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The North Fork Toutle River valley, west of Mt. St. Helens, obscured in the clouds.

Earlier this month, my two dear friends Norman and Rodel invited me to spend the day with them. The plan was to drive up to Mt. St. Helens. That day the partly cloudy sky was slowly clearing as we made the trip, and we had fingers crossed for a mountain view when we got there. Sadly, the clouds remained clustered around the peak of Mt. St. Helens. We had a great day together, and the views were gorgeous (as you can see above), but we never did get to see the mountain.

Their idea stayed in my head. Sunday morning I had to run an errand, and as I was driving I looked from a hilltop near my home and saw crystal clear in front of me: Mt. Rainier, 80 miles distant as the crow flies, indicating that the air was very clear. I immediately looked East and saw Mt. St. Helens (38 miles) bold and clear, rising on the horizon. I made a decision right there to head back to the volcano, on this brilliantly sunny day.

I stopped first at the Visitor’s Center, because there is a 3/4 mile trail that’s supposed to be lovely, and has a view of Mt. St. Helens. I asked an employee where to find the trail, and she asked which trail, and before I knew it she had convinced me to skip the one at the visitor’s center and to instead drive another hour down the road to the Hummocks Trailhead.

Hoffstadt Creek Bridge is 370 feet (113 m) high and 600 feet (183 m) long.

On the way I stopped for a bridge overlook. There are four similar bridges that span deep mountain canyons on the way to the mountain, with fascinating and eye-catching architecture. I like the look of the curved bridges better, but this straight one gives you an idea of what they look like.

Do not adjust your set, this is a perfectly focused photograph of Noble Firs.

Something that always baffles me is the eye-crossing effect of looking at the forests of Noble Fir planted by the Weyerhaeuser Company. These trees are the same age and look like exact duplicates of themselves for acres upon acres. Your eyes get confused trying to make sense of what you’re seeing. A Ranger I met at the Johnston Ridge Observatory a couple years ago called them Lego Trees, and that’s apt.

The road to the Johnston Ridge Observatory is closed for winter. But the road is open as far as the Hummocks Trailhead. It’s a clear trailhead with ample parking. On this sunny weekend day, half the spaces were filled. It makes me happy that so many people want to get outside and do things in November. During the winter I’m more inclined to curl up with my laptop and a blanket. Maybe I’m projecting, but I am so proud of myself when I do something ambitious in winter weather, that I am proud of all those other people too!

Sign at the beginning of the trail.

With the sun low in the sky, I faced directly into it. That was annoying, but it also made exaggerated shadows that added interest to the scene.

I arrived at 2:45 pm and moved quickly down the trail, aware that sunset is 4:30. It felt comfortably warm at about 52 degrees, but as soon as the sun set it would drop quickly to freezing. I did not want to be caught out wandering the valley after sunset.

The trail was well-worn and easy to follow, and lovely. It travels through the famous Mt. St. Helens hummocks. These hummocks are big chunks of the former peak of the mountain that were blown off the top and side during the eruption in 1980. The whole valley surrounding Mt. St. Helens is filled with these mini-mountains, and scientists have tracked each one back to where its original location once was on the long-lost pointed peak. Why on earth they would do that is beyond me, but bully for them for completing such a daunting task.

Trail wends over and through hummocks, west of Mt. St. Helens.

For the layperson, what may be most relevant about these hummocks is that they are remnants of a volcanic blast, they form today a most interesting landscape, and that there is a trail allowing us to get a nice close look at them and even to walk on top of them.

There were also stunning views of Mt. St. Helens from multiple locations.

These hummocks are still eroding, because of the Toutle River there. This leaves the face exposed and bare, instead of grass- or tree-covered.

Hummock hills are noticeable to the left, with the volcano on the horizon. You can see here that the blast in 1980 was not directly up, but to the side. In this photo, the left side is missing, leaving a U-shaped volcanic cone.

With the valley filled with hundreds of tiny mountains, it follows that a bunch of new tiny lakes were formed.

Portions of the trail are forested. Here the trail follows a creek.

I recall the volcanic eruption from my childhood, and the aerial images of barren moonscape left in all directions for miles. Thus it is delightful for me to stand in a forest, beside a creek, and know that this has all formed since that devastating day. The size of the trees may not seem impressive at first, considering that it has been 38 years. But it’s not that the trees were cut and the forests were free to begin re-forming the next day. Today’s forests had to recover from this:

Photograph two days after the May 1980 eruption. Photo by Jack Smith / AP

My path was through fields, streams, and forests. There were ducks on the ponds. It’s a healthy land and in a quick glance does not reveal that the old forest floor is buried beneath many feet of volcanic ash, and all this beauty before me sprung out from that poor beginning. Nature keeps me in awe.

Information sign at the shores of Coldwater Lake.

I completed the Hummocks Trail loop with plenty of sunshine left, so I went to explore nearby Coldwater Lake.

The trail at Coldwater Lake is wheelchair accessible, a trail feature I often notice. I think possibly I’m making a list in my mind of trails I will still be able to visit when my future self needs a wheelchair. Hiking a nature trail is one of my greatest joys in life, and I’m reassured that if my legs ever stop working, I’ll still be able to hit some trails.

The sun was very low and that made all my photos warm with light despite the quickening chill in the waning day.

Massive logs from the volcanic blowdown in 1980 remain for us to ponder.

The paved trail turns into wide boardwalks suitable for wheelchairs.

A family plays at the waterside in the reflection of Mt. St. Helens.

The boardwalk spans over the lake.

Some kayakers were returning to shore after a foray into the lake.

On my way home I stopped at the Castle Lake Overlook and spotted not only the snowy tip top of Mt. Adams, but also Mt. Rainier! The moon became visible, and an excited little boy yelled “Daddy! The sun is rising and the moon is rising AT THE SAME TIME!” He may not have had the semantics right, but his Daddy understood exactly what he was saying.

Moon over the tip of Mt. Adams (can you see it above the lake?) and Mt. St. Helens.

The view from the overlook. Again, the tip of Mt. Adams peeks into view.

Golden sunlight strikes the remaining leaves, as well as the snowy mountain.

On my way home along Washington Highway 504, I spotted a good view of Mt. Adams and pulled over to get this better shot for you.

 

Colchuck Lake in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness of Washington state. Aasgard Pass is to the left of Dragontail Peak. Colchuck Glacier is to the right.

I slept very well in my tent and woke up refreshed and eager to get along the trail. First though: freshly brewed Peets coffee. The Sulawesi-Kalosi is my favourite.

The trail to Colchuck Lake required some backtracking about 2.3 miles to the trail junction, then another 2 miles uphill. The climb is apparently 615 feet and is very steep in places. Washington Trails Association was there in 2017 and did some great work on the trail. While they did not make the climb any less steep, they made it easy to follow, and stable, putting in many many granite boulder “steps,” for example.

These two had also camped at Stuart Lake with me. “We only have passes for the Stuart Zone,” I heard multiple times from hikers. It was true for me as well. We are headed for the valley between the two hills on the right.

Me, along the Colchuck Trail.

From this vista point, I could see the valley where Lake Stuart lies. Can you see the brown burned trees? (click the image for a larger version) Those are on the slope above my tent.

The hill above my camp shows signs of wildfire. So glad it didn’t burn down to the water’s edge…but I wish I didn’t see so much fire sign when I hike.

I climbed up, up, over roots, around boulders, across streams. I stopped to gasp periodically, while I waited for my heartbeat to slow down again to something near normal. There weren’t any meadow landscapes like the Lake Stuart trail, just climbing the granite stairs to the top.

And then… wow! The jaw-dropping blue of Colchuck Lake hit me. I describe the colour as a mixture of aqua and tuquoise, and a wholly unanticipated hue in the landscape of predictable green trees and blue skies.

This was my very first glimpse of the lake. It stopped me in my tracks and I took a photo from right there.

I must have taken two dozen photos, trying to get my camera to show you the colour I saw. This comes close, but nothing is like it was to be there.

I made a beeline for the lake and found the first of many many beautiful white smooth granite boulders that line the shores. After eating ALL the snacks I brought, and drinking a lot more water, I felt restored, and ready to explore.

Colchuck Lake is larger than Lake Stuart and I easily spent two hours following the trail on the Western shore, taking tons of detours to the beach, or to the multitudinous smooth boulders that are excellent for sitting on to relax in the sun and stare in awe at the colour of that water. This lake has many more great viewing spots than Lake Stuart, and due to its size, there are more campsites. Next year I am for sure going to try to get an overnight pass for the Colchuck Zone.

For anyone who is unfamiliar with The Enchantments in Washington, its beauty and proximity to Seattle make it a very popular place for backpackers and campers. So many people enter the wilderness that the area was getting destroyed from the many trampling human feet. There are now rules in place to control the humans. An unlimited number of people are allowed to walk through on the trails, but the number of people allowed to camp overnight is limited. The passes are disseminated via a lottery.

It was cloudy while I visited the lake, but periodically a sunbeam would burst through and light something up.

Looking south from Colchuck Lake.

I explored several beautiful beaches on my way around the lake.

Exceptionally clear water.

A tiny adjacent lake that is unnamed. Perhaps during high water it is part of Colchuck Lake.

I had heard of the famous Aasgard Pass, and I wanted to find it and hopefully spot Thor, or Odin.

No, not really. Aasgard Pass is the gateway to the Core Enchantments area from the west side. I have always entered from the east side, and never made it as far as the pass. So I just wanted to get a look at it and see how I felt about trying to climb it with a full pack one day, if I should ever have that option.

At the southernmost end of the lake is a large boulder field, and the trail crosses this, as I could tell from the cairns. I climbed across half of it, still trying to get a sense of which saddle hikers climb: the one with the glacier, or the ones to the right or the left of the glacier. I couldn’t tell by looking, and the boulders were a challenging scramble for merely trying to find a trail, just to turn around and come back. In any case, I had my answer: the boulder field was hard enough with only a day pack. I did not have any trouble this day, but there were times when I had to balance on a toe and leap to the next rock. That sort of thing is much trickier with 50 pounds on your back, messing up your center of gravity.

I found out later that Aasgard Pass was this one, directly ahead of me as I climbed over the boulders. Can you spot the cairns?

This beautiful Tamarack is along the boulder scramble to Aasgard Pass. I caught it just before the needles turned yellow for the season.

Looking north at Colchuck Lake.

The tiny lake next to Colchuck Lake.

At the tiny lake, the water is more green than aqua. And a group of Tamaracks on the slope are getting ready to turn yellow.

It was afternoon and I was ready to head back down the trail to my camp. My knees fiercly grumbled about going down granite steps and over roots for a mile, or however long it is. But as I descended, the skies cleared and the weather stayed warm and lovely. I talked to so many lovely people on the trail, who eagerly told me where they came from, where they were staying (most of the people were day hikers only, with no overnight passes), and what their plans were. Curiously, people along the trail trust each other. Perhaps beause of the shared experience.

Oh! Can I tell you the funnest human-related discovery of my whole hike?! Women! Women outnumbered the men far and away. It is the first time I have ever seen this on a backpacking trip. I must have passed around 100 people in three days, and at least 60 of them were women, though I wonder if it was closer to 70. Groups of women in their 20s, pairs of women in their 70s, solo women, women and men hiking together. I love them all for making this an activity for everyone. I want my people back home to stop freaking out whenever I say I’m going into the wilderness for a few days.

The 60-something woman camping next to me on the beach said she had hiked the previous month with her husband.

“Oh, he couldn’t make this trip?” I asked.

“I told him I wanted peace and quiet and to read my book,” she replied.

Ha ha ha!! High-five lady!

This is happy, tired me, with a bit of a sunburn. Waiting for water to boil so I can have supper.

Skies remained gorgeous all evening and I sat on the beach and watched the sun go down till I couldn’t keep my eyes open anymore.

I boiled angel hair pasta (quicker than spaghetti), then mixed in a raw egg from the Hussies. Added pre-cooked bacon and carmelized onions and then dumped in grape tomatoes from my garden, parmesan cheese, salt and pepper. Viola! Spaghetti carbonara mountain-style. A metal mug of white wine went with it perfectly.

 

Lake Stuart from the little beach at my campsite. Mt. Stuart (9415′) is the peak in the background.

I purchased overnight camping passes for the Lake Stuart Zone in the Enchantments area of the Alpine Lakes Wilderness of Washington state. It’s due east of Seattle and north of Mt. Rainier. It takes me 4 1/2 hours just to get to the trailhead, but I can’t help myself: it is so beautiful there.

Interstate 90 in Washington state, heading east of Seattle first thing in the morning Tuesday.

I’ve been through the Enchantments several times, and always from the Snow Lakes trail which approaches the Alpine Lakes from the east. It’s a long through trek, and I have never had the stamina to go all the way through to the lakes on the west side. This year I simply began on the west side!

I think it is a nice touch that the U.S. Forest Service always makes these signs asymmetrical.

At a fork in the trail, I saw signs that left me puzzled. At first glance, “foot log” and “horse ford” sounded like landmarks I had never heard of. I had no idea what trail to take until I calmed down and took the words literally. A log for foot traffic, and a place for horses to ford.

Viola! “foot log,” otherwise known as a log bridge for those traveling on human feet.

One lovely thing about the west side approach is that the Stuart/Colchuck trailhead is higher in elevation than the Snow Lakes trailhead, so I climbed the first 1000 feet (or more) in my Jeep. That was pretty sweet. Once I began hiking, much of the trail was a rather gentle slope, and a couple of steep spots a few miles in. Nothing like the grueling switchbacks at the start of the Snow Lakes trail.

The trail beside Mountaineer Creek.

Look at these scrumptious red roots. Or branches. What are they? Gorgeous, that’s what.

Autumn is the most glorious flamboyant season, don’t you think?

I saw several of these cones on the trail. I don’t think my photography captured it, but they are a deep dark purple.

I’ve said before, my hike pace could best be described as “mosey.” I’m solid on the uphill stretches. Slow, but steady, I can just keep going up, up, up. But steady includes a lot of stops to look at all the waterfalls and pretty foliage and the squirrels and interesting pine cones.

It feels good to be on a trail again. I have not hiked much the last couple of years. My theory is now that I live in the wilderness practically, I don’t have the driving need to escape people and hit a trail as much as I used to. In any case, however wild my own property may be, it’s nothing like truly being in the mountains.

While pausing in a meadow with fireweed going to seed, a gust of wind came and filled the air with flying seed pods. Look closely, and you’ll spot the faeries.

Finally! First glimpse of the mountains. These are exactly the moments I live for on the trail. I get tired, I wonder how far I’ve come, how far there is to go, whether I should stop and rest, and then…. I get a view of mountains. This inspires me.

Another mile along the trail and blam! This, people. This is what it’s all about. My tanks are filled and I’m gushing.

I met a bold, fat chipmunk that practically climbed onto me while begging for food.

And this was a pika that might have been shy around me on another day, but this day rather had to get an urgent message to his buddy across the rock fall.

The pika was so hilarious I watched him for a full five minutes, and listened to another one shriek back at him. He would give a series of short, sharp, shrill shrieks, then occasionally would spew a jumble of high-pitched syllables strung together. I talked to him for awhile, saying, “Hey! Do you see me? Are you not afraid?” Nope. Not afraid. He had to talk and my presence was no deterrent. As I watched him, I imagined the following conversation. Very shrill and urgent:

“Steve! Steve! Steve! Steve! Steve!” Silence. “Steve! Steve!”

From 50 yards away across the boulder pile, the reply: “Tony! Tony!”

“Yo!-I-can’t-play-tetherball-Mom-says-I-have-to-do-my-chores-but-I’ll-come-over-as-soon-as-I’m-done!”

“Tony! Tony!”

“Did-you-hear-me-I-can’t-play-now-but-wait-for-me-ok? Steve! Steve! Steve! Steve! Steve!”

Listen, when your hiking pace is “mosey,” it involves a lot of imagination.

Suddenly I spotted a sign that said “No campfires beyond this point.” And I don’t know what crazy person ever starts campfires this time of year, but to me this sign means “the lake is pretty close.” And sure enough, only a little while later, the trees parted and there it was. Only 4 1/2 miles along the trail, an elevation gain of 1665 feet, and I hit Lake Stuart.

Lake Stuart

(Can’t you just hear Anne Shirley saying, “That is not the right name. I think it should be: Lake of Shining Waters.”)

At the far end of the lake, looking back.

I love how the sun lights up those pale green grasses and horsetails in the water.

Many spots were occupied, but when I found this lovely little beach, I knew it would be my home for the next couple of nights.

Um, yep, that would be my campsite. Recurrent theme for camping in the PNW: always gorgeous campsites.

I admit, I crashed early. You know with my exceptional gastronomic tastes, I always bring a pack filled with amazing food, which means: HEAV-VY! I get so wiped out when I have a full pack.

For supper I mixed up the easiest thing on the menu, taco salad. Fresh chopped lettuce, corn chips, beans, tomatoes from the garden, green chilis, hominy, sour cream and salsa all stirred together. An obnoxious chipmunk came to raid my bowl while I left it on the beach and went to get the wine. I was impressed to see that the prize it chose was a big chunk of taco-spiced lettuce and not the chips!

We live close to the Pacific Ocean, so that destination had to be on our itinerary.

For our last day of mini road trips, my friend Vladimir and I headed to the coast. Isn’t it wonderful how many different kinds of experiences we were able to have in only five days of travel? Almost each day began at our own doorsteps. It is like living in Paradise.

Vlad is new in the area and doesn’t have a car, so we made a plan to do a week’s worth of mini-road trips so he could see where he lives. Since I have the car, I got to plan the trip. Monday we went to Mt. St. Helens to see what the volcano looks like 38 years after an eruption (hint: it’s beautiful). Tuesday we drove into east central Oregon to the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument to explore desert geology and the history of that particular region which holds an exceptional collection of Cenozoic Era fossils. There were many places to explore in that region, and it is a four-hour drive away, so we stayed the night out there. That allowed us to hike and find fossils for two days. Thursday we drove out to the most commanding volcano in the region because of its proximity and its beauty: Mt. Hood.

Friday morning we drove out highway 30 in hopes of catching a ferry across the Columbia River. I have not taken the ferry before and thought it would be fun. Since I live on highway 30 and Vlad hadn’t been to my house in about a year (because he has no car), we stopped by “real quick like” and see the latest changes at my farm. It was a fun visit, Racecar said hi to Vlad, and off we went.

But it was 5 minutes too late, and we arrived at the dock in time to see the ferry tenders locking the gate and the ferry departing. Bummer.

I had the idea of making a loop, so I thought we could reverse direction and if things worked out ok, we could just catch a return ferry from the Washington side into Oregon on our way back.

It was a short drive to Astoria from there, but it was midday and we were already hungry. We decided to eat first before anything else. While at the Hotel Condon, we spoke with other guests who raved about the fish&chips place across from the Astoria Maritime Museum. That was as good a reason as any to go find it.

A line of people faithfully waits to buy food served from a Columbia Bowpicker.

The Bowpicker was easy to find as our friends had described it: in the shape of a boat, with a line stretching down the block. Turns out, the eatery occupies an actual converted gillnet boat, which makes it a great tourist draw. By the size of the line, I was anticipating the best fish&chips of my life. There are four menu items, but three are merely a variation on a single menu item. 1) whole order (5 pieces w/fries) 2) half order (3p w/fries) 3) fish only 4) fries only.

The line to buy fish for lunch did indeed stretch quite a distance. I appreciated the information sign to entertain me for a few minutes:

    You are standing next to what was known as the Columbia River Bowpicker. These boats were 28 feet in length. They were planked with Port Orford Cedar, oak frames, and Douglas fir cabin and deck. These boats evolved from double-ended boats from the 1870s that used sails as their power source.

By the 1920s, all boats were powered by 6 to 10 hp single piston engines. By the 1940s and 1950s these boats became the modern version you see here; square stern and powered by V8 marine engines. During this period, there were hundreds of these boats anywhere on the Columbia River.

The Bowpickers fished for salmon and sturgeon on the Columbia and other waters of the Northwest. They employed long floating gillnets, hundreds of feet in length, that were retrieved from the bow of the boat. The fish were then picked out of the net. Thus the name Bowpicker.

Peep into the kitchen

Lunch! Note persistent seagull in background.

We finally got our meal of fresh Albacore tuna and thick slabs of potatoes. We tasted them while fighting off a pigeon and a seagull. I’d give the meal a B+. Definitely fresh. Clearly real fish steaks. Cooked at the proper temperature, so not greasy at all. The batter was too bready and seemed heavy, and not very flavorful.

Satiated, we took off for the Astoria Column. We traveled in to Astoria from the east, so were still miles from the beach itself. I know, it’s not original, but for anyone who has never been here, it’s a must-see to get your first views of the ocean from the column and its astounding vantage.

City of Astoria in the foreground, bridge across the mouth of the Columbia River, Cape Disappointment in the background.

We crossed the bridge of another tributary river (just out of sight to the left of the image above), and went to Fort Stevens. Fort Stevens was once part of a military defense installation at the mouth of the Columbia River. The fort saw service for 84 years, from the Civil War to World War II. Today it is a park with multiple camping options and fun stuff for day visitors.

The remains of the old fort are still here (in fact, we saw military remnants at many stops in the area today), and visitors are allowed to climb all over them at our own risk. “Caution: beware of unprotected drops and open pits.” haha. We poked around, trying to identify what each structure was for.

Standing atop what’s left of the main Fort Stevens structure. There are many small bunkers scattered in this area. The trees are newly grown and when the Fort was in use, it had a clear view of the Pacific Ocean.

The original earthen fort, completed in 1865 to protect the mouth of the Columbia River from Confederate gun boats and the British Navy during the Civil War, was named for Union Army Major General Isaac I. Stevens, first territorial governor of Washington, who died in 1862 at the Battle of Chantilly. The post later served as Oregon’s only coastal defense fort during the Spanish-American War, World War I, and World War II.  The fort has the distinction of being the only military fort in the United States to be fired upon by an enemy during time of war since the War of 1812, when it was attacked by a Japanese submarine on June 21, 1942. ~https://oregonstateparks.org/

Next stop was finally the beach itself. We parked and walked out onto the sand, being drawn to a shipwreck, as many people are. The Peter Iredale was a four-masted steel barque sailing vessel that ran ashore October 25, 1906, on the Oregon coast en route to the Columbia River. It has been slowly decomposing and generations have returned to walk around it and climb upon it at low tide.

I love that I captured the boy in mid-leap. The kite also adds to the scene.

The Peter Iredale ran aground October 25, 1906. Now it’s a playground for boys in uniform.

Beach at Fort Stevens.

Looking north along the beach we could actually see the jetty at Cape Disappointment, in Washington.

Vlad and I walked up the beach a spell, spotting fishing vessels on the horizon, enjoying the smells and sounds of the sea, then turned back to the Jeep. It felt strange getting to the beach and then leaving. But this was not a beach trip and rather a Let’s-get-a-look-at-the-land trip.

We crossed the magnificent Astoria-Megler Bridge to Washington state (that’s the one you see in the photo above). The southern part of the bridge is extremely high to enable free passage of any kind of ship up the river. And we do get everything in Portland: enormous tourist cruise ships, tall-masted sailing ships, Navy ships, and every kind of ship and barge for commerce. The bridge has no means of opening or lifting, and rather is built very high, which is exciting for motorists! It is just over 4 miles (6.55 km) to cross the river.

On the Washington side we turned immediately for Cape Disappointment, named when an explorer had tried and tried to find the mouth of the Columbia River and was forced to admit defeat. Ironically, at the mouth of the very river.

My Discover Pass came in handy one more time this week. I purchased it in October to park at the trailhead when I hiked the Enchantments. Anyone who lives around here and does some exploring in Washington state should have one. They’re $10 for a day pass, but only $40 for a year. Many of the parking lots to recreational areas require one, so it pays for itself easily if you get out of the house. We had free admission to Mt. St. Helens observatory, and now free parking at Cape Disappointment.

We hiked the first trail lined with informational signs about weather in the region. For two people with a weather background, the signs are interesting for different reasons than most people I imagine. Personally, I like to see how weather is explained for the layperson. But also, knowing weather, I skim through all the facts and see what is impressive based on my own knowledge. For example, coastal wind speeds can exceed the minimum requirement for hurricane wind speeds. That’s a fun perspective.

The end of the informational weather trail.

Trail to North Head lighthouse. Can you see it, smack in the center of the photo?

This is a view of the jetty looking south from Cape Disappointment. The mountains in the distance are Oregon.

North Head Lighthouse.

I then gave up my plans to head along the smaller road in Washington and catch the ferry back to Oregon. We had been out all day. We had been out all week, actually. My vote was to cross the bridge back to highway 30 and head home by the quickest route. Vlad agreed.

All in all it was a successful week of exploration. I hope my friend now feels more keenly his place on this particular spot of the Pacific Northwest.

A panoramic view of Mt. St. Helens from the west side.

My friend Vladimir and I have known each other since I lived in Eureka, California. That was right around the turn of the century (makes it sound like the distant past, huh?). So yeah, 18 years or so. At the time we both worked for the National Weather Service. Vlad recently retired from his forecasting job in Honolulu, and decided to move to Portland. Sans car. While Portland has super great public transportation…it still limits a person to the city. He has yet to get a really good look at his surrounds.

It was Vlad’s idea a while back to enlist my help (and the Jeep) to explore the local area. Our plan is a series of mini-road trips (RTs) to see some of the local stuff that a person can’t get to via lightrail.

The view from the north, standing beside the Johnston Ridge Observatory.

Monday we drove north into Washington state to see Mt. St. Helens. This is the volcano that blew in May 1980. For Vlad and I, growing up here on the West coast, we clearly remember the news stories and the fear and the awe…not to mention the ash clouds. We went to see what it looks like today, 38 years later. The surrounding beauty is remarkable in that it looks so far along the path of recovery. At the same time, it’s genuinely startling how much has not yet changed since the eruption.

We drove to the Johnston Ridge Observatory in the Mt. St. Helens National Volcanic Monument, and arrived just in time to hear a Ranger talk about the high points of the eruption. First, there was the largest landslide in human recorded history, as the north side of the mountain sloughed off. Right behind that was the explosive blast that blew the whole side and top off the mountain. Then the pyroclastic flow, which is not so much a “flow” but more blasting, of ash, rocks, lava, etc. that hurtled down the mountainside and destroyed everything in its path.

The Ranger talked all the way through the area’s natural recovery, including the giant Roosevelt Elk herd and the mountain goats that live in the crater. He ended on a very interesting tidbit. Due to the characteristics of this particular spot, we have the fastest-forming glacier in North America, possibly the globe. Pretty cool, huh? I didn’t realize glaciers were growing anywhere. Snow falls into the crater, which is sheltered from the sun. The dome is slowly growing inside the crater, compacting the snow up against the walls. Regular showers of rocks and ash coat the top of the ice from tiny eruptions from the mountain. Badda-boom: recipe for glacier.

We hiked a trail in the area, ate a picnic lunch with a fabulous view and a chipmunk that needs to lay off the carbs, and then got home by dark.

Trying to be artistic with the gorgeous wildflowers.

more flowers

Not that I’m the type to judge body shape, but this was one fat chipmunk, begging while we ate our picnic. (He’s standing right now, to make himself look slimmer.)

The view from an overlook about 10 miles from the Observatory. The extent of recovery is impressive.

Josh and I stop for a break in the neverending switchbacks at the beginning of the trail.

Slopes dressed up for Autumn.

Switchbacks and foliage.

I used to joke that the only reason I worked was to earn the money and vacation time I needed to get out and hike. I hiked much of the year, with multiple big trips. These days I am grateful to get out once a year. My annual hike is worth celebrating though. What joy to be on a trail again.

The Enchantments Area in northern Washington state is so popular that people can only get hiking permits by lottery. I did not win the lottery this year (again), so I had to purchase outside the peak season, which ends October 15th. The earliest permit available was this past week, October 24th-27th. That’s pretty late. I paid my fee and told myself that if the winter snows had not begun in earnest, I would hike. If they had, I would consider it a donation to Recreation.gov. (That’s a marvelous website, by the way. Please check it out.)

The Snow Lakes trailhead begins just outside of town on Icicle Road heading out of Leavenworth, WA. Hit the link there and just look at a couple of photos to get a sense of the town. It is totally kitschy and totally touristy but oh, so, beautiful that it’s worth every potential drawback. I reserved a room at the Leavenworth Village Inn, where I have stayed before, and was equally pleased. They offer a military discount, which I used. This lovely little Bavarian-styled town is smack in the middle of Oktoberfest. So Plan B was that if the trail was snowed out, I would drink some ale. Admit it, you love my Plan B.

Prior to the trip it rained and rained and rained and then! Tuesday morning was spectacular.

Sun lights up a lingering thimbleberry leaf.

Because it was so late in the season, and also because I don’t have my mountain legs anymore (spending most of my life decomposing in front of a computer screen all day long), I invited a friend along. As you may recall, this is not my usual approach as I really do prefer hiking alone. However, I am also smart! And hiking in the mountains potentially in snow, for days on end, alone… Well, let’s just say I was relieved when Josh said, “Sure, I’ll go.” (of course, I am stubborn enough that I would have gone on alone anyway if he was not interested…but that’s a psychology session for another day)

Sunrise hits the peaks over Nada Lake.

The trail begins with a shameful number of brutal switchbacks. Up, up, up. I am a good hiker when it comes to “up.” I complain, but my trusty little legs just keep going. Josh (big tough guy) was feeling strong that morning and teasing that we should do the whole 18-mile loop in a day, then do it again the second day. It was his first backpacking trip ever. So I just smiled and kept plodding along. After 1000 feet or so, he was humbled. I offered to let him go ahead and set the pace. Gasping on breaks he insisted that I had to be in front of him for motivation. “I can’t let you beat me at this!”

Trail descriptions really downplay this part of the trail, recommending to start at the other end because there isn’t much to look at on this side. I beg to differ. It’s truly magnificent, and especially so in October, where yellow trees pour down mountain valleys like molten gold. The air was crisp and hinting at afternoon warmth. The sky blue as only October blue can be.

Morning sun on Nada Lake.

The sun drops early in the evening these days, but we made it to the first lake before it got dark and set up the tent while it was still light. It got really cold, really quick, and soon we escaped into the tent for shelter.

Wednesday morning was beautiful and I was energized as I boiled up water for coffee and made breakfast. It was the debut of my new MSR Whisperlite stove. My old whisperlite had been a solid and reliable companion ever since I bought it in 2000. This last camping trip, when I watched the eclipse, it stopped working. I suspected the lines were clogged. Prior to this trip then, I took my little stove out on the deck and pulled it into all its pieces and began cleaning the fuel line. I went into the house to grab some steel wool for scrubbing the soot, and when I came back out I saw that a gust of wind had come up and the teeniest little stove piece had bounced away, off the deck, and likely through a crack and into the weeds underneath. I hunted on my hands and knees under the deck with the slugs and spiders that day for approximately 4 hours (remember how I said I am stubborn?). And then I went on Amazon and bought a new stove. Whatever I paid for that last one, 17 years is a good run and I did not feel bitter about the purchase of a replacement. The brand new stove worked great (of course I had tested it before we left).

Here I am resting during the hike up from Nada Lake, where we camped the first night. Look at that slope! Wicked steep.

Then we loaded everything up and went uphill again. This was a short hike, only a few miles and 1000 more feet. It wasn’t as pleasant as the first day because we were tired, but also because the clouds rolled in while it was still morning, and a light rain began to fall. It rained all day long, but luckily just a light rain that frizzed my hair but didn’t soak through anything. We found a spot to camp at Upper Snow Lake at about 5400′ elevation. As we were looking for a place to camp, we met two hikers that had just descended from the next lake up. They said to be sure and use our ice cleats and snowshoes because of all the ice and snow on the trail. Well, we didn’t have either. Most of my hike life I’ve been a fair-weather backpacker and only recently learned that camping is fun when it’s cold, too. But I won’t go so far as to invest in snow hiking gear. I’m not crazy.

Enormous granite boulders were strewn about, making us feel small in comparison.

You know I love to eat good food in the mountains!

We spent the remains of the day running around in the forest and climbing on rocks. You can act like you’re 10 years old when you camp in the mountains. In fact, it’s pretty much expected.

It rained harder in the evening, and rained during the night. Thursday, to my delight, it dawned spectacularly clear again. It was the warmest day so far and after the fog burned off, not a cloud to be seen. We were still chilled from the wet night and took a long time to get moving. I was trying to decide whether to do a day hike up to Lake Viviane without snow climbing gear. It must have been noon before we were finally packed up. Didn’t even try to dry the tent out. Everything was just going to have to be wet. I was tired and after a tentative query to Josh, who didn’t really warm up to the idea of a few more thousand feet, I committed to heading back down the mountain.

Morning on the shady side of the lake. Still trying to thaw out so I can pack up my gear.

A mountain called The Temple rises above a little peninsula in Upper Snow Lake.

Sand formations in Upper Snow Lake, which is also a reservoir, as you may have guessed, as part of the water district for the city below.

I was intrigued by the patterns and shadows in the sand.

McClellan Peak commands the view of Upper Snow Lake.

This was the hare’s turn to shine. After the stolid and steadfast tortoise was a clear victor in going uphill, the hare practically caught the trail on fire going back down. We went down all 4000 feet in just a few hours – a record for me. He was very patient at first, because we found a couple of places awash in sunshine and I wanted to do nothing but lounge. I wet and re-braided my ratty hair. I climbed up and down hills and boulders and over logs with my camera. I snacked. I smiled. Josh laid on a rock in the sun and didn’t say a word. But when I finally gave the green light and we hefted our packs and buckled in….whoosh! He was gone.

The rest of the day I barely saw my traveling companion.

Sunshine and blue skies make a paradise at Lower Snow Lake.

And hiking alone is my comfort zone, so it was no big deal. But I did get very tired. And my feet were aching. And then my knees started to hurt, and still I had not caught up. Sometimes he would spot me from hundreds of feet below and holler up, “Everything ok? You taking a nap up there or what?” I would signal a thumbs up and voom, off he’d go again.

At one point as I was about to step over a pile of bark from a tree that had fallen over the trail, I noticed that some of the pieces of bark had been shaped into an arc. Only the curve was sideways, making it look like the letter “C.” And I laughed out loud. Yes, that is something he would do: leave me a message to let me know I was not forgotten. What a sweet gesture. It kept me going for another 15 minutes and then I was just about to despair in pain again, but I came across more bark that was indisputably an “R.” And that time I really laughed! That crazy guy was going to spell my whole name! Sure enough, 20 minutes later I found a “Y.” And it wasn’t until “S” that I finally had the sense to take a photo.

T in red needles was my fave.

Camera hanging around my neck and still I didn’t take a photo until I got to the S.

After T and then A, I spotted him waiting for me at a great place beside Snow Creek where we had stopped to eat something on the way up two days before. He asked how I was doing and I said, “I want my L!” I told him I was in pain and was about to suggest a longer break, but he took off my pack and proceeded to transfer about 15 pounds from my pack to his. Well, he did need a little slowing down, so I let him. I am proud and stubborn, but…

It didn’t slow him down at all. Zoom! Gone again. I found my L. And you would not believe this, but he did my last name too.

Berries hanging over the trail were begging for a photo.

Don’t you just love the fire colours of the season?

The lovely day and the lovely foliage did as much to cheer me as the letters on the trail. I kept plodding along, but tortoises apparently are not made for rapid down hill trekking with no breaks and no meals – just snacks on the go. My feet were killing me and I had to stop a lot to sit down and get the weight off my soles. Josh hit the parking lot, ditched his pack, ran back up the hill to where I was, teased me for napping, then took my pack and went back down again. It was still daylight when I finally hit bottom. Well, you know, “finally” as in finally caught up to Josh. But in terms of backpacking down a mountainside, we really smoked.

I’m glad I took the chance on the late season pass. Everything worked out perfectly. It didn’t snow too much before last week, and the weather was splendid for two of the three days. On the trail is where I find my bliss.

My apologies. The writerly in me has gone to sleep. The engine sputtered and coughed and sighed then went quiet in the middle of July and I was only halfway done with telling you all about my Oklahoma trip!! I don’t know what’s going on. I’ll just wait it out because there is no doubt the engine will chug back to life. In the meantime: How lucky are we?! I wrote a post in the Spring that I never published. You can have it now.

On a May visit to Seattle, my brother and his girlfriend took me to see the Ballard Locks for the first time. The official name is the Hiram M. Chittenden Locks, but so far I have not heard anyone call it that. Rather, the locals have named the locks for the Seattle neighborhood where they are found, and it’s the title of my post.

Completed in 1917, the locks link the Puget Sound with Lake Union and Lake Washington. Parking is a bear, but we finally found a spot, and made our way to the locks. Unexpectedly, visitors pass through the Carl S. English Jr. Botanical Garden. I would have been happy to spend more time exploring, but that particular day was too cold and rainy to encourage garden exploration.

Gardens tend to be lovely in the rain as well as in the sunshine.

Past the gardens, and an information center that includes a souvenir shop, we reached the water. There are two parallel channels for boats to travel through. The first one we came to was rather large, capable of containing a large ship, or many small boats. It was not in use, so we crossed the catwalk to the second and much narrower channel. I was distracted on the way by the lovely old concrete architecture.

An office building for staff, I assume. I instantly had visions of Monty Python. Sorry. Can’t help myself.

It was a delight to discover that watching boats go through locks is interesting to a bunch of other people. Many tourists and locals stood out there in the rain, watching the process. There were also cyclists waiting for the gates to open up, since apparently it’s part of a bicycle route to cross the locks.

Looking West toward the Sound, a small boat moves ahead into the lock. You can see several others waiting their turn.

People watch with surprising enthusiasm as the boat enters the lock. A second boat is allowed to join the first.

The first boat heads all the way in, and ties off. Note how deeply they sit.

The gates close.

Two boats in together, as the water level rises.

…and before you can say Bob’s your uncle, the boats are eye level and ready to move into the lake.

We watched the process of moving boats through twice. The locks can elevate a vessel 26 feet from the level of Puget Sound at a very low tide to the level of freshwater Salmon Bay, in 10–15 minutes. It’s fast enough to be entertaining, and crowds grew more dense the longer we stood there. Finally we had seen enough and we walked across the spillway dam to the other side of the water. There is a fish ladder there I would have like to see, but it was temporarily closed. The trip was not in vain, though, because I was captivated by some artwork on the other side.

These spirals, clearly reminiscent of waves, were lit with tiny blue lights. I’ll bet it’s wonderful at night.

On the way back to the locks, we saw a train crossing the bridge. From the look of the cars, this one could be carrying oil.

When we reached the locks again, so many boats had stacked up, waiting to go through, that the large lock had been opened, and they brought in everyone who was waiting. That time, there were about 8 boats in the lock. It took longer to fill, and we tired of waiting and left.

US Army Corps of Engineers manages the locks.

In Ballard we also spent time at the Farmer’s Market and visited an apothecary. I recommend the Ballard neighborhood to any Seattle visitors. And do walk out to see the locks. It’s free, and surprisingly interesting.

Columbine in the Goat Rocks Wilderness

Columbine in the Goat Rocks Wilderness

Second big hike in a row with no mountain goat sightings. Do you think it’s me?

I hiked into the Goat Rocks Wilderness for three days and two nights with my boyfriend. Our timing was uncanny, and we were up there during the only three rainy days in between sunny weeks either side. Though I went up into the mountains seeking profound vistas, thankfully I was able to see the beauty in front of me when the vistas were obscured by fog.

We began at the Snowgrass Flats Trailhead and hiked to a bypass trail to the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT). At the trailhead it was pleasantly warm (in the 60s) and there was a beam or two of sunshine. I photographed a lake and crammed my mouth full of ripe huckleberries that loaded the bushes on both sides of the trail.

I am standing at the junction of Snowgrass Flats Trail and the Bypass Trail.

I am standing at the junction of Snowgrass Flats Trail and the Bypass Trail.

Reflections in a tiny pond near the trailhead.

Reflections in a small pond near the trailhead.

Candy!

Candy!

Several spectacular falls are near the trail as it switchbacks up the mountainside.

Several spectacular falls are near the trail as it switchbacks up the mountainside.

We were treated to a couple of sunbeams on day one.

We were treated to a couple of sunbeams on day one.

The trail climbed about 2000 feet to the place we chose for our campsite. The rain set in as soon as we unloaded our gear, and it gradually picked up as the night went on. Since everything was wet, we were comfortable starting a fire. We hovered over the warmth that night and during the next couple days. Temperatures cooled to near 32 at night (0 Celcius) and warmed to the middle 40s during the day.

As is my tradition, I brought the fixins for delicious meals and was so delighted to have a climbing partner to share the weight. It’s amazing how much of a difference that makes! It was so light, my pack barely caught my attention. The first night we had Salmon Curry Couscous, a new meal I tried out that turned out great and was a snap to put together. We set down our dishes and within minutes a mouse arrived to investigate. The mouse left right away: not a fan of curry, I suppose.

For breakfast we had hard boiled eggs, bananas and homemade oatmeal cranberry cookies. Another meal was Bacon Carbonara (with angel hair so it cooks quickly), we had Margaret’s famous baked brie in brown sugar and red wine with dried apricots, and on the final day we had burritos that I had designed as a cold meal to eat on the way out, but since we were so cold I cooked the refried beans and D toasted the tortillas. Tortillas are packed flat against the back of the pack to keep them in one piece on the trail. We enjoyed fresh avocado of course! The trick to bringing produce is to bring it unripened. The firmness protects the fruit and after a couple days it’s ready to eat!

Preparing the pasta

Preparing the pasta

Mouse finds the entrance

Mouse finds the entrance

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Campsite the first night

Campsite the first night

Bear grass was everywhere!

Bear grass (Xerophylum tenax) was everywhere!

A lightening of the sky reveals a meadow and pond.

A lightening of the sky reveals a meadow and pond.

The second day we climbed north on the PCT toward Old Snowy Mountain, which I climbed a few years ago. However, the rain and cold slowed us down and there were no views to be had. I couldn’t even tell which direction to look for Old Snowy; it was likely right above us. I was discouraged. The last time I was on this trail, the weather was much more cooperative, and no matter where I hiked or which direction I faced, the views of mountains blew me away. It was the most impressive thing about being here. So on my return trip, I sort of had it locked into my brain that unless I saw a view, I was not really at Goat Rocks. Often our visibility ranged from 20 to 100 feet, and I remained disappointed until the splendid and rare scenes in front of my face got through and slapped me around a little bit: LOOK! Look at this!

Indian Paintbrush, Lupine, and Bear Grass blossom profusely.

Indian Paintbrush, Lupine, and Bear Grass blossom profusely.

We wandered through meadows and found scene after scene of astonishingly beautiful wildflowers in full view despite the fog. We discovered a huge spring where water literally bubbled up like a fountain, and in other places poured out of cracks in the earth. At the trail there was no creek, but twenty feet down the hill was a creek bigger than the one on my property. That’s how much water burst from the lush green hillside.

It was fun to talk to the through hikers. Those are the ones who stay on the PCT for months, doing sections and sometimes the entire length of it. We met several of them, as August is a good time of year to travel through this section: recently cleared of snow. You could spot the through hikers because they were dirty and seemed weary. Or, maybe, not as thrilled with the wildflowers as I was, having probably seen them for a month already. They were consistently humble, the ones I met, downplaying their feat of endurance, insisting that they had “only” been on the trail six weeks, or that they were “only” hiking the Oregon and Washington sections.

Foggy blue and green meadow.

Foggy blue and green meadow.

Looking down the PCT as it climbs north toward Old Snowy Mountain.

Looking down the PCT as it climbs north toward Old Snowy Mountain.

The shale rock here allows for some of the most astonishing cairns I have ever seen. They look like ancient human ruins.

The shale rock here allows for some of the most astonishing cairns I have ever seen. They look like ancient human ruins.

In enjoyed this phenomena very much: the leaves of Lupine collect water.

In enjoyed this phenomenon very much: the leaves of Lupine collect water.

The fog lends an otherworldly quality to each scene.

Here, spring water simply gushes from the hill. Fog lends an otherworldly quality to the horizon scene.

We didn’t stay out long, and were tempted to go back to camp where we could have a fire and get warm again. Upon our return, we found that other campers had vacated a great spot on the edge of a cliff. If we were there, even if the clouds only lifted for 2 minutes, I would get a little bit of a view. Hee hee. We moved our camp and had a new fire roaring in no time. Typically I try to avoid fires in the mountains in August. As you all know, wildfires are nothing to mess around with and I never want to tempt fate. But on this occasion, everything was soaked and I was supremely confident that the forest would not burn due to a flying ember.

That evening a troop of Boy Scouts came in and were considering a camp site right next to ours. We promptly and “helpfully” directed them to the campsite we had vacated the night before, which is up the hill and completely out of sight from where we were. “And it has a stream!” added my boyfriend, trying to sell it while he had the chance. They took the bait and moved on. The Scouts brought a mule named Sadie, and we spent a lot of time talking with Sadie and her elderly master, Bob, who had been hiking this mountain for 30 or 40 years. It was interesting to hear him talk about changes that had occurred. He referred to the trails by their old names, and I had to mentally scramble to keep up with which trails he was talking about.

Our new camp site on a ledge, and D getting the fire going.

Our new camp site on a ledge, and D getting the fire going.

Sadie poses for a photo in the meadow.

Sadie poses for a photo in the meadow.

Bob took Sadie out to the meadow next to us to let her graze, and right then the sun came out. Such a lovely gift for the evening. (Isn’t it a sign, when I can clearly remember each time the sun came out?) We went out to pat the mule and let the old man talk. He was a heck of a talker. In among the words though, he mentioned a nearby waterfall that sounded impressive. We got directions (south on the PCT, instead of north, as we had traveled that day) and decided to hike there in the morning.

The theory was (well, at least this is the Pollyanna spin I was giving myself) that a waterfall is going to be entertaining in the fog. Sparkling, loud, exciting, wet, interesting…waterfalls are always a win. So in the light morning rain we packed our day hike gear again and traveled and chatted and made our way through the fog. My boyfriend is almost obsessed with Trump news, and we enjoy sharing our theories on what in the world is going on here in the states. How does Trump come up with the crazy stuff he says? How can so many Republicans say “Yes, his comments are often out of line and intolerable, but I’m going to vote for him anyway.” D can’t stand Hillary, like much of the country, and I harbor bitter thoughts that America is misogynistic as hell, and suspect that as racist as some of us can be, even a black man is a better choice than a woman. But I don’t say that out loud.

And before we know it, there’s the waterfall! And it was just what I had hoped for: large, loud, exiting, beautiful.

Large and lovely waterfall splashes over the Pacific Crest Trail.

Large and lovely waterfall splashes over the Pacific Crest Trail.

We climbed around on the rocks and talked to through hikers for a half an hour or so, and suddenly the skies opened up. I gasped out loud “Oh!” And we spent another hour there, watching the clouds lift up and sink down, revealing a different piece of paradise each time. I found myself thinking of the story of Heidi, who goes to live with her grandpa in the mountains. This was a final and perfect gift from the Wilderness, before it was time to hike back down the hill.

The headwaters of the Cispis River. The PCT arcs around the entire valley, then crosses a saddle to the other side of those mountains.

The headwaters of the Cispus River. The PCT arcs around the entire valley, then crosses a saddle to the other side of those mountains.

You can spot D heading down the trail.

You can spot D heading down the trail.

Looking back the way we had come, down the Cispus River Valley.

Looking back the way we had come, down the Cispus River Valley.

The sun and Snow Creek Wall put on one last show for me by way of goodbye.

The sun and Snow Creek Wall put on one last show for me by way of goodbye.

A rock spire on the side of Snow Creek Wall is lit by the slanting rays of the sun as I descend into the canyon.

A rock spire on the side of Snow Creek Wall is lit by the slanting rays of the sun as I descend into the canyon.

I rose with as much leisure as possible, and waited for the sun to dry everything out before I packed. It was another glorious day in The Enchantments, and I was so reluctant to leave. Finally I began the 4000 foot drop back down to civilization.

Every bit of the trail was as beautiful as it was on the way up. I took lots of breaks because my bad knee was complaining. I would sit on one of the many available granite boulders, and gaze in admiration at the world around me. I passed one point in the trail where rustling leaves caught my attention. I first took a photo, then realized what was so beautiful about the spot was the sound, and not the image. So then I took a video. A couple of hikers came up while I was filming. I held up a finger for them to stay back till I finished. They got very excited and looked intently up the hill to discover what wildlife I had discovered. Then I stopped the video and disappointed them when I explained, “No wildlife, just rustling Aspen leaves.”

It looks sort of pretty, but this photo does not convey the magical sound.

It looks sort of pretty, but this photo does not convey the magical sound.

Lots of people passed me on the way up, which was a mystery until I recalled that it was Friday, and guessed that Seattle people were likely getting an early start on weekend hiking. They asked me lots of questions about trail conditions, campsites, and goats. I tried to encourage them by telling them about the trail ahead in the best possible way. “You’re at least half way to the lake!”

A bracket fungus captured my attention while I was resting.

A bracket fungus captured my attention while I was resting.

At the bottom of the hill the parking lot was jammed, compared to the empty lot I had seen Tuesday morning. Yet another affirmation for hiking popular trails during the week. I dumped my dirty smelly pack into the back of the Jeep and grabbed some clean clothes to bring up front with me – for changing in the first bathroom I could find. I plugged in my phone, and it started beeping it’s little heart out as battery life and cell signal brought in all the texts and phone messages I had missed.

One key phone message was from human resources. Yes! I got a promotion. A new job, more accurately. Since it’s government, there is no such thing as promotion in that someone says “Hey Crystal, you’re doing well and we’ve decided to pay you more,” because that could be unfair. So, when a different position became available, I submitted my resume and supporting documents, went through an interview, and was selected for the position.

Pros: higher salary, completely new job within VA that I get to learn and thus will stay interested in work, good career move, good retirement move since my retirement pay will be based on my highest salary.

Cons: I have to change my schedule from compressed to five days a week, and commute to the office every day while I’m in training. Drive to work. Every day. Cuz…remember I live on Jupiter now. I’m out beyond public transportation, and I do not drive a fuel-efficient vehicle, and I’ll have to pay for parking smack downtown. Bluh. ….but it’s an investment in my future, right?

I get to bury myself ever more deeply into veterans disability claims and with this new position I will be able to help them more than ever before. That makes me really happy.

I was so eager to get home that I decided to make the 4 1/2 hour drive rather than find a hotel. I texted Tech Support, who was house-sitting, and let him know I was on my way. He texted back that the chickens had been loose during the week, but all was well at the moment (Someone must have told them they could fly. I was trying to keep that a secret.) He left the heat and lights on so when I arrived in the middle of the night, the place was so welcoming. 🙂

He also left me with this memento, taken from my place while I was gone:

The starry sky from Crystal's place. Photo credit: Tech Support, friend, chicken-catcher and house-sitter.

The starry sky from Crystal’s place. Photo credit: Tech Support, friend, chicken-catcher and house-sitter.

An apple from my tree.

An apple from my tree.

My piece of land is growing on me as she changes her clothes for the season. I have decided there simply aren’t enough colours out there for a proper Autumn view, and I will plant trees with this in mind, so I can enjoy them in future years. There are a few maples turning colours though, and I have been able to capture a few photos of them. It has begun raining again, and the creek level is rising. The pond is still too low and I’ve talked to a neighbor who has a pump and generator, who may be able to lend it to me to restore my little puddle to something more pond like. I’ve harvested apples from my two apple trees and made a pie. The deer eat what I haven’t had a chance to pick up off the ground. I feel more assured when I can walk around and take stock and see what’s changed and what’s stayed the same. I suppose I’m becoming more of a country girl with each day.

Creek level is rising again.

Creek level is rising again.

A new creek view, available due to some heavy pruning of this big cedar that was dropping branches to the water.

A new creek view, available due to some heavy pruning of this big cedar that was dropping branches to the water.

One of the few maples painting my land red.

One of the few maples painting my land red.

A view up toward the house from down where I'm building a bonfire pile.

A view up toward the house from down where I’m building a bonfire pile.

Distracted by a spider (but you can still see the red in the background). Isn't the colouring gorgeous?

Distracted by a spider (but you can still see the red in the background). Aren’t the patterns on the abdomen gorgeous?

I can't resist red. So yummy.

I can’t resist red. So yummy.

The north side of McClellan Peak lights up in the morning sunshine above Upper Snow Lake.

The north side of McClellan Peak lights up in the morning sunshine above Upper Snow Lake. At 8364 feet, it’s still one of the shorter peaks in the area.

I was much warmer my second night. Maybe it was warmer outside, maybe I chose a warmer spot (in the trees and protected), maybe I’m just getting used to the cold. I dreamed for the second night in a row about people having houses at the top of impossibly steep and treacherous driveways. Isn’t that the funniest thing?

Stars up here blow me away. There are so many stars it’s like a glistening sheet of sparkles, with a few black patches. There are so many stars that I can barely pick out the constellations. There is simply too much going on, light everywhere, the Milky Way busting through the middle of it all. I wish it wasn’t so bleeping cold out, so I could just lie on my back and fall up into the marvelous sky.

Last night there was something barking out in the dried up swamp area beside my camp (remember the cracked mud photo from the last post?). It’s a nice-sized bay, but dry because the lake is so low. Chipmunks are having their family reunions out there and it’s bustling with grassy activity. Anyway, I’m asleep in my tent and I hear a bark. And another. I’m instantly on high-alert, because, you know: wilderness. A bark out here should be high-pitched, like a coyote, but this is low-pitched and throaty, like a large domestic dog. Better yet, it sounded like a seal. And repetitive like a seal: bark, bark, bark, bark. I could not sleep. It went on for at least 20 minutes and I thought I wouldn’t sleep the rest of the night, but then it seemed to get tired of the game. I heard, “bark! bark. …. bark…. hoooo. whooo hooo.” It was an owl! All that time I was wondering what unspeakable beast was out there, and it was just a crazy owl. Interested in the reunions, I imagine.

I was *SO* fired up this morning that my coffee and sausage and eggs were old news by 8 am. I left my tent and took only a day pack with water and snacks, and was on the other side of the lake again in no time and – since I went farther than the first time – found a beautiful camp site beside a creek, only 50 feet past the spot I stopped looking the day before. Wouldn’t you know it? Ah well, too late now.

Whoah! What a sky.

Whoah! What a sky.

Goofing around taking pictures of myself because there was no one else to do it.

Goofing around taking pictures of myself because there was no one else to do it.

Then other hikers passed me heading downhill, and I asked them to take my photo.

Then other hikers passed me heading downhill, and I asked them to take my photo.

Thank goodness for no pack because today the real climbing began! I am talking scrambling straight up the side of granite boulders. That kind of climbing. Wowzers. Ok, so I do not like heights, and I do not like scramble trails, and I am scared of crossing bare-faced rock. But I was in the mood for adventure, so despite remarking aloud to myself many times, “You’ve got to be kidding me! This is for real?” I went right on ahead like a trooper.

I climbed 1300 feet in elevation from that beautiful camp site to the shore of Lake Viviane. There was not always a “trail” per se, but rather rock cairns. In the beginning I loved the cairns for showing me the true path. Later, I cursed them soundly when I spotted them. “You cannot be serious! I have to climb THAT?!”

This shot is from when I still liked cairns, and thought they were beautiful and helpful like a beacon of light in a storm. See the one in the background?

This shot is from when I still liked cairns, and thought they were beautiful and helpful like a beacon of light in a storm. See the one in the background?

The arrow points to the cairn, indicating that yes - despite the warning signs - the

The arrow points to the cairn, indicating that yes – despite the warning signs – the “trail” is this way.

Cairn says,

Cairn says, “Yes, Crystal, the trail crosses 30 feet of bare granite. Step on those bits of rebar if it makes you feel safer.”

I keep pointing out the cairns because I still can't believe it. Really. That is the trail. You can't call that a trail! Give me a break you stupid cairn!!

I keep pointing out the cairns because I still can’t believe it. Really. That is the trail. You can’t call that a trail! Give me a break you stupid cairn!!

Finally, I was there. I was so grateful. A man and his son were eating lunch on the shore of Lake Viviane when I arrived. They told me that just up over the hill, at Leprechaun Lake, there was a billy goat resting in the shade. They had come from that direction only minutes ago.

The Core Enchantments area is known to be full of mountain goats. My pre-hike research set my expectations so high. I totally expected to see a goat. So, all full of confidence and smug satisfaction, off I marched in the direction they pointed, and was determined to get at least one shot. I didn’t care if it was out of focus, far in the distance, whatever. Be vewwwy vewwy quiet. I’m hunting goat.

Lake Viviane reflecting. The yellow trees are Tamarack to me, Larch to people who call things by their proper names.

Lake Viviane reflecting. The yellow trees are Tamarack to me, Larch to people who call things by their official names.

The water of Lake Viviane is startlingly clear and aqua blue.

The water of Lake Viviane is startlingly clear and aqua blue.

The water is this clear! Look at this. I am standing on a rock far above this little guy. You can even see the rocks on the bottom.

It’s this clear! I am standing on a rock far above this little guy, who appears to be floating in air. You can even see the rocks on the bottom.

It’s a really quick trip from Viviane to Leprechaun Lake. It’s less than half a mile and hardly any elevation to speak of. Maybe 200 feet. I began looking for the goat, while simultaneously realizing that if one’s natural body colour is off-white, this would be a really awesome place to hide.

The entrance of Leprechaun Lake

The entrance of Leprechaun Lake

Down the (soon I would find out) wrong side of the lake.

Down the (soon I would find out) wrong side of the lake.

At least there were no horrible cairns. Look at this trail. Wouldn't you expect it to look like this at Leprechaun Lake?

I found this trail perfectly suited for a lake named Leprechaun.

Not knowing the area, I set off immediately on the wrong trail. I was supposed to be back-tracking the path where the men saw the goat, but instead I was following a little goat path myself, around the wrong side of the lake. I walked a good half mile and never saw a goat. I never realized my mistake until I finally lost the trail and turned around in frustration and returned to the beginning. And there, it was clear as day, on the other side of the lake. By this time an hour had passed. I hurried along the trail and passed a few people. “Have you seen a goat? There is supposed to be one here.” They had not. I reached tiny Sprite Lake and took my boots off to cool my feet in the water.

A hiker came up and pulled out his fly rod and began fishing while we chatted in the warm sunshine. It was blissful, and my disappointment and frustration from the goatlessness of it all eventually faded away.

There are lots more lakes. Really close to that spot, too. But my day had been so close to perfect that I knew there was no sense in asking for more. While I talked to the fisherman, the sun dropped and shadows were getting longer. I had eaten enough dried apricots and trail mix to suit me, and I wanted real food, which was down the hill. I put on my socks and boots and back across all those rocks I went.

The spot where I stopped to soak my feet and chat with the fisherman.

The spot where I stopped to soak my feet and chat with the fisherman.

A magical miniature valley beside the path.

A magical miniature valley beside the path.

Another view of the ear-shaped Leprechaun Lake.

Another view of the ear-shaped Leprechaun Lake.

There it is! So close and yet so far. In the distance, Lower Snow Lake and closer to me, Upper Snow Lake.

There it is! So close and yet so far. In the distance, Lower Snow Lake and closer to me, Upper Snow Lake.

Where I grew up in Idaho, these are called Tamarack. The only tree I know that loses its needles every winter.

I learned to love these when I lived in Idaho. The only tree I know that loses its needles every winter.

Looking up the side of The Temple (8292 feet) soaring above the shores of Upper Snow Lake.

Looking up the side of The Temple (8292 feet) soaring above the shores of Upper Snow Lake.

Tamarack needles spinning in slack water instantly made me think of Starry Night by Van Gogh.

Tamarack needles spinning in slack water instantly made me think of Starry Night by Van Gogh.

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