Tag Archives: Running

Where There’s Smoke…

This is it. I’m declaring Blog Bankruptcy. I’ve gotten so behind with summer travel and outings that I can’t possibly dig out of the hole. So here’s what I did this weekend. I may go back and cover selected trips from June-August, highlights of which included 2 weeks in Turkey and Romania, summer skiing at Mt. Rainier, and backpacking near Glacier Peak.

Mt. Howard and Mt. Mastiff

7063′ peak elevation

12ish miles

6000′ gain

7:40 car to car

DATELINE: Chelan, WA. After one of the driest springs and summers on record and with a minuscule snowpack, Washington is burning. Lake Chelan, the Methow Valley, and Mt. Adams are ablaze and the Okanogan Complex is the largest in the state’s history. With the North Cascades Highway closed due to fire, the options for getting in the high country are more limited than usual. Looking for a fun summer scramble, hiking pal Becca and I settled on a doubleheader near Stevens Pass, hopefully sparing us most of the smoke: Mt. Howard and Mt. Mastiff. Mt. Howard happens to be a 2000′ prominence peak, a nice bonus.

On the drive in we noticed a puzzling haze in Monroe – it couldn’t be smoke, could it? We were 100+ miles from the closest fire. As we continued along US 2 it became evident that the forecasted NW wind hadn’t materialized – Easterly wind was pushing the smoke our way. Despite the potential for disappointing views, the smoke wasn’t thick enough to irritate our lungs or eyes so we elected to do the trip as ash fell from the sky like a dusting of snow.

Howard-Mastiff Loop

Our plan was to do a loop route starting and ending from the Merritt Lake Trailhead, climbing Mt. Howard first before continuing on to Mastiff and descending off trail on Nason Ridge. Fully half this route is off trail, so decent routefinding and navigation skills are definitely required.

The Merritt Lake trail has nice efficient switchbacks through mostly shade. The Nason Ridge trail though needs some work – it’s brushy and loose in places but easy to follow. It continued through a looong traverse over to Crescent Lake including several hundred feet of elevation loss (beware to those doing the counterclockwise loop!) There are several little bowls that look like the S. face of Howard – make sure you’re in the right drainage (ie. not Royal Creek) before you head upward.

Crescent Lake

Crescent Lake is big and shallow. It looked like elk bed down in the long grass nearby – comforting, as we had just been startled by some sort of large mammal in the woods and we were really hoping it wasn’t a bear. We filled up water and started up the South face of Mt. Howard (about 2000′ vertical) off trail. We took the talus field at the head of the lake (directly below the obvious cliff band) then brush bashed through some woody plants without too much hassle before reaching an upper talus field where we drifted right to get around the cliff. There are several gullies here – we picked the one we thought was easiest and it was easy but loose, dirty class 3. I wouldn’t want to have to descend this part if I could help it.

Above this crux band of 100′ or so it was easy cruising on talus and dirt climber’s trails to the summit. Continue reading Where There’s Smoke…

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Barcelona

Just as I was starting to get a little fatigue from all the amazing old buildings, art, and jamón, here comes Barcelona to the rescue

Barcelona, located right on the Mediterranean in the northeast Spanish autonomous region of Catalunya, has a culture (and a language) all its own. The locals speak catala, which I guess has roots in Spanish and either French or Provençal. Signs are readable but I had to communicate in “regular” Castillian Spanish for the most part. I also observed that more English is spoken here than elsewhere in Spain.

Barcelona feels by far the most cosmopolitan and modern of the four Spanish cities I visited. It has an old quarter (the barri gotic) but is mostly laid out in a semi-sensible grid with new and architecturally forward buildings all over the place. I spent three days in Barca and could have used one or two more, to be honest.

Day 8
I arrived at the airport from Sevilla and took the bus into the city center to check into the hostel. Then I ran about a mile to the beach in Barceloneta. Oh man, that beach. It has great sand, a lively buzz, and warm Mediterranean water. Three downsides: rampant petty crime (watch your stuff), too many people selling stuff (“beer! Cerveza! Ice cold mojitos!” every ten seconds) and some sort of biting insect which left me with mosquito-like bites later that day. Overall I’ll take that tradeoff in a second.

After getting a nice tan I came back to shower… And promptly knocked my (very necessary, only) glasses off a high shelf, snapping the bridge. The crisis now was to restore my vision as quickly as possible, which involved a brisk walk to the Plaça Catalunya, a very long and technical conversation in Spanish with the optician (cristales = lenses evidently), and a hefty bill. Lesson learned!

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Day 9
Woke up to a free breakfast at the hostel and walked over to the optical shop. The glasses look good! Then I met up with my friends from Michigan: Jamie and Eeshan, with their friend Michael. We walked to the Basilica of La Sagrada Familia (the Holy Family), the last work and masterpiece of Catalan architect Antoni Gaudí. The exterior façades are unfinished (under construction for about 100 years, the last tower isn’t expected to be completed until 2029) but intriguing enough to get me to pay the €15 to get inside.

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On the nativity façade is a statue I can never un-see…

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Then I went inside. Oh my. I didn’t know I could be affected be architecture like that. Gaudí’s mastery of light gives the altar a striking ethereal glow. The rest of the space is bathed in light, much of it from the stained glass windows. Unlike all other churches I’ve seen, the windows are not figurative, in that they don’t depict symbols or people. Instead, monochrome patterns in light and dark depict ideas like the resurrection. I thought it was highly effective.

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Another distinguishing feature of the interior is the column design. Gaudi, inspired by the geometry of nature, invokes a tree trunk and its branches as the basic design elements. The collection of columns was designed to give the effect of being in a forest. It gives a certain peace and lightness to the space.

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I noticed several artistic choices which seemingly deemphasized Mary. For example, her corner of the transept is less ornate than Joseph’s on the opposite side, and  the tower representing her will be only the fifth tallest. Perhaps this is representative of the way Gaudi practiced his religion, or of the particular tradition in Catalonia.

We had a paella dinner after touring the basilica, walked down the massive pedestrian mall called La Rambla, and enjoyed the sights of the beach at night before calling it a day.
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Day 10

In the morning I ran up a hill called the Montjuïc, located near where I was staying. It’s about 500′ above the rest of the city, so it is a nice little hill climb to the top. There is a gondola to the top for over €10 – no thanks!

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At the top there’s a castle which was fortified to defend the city with the long guns. I ran around the hilltop park, down past the Olympic stadium, and back to my hostel – a fun 6-8 mi route. Then I ran to the beach to cool off and enjoy some more sun.

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In the evening I met up with more Michigan friends for dinner at Txapela, a Catalonian “tapas” place (actually called pinchos – the plates are a bit smaller). It was pretty tasty!

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We walked La Rambla again and happened upon some amazing street music. Take a listen for yourself:

After 3 days, I fell in love with Barcelona’s character a little bit. I wouldn’t hesitate to come back here for a week or more and take some time to explore the surrounding area (and that beach!)

Off to Amsterdam now for a couple of days! ¡Hasta luego, España!

Northern Michigan Fall

I took a weekend trip to Leelanau County again this October to visit family. Here are a few shots:

After dinner in Omena

Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore

Pyramid Point Trail

Quite windy, but visibility was pretty good today

South Manitou

Dunes Trail

I ran from the dune climb (“closed” due to the government shutdown) to the lakeshore and back again. Virtually deserted today!

Sugar Loaf Mountain

I ran up Sugar Loaf Mountain, an abandoned former ski resort, a couple of times. The pictures (on my iPhone) don’t really do justice to the colors.

Brighton Ridge Traverse

Brighton Ridge (Clayton Peak to Sunset Peak)
8.5 miles RT
3200′ gain
3:46 for the loop
Route map

After Lone Peak the previous day, I took out my map of the Wasatch to find something not too remote that I could hike safely on my own, without too much elevation gain. Brighton Ridge fit the bill nicely.

Rolling up to Brighton at 7am, I was surprised by a bull moose in the parking lot!

Bull moose at the lodge

I started up the mountain on the main trail until reaching the turnoff right around Dog Lake – I took the trail toward Clayton Peak instead of continuing on to the lakes. I saw two more moose in the woods here – a calf and a cow. They ran off down the hill silently. For as awkward as moose are they are graceful and fast when in motion.

Barely visible cow and calf

After not too much longer I gained the saddle and saw a great view down the Wasatch Back over to the Park City side.

From the saddle below Clayton Peak

From here I followed the obvious cat track along the base of Clayton Peak until I found a climber’s trail marked by a cairn (a very nice trail at that). From there it was a breeze to my first peak of the day.

Lake on the backside of Clayton Peak
Looking over the pass to Little Cottonwood
Heber Valley

From here I continued back down the ridge until reaching the saddle and continuing very close to the ridge line the other direction toward Preston Peak. Sometimes there is a use trail, sometimes it is not obvious. Just keep following the ridge. Soon you’ll come to the very indistinct peak that is Preston Peak, although there is a plaque on top for some reason. I didn’t stay long and continued down the ridge.

Coming off Preston Peak

From here, the rest of the route is very scenic but not very challenging.

Moderate south slopes of Brighton Ridge

You’ll reach a saddle with another ski lift, then follow a use trail down the other side to Pioneer Ridge highpoint. Continue down one more saddle to reach the foot of Pioneer Peak. I ascended steeply following a climber’s trail to the top of Pioneer. To the north, Catherine Lake is clearly visible and you can hear the hikers below.

Lake Catherine, Lake Martha, Lake Mary, Dog Lake
Sunset (I think) from Pioneer

From there I just followed the west side of Pioneer down to Sunset Peak and scrambled up crappy, sandy rock to the top where I was surprised to see no one. Usually this peak is packed. This was my third visit to Sunset Peak and I enjoy the view for how little it is. I didn’t like the look of clouds forming to the West so I headed down without delay. I would have liked to have hit Tuscarora, Wolverine, and Millicent and then head back down that way, but I had already climbed Tuscarora and Wolverine and since the weather looked like it could turn it didn’t seem like a good idea today.

The lakes from Sunset Peak
Pioneer Peak above (I think) Lake Catherine

I dropped down the normal trail to Catherine Pass and headed down to the car at a quick pace. I saw my next moose of the day in the meadow below Lake Catherine – a big bull moose!

Bull moose below Lake Catherine

He wouldn’t leave the trail so I walked far around him and continued on my way. The rest of the trail down to the car was actually really nice. Lake Mary is scenic with Mount Millicent behind.

Lake Mary with Mount Millicent
Lake Mary
Wildflowers on the way down

The lower trail was quite crowded. Overall it was a nice quick, moderate hike. I didn’t see a soul from the turnoff near Dog Lake all the way until Catherine Pass, so expect to get away from the crowds on this route, particularly from the Clayton saddle to the summer of Pioneer Peak.