Backpacking

Mount Adams Climb

This last weekend, I took a break from writing up my North Cascades Backpacking Trip to climb Mount Adams with my friends Michael and Margie. Michael was the leader of the trip, having done the climb several times and having the most experience of us all. This was Margie’s second time to the summit (she has also been to the false summit several times). I was the noob of the trip, having never climbed a mountain before.

The trip started very early on Saturday morning. The goal was to leave my house by 4:30a to get down to the ranger station in Trout Lake to secure climbing permits. Michael slept in a bit, so we were actually on the road 1/2 hour later than anticipated. The drive was around 5 hours or so – we took the “shortcut” through some unpaved forest service roads that were a little rough, but nothing my big truck couldn’t handle. The drive did offer some views of the mountain, which helped amp up the excitement level.

We checked in at the ranger station and found out that the mountain was going to be quite crowded for the weekend – 170 climbers already had permits! Well, it is a big mountain, so it wasn’t that big of a deal, and in hindsight, it was a good thing.

The route for the trip was the South Climb and is considered a non-technical route, although we still needed to use crampons and ice axes. Our goal for the first day was to hike up 4.5 miles to Lunch Counter and set up camp. On day two, we’d get up at 2:00a head for the summit, and then all the way back to the truck.

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Last year there was a big forest fire on the south side of the mountain, and the first couple of miles of the trail are through the burnt out landscape left behind. There is no water and really no shade to escape the heat.

In the picture below, you get a good feel for how the early trail felt. Michael is pointing out our route up the mountain, which was currently covered with clouds. Fortunately the weather was forecast to be improving over the weekend.

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Even though the trees were dead, there was still enough food to support the wildlife. We passed a small buck early on the hike up the mountain. He really didn’t seem bothered by us at all, and allowed us to take his picture.

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As we hiked along, the weather around the mountain improved, and we started to get great views. In this picture, the highest point is actually the false summit (Piker’s Peak – 11,657’). Our basecamp was just behind the ridge on the right side.

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At our first water crossing, Margie took the first tumble of the trip – she did a nice slow motion fall to the ground. Of course I didn’t ask to help her up, I was too busy taking a picture!

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The trail became more difficult as we ascended. It turned into a sandy, rocky, slippery mess.

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There were still a few easier section interspersed along the way, like along this ridge.

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and there were some purple flowers.

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Eventually, we made it to the first glacier and took a quick rest break. This was the beginning of the area where people would camp before attempting the summit. Our goal was higher up on the mountain. From this location, the view of Mount Hood was pretty awesome (you can also see a camp down the hill a bit).

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The hike up this glacier wasn’t too bad – it wasn’t steep, and because it was the afternoon, the snow was soft. We just kick stepped up without using crampons. There was a little rock to traverse, but not much.

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Eventually we made it up to our campsite. The prevailing winds come from the west, so people have created rock wind blocks in all of the good camping areas. We found an area without any other campers and set up our tent. We had a great view of our route up to the false summit from our site.

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While Margie and I erected the tent, Michael filled all of our water bottles and started boiling water for our freeze dried dinners. Yum!  After filling up on food, we had some down time to relax before bed, and I ended up getting a couple of pretty cool sunset shots of Mount St Helens.

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Then it was off to bed! We slept in all of our climbing clothes so we wouldn’t have to get dressed at our 2a wakeup time. With all of the gear on, and three people in the tent, it got a bit warm, even though I was using my lightweight sleeping bag – I’m glad I didn’t lug up my expedition bag.

2a came pretty quickly, we got up for a quick breakfast and started heading up the hill! It was a clear night, and we almost didn’t need our headlamps to make our way along. Even with the moon out, you could see tons of stars – the advantage of having less atmosphere above your head.

This was my first time in crampons – we had discussed various techniques for going up and down, and I was warned about not rubbing my feet/legs together (so I wouldn’t shred my pants). It was kind of scary as we started up. The snow was very icy – you absolutely needed the crampons on to get up the hill. I constantly thought about keeping two points of contact with the ground (two legs or one leg and ice axe) – and I still lost count of the number of times I messed this up. Eventually I developed a rhythm, and was a little more comfortable.

And then it happened…about three quarters of the way up the first snowfield, my left crampon came off. I assessed the situation – we were on a steep section, but there was a “bowl” nearby that I could sit down in and adjust things. Margie was nearby, and moved over to help me out while I fixed things up.

And then it happened part 2…Now we are on a steep part of the snowfield and the crampon comes off again! Now I panic – I am screwed. This was steep and icy, and I had nowhere to go to fix things. Margie saves the day! She climbs below me and fixes things up as best we could on the side of the mountain.

We eventually made it to the top of this snowfield. We then had to cross a small sandy/rocky scree section, and I notice that my right crampon is coming loose, so I tighten that up before we attempt our assault on the last snowfield before the false summit.

And then it happened part 3…On the very steepest part of the entire climb, my right crampon comes off. Now I am extra screwed – I can’t go anywhere, and Margie really can’t drop below me to fix things up. This is where it was fortunate that the mountain was crowded. A nice fellow named Christian caught up to me and helped get the crampon back on.  As he follows me up, he notices that the torque on the crampon when I am sidestepping is causing it to loosen up, so he suggested that I climb straight up, using my toes – I gave that a try and although I could tell my crampons were loose, they did not come off again before I reached the false summit.

I have to admit at this point I was pretty discouraged (There were a couple of other less stressful crampon incidents I did not write about). The altitude was getting to me a bit, and gear failure frustrates me to no end. However a quick break at the false summit helped me reenergize a little bit. Looking at the rest of the route to the summit, it didn’t look like I would need the crampons on until the very end, so I opted to put them away until they were absolutely needed again. Then I broke out the camera and enjoyed the views for a bit before we moved on.

Mount St. Helens – the shadow in the lower left hand corner is the shadow of Mt Adams. I should have taken a picture of the whole shadow…but I didn’t.

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This is the view down to our basecamp. There is a relatively flat “point” of rocks on the right side of the picture. Our camp was where the flat section backs into the taller rocks.

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Mount Hood, Mount Jefferson, and The Three Sisters.

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From the false summit, we crossed a relatively flat snowfield before going up a steep rocky and sandy section of the mountain. As we approached the top, it became apparent that I would not have to get back into the crampons, which greatly reduced my stress level.

I began to reflect on the climb – would I really do something like this again? was I having fun? I was still discouraged/frustrated by the crampon issue, and my mind was in a bad place. Then I crested the summit and saw this…

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Now that is a really wide angle picture, and doesn’t do the view justice. Mount Rainier was absolutely spectacular as we came over the top…at that instance everything was worth it. My frustrations went away – I was simply in awe of the place I found myself.

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Mount St Helens

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Mount Hood and Mount Jefferson

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It turns out that in the 1920’s, someone made a mining claim to the sulfur on the summit. They built a horse and mule trail to the top and  built a shack on top of the mountain. The project was abandoned because the quality of the ore was too poor. The shack is still there, and apparently when it melts out there is a book you can sign on the inside. It was just starting to poke through the snow, so I had to settle for a picture on top.

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Another advantage of having lots of people on the mountain – we found someone to take a picture of the three of us with Mount Rainier in the background.

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We tromped around the summit for a bit and found the official summit marker – the elevation has either eroded away or was never stamped into it.

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Then it was time to head down…but our adventure wasn’t done.

Getting down to the false summit was a piece of cake. There really wasn’t any snow on the slopes, so we had to hike down, which is much faster than hiking up. At the false summit, the glissade chutes down the snowfield were very steep and full of rocks. After speaking with some other climbers, we decided to take a “trail” down a steep rocky section instead.

Part of the way down the hill, Margie slipped and fell – to the downhill side! This was a super scary moment – I watched her body make a full revolution before stopping (I couldn’t believe she stopped after just one – it was very steep). As I moved down to assist her, we discovered that her backpack had hung up on some rocks, otherwise she’d still be rolling down the hill. I helped her stabilize on the hillside as another group caught up to us. It turns out it was Christian – who helped me on the way up, and Christian also happens to be a doctor! After getting checked out, it appeared that Margie had a severely bruised hip, but could continue down the mountain under her own power. Michael helped her navigate to the bottom of the scree field at which point we glissaded almost all the way back to our basecamp.

Back at basecamp, Margie was a bit sore, but could still continue on. To help out, Michael took a ton of her gear and then sent her down the mountain while we broke camp. Heading down was probably the hardest part for me. Moving through the snowfields wasn’t too bad and we caught up to Margie right as we cleared the last of the snow. I had decided to just wear mountaineering boots for the whole trip…the bottom of my feet were screaming at me all the way down! Big mistake – at this point I was really wishing that I would have just carried the extra weight!

Eventually, we did make it all the way back to the truck…and it was awesome to get those boots off my feet – I’ve never had my feet hurt so bad!

Overall, the trip was a ton of fun, and I’m glad that Michael and Margie had me along!

North Cascades Backpacking Trip Day #3

It is taking me way longer than expected to update the blog for this trip. My crazy summer schedule combined with the large number of photos is slowing me down. Hopefully these posts will get more frequent, or I’ll be writing until December.

Day #3 of our trip takes us from the Deerlick Backcountry Stock Camp to the Rainbow Point Backcountry/Boat Camp – a total of 11.5 miles with 1600’ of elevation gain. The gps file for the route can be found here.

I also did a Google Earth screenshot of the route.

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In my last post, I said that I did not get any pictures of our campsite at Deerlick. Well, it turns out I did, I just didn’t take one until the next morning.

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We knew that today was going to be a long day, so we were up early and ready to hit the trail. I did not heat up water for breakfast, just had a couple of Clif Bars so we could get on our way. Michelle and Trent were up and ready to go!

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As we started out, we were a bit demoralized from the first day. Kim had big blisters on one of her feet, Michelle’s hips were severely bruised from her pack, and the trail was pretty boring.

At least today didn’t start with an uphill! We went down for the first half mile or so and crossed Lightning Creek. At the bridge, there was a small cabin that wasn’t marked. I couldn’t tell if it was a backcountry ranger shelter or an old artifact. Unfortunately, the pictures I took from this section did not turn out, and I forgot to ask the ranger when I returned our bear canisters after the trip.

From the creek, we started uphill again and climbed along the southeast side of Desolation Peak (6080’). The trail through this section was still in a dense wooded area. We did see some cool moss growing on the trees.

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As we started to come around to the south side of Desolation Peak, the trail started to get more interesting as it moved along a steep hillside, almost cliff-like at times. This also allowed the view to open up a bit, and we could see more of the awesome beauty of this park.

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Some pictures of the trail along the hillside.

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Eventually, we made our way around Desolation Peak and the lake came back into view.

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You could even see a few kayakers out on the lake.

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A big view of a glacier.

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As we approached the lake, we could see the suspension bridge across lightning creek.

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Then we gave up all of the elevation that we had gained, bringing us back down to the lake. Immediately thereafter, we walked across the suspension bridge.

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The view up Lightning Creek was spectacular. It would be so much fun to be up here in a Kayak or Canoe to explore. The water was super clear and there were fish everywhere!

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After the suspension bridge we stopped at the Lightning Creek Stock Camp for lunch. There was a big dock with a picnic table and a fish cleaning station. Since we didn’t really enjoy the first day of hiking, we decided that this would be a better place to start.

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As I mentioned above, there were a ton of fish around! They were thick along the shore the entire hike.

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Trent decided to try to get some spear fishing in…

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While we ate lunch a small sailboat came in to check things out. There was a guy and three kids on board. We were fortunate that they stopped by as we tried to forget our map on the table when we left, and they caught us before we were on the trail again.

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The trail moved away from the lake again, and we came to the most treacherous stream crossing of the trip – a log with no hand rail!

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The trail came down to the lake again, and we crossed another suspension bridge at Devils Creek.

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The estuary for Devils Creek looked like another cool kayaking area.

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From here, the trail followed along the edge of the lake, often times carved out of a cliff. I found this section of the trail to be the highlight of the day (and it was a pretty awesome day to this point).

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We also encountered some more wildlife while along one of the more narrow sections.

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The reason I mention that it was one of the narrow sections – the girls were in front and kinda freaked out about the little snake. I made my way past them to take a picture, and to let them know that it was not going to hurt them. As I walked by, Kim tried to push me over the edge into the water…

There was also a very large frog/toad in the water but I didn’t get a picture. The fish continued to be thick along this section – and quite distracting, I almost walked over the edge because I was too busy looking at the fish.

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Well, 11.5 miles makes for a long day, particularly for the women who were nursing injuries from the previous day. But we did eventually make it to our camp at Rainbow Point. There were three sites at the camp, and the one nearest the docks was already occupied. We picked the middle camp as it had views of the lake in two directions. The camp itself was not that private, but even when the third site was taken, you really didn’t notice the other people. This site also had a picnic table and a bear box, which made it kinda nice.

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Nice mountain view to the south.

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Trent and Michelle relaxing on the dock.

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We had a deer sneaking through camp right before dinner…this was the best picture.

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after dinner Michelle went down to the lake on the north side of the point, and saw a fire in the distance. Later I found out that this was caused by a lightning strike in a very remote area of the park.

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Today proved to be another tough day. The hiking was much more interesting than our first day, but the bugs, bruises, and blisters had taken their toll. As a group, we decided to stop when we reached Highway 20. My Dad was planning to resupply us for the second half of the trip, so I coordinated with him over an InReach SE (I was testing it for him on this trip) to make sure he brought his truck to bail us out instead.

We all went to bed that night knowing that tomorrow would be our last day on the trail, but not the last day of our epic adventure…

North Cascades Backpacking Trip Day #1
North Cascades Backpacking Trip Day #2

 

North Cascades Backpacking Trip Day #2

Day #2 was our first day of actual backpacking. The route for the day was to go from Hozomeen to the Deerlick backcountry stock camp (GPS route can be found here), the entire day was away from Ross Lake.

Here is a 3D screenshot from Google Earth. It shows how rugged the terrain around us was, but doesn’t really give a good idea of our total elevation gain for the day (about 1800′).

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We were all up early – a bit after 5a. I fired up my Jetboil and made some yummy maple-brown sugar oatmeal for breakfast and then we broke camp to start off on our adventure.

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The trailhead was about 1/2 mile from the campsite. About halfway there, Michelle asked for the time. I reached down for my Fitbit to check the clock, and it was gone! So, I walked back to the campsite and started to search. After making two loops around the site, the outhouse, and the water spigot I gave up. No step counting for me Sad smile.

Like all hikes in Washington, it started by going uphill Smile. The very beginning of the trail was lightly wooded through exposed granite, which I thought was pretty cool. This rapidly turned into a thick forest without much of a view.

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We did pass a tree that looked like the victim of a lightning strike.

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The trail was clear all the way to the first intersection. This was a large tree that had been recently cleared. I should have put something in the picture to give a better reference to the size.

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The intersection to the Hozomeen Lake trail was about 3 miles in. Just prior to this intersection, we passed a group of about 10 kids heading back to Hozomeen. These were the only people we saw the entire day…In the picture below, everyone is still happy and having fun at this point.

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The first of many trees that we needed to crawl over.

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The first stream crossing.

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I was in the back while we were hiking along. Sometimes I got to hear interesting conversations like:

“What was that?” followed by “Don’t turn around!” and “Get out the bear spray” then a bush next to the trail erupting while a grouse took off. I guess Michelle wanted to add some pepper flavor for dinner…

Did I mention that the bugs were nasty so far? This was the intersection that went off to the Willow Lake Campsite. The bugs were the worst along Willow Lake – we went through half of our bug spray by this point. I can’t imagine staying at this camp…would have had to hide in the tent the entire time.

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The trail along the lake, this was typical of most of the day. trees everywhere and not much to see.

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View of Willow Lake through the trees. This was the best view of the lake from the trail. Still pretty tough to see.

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Trent at a quick rest break.

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We are now about 5 miles into the hike and the girls are ready to be done. Here they are voting against continuing after our resupply point when we cross highway 20. They were already coming up with a plan for sun bathing back at Lake Chelan.

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Navigating over one of the larger logs in the trail.

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We all found the hike for this day to be pretty boring. Most of the time we were in the woods that were very thick and unable to see much. As we descended from Willow Lake, we did hit a very cool section of trail that went along the outlet stream from the lake. This short section went through a narrow valley with several small waterfalls.

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We were all carrying bear canisters for holding all of our scented items. I had mine strapped on the bottom of my pack, and it kept falling out, making for endless Donkey Kong jokes.

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Nightmare Camp was the next site we passed along the way. The bugs were starting to thin out at this point. It would have made a nice place to spend the night.

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Crossing Lightning Creek.

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Lightning Creek.

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For some reason, I did not get any pictures at the campsite. There were 2 sites and an area for horses – one of the sites had some makeshift benches, but did not have a good area for our tents. Being the only group at the campsite, we used this one for dinner, and set the tents up at the better site. To get our water, we had to hike 100 yards down a steep hill to a creek. We spent part of the afternoon hanging out on a gravel bar. It was hot outside, and the creek was very cold.

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Along one side of the gravel bar there was a nice slow channel. Trent and I took a quick dip in it.

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Dinner was the usual freeze dried fare. We ate and then were off to bed relatively early. It was an early start to the day and the 10ish miles we hiked took a bit out of everyone.

North Cascades Backpacking Trip Day #1
North Cascades Backpacking Trip Day #3

North Cascades Backpacking Trip Day #1

Last fall, Kim and I got together with our friends Trent and Michelle and talked about hiking the Wonderland Trail this summer. We spent tons of time planning our route, watching conditions in the mountains over the winter and spring, buying the latest and greatest equipment, and filling out our permit application. Needless to say, we were severely disappointed when we did not get permits.

After being bummed for a bit, Michelle came up with a more awesome alternative – an epic hike in the North Cascades. (check out the map here to make things easer to follow along). The plan – take a seaplane from the town of Chelan to the north end of Ross Lake, backpack 80 miles through North Cascades National Park to Stehekin, relax for a night in a lodge at Stehekin, and then float plane back to Chelan. Oh yeah – get all of this done in 7 days of hiking.

At 5:30a on July 23rd, Kim and I drove to Bellevue to pick up Trent and Michelle to begin our great adventure. Our early departure got us in Chelan an hour before our flight was scheduled to take off, so we found a café in town to have our last “real” food for the next week.

After our “last breakfast”, we made our way over to Chelan Seaplanes to load up our backpacks.

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Warming up the plane.

Here is the crew getting ready for takeoff.

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Once the plane was warmed up, it was time to go!

Our pilot has only been flying in the Chelan area for the last couple of years. Prior to flying down here, he was a bush pilot up in Alaska. He still did a great job of pointing out the sites for us. At one point, he tried to point out some Bighorn Sheep, but none of us actually saw them.

A view of the orchards along the NE side of Lake Chelan.

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Cruising up Lake Chelan

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Along the way, the mountains are already starting to look rugged…it is gonna be a tough hike!

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We also got a little peek at Glacier Peak (10,520’) – the jagged snow cap barely in the picture.

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Occasionally our pilot would “dip” one of the wings to give us a better view of something. A couple of times, he did this without warning, and kinda freaked us out!

We also got some awesome views of Mount Baker (10,760’)!

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Hwy 20 cutting through the park…ok, technically this part of the highway is already outside the park.

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Rainy Lake is on the right, Ann Lake is on the left. You can see a trail on the hillside above Ann Lake. Rainy Pass on Hwy 20 is the leftmost portion of the road in the picture.

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Ross Lake Dam

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Waterfall coming off of Jack Mountain

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Suspension bridge over Lightning Creek. The dock at the bottom is the Lightning Creek Stock Camp. We had lunch there on our 3rd day – it was a very cool camp.DSC01853

Almost there. The small hill at the end of the ridge is Little Jackass Mountain (4387’), the jagged peak near the middle is Hozomeen Mountain (8066’), and just off our wing and out of the picture is Desolation Peak (6102’). Our first day of hiking is the valley between Hozomeen Mountain and the ridge in the foreground.DSC01857

Hozomeen Mountain

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Our approach to the campground. As we clear Little Jackass Mountain, you can see the boat launch dock where we were dropped off.

Plane landing.

Plane pulling into the boat launch at Hozomeen.

The seaplane leaving us! Only one way home now!

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Once we were done with the flight, we hung out at the Hozomeen Campground for the the day. It was warm, and Trent decided it was a good idea to get in the water, sneak up on Michelle, and splash her while she was sun bathing on the dock.

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Had to get a picture of a good looking blog author.

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Lunch at the Hozomeen Boat Launch. We tried to stay near the lake to avoid the mosquitos. Unfortunately, the campsites weren’t near the lake Sad smile

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Our campsite was a nice grassy area near the bathrooms, but there were a ton of mosquitos! We chewed through our bug spray.

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We did get to have a campfire to help keep the bugs away.DSC01880

This ended up being a long but very spectacular day. Everyone crashed before it was even dark outside (which was the theme for the trip).

North Cascades Backpacking Trip Day #2
North Cascades Backpacking Trip Day #3

Initial Thoughts on the Microsoft Surface Pro

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I’ve been searching for the ultimate blogging device ever since I started recording my adventures almost 10 years ago.  I’ve used various phones, a netbook, an iPad, and my Kindle fire. Looking at the specs for the Surface Pro, it seems like it could be the best option yet.  So, on February 9th, I stood in a long, long, long line at the Bellevue Microsoft Store to purchase a 128gb model with the type keyboard.

Working Offline

The number one priority for me in a blogging device is the ability to work offline. When I ride my motorcycle to the top of a mountain and set up camp, there isn’t typically internet access.  One problem I encountered with several of the iPad blogging apps was they needed to have an internet connection to get anything done.  The most effective way I found to write an offline post on these devices was to use the mail client, which I find to be less than ideal.  The nice thing about the Surface Pro – it is a laptop with access to all the Windows apps.  So I can use Microsoft Live Writer (which I use on my netbook) to author posts offline and upload when I finally do get a connection.

Pictures

Easily getting pictures onto the device and into my blog is a very high priority for me.  One of the problems with my phone or my Kindle Fire – no external storage.  This makes it difficult, if not impossible to get photos from my camera into my blog.  The Surface Pro has a micro-sd slot, so I can just take the card out of my camera and use it. I also can tether my Sony NEX-6 via USB or WiFi (need to have a hotspot), but reading straight from the card is the fastest.

Once I have the photos, I like to edit them.  I installed the latest version of Adobe Lightroom and brought some pictures in to develop. The Surface has more than enough horsepower to run Lightroom.  All of the photos in this blog were processed using Lightroom on the device.

Videos

I’ve got a bunch of helmet cams that I like to use while I’m out and about, so I need to be able to bring videos down to the Surface as well. I took the card out of my ContourROAM and tried to play a video straight off the card (my netbook cannot do this).  The video played back without issue.

I went up to Adobe’s site and downloaded a trial of Premiere Elements 11 and grabbed a random fishing video to edit.  The Surface handled it without any problems – however after creating a nice little video to post with this entry, Premiere Elements crashed and I lost all my work!

As a result, I made a quick video that was not good enough to post, but good enough for me to get a feel for the performance.  Premiere Elements did crash a couple more times on me, but I wizened up and saved frequently.  I don’t know if this is a Surface driver issue or a Premiere Elements 11 issue – I use version 10 on my desktop machine.

I trimmed my test video down to two minutes, put in three 3D transitions, added a title at the beginning, and a fade in/fade out at the front and end of the whole thing.  I then rendered the video in 1080p (the source video was 720p).  Four minutes later a shiny new video popped out – not too bad.

And then it happened…

I tried to play my shiny new video and both Windows Media Player and the Windows 8 video app informed me that the format was not supported.  I tried a couple of other HD formats and was greeted by the same error message.  Put the same videos on a USB key and tried on my Window 7 desktop machine – videos run great.  I searched the web and couldn’t find anything, so I left a message on the Microsoft Community Forum.  It turns out, Windows 8 does not contain all of the codecs that came with Windows 7 – you have to pay an extra $10 to get Windows Media Center turned on.  Well, I forked out my $10 and sure enough my videos work now.

Power

Often times I’m away from wall power for long periods. So, having long battery life and/or an easy way to charge from multiple sources is important. This is probably the weakest area of the Surface for me. I haven’t done extensive battery testing, but in my usage so far, the battery life is marginally better than my 2 year old netbook, and nowhere near the iPad.  To make things worse, there is a proprietary magnetic plug for charging the unit and there is no car charger or USB charger available. So, I need a wall or I need an inverter plugged into a 12v receptacle.  This rules it out for backpacking for more than a couple of days (although the size/weight rules it out for backpacking anyhow).  It does fit in the tank bag on my motorcycle, so I should be able to run it to an inverter if the weather is good.

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Here is pic with the power supply crammed in with it:

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and the tank bag zipped up with the power cord hanging out:

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I’ve seen rumors on the web that there is a possibility of a battery or battery/keyboard that can plug into the keyboard port.

Device Compatibility

I have a couple of devices that I’ll sometimes bring with me on the road – my Garmin dongle (so I can sync my 310XT) and my Fitbit dongle.

I first tried the Garmin dongle.  After downloading the software from the Garmin web page, my watch paired and the data transferred to the Surface without problem.  When I go to the Garmin Connect Web page, I can’t import the data.  Haven’t gotten around to troubleshooting this one.

Went up to the Fitbit web site and downloaded all of their goodies.  Plugged in the dongle, and everything worked great!

Entertainment

You could be on a long flight to the next adventure or unable to sleep because of the rock under your sleeping bag – how well does the Surface work for entertainment?

I first started off looking at games.  I installed Steam onto the Surface, and downloaded a couple of different games.  The first was Torchlight II – the game is about 6 months old.  In full screen mode, the mouse cursor would not paint, however in windowed mode the game ran fine.  This exceeded my expectations – I didn’t expect any hardcore 3D games to run well.  Bioshock 2 was my next attempt – it popped up a warning that my video card does not meet minimum specs.  Sure enough, the game was just not quite playable. And if you like poking a sharp stick in your eye, FTL runs just fine.  Downloaded a couple of demos from the windows 8 store and they all seemed to run fine.

Next up were movies – HD streaming from Netflix worked like a charm.  I own a couple of movies from Amazon.  I could stream them to the Surface, but I could not download them for offline viewing like I can with the fire.  Hopefully Amazon will come out with an app that allows it.  I have not yet tried purchasing/renting a video via the built in video store.

Conclusion

The Surface comes with a hefty price tag. Having to throw in another $10 for the video codecs is just plain annoying (not to mention all the time I spent diagnosing the issue). The lack of options for recharging the batteries is a big detractor for me as well – Hopefully this will be addressed by Microsoft or a 3rd party in the future. I haven’t actually had it with me on any adventures yet, so I can’t comment on the durability (which is supposed to be a another big feature). All that being said, it is probably the best option that I own right now for blogging on the road.

Rainier Mountain Festival

Last weekend we drove down to the Rainier Mountain Festival.  The festival lasts for two days and features a big sale on new and used rental gear, presentations by world class climbers and hikers, a trail race, and much more!

Getting down to the festival was a bit of a commute.  It should have been about a 2 hour drive down from the Seattle area, but Friday afternoon traffic was nasty and we drove through the Puyallup Fair area.  All of this added about an hour to the drive.  Taylor complained that she was going to be car sick the entire way, so we gave her a plastic bag and told her to suck it up.  About 1/2 mile from the cabin we rented she decided it was time to puke and didn’t use her plastic bag.  The joys of having kids.

We stayed at the Three Bears Lodge with our friends Trent and Michelle and their kids.  The “lodge” was a nice little cabin just outside the Nisqually entrance of Mount Rainier National Park .  It was the perfect size for the eight of us staying there (four adults, one teenager, three kids)

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Saturday morning we went to the festival to check things out. There were lots of things to keep the kids entertained – inflatable slide and obstacle course, face painting, and rock climbing.  Taylor really had never done any rock climbing before and really took to it.

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At lunch time, they had a panel of climbers that had summited Mount Everest speak about their experiences.  One interesting comment that stuck with me was that one group ate 10,000 calories a day and still managed to lose 11 pounds in a month!

In the afternoon, after ditching the kids back at the cabin, we went to a presentation on The Wonderland Trail.  The trail is 93ish miles long with 22,000’ of elevation gain and goes all the way around Mount Rainier.  We are planning to attempt this trail next summer, so this was perfect for us. The talk was given by Tami Asars who has just released a book – “Hiking the Wonderland Trail”.  She was a great speaker – the presentation gave an overview on what to expect on the various sections of trail,  a little bit about the permit process, and had lots and lots of photos.  By the end of the talk we were all ready to go!

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On Sunday, the adults all participated in a five mile trail race.  The course was brutal – the trail was a one mile loop that you did five times (funny how the math works out like that).  The first half mile of the loop was entirely uphill, while the second half was downhill.  The total elevation gain for the race was just under 2000’.   My average pace was 14:11 min/mile (right now my flat race pace is about 9 min/mile).  Even with that horribly slow pace, I managed to get 2nd place in the men’s division and 4th place overall!  Trent won the race, and we both got free stuff!

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After the race, we relaxed for a bit before heading back to the cabin to clean up and head home. 

Melakwa Lake Hike

Kim and I decided to do a day hike to Melakwa lake today.  We are working on transitioning from day hiking into backpacking and this is (was?) one of our potential first destinations.  So, we decided to scout it out – it is 4.5 miles into the lake, with a good elevation gain (right around 2300 feet).  Of course, most of that gain is in the last two miles…

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The trail is the Denny Creek Trail, which has an interesting starting location – between the eastbound and westbound lanes of I-90 as you approach Snoqualmie Pass from Seattle.  There is quite a bit of separation between the lanes – you can’t actually see them at the trailhead.  One of the first interesting things you pass along the trail is westbound I-90 – you get to walk underneath it.  I wonder what it would be like here in the winter when the snowplows drive by on the road?

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The first section of trail is pretty easy, you cross into the Alpine Lakes Wilderness with and then proceed across Denny Creek about a mile in.  Apparently during the spring melt it can be pretty hazardous, but since we were here in September, it was not an issue.

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Continuing along the trail for another mile or so and the grade gets a little steeper, but not much.  The trail gets rockier as you approach Keekwulee Falls.  This was our first spot for a quick rest.  There was not a ton of water going over the falls, but they were still nice.

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At this point, the trail gets quite a bit harder.  It is steep and it is rocky, sometimes fairly loose rock.  It was a bit of grind to get up to Hemlock Pass, which was the highest elevation of the hike.  The whole time I’m doing this section I was questioning if I really wanted to come back and do this trip with a pack on my back.  I don’t think this would be a good trail for our first backpacking excursion.

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After cresting Hemlock pass, the trail goes for about a half mile and descends about 100 feet down to Melakwa Lake.  As you go through this section of trail, you know you are close to the lake (because of looking at the GPS), but it really doesn’t seem like there should be a lake anywhere near this area.  All of the sudden it is just there.

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The hike back was easier than coming up, but you still can’t make good time because of the rocks.  I will say that I am glad I had trekking poles with me to help balance my way through them.

Car Backpacking? Walupt Lake and Nannie Ridge Trail

Kim and I have been doing a bit of hiking lately, and we’ve decided to take it to the next level and do some backpacking.  So, we went to REI spent a ton of money on gear.  Now we need to go use it! 

To ease into things, and to try out the new gear, we decided to go car camping and do a hike that originated near the campground.  After doing a bit of research, the campground at Walupt Lake and the Nannie Ridge Trail looked like an ideal setup for this task.

We loaded up our packs (my new REI pack) as if we were going to go backpacking and tossed them in the truck.  The total weight of my gear was 35# while Kim’s was 27#.   Much of the gear that we are using I actually purchased for camping on my motorcycle.  Since I have a bit more room and can carry a bit more weight on the motorcycle, the gear is a bit on the heavier side.  I could trim this down quite a bit, but it would be spending some $$$ on a new sleeping bag and tent.

In addition to the new backpacking gear, I’m looking for a better camera to take hiking with me. I’ve been using my canon point and shoot, but I want to get something that takes higher quality pictures, but isn’t as large as bringing my Canon 1dmkii. I managed to borrow a Sony NEX 5N from my brother to try out.

Walupt Lake

The goal for the first day was to get to the campground, set up the tent and go kayaking in the lake with our inflatable kayak.  Since we are taking the truck, the kayak is a bonus that we get since we aren’t actually backpacking.

Many of the trail reviews discussed all of the berries along the trail, and how lucky you are if you can eat them because other hikers and bears tend to nab them first.  So, I decide that we need to bring my bear spray just to be safe.  Normally I keep the spray in the garage with my motorcycle camping gear, but I couldn’t find it there.  I ended up searching the entire house for it, and never found it…so, we stopped at REI in Issaquah on the way down and picked up another canister.

The estimated drive time to the campground was about 3 hours.  With our detour to REI, lunch in Enumclaw, and driving down the dirt portions FS 21 (which is part of the WABDR as well) it took closer to 4 hours to actually get to the campsite.

The campground was quite a bit larger than I expected, and more crowded too!  We had hoped to get a spot right on the lake, but all of the lake sites were full.  The lake sites were also crowded together.  We ended up with a secluded site on the far side of the campground.  While it was a little bit of a walk to the lake (and the trailhead) we couldn’t see our neighbors on either side! Setting up the tent went pretty quickly and easily – I’ve done it many times on motorcycle trips.  The weather forecast was for hot dry weather, so I decided to skip putting up the rainfly.

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(note the chairs in the picture were “bonus” items that we brought because we were car camping, they were not included in the pack weights above).

Once we had the camp set up, we drove the truck to the lake and inflated the kayak.  Of course we needed to fish while we were kayaking!  There were fish jumping everywhere – unfortunately I did not have my fly fishing gear with me, but I did have my packable fishing rod (also not included in the pack weight above).  We spent a couple of hours touring around the lake with the fishing rod.  We lost one small trout about ten minutes after we started.

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After kayaking, it was time for dinner and a fire.  We brought some crappy fire starters that we couldn’t get to light, so Kim went back to the truck to scavenge for paper.  Not only did she come back with some paper, but she found my bear spray as well!  Once we had the fire started, we settled down for dinner.  Again we cheated a bit and brought some appetizers with us…but we did eat freeze dried food for our main course.

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After dinner we sat around the fire until after dark and then climbed into bed.

Nannie Ridge Trail

We were up early the next morning – neither of us slept very well.  Started chatting about 5:30a and actually rolled out of the tent around 6:30.  We made a quick breakfast and then loaded up our packs.  Since this hike was about 9 miles, and we hadn’t really been backpacking yet, we decided to “lightly” load our packs so we could start to get a feel for things.  We ended up with the packs in the 15#-20# range.

The first task was finding the trailhead from our campsite.  We had driven by it while picking out a campsite, but didn’t pay that much attention.  Fortunately it wasn’t too hard.  Where the trail exits the campground, there was a typical trailhead sign that said we needed a permit or face a $100 fine.  However, there were no permits or a box to place them once filled out.  We decide to continue on without a permit.  It turns out that the trailhead is for two different trails, and the permit station was where the trails split apart – about 100yds from the campground.

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Most of the elevation gain is in the first two miles of the hike.  It starts out as a nice hike through the forest.  The trail is fairly wide and there are plenty of signs that people take horses on the trail.  On the way up, there was a small creek crossing, and the remnants of several seasonal creeks that were now mostly dry.

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As we went up in altitude, the trail narrowed and the trees became a little more sparse.  Tons of wildflowers started popping up.  No evidence of any of the berries that I had read about.  After a little more than two miles, the trail comes to a crest.  At this point, there is a small trail that takes off to the summit of Nannie Peak, which is hidden from us by the trees.  We decide to go check it out.  After a short hike, the peak comes into view and we decide that it is beyond our ambition for the day.  We take a short break near a meadow with spectacular views of Mt Adams, and unfortunately a bazillion mosquitos.

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The mosquitoes forced this rest to be a quick one, so it was back down to the main trail to continue on.  The trail gives up a bit of altitude to skirt around some cliffs that weren’t really evident until further along the way.  We did come to one small snow crossing which didn’t prove to be too difficult.

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Hiking along the ridge was nice – not a lot of ups and downs, and the scenery was fairly open so you could get a good look around at things. 

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Eventually, we passed Sheep Lake and shortly thereafter  intersected with the Pacific Crest Trail, which was our turnaround point.  Near the intersection, there was a tent set up with nobody around.  This was the first evidence of people that we had seen on the entire hike.

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We hiked back to Sheep Lake and had a nice leisurely lunch.DSC02555

After lunch, we hiked back down the same way we came up.  The views on the way back were much more interesting. Mt Adams was a constant backdrop in this direction.

We finally saw our first hiker with about a mile and a half to go on the trip…we were hoping to not see anyone, but we couldn’t complain too much.

Once we were back to the campsite, we dropped off our gear and went for a quick swim in the lake.

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Then it was some wine (another advantage of car camping), dinner, and off to bed early.

The next day was pretty straightforward – wake up, eat breakfast, break camp an drive home!  Good first backpacking test for us.

Overall, hiking with the pack on was a bit harder than I had expected.  Starting off with the pack on felt easy, and it didn’t bother me much during the hike. My knees got a bit sore coming down the hill at the end.  I really noticed the weight (or lack thereof) was when I would take it off at a break.

As for the camera, I’m still unsure.  I mostly used it in the various automatic modes since I didn’t really have time to become familiar with it.  In these modes, it seemed to be really aggressive about shifting the ISO up – as a result, a lot of the pictures were very noisy when viewed full size.  The advantage was that you could take photos in extremely low light.  I’ll have to play with it more in the manual modes before I decide if it is the right choice for me.