Sunday, August 26, 2012

Mowich Lake Area & Mount Rainier

After visiting John and Cassie Emily and I headed out of society into the Northwest side of Mt. Rainier National Park to stay overnight and do some hikes.  It took us a while to get into the woods as we had to stop for some food and drinks and get gas.  We made it to the Mowich lake area at around 4pm after a 12+ mile drive down a dirt road which surprised me because it was a National Park.  We actually ended up paying the entrance fee in an envelope because there was no entry station into the area.  

Our first hike was an easy 6 mile there-and-back hike up Tolmie Peak.  This hike was highly rated for views and because it was so short I thought it would make a great sunset hike with a return to the car with headlamps.  It was a beautiful day and we quickly made it up to a beautiful alpine lake just below the cliffs of the Tolmie Peak ridgeline.  The water must have been a good temperature as there were people swimming in it.  That is when we noticed the mosquitos!  Yup, a whole lot of them and we had forgotten to bring bug spray, a big mistake.  I had hoped to have a breeze in the late afternoon but even when we got to the to the top it was calm and they were all over us.  

Heading up the switchbacking trail to the top we had beautiful views of the moon rising over the shoulder of Mt. Rainier which was super clear without any haze from all the fires in the Northwest.  It was a spectacular view over the lake below to the massive volcano in the distance.  A perfect place for photography but we wanted to make it to the top to hopefully get out of the bugs.  We quickly made it to the firetower on top where, to our surprise, we saw a group of hikers around our age inside the tower.  Upon asking they told us that they had a friend in the forest service that had hooked them up for the night.  The tower had a stove, beds, everything.  What a great place to spend the night.  Lucky them!

A few other people came up to the summit just behind us for the sunset and I wasted no time asking them for any spare bug spray.  The first couple were super nice but they had some organic stuff which smelled great but didn’t do any good at all.  The next couple had the same camera as me and some serious bug spray that finally did the job but by then Emily had been eaten up.  We got to watch an ok sunset as there were no clouds to really reflect some good alpenglow before we headed back down the mountain in the dark with our headlamps.  When we got to the base we headed up the road a bit and parked for the night in the trailhead for the Spray Park Trail we would do the next day.  I ate a salad we had bought from Safeway before heading to bed around 10pm.

In the morning we ate some food and hit the trail around 9:30 in the morning.  We headed off down the Spray Park trail with hopes we would have views like we would have last night from Tolmie Peak.  It felt like we were heading through the woods for a long time before I saw a side trail for Spray Falls.  We first encountered a small stream with a log bridge over it that I thought may have been the falls but another couple came by and told us not to waste our time there and to keep walking for the real deal.  Man, were they right.  The waterfall we came around a corner to see was one of the most spectacular I have seen anywhere.  It was massive and would dwarf most of the falls in Silver Falls State Park.  Emily headed up the trail to literally stand right under it while I crossed the stream to get some photos of it with her under it farther away from the spray.  We hung out there for a while as we were not in a rush on this 8 mile hike, truly appreciating how amazing the waterfall was!

We then continued up the trail towards the Spray Park plateau where we began to encounter some beautiful wildflowers along the trail.  I’m always amazed that the wildflowers can be just as abundant in the alpine areas of the northwest in August as they are in the spring time at lower elevations.  We also encountered a few curious Gray Jays (Camp Robbers) like we had seen on Thielsen earlier in the year.  I put some twigs in my palm and tricked one of them to land on my hand thinking it was food.  It gave me a few looks (of anger?) before flying off and telling it’s buddies to not bother.  

When we made it up to the Spray Park area we were blown away at the abundance of wildflowers still in bloom high up on the side of Rainier.  There were fields and fields of them and the view of Mt. Rainier over all the color was amazing.  Unfortunately, there were still a few mosquitos even up at that elevation so we kept moving along.  We continued up the trail towards Carbon Glacier until it started to go downhill.  Our guidebook said this would be a good spot to turn around but we heard from a couple that if we kept going and climbed a ridge we would see the Carbon Glacier below.  Seeing that the glacier was one of the ones I studied for my Masters and is the lowest in the U.S. I thought we’d go take a look.  I should have checked my GPS because when we got to the crest of the ridge I was looking at we realized it was another whole ridge away so we decided to turn around.

On our trek back we saw a few people headed directly uphill on the slope of Rainier obviously heading up to a good viewpoint another mile up.  We decided we didn’t need to see it and kept going but one of the hikers told us we should try going back through Knapsack pass to Mowich Lake.  This sounded interesting to us as we much prefer loop hikes over out and back hikes but it wasn’t a trail listed on the Park Map and we didn’t want to find ourselves over our head in terrain.  I decided to give it a go and followed his directions to a very narrow heard path leading towards a pass in the jagged Mother Mountain Range.  Thankfully, we passed a couple park rangers on the way who told us we had definitely made the right decision as long as we were ok traversing a big snow field.

It was really awesome heading over to Knapsack Pass.  We did indeed have to traverse a pretty big snow field to get up to the pass but it provided different scenery and an amazing view back towards Mt. Rainier.  It didn’t take us long to find our way up over the steep pass and if we had continued without stopping we would have made it back to Mowich Lake, directly under the pass, a lot faster than our way in but we encountered what seemed to be a small town of hoary marmots along the way.  Emily and I spent about 20 minutes just watching them and taking photos of the mother marmot harvesting grass for their nest and then feeding the baby marmots that were also scampering around the area.  We also got a few good glimpses of some very fat pikas that were scurrying about the boulder field as well. 

We then made our way back down and around the beautiful Mowich lake to our car.  The hike, as most of the hikes rated 10 in the guidebook are, turned out to be amazingly beautiful and our extra distance and elevation gain back over the pass afforded us amazing views of Mt. Rainier and a bunch of really cool animal encounters along the way.  The drive back to Ridgefield took about 3 hours from the north side of Rainier which wasn’t bad.  We will definitely have to keep exploring the mountains of Washington now that we live so close.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Visiting Cassie and John in Olympia

This past weekend Emily and I headed up north to Lacey, WA to visit John and Cassie and their newborn baby Jack who I hadn’t met yet.  We got to their place around 8pm and they had bought burgers and beer for us and had a fire pit going in their beautiful backyard.  It was great to catch up with the two of them before John is deployed to Afghanistan later this fall.  We had some great burgers and corn and sat by the fire for a long time chatting before heading to bed around 11.  In the morning Emily and I slept in while John and Cassie got up early to head for a Dog 5k run near Olympia, WA.  Em and I arrived at the race just after John had finished (in 2nd place) and it took us a while to realize we missed him.  We found Cassie eventually who said she had bailed after a quarter mile due to Jack screaming.  It was really fun to watch everyone cross the finish line with everyone cheering, which thoroughly confused all the dogs running with their owners.  

After Cassie won a free haircut in a raffle and John got his dog prizes for 2nd place we headed to Olympia to grab a sandwich at Wagner’s European Bakery in downtown Olympia.  Sandwich was ok but it took forever for the young girls to make them for us and I saw them mess up several orders in the process.  We took our food down to a park on the waterfront where Cassie and John convinced Emily and I that we need to get a pair of dogs ASAP.  There was a legalize marijuana concert going on nearby and I joked to a passing cop on a bike that there may be drugs in the area...
We then walked past the marina to the Saturday Market on the waterfront.  It was a covered market that was comparable to the size of the one in Corvallis that we are used to.  We noticed many beautiful flower arrangements and wondered if we could just buy a bunch from a market for our wedding instead of paying a ton of money for a professional florist.  Jack was extremely well behaved the entire time we were out and about.  It was only when we got back to their place to fill up our water bottles for our hikes that he started to really cry... in Emily’s arms... Good sign it was time for us to head out to Mt. Rainier.  It was a great visit with them and we hope to see them again soon as we are so close to them now.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Deschutes River 2012

Once again Emily and I were able to join our rafting friends on a fun 2 day trip down the Deschutes River in Central Oregon.  Sarah and Bryan organized the entire trip as usual and everything went off without a hitch.  We didn’t even end up with the usual crazy girl, despite the fact that we had a group of 29 people!  

Emily and I met up with Bryan and his monster van along with others at the Fred Meyer in Sandy, OR, only about an hour from our place in Ridgefield, WA.  We had time to stop for drinks and croakies at REI on the way and grabbed some quick McDonalds for dinner.  There we met up with Ian, Coleen, Sarah, Nicole, Cody, Bryan and his brother, Martin and his new girlfriend Shannon (who we all love now), Cristina, Chris, and all the others.  It became apparent to a few of us that it didn’t look like there was going to be enough room for everyone and sure enough.. there wasn’t.  We had only paid for the shuttle service to shuttle Bryan’s Van and two other vehicles so we had to just make it work.  This meant 7 people in Ian’s crew-cab truck, 18 people in Bryan’s Van and the rest in another truck.  Bryan’s van is big... but 18 people was just ridiculous.  Thankfully, we didn’t have too long of a drive to get to Warm Springs where we would put in.  

Friday night most of us stood up for a while to enjoy some drinks and catch up with friends we hadn’t seen in a very long time.  The stars were out in full effect and I regretted not having a DSLR with me as the Milky Way was really bright.  When we all had enough and headed to bed around 2am the whole campsite was awoken by Carl who screaming “Iaaaan.... You’re lights are ooonnnn”... which then became the quote for the rest of the trip.  Apparently Ian had left his high beams on and someone had opened the door to try to turn them off and ended up breaking them so that there was no way to turn them off.  Bryan of course swiftly jumped into action and by the morning they had come up with a temporary fix (taking out the fuse) but sadly, it left Ian with a broken truck that he would have to take to work on a long drive Sunday after the trip.

On Saturday morning after a leisurely breakfast we hit the river just past noon for our trip.  Emily and I joined Nicole on her bright orange Beaver Raft for it’s maiden voyage along with Coleen, Ian, Cristina and Chris.  Even though the forecast called for 95 degrees and sunshine we found ourselves pretty frigid under a cloudy sky with a temp around 65-70 for the majority of the day.  Thankfully, we had plenty of wine, beer and mixed cocktails in nalgene bottles to keep us all plenty warm as we made our way down the river.  Michael was in an IK and Chris and Cristina also were sharing one off and on with Niki and others.  At one point in the day I joined Niki in the back of the kayak for some paddling and found that a whole bag of peanuts had exploded.  This then led to me hurling peanuts at everyone on the rafts for quite some time.  I think I actually nailed everyone on our trip with at least one nut.  

It was 2pm before the sun started to break through the clouds and the smoke from the fire raging on the side of Mt. Jefferson to our south.  This worked out perfectly as we soon found ourselves once again at the cliff jumping rock on the side of the river.  Having made friends with Maddy and Guy (two Army guys from Seattle) I was super stoked to see them get the courage to go up and jump of the rocks.  Although, being in the Army I’m sure it didn’t take much).  I of course had to pull of something stupid so I went for a really sloppy looking front flip.  Every year these things look higher and higher to me when I stand on the edge....

We then found ourselves floating through some really beautiful stretches of river with crazy rock monoliths in the middle of the waterway and rolling, terraced hills on the sides.  Trains often passed us and with some encouragement we got them to blast their horns for us.  A football was brought out and our raftzilla accidentally consumed a family on another raft into tossing the football around which the kids on that raft absolutely loved.  Throughout the entire day we had ospreys circling the air around us and hooded merganser ducks on the water with us.  We even got to see two river otters running along the shore which was a first for me in the wild.

At around 5:30 we pulled over to the side at what looked like a pretty sweet campsite but Ian and Coleen suggested we keep going as the sun had just really started to come out and everyone was enjoying it.  Sarah seemed to know that we should pull over for the night here but no one really wanted to listen to her so we continued onward.  This decision turned out to be the root of a lot of conflict over the next few hours as we continually passed camp grounds that were completely filled and we had 29 people to park somewhere.  Eventually, Cody and a few others spotted a good place on the side of the river finally past all the private land sections and we pulled out for the night.  It wasn’t a designated campsite and the bathroom was literally half a mile away but it worked alright.  

When we got to camp Emily was hilariously drunk.  Being sweet Emily, she had taken it upon herself to urge everyone to have a few more drinks and stop arguing while we were searching for spots form the river.  Unfortunately for her, everyone kept arguing while she kept drinking.  This led to a very talkative Emily and a good laugh for me while watching it all unfold.  Back at camp she moved our tent about 10 times before happy with it’s position and began directing others to sites she deemed appropriate for them... Cody and Martin and I all had a good show of watching her try to put her sleeping bag in her sleeping bag for about 10 minutes and several hilarious failed attempts.  15 minutes later at about 8pm she was passed out her bag in the tent with a pillow with a little help from me.  

I ended up having some of the worst heart burn of my life on Saturday night and found the only way to feel better was to get it out which helped a bunch.  The tacos and Mexican spices for dinner certainly didn’t help me but Cody was nice enough to find me a big glass of milk which helped a bunch.  Instead of staying up late again I decided to hit the hay with Em at around 9:30 and to my surprise the entire camp site was quiet by 10pm.... I’ve never seen this happen on a trip like this before.... could it be because Ben wasn’t here this time.....

On Sunday Bryan and Sarah woke up early to cook us all an amazing breakfast of pancakes with fruit, yogurt, eggs, bacon and sausage which I ate a bunch of because I barely had dinner the night before.  We got on the river just before 11 am after everyone had made their own personal spirit quest to the bathroom up stream.  I didn’t make it that far the night before....  Sunday was absolutely beautiful out and everyone was in their swim trunks and bikinis.  I saved my energy drink/grape vodka until Sunday (btw.. threw a rock the night before while setting up the tent and the darn rock landed on both cans somehow puncturing both - but I saved the majority of the Rockstar).   I had some help with it but managed to kill most of it myself by early afternoon.  When we got to the Maupin City Park it was packed so we simply floated by.

We all had a great lunch on the side of the river when we got to the tributary for the underwater slide.  By then I was having a great time and “helped” everyone to get over their fear of the flume by “assisting” them into the water myself... I think I went through the flume about 10 times and on several occasions stayed underwater long enough to grab at people’s feet as they came through.  After we all had our turns we headed back towards our boats on the side of the Deschutes.  Maddy, Guy and I tried to float down the very shallow stream back to the main channel but after about 5 minutes of getting slammed by the rocks into my knees and butt I gave up.  How 250lb+, 6’ tall Maddy ever made it all the back down the stream I’ll never know.  

Thankfully, this year we didn’t lose anyone at the slide and everyone made it safely to the take out at Sandy beach just past Maupin.  Everyone was able to get the gear loaded up really fast and it was a quick ride back to Sandy, mostly because I slept the whole way.  Back in Sandy, Emily and I said goodbye to everyone, I promised to Facebook stalk the group and we headed home.  Once again it was a fantastic trip down the Deschutes and it couldn’t have happened with the incredible effort of Sarah and the resources of Bryan and the other rafters.  Can’t wait till next year!