Blanca Lake

This weekend I enjoyed some “luxurious” backpacking at Blanca Lake, located north of Skykomish along Highway 2.

Blanca Lake is a glacier-fed alpine lake. It has a milky turquoise color due to the glacier-ground rock dust (known as “glacial flour”). In 3 miles crossing two wildernesses (Wild Sky and Henry M. Jackson), the popular trail to the lake gains a little over 3000′ before dropping another 300′ down to the steep shores.

Our group of six decided to take along some unusual (heavy) supplies for this trip due to the short distance; this included swim trunks, a dozen eggs, bacon, steak, barbecue sauce, and iPod speakers. We paid the price for these on the 30 switchbacks up to the pass, but they were so worth it once we made camp.

The trail tops out at Virgin Lake before descending down to Blanca: breaking out of the trees here, we caught a great view of secluded Glacier Peak.

Glacier Peak

The next 300′ downhill was on muddy trail but soon enough we broke out into a clearing with a view of the lake from on high.

 

At the head of the lake, dozens of hikers crowded the beach; I was amazed to encounter such a zoo after quite a lot of elevation gain. We crossed over the log jam (trekking poles were handy) to the next beach, which to our amazement had no tents set up yet! We claimed it as our own.

Continue reading Blanca Lake

Mt. Si – The Haystack

A collection of photos I took climbing the Haystack (the final 300′ of Mt. Si’s true summit). Mt. Si is the most popular hike on I-90, so I won’t say much about it, but the Haystack is a pretty challenging scramble with significant consequences of a fall; not many people finish the climb to the top after finishing the main trail to the viewpoint.

Mt. Si's Haystack summit scramble
Mt. Si’s Haystack summit scramble
Panorama looking south from Mt. Si summit
Panorama looking south from Mt. Si summit
The solid 3rd class scramble to the Haystack summit
The solid 3rd class scramble to the Haystack summit
Panorama to the north from Mt. Si summit
Panorama to the north from Mt. Si summit

Issaquah Alps Mountain Running

Rather than post three separate trips, I’m combining short TRs on three mountain runs I’ve completed over recent weeks in the nicely graded forest trails near Issaquah. Some people call these summits “dumpster dives” to be hiked with a heavy pack for training, or only in bad weather but that doesn’t give these big green spaces enough credit. Where else can you run a 2k’-3k’ mountain within a half hour of a major city? (Yeah, yeah… Salt Lake City. But you get the point).

These are casual hikes for most people but I didn’t see a lot of other runners. The trails definitely aren’t technical but they are challenging with quite a bit of elevation gain and descents on rocky trail; some trail running experience is recommended before giving these a shot.

Squak Mountain via Central Peak Trail – 8/24/14

2028′ | 7 miles RT | 1700′ gain

Squak Mountain is a fun little jaunt located closest to Seattle out of the three runs (just 30 minutes from my home via I-90). The run starts in the May Valley Rd state park trailhead parking lot (Discovery Pass required), continues up a nicely graded low angle trail through a lush forest with creeks and ferns. About halfway to the top, the trail steepens significantly but remains quite runnable 95% of the time.

Squak Mountain summit

The central summit is disappointing (just a microwave relay tower at the top), but the west summit is worth a visit for more forested solitude. No views from either summit but there is a small lookout located on the valley connector trail looking north below the west summit. Continue reading Issaquah Alps Mountain Running

Olympic Peninsula circuit

I took time off this beautiful September week to get out from my Seattle base and explore the strange, wonderful Olympic Peninsula with my girlfriend, in town for a visit before embarking on an adventure of her own in the UK. I can’t believe that in the cumulative 6 months I’ve spent here that I never once ventured to the other side of the pond – Puget Sound that is.

Itinerary

The trip started off with a quick hop across the sound on one of Washington’s state-run ferries, which ply the Edmonds-Kingston route more than once an hour (~$25 one way for two people and a car). Why on earth would one drive south along Puget Sound when the scenic ferry ride is available? There are unparalleled Mt. Rainier and Mt. Baker views looking out over the land.

Perfect day for a boat ride

From there, we made a sort of detour to Port Townsend, a beautiful little nautical town with a Wooden Boat Festival, some offbeat book shops, and a wonderful place to buy a shake and look out over the water.

The road then lead us to Port Angeles, the commercial hub of the northern peninsula. But we did not stay long: our lingering in Port Townsend burned up quite a bit of daylight so we picked up some free maps and continued along the highway to Sol Doc. Along the way, take a break and stretch your legs along beautiful Lake Crescent, bounded by mountains on all sides.

Lake Crescent from a gap in the trees along the highway

The Sol Duc road climbs into the hills above the lake, passing a salmon run which would be spectacular at the right time of year. The resort at the end offers accommodations, but more importantly, the famous Sol Duc Hot Springs. For a fee, even if you aren’t staying at the resort you can take a dip in the sulfurous, 101F water. I am not one for spa treatments, but I have to say my skin did feel extra soft after soaking in the mineral-rich water.

We also hiked to Sol Duc Falls. They’re  not huge but the lush green surroundings enhance their beauty.

Next stop: the famous Pacific beaches with towers of rock known as sea stacks. We chose one called Second Beach, located near the tribal area of La Push. Soft sand and salty spray combined for a wonderful walk.

Second Beach sea stacks
Natural arch

Our last stop before bolting for Seattle was at the most famous Olympic attraction of all: the Hoh rainforest. It was not quite the ambiance I expected (visiting during the rainy season would give it a more authentic feel). It was still spectacularly green, and the old growth trees were a sight to see.

The Hoh River at its lowest

What makes the Olympic Peninsula well preserved with greenery and weird character also makes it sort of a pain to access from the rest of the state: the drive home via Olympia is sort of a drag at 4.5 hours but we made it back without driving in the dark too long.

When I return, I’ll hit two places that we passed up on this trip: Hurricane Ridge, and Neah Bay (a tribal interpretive center located at the very northwestern tip of the peninsula).