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Posts Tagged ‘hiking’

SPOT apologies … sort of

Posted by joeabbott on July 16, 2017

Well, I got out on a hike yesterday with the SPOT using lithium batteries … and, yes, while installing them I saw the printed notice to use only lithium batteries in this unit. And, I think I got better results. First, here’s the map from my wanderings:


We started and ended at the far left … at Rattlesnake Lake or, more properly, Cedar Falls Trailhead. Our route took us east about 10 miles on our bikes to the McClellan Butte trail intersection (we cut off about a quarter- to half-mile of the trail by riding in) and then up the hill to the summit. Due to there being a Mountaineers climbing party on the trail, as well as about a half-dozen couples or small groups, we omitted the scramble to the true summit. I find the thrill of being on top of something is diminished by crowds and the danger added with over a dozen others up top just wasn’t worth the risk.

Anyhow, the SPOT did a lot better … it signaled nearly all of the “I’m OK” messages (the checkmarks) but was again pretty spotty (hehe … lame pun intended) on the parts of the trail with even modest tree cover. The ride in took about a leisurely hour and we only got a few tracks marked … interestingly, the coming and going signals were in the same locations (2 and 12, 3 and 11). The trail didn’t appear heavily treed but the route up McClellan’s Butte was … and, as you see, we only got signals out at the summit.

I continue to be hopeful and disappointed by the SPOT performance but the improvement I saw this week was heartening. As you can see, I’m an optimist in these sort of things. I’ll keep dragging it about in hopes of better tracking on my trails to come.

I’ll end with the view I got from the top … a picture-perfect Seattle day with rolling green hills, multiple ridgelines to the horizon and Mt. Rainier above it all. Hard to get much better than this.


Thanks for dropping by and taking a look at my doings.

Posted in Hiking | Tagged: , , | 3 Comments »

Where has the time gone?

Posted by joeabbott on September 5, 2015

I used to delight in replying to this question with the nonsensical statement: it’s gone to a small town in rural Ohio. Not sure why I chose Ohio, but it seems diminutive and out of the way, so it felt like a safe place for time to go when it needs a timeout.

But, more importantly, where did I go and what have I been doing?

Mostly, I needed my own timeout; a chance to recharge my batteries, avoid the routines, and just take a break. My life is one of relative leisure, but I felt I needed just a bit more nonetheless. And so I woke up on the weekends, played games or got on with the day, and completely neglected my blog. For a month. I’m back now … not with a vengeance but I’m back. Let’s get on with the stories.

imageAnother hike

When we last parted, my family had been out and I’d strolled up Skyscraper Mountain; my first “summit” in a very long time. Well, that subsequent weekend an old friend of mine took me on a jaunt up Dog Mountain.

It’s a small summit about an hour’s drive from North Bend, WA on forestry roads and of little repute. As the trail is no longer maintained, we had the peak to ourselves that very fine day and, while we didn’t reach the very tip-top, we had gentle sun, gorgeous views, and a good workout.


It’s a nice outing and one made nicer yet by joining Syd and her pooch, Roxy.

Paddling on

For the last 22 years I’ve been getting out each summer with a group of guys. I’d say we’re all relatively young but the truth is, that statement only made sense 22 years ago and by now, we’re all getting a bit grey; even the spritest of us.

At one point in our journey I was behind Dan, who doffed his cap and exposed his short-cropped, fairly white/grey hair. I then exclaimed, “what? I’m going to be following a Q-Tip the rest of the trip?!” Dan let me know that cut deeply … and so it became an oft refrain the rest of the day.

But, because I wasn’t sure my legs would hold up to a heavy pack, I chose another kayaking trip; and while it played out similarly to our 2011 outing, we put in a lot of miles on the water and saw a lot of new things.


Leaving from Friday Harbor, we stopped at Jones Island for a night. And, as we saw the clouds moving in and listened to the weather reports announcing small craft advisories, we stayed a second night. Dan and I paddled over to Shaw Island that next day, sheltered from most of the wind by the many islands thereabouts, but we got rained on as we moved along. It’s actually not bad and maybe even a little nice.

The following day we were eager to be on our way so, rather than wait for the tides to change in our favor, we paddled against the current and got to Sucia Island just after noon … 4.5 hours in the boat. On the island we staked a campsite and then walked the trails until dark, where we sat shore-side for dinner and played cards until the moon and owls were out. It’s a breathtakingly beautiful spot.


We had another day on the water before heading home and we spent that getting close to Friday Harbor. We’d never stayed on Shaw Island, so we paddled over to Indian Cove and put up the tent for the last time this year. As it was high summer we had a lot of daylight left, so we walked the beach a couple times, tossed rocks, read books, and yucked it up before calling it a day.

image  image

And that last day we returned to San Juan Island paddling slowly, going the short distance in as long a time as leisure would permit. The madrona trees were particularly beautiful, their red-brown trunk and branches reaching out from the islands; the tide pools teeming with life, the morning waves gently lapping at the hull. It’s a good time to be on the water. But, we beached soon enough, got home early, and I felt vibrant with no aches or pains to speak of. Good trip.

The rain returns

After a half year of pain in my ankles and knee, the past few weekends felt wonderful; so good I didn’t want to stop my weekend hikes. And so, when my other yearly hike was canceled due to fires in the area we wanted to wander, Pete and I took a much shorter hike just to stay in touch. The rain, however, had returned.

image  image

It returned to the degree that we sat atop Rattlesnake Ledge for a short break, enjoying a small droplet of rain here and there, and before we knew it, everything closed up and we got dumped on. We were completely soaked by the time we got to the car … Gore-Tex or not!


And that’s about it. I’m sure a thing or two of merit happened in there that I’m missing, but those are some of the highlights. I did manage to finish an August shop project, but I’ll write about that later.

Thanks for dropping in and apologies for the delays. I’d promise better going forward but I’m not sure I can keep up to that commitment. The timeout I took felt good and I’m not sure the leisurely life is done with me yet! Let’s see what tomorrow holds!

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Another outing with Pete: Mt. Adams

Posted by joeabbott on August 10, 2014

IMG_2710imageAbout 10 years ago I started to do a bit more hiking and a bit less climbing\mountaineering; at that time, I found a great partner for annual hikes in the person of Pete, a friend from work.

We don’t pal around but he and his wife have done a few things with Suzy and I (mostly enjoy Cirque du Soleil shows when they’re in town); we work relatively close to each other at work, but we don’t “do lunch”; we have common friends and yet, we don’t bump into each other often at gatherings.

So, it’s either a little odd or perfectly natural that at our annual outings, things just go smoothly and we share a harmonious time together in the great outdoors. I look forward to getting out with Pete every year.

2014 marked our eighth annual outing. I was surprised because it seemed like we’d done this a bit, but I wasn’t ready to hear eight … that’s a biggish number. Our past trips have taken us to:

P7250007Last year was a bit of a death march; in part for the rain, in part of the elevation gain, but mostly because our desk jobs aren’t letting us get the workout we need to be in shape for lugging a bunch of weight up the hill! So, for this year, we wanted an easier hike so I chose Mt. Adams as our destination.

I remembered this area from years ago: as other friends and I were out, we had found a wonderful campsite on a small knoll in the middle of an open field. The site was sheltered by a tree and a happy nearby creek provided clean water. I wanted to find that spot and the relatively flat trails to it for my outing with Pete.

Unfortunately, I was last there in 2001 or something like that and couldn’t remember exactly how to get there. So, in our planning, Pete and I picked a  trail and figured we’d find somewhere to flop when we got there.


Pete got to my house sometime after 8:30AM, we had a big breakfast, and then hit the road. The time to trailhead was about 3+ hours, but we suffered from “navigation failure” and it took almost 4 hours. By the time we left the trailhead it was past 2PM but with only 5-ish miles to where we would start looking for a campsite, I wasn’t worried.

The trip in was pretty normal for us: we’d head down the trail, sometimes talking, sometimes taking solace alone in a sweaty, slow grind up the hill. The temps were supposed to be moderate, in the 60s, but it felt much hotter; the bugs were merciless. They’d leave you alone for the most part when you walked but, upon stopping, they’d descend in a cloud. It made the weekend tough but you could always flop in your tent or keep walking to avoid them.

P7250016Sometime around 3 miles the mountain opens up and you’re walking literally on the north flank of Mt. Adams. Absolutely glorious and, looking to the north, you’d get peekaboo views of Mt. Rainier. It’s just a phenomenal place to put in a few miles.

While alone on the trail for the most part, at about 4 miles or so we bumped into a guy who noted a marvelous campsite was just a half mile or so up the trail. While his sense of distance was a bit shaky (we’d only gone a couple hundred yards when we spotted it), he was spot-on with his assessment. This would be “home” for the next few days.

The trail crosses a fast-running creek at one point and then descends into a small flat in a wide circuit; the creek takes a shorter route, rushing over a 20’ waterfall where it circles a spot of land, nearly creating a moat around it. At the center of the small island-like spot is a campsite complete with leaning trees for easy food-hanging, access to the creek for water-pumping, and generous flat spots for your tent. We certainly weren’t the first ones to spot this place as a rather established campfire ring and log benches noted this to be a popular campsite, but for the next few days it was ours.

As we’d started from the trailhead late, we wouldn’t get in much of an evening hike. We setup camp, pumped water, and then escaped the heat and bugs by heading into the tent. I took a bit of a snooze before waking and asking what time it was … about 8PM! Guess the hike in took more out of me than I thought!


We made dinner and then took a quarter-mile stroll to a nearby lake that had some nice views of Mt. Rainier and the setting sun. And, with that, we noted it had clouded up so we headed to the tent, read a bit, and then I drifted off to the sound of the crashing falls and gentle hiss of the quick running stream.

I awoke a couple times that night to address the fact that I’d rehydrated a bit aggressively, and marveled at the night sky; the clouds had cleared and the bajillion stars of a remote sky outlined mountains, displayed the Milky Way, and generally bedazzled my senses. I found the loud waterfall to be a bit unnerving as the usual silent outings I enjoy when camping were replaced with lots of noise. I’m not sure why I was uneasy, but I was, and before I tired of seeing that sky, I headed back into the tent for the rest of the night’s sleep.


The next morning I got out before Pete and headed “uphill” to take a look at the surroundings. I didn’t get far but liked what I saw: a high ridgeline of volcanic detritus that led to what I imagined would be amazing views. But, upon getting back to camp and talking over our options, staying on the flat northern trails seemed more to our mutual liking, so we ate breakfast and then headed around to Foggy Flats and the lava fields on Mt. Adams’ NE flank.


While the SPOT map doesn’t show a trail where we walked, there assuredly was one. Marker #2 was my early morning survey and the markers around #13 and #14 were where we lunched out at the lava fields. In all, we probably hiked four miles out to the fields and that amount back, leaving camp sometime after 8AM and hitting our lunch spot sometime around 11AM.

But, the location was wonderful, the skies a peerless blue, and we found some shade adjacent to a few scrappy trees and friable boulders, where we took lunch and looked over Mt. Adams, the flowing lava fields, and nearby Red Butte (a small dome left by an eruption in the distant past).IMG_2798


After our quick meal, we took our pics and then headed back. I picking a careful route down the loose and dirty slopes we’d ascended until we met up again with the trail. The miles back to camp went quickly but the uneven footing of the trail left us with sore feet and the bugs and heat were reaching the daily crescendo … and so we escaped to the security of the inner tent.

I dozed on and off a bit fitful in my sweat, while it seemed Pete read for most of the afternoon. At about 5PM I arose for another short hike. Pete declined to join me but my early morning jaunt to look “uphill” left me wanting more, and so I grabbed my gear and headed to the crest that stood between our campsite and Mt. Adams.

The way was mostly easy: from the trail just before the bridge over the creek that ran by our campsite, you wander across a flat meadow to a horse camp sheltered by a stand of young poplar trees. Cut through that to yet another waterfall and ascend the climbers’ trail on the north side. From there, you negotiate the gentle slopes of scree and hard snow to the slabby tops of pyroclastic debris. After that, enjoy the views.

I stopped around 6PM, using time over distance or destination for telling me when to turn around. But, I enjoyed it. I enjoyed it a lot. And the “it” here is the being in the mountains, being solo in a great expanse, having worked hard and feeling the strain of travels but still being able to look up and enjoy the day. It was good in a way that’s both deep and personal. I have missed hiking alone in the mountains.

Looking back toward Mt. Rainier

But, the bugs were getting to know me even at these elevations and I hadn’t exactly given Pete my intended destination in the event something went amiss, so I chose to head back.

P7260086P7260093 Stitch

Around 7:30PM or so I got back in and, as the bugs were fewer now, we chose to have dinner, catch a few more views of this grand area, and then to call it a day. It was time for a long long restful sleep.




IMG_2839P7270109I didn’t get up that night and the morning saw us both at our usual efficiencies. Breakfast tea and eats were quickly dispensed with, the various trappings of our campsite were gathered and distributed between us, and we took turns moving our gear from the tent to our packs until there was nothing left but to put our boots to the trail and start walking.

And the way out was both quick and uneventful. It’s a mystery how the temperatures on the trail felt so intensely hot while, when we got to his truck, the inside was air conditioning-cold! But it was … and so I put on chilled but clean cotton clothing and prepared for the ride home.

We unfortunately followed his GPS that put us on a very rutted mountain road. It was long and dirty and full of objective hazards. I had the better time of it, as a passenger, but even at that I was tossed about and very much looking for the end to this unkempt thoroughfare. Other than that, the trip was a bit long but held no real challenges.

Upon arriving at my house, my gear was disgorged from his truck, I tossed it into the garage for later cleaning, and Pete and I parted with a handshake as we do after all hikes. Another good year with a good partner at a great location. The bugs and heat were a bit much, but I’d go back to that spot in an instant. And yet, for next year, I’m already thinking, “we haven’t hiked out on the peninsula yet, have we?”

Thanks for dropping in!

Posted in Hiking | Tagged: , | 1 Comment »

Below Rainier

Posted by joeabbott on August 5, 2013

There’s a hiker at the bottom of the picture, walking away from Mt. Rainier. That’s my buddy Pete … he and I stayed a couple nights at Mystic Lake camp on the north side of Mt. Rainier. I’ll write a bit about it when I get a chance … just thought I’d share a great picture.


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… makes you stronger

Posted by joeabbott on July 28, 2013

A couple weeks back a friend invited me to climb Eldorado and so I’m on a training hike rampage. Last week I did Mt. Pugh on a solo venture and I did surprisingly well. Yes, I did lay down on the trail about 10 minutes off the top and went to sleep (more like “passed out”), but I finally made it and the next day I was still feeling fine. A little tired the day after that, but I was still in pretty good shape.

So it was with an avid interest that I took a buddy of mine up on getting out for another outing; this time we went to Mt. Dickerman.

imageGetting there

Mt. Dickerman is off the Mount Loop Highway, which in the picture to the right is approximately along the red line.

The map itself represents a portion of Washington state NE of Seattle some 50-ish miles. Dickerman lies in the SE section, just across the red line from Big Four Mountain. In an earlier post, I talked about climbing Mt. Pugh … which is due south from White Chuck Mountain (just within the east edge of the map).

So, I headed out to Heath’s house and he drove that familiar route: north on Hwy 9 to Hwy 92, through Granite Falls to the Mt. Loop Highway, and out the 30 miles or so and, just before Barlow Pass, on the north side of the road, we found the parking area for Mt. Dickerman.

The hike

P7210003 StitchThe hike is pretty simple: an easy to follow trail leads you gently up through second growth forest to a summit spread over a few rocky outcroppings along a rolling ridge.

The trip itself is just under 4.5 miles and almost 3900’, so it’s a good, if unremarkable outing. With a partner, it took on the aspect of a leisurely and genial stroll to a high place wherein I took in the sights, took a few pictures and, yes, I took a nap, too.


While Dickerman gives you a workout similar to what many a closer hike might, you’re typically not heading up Dickerman purely for the exercise: it’s for the view.

P7210016 Stitch

I’ve been up Dickerman a time or two, and this time the trip was improved by the good company of my friend, Heath. He’s a solid hiker, a good partner, and kept a steady stream of conversation going even while I was tuckering out and finding it hard to keep up the pace.



If you’re in the vicinity of the Mt. Loop Highway and have the time for a nice hike, consider Dickerman. The views are impressive and, as I found out this past weekend, your journey will be much improved with the right company. Thanks for dropping in and have safe travels.

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What doesn’t kill you …

Posted by joeabbott on July 28, 2013

imageA friend of mine invited me to climb Eldorado and I know I’m not in top-shape, so it was time to train hard. One of my favorite training hikes, albeit, a bit far from home, is Mt. Pugh. Standing just over 7200’, it provides the opportunity to hike roughly 5300 vertical feet in just about 5.5 miles. A solid workout if there ever way one. And it’s on that route I found myself spent and laying on the trail just below the summit when disturbed by a hiker coming off the top.

Let me tell you how I got there.

Getting to Mt. Pugh


Drive up Hwy 9 to Lake Stevens; from there turn onto Hwy 92 just a couple miles north of town and head east. At Granite Falls, drive through town and get to a stop sign at S. Alder Ave; turn left (north) and you’ll find yourself on the Mount Loop Highway.

The Mount Loop Highway wends and winds gently for some 30 miles or so to Barlow Pass … a spot nearly indistinguishable from any other place on the road except the road here bends north, it changes to a gravel road, and there’s a sign indicating such.

Continue north just over 10 miles and you’ll see a fairly well marked Mt Pugh Trailhead sign. Turn up that forest spur and park about a mile and a half further up at the actual trailhead.

Trail to Lake Metan

The trail, in my mind, is broken into three sections: to the lake, to Stujack Pass, to the summit.

The first section, to the lake, is reasonably boring: about a mile and a half of solid trail that clings tightly to the contours of the mountain and makes no apologies for starting to gain elevation immediately.

However, because you do start grinding up right out of the car, it’s nice to look forward to a reasonably quick stopping spot (Lake Metan) and you’re rewarded with peekaboo looks at a clearing through the trees as you head up. In the pictures below, you can see the character of the trail at this point and the lightening of the sky as I start to approach the lake! P7140008P7140009

The trail is through classic second growth forest: old enough to have a bit of girth on the trees but plenty of signs of prior logging activity for those looking for it. But, the timber industry gave me some great roads to access this wonderful area, so I hold no grudges!

The lake itself is fairly non-descript: no water entry or exit, it’s a largish stagnant pond and the flies and mosquitoes are out in force around it. I felt some burning in my heels, so I stopped to tape them up before continuing. And off I went to the second phase …

Trail to Stujack Pass

P7140016P7140017I’m not sure who Stujack was but if his character was anything like his namesake pass, he was a hard, cruel man.

There are times when I’m walking a trail I feel powerful: my strides are confident, my footfalls sure, and I’m moving at pace; a giant within his domain and surveying a world wholly familiar. Then there was how I’d felt heading up Stujack Pass: spent and drained, plodding an endless stair in a stark and barren landscape; a puny puny man.

Stujack Pass gains roughly 800’ in a quarter mile and while the picture at the introduction of this piece is from the top of the Pass, it doesn’t do the steepness any credit whatsoever.

The photo to the left is as I just about hit the clearing before the Pass; the picture on the right is a small “camp area” at the base of the scree field leading up to the Pass.

In the pictures below, I was having a bit of fun at the challenge that lay before me.



The way up, however, is fine for the most part. The trail is over rough scree but it’s very solid and won’t move. Also, there are a lot of wildflowers in the area and it’s fun to look at the pretty colors and gentle shapes of these mountain blooms: mountain lupine, fireweed, Indian paintbrush, shooting star … all quite delicate and lovely.

At the top of the pass you get a break before the next leg of the journey …

P7140056Trail to the Summit

The way to the summit looks impossibly improbable as a destination. The picture to the right is the view from Stujack Pass and the way is hardly obvious.

You gain the low ridge in the foreground by scampering up slick heather, muddy granite, and hard-as-stone ice and then chase that up and down until you get before the large blocky summit in the background. From there you ascend a sloping ledge to a cleft and traverse to the right on downward sloping ledges to a rounded mound just beyond the false summit (the two points) you see in the picture below. The entire way you’re following reasonably clear trail signs and there’s never a question of being truly off route.

P7140057 Stitch

I’m shooting the composite picture to the left from a point on the low ridgeline. The route follows the top of the ridge above the snowline on the right edge of the picture; where the ridge meets the summit block, you find an obvious ramp up before threading around to the left and behind the right shoulder seen here.

The picture below is the “trail” as you head up. Look for the trail signs leading from the bottom-center of the picture off to the right and away.


As I got just behind the false summit, I simply lay down in the trail and asked myself if I really wanted to continue or if where I was at that point was good enough. I’d climbed Pugh before and didn’t remember the exposure and certainly not the fact that it was a bit spooky. I was also dog-tired and needed to rest; my heart had been straining a bit too long.

imageAnd so, as I lay there, I fell asleep. Only for a few minutes, but certainly to sleep.

I awoke to footsteps coming from above, and estimated the owner was about a half dozen yards away. I got up and out of the way and the fella coming down was genial and one of those instantly likeable people. We exchanged a few words and he shared that the top wasn’t even 10 minutes off, even at a slow pace. So with our parting, I continued up and, true to his words, within a few minutes I summited Mt. Pugh.

It was a tough hike but, happily, my legs weren’t sore, just very tired. I spent the better part of an hour on that summit, enjoying the views, the fact that I was alone, and that I’d knocked off a goodly hike. But, sooner than I’d wanted, it was time to pack up and head home.

The way down was without incident. I got a bit off trail following that low ridge below the summit but above Stujack … I just clung to the ridgeline too long. At one point I looked down on hearing voices, saw that I overshot the trail to the Pass, and traversed down to intersect the trail. The snow and ice made things trickier than I’d hoped. I had instep crampons but managed to trip on some mud-slick heather and gave myself a little ice-rash. It stung but there was no hurt.

At the Pass I nodded to a trio of hikers who didn’t appear to be ready to go farther on the trail, stowed my crampons, and headed down the steep scree field.

Trails take on a unique quality on the way down. A path that seems smooth and even on the slow, plodding way up, becomes more root-strewn and rocky on the quicker pace coming down. Before I got to Lake Metan my knees were sore and my feet were afire with pain. I’d estimated I was a mile or so from my car so I started counting strides, thinking I took about a 3’ step, I hoped I’d get to 1000 and then be there. At 1200 I stopped counting but it wasn’t long after that I found myself by my car and eager to get my boots off.

The mosquitoes were ravenous, however, so I had to jump in without changing and drive off the forest road and down to the Mt. Loop Highway before I pulled over and was able to change into clean, dry clothes and put on a pair of sandals. Bliss.


Mt. Pugh is a great hike in its own but really good for preparing a climber for bigger challenges. I’d be to the top of this peak again, sooner than I thought, but was happy to be off this time. The trip up Pugh definitely will make me stronger but it’ll take a while before I realize that strength. For now, I need a rest.

Thanks for looking in.

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Where has Joe been? Summer!

Posted by joeabbott on July 7, 2013

The small circles of my life have brought me here and there, with the “here” for the most part being “Seattle” and the “there” being largely “Minnesota”. And still, I’ve seen Vermont in the fall, Houston in the summer, Yosemite in the winter, and small slices of time in many places in between. In those travelings I declare Minnesota to having the best autumn: the crisp, clear days, the evenings with the feel of winter coming on; the endless blue of the sky and blazing color of the forest preparing for a rest; and football being the talk and sport of all. I really like Minnesota autumns.

But summer belongs to the Pacific Northwest. The lazy mornings, gentle warmth of the afternoons, and mild sit-out-on-your-deck-and-enjoy-the moderate-temp evenings. Glorious. The horizons are toothed with mountains, there’s plenty of water nearby for those who like such things, and the bugs are (for the most part) mercifully few. Yes, even the rain takes a holiday during Seattle summers.

Here’s how I’ve been filling up those days and weekends for the past month or so.

Week of Suz

WP_20130609_004I have few pictures from WoS this year. It was a mild stretch of days where work schedules kept us from taking too much time off and the main focus was giving Suzy a break from the kitchen and spending a bit of quality time together.

Now, for those who are late to the party, so to speak, WoS is the week we spend celebrating her birthday. This is a tradition we’ve had for a while, I think we picked it up from one of her coworkers: taking an entire week out to celebrate one’s next year on the calendar. In the past we’ve enjoyed lavish events with big gifts and lots of adventure. I’m not sure if this approach has lost its novelty, if too many have tempered our excitement for them, or if we just have everything we need to be happy without adding a lot more to our lives. Regardless, this year Suzy enjoyed a card and small gift each day, we had a nice meal out each evening, and in the spaces in between we’d weed the yard, tend to small chores, or sit on the deck together.

We did make a sojourn down to Legendary Doughnuts, picked up a dozen treats, and promptly froze most of them for later treating. There’s no way we could comfortably eat that many doughnuts and we’ve been to Legendary enough to know what holds well (the Buttermilk Bars are a wonderful treat and freeze perfectly) and what makes a great snack midweek. Even if our current diet dictates only enjoying half a doughnut on any given day.

Oh, and the picture to the left … that’s from a home cotton candy maker that was loaned to us by Suzy’s brother for a later event that I’ll be talking about!

Conrhole Game

P1030629Every year my wife’s family gets together at the beginning of summer to celebrate the late spring, early summer birthdays, to welcome summer, and to spend a day together. Suzy almost always hosts this event and plans a theme around that gathering. I’ll write more about the party in a separate post but for this year I offered to build a “Cornhole Game” boards.

Now, I’d heard about the Cornhole game from back in the Midwest; my brother-in-law Fred explained it’s the one game a Wisconsinite could partake in while maintaining a grip on his beer. Fair enough. The instructions on how to make a game were easily findable on the web … I used this site … and building them was straight forward. Suzy picked up some corn bags from Amazon and we were all set.

The hardest part was painting them but they came out rather well and, in spite of what I thought were obvious flaws, no one said a word.


Mt. Rainier National Park

imageI taught MOFA (Mountain-Oriented First Aid) for the Mountaineers for many years and quite of few of those years with Syd P. She is an excellent instructor and I miss our yearly socializing time now that I’m no longer involved in teaching. But, that doesn’t mean we can’t get together “just because”. So last year sometime I dropped her a note and we planned to get out and hike. Then the winter rains set in and so we looked forward to spring. Then summer was on us. Fortunately, our schedules and the weather aligned so we took time to get a little hike in. I “let” Syd plan the hike and, either in retaliation for my lack of doing anything or simply because she’s in much better shape than I, she planned a 17 mile hike into Mt. Rainier National Park to the Carbon Glacier and back. In one day.


The map to the right shows our route: 8.5 there, and the same number back. Now, for the most part, the trail in was on an old forest service road. A few years back, flooding destroyed the roadbed and they’re only maintaining that first five miles for foot (and bike) traffic. So, pretty easy hiking.

Regardless, it was a long way.

Still, it was enjoyable and a right treat to sync up with Syd, talk about old times, new times, catch up on the happenings of our respective spouses and quiet lives. Good stuff all around.


imageThe one “bad” part was using my SPOT which, once again, recorded just a fraction of the points along the trail (SPOT map to the right). While I had it on the entire way, it only captured three “hits” from the entire 9-hour tracking session!

Not great.

And. yes, we were under tree cover most of the entire way, but it’s still hard to see my GPS tracking session with it’s roughly 850 breadcrumb tracks (the map above) and compare that to my paid-subscription-SPOT-tracking and see three tracks. Grrr.

I have many more photos up on my Flickr site … just look for the Carbon Glacier 2013 set and enjoy!


And that’s it! Sure there’ve been other things and the big party (which I’ll write about a bit later), but I’ve had easy going weekends … just the way a summer was intended to be!

Thanks for dropping in!

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Small doings

Posted by joeabbott on February 10, 2013

It’s been a heckuva week here: Suzy and I both got off last weekend feeling a bit ill and we had busy days at work; she had a photo shoot and I had a team-wide meeting I was running. But, we ended the week on a good note (enjoying a little time on Friday watching old TV shows) and spending a lazy Sunday in payment for our Saturday efforts.

imageOn Saturday Suzy did yardwork and I hiked Mailbox Peak. Both efforts left us reasonably sore but much less than I would have thought, in my case.

Mailbox Peak is a local highpoint on a ridgeline just outside North Bend, WA and the trail up it provides a stiff ascent and solid cardio workout. A relatively new friend at work showed a lot of interest in getting out into the hills and expressed concern that none of his current companions gave much of a good showing on the trails: they would do fairly easy hikes and he was ready for more.

I offered a number of options on which to take him but he was new enough to the sport that he had really no opinion. I suggested Mailbox Peak (referred to by many of my friends as Asskicker Peak) and pointed him to the attendant links on the webs where he could get more information.

Mailbox Peak isn’t a formal mountain but the hike is renowned by local climbers as a solid workout and all-around good place to go to a) avoid the masses that head up nearby Mt Si trail, b) try your mettle on a rough trail that goes up steeply, and c) test whether you’re ready for “bigger things”.

With so little to go on from my friend (he said he was running 3 miles a night and hiking nearly all weekends), I opted for Mailbox as a reality check for me and a good workout for him. While it certainly was the former, it nearly did in my friend.

It’s about 400’ vertical and half a mile from where you park the car to the trailhead proper. In typical self-deprecating style and as a way of making conversation, at the trailhead I offered that I was already winded … I was a little surprised to hear my friend (far less self-deprecating that I) echo my sentiment. I started to worry whether this was the right trip for him.

We started up and about a mile into the journey he was having real problems. I offered that we could head back down and find another, easier hike nearby but he convinced me anything short of a summit would be failure and he wasn’t one to back off a challenge. And so up we went. At around 4000’ you start to break out of the trees and while the day was very overcast/socked in, the glare made my lapse of including sunglasses quite trying. Again I offered to call it a day, this time because the sunlight was bugging my eyes, but I was told we needed to summit, and so I continued to plod on: heading up a couple hundred feet, waiting for my friend, starting up again after waiting a few minutes with him.

From the contour map you can see that I nearly made it to the summit: I was about 200 yards from the top when I saw him collapse and not get up. I waited and waited but he didn’t budge. At one point another small group of folks passed him and he remained seated … I knew our day was over. I had the choice of running up to touch the literal mailbox that sits atop the peak, but there were no views on that day and I’ve been to the top of Mailbox Peak plenty often … the summit would wait.

So, I plunge-stepped down to him and he said he was spent, nothing left. We talked, I cajoled, and soon we were heading down: me plunge-stepping, him glisading (sitting down and sliding). The way down was treacherous without traction devices (something I’d errantly left on the shelf on the way out the door) but we got to a spot that allowed us a small meal: he had a box lunch from Starbucks, I enjoyed a chicken sandwich I’d made at home.

While sending out hiking beta for him to share with his wife, or for his own perusal, I left a timeline that had us returning to the cars by 3PM; when I found us leaving our high point at about 2:30PM, I knew our time was blown. I didn’t imagine my guess would be so off.

Through the next couple of hours we’d head down repeating the process we used ascending: I’d march ahead a bit, wait, see him arrive, wait a bit more, and repeat. While I wasn’t annoyed that someone had overdone it and was really tired (how many of my hiking companions compensated for mistakes I’d made in my hiking/climbing career?), I was disappointed this came about because of a machismo credo of “my body may be spent but I can will myself on!” sort of attitude. In my experience, that sort of thinking is overrated. Was Mallory really the first person to climb Mt. Everest? We’ll never know and it doesn’t matter: he didn’t come home.


Regardless, it was a fine day and one that really tested me in a number of ways. I dropped my chum off at his car and we’ve made loose plans on another hike on some weekend in the near future; he did request that we make it a much easier hike. But, today I’m fit and able to move about without significant discomfort, in part (I’m certain) to Suzy giving my feets a bit of a rub at the end of the day. I also made a call before getting home yesterday saying, “I’m ready for carbo-loading at Azteca (a local Mexican restaurant)” and so we enjoyed that at the end of my long Saturday.

And today? Not much in the way of being too busy: I turned some leaves in Chickenville to give the chickens something to scratch and peck in (and hope to keep them out of the work Suzy did yesterday), I cleared a bit of rubble from the backyard, and enjoyed a small shopping expedition. In all, small doings and I look forward to another busy week. I hope your weekend was as enjoyable as mine. Thanks for looking in!

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Test Lab Hike–White Pass/Pilot Ridge, part 5 of 5

Posted by joeabbott on September 14, 2012

Day 5 – Blue Lake to North Fork Sauk Trailhead


P9030332This is the last of five parts:

Part 1: To White Pass
Part 2: Rest day at White Pass
Part 3: To Blue Lake
Part 4: Rest day at Blue Lake
Part 5: Going home

Today our trip would come to an end, but not before a long, 11.5 mile hike back to the car. Mileage-wise, today would be the longest day, but we all had hopes it would be the easier as we left the mountains and worked our way out of the elevations.

That said, I have a mapping program that’s quite old called Topo! but it still works well enough to tell me the way home included both a lot of up and a lot of down. Enough to keep our attention, tax our legs, and make us happy to see the car at the end of the day. In numbers, that means a loss of about 5500’ but a gain of almost 2000’!

We arose at 6:30AM and while we had all day, there was purpose in the air. I started wiping dew and respiration from the tent, Ron and Tim cleared their items out quickly, and the annual Dan Garage Sale of gear and stuff slowly spread out in another corner of the camp site. Anyone who doubted Dan carried a bunch of stuff in, only had to watch his preparation for packing to appreciate his load.

Water was boiled for tea and oat meal, water filters were compared to sort out whose was whose, and we jockeyed for which parts of the group gear we’d carry down the hill. Tim manned up and offered to take a set of poles and the fly, Ron got the tent body, and I took the second set of poles. Again, with the depletion of food from my stocks, my pack was at its most compact and lightest … a welcome boon for the long march out.

P9030263As we shuffled about and readied ourselves, we saw the Love Birds doing the same across the narrow stream from our camp. Dan stepped away for his morning constitutional, giving Ron, Tim and I a chance to silently bid Blue Lake farewell with the profound understanding that we’d likely never see this beautiful place again in our lifetimes. A dramatic thought but sobering for both its comment on our point in our lives and for what it meant in missing out on this particular beauty again.

P9030261Dan’s return broke our reverie and, minutes after the Love Birds had left the valley the route we’d entered it, we shouldered our burdens and headed the other direction, back down the trail taking us toward the Johnson Mountain summit and Pilot Ridge.

P9030264As we popped on our packs and cinched them down, Tim uttered and epithet and held up the broken buckle from his backpack … the main buckle. The buckle that held all the load and transferred the weight off his shoulders to his hips and legs. That buckle.

Without it and 11 mile march with a heavy pack would have been truly monstrous. As I fished about for the equivalent of gum and baling wire, Dan produced a perfect replacement buckle from his pack! He hadn’t exactly brought along replacement gear, but he did have a spare that was part of the top the breaks away as a waist pack.

And so, Tim dodged a bullet, we extracted promises from him to purchase a new pack before our next outing, and Dan became a hero. Almost brings a tear to the eye.

It was 8AM at our departure and we took a slow, measured pace. We were used to marathon marches and this day would be no different. For its familiarity, the initial part of the trail went quickly, but I had worked up a solid sweat on the way to the fork in the path. This time we took the former option: the way leading to Pilot Ridge and the North Fork Sauk Trailhead.

At that junction the trail drops down for a short several dozen feet, but the way is eroded significantly. We scampered and skipped down, surviving this treacherous section only to be met with a hard-as-ice patch of snow that hadn’t melted out since the winter before. In this immediate area, we hit two such spots but after that, our way was clear and easy.

The trail gently flowed across the south side of Pilot Ridge giving us gorgeous views of the Monte Cristo range and Mount Rainier to the south. But, for all the long way and the occasional ups, the trail very intentionally trended downward. As the morning wore on, Tim and Ron forged on out front, breaking trail, or at least soaking up all the dew. I was third and Dan would sometimes follow close and other times drop back. It was an easy, sun-drenched day and so we continued on in contemplative silence.

About 11AM the trail started to descend steeply, losing hundreds of feet. As we were still on the back side of Pilot Ridge, I began to worry just a bit. Then I saw Ron and Tim stopped and I worried a bit more: how could we possibly have gotten off trail? I reached them and noticed that Ron was tending to his feet; specifically, he was wringing out his completely drenched socks. I guess there had been more dew on the undergrowth than I’d thought!

Tim had the same questions I did but, after consulting our Greentrails map and the GPS, I found our location and we did indeed lose several hundred feet on this part of the trail.

P9030312Dan caught up and we all took a short break before Ron and Tim ran off out front again and Dan and I followed after. It was a comfortable arrangement and I found myself in good company when I wished for it and silence when that was more to my liking.

After descending nearly 700’, we gained 300’ and then some of it back up the next short slope and, at this time, found ourselves at the top of the section leading down off Pilot Ridge and into the North Fork Sauk drainage. It was now a quarter after noon and we were ready for our lunch.

P9030285I shared parts of my sandwich with the guys; it was a simple ham and cheese on a ciabatta-style roll. I have a Seal-a-meal that allows me to vacuum pack my perishables, giving me a small amount of confidence at eating this sort of sandwich on day 5. Ham is a smoked meat but you’ll notice I didn’t eat the whole thing myself. Either I’m mighty generous or I’m evil to the point of taking out my hiking mates with me. I’m happy to say I can appear magnanimous as we all made it through the trip without contracting food poisoning.

We nibbled our foods and enjoyed our views to the south for the last time on this outing. After our meal we’d head north, into the heavily wooded drainage basin and then we’d find the trail to the trailhead. As we set out, we weren’t somber but we weren’t chipper, either. Perhaps fatigue, time from home, or the warm sun was pulling the squirrelly energy out of us that often marks our companionship. Now it was time to head downhill.

Again, Tim and Ron out front, now Dan and I hung more closely together, chatting the whole time. My ankles are not as strong as I’d like, compliments of a motorcycle accident that left bone chips in the joint and have chewed away some cartilage there, and Dan’s hip was bothering him. So, casual chatter took our minds off our respective woes and at about 2PM we found the North Fork Sauk.

P9030279Tim photographed our crossing over a large tree that had conveniently fallen right where the trail crossed the stream (imagine that luck!), and while Dan was a little uncomfortable on the way over, we made it without incident. And so, with only a minor rest, we hoist our loads one last time and headed toward the car.

We passed a couple spots we recalled from earlier in the week when we’d passed them going the other way, but it could have been any trail, any where. And so it was, 45 minutes later, that we saw a cluster of painted metal objects through the thinning trees and popped out into the parking lot in the later afternoon sunlight.

Keys appeared from the depths of Dan’s pack, and a variety of chilled beverages appeared from the depths of a hidden cooler. We all fished about for a change of clothing, I enjoyed the pleasure of sitting in the front, and we made a final check of gear to ensure it was sufficiently stowed to last the journey home.

There’s a bit more to the story of getting home, but it mostly involves traffic, a meal at a place called Fred’s Rivertown Ale House in downtown Snohomish, changing cars and then more traffic before showing up around 8PM, badly in need of a shave, a shower, and a kiss from my much-missed Miss.

I reflect on this outing as “once-in-a-lifetime”, and privileged to enjoy them every year. The mountains are a deeply special place and this sort of trip fills me up, recharges my energy, and is just balm to a soul buffeted by status reports, daily meetings, and a lot of time behind a computer of one sort or another. And so, balancing the tension between my luck at having enjoyed so many of these trips with the knowledge that I’m getting a bit older and parts are starting to wear thin, it is with great humility that I ask: may I have another next year, please?

If the answer is “yes”, I’ll share that news here. Happy trails, all.

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Test Lab Hike–White Pass/Pilot Ridge, part 4 of 5

Posted by joeabbott on September 11, 2012

Day 4 – Rest Day at Blue Lake


P9020214This is the fourth of five parts:

Part 1: To White Pass
Part 2: Rest day at White Pass
Part 3: To Blue Lake
Part 4: Rest day at Blue Lake
Part 5: Going home

The post for Day 3 got a bit longer than I’d anticipated, so I’ll try to be succinct. Not likely going to happen, but I’ll give it a try.

We all agreed the evening’s chill wasn’t as deep as the previous night’s; perhaps being in the bowl of the lake helped trap in some still air, perhaps the clouds from the day before helped hold off winter a bit. Regardless, we woke a bit better rested, I didn’t get up at all during the night, and the day held promise to be beautiful. We had a few clouds in the valley, but they were low and the upper skies were clear. Another gorgeous late summer day!

P9020198 Stitch

We’d already picked out our destination for the day’s hike and it was Johnson Mountain, the 6721’ peak off Blue Lakes WNW’s side. The lake sits at 5625’, so it’s a short 1100’ jaunt to the top, and the trail is roughly a mile and a half, so we’d have all day to go a very short distance, do a lot of nothing, and come back when we were tired of doing it.

We arose at, you guessed it, 6:30AM as Ron’s internal clock ticked over to the new day and he started for the tent flap. It was chill enough in the morning and later afternoon air for mosquitoes and bugs to be invisible at these hours, which made for a pleasant time in camp. Food was brought down, stoves heated up water, and we milled about catching up on how many times each other got up to go to the bathroom, what hurt today, or other commentary reflecting on our aging bodies and minds.

P9020207I had to re-tape my heels as they were quite sore but the blisters, while they’d grown, hadn’t popped. Then each of us considered whether to save our clean clothing for the last day, or if the stench from several days of hiking had taken their toll. I opted for fresh duds, internally arguing that today would be “easy” and whatever I wore would still be spring fresh by tomorrow. And that wasn’t all that far from the truth. Now if my body had just started the day a bit cleaner!

Around 9:15 we were ready to head out for the day. By this time, many of the surrounding groups that made up the Blue Lake Tent City had moved on, while a few other groups milling about their camps. The path out of the area passed directly by the Love Birds’ tent and they appeared to be kibitzing inside while the day passed them by.

The trail took a meandering route, intent on visiting many areas and the loo, but eventually dropped off steeply, taking a big step down. It then ran away from the lake and within a quarter mile or so, branched: one path leading to the lower lake (“Little Blue Lake”) and the other heading to the top of Johnson Mountain. We chose the latter, heading up the gentle slope to the top of the west ridge of Johnson. By this time, Ron and Tim had forged ahead, I was third, and Dan was close behind.

P9020218Somewhere between locations “6” and “22” on the map above, the trail split yet again, and we met our ranger friend from White Pass here. He was taking a break for re-setting signs and we shared a few minutes of chit chat. I then realized that this new split was the fork between getting to the top of Johnson Mountain and the Pilot Ridge route back to the parking lot and Dan’s truck! I clearly hadn’t been thinking the route home well enough, because it just then dawned on me that I’d be heading up the same ridge tomorrow. With a full pack! Suddenly the “gentle slope” of that west ridge looked a whole lot steeper!

But, shock aside, we continued up the branch to the top of Johnson. About where our trail was at it’s east-most point, Dan decided it was was steeper and less interesting than he was liking, and headed back down a bit to the gentle slope and to sun himself in the alpine air. Tim was equally concerned about the repercussions of a fall but continued on, didn’t fall, and eventually made it to the top to see the remnants of the old fire lookout that had once been atop this peak. At this time, only the foundations stood but I’m not sure what brought it down.

P9020217I scampered about the top, found the USGS summit register, and tried to find a place to get comfortable. The wind was moving here and it still had the chilly nip of pre-winter in it; huddling made it tolerable but the sun was clear and bright, beckoning for you to stretch out.

We’d arrived at the top around 10:45 or so and for the next hour and a half, I looked at the surrounding peaks, read from my book, ate a bit of lunch, and chatted with Ron. Tim had decided to head down sooner than we did, so Ron and I had the summit to ourselves for a time. But, like a shark, or someone who’s interested in getting out of the wind, we eventually had to get moving.

On the way down, we ran into 2-3 other groups heading for the top, and even ran into the Love Birds who were gunning for a summit. When we got to the turn-off to Little Blue Lake, Ron tried to enlist me in joining him on a trip to the lower lake. My heels smarted, so I dissented but suggested that Tim would likely be game for the trip. Once back at camp we found Tim milling about, he was game, and so I found myself alone in camp. And that wasn’t a bad thing at all.

Shortly, however, Dan came by from a sunning session in one of the nooks surrounding the lake and we idly chatted while waiting for dinner time. As it wasn’t yet 2PM, we had some time to while away.

And that was about it for the day.

We had dinner at dinner time, played cards at card-playing time (Dan won), and Dan and I stood beneath muted stars and drank tea. It was our last night in the mountains and it seemed Mother Nature was doing everything in her power to make us stay: the moon was beautiful, the temps were chilly but bearable, and winds were nonexistent. A veritable paradise bestowed on us. And it wasn’t wasted one bit.

If you’re looking for a tiny slice of heaven and have the wherewithal to put up with a little up-and-down trail that goes on just a touch too long, well, Blue Lake should be your destination.

P9020221 Stitch Stitch

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