Mother Mountain/Northern Loop – Mount Rainier National Park

Earlier this week I did a figure-eight of the Mother Mountain and the Northern Loops in Mount Rainier National Park, as part of the UP Wilderness Challenge. Route and trail conditions below, with some notes about the experience in the photo captions. Strava link here. 

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Figure-eight combo of Mother Mountain and Northern Loop – 48 miles and 14,400 ft gain

Trail conditions:

Mowich Lake to Spray Park – The trail is in excellent condition with zero blowdowns. There is no snow on trail until you are well into Spray Park. Wildflowers were still in bloom as of July 17. Take the spur trails to see the Eagle Cliff view point and Spray Falls – the spurs are short and the views are worth it.

Spray Park to Seattle Park – This is the only place I encountered any noteworthy snow, in the form of several large patches as you enter Seattle Park.  When I went through early in the morning (630-7 am) the snow was icy and firm, and there was evidence of an overnight freeze (ground frozen solid, a thin layer of ice over small tarns). I did not have traction, and felt comfortable without it. I carried one trekking pole for stability (no axe) and that worked for me. As illustrated in the pic below, most of the snow that remains is low-angle. When I was there (on a Monday after a sunny weekend) there was a clearly established, frozen solid, bootpath through the snow, and routefinding was not an issue.

Southern half of the Mother Mountain Loop (Wonderland Trail): Excellent condition. No blowdowns, no snow, just smooth sailing all the way until you connect with the Northern Loop trail.

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First light on Rainier, as seen from the Eagle Cliff viewpoint off of the Spray Park trail.
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Early morning in Spray Park
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Thin layer of ice on some of the tarns
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This is a good example of the remaining snow fields in Spray/Seattle Park. They were hard and icy when I went through early in the morning, but low-angle and with a well-defined bootpath.
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Cairns, paint, and MORE paint (?) in Seattle Park

 

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Dropping down from Seattle Park
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Suspension bridge over the Carbon River – good for a giggle!
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Sweet soft singletrack along the Carbon River

Northern Loop trail: Once you leave the Wonderland Trail and start climbing towards Yellowstone Cliffs along the Northern Loop, you start to encounter a few blowdowns, but overall the trail is still in excellent condition with no significant obstacles. In fact, for the entirety of the Northern Loop trail, there is no snow, minimal blowdowns, and no major obstacles. The only section that gave me pause was crossing the White River after Lake James. The bridge is out, so getting across requires wading through two braids of the river and then doing a bit of bushwhacking to cross the final stretch on a sturdy log. I crossed late afternoon on a sunny day, and the river was approx 1.5 – 2 ft deep at its deepest. It was kind of fun to engage my brain again after mindlessly cruising along well-maintained trail for so many hours.

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Yellowstone Cliffs – what a treat! Endless wildflowers.
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Yellowstone Cliffs
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One more pic of the bear grass and lupine below Yellowstone Cliffs
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Unnamed tarn before Lake James. Perfect for swimming.
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The water was clear and not too cold.
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More smooth sailing
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I took a 1-mile detour to refill my water bottles, and was rewarded with western coralroot orchids in the sun-dappled forest.
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Heading into Berkeley Park
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Paintbrush in Berkeley Park
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Flutterby
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Lupine fields in the Sunrise area
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It’s not a trip to Rainier without a marmot.
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Headed towards Skyscraper Pass
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Sneak peek at Rainier
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Little Tahoma playing coy
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Cinnamon-colored black bear! I saw him and said “Hey Bear!” He looked at me, and then put his head down and kept eating – ZFG.
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Final river crossing of the loop – the bridge over the Carbon River. A definite no-go.
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Luckily this option was just a little bit upstream. Feet still got a little wet! 🙂

All in all, it was a lovely route with fantastic conditions, and a great way to see some spectacular scenery in the park. Thanks to  Kathy and Ras for coming up with the figure-eight route!

p.s. I realize this report is heavy on the pics with not a lot of text. I blame it on a busy summer schedule without much time for writing.  If you have any questions about specific sections of the route, I’m more than happy to answer them! Just shoot me an email. 🙂

 

Ruth Mountain

Strange but true: Last Friday, three moms managed to free up their work schedules, arrange childcare, agree on a fun mountain objective, AND get good weather all on the same day!
On Friday, Lindsay, Jenni and I headed up Ruth Mountain. (Jenni owns Baker Mountain Guides with her husband John, but this wasn’t a guided trip… not that you could tell by the number of peaks we asked her to name along the way. Poor Jenni. Being a literal walking guidebook of the North Cascades must get old.)

We met at Hannegan Trailhead at 5 am on Friday morning. I’d spent the night in my van at the trailhead, and was feeling pretty damn good with almost 7 hrs of sleep under my belt. Meanwhile Jenni and Lindsay had each slept at their own homes in Bellingham, betting that they’d get more sleep in their own beds, only to be woken by kiddos at various hours of the night. Mom life.

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Moonrise over Baker (on my way to camp at the trailhead)
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Moonrise over Shuksan (on my way to camp at the trailhead)

After sorting through gear and playing a quick game of take-it-or-leave-it, we were on the trail by 530 am. It was a gorgeous morning, clear and cool. The bugs were bad at the trailhead but left us alone once we started moving. As we hiked up to Hannegan Pass, we were treated to views of the sun rising on Mount Sefrit, as well as our first glimpses of Ruth Mountain. The Hannegan Pass trail is in excellent if brushy condition, with just one slightly tricky part involving a collapsed snowbridge.

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Sunrise on Sefrit
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Another shot of Sefrit
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First glimpse of Ruth – the snowy one on the right
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Close-up of Ruth

By the time we reached Hannegan Pass, the sun was up and the day was warming quickly. Jenni is still nursing, so she stopped to pump while Lindsay and I ate snacks and listened to the chirping of the birds and the whirring of Jenni’s pump. It made me simultaneously miss nursing my kiddo (such an awesome bonding experience), while feeling grateful that I never have to pump again.

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Time to pump! Yay?

One thing I learned is that Jenni is fast at all mountain transitions, including the pumping-to-hiking transition. Before we knew it she had her shirt back on and was ready to roll. We threw on our packs and headed up the ridge towards Ruth. After you leave the Hannegan Pass trail, you cross a few low-angle snow-covered slopes and then reach an awkward steep section that is a combination of rotten snow, rocky roots, and slick heather.  We finally cleared tree line and stopped to put on crampons and helmets. Next up was a traverse of the steep snowy slopes below point 5930, and a quick detour around a small lingering cornice.

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View from above treeline: switchbacks up Hannegan Peak in the foreground, Granite Mountain on the left, and craggy Slesse Mtn (?) way in the back.
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Keep on moving, nothing to see here

From there, it was essentially a walk up Ruth’s Northeast ridge line, parts of which were truly just walking, and parts of which made me glad for my axe and crampons. It should be noted that I’m a relative wimp when it comes to steep slopes. There’s a reason my brother used to call me “Colonel Cautious.” Lindsay and Jenni, both of whom are experienced climbers and skiers, kept talking about how fun it would be to ski down Ruth. I kept thinking about how fun it would be to not slide down Ruth.

Because the slope was relatively mellow, and the one known crevasse was completely filled in, we did not rope up. We just slowly but surely plodded along in the slightly soft snow, until we reached the summit.

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Our approach to Ruth
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Mt Baker
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Two other climbers that we would meet on the summit
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Getting closer…

Soon enough, we were there! Although most of the approach had been snow-covered, the summit itself was snow-free. And very windy. We took a few pictures and then hunkered down behind a small rock wall and chatted while relaxing in the sunshine.

We shared the summit with two other guys. They seemed nice enough, but I couldn’t decide whether to laugh, cry, or cringe when they started giving Jenni unsolicited beta on various mountains and routes in the area. Mansplaining at its finest. I’m sure they were just trying to be helpful, but it was hard to watch.

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More of this, please.

 

 

 

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Summit selfie
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Mountain mamas (left to right: Lindsay, me and Jenni)
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Nooksack Cirque and Shuksan
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Icy as seen from Ruth
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The Pickets (and a bunch of others)
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Chatting on the summit, moments before the mansplaining began
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Shuksan, with Baker lurking the back
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One more shot of Nooksack Cirque and Shuksan

After hanging out on the summit for almost an hour, we began our descent. We’d taken off our crampons when we reached the scree-pile of a summit, and did not put them back on as we descended. There are several fun glissades to be had on the way down, and we were especially proud that we could still see our butt tracks all the way from the Hannegan Pass trail! Thanks again to Jenni and Lindsay for a great day in the mountains. Always fun to adventure with and learn from experienced mountain mamas!

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On the way down
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Mount Redoubt
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Looking back up at our glissade tracks
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One last glimpse of Ruth – you can’t tell from this pic, but we could still see our glissade tracks from here.
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The tiger lilies along Hannegan Pass trail are so tall!

 

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Close up of tiger lilies
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Bye bye Nooksack Ridge! Til next time.

 

Ingalls Loop

With the 4th of July weekend approaching, I headed out for one more day in the mountains before I hunker down at home during the busy holiday. And what a day it was! Goats, views, more goats, and just enough snow to keep the crowds away.

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I went clockwise. Approx 12 miles and 4k of gain

I parked my car at the road closure approximately 1 mile before Esmeralda trailhead, and biked the rest of the way. (I’ll use any excuse to ride my gravel bike.) From the trailhead, I headed up towards Ingalls Pass. The trail was mostly snow-free until approx 1/4 mile before the pass, at which point the trail became mostly snow-covered, with no discernible bootpath (although that might change after this weekend). There was a goat waiting to greet me at the top of the pass.

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Always looking for an excuse to ride my bike
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Esmeralda Peaks and Rainier

 

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The official goat-keeper of Ingalls Pass.
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Just chillin

The route from Ingalls Pass through Headlight Basin and to Ingalls Lake was primarily snow-covered, and I was glad for microspikes and trekking poles. I didn’t feel the need for an axe or crampons, but I stayed relatively low in the basin. Route-finding skills were helpful, and I referred to my map/GPS to stay on track. Although Headlight Basin and Ingalls Lake are still holding a fair amount of snow, the terrain is at that awkward phase where it’s melting out in places, so I watched my step and tested the snow frequently with my trekking poles, particularly near rocky outcroppings. As I made my way towards Ingalls Lake, I also crossed a few snowbridges that were solid when I crossed, but will likely require careful assessment as each day passes.

Ingalls Lake was gorgeous, as expected. There was only one other person at the lake, another woman on her own who had been hoping to summit Stuart. Her plan had been to travel on snow up Cascadian Couloir, but apparently the couloir is already too melted out for that. Not wanting to deal with all the loose rock and scree, she headed for Ingalls Lake instead, and was planning to go out the way I’d come in. Essentially we were each doing the same loop, except in reverse. We chatted a bit and then I went on my way. She’d mentioned that there were cairns to lead me down to Ingalls Creek, but I found it easy enough to drop down off-trail and pick up the trail at the bottom of the drainage.

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Ingalls Lake, just starting to melt out, with Stuart in the background
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Goats at Ingalls Lake
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Goat in front of Ingalls Peak
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I couldn’t stop taking pictures of the goats
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Always be yourself. Unless you can be a unicorn. Then always be a unicorn.

 

Ingalls Creek trail is in great shape, and I had a lot of fun trotting along, enjoying the warm sun and scenery. The turn off to Longs Pass is not signed, but it is marked by a large cairn. As long as you’re paying attention you shouldn’t miss it. More good news: there is a big log across Ingalls Creek. (It actually looks like it’s been there awhile, so perhaps this is old good news.)

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Pretty little Ingalls Creek trail
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Log crossing over Ingalls Creek, on the Longs Pass trail
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Plenty of water available all along the route

After crossing Ingalls Creek, I started the steep climb to Longs Pass. The route is more bootpath than trail, and it was hot in the mid-day sun. It’s mostly snow-free, except for the last 1/4 mile as you approach the pass.

The woman I’d met at Ingalls Creek mentioned she needed crampons for approx 100 meters when she dropped down Longs Pass at 5 am, and when I got there I could see why. By the time I reached the pass it was after noon, the snow had softened in the sun. and I was hiking up (not descending), so my spikes and trekking poles were enough. But crampons and an ice axe wouldn’t have been ridiculous, especially earlier in the day.

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Looking up at Longs Pass
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Trail leading down Longs Pass (I came up it)

The views of Stuart from Longs Pass were incredible. From there, it was an easy trot on gently graded switchbacks all the way back to the trailhead. My bike was waiting for me right where I’d stashed it, and it took just a few minutes of easy pedaling to get back to my car. All in all, it was a really great day in the mountains.

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Stuart as seen from Longs Pass
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Singletrack switchbacks all the way back to the car
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Esmeralda Basin

 

 

 

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More goats
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Phlox diffusa (spreading phlox)

 

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Anemone drummondii (alpine anemone)

 

 

Maple Pass Loop with the Ladies

Maudie, Alison and I decided to make an attempt at Black Peak this past Tuesday. As you can probably guess from the title of this TR, we weren’t successful at reaching Black Peak… but we were successful at having a fun day in the mountains, and doing the Heather-Maple Pass Loop without seeing a single other person. Maple Pass is one of the most popular trails in the North Cascades, so having it to ourselves was a real treat. (Turns out lingering snow is great for keeping crowds away.)

We left the trailhead at 700 am, and were at Heather Pass by 8:15 am. Up until Heather Pass, the trail was mostly snow-free with occasional patches of snow. No special equipment needed. At Heather Pass we left the established trail and started heading due west towards Black Peak.  Our first glimpses of the mountain were awesome – it is definitely a gorgeous peak!

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Barefoot, pregnant… and prepping for adventure

 

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First glimpse of Black Peak
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Black Peak approach

Before starting the traverse towards Lewis Lake we grabbed a quick snack, put on crampons, and swapped poles for ice axes. Then we started slowly picking our way across the slope. We all agreed this was a no-fall zone, with a cliff band below.  There were still a few lingering cornices at the top of the ridge above us, and we saw evidence of a somewhat recent cornice failure/slide that had taken some trees down with it.

Approximately half-way to Lewis Lake we came to a spot where we could hear water running underneath the snowpack. Maudie probed around with her axe a couple times, and it punched through and down into open space below. After some discussion, we decided to turn around. It was already 9 am and I wasn’t comfortable with the combination of rotten snow with running water underneath, a steep slope with a bad runout, and lingering cornices – not at 9 am, and definitely not later in the day on our way back. If I were to attempt this again in the winter, I’d want to start before dawn.

After bailing on the Black Peak plan, we quickly formulated a Plan B: the Heather-Maple Pass loop. It was a perfect choice because Alison had done it numerous times and knew the route well. That said, the trail is completely buried in snow from Heather Pass, up and over Maple Pass, and back down the other side to approx 5500 ft, so be prepared for some route-finding. The snow was soft enough that we didn’t use crampons for the loop, although some folks may prefer otherwise, especially if you go earlier in the day. We did take our axes out in a couple places for added security.

The scenery was stunning and doing the loop was a great “consolation prize!” Lots of pics below.

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Lake Ann – still partially frozen
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Golden Horn on the right

 

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Corteo Peak
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Just the four of us (Did I mention Alison is 6 months pregnant and still crushing it? SHE IS.)
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Cutthroat and Whistler
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Maudie, Alison, and the bump
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Cruising towards Maple Pass
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Strike a pose
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First dirt since we left Heather Pass!

 

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Rainy Lake and endless glacier lilies
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Mountain running
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Looking back at our route. Black Peak on the right, Corteo on the left.

Winthrop family vacation

Posting a few quick pics from a recent family trip to Winthrop, WA. We rented a friend’s net-zero cabin and it was awesome! If you’re into that kind of stuff, you could spend hours on their website geeking out about the building process.

In addition to hanging out at Artemisia (the zero-energy cabin), we also went hiking, rafting, horse-back riding, and hung out at the pool with the Naneys.
Thunder Knob trail is in great shape, as is Tiffany Mountain. Lost River was good for 1-2 miles, and then brushy but passable after that.

I had a minor epiphany on this trip… Although guided tours aren’t my first choice when traveling alone or with Tom, when you’re doing things with your kiddo for the very first time it is REALLY nice to have a guide. The guides can worry about snacks, logistics, etc, while we get to focus on Rowan as she floats a river or rides a horse for the first time. Neato.

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One second you’re changing their diaper, the next second they’re flashing the peace sign in pics.
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Family hike on the Thunder Knob trail.
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Daddy docking station: Rowan fills up on water and kisses.
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Our super cool net-zero rental, Artemisia
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Views of Mt Gardner from the cabin. After staring at that mountain all weekend, it’s now on the to-do list.
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Tom went for an early-morning hike while Rowan and I slept in. His primary goal: find a creek in the woods; chill out and enjoy the sound of moving water. ❤
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I went for an early-morning hike while Tom and Rowan slept in. My primary goal: standing on the top of that big pile of dirt in the background (Tiffany Mountain). 

 

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Mountain lion sign (?)
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View from the top of the big hill (Tiffany Mtn)
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Looking out over the Pasayten Wilderness
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Much of the area around Tiffany Mtn has burned, but there are still a few oases of green
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Family rafting on the Methow River
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Horse-back riding in Mazama
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Alpenglow on Gardner

 

 

Index-Beckler loop (bike)

Index – Beckler loop: probably one of my top 5 most favorite rides ever! I headed north out of Index, hike-a-biked through the woods where the road is washed out, cruised along the car-free Index-Galena Rd, up and over Jack Pass on gravel, and then back to the car on relatively smooth pavement. Oh and I almost hit a BEAR!!! I was descending Beckler Rd and I came flying around a corner and there was a small black bear grazing on the left side of the road. He looked up, saw me, panicked, and ran across the road directly in front of me. I grabbed a handful of brakes and skidded to a stop, missing him by approx 10 ft. It still felt awfully close. He was gone before I could get my camera out.

One of my best days on my bike for sure!

Thanks to David Longdon for writing his recent piece on gravel-grinding – it definitely re-inspired me to get out there.

 

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Approximately 45 miles and 4k gain. 1 mile of hike-a-bike, 10 miles of gravel
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View from the Index bridge
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The road ends here
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Hike-a-bike
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#leaningmybikeagainstsomething
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Bear Mountain 
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That way

 

Nason Ridge to Alpine Lookout

Quick update on Nason Ridge conditions:

Yesterday I took the Round Mountain trail to Nason Ridge, and then took the Nason Ridge trail west to the Alpine Lookout. Road 6910 up to the Round Mountain trailhead is 100% snow-free and in reasonable condition. A sedan could likely make it, although you’d have to steer carefully around a few bumps and holes, and one washout on a curve. As previous trip reports have mentioned, FS 6910 is very easy to miss as you’re driving on Highway 2.

The Round Mountain trail is completely snow-free all the way from the trailhead to the junction with Nason Ridge at 1.5 miles and approx 5300 ft.
I’m pretty sure there is a kitty who lives in this first section, as there were fresh tracks the last time I was there, and several piles of fresh scat this time. Unsurprisingly, I’ve never seen the actual animal… I’m sure they steer clear as soon as they hear me crashing up the trail.
The most noticeable and troublesome wildlife by far were the bugs. They were particularly bad on the Round Mountain trail.  Even after I applied bug spray, the mosquitoes were voracious. I also got stung/bit by either a bee or a horsefly. Not the end of the world, but just be prepared to serve yourself as breakfast. 🙂

I noticed that the bugs got better once I reached the Nason Ridge trail, partly because there was a bit more of a breeze. In addition to fewer bugs, there’s more snow once you start along the Nason Ridge trail. As of Monday, there were longish (0.5 – 1 mile) sections of trail completely covered by snow in the trees, which required some route-finding. The snow was mostly consolidated so it was fairly easy going with only the occasional posthole. I used poles but not spikes. And for every section of snow-covered trail, there were long snow-free stretches with sunshine and views.

It’s worth mentioning that the Nason Ridge trail isn’t exactly wilderness. Motor bikes are allowed for the first few miles, and they’ve already torn up the trail in a couple spots. You can also hear Highway 2 traffic and the occasional train. It’s no worse than I90, but it was noticeable.

The good news is that the ridgeline wandering and the views from the lookout make up for all that.  On a clear day, you can see from Stuart to the Chiwaukums to Glacier Peak and beyond. Pics below.

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Completely snow-free to this point.

 

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View from Nine Mile Saddle. Glacier Peak is hiding in the clouds at the very far end of the valley.
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Snow still lingers in the trees, which necessitates a little route-finding.
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Sunshine, ridgelines, and wildflowers
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In addition to bugs and cat scat, this grouse came out to say hi. My dog about lost her mind, and definitely would’ve grabbed a mouthful of feathers if she hadn’t been on leash.
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File this under “Creepy $hit you see in the woods.”
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Yeah…. No.
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Chiwaukums, with Daniel and Hinman in the distance on the right
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From left to right: Mount Howard, Mount Mastiff, and the White River valley