Lopez Island

While Dad and Mom were visiting, we spent a couple nights in a rental house out on Lopez Island. It was the first time any of us had been there and I really enjoyed it. It’s one of the smaller islands, and while none of the islands are “busy”, this one was very quiet/local. Highlights included some nice, quiet beaches and a short hike out to a rocky bluff where we could watch a LOT of seals. Our best meal was at Southend General Store and Restaurant. It’s not a place you would drive by and expect to have good food, but I think we would all be happy to eat there again.

I took a bunch of Photosynths. There’s the view from the deck, the park with the seals, and one showing the inside of the house.

Thanks to Dad and Mom for renting the house and letting us crash the party!

Climbing Mt. St. Helens

Mt. St. Helens is an amazing National Park. The volcano blew in 1980 and experts thought it would be a complete dead zone for 400 years. Within 3 years, life started reappearing in the desolation. Science has rarely had an opportunity to study a spot like this up close. So it’s understandable that they don’t allow very many people on the mountain! Nobody can go inside the crater or along the north side of it where most of the devastation was. You are allowed to climb up the south side, but you need a permit and during most of the year (except the dead of winter) only 100 people are allowed to climb per day.

Last year, AndyD and StehanieW climbed it with their family, but since you have to pick your climbing day months in advance, they got unlucky and climbed in complete fog. They wanted to do it again to see the sights so on Feb 1, Andy snagged some climbing passes.

The climbing group was to include myself, Tim, Chelsea, Andy and Stephanie. Tyla really wanted to come along, but her knees don’t do well on long hikes so she reluctantly abstained. A couple days before we were to head out, Andy and Stephanie had to back out for personal reasons. Tim, Chelsea and I decided to carry on so on Saturday afternoon we headed around to the south side of the mountain. The plan was to stay in a campground the night before so that we could get an early start. Our campground was in Cougar, WA which is about 20 minutes from the trailhead. There are also free campsites (if you have the climbing pass) right at the trailhead but those are first come first serve.

We arrived at the trailhead on Sunday morning around 7:30am and by 8am we were on the trail. This trailhead is called Climber’s Bivouac. At 3900 feet, it’s the highest point that you can drive on Mt. St. Helens. If you’ve driven to the mountain before, you most likely drove to the Johnston Ridge Visitor’s Center that is north of the mountain. There’s also one other smaller Visitor’s Center on the east side. Neither are as high as this trailhead.

The route begins with a 2 mile stroll through the woods. It goes up about 1000 feet. This part flew by on the way up as we were fresh and the trail was simple. At 2 miles, you abruptly come to the end of the tree line and reach a sign saying that you must have one of the climbing passes to carry on past that location. No one is allowed above 4900’ on the mountain without a pass. We had broken out of the clouds a during the hike through the woods and as we continued, we were in blue clear sky with a blanket of clouds below. We could see Mt. Adams and Mt. Hood sticking proudly out of the cloud layer. Quite a sight!

At this point, the trail completely changes character and head up an old lava flow (from an eruption before the 1980 eruption.) This stretch lasts about 1.5 miles and it’s tough. The rocks will rip up your hands so gloves are recommended. There are many points where you have to climb up on all fours. Climbing over these huge boulders is tough to begin with, but to make it even worse, there’s no specific path to follow. There are route markers every couple hundred yards and you just have to make your way to the next one. Sometimes you can see a good route to take and sometimes we seemed to end up taking the hardest possible route.

The lava flow boulders end eventually and now it’s on to the ash! The last mile is a slog up an ash field. For every step up, you slide have a step back. And by this point, you’re really getting up there so the oxygen is a lot thinner than you are used to. This is the point where the wind can also be whipping the ash around so general advice is to make sure you can cover every part of your skin (long sleeves, long pants, and a bandana for your face.) Thankfully the wind was calm so we stuck with gaiters to keep ash out of our shoes and our hiking poles to give us extra stability.

We made it to the top of the mountain (8366 feet above sea level) in 4 hours and 40 minutes. We did get passed by about a dozen people, but looking through other trip reports, this is a respectable amount of time. We said from the beginning that our goal was the top, not the amount of time it took so we took plenty of breaks for photos and rests.

You can walk all the way up to the crater rim and wow, what a view! It’s so unlike anything I’ve ever seen before (and I’ve been to the visitor’s center many times.) The sheer magnitude of it is readily apparent. We stayed up there for about 30 minutes taking in the views of Rainier, Adams and Hood in the distance and watching steam escape from vents in the lava dome in the center of the crater. I hastily snapped a bunch of photos for a panorama. There are a few problems from where it was stitched together and I should have taken more photos, but I had to stand uncomfortably close to the rim and the wind was blowing pretty hard trying to push me in.

As we began our descent, the ash field was pretty simple. You could keep a good pace with a controlled slide on the heels of your feet, and before no time, we were back at the lava fields. Ugh. Going down was harder than going up. We were only about half way through when I could tell my legs were shot. Your calves take a beating going up and the thighs take the brunt going down.

After what seemed like ages, we made it to the tree line. The smooth trail was glorious, but even the gentle downhill slope was super painful on the thighs and knees. Tim and Chelsea definitely set the pace for this part of the hike as I lagged behind. At one point near the end, I had stopped to get something out of my pack and thought I was standing next to a pile of poo. I realized it was my own B.O. The trees seemed to last twice as long as they did on the way up, but we made it to the parking lot, thoroughly beaten and completely covered in ash and sweat.

One big decision on a hike like this is how much water to take. If you’ve ever run out before (as Tim and I have), you want to err on the side of bringing too much. But every liter weighs 2.25 pounds and you don’t want to be carrying any more weight than necessary. I took a 3 liter Camelbak full of water and a 2 liter one full of Gatorade. The Gatorade ran out right at the crater rim and I finished the hike with 1/4 liter left. Perfect!

It took us 3 hours and 20 minutes to get down which means we were hiking for 8 hours plus 30 minutes at the top. Even though we were so tired, the lure of our beds was strong. We went back to the campground, took showers, and packed up the campsite while we were cooking food on the fire. After eating a delicious meal (anything would have tasted good at that point!) we hopped in the truck and headed home.

It was a long day and I don’t know that any of us are jumping to do it again soon, but we’re all thrilled that we did it!

I owe a special thanks to my wonderful wife who was supportive of me going even though she was staying behind. Thank you Tyla! I love you!

Chelsea and I both carried our little cameras up which were easily accessible during the hike. TIm and I both carried our dSLRs to the top, but his was much easier to get to than mine. We took quite a few photos but it’s really hard to show the scale of the hike in these photos! Nonetheless, I’ve included some of my favorites in this post and put more in the photos gallery. You can also view a big panorama from the top of the mountain. Drag your mouse around and zoom in and out to get the full effect. Also notice the thumbnails on the right side of the panorama. If you click on them the page will reorient and zoom in to points that I’ve marked on the photo.






View the full panorama

Kerry Park Sunset

There’s a park up on Queen Anne Hill (where Frasier’s apartment would have been if it really existed!) called Kerry Park and it has a great view of Seattle and Mt. Rainier. If you’ve seen a skyline postcard of Seattle, this is probably where it was taken. I’ve never been there, but the other night it was pretty clear so Tyla and I hopped in the car and checked it out.

I thought I’d be the dork with the camera on the tripod, but boy was I wrong. There were at least five or six other photographers there with way more expensive gear than me. I went from thinking I’d be a dork to feeling like a n00b.

The sunset was beautiful (though you can’t actually see the sun setting from this point) and I had fun taking photos. Mt. Rainier was a bit hazy due to the fire smog coming in from Asia. (You can read more about the smog on Cliff Mass’s weather blog.) But now that I think about it, maybe it was the haze from the guy behind us on the park bench smoking weed.

Once we moved to get out of his cloud, I got a couple good photos. Here are my favorites:

You can see a bigger version of the bottom picture on PhotoSynth, but it’s nothing spectacular. I only used four or five photos to make it.

Mt. Rainier Hike

Last weekend Tyla and I headed down to the Sunrise visitor’s center on the east side of Mt. Rainier to do a little hiking. The day started off very cloudy/foggy, but the UW weather models said the clouds would clear so we went for it.

We took a roundabout route to the Mt. Fremont lookout. There was still quite a bit of snow so I had to adjust the route as we went. We still crossed more snow than I had planned, but Tyla did really well considering that she had low socks and sneakers on! The Mt. Fremont lookout was first place I ever hiked at Mt. Rainier and it was with Mom and Dad back in 2006. This time was quite a bit different because when we rounded the corner for the last mile to the lookout, we were in a cloud and visibility was very low. I told Tyla that when we got home, I’d show her a picture of what it would have looked like if it was clear. Thankfully I had this great panorama that I made on the last visit.

The lookout was so anticlimactic that we actually hiked back down the trail to a spot where we had a little better view of the mountain and ate our lunch there. While we ate, I fired up a timelapse. It’s available on YouTube and I’ll embed it below. I was hoping that the clouds would clear to show the mountain but it never happened.

I also stopped to take a ton of pictures of the mountain which I later stitched into a big Photosynth panorama. This is a combination of about 45 photos. You can zoom in pretty far since it’s a total of 111 megapixels!

There are other photos available in the photo gallery with a few of my favorites included below. All in all it was a great day for a hike! Thanks to Tyla for putting up with all the photo stops!

Grace Lakes Snowshoeing

Mom and Dad came out for Easter. Since they have only been out here once in the winter (two Aprils ago for our wedding), we thought it would be fun to head up to the mountains to see some snow. It seemed like a good opportunity to try snowshoeing so I stopped by REI and rented some snowshoes.

We drove up to Stevens Pass on a beautiful Saturday and parked in Lot 4. From there we walked along the cat track at the south end of the lot and headed back toward Grace Lakes. Since none of us were experts at snowshoeing, it was nice to be able to walk along the cat track though we did venture out into virgin snow. I was amazed at how well they held me up. It worked so well that I figured the snow must have a crunchy layer, but when I took off one snowshoe, I quickly sunk in up to my knee.

We turned around when we got to a sign warning about avalanche control, but we did get to have lunch on a hill with an incredible view. I snapped off a quick panorama series and posted it on PhotoSynth. Photos are also available in the photo gallery (look at the photos posted April 15.)