Winchester Peak Lookout & Twin Lakes

Taking off on an impromptu back country adventure was in store for one last hurrah before we all moved to different parts of the world. Packing the van with our gear and headed out towards Mount Baker Wilderness, we started the beginning of goodbyes.

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Backcountry camping at it finest! By the time our group got to the trailhead, the sun had set and the stars were out in all force. The plan was to hike up the trail by headlamp to spend a night in the lookout. It did not pan out in the end, and decided to set up camp and get up early in the morning to chase the sunrise on the way up. With a sleeping pad and a bag, I fell asleep under the stars watching shooting stars across the sky.

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Getting up early for another sunrise with hot chocolate made getting up the trail better. At the Twin Lakes Peak, I watched as the golden rays slid up the slopes of the mountains for another day of hiking.IMG_3697

IMG_3710There is a quote about nature reminding us all how small we are, and nature keeps moving forward greeting the day with beautiful rays of joy. Sunrises from mountaintops remind my of nature is more beautiful then we give credit. With the small haze of wildfires, even the sun still comes up in clear golden rays.

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Mount Baker throughout the hike up loomed in the distance reminding me this would be the last sunrise in the alpine for some time.  It also looked cold and deselet compare to Mount Rainier.IMG_3694

After eating some instant oatmeal bars, we headed up the trail towards the lookout.

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One part of the trail we had to slide down a snowfield in order to cross. My butt got so wet by the time I reached the bottom, it looked as if I peed on myself and I think my tailbone got bruised in the process after hitting a small chunk of ice sticking up. Also, we had to stop for a snowball fight as well to get each other one last time before we all headed off around the world.DSCN4406IMG_3743

Just hiking up, you could see how much beauty there is in the alpine. The rugged peaks in the distance marked where the United States and Canadian border is. That is how close I was to Canada. At one point I did ask the Canadian if they wanted to make a run for the border. The answer was no. IMG_3843

For some reason I ended up being the first one to the submit where the lookout was. On my way up the trail, I saw a group of hikers coming back down the trail and realized they were the ones who spend a night in the lookout. I am normally the last one to the top of may hike, so beading a whole bunch of people made it extra special.

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Of course inside the lookout was very warm, and could see from the log book countless people had been up here in the past few months. As a funny joke, we all signed the visitor book as the Marmots of 2018. A class about a year ago did the same thing when they visited, and we found it in the log book!

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The sign below reminds all who venture up here that you cannot be unhappy and still be here. You have to be happy!

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On the way back down we all decided to go another route back to the campsite. It ended up having to hike climb across a snowfield. The whole time I was thinking “dear God, what the heck did I get myself into?” It is harder then you may think to cross an icy sheet of snow and climb up it with bare hands! At one point we all were sliding back down the slope towards the sharp rocks in the talus field below! I even had some one’s butt in my face, and it was enough motivation to get the heck up the icy slope. Finally, we all managed to get to the top with fingers painfully stinging and white. No frost bite for any of us, but came close!

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Once down at the trailhead, we made a dash for the lake! There is no picture of me jumping into the cold alpine lake waters to wash off the grime of the trail, but it was divine experience worth it. After having the sun dry us all off, we packed up the campsite and headed for civilization with a stop at the Taco Bell for lunch.

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This picture sums up hiking in the backcountry. Around every corner is something unexpected and once you have completed one hike, you go back for more. I can see this type of hiking continuing for years to come. Once bit, you cannot go back!

Information:
Winchester Lookout

Twin Lakes Trail

Peaks Are Alive|Olympic National Park

I find myself in beautiful places and with that, I find myself at places I least expect. Every time I think of the Olympic Mountains I think of the Sound of Music. Wide open alpine meadows with peaks looking straight out of Alps. Why did Leavenworth have to be in the Cascades? Three days spent in what I believe the most beautiful natural park in Washington, a beautiful place everyone should visit.

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Hurricane Hill Trail:

In order to find the trailhead, you have to drive past the Hurricane Ridge Visitor Center along a narrow road with one nerve-wracking switch back with a cliff. No tour buses here!

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The trailhead at the time could only be accessed by the lower trail parking lot. Along the first mile of the trail, the Olympic Peaks peeked out between trees. The vistas were spectacular with so much beauty coming all at once. While hiking to the top, our group came across so many deer walking around as if people did not bother them. One even came popping out of the bushes while a group of us were trying to figure out of we saw a bear in the distant slope.

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Marmots were also out lazy sunbathing on rocks like vacationers. Clouds coming across the slopes like wisps of smoke and a spooky show at the same time. The quietness of the landscape was so beautiful and unreal when this high up.

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Lunch was on a rock outcrop I ended up climbing up later to survey all the surrounding area. While climbing up the rock pile, clouds whipping all around me to the point where it was a wall of clouds. The song Into The Mist by Eivør going through my head as the clouds surrounded me.

Walking in the mist
No one knows where I’ve been
Far from my home now
Going in circles round and round
I’m on my own now

Something’s hiding in the dark
Lurking in between the rocks
Whispers in my ear
I turn around but no one’s there
I call up but there’s no answer

Shadow, shadow by my side
Drifting through the misty night
Are you wandering just like me
Within this surreality?

At this point I was separated from the group….and…I had a feeling something was not right. To be alone and exposed to predication (cougar sightings in the area along with bear), it was unnerving to see a deer below take off running into the trees with deadly quietness following. I knew something was close by, and I needed to figure out where it could be coming through. Thank goodness the group showed up with laughter and not coming face to face with a predator.

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Later a group of hikers had seen a black bear on the trail close by! I was lucky! The rest of the hike was uneventful and mostly viewing all the plants and other animals around the trail. The ride back to camp was rocking out to Mumford and Sons “I Will Wait For You” with a smile on my face.

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Obstruction Point Trail:

There is a dirt road turn out before the parking lot at Hurricane Ridge that goes down to this backcountry trail. Many people don’t see it, and this is one of the best-kept secrets of this area of the National Park. The road is long dusty with lots of switchbacks as it winds towards a small parking lot with a pit toilet. So bring your own toilet paper!

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Sunsets are starting to become a thing lately, and I am not complaining about it. Rewarding after a long day of hiking to summit a peak to watch the sun sink down ending another day.

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Spending time atop of a mountain viewing the sunset listening to the wind whip around you in near silence is as close to God as it gets. 37778120_10212406487747798_356720724972404736_o

When night fell, and it was time to put the headlamp on, we trekked down the mountain trying to keep on the trail that was nonexistent in the dark towards the van. Out here the stars shine brightly, and yet a shooting star decides to give us a show. On this night laying in a field with others viewing the stars in the sky made the world seem so small. _DSC0197

Five am wake up call again to chase the sunrise. Again we trekked towards another lake to view the coming sunrise. Pumpkin Seed Lake is an alpine lake very few people know about. It is somewhere off the beaten path of Obstruction Point Trail and finding it can be challenging. Challenging since the trail to it is not marked. You may have to ask someone who knows.

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This frog did not have a great morning after being caught two times by people. By the second time he just sat there defeated. 39400036_10212577663787092_875643024476995584_o

With enough coffee coursing through my veins, I headed up towards other alpine lakes in the area. These nondescript lakes are nestled between other peaks and off known trails where climbing talus and boulder fields is a must.

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This alpine lake at the bottom of the ravine was not as cold as the one at Heather Lake. Just getting down to it was interesting with the possible slide completely down into the lake if you lost your footing. DSCN4477

The famous Ptaragen made one last apearence before it flown away. Many people do not believe they exist because they are hard to spot, live in the highest coldest parts of the mountain ranges. Hear them is at times the only clue they are in the area, and they do get stepped on because they look just like the surrondings.

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Hurricane Ridge Trail:

After partying with another group at the campsite, we all headed towards Hurricane Ridge to hike the small Hurricane Ridge Trail.

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So I said in a previous post I had fed wildlife. Well, I did it again! Yep, this time it was a bunch of gray jays that are also known as camp robbers. To hold a bird in your had is a Disney princess moment. They loved crumbled granola bars and would take a sandwich if I let them. I know shame on me again! I will not be doing this again-it is out of my system now.

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Ok moving on…

Three days hiking in the Olympics was and will be a breathtaking experience. The peak was alive just as in the Sound of Music.

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Information:
Obstruction Point Trail
Hurricane Hill
Hurricane Ridge

Heather Lake Trail| Hike Into The Alpine

 

Alpine lakes stir up images of crystal pristine water with emerald green vegetation, with possible snow on the high slopes. Heather Lake Trail is one to do in late spring early summer to view this beautiful alpine wonder without having to backpack very far up a mountain. This lake has been on my list for some time, and when I had the opportunity to hike to this lake as my first alpine hiking trip, I could not pass it up.

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With a pack all loaded with all the essentials, I headed out for a 4.6 miles round trip to the lake summit. The trail winds through young growth and old growth forests with lots of green vegetation along the path. There were sections where old boardwalks and bridges have been beaten up by nature.

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IMG_3182 Along the trail, there were small streams running over rocks with small pools of water where salamanders were hiding. A fellow hiker in my group caught a salamander hiding under a rock in the above picture. The little guy was not a happy camper about it, and at one point almost slipped out of her hand entirely.

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At one point a banana slug was found to be moving slowly up a trunk of a moss-covered tree. This one decided it did not want to be down on the trail and decided to move to a higher location.

_DSC0041If you are wondering, yes I have licked a banana slug before, and the slime from the slug does make the tongue go numb for a short while (I do not endorse licking slugs in general!). One time was enough for me and thus would never do it again.

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Once to the top of the lake shore, my fellow hikers and I found a nice vantage point on a rock overlooking the lake for lunch. This rock has been known to be proposal rock and a few people have been asked here in the past.

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After much needed substance, the snow pack near the slope by the lake was a call to be explored. The whole time I was looking for watermelon snow (snow that is a ting pinkish-red) for a sample to analyze in the lab later. Watermelon snow does taste a little like watermelon, but you do not want to consume it for you will get a bad case of Hersey squats!

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While there appears to be one lake, Heather Lake is actually made up of one large lake and a smaller one more like a marsh. Here plants and small animals thrive to create a mini ecosystem in an alpine elevation.

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While exploring the smaller lake area, I came across some frog eggs. At first I though they maybe salamander eggs, but frog eggs have a distinct color and shape to them. They almost look like a bunch of eyes looking at you in my hand.

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With the summer heatwave in full effect, the 80°F temperature made this one heck of a sweaty hike. At one point I decided to dip my feet into the lake to cool off. Just imagine how refreshing it was for thirty seconds before you cannot feel your foot! Heather Lake is an alpine lake being fed by glaciers, thus making this lake very cold!!

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After spending some time by the lake soaking in the quiet beauty and being one with nature, I headed down towards civilization. Even with a dip in the alpine lake, the hike down was still sweaty from the 80°F heat the area was getting at the time. By the time I reached the parking lot, I was clear out of the water! A ranger station a few miles down the road had a water spigot to refill my water bottle for the drive home. A reminder to carry enough water with you, even if it is two water bottles full of water.

Have you hiked Heather Lake before? Did you do it in spring or summer? Or in fall or winter?

Information:
Heather Lake Trail

 

Mt. St Helen’s Volcanic Monument| Part 3

Day 3: Coldwater Lake & Hummocks Trail

After a really goodnight of sleep I was ready to conquer another day out exploring the Volcanic Monument.We all piled back into the van ready to head back up to Mt. St. Helen’s to explore the trails and new lakes that had formed after the eruption.

First stop was the side of the road near one of the turn offs towards Coldwater Creek where there was a herd of elk hanging out in the sun. At one point some one thought it would be a really great idea to make an elk mating call to get the elk’s attention. Oh boy did it get the whole herd to pay attention! I believe the elk thought what the heck are these humans making elk mating calls at us for! Elk mating calls done by a human is horrible yet humorous at the same time.

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Around lunch time we all hiked the Hummock Trail to view the hummocks leftover from the eruption in 1980. The trail winds through ponds, wetlands, and alder forests towards the Toutle River valley where the hummocks from the former summit of Mt St. Helen’s were deposited during the eruption. I ended up eating my lunch near a small creek running through the alder trees with the rest of the crew. When we all finally looped back to the parking lot, we headed for Coldwater Lake Recreation Area for exploring.

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Coldwater Lake was not formed until after Mt. St. Helen’s eruption of 1980. For some reason I had the urge of find out where a trail going around the lake would lead and discovered it is the Lake’s Trail which weaves around the edge of the lake. This trail I had discovered weaves in and out of forests recovering from the blast of the 1980’s eruption. The lake below sparkled with the clear blue color of an alpine lake and the small island in the middle of the lake resembled the Wizard Island of Crater Lake.

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Since the weather had been sunny, we headed up to Johnson Ridge Observatory to see the mountain again up close and maybe personal. St Helen showed some of her crater, but still kept some cloud cover higher up. While out on the viewing platform the wildlife around the observatory decided to play cute with our cameras. The golden mantel squarls are very photogenic and will pose for you when they want some of your trail mix.

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Spending a good hour up at Johnson Ridge, we headed back down towards Iron Creek campground going the way between Gifford Pinchot National Forest and Mt. Rainer National Forest. Once at the campground we realized how primitive the surrounding in the old growth Douglas fir forest was going to be for the night. This campground has outhouse toilets, no showers, and at the time, no running water. This meant some of us had to siphon and purify the water from  Iron Creek-Cispus River for water to cook and drink. The firewood bought ended up being crap wood since it did not burn well, and at one point Duralog had to be use to keep the fire burning. With our tent spots being further away from the toilet, and a cougar spotted close by, it made an uneasy night for a few of us.

Information:

Iron Creek Campground
Coldwater Lake
Lake Trail
Hummock Trail

Mt. St Helen’s Volcanic Monument| Part 2

Day 2: North Fork Toutle River & Kid Valley

When I was a kid my parents took me to see Mt. St. Helens in the early 90s. Looking back at those pictures it is a wonder how much nature has continued to push forward in renewal. Back than Johnson Ridge Visitor Center had just opened for visitors, and the surrounding landscape looked desolate with little vegetation. Now the desolation is limited to the areas closest to the volcano crater.

As we left SeaQuest Visitor Center on Spirit Lake Memorial Highway (SR 504) climbing up toward Johnson Ridge. As we climbed along we passed through an area destroyed by the 1980 eruption, North Fork Toutle River. In the small town of Kid Valley (no joke!) there is a roadside attraction called A-Frame House Survivor of North Fork which is buried up to the second-floor balcony in mud flow from the flooding of the Toutle River. This house and one other on the same property are a testament to the 200 homes destroyed or washed away when 250 ft of mud came flowing down the river valley. There is some humor to the area since it is called “Bigfoot” country, and a huge statue of Bigfoot made out of the mud and ash from the eruption of 1980 stands as an attraction.

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Seeing the North Fork Toutle River Retention Structure Dam gives an eerie feeling of how much destruction the river played a part in the eruption. Ten years later the dam failed to hold back the new river route and there is parts of the dam strewed along the river from the breach. Now there is a new dam, but it is still showing issues.

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Further, we climbed, we stopped along the way to view the new Hoffstadt Creek Bridge and to cross it on the way up. One side of the road into the high hills is the Weyerhaeuser timber company tree farms are located. These tall Douglas Fir trees (monocultures) tower over the road on one side and the other side is the volcanic monument where trees are different species.

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At Hoffstadt Bluffs Viewpoint and Coldwater Viewpoint, we stopped to view the mountain which was masked in fog and clouds at this point. For some reason, she was not going show us her glory…..yet.

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Once at Johnson Ridge Visitor Center, we piled into the theater to watch two short documentaries about the eruption, and volcanoes. The funny point of one of the films was when the curtain lifted to show Mt St. Helen’s only to show a wall of gray clouds covering the mountain. At one point the clouds played peek a boo with the mountain long enough to get a glimpse of her.

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While taking in the sights on the Eruption Trail, I turned to see a massive dark gray cloud coming towards me on the ridge at eye level. At 4300 ft elevation, I forgot how close the clouds are up this high and how fast they can move! Within a minute the cloud engulfed the area and rain pelted me to the point of being soaking wet within minutes.

Once back in the van and starting to dry out, we turned back towards SeaQuest for another night of camping. And some campfire ravioli.

Part 1

Information:

Johnson Ridge Visitor Center
Mt. St Helen’s Volcano Review

 

Mt. St Helen’s Volcanic Monument|Part 1

I fell into a burning ring of fire,
I went down, down, down,
and the flames went higher,
and it burns, burns, burn,
The ring of fire.
~Johnny Cash “Ring of Fire”

Someone asked me how can I be so calm when living in a region with three volcanoes, and earthquakes? Living within the Pacific Rim means living on the edge of the Ring of Fire on a daily base. Just like those who live in regions where tornadoes are common, I am aware of it, and I go on living knowing natures most destructive forces are in my backyard. These volcanoes and the two mountain ranges in Washington state are the reason why there are places to hike worth exploring even when danger can be one step away.

On Sunday morning May 18, 1980, Mt. St. Helen’s erupted with such destructive force, that it turned the landscape around the volcano into an apocalyptic wasteland. The carnage left behind could be described as a ton of nuclear bombs had been dropped simultaneously for thirty minutes. But this apocalyptic nightmare of 1980 has turned into giant scientific laboratory showing the world there is life after destruction, and nature does have a way of renewing itself.

Mt. St. Helen’s Before and After Eruption. Photo: PixShark.com

 Start of the adventure…

Day 1: Castle Rock

Sunday afternoon I headed off towards Castle Rock with a van full of other students from Northwest University. With the van packed full of sleeping bags, tents, and food for the next five days, we set out for an adventure together to see how Mt St Helen’s rebirth has changed the landscape.

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By late afternoon early evening, we had reached SeaQuest State Park campground on the west side of the mountain. For a Sunday night, the campground was still packed with people, and most would still be there by the time we left Tuesday morning. After setting up camp, there were campfire spaghetti with salad and peas for dinner. After dinner, we all headed down to Silver Lake for an evening nature walk along the lake. At one point a beaver scared the crap out of me when it slapped it’s tail on the water surface as a warning to me not to get any closer. Just imagine a beaver coming at you! Not fun! Just walking along the boardwalk viewing the huge water lilies, and bird watching, made for a very peaceful relaxing evening walk. This peacefulness would be short-lived by night.

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Tent camping is an adventure in itself, and with three girls all crammed into a tent for the night will our bags, one of us was bound to be beat up by morning. I was the one who could not sleep a wink that night from the thunderstorm that had rolled in later that night and having a tent mate roll all over you during the night.  Normally hearing raindrops on the tent would be a relaxing sound to fall asleep to, but for some reason, the sound was not soothing enough to lull me to sleep for long. By morning I was tired, needed coffee really bad, and at one point fell asleep for fifteen minutes before breakfast in a camp chair.

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With a breakfast of Life cereal and coffee, the day started off at the Mt. St. Helen’s Visitor Center at Silver Lake looking at the exhibits discussing the geological aspects of the eruption. While in the parking lot of the visitor center, a Seahawk decided to make an appearance to show off their Seattle Seahawk pride as a “twelfth bird.” The Seahawk in question is a female taking care of her young in a nest of a few Douglas fir trees down from the visitors center. Looking through the scouting scope, the Seattle Seahawk football hawk logo resembles the real seahawk’s head pattern.

After confirmation that the road to Windy Ridge was not open, we head up the road to towards Johnson Ridge Visitor Center for the day.

Information:

SeaQuest Campground

Mt. St Helen’s Visitor Center at Silver Lake

Seaquest State Park- Silver Lake