Saturday, September 25, 2010

Mount Vernon Harvest Festival

I decided to stay home this weekend, having ran long in the North Cascades last weekend, and knowing I’ll be running Baker Lake next weekend. Home is Mount Vernon, Washington.

It seems like I’ve gotten so busy over the last year or two---I feel out of breath sometimes. There’s my running, but then there’s also my work, my volunteer stuff, the people I know, my house. Plus there's so many channels on television anymore, and I have a lot of spices and cookbooks in my kitchen, and I have so many books, and too many magazine subscriptions and Iphone apps, and I know I should just ebay half of the stuff around my house, if I knew how. I'm being facetious in writing this--I don't have kids, and so I can't be that busy, or so some friends tell me, and I suppose they're right, in a sense, but I do fill up my time, and an unplanned weekend at home feels so good sometimes. It seems like all my weekends in my 20s were unplanned.

So, on to the next paragraph.

I managed to get a bit of trail time on Chuckanut this morning, after sleeping in late. The wind was cutting over Chinscraper, lots of leaves dropping. It wasn’t much of a run for me, just a hike/climb to the top, and a jog down. Mainly, I conducted caveman skills tests, like throwing rocks and sticks at trees (which I imagined to be rabbits), and identifying edible mushrooms. If I had a coach, they wouldn’t be happy with my efforts this morning, but I did show real hunter and gatherer potential.

After Chuckanut, I headed back to Mount Vernon, my home's town, to check out the Farmer’s Market, and ended up enjoying the Fall Harvest Street Festival, the Friends of the Library booksale, and the John Deere tractor rally. I bought eight books for $4. I have a real book problem. Or maybe it's a book challenge. The tractors were cool. Nothing runs like a Deere, or so my friend Aaron tells me.

For the record, the Skagit Valley is going harvest crazy this weekend, with competing harvest festivals in Mount Vernon and Burlington, as well as the Oyster Run out in Anacortes on Sunday. On the way back from C-nut Mountain, I saw two or three roadside organic produce stands, and truck full of corn with a sign, 6 ears for $1. It’s a wonderful time of year here, at least when the sun is out. And it is.

Now I’m off to feed the birds, prune some trees, and maybe cut some wood. Just a really nice, forgettable fall day. (:

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Stehekin Run

Stehekin is a town on the north end of Lake Chelan, accessible only by boat, plane or trail. No roads in. It is known for its remote mountain bakery, the Stehekin Pastry Company, and as a place to truly get away from it all. I’ve always wanted to run there, and on Saturday I finally made it happen, with a 36 mile Pacific Crest Trail run.

I met my friend Craig at 4:40 AM in Burlington, and we drove up to the Bridge Creek trailhead together, where we met up with Heather, Brian and Catherine. Heather had originally suggested the run, and was a rockstar, managing to fit in an extra 14 miles for a cool 50 on the day. Brian and Catherine made a weekend of the run, coming out on Sunday after a night in Stehekin. Good plan.

As far as backcountry runs go, this one is pretty different. We had to make it 18 miles down the trail to the remote High Bridge campground by 12 noon, so that we could then catch the North Cascades shuttle bus down to the Bakery and the lake. After a few hours in the area, the plan was to catch the return shuttle back to High Bridge, and run it back out. So—basically, long trail run, a sweet intermission for pastries, and then another long trail run.

It was cold at the start of the day, mist and rain. The forecasts said showers, but in the North Cascades, you never know, as there are all sorts of microclimates and rainshadows. It turned out to be a great day, with increasingly improving weather as we approached Stehekin. I think it rained all day back home.

There are many trails into the town of Stehekin. We took the Pacific Crest Trail, which is a relatively easy route. Our path was broken into two segments: the Bridge Creek Trail, and the Old Wagon Trail. The Bridge Creek trail travels through subalpine forest and open slopes, and crosses the creek at a junction with the North Fork. Parts of this run seemed very backcountry.

After roughly 13 miles, the PCT trail converges with the Stehekin Valley trail, at Bridge Creek Camp. This section is called the Old Wagon Trail, and it is gorgeous in the fall, reminding me of the east coast this time of year, with its mix of deciduous and coniferous trees, changing colors. The trail continues to parallel Bridge Creek.

One of the coolest things about this run was seeing the recent burn from the Rainbow Bridge fire, which has shut down many trails on this side of the park this summer. I didn’t like seeing burnt old growth per se, but you could smell the fire, see the charred trees, and then you could also see the new bushes, ferns and other growth turning color with the fall. A striking dichotomy. I have a good friend who used to study fire ecology—it is really fascinating stuff.

We indeed made it to High Bridge by 11:15, and it was actually pretty easy. We slowed down quite a bit towards the end, talking with thru-hikers on the PCT, near their finish, and kicking around. The gorge at High Bridge is killer, with 100s of kokanees visible swimming in the water, and the river rocky and wild. The charming old shuttle bus arrived on time, and we drove down into the valley, first visiting the Stehekin Valley Ranch, and then the bakery, and then finally Lake Chelan and the Landing.

The Bakery may be the best aid station of all time, ever. After running 18 miles on mountain trail, in the mist, corn chowder and a gooey cinnamon roll were just the ticket. I ate way too much, throwing down a piece of pizza and a mountain bar on the way out, and suffered for it on the return. The Landing was a pleasant spot, where taking a nap seemed just right. We ran into more PCT thru-hikers, and I checked out the National Park Visitor Center.

Getting going again on the way back was tough, after roughly a 3 hour break. But we did, and soon we were motoring uphill, hiking when necessary, running when able. It did get tough towards the end—it just was a long day, but we stayed steady, and were back at the car by 7:45, and home for Saturday Night Live.

Some pics below, more pics here.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Return To Sahale Arm

Mike and I went up to Sahale Arm in the North Cascades on Saturday, taking our chances with the weather. We started early, beating any crowd, and had Sahale Camp to ourselves. This was really no big deal at first, considering the whole hike up to the 7600 foot camp was more or less in the clouds. We ran a little, but mainly it was a hike.

We happened across three deer bedded on the way up. Many marmots. According to Wikipedia, marmots hibernate roughly 7 to 8 months a year.

We hiked all the way up to Sahale Glacier, through fresh snow, with the visibility less than 20 feet. The fresh snow made the footing mildly sketchy, but it wasn't that bad.

The hike itself is steep, amounting to a 4000 foot climb from the car to the glacier, at probably about 800 feet of ascent per mile. It is steeper above Cascade Pass, on the way to Sahalee glacier, with essentially two climbs, with something of a plateau in between, above the remarkable Doubtful Lake.

We stood at the foot of the glacier for 15 or 20 minutes, waiting, in a cloud. There were hints of sun and blue sky in some directions, and so we hoped it would open up. Sure enough, slowly, the snow covered glacier began to reveal itself, and then Sahale Peak itself, against a cobalt blue sky. It was downright magical.

Views continued to improve over the next hour. Really special stuff, watching cloud patterns come and go through Cascade Pass, to reveal various peaks and glaciers in all directions. Pelton Mountain. Magic Mountain. Mount Johannesburg. Glacier Peak. The valley down to Chelan. 

In the picture above, there is a little mound in the foreground--that's one of the campsites for Sahale Peak--it is ringed in stones, to protect against the winds. Sahale Peak is this month's cover story hike for Washington Trails magazine, the WTA's periodical. Very worthwhile, though it would be really tough packing a full backpack. Last time up, three weeks ago, I ran into some folks who caught the full moon up there. They called it a once in a lifetime experience. Doesn't have to be, of course.

On the way down, the fall colors became more apparent--much moreso than three weeks ago--as huckleberries, heather and other flora are turning to reds and yellows. The colors will only get richer, presuming the weather holds and the snow doesn't come too fast.

We ran more on the down, but I kept stopping to take pictures. Mike, a much faster runner than me, is very patient, but as he said, he'd just finished Cascade a couple weeks ago, and so I don't think he minded too much. Amazingly to me, he had flown from the east coast the night before, with a 9 PM arrival.

For dessert, as it were, on the way down, we spotted three little specks above Doubtful Lake, perhaps a half mile away, as the crow flies. A mama bear and her growing cubs. We watched them ascend a rock wall that must've been a 5.9 climb.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Easy Pass to Colonial Creek

Jahson and I ran from Easy Pass to Colonial Creek in the North Cascades on Saturday. This is approximately 25 miles, maybe more, maybe less, with a steady climb for the first three miles, and then a gradual descent over the rest of the run. I did this in the deep fall last year with Linda and Dan—a different run, as on Saturday you could see that the colors are only just starting to change now.

The run should’ve been easy, but I sort of struggled. I think I had too much food in the stomach, maybe the wrong fit of shoes, and I definitely noticed my quads/hamstrings aren’t all there yet. It wasn’t that bad—I just want to get better.

The trail is spectacular. WTA says "it's easily one of the prettiest hikes in the North Cascades." My pics here.

The Fischer Valley, which is reached after crossing Easy Pass, is remote, wild, and stunning. The valley forms from the headwaters of Fischer Creek, by Fischer Mountain. Glaciers hang in the distance. The brush along the trail is high; the valley walls jagged. I believe the last grizzly seen in the park was reported here. The empty meadows, like in the picture above, suggest to me a wilderness travelers might’ve come upon in the 1800s, when first coming west.

Though late in the year, we still managed to find plenty of huckleberries and thimbleberries. I did not see as many multi-colored mushrooms as on the last trip. The air is still in the Fischer Valley—you just want to slow down and look around. And so we did, for quite some time.

Finally, after an hour or so, we moved on--Jahson usually leading and me still dithering. At Junction Camp, about midway in, the trail turns down into the Thunder Creek valley. Big cedars become the norm, with white and aqua-blue creeks, like the MacCallister. The trail is soft, the footing easy. At some point, about 8 miles out, I decided to try running for an extended period. I was able to finish up at a somewhat steady clip, which is encouraging.

Teaser and the Firecat by Cat Stevens on the way home.