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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.

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.

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.