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Letters home to mom

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Space Needle–a Seattle Brunch

Posted by joeabbott on July 9, 2017

Well, the Space Needle has been a Seattle institution since opening in 1962 and just as the restaurant up-top has always revolved, allowing for a changing view, the quality of food coming from the kitchens has likewise changed. I can’t speak for the early days, but when I got to town in 1989, dining at the ‘Needle had already taken on a form over substance sorta vibe … or, said more clearly, you went there to have dined at a revolving restaurant, not for the food.

I can happily say that’s no longer the case. It may have been excellent for a while, but my outing there yesterday confirms there’s still a lot of goodness coming out of the stoves and off the cooktops at the Space Needle restaurant: the Sky City.

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My mother treated my younger brother and his family, along with Suzy and me, to a very fine brunch at the Sky City. I won’t try to detail all of the menu offerings, but will speak from firsthand experience about my meal!

Before our meal started, our prompt waitress brought out beverages of our choice and baskets of scones with a crusting of coarse sugar. The OJ I got tasted like oranges were squeezed right there in the kitchen and had someone told me they were picked from the tree just that morning, I wouldn’t have been surprised. Perhaps I’m jaded by the Tropicana juice we get from the local Safeway, but that was a good juice and the scones weren’t bad. Suzy retains her Scone Queen title in this area, but the Sky City bakers have nothing to be ashamed of.

I started the meal proper with a little something called a Malted Waffle, which was a quarter of a ~4” Belgian waffled covered with strawberries and a dollop of whipped cream that was so fresh it set a standard for the rest of the meal. The waffle was crisp, the berries flavorful, and it really left you wanting more … but I wasn’t left wanting for long! Very shortly my The Benny arrived.

The Benny is their version of an eggs Benedict that wasn’t the best I’d had (a little something I enjoyed in New Orleans retains that title) but I’d order it again in an instant. Proper poaching of the eggs, a Canadian bacon flavorful enough that I reluctantly shared a snipped with Suzy, and a hollandaise sauce that you could have stood a spoon up in if you’d have had a deep enough dish. Or had the restraint to keep from using the spoon to shovel that tastiness into your mouth! Altogether it was a dish worthy of being the second best I’ve had. Hardly notable but they served that with enough cubed potatoes that I had a hard time eating them all … but a boy’s gotta do what a boy’s gotta do. I ate ‘em!

I finished my meal with a rhubarb and strawberries cobbler that had a thick, crunchy topping and a nice, tart center. While I was starting to feel the burden of all the food that came before it, I polished off my dessert and thought it a fine way to finish a fine meal. All I was missing was a place to lay down to nap as I let it all settle.

So, that’s my review of the Sky City Brunch served atop the Space Needle. A revolving restaurant is no longer the novelty that will draw you to this restaurant; a delicious menu and excellent food can now be your lure!

I hope you can make it and enjoy as much as I did. Thanks for dropping in.

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Prepping the grill for guests!

Posted by joeabbott on July 6, 2017

Smokin' hot grill ... perfect for steaks!

Smokin’ hot grill … perfect for steaks!

And, the perfect steaks! Trying four different rubs!

And, the perfect steaks! Trying four different rubs!

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Still exercising that demon: SPOT

Posted by joeabbott on July 3, 2017

I was sure I was done with complaining about the SPOT. Hard to feel like you’re rational when you carp about an inanimate object, but as I’ve said before, the promise of how great this device could be has me frustrated.

imageAs I was putting away my gear from last weekend, I noticed the SPOT was still on; earlier I’d reported that it had turned itself off or drained the batteries. So, I figured I had just missed the “on” light and decided to try it with the batteries it has. SPOILER: the machine just doesn’t appear to like alkaline batteries. On my outing yesterday, I saw the same behavior: the unit didn’t send many messages, it appeared off when I got done with the bike ride, but the batteries appear to have juice. My solution was to order lithium batteries from Amazon when I got home … they’ll be here before next weekend.

Also, I was worried that I hadn’t oriented the SPOT correctly. It has an antenna in the body and works best when it’s face is up, pointing toward the sky. I don’t intend on wearing it on the top of my bike helmet, so I have a cord around it that I lash to the haul strap of my pack, and I adjust the body under some lashing cords on the back of the pack to ensure it doesn’t turn and face into my pack. It seems like a good setup, but I’m still not getting good results.

imageIn prior years when I wore it on a arm band, the unit worked much better. Again, those were days when I was mountaineering more and my trails were all above tree line, but whether on my arm and facing to the side, or on my back facing behind me, I’d expect similar results.

What were the results? Well, yesterday’s bike ride was a bit over 40 miles on old railroad grade beds, with a lot of it under trees but I passed through several towns in open parks and along roadways. The tracks captured by SPOT are in the map to the right.

It did a bit better. I managed to get a dozen tracks laid in and a single OK response. That’s 12 blips over 20 miles (it only seemed to capture blips in one direction) and a couple hours. Not great.

From the map, it appears that all locations are sequential from Duvall to Snoqualmie … as we’d done a round trip, this says that I didn’t get a single blip on our northward leg (we left from Snoqualmie, hit Duvall, and returned). Odd. I didn’t send a lot of “I’m OK” blips but I probably launched 5 of them and I did those while off the bike in some part of open land.

The end result is pretty modest in terms of a reliable, emergency response device. I’ll continue to play around with how I orient it and will be using lithium batteries going forward but this is downright disappointing in terms of value for the dollars I spend on the service.

I know a SPOT has the challenge of pushing data to the satellites for my location; a GPS merely has to pull in the signal from the satellites and do a bit of math (well, the SPOT does this, too, but it has to register or signal the satellites with “I’m OK” and to capture my progress for real-time display). How much easier does this make the job for the GPS? Well, here is the track my GPS captured:

image   image

Each tiny dot is a separate instance recorded where the GPS was talking to at least three satellites and the figuring out my exact location.

The elevation profile on the right has us starting in Snoqualmie at ~725’ in elevation, dropping to ~300’ at Duvall, and then returning on the same trail. News flash: it’s way harder to send information to satellites than read the data they’re transmitting.

So, while I look like Inspector Gadget as I head down the trail with my SPOT, my GPS, and often a dedicated camera attached to various straps, it appears I need (or desperately want) this sort of redundancy in functionality. Expect that I’ll continue to play with my SPOT to get the best results … the promise of it working well really is worth it … and I’ll keep my GPS so I will reliably know where I’ve been.

And thank you for finding your way to this site and the end of this post. I hope your trails are less ambiguous!

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The bench/trellis

Posted by joeabbott on July 1, 2017

The other day I made a thing: a simple bench with an overhead trellis. I have a little more work to do on it, but we can get into that at the bottom of this post … let’s talk about the thing that’s done!

The model

As with all woodworking projects, I started this one with a simple model in SketchUp; using that tool allows me to figure out the joints and connections. I have a few comments about that but I’m going to hold off and post those thoughts later. But, I always start with a model so that’s how I wanted to start my post!

The structure

The basic trellis (as I’ll call this thing) is a 4×4 frame with a lighter canopy and some slats for a bench. I started by notching out the 4×4 posts I’d use for the legs to accept the bench crosspiece, and cut the top ends of the posts to accommodate the canopy crosspiece.

The picture on the left shows me tying the four leg posts together so I can make a single cut across them all to ensure the location of the joint would be identical. This works great and really makes things more accurate. On the right you can see the finished cut for the bench crosspiece. And on the far right, you can see a test piece fitting very nicely.

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I learned something here that I’m concerned I’d learned before but forgotten: when I cut the slot, I make many passes with a circular saw taking ~1/8” off each pass. The saw rides on a track that I can position exactly where I want the cut to fall. However, I chose to make a cut, then move the track over the cut and take the next pass. Over any single cut it just means extending the track 1/8” over just-cut open space … but as I was eventually hogging out ~3.5” of material, that track was ultimately riding over a lot of open space. And so I found (during assembly) that the track was starting to dip a bit and cut deeper in the later passes. It wasn’t noticeable while making the cutout, but it was obvious later on.

In the picture above on the far right, the joint looks tight because that crosspiece (which is horizontal in the picture) isn’t at 90° to the leg. It was ever so slightly skewed.

In the picture below on the left, you can see the top, canopy crosspiece cuts coming together; on the right I was cutting a notch opposite where the bench crosspiece fits; that allows me to tie left and right sides together at a lower location. This joint was going to provide structural support so it needed to be tight. I used my table saw to cut the rounded edges off the part I was nesting into the legs and took a lot of very careful passes when making the notch. I wanted that slot to be tight, tight, tight!

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WP_20170625_12_16_48_ProDry assembly

I assembled it without fasteners and found my problem with the notches being slightly different depth (rats) but it also told me that things were coming together fine. Once I was happy, with the fits, I ran lag screws through the lower crosspiece and into the bench crosspiece. I mean this joint:

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When I first put them together, I didn’t notice the gaps … heck, tighten three lag bolts snuggly enough and you’ll clean up most any gap. It became really obvious when I looked at the tops of the posts and noticed they were splayed out. By loosening the lag bolts enough ensure the vertical posts were at 90°, you could easily see the gap:

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On the left you can see my “best” joint, on the right you can see the worst. Pretty gappy. <insert sad face here>.

But, the thing that mattered most to these joints was the up-and-down gap … of which there isn’t much. These members are in downward compression so, as long as they have  a goodly amount of crosspiece seated into the post, they’ll be fine. And, because I covered this part with a “skirt”, no one will be the wiser. Sshhh!!

The move

To get this positioned outside I called in my ace mover specialist friend, Suzanne. And, it was fairly painless. I had an old dolly I’d made myself that was the perfect size to hold two leg posts. I used a couple clamps just to keep it from sliding, Suzanne kept everything straight WP_20170625_14_43_09_Prowhile we rolled this over the aggregate driveway (probably the hardest job), and I simply lifted the far end and pushed.

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Once we got it to the platform (now with gravel in it), we hefted it off the dolly, positioned it on the tree opening, dug down a bit to seat the legs, and it was time for me to put in the seat!

The seat and arm rests

This was the only adlib part to the plan: I raised the seat. You see, when I was building the model, I forgot that I’d want to bury the legs a bit and so I had put the seat about a foot off the ground. It’s a low seat to start with and, after sinking the legs a bit, felt somewhat too low. So, with a couple 2×4 spacers I was able to bring the seat up the distance I’d buried the legs!

Here you can see both the 2×4 spacers and the “skirt” I’d mentioned earlier that I used to hide the gaps:

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After that I laid in the slats for the seat, crafted a couple arm rests (more handy for setting down drinks!) and was done for the day! I have to admit I’m not excited about the way I have the seat slats sticking so far over the ends of the bench. If I didn’t have the gaps caused by the leg posts it might not look so odd … see the picture below, to the right. But, with them being long, I can easily come back sometime and snip it off or change the look another way. No need to address that now!

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Almost done

While I’m very happy with the look as-is, I still need to do two things: install some horizontal sections between the leg posts so a climbing vine has something to grab, and build a planter to home that climbing vine!

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Thanks for looking in at our latest project!

Posted in Home projects, Woodworking | Tagged: , | 1 Comment »

SPOT–love it, hate it

Posted by joeabbott on June 30, 2017

I have a SPOT device that tracks my movement by relaying my locations to a satellite that then stores the data. When I’m on a long hike, I can setup a page for Suzy to view and track my progress. The SPOT has only a couple buttons: one to turn it on, another to start tracking regular movement, a third button will send an “I’m OK” message, and a final button can be configured to send a custom message … this could be anything from “come look for me but don’t send authorities” (sending in a search team can cost big dollars!), “drop food at the agreed on stash”, or “I’m getting close to our pick up spot … bring the car to get me!” Again, it could be anything but I’m only allowed a single custom message.

The SPOT also comes with a hotline straight to authorities that will trigger a search and rescue action, and it’s the main selling point of the system. I hike alone far less these days than I did in my youth, but I’ve agreed with Suzy to carry this most anytime I leave home.

When it’s working, I love it. A couple years back I was on a kayaking trip and at the end of the outing, I had a line of dots on the map that showed nearly my every paddle stroke. But when you get under even superficial tree cover or the unit isn’t positioned “correctly”, you get what I got during the ~10 hours I was out last Saturday: a few points the entire day. Here’s the map:

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While some of this trip was under trees … the start, as you can tell … most was only moderately covered and I should have picked up more than 8 points. And that includes both those initiated by me as “I’m OK” messages, as well as those that tracked my regular movement. Oh, and when I got back, the three brand new alkaline batteries (yes, I should be using lithium) were completely drained … or the system had turned itself off. And that might be a good feature: for the unit to realize it’s useless and to try saving a little battery or something!

It’s just darned disappointing because when it works, it’s a wonder.

I’ll keep trying to use it, as I have the service for another year, but I’m sure hoping something happens to make this a more reliable tool.

Sorry for the bummer post … believe me, I would have liked something a bit more upbeat!

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For the “made me smile” folder

Posted by joeabbott on June 26, 2017

I was looking through my phone snaps and this one caught my eye. Found myself smiling as I remembered being in northern Minnesota with Suzy a few months back at Jay Cooke State Park just outside Duluth. I knew I had to post when I felt myself snapping back to my work mindset after a quick mental vacation.

Suzy at Jay Cooke State Park, Minnesota

Thanks for looking in.

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Carbon Glacier–a hiking classic

Posted by joeabbott on June 25, 2017

Today I feel drained. Well, that’s not the right word … there’s not less of me; perhaps sated is closer. It’s true I’m fatigued and my feet are tender, but we could have a conversation and I’d fill it with words: I would paint pictures of graphite-colored ice, of soaring blades of stone, of trails piercing the greenery of a new summer, and the massive bulk of Mt. Rainier over-watching it all.

P6240002But, I’ll try fewer words and a few more pictures than usual. if you find yourself around Mt. Rainer and have a strong trekking gait (or, better yet, a mountain bike), I recommend you retrace my steps. Yesterday’s was a beautiful outing.

P6240007Tim and I headed into the Mt. Rainier National Park via the Carbon River entrance. The road in has been washed out and allowed to remain closed to motor vehicle traffic, but that appears to increase the allure of those on foot and bike. We chose to bike in the first 5 miles to the end of the road; the Ipsut Creek Campground and Trailhead. From there we locked up the bikes and headed out on foot.P6240004

The road in is solid but one section was greatly reduced and eroded; we even had to walk our bikes over that section. And while the trail seemed reasonably flat, we were huffing and puffing to get in and up. I chalked it up to our eagerness to start the hike proper, but would later learn (as we coasted back to the cars at high speed) that the way in was deceptively steep.

At Ipsut Creek Campground we locked out bikes and helmets, grabbed a little something to eat, marveled at the number of people we’d already seen around, and headed out at a modestly respectable 8AM departure from the trailhead.

Ipsut Falls    P6240014

P6240016In less than a quarter mile you hit Ipsut Falls. A lovely cascade that I’d never spent much time appreciating. As we had nothing but time and an itinerary of our choosing, we paused for some snaps before heading on. After a short bit of uphill through some heavy forest, you break out into a washout area that is a spillway for the Carbon River when waters crest and flood a low valley section. We traversed this, stopping for a snack and pics.

After a few foot bridges, we crossed to the far forest and headed upslope toward the Carbon Glacier and points beyond!

The streams were high but nearly all bridges were easily passable. One bridge was under water but the park service had created another, identical bridge just upstream from it. Not sure why it didn’t make sense to salvage this one, but they hadn’t consulted me!

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Just before the Carbon Glacier there’s a turn-off that crosses a suspension bridge. Our initial plans hadn’t included trails on the far side, but Tim couldn’t pass up a chance to cross it and investigate. As we had all afternoon, I was game.

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We crossed, headed up the trail to the Carbon Creek Campground, and then sat by a small tributary and enjoyed a small break; the cool air coming off the glacial waters was heavenly on this hot day. Soon enough, it was time to get to the titular Carbon Glacier itself.

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I’d been by this glacier several times in the past and find it more than a little sad to see it so degraded. As with nearly all glaciers, it’s in decline with its icy snoot receding toward the mountain. But, since I’d last seen it, the terminus had collapsed and water no longer issued from the ice caves at the forefront, now they skirt the old glacier itself and stream from the sides. But, it was a very fine day and enjoyable to see one of the wonders of the Pacific Northwest: might Mt. Rainier lording benevolently over the Park on a simply gorgeous day.

With encouragement from Tim, we continued up the trail some 1500’ in elevation gain to near the saddle. While we weren’t able to get the singular views of Mt. Rainier that were constantly promised (but never delivered) after “just the next turn in the trail”, we got some needed training and enjoyed a final snack next to a stream coming off the higher basin.P6240050

And with that …foot sore and soaked in sweat, we tramped down the trail seeing every passerby on their way up looking far fresher than we had felt on the way in. Past the suspension bridge, past the valley of foot bridges and cairns, down past Ipsut Falls and into the campground. We paused momentarily before hopping aboard our bikes and nearly flying to the car. So ended a phenomenal day, a simple walk in the Park.

Thanks for looking in and I hope your weekends are as rewards.

Posted in Hiking | Tagged: | 1 Comment »

Next up … bench and trellis

Posted by joeabbott on June 22, 2017

OK, I normally don’t post until I’m done with a project, but I’m finding I finish and yet fail to post. And then I don’t post for a while and suddenly slam out a bunch of disconnected posts.Well, my posts will be just as disconnected but let’s get some content out more regularly, OK?

imageI built a small platform off the side of my driveway where a couple trees died and now we want to build a trellis. I guess I should detail the deck/platform for a start.

The land around my driveway falls off quickly so I didn’t want to build a deck/platform that would either erode that land or cause forces that push against the thing I was putting in. I just don’t have a lot of earth to hold it in place. So, I wanted the deck/platform to be a “shelf” or “tray” to hold some gravel. It took a long time coming up with a plan I liked but I finally decided on this … the driveway would be level with the right-side and the raised part around the edges would help keep someone from stepping off. Additionally, the long legs both near the driveway and in back would be deep enough to keep it from moving. As we’ll see later, that worked a bit “too well”.

imageI built most of the entire thing out of 4×4 pressure treated timber that I used mortise and tenon joints to hold it together. I started by building what I called the “H” shapes … you’ll have to squint at the picture to the left but it’s one of the outside\end ‘H’ sections.

Ignore the clothing hanging on it … while I was installing them, it was hot as heck and I was using this one to dry my bandanas on!

The long, vertical timber to the right is the longest upright; then the two vertical timbers … you can see those in the mockup image above and to the right. The far vertical member is supported by a “tool” I build specially to allow me to set these H shapes up in my garage as I dry-fit them to ensure everything worked well.

And, just like the model, everything worked great!

2017-05-29 10.46.41I then dug the eight holes for the legs (the bottoms of the H shapes) to fit into. That sucked. Sorry for the slight vulgarity, Mom … but it was a nasty, nasty job. First, I designed these things with legs that were too long. They won’t move, but I could have gotten away with half as long, I’d guess. But, I’m not so smart and I would rather over-build than take a chance. So … a lot of digging.

Then, I was going through an area that was comprising the driveway bed. Super-compacted, LOTS of rocks, and some of the worst digging I’ve done on this property. And I’ve done my share. Brutish work that had me sore for a week. And, yes, I was using a manual post-hole digger.

Also, because I didn’t want to take away too much material, I was digging the smallest possible holes … so, just about 6-inches in diameter. I felt great about nesting a 3.5” post into that size hole but, as I found out, it gave me almost zero capacity to maneuver stuff around. And when I had to clear a stone from the hole, I was laying on my side with my arm completely in the hole, scraping around and trying to loosen the offending rock.

As I was putting all the H-shapes in, and then trying to get the vertical parts to nest into their mortises, I was hitting all sorts of problems getting tight fits. I couldn’t nudge things left and right or wiggle them about to get a good fit. Some parts would nest really well and then I’d run out of room getting another piece to fit into the web of timbers I’d created. it was a mess that frustrated and had me spitting.

In the end, I lived with a bunch of gaps but the concrete I poured around the posts locked everything solid as can be. Here are a few “action” shots:

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After letting the concrete in the above parts set, I laid down some 2×6 PT timber as a base, covered it with landscape fabric, and then piled in about 3” of crushed gravel. The result is a very nice, very solid surface on which to place the bench.

In my next post I’ll show you what it looks like now, and some of the pictures of the bench that I’m constructing. I have to hurry if I want this done by the time my out of town guests arrive … that’s a good motivating factor for getting it done!

Thanks for looking in!

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Stuff I built

Posted by joeabbott on June 21, 2017

Over the past couple years I’ve struggled when taking my bike places. In the early days I had a small, hatchback car … we bought the sort of bike carrier for it that hung off the back and attached with straps but that never fit well and seemed sketchy. When I got an SUV I ended up just placing the bike on its side in the back. If I was hauling both Suzy’s and my bike, you’d end up worrying about potential damage you were doing to the bikes.

So, with the purchase of my truck and and getting back into biking a bit, I wanted to build a rack.

Over the past few months I thought about various wooden racks I could build … thought through the shapes and sizes, but nothing seemed “just right”. And then I turned to the Internet! Sure enough, out on YouTube, I found someone had built a rack using PVC for around $25 … just the ticket.

I followed the instructions, used a modification someone in the comments suggested, and in an evening came up with a serviceable setup. It felt a bit flimsy but I hadn’t set the pieces at that time so I went ahead with gluing and nesting the parts together with a small mallet. And … tada:

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In the picture the white parts are the modification; for thin tires these really help hold a bike upright a lot better. They’re a bit of a nuisance as you need to lift the bike in and out of the rack (you can’t just wheel it forward into the slot) but they’re a lot more steady. I will note that, when traveling, I will be lashing the bikes down with nylon straps (both front and back), and in that configuration they’re rock solid and barely move.

Also, full credit goes to Suzy on the painting. In the pictures she hadn’t finished yet so it’ll be completely black when it’s all finished, but she did a really good job of changing the look from Big Box Rig Something Up look to a more respectable rack. Here are a couple other pics:

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And, in the way of credit, here are the two sources I used for the instructions and seeing someone else put of of these together:

If you need a simple bike rack that works well either in the back of your truck or just for setting up in the garage, I highly recommend this project. It’s quick, cheap, and surprisingly solid.

Thanks for dropping in!

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Where’d I go last weekend? Good question!

Posted by joeabbott on June 19, 2017

I headed up to Mt. Dickerman.

Mt. Dickerman is a moderate hike on moderately good trials that ends in excellent views in a phenomenal area. It’s about 85 miles from my front door, making it about 20 miles from the property we own up in Granite Falls. As a matter of fact, you’d be hard pressed not to go through Granite Falls to get to the trailhead! That’s where I found myself going with my buddies Tim and Heath, two guys who are training with me to do the Snoqualmie-to-Steven’s Pass hike later this summer.

The Mt. Dickerman trail runs about 4 miles … one sign indicated 4.3 miles … and gains some 4000’ in elevation. Due to its location, from the top, you are given commanding views of mountains in all directions: Forgotten, Pugh, Glacier, Sloan, Columbia, and Big Four to name a few … unfortunately for us, low clouds kept most of the more distant peaks from us but what we could see made the hike worth it.

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It took 2.5-3 hours to get to the summit, with about a third of the going through moderate snow. The more icy, hard-packed slopes had me wishing I’d brought a boot with a firmer sole, but my Keen hikers treated me well on the trail. The best part about the outing is that, after it was over, I was a little sore if my leg muscles were rubbed but, for the most part, didn’t have any problems with stiffness and could easily get up and down the stairs. While that’s a pretty low bar to be proud about, it’s showing good progress and giving me hope that I’ll be ready for the summer hiking when it starts in earnest!

Thanks for looking in!

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