A couple weeks ago, when the Cascades were filled with smoke, I hopped a ferry and headed to Goat Lake in the Olympics. As I was hiking up the steep single track I decided it would be a great training hike for a couple of women I coach who are planning to run the Grand Canyon rim-to-rim-to-rim in October. I was about to email them a Google doc with photos and directions, but decided to just post it here instead. Easier to share with them, and with anyone else who is interested in checking out this beautiful alpine lake!
I’ve read a few trip reports that suggest this is a “secret” hike, but there’s a bootpath/trail the entire way, and the route is clearly shown on Caltopo’s MapBuilder layer: https://caltopo.com/m/P717.
Start at the Upper Dungeness trailhead (directions to the trailhead are at the bottom of this page) and enjoy an easy cruise along the riverside trail for several miles. At 3.4 miles, you will reach an unsigned fork in the trail, pictured below. Go right. Shortly thereafter, you’ll reach another unsigned fork. Go right again. The trail will lead you down to a crossing of the Dungeness. This time of year, you can either ford the river or cross on a few trees that have fallen across the river. I chose the trees because I wanted dry feet and was too lazy to take off my shoes, but the ford looked very manageable.
Once you get across the Dungeness, you’ll be faced with heavy brush. Look for an obvious hole that tunnels through the brush – this is a short (100 feet?) trail that will deposit you in a pretty little meadow currently covered in dry, golden grass. Several paths criss-cross the meadow. With your back to the river, choose the path on the left that leads you into the forest. Continue following this path up, and up, and up, until you reach the lovely Goat Lake. Leave time for a dip – the water is crystal clear and there is a long pebble beach that provides easy lake access!
The first time I ever heard of Mt David was approx 5 years ago, when Tom and Rowan and I were in the area for a family hike. Our original destination was Indian Creek, but for some reason I can no longer remember, we ended up taking the Mt David trail instead (Indian Creek and Mt David both depart from the same trailhead). The Mt David trail was – and still is – super brushy, so Tom and I were shouting the occasional “Hey Bear” to keep from surprising any furry friends. Rowan was young, and at that stage where she’d repeat everything we said without knowing what it meant. Somewhere on an old thumbdrive we have adorable video of Rowan in her kid carrier, yelling out in her tiny little voice “Hey Bear! Heeeeey Bear!” as we pushed through the brush on Mt David.
What I wouldn’t give to find that video now! Oh well. (Let this be a warning to all you whippersnappers: organize those digital pics and movies now.)
Anyway, we didn’t make it very far up the Mt David trail that day, but when we got home I did a little research and ultimately added Mt David to the to-do list. Last week, years after our family hike, I finally decided to give it a go.
According to WTA, the road is closed 4 miles from the trailhead, which actually made this trail slightly more alluring to me: I was hoping the mandatory road walk would keep the crowds away. I needn’t have worried – even though there were a handful of cars parked at the road closure barricade, I did not see another human being from start to finish.
I brought my gravel bike to avoid the 8 miles of road trotting. However, they must have recently moved the road closure, because now the road is closed only 2 miles from the trailhead, just after Grasshopper Meadows campground, adding only 4 miles round trip. I was still glad I brought my bike – when it comes to closed roads, I’d rather ride than run!
The first 1+ mile of trail, from the trailhead to the turnoff for White River Falls viewing point, is in good condition. Brush and blow-downs are a non-issue. That said, there is a fair amount of detritus on the trail, probably due to lack of use.
The trail starts to climb around miles 1.5 – 2, but not before crossing a creek one last time. This time of year, this is your last chance at water until you reach snowfields at the top, so fill up here.
Miles 2 and 3 are a steady uphill through brush and blowdowns. Everything is passable, but it definitely slows you down and gets a little annoying.
At around mile 3, you get out of the woods and onto trail that is in pretty good shape, especially considering it’s unmaintained. At mile 4.5, you finally reach the ridgeline, and the views start – but the climbing doesn’t stop. At this point you’ve gained about 3,000 ft of vert, but still have another 2,500+ ft to go. The trail along the ridgeline is gorgeous, although it’s washed out in places with some exposure. Even so, it is a trail, no hands required. Views from the ridgeline are fantastic – your reward for climbing all those switchbacks, as well as a good distraction from the climbing you still have ahead of you.
At approx mile 7.5, just a few hundred feet below the summit, I encountered a couple lingering snowfields. I avoided the first one by simply scrambling upslope and going around it. Immediately after that, the trail fades away in a washout. Going high to get around the washout requires scrambling a short cliffy section. Going low meant traversing a steep snowfield. I was alone, with no axe and no traction, and had already set off a couple minor slides and sloughs. After much waffling, I decided to call it a day at that point. I was confident in my ability to get up the cliffs, but uncertain about the downclimb.
It bothered me a little to turn around just shy of the tippy top, which surprised me since I’m not much of a peak bagger. As I descended, I realized I’d never turned around quite so close to a summit. I guess I’m either getting older, smarter, or less bold… or some combination of the three.
High Divide: Welcome Pass to Excelsior Pass with a bike shuttle
Last week I drove up to Highway 542 (Mt Baker Hwy) with the hopes of completing a traverse of the High Divide. The original plan was to ride my bike from Damfino Lakes trailhead to the Welcome Pass trailhead, and then finish the loop by traveling on foot from Welcome Pass trailhead up and across the High Divide, ending up back at Damfino Lakes. That would’ve been good for approx 30 miles of biking and approx 8 miles on foot, which sounded perfect to me – I’ve been neglecting my bike and this seemed like a great excuse to get some time in the saddle. Unfortunately, the road to Damfino Lakes is closed. I knew it was closed, it’s signed as closed, but for some reason I thought the closure was after the Damfino Lakes trailhead. It is not. Neither the Damfino Lakes nor the Canyon Creek trailhead is currently accessible.
Luckily, there was an easy and obvious back-up plan. Instead of starting at Damfino Lakes, I parked at the Excelsior Pass trailhead, rode my bike to the Welcome Pass trailhead (approx 5 miles), and then finished the loop on foot (approx 12 miles). Even though it wasn’t quite the route I’d hoped for, it was still very scenic. It was also one of the first days that the skies were smoke-free again, after nearly two weeks of haze from BC wildfires in early August. So really, I was just glad to see the mountains again!
After finishing the High Divide loop, I headed to Hannegan Pass trailhead to meet Lindsay. She and I both camped in our vehicles that night, and the next morning woke up early-ish to check out Goat Mountain. Maps show a trail only 3.5 miles up Goat, but beyond that there is still a very well-established boot path all the way to the false summit. Reaching the actual summit involves crossing a tiny glacier and then doing some Class 3ish scrambling. Lindsay and I were both perfectly content on the false summit. We ate PBJs, looked at maps, and then took pictures (me) and a nap (Lindsay).
Last week my brother Eli was in town for what has become his annual August visit. Two years ago we went backpacking, last year we went boating on Ross Lake, and this year we hiked up to Trout Lake to test out a packraft. It was a hot day, and the air was thick with smoke from the British Columbia wildfires, so a mellow hike to a cool lake turned out to be just the right activity.
The raft we tested was the Klymit Lightweight Dinghy (LWD), which worked very well for us on that day: floating around a calm alpine lake, not trying to stay dry, not trying to get anywhere in particular, not trying to carry gear. Unfortunately, I realized that it’s not the most functional boat for backcountry travel. I don’t plan to run any serious whitewater, but I’d like to feel confident my gear will stay dry and the boat will handle reasonably well on a Class I-II river. I’m probably just going to have to bite the bullet and buy an Alpacka, AIRE Bakraft, or Supai raft. I’d love to hear from anyone who has experience with these boats!
Although the LWD isn’t what I’m looking for in terms of a packraft, it was perfect for our family float, and it was another great day in the mountains with Uncle Eli and Team Kelley!
Last weekend I was privileged to be part of a group of awesome women who climbed Mt Rainier as a fundraiser for the SheJumpsWild Skills program. Together, we raised over $25,000, all of which will be used to help increase the participation of young women and girls in the outdoors. The climb was sponsored by Outdoor Research and International Mountain Guides. Outdoor Research offered some great fundraising incentives, and IMG provided four fantastic female guides to ensure we got up and down the mountain safely.
I tend to spend a lot of time outside by myself, so I wasn’t entirely sure how I’d do on a guided trip with a large group of people, but it was actually really great. Being guided by Sara, Liz, Brenda and Rachel was like climbing with very experienced friends who shared their extensive mountain knowledge and made sure we didn’t do anything stupid… and also cooked breakfast and dinner for us every day. Yes please! I learned so much from the guides, and really appreciate the time they spent answering questions, teaching us new skills, and building our overall mountain competency.
The seven other climbers were equally awesome – friendly and inclusive, yet also tough and strong. Again, I was surprised by how much I enjoyed the group dynamic. We ranged from single ladies just turning 30, to moms with fully grown daughters, but we had no trouble finding common ground. We all believed in the cause. We all liked to be outside, testing our physical limits. We all loved mountain sports. We all liked to laugh and talk about poop. What else could you ask for?
The climb itself was spread over three days. Day 1 was a slow walk uphill from Paradise to Camp Muir. I think many of us were anxious about being able to keep up, but the guides made sure the pace was slow and steady, and everyone arrived at Camp Muir feeling good.
Day 2 was essentially a rest day. We spent the morning reviewing glacier travel at Camp Muir, and then took a short walk (1 mile and 1k gain) from Muir to our camp at Ingraham Flats. We ate “dinner” at 330 pm on Day 2 and then it was bedtime.
Before we went to bed, Sara, the lead guide, gave us a quick summit talk. She explained that the current route to the summit is relatively long, but not particularly technical. No ladders or leaps over gaping crevasses, no fixed lines, just a lot of walking.
Apparently another guide with a different company had described it as “boring.” Sounds great to me! If there’s one thing I know I can do, it’s walk in the snow with a heavy load for long periods of time.
Hilariously, Sara refused to tell us when we would be woken up for our summit bid. All she’d tell us is that we’d be woken “Early, when people normally go to bed. And once I wake you up, you’ll have 90 minutes to get ready.” It totally reminded me of the start to the Barkley Marathons: racers don’t know when the race will start… they just lie there in their tents, waiting for race director Laz to blow the conch, at which point racers have 60 minutes until the race officially starts.
I was convinced I would spend the “night” wide awake, finding it even more difficult to sleep because I didn’t know when I’d be woken up. But it was actually kinda nice. My only mission was to lie in the tent and rest. I didn’t fret about whether or not I was sleeping, or how many hours I had left before go-time. I just closed my eyes, snoozed for a bit, and got up when instructed.
As I lay in the tent dozing, I realized that my mental load had been removed. My husband Tom is fantastic, but by choice and by default, I carry a lot of the mental load at home. This trip gave me a break from that. I didn’t even have to set my own alarm clock! Although I greatly value my independence and autonomy, sometimes it’s nice to let go of the reins and simply do as you’re told. Especially when you’re being told what to do by women you like and trust. And it only lasts for 3.5 days. 😉
After being woken at 10 pm, we ate a quick “breakfast” and then roped up and hit the trail. And at this time of year, the route to the top is basically just that: a trail. Although Rainier is a big mountain with real dangers, the Disappointment Cleaver route isn’t particularly remote or wild. There is a trail – shoveled and maintained by guides in some parts! – right up to the summit. Not to mention we were climbing on one of the busiest weekends of the year.
Which brings up another reason to be grateful for the IMG guides: they knew it was going to be an insanely busy weekend on the mountain, and they made sure we were near the front of the congo line. Although we weren’t the first to the summit that morning, there were definitely far more people behind us than in front of us. Climbing Rainier isn’t a race, of course – but getting stuck in bottlenecks on the mountain carries its own set of dangers, and it was nice to avoid that.
Reaching the summit was fantastic. Although I felt relatively confident that I’d make it to the top, you never know what will happen on any given day. Again, our guides couldn’t have timed it more perfectly – we reached the summit approximately 5 minutes before sunrise, and got to watch the sun peek over the horizon as we stood on the very top. We took dozens of photos, had a dance party, and then headed off to sign the summit register.
Soon enough, it was time to begin our descent. One “fun” thing about the current DC route is that there is a downhill section on the way to the top… which of course means that you have to climb back up it during your descent. I was actually grateful for the change of grade. Climbing up the Emmons Glacier in the middle of our descent confirmed for me that given the choice, if I’m on a steep snowy slope I much prefer going uphill vs. downhill. (Hopefully this will change after a couple winters focused on skiing!)
Finally we reached Camp Muir. And who was there to greet us but Christy Pelland, the National Director of Wild Skills! If you know Christy, you know she has what seems like endless energy. She came bounding over the hill as we walked into camp, cheering loudly for us. And then she said the sweetest words ever: “I’ll be carrying down the backpack of the woman who raised the most money!” And then she pointed at me. I literally threw my hands in the air and screamed with joy. And then I handed her my pack without any hesitation. Thanks again Christy, and a huge thank you to all my friends and family who made such generous contributions!
The descent from Muir to Paradise wasn’t that bad (says the woman who had her pack carried by someone else). Although the snow was soft and sticky, we were still able to get in a few long glissades. And before we knew it, we were on pavement approaching the Paradise parking lot, where the IMG van was waiting for us with a cooler full of cold soda and potato chips. Heaven.
I’m pretty sure that this Rainier climb will become an annual thing, and if you haven’t already guessed, I highly recommend the experience! It sounds like there was a long wait list this year, so make sure you get and/or stay involved with SheJumps, so you’re in the loop when they start accepting applications for the 2018 climb! Last but not least, although the climb is complete, we are still happily accepting donations: https://www.rallyme.com/rallies/5663/rainier2017/roster/3519/jessica-kelley
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.
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.
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.
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. 🙂
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!