Hiking postsSunday August 12, 2012
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.
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.
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