Cathedral Lakes, October 2022

Cathedral Lakes — complete album

 This hike has been on our priority list for a few years, and between fires, weather, and the desire to do this hike during prime golden larch season in early October, everything finally came together this year. The weather was unusually stable and warm all summer and through September, and the forecast for the first week of October was ideal. This is a 45-mile lollipop hike, and by adding a dayhike to summit one of Amphitheater Mt.’s 8,200ft peaks, adds a day or so and tops out around 50 miles. We allocated 5 nights for this trip, averaging about 8 miles on the four days we moved camps.

The other impetus for this hike was to experience it with our friend Lee Jacobsen, who was ticking off hikes of the 100 Classic Hikes of Washington list; this hike was a two-for him. The remoteness and distance of the hike all but guaranteed that we’d not see many people, which proved to be true.

We drove up the night before to return to our Labor Day campsite along the Chewuch River, again delighted to see no one in the area. In the morning, we met Lee and three friends at the trailhead for a 9AM start.

Matchy-match backpacks

Even Baker had a comparatively heavy hike given the amount of food we had to carry for the trip. As forecast, it was sunny and warm as we headed north on the gently sloped trail above the Chewuch to our first night’s camp at about 9 miles through an old burn. The large horse camp at the confluence of Cathedral and Remmel Creeks allowed the six of us to spread out. Baker made quick friends with everyone and was always up for a quick game of fetch.

Chatting on the way up along the Chewuch River

Morning’s arrival saw us set out on a longer and more arduous trail toward Remmel Lake for night two. We were at the base of the loop part of the lollipop and heading clockwise with Cathedral Lakes at the top of the loop, Remmel Lake at the loop’s west side. The hike started gently enough, but opened back up into a large burn area, which meant lots of blowdowns and little shade. We made decent progress, but had several small re-routes to navigate and dozens of logs to cross. After a few hours we stopped for a break and a snack, and then headed more steeply toward the upper basins with golden larches on our minds to drive us forward. Again, most of the trail was annoying through an old burn and had only been partially logged out.

Many blowdowns to navigate around or over

I got a bit warm and bonked as we climbed up, nearing 7,000ft before I got a Gu gel in me to recover and make the last mile or so down to Remmel Lake – I love the Gu espresso gel – it’s magical. Baker was happy to be done, too, and was excited to have his pack off and roam around and visit everyone as we made camp. Remmel Lake is a beautiful basin, with Remmel Mountain in profile a bit off the lake. The sky glowed for a pretty sunset, and the moon over Remmel was a site as we hunkered down for a chilly night.

Remmel Lake! Second night’s camp

The downside of late-season camping is that the nights are long, and especially without a campfire, you’re compelled to head into the warmth of your tent and sleeping bag to spend the next 10-12 hours. It was frosty overnight, with 28F greeting us when we got out of our tents and tried to stay warm as we made breakfast and broke down our gear.

Remmel Sunset

Thankfully the sun came up to help dry the frost off our rainfly before packing them up. Becka, Baker, and I were headed for our next camp at Upper Cathedral Lake, while Lee and the rest of the group decided to keep camp at Remmel, dayhike with us, and retreat the next day. Kai, the small but mighty hiker in the group, helped carry some of my gear on the short 4-mile hike up to the next camp.

Larchy meadows at 7,200ft.

After a couple of easy miles through the trees, we broke out into sub-alpine meadows and saw our first few golden larches; it’d been more than year since we missed out on them in 2021 because the weather didn’t cooperate. Just as beautiful, though, were the broad views of the hills and peaks, with bright white granite outcrops and many darns dotting the landscape. I was so excited to walk through this and increased my pace to see what Upper Cathedral Lake was like for the next two days.

We broke into the upper lake basin and were blown away by all the golden trees, right near their peak of larchy-ness.

I eagerly scouted the basin for the best campsite and found a prime spot near the lake with a cozy and protected spot for our tent. Kristin broke out her fishing pole while the rest of the group headed up to Cathedral Pass to catch the view and to check it off the Classic Hikes list. Becka and I would head out that way in a couple of days. Kristin hooked a nice brown trout on her third cast and released it.

Kai at Upper Cathedral Lake

The hammocks went up and we said our goodbyes as the rest of the group separated and headed back to Remmel. We napped a bit and then explored the area and snapped pictures in a flurry as the afternoon light turned golden again and afforded amazing views of the lake and Amphitheater Mt rising 1,000ft above us.

The gang before party separation


Next morning our primary goal for the day was to explore the west summit of Amphitheater Mt. We gathered our gear and headed up, retracing some of yesterday’s route before turning left and corkscrewing our way counter-clockwise up to a pass between the north and west peak and then up to the west summit at about 8,250ft. We could see camp almost straight down through cracks and gullies in the ridgeline.

View from the west summit of Amphitheater Mt looking over Cathedral Lake and Pass

We could see all the peaks up there, including Remmel about 5 miles to our southwest and Cathedral less than a mile to our NE. Canada was only about a mile north, and we could see the firebreak cut through the trees along the border on the 49th parallel. We found a shady, less windy spot on the summit to eat our lunch before returning to camp.

On our way back, B&B set off to find Lower Cathedral Lake as I went back to camp. They came back about 90 minutes later, frustrated that they couldn’t find the lake. We had dinner, and another pretty sunset closed out the day, which Becka enjoyed from her rock that was along the trail and overlooked a small tarn just northwest from camp.

Home for two nights at Upper Cathedral

Next morning started our longest hiking day, distance-wise. We had to close the loop and back to the ‘stick’ of the lollipop near where we camped the first night. With lighter packs and almost all downhill ahead of us, we set out as the sun was coming up through Cathedral Pass, which afforded a big view into the Cathedral Creek basin. Thankfully this side of the hike was untouched from recent fire and was far more pleasant and shaded. After a quick switchback from the pass, the near-flat trail traversed below Barchester Towers, inviting look-backs to the east side of Cathedral Pass and Cathedral Peak. Soon we climbed a couple of switchbacks up to Apex Pass at 7,300ft. The larches were at about 7,250ft and above, so it was nice to be surrounded by the golden views once again.

Baker was such a good backpacking boy

As we swung a big s-curve along the Boundary Trail above the Tungsten Creek drainage, we were excited to visit the old mine site. Two intact buildings, one a bunk / social / mess hall, the other presumably an office and maybe the manager’s quarters (?). Lots of old artifacts were strewn about, including a horseshoe pit. Just below the buildings was the mine itself, long collapsed and filled in, but with many rusting components, rails, machinery, and piping/drills, and a smelter/furnace. Collapsed wooden structures for separating the ore was biggest part still standing. We found a shady spot along the tailings rails and had our lunch, knowing we had covered about half the day’s hike.


Back on the trail, it finally stated to lose some elevation, falling through 6000ft as we sidestepped some mudholes. The trail here wasn’t in very good shape, especially considering it may have been the wagon road used to haul out the wolframite and other ores from the mine decades ago. The trail mellowed out and into a dense second or third-growth forest, where we plopped down on our ZLites for an ad hoc nap. We didn’t bother to move off the trail, because we hadn’t seen anyone since we separated from the group two days ago, though we did see a tent not far from the mine.

We passed a few campsites near a creek and meadowy area, continuing to stay fairly level at about 5,900ft. With just over a mile to go before camp, the trail finally fell steeply 1,200ft until we bottom out in the creek confluence area. We stopped just shy of crossing back over the Chewuch, thinking that if anyone was around, they’d be in the horse camp where we spent our first night, and there were two or three decent sites right along Tungsten Creek. Packs were dropped and hammocks were set up for another break before we put the tent up. We covered 12 miles and descended about 4,000ft.

Tailings rail and ore separator at the wolframite mine

It was another quiet night to ourselves; we had not seen any humans or megafauna for days now, but we expected to pass some folks on the way out, given it was Friday and people would be heading in. First thing in the morning, we passed through the horse camp with no sign of anyone. The only thing I recognized were Lee’s bootprints from the day before as they had retraced and exited a day earlier.

One small step from Lee….


We moved quickly with our much-lighter packs and legs and lungs in better shape from the last few days’ work. We hiked out 8 miles in under 3 and three-quarters hours, eager to get back to our comfy seats and AC in the vehicle, including fresh clothes and footwear.

Route – Upper Cathedral Lake bottom, left, looking southeast.

Excelsior Pass – High Divide

Link to full album.

Again, considering Boomer, we looked for easy backpacking trips that either he could walk, or we could carry him to enjoy. The trail to Excelsior Pass is pretty short and less than 2,000ft gain to great views of the north side of Baker. Friday night we drove the long and shockingly paved road up the Cascade Creek valley, stumbling upon a huge open area along Cascade Creek that was ideal to claim for the night.

With another fairly early start, we had some skepticism about scoring a decent campsite on the trail up near the pass, so we thought there might be some spots along Damfino Lakes, just a short mile or so from the trailhead. However, there weren’t any that seemed eco-viable, so we took our chances and continued to the pass, which was only another mile or two above us. The last bit was steep (as it usually is), and we checked out a campsite off to the side before the pass, but it was occupied, so we continued up to the pass, hopeful.

Up to the pass, where views of Baker were stunning, we were shocked to find the primo campsite was open; the site is in a private but large copse of trees; plenty of room for a few tents and hammocks. It was early in the hunting season, so every fourth hiker seemed to carry a bow, rifle, or shotgun. We talked to several of the hunters and few saw any bears, and even if then, they were on a too-distant ridge and were gone by the time they got there.

It was prime berry season and Becka was focused on her harvest, so she spent hours foraging from a great patch adjacent to camp. The camp is at the intersection of Excelsior Pass on the High Divide trail, which heads seven or so miles to the east towards Yellow Aster Butte (YAB), one of the most popular areas for hikers and backpackers. That day, though, there was a bike event on State Route 20 over 3,000ft below us which limited access to YAB, so many folks that were headed there diverted to Excelsior Pass via the same route we took. This meant there was a constant stream of visitors coming through. Baker eventually realized that all the folks coming through were fine and not invading our campsite. Boomer was content snoozing or wandering around, though we had to keep an eye on him because a few times he wandered out of sight, and we had to track him down.

Mt. Baker glowed in the clear sunset and we settled in our wind-protected camp spot. Next morning, Becka took (dog) Baker east to traverse the High Divide trail before sunrise, heading up Excelsior Peak before meandering up and down 5 miles or so each way to Welcome Pass and back. Meanwhile, Boomer and I managed to get up and down Excelsior Peak, snapping sunrise pics and then started to pack camp while we relaxed and waited for Becka’s return.

We headed down with Becka carrying Boomer and me carrying an equitable portion of her payload to offset Boomer’s 25lbs, passing many dayhikers along the way.

Labor Day 2022 – Chewuch River and Goat Peak Lookout

Link to full album

For the longer weekends, we try to head further to discover and enjoy areas new to us. We had plans to backpack up the Chewuch River in October, so we decided to do some exploring of this less-used and comparatively remote area well north of Winthrop, Washington.

Our plans were to relax as much as possible. Before the trip, I studied the forest roads and satellite images above the Chewuch area and identified a few candidate spots to scout out and claim for the long weekend. We were heading out on Friday afternoon, so with limited daylight, it was helpful to have a good idea of some spots to make a beeline to and not spend too long wandering around.

We were surprised there were so few people once we got about 10 miles north of Winthrop. We passed several areas already teeming with campers and families. Fortunately, they thinned out dramatically as we headed further north. Within a decade-old burn area, we spied an abandoned forest road that meandered through the open undergrowth and ended in a perfect spot just above the river. We set up our big tent, tables, hammocks, and were elated that we scored such an excellent spot with sandy beachfront access to the winding Chewuch.

2022 was drier-than-normal for most of Washington, and all campfires had been banned since early in the summer and the ban justifiably had not been rescinded by Labor Day. No matter, it was quite warm even in the shade by the river, so we were content not to have one.

Not much else to say other than we had a perfect time, alternating between time spent in the creek and in our hammocks above the river. We had many spells throwing the disc on the river for Baker, who tirelessly chased it down as it floated away, though one time it did get away from him and we all frantically tried to navigate the slippery river stones to get to it. Becka made the best effort toward it, but only until we were able to get Baker into position to see it were we able to save it from being lost. I know, super stressful time, eh?

Once familiar with the social trails around camp, Boomer was able to navigate between the hammocks, camp, and the river.

We took some time to explore the area the other spots I researched, because they were further north and closer to the trailhead for our trip in October. We also ran into town to refresh the ice and grab some ice cream.

On our way out of the area, we headed up the long, long forest road to tag Goat Peak Lookout. It’s a short but steep, rugged, trail, and difficult for Boomer to navigate, but he was able to do most of it on his own, though Becka carried him on the way down as it’s far more dangerous for him heading down with his lack of decent eyesight. The lookout is usually manned, private, and inaccessible, though we didn’t see anyone up there.

Goat Peak Lookout

Railroad Grade, August 2022

Railroad Grade — complete album

We hadn’t been back up to the Railroad Grade area on the southwest approach to Baker in a couple of years, so we braved the usual crowds and less ideal weather in hopes we could find a spot to call our own for a night.

We found a decent spot to car-camp not too far from the trailhead for the first time our new-to-us 4Runner. Glad we had the chainsaw with us to clear the road on our way in, ensuring an unoccupied area for the night. Next morning we drove up to the busy trailhead, dozens of cars filling the lot and lining the road. The well-groomed trail starts out easy, which is great for now-blind Boomer, but switches to very challenging river stones for him.

Becka soon picked him up, carrying him across the temporary bridge that’s in place for the season after the spring melt-out and removed before the fall rain sets in.

Once we finished the climbing into the persistent fog, we wandered around a bit before finding a moderately-acceptable campsite away from the folks along the Railroad Grade trail. Once in our soggy camp, and fog lifted enough for us to watch the near-constant train of hikers and climbers make their way up and into the high camps for the next morning’s Mt. Baker climb.

We retired early and had a comfortable night, waking up early for a pre-sunrise hike back to the trailhead. Boomer had a comfy ride through the boulders again.

Gladys Lake / Grand Valley, Olympic National Park

Full picture album here.

It’s been a loooong time since the last installment of our adventures. Part of it is just laziness to sit and write, but a good bit of it, too, is that we’ve done fewer trips this season since returning from our grand visit to Petersburg back in June. Also, I was slowed down during the recovery of the surgery to remove the bone spur from my foot, though fortunately it has healed well and it hasn’t been an issue since returning to the trail at the height of backpacking season.

My first post-op outing was a two night trip in Grand Valley, Olympic National Park. Becka overnighted with her friend Jennifer last season, and I was eager to see it for myself. It’s not as widely visit as other parts of the park, though it packs in a lot of good stuff in a small area.

The hike starts about 6 miles east of popular Hurricane Ridge; where a somewhat hidden and precipitous road roughly follows a ridge from the visitor center parking lot to Obstruction Point, maintaining about 6,000ft, ending in a dusty turnaround at the trailhead. It was a warm day with the added full sun, but I anticipated a relatively easy go of it as our trip was mainly downhill into Grand Valley. After the first mile and a half up high with unobstructed views of Mt Olympus and most of the highest peak of the Olympics to our south, west, and southeast, as well as views down to the Strait of Juan de Fuca to the north, the trail forks. The obvious left route heads down the valley, and a fainter route stays up high and follows Lillian Ridge, leading to a high pass that drops into Grand Valley from a different direction.

For whatever reason, I thought it’d be worth a shot to take Lillian Ridge and stay up high. That route heads immediately up a couple hundred feet to a sort of gnarly peak/ridge before heading right back down the other side. Routefinding was challenging and forced a couple of short retreats, which was a bit exasperating with our full packs. We continued a bit further, stopped for a bite, and eventually met another group who had come from the direction we intended. They impressed us that the route ahead was not as easy as they thought it would be, and one of the more dramatic personalities in the group seemed quite relieved that they had made it. We looked ahead and saw that it climbed up and down a few more times, and the ranger had told me earlier that morning to ensure that you pick the right gully to descend or it gets dangerous, so we decided this was probably more than we bargained for for our first trip out, and we elected to retreat the mile and change and take the usual path down into the valley.

Back on the main trail, we descended steeply and steadily into the valley, dropping about 1,500ft in about a mile and a quarter before it traversed across a meadowy cut and we got our first views over Grand Lake. This was about the low point of the trail for us, as we stayed above the lake to continue up beyond Moose Lake to our permitted site for two nights at smaller and less busy Gladys Lake. At this point, as we climbed up, the combination of heat (over 80F I guess), altitude, and being my first time out caught up to me and I was gassed, low on energy and taking a lot of breaks. With just over a mile to go, I encouraged Becka to continue to Gladys to secure the best spot and enable me to putt-putt my way behind.

The sites at Gladys are not easy to find, with two of the four sights somewhat obvious and the other two in less-obvious spots. But after Becka scouted them out, we decided to return to the spot she stayed last year with Jenn. We made camp, focusing on finding suitable spots to hang our hammocks, as we brought enough gear and bug nets to either hammock camp or tent camp. The pesky deer from last year returned and brazenly attacked the salty clothes we had draped around the brush to dry out.

One deer even tried to run off with my shirt, but I chased it down telling it to ‘drop it!’ like I would tell Baker when playing fetch. We enjoyed our evening and dinner around the lake, protected in our bug head nets and fully covered up from the flies and skeeters. We settled into our hammocks and dozed off, tired from our day and enjoying the clear night.

The next day, we dayhiked up the top of Grand Valley to Grand Pass and Grand Peak, which affords panoramic views deep into the Olympics from 6,700ft. On our way up, a couple that we passed said they recently saw a bear, which wasn’t too far from our camp. We looked for it on our way and when we returned, but we didn’t see it. After we enjoyed the views and our lunch from Grand Peak, we returned to camp and explored a bit. Later that evening, we saw a bear above where the couple had seen it; it was up on the trail to Low Pass, an area Becka considered exploring earlier for sunset. Glad she didn’t.

The second and final night in our hammocks was a bit more eventful. Becka had set her hat with the bugnet on it just outside her hammock/net, and in the middle of the night, a deer picked it up and ran off with it. Mind you, the hat was just a couple of feet from her head as she slept, but the bold deer was undeterred. Becka was awoken by it, and we spied the deer with our headlamps, about 100ft below us. We popped out of the hammocks and again chased them down, finding her hat in the brush, but never found her bug headnet, which we presume was swallowed by the deer (?). The next morning, while eating breakfast by the lake, the deer returned again and this time removed the salty bandana from my pack and ran off through the brush and I again chased after it and yelled ‘drop it!’ which worked again.

We set out early to beat the heat, knowing the steep uphill part of the climb would be fully sun-exposed if we waited very long. Thankfully it was a bit cooler and we made it back to high ridge without much trouble and again reveled in the views to Mt. Olympus and the strait as we finished the trip back to the dusty lot.

Sahale Glacier Party Camp — Aug 1-3, 2014

Here is a brief trip report I put up on Washington Trails Association.

Pictures are up on Google+.

The trip really began at 4AM Thursday, when I got up to drive the 110 miles to the Wilderness Information Center in Marblemount, WA, to get in line early to get the permit. Permits are issued no earlier than 24 hours before the day you want to backpack and camp. I was the first in line at 6:30 and the WIC opened at 7. I picked up the free permit and borrowed a required bear canister to keep our food from the critters.

I drove back to Kirkland, worked until 4PM, and then drove back to Marblemount, grabbed dinner at a local restaurant, then drove the 24 additional miles to the trailhead in North Cascades National Park.
There I pulled out my camp chair, my camera, and a bottle of wine as I waited for the clear skies to darken. I shot a few star shots and was visited by a pesky deer a couple of times as well as a few mice looking for scraps.

I then slept in my car, waiting for dawn to head up the mountain.

I woke up around 5:20 and gathered up all my gear and started up at 5:55AM, determined to be the first backpacker to the campsite area so I would have the best chance of getting a great site. A couple of climbers were already ahead of me; they were there to dayhike and climb Sahale Mountain.

This was the first time backpacking this year, and with the bear canister and all my camera gear, tent, food, stove and cooking gear, and all the other stuff, I guess my pack was around 55lbs. Not insane, but definitely more than you want to carry up almost 4,000 ft on your first outing.

You can see the camping permit hanging there — note that the ziplock is unzipped; the permit would later fall out of the sleeve and onto the trail along the Arm and be left behind. A day later, the Forest Ranger visits to check for permits, and as he approached, pulled out my lost permit and says he found it as he was hiking up.

I made the 3.7 mile hike to Cascade Pass within a couple hours or so, gaining 1,800 ft. About halfway through this part of the hike the smell of smoke became evident as the wind had reversed from west to east and smoke from the nearby Lone Mountain 1 fire near Stehekin was filtering through the pass into the valley.

Once at the pass, I rested a bit and then made my way up the steeper trail to Sahale Arm, the long semicircle left by a glacier, with Doubtful Lake at the bottom of the cirque. From here you can see the campsites 1.5 miles and 1,400 ft above you, high up on the south side of Sahale.

Campsites are on the rounded mounds just below the summit snowfield.

The trail meanders along the ridge and steeply climbs the last 900 ft over a half mile. Even with all the hiking and cardio work at the gym, I was surprisingly winded at this altitude and took far more breaks than I expected. Last year at this time I had easily summitted Adams at twice this altitude.

When I reached Sahale Glacier Camp, all this early effort paid off, as all the campsites were vacated and I chose the same site we had back in Sept, 2012.

I dropped my pack and put up my new ultralight tent, which honestly is a difficult tent to set up within the confines of the rock-walled campsite. I knew it would be windy overnight, so I had to be sure to secure the lines to heavy rocks.

From this point on at around noon, I really had nothing to do but enjoy the view and wait for my friends Sharon and Becka to arrive. Soon other day-climbers and hikers arrived, and I chatted with most of them, as our campsite is the first one they come to, plus it has a great resting spot high on the ridge.

Climbers Will and Wayne arrived and set camp on the next moraine mound east of us.

We chatted about their climbing adventures. They had designs on not only summiting Sahale, but traversing across the Horseshoe Basin and summiting Mt. Bucker the next day.

I patiently waited for Sharon and Becka to arrive, guessing they’d be up by about 4PM given their start in Seattle at around 7AM. Meanwhile, the skies were darkening under a 20% chance of thunderstorms.

Sometime in the afternoon I visited the glacier melt stream and fetch a few quarts of ice-cold water to cook with — no need to filter up here; it’s great right off the ice, snow, and rocks.

Other campers arrived and quickly filled up the 6 designated campsites. Two couples camped adjacent to our site and we all socialized and shared adventures.

With the storm clouds slowly approaching from the SE and rain shafts clearly evident and a few lightning strikes far away, Sharon and Becka arrived at around 6PM.

We got busy setting up their tent, which was actually my Marmot 2P tent. Sharon was test-driving before deciding to buy it from me.

Lightning and thunder become more pressing and the rain eventually moved in, so we all piled into Sharon’s tent and continued drinking and chatting. We kept vigilant to estimate the distance of the lightning strikes, and were prepared to abandon the high ground of our mound for a safer area below. At some point we drank enough wine to decide that we cared less about the lightning and that being struck by lightning on a mountain while backpacking isn’t such a bad way to go….

…But that wasn’t to be. The closest strike was still about a mile away and the storm dissipated and we all exited the tent. Our neighbors were so enjoying drinks in their tents that I had to loudly announced “The rain has ended!” to encourage them to join us on the ridge for dinner.

As it goes when backpacking, at least as has been the case with me, we socialize as much as everyone wants to, and share whatever we bring. We cooked our freeze-dried concoctions and passed them around, continuing to share stories of hikes and climbs.

With the multiple layers of clouds remaining from the storms, we expected and were granted a beautiful sunset that evolved over about 90 minutes. All of us had our cameras and smartphones out shooting shot after shot until the sky faded.

Sharon, Becka and I retreated to the tent and chatted and drank some more until we were done with the long day and called it a night.

The next day we staggered out of our tents, went to the melt stream to refill our water containers, and made coffee and breakfast, again enjoying it with our neighbors who sadly were leaving us later that morning. We saw them off and just sat around camp as the morning sun climbed higher.

Seeing off our friends Amy, John, Megan, and Mark.

A very bold marmot continued to visit us, unfazed at it walked within a few feet of each of us. Marmots, like goats, get their mineral intake from urine, so wherever we peed, the marmots and goats would go there and lick it up. And while there is a toilet at Sahale, it is not for peeing; we are encouraged by the Rangers to pee off the trail and on rocks, so we all more or less used a few designated spots that had varying degrees of privacy depending on which campsites were occupied. It’s simply the way it is up there, well above the treeline.

Becka and the landlord marmot.

At around noon or so, Saturday’s dayhikers began to arrive, and we greeted them and were happy to take pictures of them with their cameras and smartphones. Some stayed only a few minutes, while others chatted with us about making plans to camp up there like we did. We really enjoyed the company and sharing it all with them.

New neighbors arrived where the ones from morning departed, and we quickly got on well with them, too.

While the day developed, so did the storms to the south, this time about three hours earlier than they did on Friday. With the forecast up to a 30% chance, we really expected to get some weather. But the storms never made it anywhere near us and remained to our south and east and the day wound down with another beautiful sunset.

Before the sunset, and after the weather cleared up, our new neighbors summited Sahale, and upon their return we all got together and shared some more drinks and our dinners.

We again all enjoyed the sunset and retreated to our tents.

Sometime around 1AM I peeked through the tent fly to see clear skies and I had to take the opportunity to get some more star shots. The sky was very clear and smoke-free, as the wind has shifted back to the west.

Later that morning but before dawn, I heard a couple of goats go right by our tent, though outside the rock wall, and could tell by their sounds that it was a baby and adult goat (assumed a nanny goat). They probably had their noses tuned to another pee spot just down from our campsite. Other critters, mainly mice, could be heard rummaging around our tent; Sharon discovered in the morning that some of her food that wasn’t secured in the bear canister had been pillaged, including her coffee creamer and some trail mix.

Sunday morning was consumed with coffee, breakfast, and breaking camp. We were on the trail just before 9. We had some trepidation about the descent, as the trail is steep and comprised of unconsolidated scree and dirt in places. But with poles it was easy to manage.

We ran into two sets of nanny/kid goats. The first one was off the trail, about 30 ft to the west. The second pair was munching some grass while standing on the trail. So I stopped dead in my tracks and could do nothing but wait. After about a minute or so, the nanny bounded up the ridge, but the kid stayed on the trail. And I stayed put. The nanny, from her higher vantage point, eyeballed me closely, almost daring me to approach her kid.

I did not take that dare. Soon the kid followed her mother up the ridge and we continued down.

The rest of the hike was uneventful. We stopped at the pass to get some more food in us, then we did the remaining 3.7 miles — and 34 switchbacks — back to the trailhead and our cars.

Looking for a tougher workout than Mailbox Peak? Try Mt. Teneriffe.

We all hike for various reasons; getting out of the city, adventure and exploration, enjoying nature, letting our dog be a dog, the spirituality, photography, and always, exercise. Some hikes offer a good balance of many or all of those, others can offer only one or two. I prefer a combination of all of those, but when I choose a hike, I usually have one aspect in mind over others and it depends on my mood, the seasonal timing, and who I’m hiking with.

For example, early in the season, many of the toughest hikes are snowed over to the point of being a futile snow slog or downright dangerous due to avalanche risk or fickle weather. Other times, friends may prefer an easier hike along a river or near the ocean. Doesn’t matter, really — all hiking is good hiking — and Washington has trails for everyone.

But in the early shoulder season April through mid-July, while we wait for the snow to clear from the roads and trails that lead us deep into the backcountry or to the higher routes, I focus on conditioning hikes to make sure I’m fit for any adventure that I plot out for the peak season July through mid-October. And living near Seattle, we have familiar training hikes: Mt. Si, Mailbox Peak, Mount Teneriffe, Mount Defiance, and later, Granite Mountain.

Yes, there are others, but these well-worn bootpaths are the go-to tests to see if you’re ready for the summer. May is when many folks are in final training for Rainier, so you’ll see scores of folks with full packs trudging up these steep grinders, building up strength and cardio, and working past the crippling quad or joint soreness so they aren’t hobbled on their bigger adventures.

Of these hikes, my favorite conditioning hike is Mount Teneriffe. I usually do it once or twice each Spring. I like it because it’s far less crowded than Mailbox and Si, and the peace lets you focus on staying in tune with what your body is doing and being able to take a rest without getting in other people’s way.

Teneriffe Track
Mt. Teneriffe’s elevation profile, round trip. The blue is a plot of my hiking speed.

Folks generally think Mailbox is the toughest popular hike west of Snoqualmie Pass along I-90. I’m not sure how much of that is because they are unaware of Teneriffe — which is an argument about Teneriffe’s popularity, I suppose, or that they simply assume Mailbox is the toughest because that’s what everybody talks about. Mailbox has a much bigger and better trailhead that was just updated. Teneriffe has nothing but a small school bus turnaround where maybe 20-25 cars can park at a time.

Mailbox Peak’s elevation profile, one way.

I have a slight obsession with this. I have done both hikes — Mailbox twice and Teneriffe at least five times. Objectively and subjectively, Teneriffe is tougher overall, and here’s why:

First though, let me qualify the Teneriffe hike. Many people summit Teneriffe along the exceedingly long road trail. Or they come over from Si, again, largely on old, relatively gentle and even forest roads. Or they take the somewhat shorter trail up to Kamikaze Falls and then up the ridge to the summit (~ 8 miles round trip). I now only take the old closed trail (sorry, trail keepers!), sometimes called the Kamikaze route, because it follows the creek mostly and it’s tough and unmaintained. And it’s just under 6 miles round trip. Saves about 2 hours time, too.

Back to the comparison. Consider the trail data, one way, up each peak:

Distance, one way (miles) 2.66 2.98
Base altitude (ft) 824 951
Peak altitude (ft) 4833 4794
Gain (ft) 4009 3843
Slope over entire trail 28.5% 24.4%
Distance over top 3,600 ft 1.98 1.82
Slope over top 3,600 ft 34.4% 37.5%
Distance over top 2,500 ft 1.43 1.1
Slope over top 2,500 ft 33.1% 43.0%
Distance over top 1,500 ft 0.87 0.7
Slope over top 1,500 ft 32.7% 40.6%

[this data is gathered from GPS tracking logs. The analysis was gathered using Google Earth]

So while I will concede that overall Mailbox gains 166 more feet and averages 4% steeper over its entire route, comparing the climbing portion of Teneriffe — once you leave the easy road and go up the old trail — is considerably steeper, especially over the top 2,500ft, nearly a 10% steeper grade than Mailbox.

Objectively, Teneriffe’s trail is much more rugged. At the falls, if you take the trail that starts right along the falls, you’ll be scrambling hand over foot for a ways as you head for the ridge. There are large and uneven steps and roots and loose rock. And once you meet the ridgeline, you’ll be on a beeline up that ridge with virtually no switchbacks until you get about two-thirds the way up there; Mailbox has many more switchbacks than Teneriffe, which dramatically reduces the slope and lengthens the trail. If Mailbox had no switchbacks, it’d be at least as steep as Teneriffe.

A moment of zen whilst grinding up Teneriffe

Heading town Teneriffe

Teneriffe’s trail along the ridge is quite rugged and offers a few places where a misstep would send you tumbling down the side of the ridge. I’m not saying it’s dangerous, especially compared to higher level scrambles, but for a casual hike, it’s got the potential to ruin your day.

Lower portion of Mailbox trail

Mailbox offers a few places to mess yourself up. Many people prefer to climb over the big boulder field near the summit rather than go around it. I’ve done both and I prefer the going around. One slip on the boulders and it’s going to leave a mark. The rest of Mailbox’s trail is very worn down and at some times, hard to follow, especially through the rooty wooded area about half way up. Lots of people get lost or slip and hurt themselves on the roots.

View from Mailbox looking south

Summit views are nice on each, but I have to say Teneriffe’s is a bit more dramatic, as it’s on a more prominent pitch, and you can see Glacier Peak and others up in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness. And Mailbox, has, of course, the mailbox.

Looking across to Mailbox from Teneriffe


This time of year I grow impatient waiting for the snow to melt on many hiking and backcountry trails, especially the trails that head deeper into the wilderness and away from the I-90 and western slope hordes.

Here’s what I typically run into above 4,500 ft this time of year. This was scrambling up the snow toward Rampart Lakes above Rachel Lake on June 21st.
Rachel Lake through the trees

I am jonesin’ to explore new trails, knowing that come late July I have about three full months of endless trails waiting for me. While I wait, I make sure my gear is in shape, get myself in shape, and plan trips with my friends to get our calendars lined up.

Getting my gear in shape means making sure everything is in trail-ready condition. For example, I’m old school, so my hiking boots may need another layer of waterproofing. Or perhaps your tent seams need a fresh layer of sealing tape. I also look to see what equipment upgrades I can afford, which usually is limited to whatever my REI dividend works out to be for the previous year.

The bigger effort is to get myself in shape or at least intensify the workouts I’ve been doing over the winter. As I get older, this proves to be harder, but I have a decent regimen that’s proven to be adequately-targeted to hiking and backpacking. I do high-intensity elliptical workouts at the gym a few days a week, which also includes weightlifting that focuses on my core and my upper body strength. This also helps to keep my weight in check — it makes more economic sense to burn off 5lbs of Ken than spend a few hundred bucks for a tent that weighs 2lbs less.

I did more running than usual this year, but it ultimately did more harm than good as I’m still trying to sort out what appear to be running-related injuries. I’ve never been a runner and I do it as a social thing and for its cross-training benefits, but again, my body just doesn’t like it. Better to stick to the low-impact high-resistance workouts at the gym.

The more satisfying part of training means hitting spring workouts like Mailbox Peak and less-crowded but just-as-tough-if-not-tougher Mt. Teneriffe (take the trail up above the falls, not the long and boring road trail). Or hitting some not-yet melted trails like Perry Creek or Mount Defiance — slipping and sliding as you head up a snowy slope works out all kinds of stabilizer muscles.

Here’s the snow above Perry Creek from a few weeks ago.
Trail at 4,756 ft.

Late Spring also encourages me to head east to hikes out in the Teanaway area like Ingalls Creek or up along the Wenatchee range including Longs Pass and Esmeralda Basin; hikes that are hot and dusty come July/August. Also, a hike along a river on the eastern side of The Olympics is a good choice; Duckabush River is a worthwhile one. I generally choose these hikes in part because they’re dog-friendly — but be mindful that if hiking up Ingalls Creek that dogs are not allowed at Lake Ingalls.

The Stuart Range from Navaho Peak, a peak in the Wenatchee Range on the north side of the Teanaway river basin.
Mt. Stuart to Little Annapurna

And now is the time to line up all your big trips — your multi-night outings to new places you’ve been thinking about for years, or to bring along some new friends to a trip that you want them to enjoy like you did. When you reach middle age, many of us have kids, pets, family events, and other vacations planned during the summer. So now is the time that I like to finalize the plans and groups for the grander adventures of the summer and early fall. It’s also important to find folks that can commit to the plan, because dropping out near trip time can make it logistically challenging if you’re planning a traverse trip with cars at either end, or you’re sharing a tent and sharing the load for food and other gear. And of course you have to map out your routes, get the necessary passes, and be aware of seasonal road construction.

How to Grill Bratwurst

This is not what you expected to see here.

We have to eat after all that hiking, right?

One of my all-time favorite meals is grilled bratwurst. I grew up outside Milwaukee, Wisconsin, so brats were a summertime staple and always on hand at any family event or ball game.

I’ve cooked several hundred bratwurst in my life, and it’s time I share the absolute best way that I know to cook them. The goal is to have an evenly and thoroughly cooked brat that retains all that delicious fat (okay, yup, it’s grease), without landing on your bun looking like a piece of charcoal.

Here we go:

Take the bratwurst out of the package and let them come up to room temperature. Done. That’s why it’s phase ZERO.

Do not, do NOT, DO NOT boil them in beer, onions, or anything else. I’m a purist. Brats are supposed to taste like brats and nothing else. If you want to put them on a bun and cover them in onions, sauerkraut (my fav), mustard, or anything else (except ketchup for god’s sake!), that’s your business. This post is how to get the bratwurst out of the fridge and onto your bun in top condition.

And on top of everything else, do NOT do anything to damage the natural casing. Some folks boil their brats and POKE THEM to release all their fat! AAAAaaaaaagggghhhhh!. Why, oh WHY would anyone do that? You’ve just ruined the essence of the bratwurst and reduced it to a chewy, shriveled, dry shell of its former self. Might as well throw it away and eat a hot dog.

Get your grill going; do the usual heat up, but just before putting on the brats, set the grill to medium-low if not just low.

Put the brats on the grill. If possible, avoid direct flame, use the deflectors/shields/whatever. The last thing you want is a flare-up. Go ahead and close the lid on the grill to hold in the heat.
THIS IS THE MOST CRITICAL TIME. DO NOT LEAVE THE BRATS ALONE ON THE GRILL. If you have to, dash into the house and grab your beer, I understand that. But DO YOUR JOB and stay by the grill.

Your goal here is to lightly brown at least two sides of all the brats. Get some grill marks on them, as that’s your brand and you want to make them your own. Typically this phase of cooking your brats takes no more than about 8-10 minutes. Again, make SURE you’re not getting flare-ups or doing ANY charring. The WORST thing you can do is burst your bratwurst by cooking it too fast over direct heat.

After the sides show some golden brownness and grill marks on at least two sides, you have succeeded at PHASE ONE. Whew, the hard work is over. Take a long drink of that beer, you’ve earned it.


Baking??? Huh?? 

Yup, that’s what I said. Baking. The trick to keeping your bratwurst from being charred to a cinder and blowing all the fat over the grill is to bake them with indirect heat.

Move all your brats to one side of the grill. If you have a charcoal grill, you’ll have more work to do as you have to move all the coals to the other side of the grill. If you have a gas grill, it’s easy. Turn off one side of your burners and move the brats to that side.

Now turn your gas on FULL on the other side. I’m talking pre-heat full-on blast. If you have charcoal, do your best to pile all your coals on the side opposite of the brats to make them generate the most heat. Keep your brats well out of the flame area.

The idea here is to create as much indirect heat in your grill as you can, but keep your brats away from that direct heat. It’s possible, I suppose, that some of the new gas grills can get ridiculously hot with just half their burners going, so use some judgment here — we’re not looking for 700 degrees to fire some clay pots or melt lead; we want more like 450-500, sustained for about 12-15 minutes.

This is the easy part. Close the lid, let the heat build, and walk away.

Come back in 3-5 minutes and make sure there is no fire or any brats that have split open. That’s a sign that it’s too hot and you need to keep the lid open a bit and drop the heat.

Keep an eye on it; smoke is a bad sign as it means flare-ups, but if you’re doing it right, they’ll turn a darker golden brown after about 10-12 more minutes. Once they reach that uniform color, you’ve completed PHASE TWO. Perfect.

Put on that smug grin of yours and parade your brats from the grill to the kitchen table. Cover them with foil and let them rest for at least 5 minutes before anyone puts one on a bun. They need to stabilize and reach their full-flavored potential while cooling down a bit. The last thing anyone wants is a blast of 300 degree grease in their mouth.

When that foil comes off, you’ll see a pile of perfection — golden brown brats without third degree char, plump with all that tasty brat-ness.


Perry Creek

With Boomer on the mend, I wanted, no needed, to hike something new that wasn’t too far or too crowded. I read recent trip reports on Perry Creek and it sounded like a good hike with some adventure. Some folks made the ridge and others turned back — looked like a challenge.

So we started hiking at about 9:45AM. The trail shares the same parking lot as Mt. Dickerman, a good workout that’s better later in the season. There was only one other guy on the trail ahead of me.

Boomer was definitely himself and did his usual bolt ahead as soon as we hit the trail. The first mile of the trail is quite serene as it makes its way from the lot to the old and now inaccessible trailhead, meandering through old growth trees. Once you get away from the road, the silence is very welcoming.


After a short walk on the road to the old trailhead, you hit the main trail which leads to Perry Creek and Mt. Forgotten Meadows on the top of the ridge; today’s goal.

The trail climbs steadily as it alternates between old growth groves and open talus traverses. Here’s a shot looking back down the valley toward Hall Peak. Big Four Mountain is out of view to the left.


At the three mile mark I was happy to come to Perry Creek Falls to take a break and shoot.


I didn’t take the time to set up my tripod, but was able to get a few decent hand-held shots, thanks to the image stabilization in my lens.

After another 100 yards or so, I changed out of my boots and put on my new Keen sandals, picked up Boomer and waded across the chilly creek. Glad it was only calf-deep.

With feet dry and boots back on, we headed up the steeper switchbacks to the ridge. Lots of flowers along the way, including this lone trillium.


We hit the snow at about 4,500 ft, and it was all snow from that point up. There was a hint of a trail, as the guy in front of me went about half way up the snow before getting frustrated with the lack of trail and headed back down. I went past his tracks with the help of my GPS and knowing it was just a straight shot, continuing the switchback.


After reaching and exploring the ridge, I shot this 360 panoramic (best viewed on a PC).

Here’s a shot of Mt. Forgotten, with White Chuck Peak in the distance.


We then looked for a snow-free spot to sit and eat our lunch. The only spot I could find was a little ledge at the edge of the snowbank on the north side of the ridge. It was at most 3 ft wide, with a drop of a few hundred feet. I carefully dropped down there and plopped Boomer beside me, enthralled with the sandwich I shared.



And I soaked in the huge view from our lunch spot.


We were the first up there, and on the way back down, passed a half dozen more who had already crossed the creek and were heading up. We chatted, exchanging tips and directions.

I was back to the car about six hours after I started, covering 10 miles or so.

View Perry Creek 6/7 9:45 AM in a larger map

Brief trip report is also up on WTA’s site.