Alta Mountain – August 2015

This post isn’t too terribly late…it’s from a few weeks ago. Jared, Tyler, and I hiked to the top of Alta Mountain on a Sunday. This hike was a test run/quasi training hike for the Wonderland Trail, which we just finished yesterday! The day on Alta was beautiful – warm weather, blue skies. And the views were even better. Alta has to be one of my favorite hikes and favorite views in Washington so far…

Views of Hibox from the meadow below Rachel Lake
Views of Hibox from the meadow below Rachel Lake

Sunday. August 9, 2015. Hike: Alta Mountain. Length: 12 miles. Gain: 3300 feet. High Point: 6151 feet.

Clear blue waters of Rachel Lake
Clear blue waters of Rachel Lake

Tyler meets Jared and I at our place and we hit the road somewhere around 8 am. I’d been particularly ambitious this morning and had made breakfast burritos which we eat in the car. Tyler brings the coffee. We drive the 1 1/2 hours (not bad!) to the Rachel Lake trailhead, the last few miles of which is on a washboard dirt road. We’re on the trail by 10 am.

Soaking in Rachel Lake
Soaking in Rachel Lake

The hike starts out easy along the Rachel Lake trail. This hike has 3300 feet of gain, mostly in spurts – you’re either walking flat or climbing up. Early on we all break to pee. It’s 3.5 miles to Rachel Lake. Flat, through woods, through a large meadow with plants above our heads, then up! We see what we later realize is Hibox Peak and all quizzically wonder – “is that where we’re going? it looks so far away…”. Turns out it’s not. Alta is hidden for the time being.

Contemplating a dip
Contemplating a dip

We pass most people along the steep section leading to Rachel Lake. Families ending their weekend of camping, groups, etc. One young guy is carrying a heavy Weber grill. Another a keyboard. Strange, but ok.

La privy. Love it
La privy. Love it

We make it to Rachel Lake and man, is it gorgeous. We snack and sit for nearly an hour just soaking in the view. It’s just too relaxing and picturesque to leave just yet. Other people are sitting along the rocky shore too. A small dog spends 20 minutes with us, patiently begging for food. Jared and Tyler have plans to jump in the lake on the way out. I use the privy (call me crazy, but I find the idea of toilets along trails in the woods both strange and awesome).

Climbing above Rachel Lake
Climbing above Rachel Lake

We finally muster the mental resolve to get back on the trail and continue up the – possibly difficult – trail to Alta Mountain.  We resume our places along the unmarked trail and quickly gain elevation as we ascent tight switchbacks that take us above Rachel Lake – another beautiful vantage point.

Looking down on Rachel
Looking down on Rachel

At the top of the switchbacks, along the ridge, we take the unmarked trail right that will take us to Lila Lake and Alta Mountain. We meander along the ridge for a while. A trail runner runs past. Less than half mile later we’re at the next unmarked junction that takes us left up to Alta. Trail reports of a “knife-edge” ridge and the WTA description that “the route is non-technical, but those with a fear of heights will be uneasy” makes me nervous, but it doesn’t look so bad from here… I can handle it.

Hibox is a good looking peak
Hibox is a good looking peak

We again climb up steeply for a short time before the trail sort of levels off again. We walk along the ridge. It reminds me of walking along a boardwalk or walking the plank. The ridge drops off steeply on both sides of the trail and the valleys open up expansively to huge views in all directions. Beautiful. And blueberries! Blueberry bushes line the trail up here. Yum.

Looking down on Lila Lake
Looking down on Rachel Lake still

Is that the top? No. What about that? No. The ridge goes on and on, false summit after false summit. The knife-edge gets sharper. Ok, I can understand the “uneasy” part. I’m feeling pretty uneasy. I hike ahead of Tyler and Jared – I know I’m going to have to slow way down over the hairiest parts, so I make up for future lost time now.

Looking up to Alta
Looking up to Alta

On and on. Jared and Tyler catch up. Eventually we see the cairn that marks the top. It used to be over 6 feet tall not long ago, but now it’s probably 3 or 4 feet. Still, it stands out and we make our way there. Success!

Start of the knife edge ridge
Start of the knife edge ridge

We snack at the summit for a few minutes. Amazing views in all directions! We can see the bottom of Rainier (the top is in clouds). Hibox Peak, Lila Lakes, the PCT, and a dozen or so other standout peaks and lakes that I somehow never manage to remember. Gorgeous. I brought a big jar of Justin’s hazelnut spread. As Tyler dips his nature valley bar into the jar, tiny bugs swarm him and about a dozen of them nosedive into the nut butter. I’m amused and pick the bugs out. After 15 or 20 minutes, we decide to head back down.

Hibox and Lila Lake
Hibox and Lila Lake

Back along the sharp-ridge. Less uneasy-feeling-inducing on the way back somehow. Over the ridge, down the hill, over the other ridge, down the switchbacks, back to Rachel Lake.

Stunning ridge
Stunning ridge

Jared and Tyler jump in the lake. They say it’s warm. Ish. I dip my feet in and wash off the dirt (my Brooks Cascadias that I hike in have totally blown out and dirt finds its way in easily). We chat with the folks who sit at the shores of Rachel Lake now. We’ve conquered our mountain and feel pretty accomplished.

Looking north from Alta summit
Looking north from Alta summit

Ok, I guess we can’t stay here forever…Back down the steep section, Jared is practically doing a jig down the trail. We all have so much energy. We meander through the woods and across the meadow, the flowers are looking particularly large and in charge (does anyone know what that tall purple flower – that I didn’t take a picture of – is? gotta figure that out…).

These mountains are rediculous!
These mountains are rediculous!

Down through the woods. We’re all running at points – feeling great! Jared leading the charge, me in the middle, and Tyler in the back. Eventually we realize that we can’t run forever/shouldn’t run forever if we want to hike Wonderland in one piece.

The cairn/looking south from Alta summit
The cairn/looking south from Alta summit

Back to the car. An awesome, beautiful, demanding, and rewarding hike. Can’t wait to come back and check out Lila and Rampart Lakes…

Endless mountains
Endless mountains
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Heather – Maple Pass Loop – August 2015

So I’m waaaay behind on blog posts (yes by about 15 posts!) but thought I’d catch up in reverse order…starting with the newest and working my way backward. Jared and I went hiking yesterday in the North Cascades. We both managed to get the day off from work. Originally we intended to hike Alta Mountain, but seeing as how the forecast for the Snoqualmie area called for rain and clouds, we diverged north instead.

The trail according to the map in the parking lot
The trail according to the map in the parking lot

Monday. August 3, 2015. Hike: Heather-Maple Pass Loop. Distance: 7.2 miles. Elevation gain: 2000 feet. High point: 6650 feet.

We get a smidge later start to the day after an exhausting (but great!) social day (we hosted a random PCT hiker the night before whom we bade farewell, met friends for breakfast, sailed, and hosted music club). We left for the mountains around 10 am.

Looking down on Lake Ann
Looking down on Lake Ann

Drive the 3 hours north to the North Cascades, realizing along the way that we’re going right by Ross Lake and Diablo Lake – a place we hope to canoe/camp later this summer! Diablo Lake is the most beautiful shade of slightly cloudy turquoise…

From Heather Pass
From Heather Pass

Jared and I each eat our half of the QFC sandwich we picked up along the way – not a ton of food, but somehow so dense and satisfying that we have no desire to eat another crumb until later that evening.We read about ptarmigans on the way and hope we see one. We arrive at the Rainy Pass trailhead just after 1. We hop onto the trail that points us toward Lake Ann (we think it’s counter clockwise around the loop? seems to be the direction most people travel) and start hiking!

Just above Heather Pass. Look at that silly smoke
Just above Heather Pass. Look at that silly smoke

Through woods, past a few people, and out onto a beautiful scree slope. A pika squeaks at us. Bog remnants below. Vast views beyond. We start to see a touch of haze above and beyond – wildfire smoke?! A faint smell of campfires permeate the air. Up switchbacks. Views of Lake Ann just below – a photogenic cirque with a tiny island in the center.

Just over Maple Pass. Cute lil' cirque and teeny snow field
Just over Maple Pass. Cute lil’ cirque and teeny snow field

Up to Heather Pass where two women with a dog tell us about the good views to be had down the short social trail to our right. The social trails lead to the further, more rugged peaks that require scrambles (Lewis and Wing Lakes, Black Peak, and beyond). We meander a few hundred yards down and admire the badass looking peaks from a distance. Lovely wildflowers.

From near Maple Pass
From near Maple Pass

Continue up the ridgeline toward Maple Pass. The higher we go, the smokier it gets. The smell of smoke gets stronger too. We chat with an older couple about the smoke and fires. A few ash flakes dust down from the sky occasionally. One lands in my eyelash.

Jared walking down along the ridge
Jared walking down along the ridge

Despite the smoke, the views are still beautiful! Jagged, rugged peaks in all directions. Many glaciated peaks. We keep climbing until we’re finally at the pinnacle of our hike – Maple Pass. I surprise Jared with 2 beers I have stashed in my pack. We sip and chat from our glorious vantage point.

A middle aged couple inquires about the trail down – have we been down before? is it steep? We haven’t been there before, but it’s supposed to be a bit steeper that the first half. The return from whence they came.

Beers empty. Time to descend. Switchbacks down. There are a few precarious spots with significant exposure, but we make across the hairy spots easily. We spy a tent perched at the end of a ridge just past Maple Pass, it looks like an awesome spot to camp. Switchback down more. This portion of the trail reminds me of the Ohanapecosh Park of the Wonderland Trail, on the east side of Rainier with it’s exposed, beautiful ridgeline.

IMG_6958
Ptarmigan!!!

Down down. Bathroom break. Continue down. And suddenly… Ptarmigan! Wha!!!???!!!! The chill bird skidders slowly then hangs out at the edge of the trail. Can’t believe we found one!

Back into the woods. A few jaunts of running. This trail is too fun not to run. More roots lead to more stumbling lead to walking again. Before we know it, we’re on the flat, paved portion of the trail near Rainey Lake. A flat half mile out.

Back at the car sometime between 4 and 5. On our way back to Seattle we compose poems. In my brain I was thinking haiku, but said limerick. Jared came up an awesome limerick. I came up with a sweet haiku. Please enjoy…

There once was a couple from Seattle
Who went to the North Cascades to do battle
They hiked up a peak
Saw a bird with a beak
And spent the ride back home with the atl’ (atlas)

Drove by Diablo
Hiked up high, drank beer, saw bird
Home to Seattle