How to ‘Hike Happy’ in Wet Weather

posted in: Hiking 101 | 0

Hiking in a monsoon or a bone-crushing downpour probably doesn’t top too many “bucket lists.” But if you live in the soggy Northwest, you basically have two options when it comes to hiking: either quit for about half the year and wait for the trails to dry out, or deal with it.

I vote for the latter.

Here are Eleven Tips to help you ‘hike happy’ during a rainy day hike or backpack. Adapted from Karen Berger’s Everyday Wisdom: 1001 Expert Tips for Hikers:

 

  1. DO NOT HIKE IN JEANS or COTTON. Why? Because as the saying goes, “Cotton kills.” Cotton and denim get wet and stay wet, wicking heat away from your body and increasing your risk of hypothermia. Wear Gore Tex or something similar. (You can drop a fortune on high-end rain gear. Frog Togs [Wal-Mart] work just as well, at half the price.)
  2. Invest in a quality pair of waterproof boots. Don’t scrimp Tip: Cabela’s Bargain Cave. Other tip for ladies: Buy men’s boots. I don’t know why, but in 30+ years of hiking I’ve found that men’s boots are sturdier and last longer.
  3. Wear gaiters to help keep your boots and feet dry.
  4. Use waterproof stuff sacks for your gear, especially clothing. Color code them to indicate what stuff is in which sack.
  5. Use plastic Ziplocs to help keep items such as matches, trail mix, camera, map, etc., dry. Seal matches in a plastic film canister with a snap-on lid. You can also soak a few cotton balls in Vaseline and stash them in a similar canister as an emergency fire starter. A cut-up inner tube will also work.
  6. Dress in layers. Check the weather report and gear up accordingly. Keep a steady, slow-to-moderate pace until you reach shelter, especially if it’s cold. Keep an extra layer of dry clothing on hand. See #4.
  7. Be realistic about your physical ability and how far you can reasonably hike in a day. Don’t over-shoot, especially in inclement weather. Better to choose a shorter trail or come in early than risk becoming a Search & Rescue statistic.
  8. If hiking in on-and-off rain, try to plan your water and snack stops in between showers.
  9. Keep water and snacks in your larger exterior pockets or somewhere that doesn’t require taking off your rain gear or opening your pack in order to access.
  10. Don’t be too quick to shed your wet weather gear. Dense foliage along the trail and trees overhead will shed and drip water for some time after heavy rains. Keep your rain gear on awhile after the sun comes out.
  11. Wring out your wet socks at the end of the day and hang them up in your tent. Your body heat will help them dry a bit. You can also stuff them inside your sleeping bag while you snooze. If the next day is drier and sunnier, hang the wet socks up to dry outside. Then put them back on your feet for hiking if they’re not too wet. Save your dry back-up socks for the end of the day when you’re in camp, sipping a warm beverage around a crackling campfire.

 

One other thing. After a cold, wet day on the trails, a nice, hot dinner – preferably next to a roaring fireplace – works wonders in alleviating Wet-Weather Induced Curmudgeonliness and Overall Crankiness.

Don’t ask how I know that.

For more, see: How to Hike Safe and Sane

The Best Hiking Season

posted in: Just for Fun, Mount Rainier, Videos | 0

People sometimes ask, “What’s the best season for hiking?”  The answer is: That depends. On weather. On calendars. On where you want to go, see, and how much time you have.

For us, fall gets the nod for Finest Hiking Season.

By “fall” I mean that brief “Indian Summer” time between mid-September to mid or late-October, when one glorious, gilded day glides into the next. Temperatures drop. Trees change clothes. Cherry-cheeked winds scrub cyan skies. Trails clogged with crowds a few short weeks ago are quiet and nearly deserted.

You can sometimes push the time frame into November. But the window is brief, so you have to be quick. And keep an eye on the weather.

This is especially true at Mount Rainier, where notoriously unpredictable weather can get even more unpredictable. Think dry, cozy tent site turning into the Okeefenokee overnight (don’t ask how I know that).

Here are some of the perks you get when hiking the Pacific Northwest during fall:

‘A River Runs Through It’

posted in: Oregon | 0

 

Move over Missoula, MT and Robert Redford.  The “crown jewel” of Oregon’s state parks system, Silver Falls State Park, also has  A River Runs Through It

Located about 25 windy miles east of Salem, Silver Falls State Park’s 9,000 acres offer camping, picnicking, a historic district, conference center, and 25 miles of multi-use trails friendly to horses, hikers, hikers with dogs, trail runners and mountain bikers. (Some trails are restricted. Be sure to check signage.)

The highlight of this park is the Trail of Ten Falls. We’re talking serious Wow Factor here.

This nationally recognized hiking trail snakes through a series of waterfalls along a rocky canyon thick with ferns, Big Leaf Maples, Western hemlock, Douglas fir and Alder trees. You pass behind several of the canyon’s most impressive gushers. (Hello, Hawkeye!)

The total loop trail is about nine miles. It offers several connecting points for shorter hikes, depending on what you want to see and how much time you have. For the best “Wow!” factor, you’ll probably want to start from the Stone Circle in the South Falls Day Use Area. Proceed along the Canyon Trail.
This trail might also double as the “International Trail.” The day we hiked this loop, we met hikers from half a dozen different states as well as Canada, Poland, France, Australia, Switzerland, Germany, and the U.K. Also the entire coaching staff of the University of Minnesota.

Official signage pegs the Trail of Ten Falls as “moderately difficult.” Nah. The trail includes some ups and downs and a few switchbacks. But the climbs are relatively short. The grades are mild. It’s a pretty easy hike for anyone in halfway decent shape. (If you’re not in halfway decent shape and tackle this trail, I won’t say “I told you so.” But I did tell you so.)

Also, the “No Trail” or “Stay Behind Rails” signs/barricades are there for a reason.

Arrive early to avoid crowds, especially on clear, sunny summer weekends. We arrived just after opening – at 8:00 a.m. – and had the trail to ourselves for a couple hours. There’s a $5.00 day use fee. Self-pay stations are located in parking lots.

And yes, on the west and north portions of the trail, a river runs through it. You’ll have to drive a ways for Missoula.

What I Remember About Texas & How You Can Help Hurricane Harvey Victims

posted in: Uncategorized | 0
Public Domain – DoD

 

We spent a summer in Texas. In the beautiful Hill Country of Kendall County. Near Boerne (pronounced “Bernie.”) Here’s what I remember about our ’02 summer in the Lone Star State:

 

  • Texas summers are hotter than hell
  • Barbecue!
  • The best parking spot isn’t determined by proximity to the store entrance, but to shade
  • The Medina Apple Festival
  • The Guadalupe River is warm
  • Sweet tea
  • You can drive for days without ever leaving the state
  • The Alamo is air-conditioned inside. The San Antonio Riverwalk isn’t
  • Sharing the street with saddle horses in downtown Bandera
  • “Ya’ll” is singular. “All ya’ll” is plural
  • The Kendall County Fair and Rodeo are the Real Deal
  • Armadillos are nocturnal. Remember that if you’re on the road after dark
  • Texas Longhorns are huge
  • Mesquite
  • Scorpions (don’t ask)

 

Also, Texans are a “Breed Apart.” They’ll tell you so. Every chance they get.

Texans ride tall. Eat hearty. Smile quickly. They’re rightly famous for their warm hospitality and generosity. Texans are also resilient and fiercely independent.

If I know Texans, they’ll weather Hurricane Harvey just fine and come back stronger than ever. But they could use your help.

Please consider Samaritan’s Purse. A world-renowned Christian disaster relief organization, Samaritan’s Purse is on the scene in Texas, providing tangible help and hope for thousands hard hit by Hurricane Harvey. Find out how you can help here.

Thanks and God Bless Texas!

 

Two-Fer: Oregon’s Fort-to-Sea Trail & “The Frying Pan”

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Oregon’s Fort-to-Sea Trail is really two hikes in one. About 13.5 miles round trip, this out and back trail includes a switchbacky hike through a lush forest and a few miles through a flat, unshaded, browned-out stretch of cow pasture.

Starting at Fort Clatsop, the trail climbs mildly for about a mile to its first branch-off option, the Kwis-Kwis Trail. Veer right to take the Kwis Kwis Trail to Sunset Beach, or veer left at the sign and take the trail over Clatsop Ridge to Sunset Beach. Both options re-unite near the Skipannon River. We’ve done both.

The Kwis Kwis option is arguably less steep but more circuitous. It’s also quieter and less crowded. On the other hand, the well-marked Sunset Beach trail includes a fine overlook of the ocean at Clatsop Ridge at about 1.5 miles before a switchbacky descent off the ridge. Both trails are well-shaded and join up shortly before the muddy Skipannon River. They merge into a single trail toward the sea.

Just after the four mile mark, the re-united trail passes under Highway 101 via tunnel. It winds past a quaint red-brick church that’s one of the oldest continuously operating Presbyterian churches in America.

You hit the first of nine cattle gates just past the church. About two miles, this stretch of trail snakes through an open cow pasture. It’s treeless and shadeless. We call it “The Frying Pan.” During summer, it’s cooking. You’ll want to plan your hike so that you either clear this two-mile stretch before noon or tackle it after the heat of the day.

Clear The Frying Pan and continue across an asphalt road and a bridge through a patchy wood to the beach. You’ll hear the ocean before you see it. Once you hit the wood, you’re within a few minutes of the Sunset Beach parking lot. There’s a picnic table, bathrooms, and signage.

From the beach parking lot, it’s about one-third of a mile to the beach. Post-parking lot, the trail meanders through tall, thick grass onto a choice beach (also no shade). On a clear day, you can see Tillamook Head. The beach is a nice lunch stop. Then it’s turn around and retrace your steps for 6.5 miles back to the Fort Clatsop start.

Don’t let the RT distance – 13 miles – deter you. Yep, it’s a lot of miles. If you take the Sunset Beach loop, the return trip includes a good climb up and over Clatsop Ridge. You’ll want to save some energy for this switchbacky climb. Once you hit the vertical pillar in the middle of the hike up and out, you’re almost to the ridge overlook and level ground. It’s an easy 1.5 miles back to the parking lot from the overlook.

The Fort-to-Sea Trail doesn’t include any eye-popping mountain vistas, cascading waterfalls, glassy alpine tarns, or Renoir-petaled meadows. But it’s scenic and interesting in its own rite and traces the route of Lewis and Clark’s Corps of Discovery from Fort Clatsop to the sea. The sense of accomplishment after completing this hike is significant. (Insert fist-bump here.)

Plan on a full day for this hike. We’ve done it start-to-finish in about five hours. But we usually allot six to seven hours to accommodate additional meandering, picture-taking, or beach-combing. 

We rate this hike as “Moderate” due to the overall mileage and the climb out on the way back. Note that the climb isn’t particularly steep and it’s relatively short. Also, this trail is mostly at sea level. Much of it is flat or nearly flat and an easy walk. However, the climb up and over Clatsop Ridge on the return may be a challenge. That’s because you’ve already done about ten miles at this point and the ‘ole hoofers may be barking. Save some energy for this portion and you’ll be fine.

Bear Meadow: Adventure for the Hardy Hiker

posted in: Mount Saint Helens | 0

Rating: Moderate  

Distance: About 12 -13 miles, RT

Wind along a conifer-bristled ridge to an idyllic mountain meadow cross-hatched with mini waterfalls, wildflowers, and choice views of Windy Ridge and Mounts Saint Helens, Adams, and Rainier.

Starting on the opposite side of the Boundary Line viewpoint across from the parking lot on Forest Road 99 out of Randle, the rugged Bear Meadow trail cuts through a well-shaded forest along a ridge overlooking the 1980 blast area, then descends to a beautiful meadow. 

Overgrown and sorely neglected, this trail doesn’t look like it’s had any real attention since Daniel Boone cleared the Cumberland Gap. The trail head is well marked, but that’s about it as far as signage goes. 

After crossing the road to the trail head, the trail begins with a gentle climb roughly paralleling Forest Road 99. It turns away from the road, crosses a slight draw, and starts climbing at about one mile. Also at this point, there’s a junction. And no signs indicating what’s what. Turn left at the first switchbsck to continue to Bear Meadow. The trail mostly levels our along this side of the ridge. There’s some undulation, but no hard climbing. You’ll pass three small waterfalls and scramble over or under numerous downed logs. Turn around occasionally for peek – a – boo mountain views.

Note that although the initial portion of this hike is through thick forest and good shade, the final stretch was affected by the 1980 eruption. That is, no big trees. And little to no shade. The switchbacky descent into Bear Meadow, though not particularly steep, is exposed, in direct sun. If you hike this trail in summer, plan on an early start. Wear a hat. Slather on the sunscreen. Also, this is a “dry trail,” with little or no water sources. BYO H2O.

Keep in mind that the return hike may be challenging. Much of it is in direct sun, over a lousy trail. Be sure to fuel up the after-burners.

The BearMeadow trail would get higher marks if it was in better shape. Unfortunately, this scenic trail is in deplorable condition. It’s littered with fallen logs, many of them sizeable, especially on the northwest-facing side of the ridge heading down to Bear Meadow. Choked with overgrown bushes and brambles in places, the trail all but disappears more than once. A hiker has to push through shoulder-high foliage to regain the trail on the far side of the ridge. As the trail narrows to ribbon-width, it sometimes disappears into a mere suggestion. The bridge is also out at Bear Meadow. 

When we hiked this trail in July, mosquitoes were minimal. But black flies were out in force and voracious.

As previously noted, signage is non-existent after a lone posting on a tree at about Mile 1 indicating the Forest Service Road is 5.5 miles further. Inexperienced hikers may easily get lost or confused as a result.

Indeed, the Bear Meadow trail has the dubious distinction of being the worst maintained, most neglected trail I’ve hiked in a decade. Maybe more. If you’re up for a rough trail, however, the hardy hiker will appreciate the from-here-to-eternity vistas, truckloads of emerald green, wildflowers by the bushel, and endless blue skies.

Hike to Bear Meadow on You Tube:

Mildred Point: A Big Climb With Big Views

posted in: Mount Rainier | 0
  • Rating: Strenuous
  • Distance: About 9.0 miles RT
  • Elevation Gain: 3,200 ft
  • High Point: 5,935 ft

A tough climb topped with big views of the Mountain, the Mildred Point hike begins on the southwest side of Mount Rainier National Park off the trail to Rampart Ridge.

Most people take this trail out of Comet Falls. When we hiked this trail last November, we started near park HQ in Longmire on The Wonderland Trail. From this start, you’ll hit a trail junction off the Rampart Ridge trail about a mile or so in. The brown sign notes mileages for Mildred Point, Rampart Ridge and other destinations. Veer right and start climbing.

Much of the lower trail winds through conifer-choked forest. After the Van Trump Park junction, the trail steepens. A burbling brook slices through alpine meadows studded with wildflowers. The last half mile is narrow, rutted, and steep. Pause to stuff your lungs back into your chest and turn around for awesome views of Mount Adams.

The Mildred Point promontory offers magnificent, uncrowded views of the south side of the Mountain and the Kautz Glacier. If you time it right, you can watch the sun slide over the summit like a giant egg yolk.

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Getting there

Enter the park via the Nisqually (west) entrance, 13.5 miles east of Elbe on State Route 706. Continue north past Longmire to the parking area, about .4 miles north of Longmire. It’s on your right. Cross the street to join up with The Wonderland Trail towards Rampart Ridge and VanTrump Park, taking the spur trail to Mildred Point.

Crystal Lakes: Back Country Bonanza

posted in: Mount Rainier, Videos | 0

Rating: Strenuous

Distance: 6.2 miles, round trip

Elevation gain: 2,300 ft. over three miles

 

The Crystal Lakes trail probably isn’t a great choice if you have a heart condition. This is a tough, steep climb. For the stout-hearted and strong-kneed, however, this hike offers a back country bonanza of Renoir-petalled wildflowers, mountain meadows cross-stitched with birdsong, skipping creeks, and two pristine mountain lakes.

The first 1.5 miles or so is a tough climb switchbacking through a thick forest. Crystal Creek canters along the trail to your right for about half a mile. Later, you’ll cross a wooden boardwalk over a bog. The trail then junctions with Crystal Peak at about 1.5 miles. The junction is well marked, noting that the peak is 2.5 miles to the east and Crystal Lakes is another 1.5 miles up.

Keep climbing and switch-backing. Cross another boardwalk and creek, which you’ll hear before you see. Pause a moment to stuff your lungs back into your chest. You’re almost to the lower lake. Shimmering and acquamarine, the lower lake is fine. But access to the shore is limited and there’s almost no where to sit. (There’s also an outdoor toilet – sort of – near the camp sites. It’s well-marked.)

Continue climbing another half mile to the upper lake. You can catch a break on this stretch of trail between lakes. The trail is mostly uphill, but the grade isn’t as demanding as the initial portion of the hike. It also levels out in places so you can take a breather and meander through superb alpine meadows marinaded in scarlet paintbrush, purple lupine, and snowy bear grass. Crystal Creek sings on your right as it rushes downhill. Buck up for the final climb up and over a series of log steps to the upper lake.

The larger upper lake is spectacular, with plenty of boulders for a great lunch break. Trekking poles highly recommended, especially for the descent. Unless you’re 23. With titanium knees.

Getting there

Take 410E from Enumclaw and drive under the Mount Rainier National Park arch/boundary. Look for pullouts on both sides of the road after about four miles, post-arch.  The trail head sign features a “hiker” icon on the east side of the road. About 36.5 miles from Enumclaw, between mile markers 61 and 62. If you hit the sign for White River and Sunrise, you’ve gone too far.

 

Wildflowers Laugh It Up At Mount Rainier!

posted in: Mount Rainier, Videos | 0

“… the most luxuriant and the most extravagantly beautiful of all the alpine gardens I ever beheld in all my mountain-top wanderings.”

– John Muir on wildflower meadows at Mount Rainier’s Paradise

 

Mount Rainier’s wildflower meadows are world-renowned. Indeed, it’s peak season right now and wildflowers are laughin’ it up all over the park! From last week’s Old Iron Knees Expeditionary Trek to the northwest corner of the park (Mowich Lake/Tolmie and Paul Peaks, Crystal Lakes):

In Lummi Indian legend, Mount Rainier left her husband, Mount Baker, taking the choicest flowers and fruits with her. When Chinook summer winds flutter alpine frocks and cyan skies frolic over blushing swells of mountain heather, Western anemones, and the flaming heads of mountain paintbrush, you can’t help believe that the legend is true. And that John Muir was right.

***

Getting There

To Mowich Lake:

From Buckley, head south on Highway 165 through Burnett, Wilkeson, and Carbonado. Cross the one-lane Fairfax Bridge. Continue until you hit a “Y” in the road. Take a right. The route to Mowich Lake is clearly marked. The Paul Peak Trailhead is about 11 miles in and six miles from Mowich Lake. The sign is on your right. There’s a parking area and a couple rustic bathrooms.

Note: About 1.8 miles after leaving the “Y,” the road is unpaved. It’s rough and rutted. It takes about 45 minutes to cover 17 miles to its terminus at Mowich Lake.

To Crystal Lakes:

Take 410E from Enumclaw and drive under the Mount Rainier National Park arch/boundary. Look for pullouts on both sides of the road after about four miles, post-arch.  The trailhead sign features a “hiker” icon on the east side of the road. About 36.5 miles from Enumclaw, between mile markers 61 and 62. If you hit the sign for White River and Sunrise, you’ve gone too far.

Note: The Crystal Lakes trail probably isn’t a great choice if you have a heart condition. With an elevation gain of 2,300 over 3 miles, this is a tough, steep climb to two pristine mountain lakes.

The lower lake is fine, but access is limited and there’s almost no where to sit. The upper lake – another .5 miles, still climbing – is spectacular, with plenty of boulders for a great lunch break. Trekking poles highly recommended, especially for the descent. Unless you’re 23. Or have titanium knees.

Best Sunrise Trails 2: Forest Lake

posted in: Mount Rainier | 0

Hiking hordes and masses at Sunrise got you down? Looking for some solitude? Something off the beaten path?

Have I got a deal for you.

In fact, the Huckleberry Creek Trail to Forest Lake Camp may be one of the best Sunrise secrets in Washington State’s Mount Rainier National Park.  That’s because you have to be part mountain goat to hike out.  Yep, the return trip is almost entirely uphill.  Think Empire State Building without an elevator.  But this is one trail that’s worth every grunt, groan and creaking knee.

Forest Lake

 

You’d never guess that a world-class wildflower meadow, gurgling creek and glassy tarn are tucked into the conifer-clad valley below Sourdough Ridge at Sunrise on the eastern flank of Mount Rainier.  Their secrets are revealed only to the truly intrepid or utterly clueless.  Consequently, we had the entire hike to ourselves on a beautiful Thursday in late September, save for one other couple from Holland.  And they were lost.

See?  Everyone with brains headed toward Frozen Lake or Mount Fremont.  We, on the other hand, opted for “the road less travelled.” We were rewarded with one of the most beautiful alpine settings in the park. And aching knees. But I digress.

There’s a lake down there. No, really.

There’s a lake down there. No. Really.

Dog-legging off Sourdough Ridge, the Huckleberry Creek trail narrows and turns treacherous as it juts into Huckleberry Basin, especially through a rock-strewn avalanche chute below the basin.

 

Avalanche chute – watch your step!

 

Past the chute, the trail slims further to ribbon-width as you dip into a riotous romp of Renoir pastels cleverly disguised as a serene alpine meadow.  Wildflowers aren’t as plentiful on this higher, more exposed side of the Mountain as they are in Paradise. But they still paint the landscape in rich floral hues with yellow mountain daisies, purple aster, and lupine. Fire-engine red Indian paintbrush and white-tufted bear grass splash the landscape like a Louvre-worthy canvas.

 

Huckleberry Creek winds through tall, thick grass and plays hide and seek with the trail as it skips around gentle knolls and ridges bristling with evergreens. Once you’ve reached the valley, cross a couple split-log foot bridges and elbow the creek to your left. It’s a short walk to Forest Lake Camp.

While its shores are lined with the sun-bleached bones of fallen trees, Forest Lake is as still as the Sphinx.  If you’re part polar bear, go for a swim.  We lunched at the camp for about an hour, listening to warbling wrens and varied thrushes.  Chipmunks scurried nearby as gray jays, those shameless panhandlers, thought we were opening a traveling cafeteria.  We left reluctantly as afternoon faded and snow-scrubbed breezes began whining off the Emmons Glacier.

The trail probably won’t be melted out till July. But it’s worth the wait.

As for the return hike, well, be sure to fuel up the after-burners. Both creek and camp are well worth the hamstring-hollerin’ climb out.   Just don’t tell anyone.