Washington's Goat Rocks — and the ever-present Mount Adams

Mount Adams photo-bombed almost every picture I tried to take during my hike in the Goat Rocks a few weekends ago. I couldn't snap a photo of scree fields, glacial lakes, moss-covered trees — anything — without the 12,200-foot mountain creeping into the frame somehow.

The Lily Basin Trail (... and Mount Adams)

Ten trees (... and Mount Adams)

Golden trail-side grasses (... and Mount Adams)

Donnie and I started our 13-mile hike through the Southwest Washington wilderness at the Snowgrass Flats trailhead. We ascended about 1,600 feet into a bowl formed by various Cascades, then crossed alpine meadows and passed the partially frozen Goat Lake before descending back down toward Berry Patch. Though the marmots were less feisty and the wildflowers less plentiful than my last visit, earlier in the season back in 2010, we enjoyed stunning, wide-open views everywhere we looked.

Though Adams acted a lot like the drunk annoying guy at the party, I forgave it — and actually did manage to capture a few pictures sin mountain:

Fuzzy little mop head

A creek-side flower slightly past its prime

Whoops! Slipped in again.

Donnie and the valley, around mile 9

Descending along Goat Ridge trail toward the end of the day

A week in the wilds of Washington's North Cascades

As we headed into the wilds of the North Cascades for a week-long backpacking trip, our choice in pants announced to the world that we were serious. Serious about the fact we were hiking. Serious about not carrying the extra ounces involved in pairs of shorts. Serious about responding swiftly and definitively to fluctuations in weather and body temperature. If we broke a sweat on an uphill slog, two zips and we sporting modestly cut shorts. If the weather switched from a sunny 73 to a windy 62, two more zips and we were back in pants.

Bob making a deft adjustment

In early September, my sister Laura, my boyfriend Donnie and I joined my father and three of his friends from North Carolina (one Vance, two Bobs) for seven days in the North Cascades, a 150- by 270-mile national park nestled up against the Canadian border in Western Washington.

Before this trip, I had only seen the North Cascades from the southern part of the state, where they registered as faint blue peaks on the horizon, 200 miles north of Mount Rainier. Up close and personal, the range was as remote and wild as I'd imagined — far less traveled than other parts of the range which includes Adams, St. Helens and Shasta among other well-known icons. During our 47-mile clockwise loop from the Bridge Creek trailhead to Easy Pass exit, we encountered only a couple people. Which is a shame, because in our convertible pants, we looked good.

Here are a few highlights from the trip:

  • I'll start with the hiking itself, which took us along crystal clear rivers, through moss-covered forests and meadows of wild flowers and up and over glaciated passes. It was incredible.

Donnie, my father and a Bob, hiking through a valley

Vance ascending Park Creek Pass, the first — and most grueling — of the two passes. Aftermiles of switchbacks, we stopped just short of the top to eat sandwiches in the sun and listen to the marmots call each other.

Here we are, about to crest the pass, refreshed after a nap in the sun. (Note: we have all chosen the shorts option at this point in time.)

My father on the scree-filled peak of the pass, where you could see into two immense valleys at once.

Donnie and his mad map skillz

The frosty early-morning start on the last day

Bob, paused

Other Bob, in motion

Ascending switchbacks on Easy Pass, the second of the two passes, which was fairly true to its name

  • A tip: when walking mile after mile with a 45-pound pack on your back, it's important to give your feet — or someone else's — plenty of TLC.

Donnie looking after Laura's heelspost river crossing

  • We arrived at our campsite along Bridge Creek around noon on the second day and spent the afternoon lounging on the rocks by the river, washing our hair and socks with Dr. Bronner's, reading books and taking naps. After reading instructions to remember the rules, Laura and I played a game of cribbage.

Laura, probably confused by the rule that grants a player "Two for doing it." (Her response: "I'm a LADY!")

Me, plotting cribbage domination

Socks on the line

  • Vance found a women’s shirt by the side of the trail, and rather than leave it be or carry it out, he put it on and wore the rest of the trip. We decided periwinkle was his color.
  • The 13 minutes it takes a dehydrated meal to reconstitute feel like an eternity when they follow a day of hiking. Sadly for Laura, the pork and broccoli stir-fry she's waiting for here was the most disgusting thing she'd ever tasted — so bad, in fact, that she threw it in the privy.
  • We hit the park during a transition time: wildflowers were still abloom in some spots, but in others, the brilliant reds and yellows of autumn had arrived in full force.

Indian Paintbrush

Water droppies
Water droppies
  • Mushrooms proliferated along damp forested sections of trail. They grew on trees, they pushed up from beneath the soil, they came in orange and brown and spotted red. We continuously stopped to admire.
  • Two members of our group ran across black bears. The rest of us ran across bear poop — which was also tremendous, but far less exhilarating.

It was the size of dinner plates.

  • While we're on the topic, each campsite had a very comfortable privy, basically a box with a hole in the top that looked out over something pretty, usually trees.

Trips to the privy were joyous occasions, to be celebrated.

  • The water in the North Cascades is crystal clear, but also friggin' cold. After 10 seconds of submersion, our toes went numb.

The North Fork of Bridge Creek

Deep pools that would have made great swimming holes if the water had been 40 degrees warmer

  • After we got off the trail, Donnie ate a one pound — get that: ONE POUND! — buffalo burger at the Buffalo Run Restaurant, where we went to replenish our calorie deficits and drink Alaskan Ambers. We were all proud of him.
Donnie and burger
Donnie and burger
  • After burgers, we rented two unintentionally retro cabins at the roadside Clark's Skagit River Resort near Marblemount, Washington. The flowered wallpaper, patterned linoleum floors and rotary phone on our cabin's kitchen wall indicated that neither the buildings nor the decor had been updated since the 1960s. Clark's was clean and charming, though in a weird, outdated sort of way. Another characteristic of note: anywhere from 50 and 175 bunnies roam the resort grounds at any given time — the discrepancy, I suppose, due to the fact that it is located on the North Cascades Highway, and in an area populated by hawks and eagles. When we'd step outside to enjoy the breeze or check the progress of our drying tents, we'd have to sidestep the rabbits munching on the lawn. None were interested in petting.

Back to civilization

Thanks to Donnie for the second pic, of Bob removing his pant leg.

Orcas Island in November

Life is quiet on a San Juan island in the fall. I know this because my sister Laura and I just spent two days on Orcas, the largest island in the archipelago off the coast of Washington State. In the waterfront community of Eastsound where we stayed, “shut” signs excuse many shops from business, the streets were empty of people, the wind blew fiercely across the water, and the sun set by 4:45 p.m., driving us to our pajamas soon after. After months of running at full-steam, we welcomed the slowdown.Anacortes - Orcas ferry


The ferry ride over

Here are some highlights of our trip:

  • After a cold and rainy ferry ride to the island on Tuesday, we turned up the heat so high in our room at the Outlook Inn that we passed out from heat exhaustion. Laura did not wake up for 12 hours.
  • After serving us coffee and pastries, the flannel-clad woman at the Wildflour Bakery burst out that we were “so tall” and then apologized, saying the 12-year-old in her could not resist commenting. We wanted her to be our friend.
  • We ate burgers at the Lower Tavern, a dark, cinder-block building that seems the center of the town’s nightlife and offers microbrews, “the best burgers in town,” a pool table and a juke box that lights up in time to its own tunes (which seemed to be vintage video game soundtracks when left unattended).
  • The Island Market, where we picked up crackers, cheese and double-chocolate Milanos to fill up after our overpriced salads at the Madrones Grill.
  • We hiked up Mount Constitution (2,409 feet) in the 5,000-acre Moran State Park, skirting the edges of small mountain lakes, crossing fields strewn with dead ferns and moss-covered logs and passing through foreboding forests where fog surrounded the dark trunks of the trees. From the stone tower on top, we could see miles out across the water, to other finger-like San Juans, even over the border into Canada.

My sister-friend, and moss.

  • We watched the sun set over the water from the end of a pier in Olga, on the eastern side of the horseshoe-shaped island.

  • The wind was so fierce on Thursday that, during our morning run along the back roads, we had to lean forward 45 degrees to keep moving forward. Later in the day, I began to question my choice of dangly earrings.
  • One last thing: let me recommend traveling with a Bota Box, a box o’ wine (Malbec, in our case) that’s actually pretty good. You save the glass it would take to produce four wine bottles and always have inexpensive but good wine on tap. Plus, it’s classy!

On a separate but semi-related note, I have decided to start memorizing poetry, a practice my grandfather felt important in life. My first project is Mary Oliver’s Wild Geese, which I feel is appropriate theme- and image-wise for our stay on the wild isle. Here it is, from memory:

You do not have to be good. You do not have to walk on your knees for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting. You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves. Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine. Meanwhile the world goes on. Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain are moving across the landscapes, over the prairies and the deep trees, the mountains and the rivers.

[That’s as far as I’ve gotten. Here’s the rest:]

Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air, are heading home again. Whoever you are, no matter how lonely, the world offers itself to your imagination, calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting– over and over announcing your place in the family of things.

Smack-pop-stick: Seattle's giant wall o' gum

The exterior wall of the Market Theater on Seattle's waterfront is like the underside of a middle school cafeteria table, times 100. Since the early 1990s, people have affixed wads of chewed gum to the brick wall, located in  the downward-sloping Post Alley right beside the Pike Place Market. The result? A giant saliva-infused, molar-molded collage.

There's no denying it's disgusting. At the same time, though, it's a cool example of an ongoing community art project. And, if you look closely, you can find some interesting arrangements of colors, shapes and textures.

I did my part.

In Washington's Goat Rocks Wilderness: the cutest warriors ever!

In the Goat Rocks Wilderness of southern Washington, the marmot population is acting particularly feisty these days. During the subalpine area's brief summer season, the groundhog-like creatures emerge from their rock piles to engage in epic pushing battles atop large boulders. On a recent backpacking trip, I witnessed multiple skirmishes between the pear-shaped creatures, who would stand nose to nose on their hind legs, shoving each other like 8-year-old boys on the playground.

A hoary marmot between fights

The 105,600-acre wilderness between Mount Rainier and Mount Adams in the Cascade Mountain Range is absolutely beautiful during the summer. Glaciers melt into creeks and cascade downhill, catching sunlight as they ribbon through the grass. Red columbine, pink mountain heather, long-leaved phlox, lupine, shooting stars and red paintbrushes bloom in the meadows. And packs of musky-smelling mountain goats roam the high hillsides, dipping their large rectangular heads to munch the grass.

We saw around 10 mountain goats grazing on the hillsides above the trail. Here is one, for example.

My friend Tim and I started hiking at the Berry Patch trail head mid-afternoon on a Sunday and spent the following two days exploring. We passed through the flowered Jordan Creek Basin — a.k.a. Paradise! — and climbed up Goat Ridge to Goat Lake, which was still frozen except for a few crescents of melted turquoise water around the edges. We set up a base camp less than a mile down the trail in a hemlock grove overlooking Goat Creek Valley, executing, in the process, a picture-perfect bear-bag hang — high off the ground and far from the tree trunk. We proceeded to take numerous pictures of our work, and we're pretty sure other hikers did too, when we weren't in camp. The following day, we hiked across meadows, rock fields and snow pack to the top of Old Snowy, a 7,930-foot peak above our camp that afforded incredible views of Mount Adams to the south and Mount Rainier to the north.

Red columbine and raindrops

The seed pods of the Pasque flower, also known, appropriately, as mop heads

The mop heads kind of resemble furry sea anemones.

Here, the mature Pasque Flower, which likely wants nothing to do with its crazy-headed younger siblings.

The avalanche lily blooms one to two weeks after snow melt.

Tim climbing toward Old Snowy

Mount Adams from the top of Old Snowy. As we stood among the rocks on top of Old Snowy, misty clouds swirled into the valleys below us, where they hung for the remainder of the trip.

Sunset light from our campsite

Mount Adams

Look at that beautiful bear-bag hang! Let me know if you want a copy of this pic.

White water wafting the White Salmon

Q: What do you get when you put three dental equipment salesmen from Kansas City together in a river raft? A: Knock-knock jokes!

I’ll spare you the gory details, but suffice it to say, I learned quite a few one-liners during a recent rafting trip in Washington State.

My friend Jonathan guides rafting trips on Washington’s White Salmon River for a company called Wet Planet. He took Helen and me — and the three salesmen — down the river on a recent Saturday morning.

Within seconds of shoving off shore, we were negotiating churning Class III and IV rapids (out of V navigable types) that didn’t relent until we pulled the raft off the water at the end of the run. This took a well-coordinated digging of paddles, an every-man-for-the-team mentality — and some skilled steering from the back.

The White Salmon River starts on the glaciers on Mount Adams, ends at the Columbia River near the town of Hood River, Oregon is protected by the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act. The clear, frigid water was on its way through a narrow, steep-walled canyon of volcanic rock during the eight miles we followed it. The setting has a pristine beauty about it; flowers and ferns grow from cracks in the canyon walls, needly trees arch out over the water, and osprey circle overhead.

We abandoned our raft upstream of the first waterfall, BZ Falls, and while the empty vessel floated over the 24-foot drop by itself, we walked around. Then we jumped off a cliff and met it at the bottom.

“Make sure you land in the dead center of the river,” our trip leader had said before we hurled ourselves off the edge. “Land too close and you’ll hit the rock ledge on this shore. Land too far away, and you’ll hit the rock wall on the other side.” Instructions like that make for an exhilarating free fall. No really, it was fun.

The trip concluded at the base of the 10-foot Husum Falls. We stayed in the raft for that one, and practiced a stay-in-the-raft tactic as we approached. When Jonathan said "Get down!" we swung our paddles along the outside of the raft (being careful not to remove each other's teeth in the process), scooted our butts onto the floor and grabbed a safety cord.

Here we are in action:

CRAFT IDEA: Why not print out these photos and staple them together to create your very own Husum Falls flip book?!!

Notice our calm composure as we approach the drop. That's me, back right. Helen is directly in front of me.

OK, not as much composure here. This one has more of a "HOLY SHIT!" feeling to it.

That's Jonathan, our guide.

You can still see his arm.

Aaaaaand, we're back. And all accounted for!

Oh, to be alive!!!

I'd say that was a bonding experience

After Helen and I dried off, we drove to Giffort Pinchot National Forest to hike the Sleeping Beauty Trail. The 1.4-mile path ascended through a forest of firs and hemlocks draped in lichen.

It ended at a 4,900-foot rock outcropping that overlooked Mount Adams (pictured above), Mt. Hood, Mt. St. Helens and Mt. Rainier.

Helen and me, windswept, at the top

And, a shot from the way down, some lichen in the sunlight:

Rafting photos courtesy of Wet Planet.