Hiking postsSaturday August 10, 2013
Above the Clouds on Granite Mountain
“Writing is of use to the psyche only if the writer discovers something he did not know he knew in the act itself of writing.”
-- Norman Mailer, “The Presidential Papers of Norman Mailer,” pg. 219
I read that quote early this morning while I was contemplating a hike up Granite Mountain. I'd planned on the hike but woke up to see a different weather report. Rain? Thunderstorms? Possibly? I decided to drive out to the trailhead, see what it was like. At worst, I'd just turn around and come back.
Norman was big on the journey without a known destination. He was anti-repetition. I kept thinking about that in the early stages of the hike. I was on a hike whose ending was known to me—I'd done it two or three times over the years—but today I didn't know what I would find. Would the weather turn bad? Would I have to turn back?
About a third of the way up, I came upon a clearing with blue skies peeking through and inwardly rejoiced. A second later, the switchback switched back, and when I came out on the woods on the other side we were socked in again.
Then I noticed the wildflowers. They looked beautiful with the sun filtering through the condensed air.
The wildflowers were even more out when I left the woods completely and scaled up the south side of the mountain.
Off and on, we were still socked in. I worried there would be no view. But near the top, before the final ascent to the lookout tower, I got above the clouds and could see the Cascades, clearer than normal on a late summer day.
And by the time I got the top, well, no complaints.
Here's to not knowing what the end will look like.
Mt. Rainier from Mt. Si
My friend Ben and I hiked up Mt. Si today on one of the hotter days of the year in the Pac NW. I was looking for a good hike with a view that was less than 4500 feet, since that's where the snow line is right now, but maybe 8 miles roundtrip with 3,000 feet elevation gain isn't a good hike to inaugurate the year. I'm still feeling it. The top had swarms of dark black bugs that hurt when they bit. Anyone know what they are? Crowded trail, of course, with a few runners. One guy passed us going up (as we were going up), then passed us going down (as we were going up), then passed us going up again (as we were going down). That's commitment. Or something.
In the end, not bad for a couple of 50-somethings.
Rainier from Si.
Me on Si.
First Hike of the Season: Lake 22
Beautiful weather today in Seattle—81 degrees right now, which is insane for this time of year—so Patricia and I took advantage by hiking up to Lake 22 off the Mountain Loop Highway. Well, not all the way to Lake 22. After 90 minutes or so, we ran into one patch of snow, then a second, then a lot. We stopped at a lot—I'm guessing about a half mile from the lake. Maybe those who hiked all the way know.
Nice hike, though. The mountain streams and waterfalls are flush with clear spring runoff. You'd get near one of those waterfalls and the temperature would drop 10 degrees.
Patricia on the long bridge.
Mt. Pilchuck: Breathtaking Twice
I was going to call this post “Rocky Horror Pilchuck Show,” since, as I was climbing Mt. Pilchuck on this glorious, glorious fall day, there was a couple ahead of me, then behind me, whom I couldn't shake (I kept stopping to take pictures), and whose male half kept droning on and on. About nothing. In a loud baritone. It was like being pursued by the Bore-anator. That same kind of calm, plodding persistence.
But eventually I did shake them and forgot about them amidst the beauty of the hike and the fall colors.
Here's a video from the summit. The Cascade mountains were clearer to the north than the south. I filmed it from the rock on which I was eating lunch.
One day I'll figure out how to make better movies.
Here are some of the fall colors:
Granite Mountain Redux (Redux)
It was blue skies and 80s in the Pacific Northwest today so I did one of my favorite hikes, Granite Mountain, about 40 minutes east of Seattle on I-90. It's a pretty difficult hike—4 miles one way, 3800 feet elevation gain—and I've had health issues recently, but it was a great day. Much of the hike is along southern exposure, so once you're out of the woods, halfway through, you definitely get some heat. You also get a gradual view of Mt. Rainier. Going up, it's kind of like Rainier-rise: there's a bit of it, then more, then more. When you reach the cabin outpost at the top, on a good day, you've got a clear view:
iPhone cameras don't do it justice.
On the way down, it's Rainer-set: a little less, a little less. By that point, of course, you want it to go away so you'll be closer to the shade of the woods. Southern exposures can be brutal. At the same time, as with all loves, it's tough to say good-bye to Rainier. And as with all loves, your love doesn't care.
The outpost, by the way, is a functioning outpost, run, this day, by Bob, a former Washington Trails Association member, who, five years ago, became a volunteer USFS member. He spends weekends, June to September, on Granite Mountain. This outpost is apparently the third one built on Granite Mt. The first was a cabin, built around 1912. The second was a cabin with a cupola for viewing in the 1920s. “Like a lighthouse?” I asked. “Yes,” he said. Then in the 1950s, they decided to combine cabin and cupola and put the entire thing on stilts. That's how we got what we got. Which I love. In the photos below, Bob is the right-most photo, the right-most person:
My first trip to Granite Mountain was two years ago.
Last year I did it again with video.
My Long and Winding Road to a Piece of “Twin Peaks” Cherry Pie
In 1990, I watched most of the first season of David Lynch's “Twin Peaks” at my father's house in Minneapolis, caught the second-to-last episode at my sister's place in Seattle, and saw the final episode of the first season about a month later, in Taipei, Taiwan, when my father (finally!) shipped it to me. You could say I was hooked.
Initially I assumed its locale was Michigan: all those Douglas firs and proximity to Canada, I suppose. Turned out it was Washington state, where I moved in 1991. For a time I worked at the University Book Store, where the diary for Laura Palmer had been bought by someone on Lynch's production team, and every so often I visited North Bend, the true locale for the show, for a hike up Mt. Si. But I never went into Twede's Cafe, formerly the Mar T Cafe, home of cherry pie and that damn fine cup of coffee. Hey, is that how the whole coffee thing began? Does Howard Schultz owe his fortune to David Lynch and Special Agent Dale Cooper?
Haven't really thought about the show much since, to be honest, but Sunday I drove out of Seattle early to hike up Bare Mountain, whose trailhead is approximately 24 miles north of North Bend, mostly on dirt roads. The hike turned out to be a bust. In the first hour I had to climb over five trees that had fallen on the trail, each one an omen; then the trail became so overrun with vegetation, six or seven feet high, that I practically needed a machete to keep going. I fought my way through one patch, then another, weeds scraping my shins and drawing blood; but when the third patch appeared, and I couldn't for the life of me see where the trail might finally rise above the tree line, I feared I was on the wrong path and backtracked, then wound up backtracking all the way to the trailhead. So instead of summiting on a sky-blue day, I had a two-hour walk in the woods and weeds. Not that there weren't rewards:
Driving back over the dirt road, I decided, in order to salvage some part of the day, to finally stop at the Mar T, now Twede's, to check it out.
It took a second for my eyes to adjust to the darkness of the restaurant. One o'clock on a Sunday but the place was bustling. A few booths were open but I opted for the counter, then opted for a burger and fries. So far that day I'd only had coffee and sweet things (trail mix, etc.), so coffee and cherry pie didn't appeal. As I was eating, I did something Dale Cooper couldn't do back in 1990: I checked my email on my smartphone and found a back-and-forth between Patricia and our neighbor Ward about an outdoor dinner party we were all attending that evening in downtown Seattle. Ward talked about picking up the ingredients for a peach pie; Patricia suggested she and I get bread or cheese on the way. To me, an alternative immediately suggested itself:
Two birds. We wouldn't arrive empty-handed and I could finally have my “Twin Peaks” cherry pie after all these years.
Patricia was initially against the idea. Ward was baking a pie, she said, so it seemed gauche, or at least territorial, to bring a pie of our own. Ward overruled her. “You can never have too much pie,” he wrote.
The dinner party overlooked Puget Sound. Drinks and food flowed. The sun set over the Sound.
But as the sun faded, so did Patricia. She'd just had arthroscopic surgery and was still in the recovery phase. In fact, the dinner party was her first night out. So we left. Before the pie. Which we left behind.
The next morning after the usual chores and ablutions—feeding Jellybean, showering, making coffee—Jellybean, now fed and sassy, was meowing by the door. We live in a condo but she still meows by the door to be let out into the hallway, which she thinks is hers. It's part of her morning ritual. And just try to stop a cat from her morning ritual.
When I opened the door, I noticed something on the floor: A white cardboard box. Jellybean began sniffing at it. I lifted it up and, yep, there it was, three-quarters of the Twede's Cafe cherry pie, which Ward, my hero, had brought back for us.
So after more than 20 years, I finally had my slice of damn fine cherry pie. And it was.
Now if I could only get me some of that grapefuit—freshly squeezed.
Day Hikes from Seattle: Bandera Mountain
The guidebook, or guide website, mentions a fork in the trail about an hour into this hike: one path heading to Mason Lake, the other up to the summit of Bandera Mountain. It also mentions that, on the Bandera Mt. path, things get pretty steep. They ain't kidding. On the way down, I noticed that the hill is so steep it's actually convex rather than concave. It curves, like the earth, and you lose sight of people on the other side of the curve.
Nice trail, all in all. Starts out wide and gently sloped, gets steeper past your first (and only?) waterfalls, opens into meadows and wildflowers. Then it makes you choose: a lake or that hellish ascent to the summit. I went latter. The summit, or false summit, is actually a bit of a disappointment. I was hoping for 360-degree views but no such luck. Rainier was way out, though. Bandera is actually one of those Mt. Rainier, peek-a-boo hikes. You go along a southern exposure in which you get the tip, then the top, then the whole of Mt. Rainier.
Half of Mt. Pilchuck: Powder in August
I was late getting my teeth straightened and I was early losing (some of) my hair, so for a time, when I was 19, I feared I would exhibit the imperfections of youth and age simultaneously: bald with braces.
I remembered that post-adolescent injustice today while hiking Mt. Pilchuck in the Cascade Mountains. From the moment you get out of your car at the trailhead you're inundated with flies and mosquitoes. They're still bugging you an hour later, halfway through the hike, when the trail disappears under snow, making it difficult to continue unless you have serious hiking boots and ski poles.
Mosquitoes and snow? Imperfections of winter and summer? C'mon Nature, pick a season and end it.
For a time the hike seemed almost too pristine. Early on, it was a damp, a clue that the snow was still melting, but then it gave way to long stretches of a fairly easy, almost too easy, gradation. WTA had even built some steps into the hike. I breezed along, trying to get away from the bugs.
Around a corner the dirt-trail becomes a rock trail, which I find difficult to pick up. Ten minutes later, the rock trail disappears beneath patches of snow. Then “patches” disappears, leaving only the snow. This is as far as I got:
I could've gone further but at one point took a step and disappeared up to my knee. Bad sign.
On the way down I saw four dudes hiking up with skiis. “That's the idea,” I told them. They were pumped. Powder in August.
Granite Mt. Redux
Two years ago hiking Granite Mt., I missed the turnoff for Granite Mt., went a mile out of my way (two counting the return), and wound up with a 10-mile hike rather than a mere eight.
Today, the first nice weekend of the year in Seattle, I returned. Didn't miss the turnoff this time but probably should've checked the snow conditions. Put it this way: the prepared brought their crampons; I brought a turkey sandwich.
A good day, nevertheless.
P.S. First time attempting audio commentary. It'll get better...
The World's Worst Hiker: Rachel Lake
Within five minutes of hiking to Rachel Lake in the Snoqualmie Pass, I lost the trail. Wait, it was worse. Saturday morning, Patricia and I drove east on I-90, then for five miles next to Kachless Lake, then four miles over an uneven dirt road to the half-full parking lot, where a few campers and their dogs milled about. Geared up, we saw a sign, "Welcome to Rachel Lake Trail," and headed down that road. "Down" should've given us a clue: It led to another parking lot. P: "I don't think this is the trail." Backtracking, P shouted to two campers: "You guys know where you're going?" and laughed. Generally I'm not shy about asking directions, but at that moment I felt about a gonad short of a pack. I'd lost the trail before I'd found it.
Eventually, after signing in at the trailhead, we passed those dudes and their dog, and five minutes later I stepped over a group of branches in the middle of the trail. Some part of me was thinking, "It's as if someone put them there on purpose," but the more insistent part of me kept going. About 150 feet later the trail diminished to nothing. More backtracking. Were we backpacking or backtracking? Oh right, the branches. As a warning. Now I get it.
Twice on one hike. Could I go for the hat trick?
Much of hiking, though, is pacing, and P and I are unfortunately ill-matched here. If I go at my pace, she gets left behind; if we go at hers, I get resentful, and even when I don't, even if I'm feeling magnanimous that day, she assumes I'm resentful and resents back. Or maybe she resents the magnanimity more. Who wouldn't? The loftiness of spirit to bear me calmly? Who the fuck do you think you are? We had that friction early in the Rachel Lake hike. Plus her threshhold of beauty is lower than mine. She's often stopping, arms akimbo, going, "My god, this is beautiful," while, slightly ahead, I stop, look around, shrug. "Isn't this beautiful?" she insists. "Yeah, it's beautiful," I say. I'm assuming she's stopping just to rest. She's pissed at me for going so fast as to miss all this beauty. Not to mention the trail. And that's how we hike.
But at some point, generally during steep ascents, she lets me off-leash and I go bounding up. Rachel Lake is four miles one way: a mile of gradual ascent, a mile a half of relative flat next to a creek, and a final mile and a half that takes you up 1600 feet over big rocks and huge, twisting roots like out of Tolkien. P let me loose early in the ascent and I quickly passed a couple that had passed us on the flat. "We downshifted to granny gear," the husband joked. I smiled and made a magnanimous remark about being less burdened with my half-full daypack, as opposed to their full backpacks, but it sounded overlong and hollow even as it left my mouth. (Lesson for the day: Magnanimity sucks.) A minute later, I was still ruminating on the idiocy of the line when I wondered: Is this the trail? I convinced myself, Yeah, it's the trail, but it kept narrowing and narrowing. I didn't want to backtrack because a) it still might be the trail, and b) if it wasn't, I'd be behind that couple again and I'd have to repass them, and I hated repassing people. Although in retrospect it might've been fun—like those old Tex Avery cartoons where Droopy Dog keeps turning up, impossibly, again and again and again, and, with a lugubrious "Hello," makes his antagonist's eyes bulge out and his mouth drop to the floor.
Then I heard the couple ahead of me. Which meant I wasn't on the trail. Which meant I'd lost it again.
But I kept going forward. I'm hard-wired for forward. Maybe, I thought, this trail hooks back up with the main trail. It was worth a shot. Until the trail disappeared completely.
At that point, 20 yards downhill, I saw Patricia's white shirt gleaming through the pine trees and yelled down to her. She looked up—but not at me. Ahead on the trail. Which is where she assumed I was. "Yeah?"
Even though it was a gross violation of hiking etiquette, I went off-trail—purposefully, this time—in order to get back on trail.
"Why am I waiting?" she yelled uptrail. A second later I came crashing through the trees to her right. "Oh," she said.
After that, we stuck together.
As tired as she was, Patricia kept complimenting the hike and its views, but overall I wasn't enamored. I don't need to do this one again, I kept thinking. Until we got to Rachel Lake.
I mean, c'mon.
The World's Worst Hiker: Granite Mountain
That would be me, by the way.
I live in Seattle, which is nestled between the Cascade mountains (to the east) the Olympic mountains (to the west). You can't not hike here.
I usually do day hikes, usually on Saturdays, usually with my friend Jim, who's been hiking these parts since he moved here from New Jersey in 1981. Jim's got a new girlfriend, though, who lives about an hour outside of Seattle, and they tend to spend weekends together. My girl, meanwhile, Patricia, was sore from volunteer work she did Friday. So Saturday morning I headed up the I-90 corridor by myself toward Granite Mountain.
Since Jim got me into hiking I've tended to follow his lead, and Jim's into the following: a 6-mile round-trip hike, with a 2,000-foot elevation gain, that begins in the forest, breaks through to meadows, and winds up on a mountaintop with great views. You eat lunch, you head back. Jim doesn't approve of hikes that end in lakes. Jim doesn't approve of hikes too close to Seattle, or to I-90, or to other people. He likes to get away.
This means that, though I've been hiking for 10 years, I haven't done some of the most accessible hikes in the area: Snoqualmie Pass hikes less than an hour from Seattle. That's Granite Mountain. Take exit 47, turn north for .2 miles, turn west for .4 miles, and, boom, you're at the trailhead. Beats 16 miles over a bumpy dirt road. Other cars can do that but we've got a '95 Honda Civic, low to the ground, and those dirt roads take their toll even if the U.S. Forest Service doesn't.
Saturday morning was beautiful—blue skies, warming Pacific Northwest air. I left before 8:00 and was on the trail before 9:00. To be honest, there are certain things I don't mind doing alone and hiking's one of them.
But here's why I'm the world's worst hiker. I learned about the Granite Mountain trail from 100 Classic Hikes in Washington by Ira Spring and Harvey Manning. It's a glossy Mountaineers guide, and Granite Mountain is hike no. 57, and it's called "Granite Mountain." For people like me it should be called "Pratt Lake/Granite Mountain." Or they should indicate, for people like me, in capital letters: "This BEGINS on the Pratt Lake trail; then you TURN OFF to get onto the Granite Mountain trail." They say as much, but without the caps, and so some part of me, knowing this is hike no. 57, called "Granite Mountain," assumes I'm already on the trail. I'm not. That's the first reason why I'm the world's worst hiker.
Here's the second reason, and it relates to the first: I'm a daydreamer. "You live the life of the mind," a friend recently said. Which means I'm hiking along, thinking about this profile I have to write on a lawyer, and that piece I have to do for MSNBC-Movies, and what would be the next best step in that profile, and should I include this scene or that scene in the MSNBC piece, and, wait, what's that on my face? A cobweb? Puh! And another one? Damn, there's a lot of cobwebs on this trail. Or are they silkworm threads? Because I don't see any... Oh, there they are. Shit, that's a big spider. Yuck. Remember Tarantula? Remember The Fly? "Help me! Help me!" I joked about it last weekend so of course now would be the time... The ironic school of storytelling. The O Henry ending. Of course there are no giant spiders, Erik. Ah, but there are cougars. There've been a lot of sightings lately—even in Seattle. Who's to say? What are you supposed to do if you cross paths with a cougar again? Run? Pray? Punch it in the nose? Jesus, I should've been in Boy Scouts. I should've learned something. Does Patricia even know what trail I'm on? Well, the car's at the trailhead. At least they'll know where to look. Puh! More spiderwebs. Man, where is everybody? And what time is it? 9:35? Wait... wasn't the turnoff supposed to be after like a mile? Did I miss it? Am I even on the right trail? Did those people at the trailhead distract me from seeing the real trail, and now I'm on this wrong trail that everyone else knows you don't hike at this time of year because of all the damn spiders? Because of the giant spider? Puh!
Fifteen minutes later I finally saw someone: a thirtyish dude who must've camped overnight because his sleeping bag was still on the trail. I stepped over it...and at the last instant realized that someone was actually in the sleeping bag. Boy or girl? Not sure. Just hair sticking out the top of the bag.
"Forgive me for asking a really stupid question," I began. "But what trail is this?"
He did a mild double-take. "The Pratt Lake Trail."
"Damn. Missed the turnoff for Granite Mountain."
"Yeah, that's like...about a mile back. It's right near this stream, you know? You were probably distracted by the stream."
"Thanks!" I'd crossed a few mountain streams on the way there, so on the way back I look at each one carefully, searching for the trail up. Didn't see it. Until the fourth mountain stream. Then on the far side (the near side during my first pass) I saw a narrow trail. I remembered seeing it, too, and thinking it was just another scabby trail that would dissipate after 20 feet. That it was a dead end. I thought: "You know, that Mountaineers book should really emphasize that the turnoff isn't that prominent. That it's easy to mistake for a dead-end trail." I was thinking this as the trail dead-ended after 20 feet at the mountain stream. It wasn't the Granite Mountain turnoff, after all.
I found the Granite Mountain turnoff five minutes later—or about 20 minutes from the trailhead. It's big and open, with a wood sign reading "Granite Mt.," and an arrow pointing up. All that's missing are the flashing lights and the carnival barker directing you.
I sighed, paused, calculated. I'd already hiked three miles and still had three to go just to reach the summit. The original hike was arduous enough—8 miles roundtrip, 3800 feet elevation gain—and I was turning it into a 10-mile hike with a, what, 4300 feet elevation gain? 4500 feet? Plus the brunt of the hike has a southern exposure and they recommended making it there early on hot sunny days. My daydreaming had cost me a crucial hour. But I figured I didn't have to summit. I could just hike until I got tired, grab a spot with a view, eat lunch, come down. Easy.
I hiked with a sense of urgency—as if I were trying to catch up with someone—and passed all the hikers that should've been behind me in the first place. When I hit the sun I stopped to put on sunscreen and a Mariners cap. When I hit shade I stopped to drink water. Soon I began to run into descending hikers. One woman, after she passed me, said to her friends: "God, can you imagine trying to go up at this time of..." Thanks, lady. On and on. Up and up. The fall colors of the blueberry bushes were beautiful, and the trail began to diverge on rocky slopes until it was hard to tell where the trail exactly was. But I kept choosing the most obvious path up. As it neared noon, I kept thinking, "This looks like a good spot for lunch," but kept going. At one point the rocks got huge and the trail leveled off and it finally felt like I was summiting. But I remembered from the book that there was something extra to do. What was it again? Then I turned a corner and saw the extra: an old fire lookout atop Granite Mt.: 400 feet almost straight above me. I stared at it, found shade, plopped down. I thought about lunch again. Then I thought the thought that always keeps you going: I've come this far...
In the end that extra 400 feet went quickly and I stumbled rubber-legged over the giant rocks in the shadow of the lookout and chose a spot facing south: a large flat rock worn smooth by the number of hikers who had chosen it before me. After the long hot summer the Cascades to the left and right looked strangely brown and denuded, but Mt. Rainier, straight ahead, was still gloriously capped with ice and snow. Then I looked below. Way way down, cutting through the woods, lay the thin ribbon of I-90, with cars moving east and west. Could I even hear them? After all this work? How annoying. Jim was right.
Then I laid back against the warm rock and closed my eyes. Even so.
The author, unable to find the turnoff. Unable to take an iPhoto.
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