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So, anyway, I never get a flu shot, and never plan to, but this winter I guess I got the flu. I would call it a bad cold and when I looked up on the internet how to tell the difference between a cold and the flu, I had some symptoms from both categories, so I still don’t know. However, I know I got what seemed like a bad cold, and for two weeks simply dragged myself everywhere I had to go, including work, sorry guys. If we could get some sick-leave, I would be happy to stay home, but if I don’t come to work, I don’t get paid, so . . . everyone at work got sick.

But, before you blame me, I was not the first person to get sick. My boss, who did get a flu shot, was the first to get sick. So much for the flu shot.

Well, then after two weeks, I felt like my regular self, so I started going back to the gym. After a week, I was sick again! So another two weeks dragging myself here and there, and now I’m fine again, and back at the gym.

You know what really pisses me off? My 88 year old mom, who still wanted me to pick her up for the day, never got my cold/flu. I guess I’m glad for that, but at the same time, I kind of resent it, if you know what I mean.

Hamster report out!

PS: I’m planning my summer and fall hikes and backpacks, can hardly wait to get out on the trails again.

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Fourth of July Pass

View from trail

The weather was iffy before I started this hike, but I had planned it as my last backpack of the year, and I had scheduled someone to care for my cats while I was gone, not to mention getting my 86-year-old mom to accept my not being there on Saturday.

friendly marmot

brave marmot

It is impossible to take off only when the sun is shining; so many things have to be planned ahead! I was lucky to get in 2 backpacks with sunny weather this year. This has not been a summer with much sun.

views and tarns

tarn below Yellow Aster Butte

So I drove up on Friday, holding my breath as my ancient Ford Escort bumped over the big rocks and potholes on the 4.5 mile Forest Service road off the Mount Baker Highway. I made it to the trailhead and there was only 1 car there – this is a heavily used trail, but this was a Friday, so little or no people were expected until Saturday.

Another tarn

icy snow melt pond below Yellow Aster Butte

I never saw the car owner Friday. The weather was decent that day, allowing me to hike up the steep trail in cooler weather than I had last weekend on my scouting trip. The clouds were there, but up high enough that I could see the base of Shuksan and Baker as well as most of the snow-covered ridge that connects them.

My tent and tarp

Tent and tarp anticipating rain

There was a brave Marmot who popped out of his (or her?) hole just a foot or two from the trail. He popped back in when he spotted me, but as I passed his hole he popped out again, and decided to stay! I was standing about 5 feet from him and he allowed me to pull out my camera and take 3 or 4 photos, only popping back inside his den when 3 young people and their dog came by. I suspect the dog was a bit too much for him.

I expected rain during the night and on Saturday; it did start to rain sometime in the night, but when I got up around 7 am, it was snowing!  In addition, the clouds had moved in, and if I had not studied the trail when I came in, I would not know where it was. The distance one could see was about 20 feet.

I was concerned that the snow might continue, and not knowing whether it would or not, I immediately packed up and started out. My main concern was the extremely steep switchback section of trail that goes up a bluff to the ridge above the tarns. If the snow began to stick, that would be a hazardous trail.

I found the trail and got to the base of the bluff, and started up. The wind was strong, blowing ice crystals in my face. I wanted to take photos to show how the weather had transformed the area, but my hands were numb; I have a problem with my fingers turning numb very quickly when the temperature is even in the low 60’s (fahrenheit). So, unfortunately, I didn’t get any pictures until I was up on the ridge and halfway down the trail!

It was exciting and a challenge to my common sense. Before packing up and heading out, I briefly considered fixing my breakfast and waiting to see if the weather turned more favorable. I suspect that it did, but decided I wouldn’t take the chance, since I was hiking by myself!

Hamster report

snow covered peaks from Excelsior Pass

Snow covered peaks from Excelsior Pass

Yes  . . .  finally, the sun came out. I was racing around trying to find a good, lightweight backpacking stove, since the one I bought at REI a month ago only worked for one meal and I could not get it to light again, so went home a day early on my last backpack trip. I wasn’t upset about that, it started raining seriously hard on the way out, but it left me without a stove.

Excelsior Ridge

Excelsior Ridge

So I tried to find another at REI, and being in a hurry, picked one that looked good in the catalog and ordered it. When it came, it must have weighed 5 lbs (I excaggerate, slightly). That wasn’t going to work. Besides, the dimensions were huge. I don’t know who would carry that thing. Maybe some young buck with more energy than brains. No offense, I was just annoyed at my second attempt to find a stove. Haste really does make waste. It is still sitting on my floor, waiting for me to return it. Thank god REI takes returns, hardly any questions asked.

Views from the ridge - Mt. Shuksan

Views from the ridge - Mt. Shuksan

Just a day before my hike, I ran into an outdoor store that just happens to be next to a grocery store I sometimes shop at on my way home. They had a really nice, very lightweight stove and it was on sale. Only they do not take returns. I hesitated, wondering if I was being foolish, made an executive decision and bought it.

Views from Excelsior Pass

Views from Excelsior Pass

It worked great. I had no problems with it; it was easy to set up, and ran a very long time on the fuel. I had brought an extra bottle of white gas, just in case, but didn’t even touch it. It is back in my garage, as I write this.

The trail up Excelsior from Mount Baker Hwy is really steep, but I enjoy it. It is in the trees about 90% of the way, and I like trees, so that works for me. There are lots of switchbacks, and some interesting/ odd things to look at along the way. Close to the trail head there is a HUGE hole in the ground just to the side of the trail. I always look down it, it looks big enough for a bear, maybe, so I look and walk away, hoping nothing with claws, fangs and an attitude comes out while I’m there.

Wildflowers in the meadows

Wildflowers in the meadows

There is a pretty waterfall at one switchback turn, with a nice rock to sit on, I always stop there for a water and snack break. The trail is about 4.1 miles one way, and about 3,000 feet elevation gain.

Self-portrait

Self-portrait

There was lots of snow at the ridge, which I was counting on, for melting to replace my water. I do not like to carry a lot of water, its freaking heavy. I could have used slightly less snow, but it is hard to get nature to accomodate my exact requirements. It was just fine as it was.

The sky was perfectly clear Friday and Saturday, and so the views were incredible. Mount Shuksan and Baker were awesome, as were all the ridges and the Canadian range.

I’ll see how many of my photos I can get on here . . .

Mount Baker from Excelsior Pass
Mount Baker from Excelsior Pass
 
Wilderness Hamster

 

Spider web in the mist

Spider web in the mist

Ok, so now I have been up this trail 3 times this year. The first time went pretty much as planned – I knew there would be snow, and I carried my snowshoes until I hit the snow, put them on, and hiked another couple of miles. It was somewhat annoying, as the trail went along a sleep slope (what doesn’t around here) and after several miles the snowshoe straps were hurting my feet as I was sliding to one side constantly. It was OK, but not as pleasant as walking a more gradual slope with a somewhat level path.

They say there is a great view of Mt. Baker

They say there is a great view here of Mt. Baker

So the next time up, I had planned the trip a month in advance, thinking the snow would be off, as the trail goes up a south-facing ridge. Not to mention the Forest Dept website said the snow level was at about 5,500 feet on this trail. I don’t know what year they were talking about, but not this year. I was still getting over a bad chest cold and thought that I would be OK; just walk slow. That doesn’t really work in the mountains. Steep uphill trails are tiring, no matter how slow you walk.  Besides, the snow was still down to about 3,500 feet; I walked on it for a while, but since I was so tired I thought it would be wiser to turn around, instead of falling down at some point.

My daypack & 1968 vintage ice ax

My daypack & 1968 vintage ice ax

This time, I was ready. I had my six-point crampons. I had my ice ax. I was not recovering from illness. The snow had more time to melt off. Hah! It was overcast the whole day, and no views!  This is supposed to be one of the most spectacular viewing spots! Oh, well, I did make it to the top of the ridge and did a little scouting around for places to pitch my tent next weekend.

Trees in the mist

Trees in the mist

I would prefer to camp on dry ground instead of snow, but it looks like it’ll be snow. I just need to find a flat spot, or maybe I’ll have to carve out a spot. There was so much fog up there I couldn’t see very far, and I suspect there may be nicer places to set up camp a little further along the ridge. If it is sunny next weekend, I’ll scout around more. If it is like Sunday, it won’t matter much because I’ll just need a place close to the trail, as there won’t be any views. Hoping for sun!

yellow wildflowers

yellow wildflowers in the meadowLots of snow and fog

 
hiking into dark woods

hiking into the dark woods and fog

 
Snow free area of meadow

Snow free area of meadow.

 

Hamster report

one of many waterfalls on trail

Many waterfalls and streams crossing trail

Too much snow this year; I tried this hike, but after about 3 miles the steep snowfields covering the trail became too hazardous for someone without an ice axe.  It was overcast and the trail was becoming hidden in the fog as well, so I was having trouble following the footsteps in the snow.

Forest in the mist

Next time I’ll bring my ice axe and some crampons. I’m getting tired of only hiking 3 miles up the trails.  It was beautiful, but no views other than trees in the fog!

Fog & snow on upper trail

Fog & snow on upper trail

 

They (the scientists) say the effect of climate change in the Pacific Northwest will be more snow in the winter and more rain year round.

 

Mist & snow on upper trail

Rocks at base of snow slopes

It seems to be working out that way. I have my rain barrel, but due to damaging my finger and just procrastinating, I haven’t hooked it up to my downspout yet. I’m such a slacker.

Hazardous river crossing

scary river crossing

 

I tried to get a photo of this crossing that accurately showed how hazardous and frightening it was, but didn’t succeed. It was very steep, one rock that you could put a boot on would be quite a bit above the next one downstream from it. The water is just melted, and the air temp is way too low to contemplate how cold you would be if you miss-stepped and got too much of yourself in that icy water.

Looking forward to my next hike in the mountains – with my ice ax and crampons, in August?

Hamster report

 

I missed last Friday because I was out hiking in the mountains, encountering bears and wild humming birds.

To be honest, I was too scared to take a picture of the bear, and he didn’t waste any time running away from me, for which I am very happy. The little humming bird was attracted to my bright red backpacking stove and plopped himself right down and took some tentative taps at it, but figured out it wasn’t edible pretty fast and took off for some red berries; also, not enough time to take a photo.

To make up for last Friday’s omission, I have my very own road kill in my backyard. This is the third time in the last 6 months some local predator has killed an animal and left it in my yard. If my cats were outdoor cats I’d suspect them, but they aren’t, so they’re innocent, so far. I know they are frustrated hunters, and I sort of feel sorry for any mouse that gets in my house, not that it’s happened yet.

The first dead animal left in my yard (last winter) was a rabbit – and that was way too gross to take a picture of. The next was a baby rabbit, left entirely intact on the path to my deck. This mole was left in the exact same spot as the baby rabbit, and also entirely intact. In fact I have no idea how it died; there is no visible injury. With whatever is killing stuff and leaving it in my yard, I’m wondering if any mouse could ever get inside.  

deceased mole

deceased mole

I didn’t think moles could forage under my “grass”, as this area is built on huge granite boulders. The only reason there is any “grass” back there is people hauled dirt in and planted the grass. The big trees are busy killing it with shade and nature is replacing it with lots of moss. I don’t mind, I just wish the process would go faster; I still have to go out there and run a weedeater over everything periodically, as there are patches of grass where the deer pee on it, and the dandelions grow really tall and must be whacked off from time to time.

I guess I don’t sound too interested in my yard, but that is not true. What initially attracted me to this house is the yard; it was pretty natural to begin with, and I have encouraged that. I planted some native plants that birds like, and have planted about 4 evergreen huckelberry bushes, which I believe are native to this area. I know the birds like them, and I can eat the little berries too, if I want to.

Hamster report

So, I couldn’t get my friend to go backpacking with me this past weekend, so I went solo – my first!  I wondered if I would be too freaked out to have a good time. It turned out I was very comfortable alone and except for the bear I met on the trail, I was not worried.

Baker river trail and baker lake trail sign

Baker river trail and baker lake trail sign

The forest was incredibly beautiful; some of the trees on this trail were huge – 8 to 10 feet in diameter. I could hear at least 3 different bird song. In the evening I could hear Loons calling; it was hauntingly beautiful.

Portion of the trail without shoulder high brush!

Portion of the trail without shoulder high brush!

The trail was 4.5 miles to Noisy Creek campsite on Baker Lake. 

One of the more complex bridges on this trail

One of the more complex bridges on this trail

There were many streams and rivers crossing the trail – the larger ones had bridges for crossing, and the the smaller had to be crossed by trying to walk on rocks people had tossed in for stepping stones. Unfortunately, the water was flowing over the rocks, so my boots got pretty wet, not to mention all the water that cascaded onto me from the wet brush along the trail.

One of many streams crossing trail

One of many streams crossing trail

The floor of the forest was covered with a green carpet of moss; every downed tree, rock and stump.  The brush – most of which was composed of  huckleberry bushes, salmon berry and other berry bushes covered the trail in many places and was about shoulder-high. On my hike out, there were two young forest service employees with big weed-eaters cutting this stuff down. 

One quarter dome tent

One quarter dome tent

I met the bear on my way in – about an hour and a half up the trail. I had seen his paw prints in the muddy parts of the trail, and was a bit worried, but whistled as I went along, to let any bears around know there was a human on the trail. I’m glad they take that as a signal to take off, because it could mean “here is lunch”.  

Rainbow over Baker lake

Rainbow over Baker lake

When I spotted the bear, he dropped down on all fours and took off at a good clip, heading away from me, for which I was very grateful. It would have been impossible for me to get off the trail to get out of his way, due to the trail being on a steep slope and with everything covered with such thick moss you couldn’t tell if you were walking on anything substantial or stepping between rocks and fallen branches. I’d have broken a leg in 3 steps, I’m sure. Without the maintained trail it would be impossible to travel through the area.

Baker River in the rain on hike out

Baker River in the rain on hike out

Hamster report

So much for information taken from internet sources. I went to the forest service website for Mount Baker forest and there it said the snow pack was at 5,500 feet on the Excelsior Ridge trail.

Excelsior trail head

Excelsior trail headStream 2 miles up trail

At about 3.5 miles up the trail I encountered significant snow on the trail.

Stream 2 miles up trail

Stream 2 miles up trail

It quickly became 4-5 feet deep, and when I began to lose the footprints I was following I turned back, without reaching the ridge and the views I was hoping for.

Snow on trail

Snow on trail

Oh well, I had a great time just being in the woods. The weather was perfect on Sunday – warm, but not hot, and blue skies – which was one of the reasons I was hoping to make the ridge top and see the views of Baker and the Canadian peaks to the north. Oh well, next time.

More snow on trail

More snow on trail

They are sying we have the highest snow pack ever recorded here, and Mount Baker has one of the highest snowfall records in the United States.

Rest stop on way down

Rest stop on way down

I had carried my snowshoes, but it wasn’t appropriate to use them. Some of those mini-crampons would have been ideal. Unfortunately, I didn’t have any.

Hamster report from the woods

Sunday I left Bellingham about 7:30 am and drove to the southern trailhead for the Baker lake trail. You can access the trail from either the south or the north.

Baker and reflection

Baker and reflection

It is a nifty 14 mile long trail that goes from the north end of the lake to the Baker Lake dam a t the south end. The drive from Bellingham is 1-1/2 hours, not too long.

Shucksan arm

Shucksan arm

The weather was great – one of the sunniest and warmest days we’ve had so far this year. I hiked along the trail for about 6 miles before turning back, making it a 12 mile hike.

Early morning light on old snag

Early morning light on old snag

I stopped at the two campsites along the lake on the way back, and took a snooze at the southernmost campsite, about 1.8 miles from my car. The views of Baker were stunning. The trail winds through cathedral-like trees, ferns, hucklebery bushes and wildflowers.

scary bridge

scary bridge

The only downside was the fact that noise and voices travel very clearly over water, and so the motor powered boats and the car campers who were out enjoying the lake as well-kept reminding me that I wasn’t as far from civilization as I like to be on a hike!

A great hike, thumbs up on this one.

Hamster report

When I was 18 I took the Seattle Mountaineers basic climbing course, and one of the things we learned was map and compass reading. We even did a course in the mountains where we started out with compass readings and had to find the next point, where there would be another compass direction, till we got to the end point. Well, I’ve forgotten most of that, so last night I was at the REI map and compass class, with a new compass.

Over the years I dealt with my forgotten compass skills by meticulously not getting lost. However, re-learning the skills seemed like a good idea.

compass

good compass

 

I’m good with maps, always have been so that was no problem. The most usefull information was triangulating with your map and compass to figure out where you are if you are lost. After all, if you never get lost you don’t really need your compass. It is finding your way back to the trailhead after losing the trail that is where you really need that knowlege.

Also, GPS’s batteries can die, so totally depending on them could be a mistake . . .  I’m just saying. . .

Hamster report