kept me from very nice hikes like Rattlesnake Ridge, Twin Falls, and Lake Twentytwo. It was time for that to change.

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Left: fireweed
Right: a flower I can’t seem to identify

Things finally lined up right so that I hiked to Lake Twentytwo (and enjoyed it!). We had an out-of-town guest to take hiking, Rainier was still too snowy, and I had just done Lake Serene, so I suggested Heather or Twentytwo. Daniel picked Twentytwo. We got up to the trailhead a little before 10, fully expecting to park in an overflow area, but apparently people were still hungover from the 4th of July festivities, and we got a spot in the main lot without problem. Up we went.

Lake Twentytwo from the outlet 

“Is there anything to see on this trail other than the lake?” Daniel asked as we walked through the forest that the book claimed was “the real treat on this hike.”

I’m not the biggest forest person, but fortunately, there was other stuff to see. Twentytwo Creek stayed pretty close to the trail most of the way up, and every so often, we’d get glimpses of some nice waterfalls. The trail also opened up to mountain views higher up, and ripe berries and flowers began to show up as well. It’s obvious that a lot of work has been put into maintaining this trail, and it was in very good condition. Only a few mud patches, and they weren’t bad enough for people to walk around them and start destroying vegetation. Nice to see, especially on a hike that gets so much traffic.

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Left: turquoise colored water, the boulderfield we climbed up
Right: Lake Twentytwo from the boulderfield

We finally reached the lake at the outlet and stood on the bridge, admiring the peaks in the background with waterfalls pouring down the cliff faces. Unfortunately, people have taken to carving their names and political statements into the bridge. Even nature isn’t immune to a dose of conspiracy theory! There were a few groups of people hanging out on that side of the lake, so we took our photos and started walking on the trail that went around the lake.

It’s hard to get good pictures of the lake because the trail is so close to the lakeside and so are the towering peaks around it. I wanted a better look, and I’m prone to “bad ideas” when I’m not completely exhausted, so I announced that I was climbing up a boulder field on the side of the lake. I told them they didn’t have to come along and I could meet up with them later, but they were up for it. So Kim got to do her first scramble! Nothing too tricky, just tiring. I found a somewhat flat, large boulder near the top of the field and sat down for lunch. The view from this point was definitely better – the color of the lake was prettier, and we could clearly make out the shallow sections of the lake and the deep center. From here, any people we could see were just faraway tiny specks.

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Left: Lakeside trail with pretty flowers
Right: Waterfalls coming down the cliffs

After eating and enjoying the view for awhile, we slowly made our way back down. Briefly encountered a pika who was probably happy that the humans were leaving his boulder field. We continued the walk around the lake, enjoying different angles of the lake. Turns out our timing was pretty good because we soon felt drops of rain. It stayed pretty light, and once we were back in the forest, we couldn’t feel anything at all, but the views definitely didn’t look as nice with the blue skies gone. Made it back to the parking lot and found all the car windows intact. We did notice a lot of people coming up as we went down, and there were many cars using the side of the Mountain Loop Highway as overflow parking for this hike. I can now fully understand why it’s so popular!


TR: Lake Serene

Posted by gck Sunday, July 6, 2014 0 comments

Distance: 7.2 miles
Elevation gain: 2000 feet
Trailhead directions and more on WTA.

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Creek waterfalls

Lake Serene was my first “big hike” in the Pacific Northwest (I decided Wallace Falls didn’t qualify) and got me started on an addiction that now takes over my summer and fall months. So when I had two new hikers coming with me on a weekday hike, this one seemed like a natural choice. This was my third time doing this hike (2008 and 2010 were the others), and I’ve always gone during the early part of the summer, since this is one of the earlier hikes to become snow free. It’s a popular hike – on a weekday, we saw way more people than I encountered at Koppen the past weekend. I’ve heard that the lot overflows and becomes a parking nightmare on the weekends, so best to get an early start.

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Left: the bottom of Bridal Veil Falls
Right: Lake Serene’s turquoise water

There’s plenty to see on this hike. There are several nice mini waterfalls when the trail hits a creek, but the real star is Bridal Veil Falls, a towering waterfall that cascades down like… a bride’s veil. There’s a short side hike that gets you to the falls, but I’ve never taken it. Maybe next time. After the falls, the real climbing begins. Switchbacks and what I call the “stairs section.” I remember cursing the stairs the first time on this trail, but now I’m thankful for them, having experienced how difficult a rough uphill trail can be. A lot of people were struggling through this section, and I heard someone say that there were about 26 switchbacks and that we were still on the third. Hah!

View from the trail

Fortunately, the rewards come before the lake. After climbing for awhile, we broke out of the forest and had nice views of the surrounding peaks. Then not long after, Mount Index came into view, and we knew we were near. Many people were content to sit by the lake at the closest access point, but a better place to sit and take in the view (if you can convince your legs to go up a few more stairs) is at Lunch Rock. There were also some people who crossed the boulderfield to the right of Lunch Rock and went part way around the lake for solitude, but we were content with Lunch Rock. We watched people jump in the lake and immediately regret it. I climbed down to the lakeside and dipped my feet in just to see – painfully cold! I hoped for sunnier weather, but the lake’s color was still as beautiful as ever.

Lake Serene

TR: Koppen Mountain

Posted by gck Thursday, July 3, 2014 0 comments

Distance: 7 miles
Elevation gain: 2300 feet
Trailhead directions and more on WTA.

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left: De Roux Creek
center: pika!
right: big snow wall

Yay for early season hiking! Seems like I’m starting earlier and earlier each year. Thanks to hiking in Utah and Hawaii in April and May, I’m actually starting out in decent shape for once! The downside to hiking earlier is that there aren’t many options that are snow free, and the popular options (like Lake Serene, Bandera, Heather Lake, etc.) tend to be very crowded. The Teanaway area turned out to be a good choice – lots of view-rich, snow free hikes, with the long drive keeping crowds away.

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left: penstamon, I think
right: some flower I can’t identify

This hike was surprisingly easy until the last half mile or so, when it started climbing with a vengeance up the mountain. Before that, there was plenty of time to enjoy De Roux Creek, the forest, and the varied wildflowers. We saw paintbrush, lupine, columbine, penstamon, and many others. As we got higher up, we started seeing snow. At one point, there was a snow wall right next to the trail that was taller than me! A few of the snowfields required some tricky snow maneuvering or had to be navigated around, but nothing too troublesome. We passed a boulder field and I was surprised to see a bold pika who kept appearing on rocks. Normally I don’t spot them until later in the summer when they’re busy gathering plants. It also seemed like there were a lot of brightly-colored birds on this hike, including a beautiful bird with bright turquoise markings that flew quickly by us before we could get a good look.

View from the pass

We passed Camp Wahoo/High Country Outfitters on the way to the trailhead, and the Koppen Mountain trail is frequented by horse riders. There was some “evidence of horse use” that was stepped carefully around, but it didn’t seem too heavy yet, and we passed a group of riders on the way back down. The pass at the shoulder of Koppen Mountain is the turnaround point for the riders. The views were very nice there, but it’s worth continuing further.

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left: dog party at Koppen Mountain!
right: horse party

As the trail guide puts it, “Since the trail was built for fire spotters rather than recreationists, it tends to be steep and straight – these men truly believed that the fastest way from point A to point B was a straight line, even if that line ran vertically!” I’ve definitely been on worse, but I took my sweet time up that last steep section. The top of the mountain was a beautiful 360 view, and one of the people up there had the Peakfinder app on his phone and was able to easily identify the surrounding peaks: Stuart, Esmerelda, Hawkings, Thorp, and many more. I had expected a sunny, brutally hot day, but instead we had cloudy, cool weather. This made the hiking much more pleasant, but the low clouds made it so we couldn’t see most of Stuart and some of the other mountains. We stayed for awhile, hoping that the clouds would lift, but no luck there – will have to come back! The dog to human ratio at the summit was almost 1:1, and I got to enjoy the company of three perky Golden Retrievers who really, really wanted a piece of my lunch.

View from Koppen Mountain (as a Photosynth)

We felt a few drops from the sky here and there, but fortunately it never developed into any actual rain. Easy hike back down, long drive out of the Teanaway, then sat in I-90 traffic as everyone made their Sunday journeys back over the pass to Seattle. Summer is here!