South Tiger Mountain

I’m sick of this particular hike. We’ve done it a zillion times. I’ve blogged about it four other times: 11/2009 12/2009 9/2010 12/2010

We have lots of un-blogged pictures from times in rain and shine, cold and hot, with friends, with family, with pup (the last is one of my favorite pics of all time.)

This time, we timed it to coincide with a clearing on the weather radar, but it was raining when we arrived, and I was cranky because I hadn’t brought a billed hat to keep rain off my glasses. I’m sick of rain and I’m sick of wearing glasses.

Now I’ll show you beautiful photos from today (all taken by TBG) that will make you wonder just what my problem is. Don’t I know how fortunate I am to live in such a place? Don’t I realize that I live where others dream of vacationing? Of course I know it. This is the place I chose as my home 25 years ago, and where I have lived more of my life than any other. Sometimes, though, I still have to just put one foot in front of the other and plod my way through it, oblivious to my surroundings. Then I get my attitude adjustment when I see the photos and recognize, once again, the riches that surround us.

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sunbreak

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quintessential northwest forest

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what it looks like almost always

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tall tree perspective

perpetual ferns and leaves and moss

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coming out on top

the views from up there

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dry for a moment

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where to go from here

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back through the glowing woodland

 As far as the rain, we weren’t quite out of the woods, with drops finding their way through the canopy for the last mile or so as we made our return.

Yes, it’s glorious and close to home and a good workout. Despite that, I’m giving myself permission to never have to do it again if I don’t want to. Amazingly, for as long as I’ve lived here (far longer for TBG) there are still plenty of places where we’ve never set our boots down. It is my mission to find them before we resort to this hike again, ingrate that I am.

 

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Black Diamond Natural Area

The title of this post is the official name of the place, but locals are more apt to just call it Sawyer Woods. “Black Diamond Natural Area” doesn’t really roll trippingly off the tongue. “Where should we go today?” “Oh, how about the Black Diamond Natural Area?” Who would say that? No one, that’s who.

For years, these trails have been a popular mountain biking area, and we have done a lot of that here. I can’t remember the last time I rode here, though, but TBG did just a couple days ago. Recently the county has caught on to the popularity and started working on trail development, parking, and signage. There is a nice new parking lot complete with Honeybuckets where once was only a roadside pullout, but there was no sign for TBGuide to point to for our obligatory photo. Fortunately for me, he knows most of these trails by heart, since I would get turned around in here if left to my own devices, a fact that bemuses TBG.

Last week’s post ended with a vow to get out at least once weekly for a bigger hike regardless of the weather or repeat locations. I’ve already established that this was a repeat, although we’ve more often ridden or run here than walked. And I would use the word walk rather than hike, despite the fact that I’ve made it clear in the past that hiking is walking is outside is good. That just leaves the weather, and the forecast told us that if we didn’t want a complete drenching or to get snowed on, we’d best get things done before noon.

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This is “main drag.” I don’t get lost on it, but look at it! How could I?

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side trails, twisting and turning

It’s when we veer off onto the twisty-turny sides trails that things all start to look the same to me.

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TBG finally finds a sign.

This area has made the radar of local rock painting groups, and there is supposed to be a gnome or fairy village tucked in here somewhere. It gave us a goal to shoot for, and I had one of my rocks weighing down a pocket waiting for a good space to be hidden.

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rock!

TBG spotted this one. He almost always finds the first one. I’m not sure how I feel about that.

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sketchy

Hopefully this slippery bridge is on the list of upcoming trail projects.

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rock!

I spotted this one (angry bird) first, and on the way back out I left mine in its place. Both this one and the first one are from Astoria, and I stuffed them in my pockets for future placement in far-flung locations.

We seemed to be on the right path to the gnome and/or fairy village, finding these perched on the trees.

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fairy suburbs

This was the last gnome and/or fairy-like thing we found, never locating what is said to be a much larger cache. Oh, well, we had walking left to do and other things to see.

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walking and looking for other things

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 other thing

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an other thing

I am conflicted about these objects (and even about the stones sometimes.) On the one hand, it certainly is a lot of fun to search for and find them. On the other hand, they’re litter. Fun litter, but still.

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natural litter

Mother Nature throws her stuff on the ground all over the forest.

So remember a couple paragraphs ago when I was rambling on about biking in these woods and getting confused about directions?

This is the same log crossing four years ago and now. We passed by the far end first on this walk, and I paused, wondering aloud if this was that log, but deciding it wasn’t. Later, we came around this side, and TBG had me take another look. Same log! I told you without a guide or markers I’d get lost in here.

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rock!

The last rock we spotted. We left it where it was so it could continue to share its positive message here awhile longer.

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reversing the tunnel

All in all we spent about 1.75 hours tromping around, maybe four or five miles? Not enough to explain why my right foot is killing me, certainly.

Today, as I write this, it is snowing. I find that quite objectionable. It means the skiing and show shoeing places will soon be ready, and instead of dirt, we’ll have to chase a little powder. Don’t expect me to like it, though.

 

 

Twin Lakes and Lake Lillian

We (mostly me) don’t like to do repeat hikes, but certain things like weather, time, and our ever-dwindling choices mean repeats are sometimes a necessary evil. This trek was only a partial repeat, though. The first visit was nine years ago, predating my blogging, and making it all pretty much new again.

The first time we were here was in October of ’08. At that time there were signs warning of frequent car break-ins, and although we didn’t have much of anything a thief would want, we took what little we did have, wrapped it in a towel, and stashed it in the woods behind the parking area. We also left the car unlocked in hopes of avoiding any window-smashing. Either no thieves prowled the lot that day, or our tricky tricks foiled their miscreancy as all was well when we returned from our jaunt. 

The hike then was to Margaret Lake, a six-miler, and judging from our old photos, we didn’t descend the last mile to the lake. I have only three photos from that hike.

As you can see, we had our pups then, and as you can also see I took two pics of TBG taking pics of  Margaret Lake, but I have no idea what happened to them. We regret bypassing the spur to Margaret this time around because it is unlikely we will re-repeat this hike. But let’s back up just a touch.

We had a few moments of panic and angry frustration when we got in the car and were verbalizing our checklist but not finding the Northwest Forest Pass. You remember the NWFP, don’t you? It’s the one we’ve already purchased twice this year. We concluded that it had been left in the RV, but the RV is currently in the shop for maintenance. I was trying not to start punching everything within reach and TBG was saying we’d just have to buy a day pass along the way. I desperately pawed through the console one last time and came up with the pass. Crisis averted, happiness restored. Let’s hike.

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TBG looks for signs of the sign.

The prediction at the end of my last post did indeed come true, with warmer temps and abundant sunshine negating the need for us to drive very far. It was still a chilly start, beanies and gloves being a good idea.

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Our summer stomping grounds in the distance.

Not far up the trail, there are nice views of the valley and Rainier. The steady climb and a warmish wind allowed us to ditch the hats and gloves pretty quickly.

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Enjoying the soft forest trail.

Some sections of this trail are very, very nice. Others are very, very not nice, as you will see in a moment.

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Fuzzy photo of a fuzzy cutie.

There are a few talus slope crossings, and where there are rocks, there are pikas, and you will hear them long before (or if) you spot them. In doing a Google search for the word to describe the sound pikas make, it occurred to me that I could have been shooting my own short videos of them. Why do these things only occur to me once I’m back home? I will try to remember this on future outings. In the meantime, here is a link What does the pika say?

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Fading fall foliage.

A lot of this trail is on the shady side of the slopes, and you know what that means…

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Snow!

It wasn’t too much or deep enough to post hole, but it was a little slippery and a little chilly when the breeze blew across it.

The WTA website says this about the trail between Margaret Lake and Twin Lakes After another mile of joyful rambling and a bit of descent you will come to Twin Lakes. The mile part may be correct, but “joyful” is subjective — who are they to tell us how to feel about it, huh? — and “a bit of a descent” is pure bull-pucky. It may not be a lot of elevation loss, although our calculations differed once again from the website’s, but the steepness of the trail is practically vertical in places. That’s the not nice part I foreshadowed.

After the “bit of descent” we were once again in some sunshine, with Twin Lakes coming into view.

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“Pardon me, you’re blocking the sun.”

On the edges of the snow-melt puddles, we saw some froggies, and this one kept scooting around our shadows to stay in the sunbeams. Did you know that frogs will become mostly frozen in the winter and thaw in the spring? I didn’t, either, but I just looked it up. This is one of the reasons it takes me so darn long to complete a blog post.

One of the twins.

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TBG explores the prominence.

The twins are separated by a narrow strip of land with a large clear area like the one pictured above. I don’t do the overnight tent camping thing, but if I did, this would be a place I would. These lakes are sandy, shallow, and clear and no doubt wonderful places for a dip in warmer months.

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Short-people challenges.

Of the trail between Twin Lakes and Lake Lillian, the website says The trail abruptly rises and then descends and then will rise significantly again before reaching Lake Lillian. This is accurate. A lot of this section is ugly and requires a keen eye to keep to the trail.

Then you get where you’re going.

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Seeking out a sun perch.

The lake access from this trail was in the shade, thus cooler, and I thought I might find a sunny spot to sit and have our snacks, but the rocks were too wet.

A couple and their three dogs were coming down the rocks on the other side of this photo, and they asked us to take a photo of them as they had just gotten engaged about two minutes before that. We were happy to oblige, but why we didn’t ask them to return the favor remains a mystery. At least we remembered to take our own picture, unlike last time.

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Old married people.

We discussed whether we thought Lillian or Twin Lakes were prettier.

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Who’s the fairest?

Lake Lillian is just over the boundary into the Alpine Lakes Wilderness, and she definitely looks the part of a classic alpine lake with the steep walls and rocky shores. On this day, however, my vote for the fairest goes to Twin Lakes. I asked TBG, and he just sighed and said, “Boy, that’s tough” which is abstaining, so I win!

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T-shirt weather most of the way back.

We felt the difficulty and the distance of the climb on the way out and marveled at how quickly all our summer conditioning was waning and vowed to keep getting out at least once a week rain (snow) or shine.

Even if it’s a repeat.

Cowiche Canyon

October here is often more tricky than treaty. The sun and the rain begin their battle for control, and we outdoorsy types have to make the decision on just how wet we want to get or how far we’re willing to drive in order to stay dry. Today, we were willing to drive all the way to Palm Springs!

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See? (image from NBCRightNow)

Having been to the actual Palm Springs, I have to say that Yakima is no Palm Springs. Unlike the real Palm Springs, it will eventually snow there, and it is almost completely devoid of palm trees. What Yakima does have in common with the real Palm Springs is a crap ton more sunshine than on the west side of the mountains. The other thing it has in common with the real deal is that it’s quite a drive — not days long, but more in total than the time we’d spend with our boots on the ground, which isn’t something we normally like to do. But the lure of more warmth and light was too strong to resist.

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A rainbow delineates the sun and rain.

Four years ago this month, TBG dropped me off in downtown Yakima for a school conference, and then he and the pup took a hike on this trail. Since then, he has wanted to re-visit it with me, even though we knew by the time we could, the pup would no longer be with us.

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Zuzu, the best hiker, on the bridge in 2013.

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TBG capitulates.

After some disagreement about the end of the trail at which to start — TBG had begun at the other end then — we began at the other other end now.

Then and now.

The main trail is 2.9 miles in one direction, and as you can see, is flat.

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I’m the pack mule, carrying our limited supplies for the day.

There are several bridge crossings over Cowiche Creek, the name of which we aren’t sure how to pronounce, having never heard it said aloud.

Is it Cow-itch? Cow-itchy? Cow-eesh? Who can know?

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We know how to pronounce “canyon.”

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This sign indicates that if you see falling rocks, you should try to catch them.

It was a little breezier than we would have preferred, but how picky did we want to be?

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Whaaat? Are we in Palm Springs?

There are some spur trails that climb up the sides of the canyon, and we took the one up to the vineyard on the return walk.

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Adding in more of a workout.

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Overlooking the winery.

It is possible to access the winery from here, and there are weather-worn signs pointing the way to the tasting room. We satisfied ourselves with a tasting of some of the grapes still clinging to the vines.

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Someone neglected to catch these fallen rocks.

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I left a rock to be “caught.”

As the day’s pack mule, I was prepared with our little gorilla tripod to take a photo of the two of us, but although we talked about the best place to do so several times, we completely forgot to actually do it. I hate when we do that (or don’t do that as the case may be.)

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Vitamin D! Get your vitamin D here!

On the way back through downtown Palm Springs, we stopped at Miner’s Burgers for a treat, a place I’ve mentioned in a blog post prior. Then it was time to head back to the dark side.

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Another rainbow guides us home.

Next weekend’s forecast is promising some Palm Spring-like weather on our side of the mountains. It might be too much to hope for this time of year, but I think I’ll hope anyway, optimistic fool that I am. You’ll know in a week if it came true! The sun part, that is. It’s already pretty certain I’m an optimistic fool.

 

Great Basin National Park

September has always been my favorite month, not only because it is my birth month, but also because it heralded the beginning of a new school year, it (usually) has the best weather nationwide, and, these days, it is often the month in which we take our Big Vacation.

This year’s Big Vacation was so big in so many ways, that I’ll have to break it up into sections with headings so as not to overwhelm you with its bigness and allow you to have coffee and stretch breaks. The post title already gives away the ultimate destination, but first we have to get there.

Getting There

This was an RVing trip, the distance of which necessitated about 2.5 days of travel. Our first stop was a small Oregon State Park that we had read about on other folks’ RV blogs, and it seemed like it would suit our needs.

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Hilgard Junction State Park

This modest park is literally at the roadside of the highway and has no hookups, but it is pretty, the sites are nice, the bathrooms are clean, and at $10 the price is right.

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The end loop is all ours!

It was pleasantly quiet despite its proximity to the road.

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Dinner guests.

I knew from web reviews and satellite web maps that it also abutted a fire road on the opposite side of the Grande Ronde River, and on which we’d be able to stretch our legs.

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We chose a two-mile morning stroll along the Grande Ronde.

I enjoyed saying Grahn-day Rahn-day a lot, even though that’s not how it’s pronounced. It should be, though, because that’s how we say Grahn-day when we order a Lah-tay, and it’s just plain more fun. There was only so much time for my shenanigans since we had to move along to our next overnight in Idaho with a few housekeeping stops along the way.

What we hadn’t planned on was the time change and losing an hour to Mountain Time. Even though the shopping stop was relatively quick, I had mysteriously failed to print out or write down the exact directions to the RV park we wanted, and we spent some frustrating time getting to it. If you’re wondering why we didn’t just use our Smart Phones, it’s because we don’t have them nor the traveling internet capabilities we will one day have for full-timing. Pre-planning is still crucial, and I’d missed some details.

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Rock Creek RV Park, Twin Falls ID

This is a lovely city-owned park with electric hookups, modern facilities, and plenty of connecting trails on which to work out the kinks of a too-long day in the RV. It’s another bargain at only $15 a pop.

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Hide and seek for my rooster rock!

I remembered to place one of my Festones, something I would only be able to do in a few places along the way when we weren’t on state or federal property. Again, there wasn’t too much time to dally since we were planning on reaching our Great Basin destination and needed to stop for groceries in Ely, NV (that’s E’-lee if you don’t want to sound like the out-of-stater you are) the closest place to the park, at 60 miles, to get such provisions. We were also very happy that the time zone changed back to PST along the way. Little did we know that more frustration was looming.

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One of the draws of Great Basin N.P. is its remoteness. It is billed as the least-visited of the national parks, and it requires no entrance pass/fee. The closest town is Baker, NV about six miles from the official entrance to the park, and while it has some facilities available so that you won’t freeze, starve, or die of loneliness, you’re also not getting reliable phone service, internet (unless you have your own hotspot, and even then…) or major medical anything. If you’re more into luxury vacations, keep driving south about 300 miles to Vegas. Some would say that compared to those who were tent camping in the park, we were glamping (a descriptor I despise, by the way) in our RV. Comparatively, sure. Overall, not even. But I digress.

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Even though we were arriving on a Saturday afternoon — not a time we would normally expect to pull in and find a spot without reservations, which you can’t make at this park — we didn’t anticipate that the wildfires in our state and those surrounding us had pushed vacationers further south than usual, and this park was experiencing an unprecedented visitor rate. In other words, there was no room at the inn. No problem, we thought, and motored back out to the RV park in Baker.

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Whispering Elms RV Park

Problem. Also full. Had we not been thrown off our game and nervous about time growing late, we easily could have parked just about anywhere and boondocked for the night. No one in these parts would have batted an eye at that. But what ultimately happened was the staff at this RV park opened a space for us that hadn’t been used in years and was directly in front of the bathroom building and adjacent to a large group of boisterous tent campers. While we appreciated the last-minute accommodations, it was not a good night. At all. What it was, was a lesson in patience, which we will need much more of if our full-time plans are to come to fruition. I will say, though, that the showers had plenty of hot water, and that went a long way towards happier attitudes.

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Found my first rock ever!

Good, strong coffee, a nice sunny morning walk, two little roaming dogs, and finding my first painted rock at the Baker P.O. fully restored our happy vacation mind-frames.

Our plan was to check the campground later in the morning, and while we waited for check-out time to near, we stopped into both visitor centers. Great Basin Visitor Center is just outside the park and has better interpretive displays. The larger, better appointed, Lehman Caves Visitor Center is inside the park and has a reputedly good cafe. We put it to the test, TBG having a breakfast quiche while I had a small dish of their smoked pork. Their reputation is well-deserved as both were delicious.

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Our first “hike.”

We took advantage of the beautiful weather with a leisurely walk around the nature trail. Then is was time for some campground stalking.

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That’s “lee’-man” for you out-of-towners.

There are several campgrounds within the park, but only two in which RVs can fit, and only one that we were interested in. This area has 11 spaces, one of which is reserved for disabled parking, so really just 10 spaces. After many driving and walking loops, reading the site tags to determine how many nights campers were staying, we managed to snag #6 directly on the heels of its previous occupants. This was to be several days of dry camping, and we were excited and nervous about how our supplies would hold out.

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Snugged into #6.

“And now, let the wild rumpus start!”

The Hikes, Part I

As part of my studious vacation planning (which greatly enhances my vacation enjoyment and reduces stress immensely, if you were wondering) I had printed out a blank calendar into which TBG and I had penciled which hikes we would do on which days. Some of that was to ensure we didn’t burn out with back-to-back long hikes, and some of it was to allow ourselves to acclimate to the altitude. Nothing was set in stone because there is always unpredictable weather and the vagaries of personal wellness with which to contend. Our first hike, the Alpine Lakes Loop, remained right on schedule.

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TBGuide finally gets to do his thing.

A short hike of 2.7 miles to view lakes Teresa and Stella, beginning at an elevation of 9800′ and gaining to one of 10,400′. The elevation manifested in me as a feeling of a lump in my belly with the faintest touch of nausea and in TBG as very slightly labored breathing, but nothing in the least debilitating at all.

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Stella Lake

Speaking of fickle weather, clouds rolled in during this outing, cooling things off temporarily and spoiling some of our picture-taking. It also seemed to put a damper on our happy, positive attitudes. There was a small argument, a misunderstanding, and then a kindness done by an elderly solo camping neighbor by the name of George Harrison.

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Nothing says “Thank you” better than blueberry pancakes and bacon!

 After our gratitude breakfast, we set off for the second day of hiking, one that would  take in the park’s most famous feature.

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TBGuide giddy over three trails in one!

If this sign looks familiar it is because it is the same one as in the first sign picture. Same weird dude, too, with whom I completed all the trails listed on this sign.

The altitude was no longer a problem for either of us. In fact, we both remarked how exhilarated we felt at the start of this hike.

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Bristlecone Pine Grove

The species of Bristlecone Pine Pinus longaeva that grows in this park is possibly the oldest living thing on Earth, many living thousands of years — like 4 to 5,000. When we saw the display in the visitor center of the cross-section that was cut in 1964 from which they determined that the tree was 4,000+ years old, we thought, “Why did those @ssholes cut down that tree?!” That’s a question we asked a ranger later on, and the answer was they had no idea it was that old, and the discovery of its age is what led to all bristlecones being protected and new methods to date trees that don’t kill them.

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Baby bristlecone <1500 years old.

One of the interpretive signs in the grove describes the bristlecones as having “grotesque beauty” and someone, obviously offended by the word ‘grotesque’ had attempted to scratch it out. But it is the quintessential description of these trees, and it made me sad that not only had the sign been vandalized but that it had been done by an ignoramus.

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Hugging the oldest thing I’ll ever lay hands on — humbling.

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Feeling young.

Spurring off of the Bristlecone Trail is the Glacier Trail, an out-and-back to the only glacier in the park. It is labeled on the map as “Rock Glacier” but we couldn’t tell if that was also its name because it is a rock glacier. Searching the web for its name, I find that it is named Wheeler Peak Glacier, which makes sense but nowhere in the park or on the park maps does it show that it has that official name. I like calling it Rock Glacier because that’s so unimaginatively hilarious.

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Sounds like walking on broken china under dazzling blue skies.

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Looking back over the valley and at the “amoeba” cloud.

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TBG being defiant.

When we reached the elevation sign, TBG spotted some sort of pole further out and decided he needed to investigate, leaving me to do something I’m really foursquare against:

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Taking a selfie. Ugh!

I’m not sure which of those snow patches is the glacier — none were very big or at all impressive (sorry, Rock Glacier, we come from Rainier) but the climb up was fun.

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Amid the changing aspens.

For the last .4 miles of hiking to make the day’s total 8 miles, we strolled around the Island Forest Nature Trail, a pretty little wheelchair-accessible route with signs and benches along the way.

Our third day dawned with a spectacular sunrise and a warmish wind. We had one more day of “low” hiking planned before the pièce de résistance of our trip.

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TBGuide redeems himself.

This trail head is accessed from a different part of the park, and at first we parked along the gravel access road where we saw a trail head into the scrub. It was a short connector trail to where we wanted to be, but we soon discovered that had we driven just a bit further like the one of us who was driving who isn’t in the above photo said we should, we would’ve gotten to the very nice new parking lot, picnic area, and facility. The one who is in the above photo trotted back to the car to bring it to the parking lot proper.

Making maps, signs, brochures, and websites agree on trail mileage seems to be a universal problem and not one unique to our state. Unfortunately. The park’s newspaper lists it as 4 miles. The trail head sign says it’s 2.3 miles to the junction. The sign at the junction says it’s 2.5 miles back to the trail head. Gah!

 There were still some splashes of color left to the season no matter what the mileage actually was. There were also nettles, and one got me in the finger which smarted the rest of the day.

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Looking down on the canyon trail.

We added another half mile to the hike, making it an even six, by climbing up to the Timber Creek saddle.

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High in the saddle.

See that peak directly behind us? That’s Wheeler. Remember that.

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A rafter of wild turkeys.

Wild turkeys are everywhere in the park, and I have since learned that they are not native to Nevada at all but were brought in almost 50 years ago for hunting. They are mostly benign, says the web info, but are beginning to be too many in the park where they know they are quite safe. We enjoyed encountering them in the wild and also daily in our campsite, where they even enjoyed a dust bath later this same day.

This hike was only the second one ever in our history of hiking during which we encountered no other humans. When you think back to what I said earlier about this park’s remoteness, that should add a little perspective. We liked the solitude, but if we had needed another human, too bad for us, especially since no matter how nice your electronic devices may be, they don’t work here. I try to think hard enough about stuff like that to be prepared, but not so hard as to be scared. It’s a very, very delicate balance.

When we returned to camp, we took cat baths and did hair washing in the rig, and when I went outside to sit in the sun to dry my hair, I found a lovely note from George Harrison secured under a rock on my chair. What a wonderful man, and an inspirational solo traveler at the age of 88.

And now for the monumental centerpiece of the trip, the part that puts the Big in our Big Vacation.

WHEELER WEDNESDAY

This was it. The day was here. This is what we had been training for all summer. This was the day we were going to summit Wheeler Peak 13,159′. It wasn’t going to be the most gain we’d ever done in one hike, nor was it going to be the longest in terms of mileage — far from it at only 8.5 miles round trip. But, for me, it was going to be the highest altitude I’d ever done, and for TBG, a close second. And if we didn’t make it on this day, there would be no second chances during this trip because the weather was set to turn the following day. It was now or probably never.

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It was now.

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It has its own sign and parking lot.

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Making it official on the sign-in log.

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Golden-orange sunlight blazed the trail.

The first couple miles are not at all hard, which was a nice warm up on the chilly morning.

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These ladies wished us luck.

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The turning aspens lined our way.

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This bachelor herd wasn’t impressed with us at all.

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She beckons.

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She answers.

We had seen only one other car in the lot, and about halfway in we met up with the fellow to whom it belonged. He was headed back, but he told us he hadn’t made it due to the wind, cold, and elevation because he was from the Netherlands, below sea-level. He was also concerned about being alone and continuing on not knowing if anyone else was going to be on the trail. We pointed him in the direction of the bristlecones so that his time at the park wouldn’t be a total loss, and undaunted by his tale of woe, we pressed on.

We had removed some of our outer layers after the first mile or so as things warmed up a bit, but at the tree line, we had to duck into a cove for a potty break and to re-don gear. It was here another solo hiker passed us. He carried nothing, wore no backpack, and seemed only to be clothed in a heavy red sweater. We feared for Red Sweater Dude, as we henceforth referred to him.

Past the tree line is when things got serious, not only in more steepness, but in exposure and wind. Oh, the wind! The tree line was around 11,500′ and there was nothing at all to break the vicious wind. While it was a nearly cloudless day, the sun offered paltry warmth in the face of the alpine gale. Not only did it create an extreme windchill factor, the force of it made it difficult to move when it came from the side or head-on. Even a tail-wind, while not as cold, was a bit pushier than was comfortable. After struggling for what probably seemed much longer than it was, TBG motioned towards something to the side of the trail. He may have spoken, too, but hearing was next to impossible.

What he’d spied were rock bivouacs! The complete cessation of the wind when we ducked behind one was amazing. At first it felt warmer, but it wasn’t long before the cold started seeping back in. While TBG tried to call his mom (it was her 80th birthday) I did some sit-swimming to keep my major muscles moving and body warm. Good thing, too, because the time immediately following our exit from the stone shelters was the biggest test of our physical fortitude to come.

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The wild blue yonder.

If we thought the wind was cruel before, it was savage upon leaving the bivouac. A ranger told us later that they do not have anemometers on Wheeler, though they believe it gets hurricane-force gusts, but the sustained wind was the hazard. TBG figured later that the temps we experienced with the wind-chill were likely in the upper 20s. As I pushed through this section, I began to shiver and I knew that was one of the early signs of hypothermia. I ran down the list of all the symptoms I could recall in my head, trying to assess if I was in danger. I gave myself simple math problems, then laughed when I realized that if I was suffering mental decline I wouldn’t know if I got the answers right. Surely, I wouldn’t find anything funny if I was suffering from hypothermia, would I? I didn’t believe I had any of the other symptoms, but then I panicked a bit thinking, “That’s how it gets you because you don’t think it’s getting you!”

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Against the wind.

I was moments away from putting the kibosh on our dream, and little did I know that TBG was having similar thoughts as he struggled behind me. He confessed to me later that he thought I was going to call it quits at this point so he didn’t although he wanted to.

Then things took a turn for the better. I am never one to be enthused over steep climbs and heights, but both of those things came to my rescue.

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Deceptively close.

Do you see the trail here? No, of course you don’t because you can’t unless you’re right on it. But it’s there, and its increased steepness when I was this >< close to succumbing to crushing defeat got our quadriceps pumping and began to warm us up enough to keep going. The trail also dipped slightly to the leeward side of the mountain. From there onward, it was just a matter of one foot in front of the other.

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Conqueror!

Red Sweater Dude had passed us on his way back while we were bivouacing, and we met up with another solo hiker at the summit who had passed us on his way up. He said he’d chatted with RSD who told him this was the highest peak he’d ever summited. Whatever, Dude!

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Chilled, but victorious.

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Looking down on Stella and Teresa Lakes. And everything else.

We did not celebrate long at the top because it was still cold and windy. Descending provided some major belly-laughs, though.

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Optical illusion.

If you look closely at this picture, you will notice just how severely the wind affected what could have been simple walking. See how the wind has plastered my jacket around my left arm and ballooned it on my right? See how it looks like I am stepping with my right foot but the wind has caught my right leg and blown it into my left leg before I can put it back on the ground? Neither of us fell down on this hike, but three times a gust of wind sat me down. Watching one another descend like drunken stumblebums took away what was left of our breath with laughter.

 

 We also had some fun seeing how far into the wind we could lean without falling over. Pretty darn far! We passed a few other couples on their way up who may have thought we were suffering from altitude sickness, we were laughing so much.

Once we were back at the tree line and out of the wind, the rest of the way back was uneventful and peaceful.

Except for one little thing.

When we got back to the campground, TBG realized he’d lost his glasses somewhere along the way. We racked our brains trying to think of the last place we knew he’d had them and could only agree that they’d made it back down to the tree line at least. I would have said so long to them, but he got back in the car, drove back to the trailhead, and hiked back in two miles in search of them. If he’d had his glasses on, he might have seen them hanging on the signpost at the one-mile mark and saved himself two total miles of re-hiking, but as it was he found a note under a rock back at the trailhead (that wasn’t there when he’d first returned) that said a pair of glasses had been turned in and would be waiting at the Visitor Center in the morning. We bandied about the odds of them not being his, and went to sleep with hopeful hearts.

(They were his.)

As predicted, the weather had started to turn overnight, and we awoke to little sun under gray skies. After retrieving his glasses, TBG decided that we should take another hike before precipitation arrived. I was not overly enthused, but since we were unexpectedly suffering no ill effects whatsoever from the previous day’s adventures, I acquiesced.

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The ranger said we’d not see any this time of year, but I did!

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TLG taking a turn (that’s The Little General, if you must know.)

The Timber Creek Loop was one I’d slated for later in the week, but it’s relatively short distance of just over five miles moved it up in the rotation. The weather notwithstanding, it was not a very enjoyable hike. The first half was a strenuous slog uphill through dark woods. We can get that at home, thankyouverymuch.

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A distant sunbreak.

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Autumn-hued meadow.

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TBG winds his way through the aspens.

Shortly after the above photo was taken, it began to sleet on us. Sleet, I say. By the time we were back at camp, the sleet had turned into fat rain (for those of you not from the PNW, fat rain is what we call big, wet snowflakes — the kind that don’t stick. Not to be confused with what Forrest Gump called fat rain.) But snow was snow, and it made me sad to see it before the Autumnal Equinox had even arrived.

We decided that would be our dinner-out night, and believe it or not, the teeny town of Baker has a nice little restaurant called Kerouac’s

I broke one of my cardinal rules and took a picture of our food. I would have asked the waitress to take a picture of us with our food instead, but due to the weather and the crowded dining room, she was far too busy for me to pester about that. To mitigate my sin of food photography, I have added witty doodles to it.

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Our delicious pizzas.

We also had deep-fried Brussels sprouts as an appetizer and shared a peanut butter chocolate-chip cookie à la mode for dessert. It was all quite good, and helped me forget about being cold for a little while.

Intermission

The next day’s weather, the day of the official Autumnal Equinox, didn’t promise to be much better so we decided it would be Field Trip Day, and we motored off to the Border Inn at the Utah state line. This is where we might have stayed if other sites hadn’t opened up. Our plan was to have lunch there and see about accessing a bit of wifi. We also toted along our shower supplies since they had pay showers there.

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Highfalutin’!

The restaurant looked so much like a stereotypical rural Nevada movie set of a rural Nevada restaurant, that I wondered if they ever had filmed a movie scene there. Lunch was good if you ask TBG, not so much if you ask me. They did have free wifi, but it barely worked. No great loss there. We opted out of the showers, which were $5 each ($6 if you needed a towel!) willing to take our chances at the pay showers back in Baker that were only $2 (or free if you weren’t the sort to honor the honor system.) We left without doing any gambling, though I had wanted to.

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Our next stop was the Baker Archeological Site, where there is a short interpretive walk with small sign posts and an accompanying booklet that explains all about the Fremont people who lived here long, long ago.

Then we rolled back into Baker to hit the showers, which were large with plenty of hot water. We ran into a young guy who we had met in the parking lot of the summit hike, and with whom we had chatted quite awhile. We never did get his name, but I think of him as Animal Sciences Guy because that’s the degree he had just graduated with and the field in which he was not going to work. Anyhow, he alerted us to the Utah town of Gandy where there was something called a ‘crystal ball’ cave that he said was really cool. We parked that thought in the backs of our minds.

After that, we stopped into T&D’s Grocery Store (liquor and café too!) where we snagged the last dozen eggs and some beer.

As we drove by the P.O. we noticed that my kitty Festone had been found!

Then we headed up the road towards the park, stopping at a roadside attraction we had now passed several times called a Ranching Exhibit.

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The Ranching Exhibit

This is all there is to it — a large ramada with benches situated as if to accommodate an audience, and explanatory panels discussing what ranching in the area is all about. I can’t imagine why money was spent on this.

Out behind this exhibit is a very old rusted out car that has been set on posts, so obviously is meant to be a permanent fixture and not just a piece of junk left in the desert.

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The Jalopy

You can see that there is a cow skull “driving” it, and inside there are two cow shin bones complete with hooves on the pedals. There are no clues as to its origin or why it is where it is. It isn’t even labeled, The Jalopy being the name I gave it. The weird mysteries of remote areas are something I love about being out in them.

That concluded our first day out, and we spent the late afternoon and evening bundled up in the RV eating leftover pizza, reading magazines, downloading photos, and playing Battleship on paper.

Friday was still going to be a spotty weather day, but we took Animal Sciences Guy’s suggestion and headed off to Gandy, UT in search of the Crystal Ball Cave. I don’t think I mentioned that since TBG had done all but one hour of RV driving which had put a hitch in his get-along (sore hip) I was doing all the CRV driving. This particular drive took us down 29 miles of gravel road. The gravel roads here are pretty darn good, though.

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Heading towards Gandy.

There was a small arrow sign nailed to a telephone pole that pointed toward where the cave was supposed to be, but after that we never did find it. Not to be thwarted, we found other stuff.

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Quail

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Testing the waters.

During a brief prior wifi connection, TBG got wind of a warm springs pool in the area near the Crystal Ball Cave. It should have been the much harder of the two to find, yet it was what we found right off the bat. The water was quite warm, especially compared to the cold air.

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A Grotto!

Whether or not we availed ourselves of the spring’s secluded warmth will have to remain one of those remote area mysteries.

On our way back, we popped back into The Border Inn so I could lose a little money on the slots. Except I didn’t, and I cashed out when my $5 became $10. I’m such a high-roller!

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I knew when to hold ’em.

It was snowing for real when we got back to the RV, and it was cold, and we were being conservative with the propane because we didn’t really know how much we had left exactly, so we played dice games with our coats and hats on, then got under all the blankets we had, still with most of our clothes on, and went to sleep. I exaggerate only slightly. My new favorite thing to say became, “I caught a chill on Wheeler Peak, and I’ve not been the same since.”

The snow was temporary for the lower elevations, but we were happy to have planned our summit when we did because Wheeler was now snow-covered and was going to remain so until next summer. The sun had mostly returned, though, and it was time to get back in our boots.

The Hikes, Part II

Up until a month or so before our trip, one of the signature hikes in the south end of the park had been closed due to a previous wildfire, but over the summer things had stabilized enough that it had re-opened. We definitely wanted to see the feature — a six-story limestone arch — but all the web descriptions of the access road made us leery. We decided to give it a shot with me at the wheel and figured we’d consider parking further out on the road if necessary and adding those miles to the hike.

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Southern entrance.

To get to this hike, you have to leave the park, drive south for about 25 miles, then head west for just over 12 miles on the gravel road.

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This park is very well-signed (just double-check your mileage!)

The gravel road and the southern entrance and trail signs exist exclusively for this hike — there is nothing else in this part of the park. As the web reviews and a ranger had told us, we managed to traverse all but the last mile of the road then had to park and head in on foot. I only bottomed out the hitch once. Yay?

Encouraging words!

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TBG not lingering around large burned trees.

Prior to the trip, I had poured over the types of critters we might espy in the area, and there were a few I was especially eager to spot. I did not think this hike would be the place to see any of them, but I was pleasantly mistaken.

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Mountain Bluebird

The burned areas were aflutter with bluebirds, who were too happy to sit still for very long. The above photo was captured on the drive back out from the car.

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Not really a trail.

Because of the fires and floods the road is gone in places and the wash serves as the trail. There are a few neon pink ties on some trees, but no real trail markers. Paying attention is vital. At least it wasn’t warm enough for snakes.

Once through the wash, the trail proper is rather nice for having been closed for so long, following gentle switchbacks up to the arch.

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Best seats in the house.

What you don’t see in this photo is that just to the right of the bench is a sheer drop off into a very deep canyon. Eep.

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A closer look.

The sun was playing hide-and-seek, so it was difficult to get a sunny shot of the arch, and soon after we reached the viewing bench, darker clouds began to gather to the north. We weren’t particularly worried about rain or flooding on this day, but it cooled things down considerably and being still for long was not an option. “I caught a chill on Wheeler Peak, and I’ve not been the same since.”

On the way down, despite the sometimes too-cool wind, we stopped to pluck some green cones off the pinyon pine trees. The Great Basin area is also known for its many pinyon pines, and the collecting of their cones and nuts is allowed in the park. We had originally planned to have our approved gunny sacks ready to fill, but as we learned, the collection of pine nuts is a tedious and disappointing venture. It is no wonder at all that they cost so much to buy at the store. During our other walk abouts, we had picked up many a cone with nuts inside, only to discover that all of them were hollow. The meager cones we harvested near Lexington are completely green and sealed, they will have to be put out in the sun to dry and open (if we ever see the sun again at home), and if we get any nuts out of them, they will have be shelled and roasted. As a ranger at the visitor center advised, if you see someone selling pine nuts by the side of the road, be happy they’ve done all the hard work and buy them there.

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Perspective.

This shows how deep of a wash flash flooding can create. This is the trail-not-trail that roughly follows what used to be the road.

TBG drove on the way out for expediency, and shortly after we passed a game camera and water storage tank, we heard what we thought was an alarm associated with those things.

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“Sorry to alarm you.”

Turns out, it was this rock squirrel with an alarm call so loud we could hear it through closed windows on a rough road.

Safely back out on the main road, I commented that the small cave-like openings I saw in the fields looked like the perfect places for badgers to live. Not two minutes later, we espied something furry in the road up ahead, and I knew within seconds it was a badger. I let TBG know by screaming, “It’s a badger! It’s a !@#$% badger!!” Fortunately for us, and the badger, there was no other traffic on the road.

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“Please do not badger me.”

Badgers are not uncommon in the area, but they are good at not being spotted, so it was a real treat not only to see one but to capture it in a photo. Rock on, little badger,  stay off the road!

One more day, one more decision to make about which hike(s) to do. With some re-arranging, we had managed to get to almost all of the treks we’d wanted to do, but we differed on which of the leftovers should be our last. Luckily, as trails often do, one of each of our choices were connected in a loop. And we’re off!

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TBGuide chooses the Johnson Lake loop.

The day was sunny, but don’t let that fool ya. We were going up to the lake at over 11,000′ and it had snowed.

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When I could still feel my feet.

This hike was just under 8 miles, branching up to Johnson Lake, then splitting off to Dead Lake on the way down and back to the trail heads. Once we reached the branch to the lake, we also reached the snow.

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Following the bobcat tracks.

In the early 1900s a tungsten mill was built up here between 10-11,000′. The remains of it, the workers’ cabins, and the stable are still here.

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Johnson Lake Mill

We had to reach it by foot, but apparently during its heyday, there was a aerial tramway.

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Frozen hikers pose at frozen Johnson Lake

We sat on the big, flat rocks for a quick lunch and a slight bit of warming in the sun. It was again too cold to tarry. “I caught a chill at Wheeler Peak, and I’ve not been the same since.”

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Dead Lake

I don’t know why it’s named Dead Lake, and I don’t need to know. I will assume it is because it’s not an actively fed lake but rather one made from snow melt.

The next morning we headed out. While TBG stopped by the dump station, I drove down for a last shower in Baker. Much to my dismay, there was no hot water this time. It cost me $1 to wash my face with a cold paper towel. Then I drove over to the coffee stand — yes, a coffee stand in Baker! — and got a mocha not only to help warm me up, but to support local business. We hooked up the rig and car in the P. O. lot, made a quick stop at the Visitor Center outside the park, and away we went.

Getting Home

We were not returning home via the same route we came because we had plans to go through Bend, OR and visit an RV dealer there. More on that in a bit.

Our first stop was to be Winnemucca, NV, and we nearly ran out of gas getting there. That was fun.

What really was fun was staying in a big RV park with all the amenities — hot showers, wifi (mostly), and cable TV. We didn’t do much but relax.

I left a calling card.

Our next stop was LaPine State Park in Oregon, home of The Big Tree, or as I liked to call it, La Pine. This park will make our list of places to re-visit when we have more time and our bikes for the large network of beautifully smooth trails. I was adamant that we must see The Big Tree, but we had to wait for an early-morning walk the next day to do it.

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Chilly and sunny along the Deschutes River.

La Pine

From there we headed to Beaver Coach Sales in Bend. One of the owners is a friend of a friend and someone TBG had been in contact with for awhile. Our mission was to look at some types of coaches we hadn’t been able to see before, and for TBG to test drive a big ‘un.

Mission accomplished, and no vehicles were harmed in the test driving. It was not horrible (as I usually find time at any vehicle dealership to be), we loved the staff, and they will be on the lookout for our full-time coach.

Our last stop was at Brooks Memorial S.P. back in our home state, a park we had stayed at prior so couldn’t check off our master list. I remembered liking most of our stay before, although the park isn’t very well-maintained, but I couldn’t remember what it was I hadn’t liked. Oh yeah, it was the price! $1 more than the fancy RV park in Nevada! Pffft.

We reached home the following day before noon, under gray skies (of course), and to a very happy Turtle kitty. Since then I have been doing little else besides laundry and writing this blog. Believe it or not, there are dozens of photos I don’t have room to share, and as many stories I don’t have time to tell.

As always, thank you for virtually rolling along. Now it’s your turn — Go! See! Do!

 

 

 

Mapping and Re-capping

During our Summer of Rainier, we did 14 hikes in the park for just shy of 140 miles total, with our longest being 14 miles. While I’m not much for the numbers, even when a bunch of freaky 14s pop up like that (!), I do like to see it all mapped out, and thought you might, too. I divided the park map into quadrants and used my handy-dandy photo doodling tool to color-code our various routes. For even more fun, I will include a highlight photo from each hike, the captions of which will be links to the posts about those hikes. Because, you know, I don’t have enough other things I probably should be doing and neither do you.

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Sunrise Quadrant, yellow routes

We were lucky to get in our Sunrise hikes when we did because now this whole area of the park is closed due to nearby wildfires. Our boots did the most work in this quadrant with six of the fourteen hikes taking place here.

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Huckleberry Creek

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Here we did the second-most hikes at four. One is shown on the first map.

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Although this map shows four hikes, only two were done this year. The blue line that runs from Ipsut Creek Campground to Carbon Glacier we did at least 20 years ago, when it was still possible to drive to that camp and hike from there, and long before I blogged (or even had internet!) That hike would have been part of the 16-mile loop around Mother Mountain that we’d wanted to do two weeks ago on my birthday. I’m glad we did it when the road was still open because now the only way to see the grand suspension bridge over the Carbon River is to bike + hike or just hike a very long way. The fourth hike looks like the left part of the longest line, but the trail from Mowich Lake northwest to Tolmie Peak was a hike we did in 2012 when the internet did exist and I did blog.

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Tolmie Peak

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Nisqually Quadrant, orange routes

Only two hikes were done in this area, but they made up almost 24 of the total miles.

As you can see, we are nowhere near running out of hikes to do on The Mountain, and we are already making lists of when and where next season will take us. Don’t worry, I will still have outings to blog about between now and then when I probably should be doing other things.

Spray Park, Mt. Rainier

I’ll just rip off the Band-Aid right away and tell you that we did not get in our 16-mile hike. You’ll recall I fell ill last weekend on my birthday and had to stay closer to home, and the weather this weekend was a little sickly itself. The hike we did do was what would have been the end of the big loop, aka Around Mother Mountain. We ended up doing just over half that distance as an out-and-back in order to avoid doing the other half in the rain.

I don’t know if it was the disappointment of not being able to do the longest hike to date on my birthday or the weather or what, but this didn’t end up being a favorite. I’m thinking it was all due to the timing. I will now show you photos that will make you question our slightly negative assessment of this hike.

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TBG (The Birthday Girl), modeling her new poles and sapphire-blue shirt, has the honor.

The morning, although forecast to be partly sunny, started off overcast with a little sprinkle. The weather last weekend on my birthday was ideal, natch.

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So speedy!

For the first few miles, the trail wound through the trees, and was very, very rooty in many places. There were also a lot of steps. I had a time of it getting used to sticks in both hands, whacking my way over the rocks and snarly roots.

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Eagle Cliff Viewpoint

The first waypoint of any note was this lookout, but the misty, fast-moving clouds prevented much looking out.

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Spray Park, is that you?

Unlike some of the other treks on Rainier, this one had no sign denoting when you’ve actually reached Spray Park proper. It made it a little difficult to gauge our actual mileage.

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Mt. Rainier, I know that’s you.

The views did open up, and the sun broke through off and on, but the wind was chilly once out of the trees.

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Not just a landscape photo.

TBG (the real one) spotted something. It’s in this picture, almost dead-center. It’s not a bear, but it is an animal. Give up?

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It’s me, Bucky! Happy Birthday!

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The only photo of TBG.

A bank of clouds rolled through, wiping out the mountainous backdrop, just as I was trying to get a picture of TBG during a sun break. He’s wearing new pants even though it wasn’t his birthday.

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I don’t know where I am.

What I think this photo shows is Spray Park behind me to the right as we made our way up towards Seattle Park. The trail through the parks is mostly a series of elongated erosion steps. Those vex me because they are always too long to take one step at a time, but not long enough to take two regular steps with any fluidity.

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Sunshine and no stairs!

Also no more wildflowers, which as the name suggests, Spray Park is noted for. There was a ton of dying gentian, and I cried a little inside to have missed it probably by just the week’s delay we had.

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Climbing again soon enough.

Shortly beyond this curve, the trail and landscape became all rock, and the winds became more fierce. We could see down into Cataract Valley, but this was to be our turn-around point.

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All rock, some roll.

On the way up, I had kept my eyes peeled for a spur path that was supposed to lead to a view of Mist Park, but I didn’t see it. On the way down, when we stopped at the first “comfort station” we came to, I saw that directly across the main trail was the spur path!

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High above Mist Park.

We stopped here, in the warm sun and out of the chilly wind, for a snack and the view. We completely forgot to take a timer-picture of the two of us, which is sad, because the light here and the backdrop were pretty spectacular.

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Pardon me, did someone say “snack?”

It was all downhill from there, both literally and figuratively. The literal downhill hiking wasn’t as bad as other hikes have been, and the new poles I got for my birthday really did help facilitate the journey.  The figurative downhill was the drive back out the 16-mile dirt road. Sixteen miles on a dusty washboard road — or 32 if you’re really counting — will make you stabby.

This hike officially concludes our Summer of Rainier. We may get in another hike or two on the mountain before the year’s out, but it won’t be summer any longer if we do. Then there is the matter of cross-country skiing and that of snowshoeing. Until then, stay big and beautiful, Tahoma. Thanks for a fantastic summer!

 

Cedar River Trail

Our regularly scheduled hike this weekend was postponed due to a dreadful illness in the family. By family I mean me, and by dreadful illness I mean a cold. Don’t roll your eyes at me! Just because they’re common doesn’t mean they aren’t dreadful.

The hike we’d planned was to be 16 miles, and that was a bit further out than we thought I should get in case I started feeling worse. But you can’t keep a good hiker down, and we planned for an extended walk on our local trail for the last day of this three-day weekend.

This trail is what we at home call The Trail because it begins just down the road from us, and we have put in hundreds of miles on it over the last 20 years. It connects to a couple other trails, has several access points, and while you’re not going to get any elevation or classic hiking in, you can do some serious mileage in a variety of ways  if you’re of a mind to. We were partial to the walking variety today, with eight miles mapped out.

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Pipeline Access Road

This road runs parallel to the Cedar River Trail (CRT as I will now refer to it) and it is where we do our near-daily three-mile fast walks. Lately, to help prepare for elevation hikes, we hold our breath for as long as we can a couple times during our walks. I didn’t do that today since I already can’t breathe due to my dreadful illness.

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The not-sick one.

This road/trail isn’t as pretty as the CRT, but it has a few hills and is generally less used. We used it today so that we could make a loop instead of an out-and-back.

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Pancake flats, as I call them.

This is the second-to-last section before the road ends. We went to the end, then came back via the surface streets admiring and criticizing houses along the way until we reached a little connector trail to the CRT.

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Sheriff, I’ve spotted one!

Just through those trees and we were back on The Trail.

Ah, the CRT where we have walked, run, biked, roller-bladed, and even cross-country skied. Where I trained for all my running races, and even did one. Where TBG has commuted by bicycle to work (no mean feat at nearly 40 miles round trip.)

A trail from which we access our favorite swimmin’ hole.

Sleepover 2001

A trail that we’ve shared with most of our family members and several friends. Where we walked all our dogs countless times and where we took each of them for their final walks. A trail, that although it is not far removed from suburbia in many places, we have seen bear, deer, snakes, lizards, elk, bald eagles, grouse, salmon, ducks, owls, and rabbits.

We have enjoyed this trail — The Trail — since before we even knew each other, while we were courting, and now for nearly twenty years in [dreadful] sickness and in health.

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20+ years together on the trail (of love.) 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Indian Henry’s Hunting Ground, Mt. Rainier

Didn’t I say last time that I was going to keep my big yap shut? Given the choice this week of the two approaches to Indian Henry’s Hunting Ground, I chose the lower mileage with more gain because, after all, we are conditioning for upcoming elevation hikes. Of all the times for TBG to listen to me…

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TBGuide sharing the blame.

There are always portions of hikes we find less enjoyable than others, but almost always they are far outnumbered by the enjoyable parts. Not this time.

The trail started out pleasantly, wide and level — Lover’s Lane style they call it — for about a mile. I consoled myself many times during the rest of the hike that this easy part would also be the last mile.

After that, you cross a dry creek bed, which is also kind of cool, but then the party comes to an abrupt halt when it turns into a nasty uphill slog through the forest. Because it’s not old growth like a lot of the rest of Rainier’s trees, it’s not even pretty forest. There are many, many foot-high steps built into the trail, but as the volunteer to whom I’ll introduce to you later pointed out, they make those stairs for erosion control and not for ease of hiking. Being as those steps are one-fifth of my height, my knees can attest to that. More than once I had to resist the urge to just sit down and weep. I’m not kidding.

If this hike hadn’t had an actual destination, I am certain we would not have continued, especially with the knowledge that coming down, as incredible as it seems, was going to be worse.

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Well, now, that doesn’t look so bad.

There were a few redeeming aspects to the hike, like a series of meadow crossings which provided some hill-hell relief, and some grouse that flushed along the way.

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Finally!

After the most miserable 5.7 miles of our hiking lives to date, the cabin came into view. I tried to comfort myself with the thought that we had reached it without encountering anyone else and were set to have it to ourselves for lunch.

Nope.

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Front-porch respite, perusing the log book.

This cabin lies along the Wonderland Trail and is a resting point for through-hikers, the notes of whom I was paging through when I espied another hiker approaching. Dagnabbit!

Turns out this was a lemon from which lemonade was made.

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Volunteer!

The interloper was a park volunteer, who not only had lots of good information on being a national park volunteer, but also had keys to the cabin!

She kindly opened it up for us, a real treat since the public is almost never afforded access to these cabins unless a ranger is there, and the rangers are only there sporadically.

The volunteer also showed me where the un-signed “facilities” were located, which endeared her to me more than the tour of the cabin.

We tarried at the cabin, loathe to begin the brutal descent but the three of us departed together, us the way we’d come, she the longer, easier, smarter trail. We toyed with the idea of going that way, too, and then hitch-hiking back to our car, but the uncertainty of that plan coupled with the already over-long day put the kibosh on that idea.

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Parting shot.

Only one more good thing:

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Gentians!

As I knew it would be from last week’s outing, gentian season is in full-swing, heralding the end of wildflower season. In my opinion, Mother Nature saves the best for last.

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Wouldn’t you agree?

 

 

Palisades Lakes, Mt. Rainier

Because this was a double-hike week, this outing was only supposed to be a 7-miler. We arrived at Sunrise Point — a popular parking area and view point on the way to the Sunrise visitor area — and TBG parked and scrambled to get a few pics while the clouds and light were doing interesting things.

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Interesting things.

Then I had to go and open my big yap, wondering aloud why we weren’t starting from Sunrise proper. “Oh!” said TBG, “I hadn’t thought of that. We can drive up there and do that.” Boom! Six miles added.

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Jazz hands!

This was not a warm morning, and I was exceptionally glad to have my fleece beanie and little gloves in the car. Three shirts and a neckerchief round out the ensemble.

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You can’t hide from us, Tacobeh.

The sun was out, though, and we knew as soon as the clouds and mists blew away, we’d warm up, but, man, it was hard to take at first still being August and all. I figured we would at least be warmer than the climbers we espied who were headed up from Camp Schurman to summit.

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Lending TBGuide a hand.

Stepping off the trails is disallowed, so this was the best I could do to indicate we were headed back to Sunrise Point. On foot. Due to my big yap.

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Move it or freeze it.

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Purple pizzazz.

Despite the chill, there were some good things about the beginning of the hike. Like no bugs, almost no other people, and lighting conditions that made colors go kapow!

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What goes down…

As the name of the hike indicates, it is a lake trail, but what the name doesn’t tell you is that there are eight lakes in all along the way.

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TBGuide narrowing the choices.

This is where we would’ve started if not for my big yap.

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Sunrise Lake.

The above photo was taken on the return trip, so now I’ve ruined the surprise about the weather, but I wanted to keep things in order here.

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The second lake.

A pretty lake that is a natural choice to make a brief stop and do some clothing adjustments.

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0900 means time for caffeiney-beanies!

Down to two shirts, the neckerchief, and a different hat.

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Pika!

They look like overgrown mice, but they’re not even rodents. They are basically under-grown rabbits. Science aside, they are ridiculously cute, and if they weren’t so speedy, I wouldn’t be able to keep myself from snatching one up.

On the trail near Clover Lake, we spotted some fresh elk pee in the path and thought for sure we would see them, but despite our stealthy ways, we never did.

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Pretty stream crossing valley between Clover and Dick Lakes.

The clouds almost completely cleared out, but it never would be anything close to hot. That is mostly a good thing, especially when you have to walk uphill later in the day for the better part of six miles because someone doesn’t know when to keep her big yap shut.

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The Palisades

As we neared Dick Lake, which is the middle of Tom, Dick, and Harry Lakes only the first two of which are visible from the trail, we heard a muffled peeping coming from the grasses.

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A blue grouse squeaker!

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Then came mama hen.

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And then the second cheeper.

They weren’t in too much of a hurry, and we warmed up in the sun watching them do their forest chicken thing.

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TBGuide says, “Let’s revisit this on the way back.”

After another mile, we reached what would be the trail terminus for us.

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Upper Palisades Lake

We opted not to go down the last .4 mile hill to the camp since we were most likely going to add another 1.2 miles to see Hidden Lake on the return. This was our lunch view.

TBG suspected Hidden Lake might be pretty view-worthy, and I was silly enough to agree to it.

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Sketchy.

Climbing up to it was not at all delightful. It was downright scary in a few places due to steep, rocky, on-the-edge-of-death terrain. Although this photo is pretty, I wasn’t able to enjoy it while I was there because I found watching my feet to be of utmost importance.

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Hidden Lake

It was kind of gorgeous, I must admit. We walked around to that point on the left, briefly wishing it was a hotter day to warrant a dip.

It was then time to start the journey back in earnest. TBG said this was the biggest hike I’d have ever done in terms of distance (~14 miles, ~4000′) I told him to stop badgering me with numbers while I was trying to enjoy a hike.

We made another brief stop at Clover Lake to try some timer photos. I had to crop due to the indecent placement of a knot on a log.

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S(miles)

There were still some wildflowers blooming, but the heyday has already passed. One flower is just coming into its glory, though, and it happens to be my favorite.

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Mountain Bog Gentian

They were everywhere, getting ready to carpet the ground with their blue brilliance. They’re going to make next week’s hike sublime.

We’re planning on 11.5 miles. I’m planning on keeping my yap shut.