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Posts Tagged ‘hiking’

Just when you think you’ve had the “last hike” of the season …

Posted by joeabbott on September 30, 2018

… the season just keeps getting longer!

Last weekend Suzy and I took a “final bike ride” of the season but it was so nice, we kept our bikes down from the loft to get out again. After my last hike, I had cleaned up my gear for stowing away until the winter snow set in but we had a forecast for 70°F and sunny skies this weekend, so I got out again! The weather never quite reached 70°F or sunny, but it was a gorgeous day nonetheless.

DSCF2613 Stitch

We headed out to Vesper Peak, a moderately remote peak off the Mount Loop Highway in the middle Cascades. A number of fantastic hikes are accessed via this road and I dream of the day I’ll have more time to explore them all, but yesterday I got my chance to get back to Vesper Peak. While I know that I climbed this peak solo in my youth, so much of the actual ascent of the mountain was novel that I’m starting to question whether I’d actually been to the true summit. Regardless, yesterday I made it!


After parking at a busier-than-expected trailhead, we made short work of the obligatory second growth approach and entered a box canyon with fantastic fall foliage popping on every hillside. You head in with Sperry Peak looming above you on your right and Morning Star above and to the left; your objective being Headlee Pass.


I was feeling super-fit heading into the hike, having kept up my regimen of spinning at the gym a couple days a week and getting out for a mid-week hike on a local peak, but the 4000’ vertical feet of gain in the roughly 4 miles to the top of Vesper had me panting and sweating like crazy. My partner, Heath, was more fit than me … and, let’s be honest, 15 years my junior … so I had my work cut out for me. But, I was happy getting there and we didn’t race. We had plenty of stops and I managed my water well, so I had a great time.

But it was almost crowded on the trail! Part of that may have been the “advertisement” Vesper had received in recent months as a young hiker went missing on this route. She was a solo hiker who had been seen by a number of people as she ascended the peak, but no one saw her descending. And her car was still found at the parking lot. She’d been missing 58 days and it was impossible to miss people were still looking for her.

The people looking for “Sam” Sayers (one article is here) had setup some information at the trailhead, had an established camp at the three-mile point, and a helicopter flew in while we were there as they took trained search dogs out onto a nearby lake in the event Sam had fallen into it. A little sad and somber and while it underscores the dangers of hiking (especially solo), it’s a mystery how she could have so completely just disappeared!


DSCF2635After Headlee Pass you transition from steep scree along a bowl to huge slabs of blocky granite, playing a friction game to the top. The going is fairly steep and the footholds plentiful, but a nice, smooth slab might lead you to an otherwise more difficult section. The vastness of the slope makes it hard to put together your route up.


I chose to hike with my poles and repeatedly was frustrated by that decision. Not enough to stow them on the pack, but each time they skittered off and failed to provide purchase, I was reminded to keep my balance and only trust them when I knew their points were set.

At the top I was greeted by roughly a dozen other climbers and some fabulous views; Sperry Peak standing out the most.


While Vesper Peak may not be for everyone, aside from more solitude, I can’t think of anything a hiker might want that’s not here. It was simply one of the nicest hikes I’ve done in a while: a lot of exertion, phenomenal views, and a variety of scenes on the way in and up. While I rest my feet today, I’m sure to be looking over my pictures from the outing again and again.

Thanks for dropping by.


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One of the best hikes ever

Posted by joeabbott on September 16, 2018

I’ve been getting out with friends annually for the last 25 years and we’ve seen a lot of Washington state, but this year we hit the trifecta: beautiful weather, minimal bugs, and some of the greatest scenery around. The outing came with a few caveats, however: one of our number wasn’t able to join us due to back problems, another hurt himself kinda badly on the trip, and we were in deep forest more than I’d like. That said, this outing is highly recommended for anyone! The trails are well maintained, the elevation gain\loss isn’t bad, and at 19 miles for the core trail it’s not abusively long.

Let’s take a look at the trip!

Salmo-Priest Wilderness

See the source imageLocated in the north-easternmost corner of Washington state, the Salmo-Priest Wilderness butts up against Canada and Idaho. Western weather off the Pacific that makes it over the Cascade range starts to collide with the Rocky Mountains, giving this little corner of the world about 60” of rain a year. By contrast, Seattle, a notably wet place, gets a little less than 40” of rain a year.

Our outing was a five-day affair: camping at the trailhead on Thursday and returning the following Monday. Like a modern day Camelot, it only rained once before the trip ended and that was at night. The first night the evening temps fell into the upper 30°s, I’d imagine (based on the need to constantly bury my face in my sleeping bag to keep it from getting too cold), but otherwise the temps were in the 70°F range during the days and stayed in the mid-40°F at night.

This was a perfect trip.

Route overview

Our outing took us in a loop, starting from Salmo Pass Trailhead and returning to the same place after taking a clockwise route along the South Salmo River, into Idaho, up Snowy Top Mountain, and back to the trailhead along the Shedroof Divide.

Camp 1 is about 6.7 miles in; Camp 2 is roughly 23.5 miles in.


While this loop will take you about 20 miles, we added nearly 10 additional miles with our excursions: up Snowy Top, to the burned-out lookout on Little Snowy Top, and some other minor ramblings. That said, stretched over 3.5 days of walking it wasn’t significant. Here’s the profile of our trip.



The first day was mostly just driving; it’s an 8-hour trip from Seattle. But, the roads were clear, we weren’t impacted by any of the recent fire issues (either by smoke or road closures), and I had good company. At the trailhead we pitched our tent, had a little dinner, and oriented ourselves to the proper trailhead. As we were doing a loop, we left from one and came back on another … both trails leave from the same lot but by going clockwise around the loop, we avoided a stiff bit of climbing out of a valley on our return.


Friday was getting to camp, which we did in just a few hours. Again, the trails are well-maintained and we lost 1800’ in the first 3 miles, making that a quick bit of work. We had one minor river crossing at the bottom of the elevation loss, hopping the South Salmo River, but our late-season timeline played well for those with good balance, as we were able to rock-hop from one bank to the other. Tim, chose to test the frosty temps of the South Salmo and ford the river. His report: that was cold.


A couple hours from the crossing and maybe three hours since we left the car, we came to a camp site that we called “home”. It was before noon but it allowed us plenty of time to pump water, find trees for hanging food, setting out a dining area, and generally getting a heavy pack off our backs. This trip was about sharing time with old friends and so we did that … mostly by finding a nice place to read whatever we brought.DSCF2417 Stitch

Later we talked about our jobs, spouses, our buddy back home, and caught up on the happenings in each others’ lives. While we’d all been out together on training hikes, as we’d climbed Mt. Rainier together earlier in the summer, there’s always something new to catch up on.


DSCF2438Saturday started out with a bit of a problem. One of our number took an early morning slip and was impaled by a sharp branch sticking out from a downed tree, but we didn’t realize the extent of the problem. He took care of the issue but we had agreed to hike to Snowy Mountain just after breakfast, so we headed up.

At Snowy Top Pass, just before we started up the mountain itself, we took a small break; at that point we realized the injury was worse than we’d thought. As we generally agreed to head back, I ran up a small slope of about 30’ and enjoyed some nice views, to which I beckoned the others. At this point, the injured party said something like, I think I can make it. Which I interpreted to mean “make it up Snowy Top. And so I headed up. He was talking about the small 30’ slope.

I feel quite bad that I made\encouraged an injured person to hike the mountain, but he was game and we all made it to the top and down without further problems. Still, not cool on my part.

DSCF2455 Stitch

DSCF2480On the return to the campsite I got out ahead and ran into a black bear. At that time I didn’t know it was a black and lots of news about grizzly re-introduction going on had me pretty frightened. The bear was hidden behind a stand of trees and he noticed me first, whereon he started huffing and vocalizing his displeasure at my approach. I froze, waiting for Tim and Ron to catch up and, bear spray in hand, we slowly eased past the tree stand to see the bear partway up another tree … and, on seeing us, a whole lot farther up! We continued on and that was the last we saw of bears this trip.DSCF2493

Camp time saw more of the same: Tim and Ron reading at camp, me enjoying my magazine creek-side, and later a nice dinner before calling it a day with some card-playing.


Sunday we broke camp and hiked about eight miles total. The beautiful weather made for a nice jaunt and the inclusion of a side excursion up Little Snowy Top to an old, burned-down fire watch made for great interest.

A few yards up the trail to Little Snowy Top we dropped our packs and continued the rest of the way. At the top we saw piles of rusted nails left behind after the wooden shack was burned, blobby glass that had melted in the conflagration, and lots of debris and old pilings where a lookout once stood. After getting back to our packs we put our feet up and enjoyed lunch looking out down the Priest River watershed. Gorgeous.


According to the route description, we should have found our campsite about a mile past the Trail 315-Trail 512 intersection, but we found the campsites about a quarter mile past that. They were so close to the intersection we continued past them before turning back. It was early afternoon, say 2PM, and we were ready to call it a day. We pitched the tent, Tim fetched water, I scouted a place to hang food, and we all kicked back to await dinner, savoring our final night in this gorgeous area.


Our final day was a quick one, just about 4.5 miles with our lightest pack yet. I continued snapping pics of the Priest River valleys and Selkirks as we left Idaho, re-entered Washington state, and rambled to our car.


At the car we got out our traveling clothes, changed, tossed the packs in the car … and it started raining. The perfect end to a perfect trip. Time to head back home.


I’ll end by simply saying: take this hike. If you can at all manage to get here and put in 20 miles, your rewards will be significant. Take this hike … it’s a beauty!


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There’s a fire a-burnin’

Posted by joeabbott on August 20, 2018

You’d have to be living under a rock not to have heard of the massive amount of forest that’s burning in the West right now, but it hits home when you see it … or it’s effects … first hand. While I took a lovely stroll up Silver Peak this past weekend, the smoke from said fires obscured all but the nearest views. Just look a few posts back at some of the peerless, blue skies and compare them with these:



The air quality index in Seattle is worse than in some developing nations right now; so much so I’m considering against hiking until some of the marine winds return and clear things out a bit. Here’s to hoping that happens soon.

Wishing you all better views and clearer skies!

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A return to the scene–a trip up Snoqualmie Mountain

Posted by joeabbott on July 22, 2018

Weekends come and go around here with both Suzy and I looking forward to a chance to do stuff together; this weekend was an exception. Not in that we weren’t looking forward to some togetherness, but activities would take Suzy to a 5k Run on Saturday and an outing with her Master Gardener friends on Sunday; leaving me to my own devices. But wait … are our weekends ever really that simple? Nope!

The stuff that’s not as fun

Early last week we got a document from the county in which we plan to build our house stating they’d stopped the permitting process due to some irregularities. It was drawn out and a bit emotive but the upshot was that paperwork we’d submitted in January was lost. <sigh> There was some hurry-up discussions with our builder and folks were heading out to our lot on Friday to see about getting the needed tests done quickly; it had to do with our drain field and septic plan. I stayed home from work to jet up there in case I got a call … I got no call.

So, we agreed to jump in the car after Suzy got back from her 5K on Saturday and drive to lot, inspect the work that had been done, and see if anything required our input or assistance. I’ll jump ahead here and say that we did go up, in addition to the two perk pits that had been dug, they appear to have rummaged around those and then dug three additional pits. Suzy and I are perplexed … but had a very nice meal at Playa Bonita before heading back home.

Next steps … not clear. In spite of the delay and aggravation, it does feel like we’ve taken a step forward.

DSCF2242The fun stuff

So, with Suzy getting out with her friends, I was left to my own devices … and what better device than some sweat and a little discomfort in exchange for wonderful views? That’s right, last weekend I headed past Snoqualmie Mountain but didn’t summit the mountain proper. As it’s only 1.9 miles one-way, I decided I’d knock that off. Oh, in spite of being less than 2 miles in distance, you gain 3100’ of elevation; put your mountaineering boots on, folks, this trail’s not for Tevas!

I got to the lot around 6:45AM and it was already filling. The trailhead mainly serves Snow Lake trail, and while Snoqualmie Mountain may see a dozen or two travelers on a weekend, Snow Lake sees hundreds. Literally. And so I parked such that I could easily leave the lot, knowing it’d be a zoo; then I suited up, turned on various GPS and SPOT devices, and headed up.

The trail makes no qualms about ascent from the get go, and while the way is smooth in an un-kept trail sorta way for the first hundred yards, it quickly devolves into a rocky, rooty hand-over fist scramble up. I carry trekking poles so I don’t often need to grab the surroundings, but I did reach for a “green belay” or two on my way up.

While I tried to push myself reasonably hard, I also realized I wasn’t in a race and had nothing to prove … except for the fact that this was only a 2-mile long trail! I could tell time was getting on but my pace was what it was; it seems I’ve lost a little oomph since my Rainier outing. But, I was alone and had some of the nicest scenery and zero bugs!! This was a big improvement over last week; although it was probably because (‘d left a little earlier in the day.

I got in a couple peekaboo pics of the surrounding area before I topped out; nothing fantastic but for just 60 miles out of the city, it’s not bad at all.


After breaking out of the treeline I spotted a number of colored shirts above me that pulled me on as if I were a scent hound. There’s something deeply competitive in me that I’m not sure I understand. I don’t think it’s a normal part of my character, but get me on a trail and I like to be out front; put someone ahead of me, and I’d like to pass; someone on my tail? Goose it a bit. I find it odd but I’m also finding my days of passing and goosing are not as many as they had been, so I am trying to find pleasure in “being” and “topping out”.

When the trail ends at the top, I was greeted by chill winds that had scoured the remaining snowfields coming off the north slopes. What looks like a small animal track leads off to the left proved to be a trail to another summit that, if higher, was only higher by a foot or so. It was here I found the other “colored shirts”, being six folks wearing climbing helmets and speaking in what sounded like Russian.

They exited the way I came and I was left to snap the below pic. You can see Snow Lake, the destination of many other hikers, just to the right of center. The peak dead center on the right is Kaleetan Peak; the one to its immediate left is Chair Peak; further to the left (although not as prominent) is Bryant Peak.

DSCF2256 Stitch

As I headed back I saw the destination of the Russian speakers: a prominence just off the top of Snoqualmie; it appears a scramble but not a desirable destination. You can see a few of the scramblers in the talus on the way up.


For me, however, it was time to get back. It had taken me nearly 2 hours to go my 3100’ and I wanted to be sure I could get home before Suzy and prepare for our trip to the property. I grabbed one more snap and then made my ankle-breaking way back down the rocky trail, getting to my truck about and hour later.DSCF2262 Stitch


The parking lot was the expected zoo; where I’d parked to get a quick exit had been blocked by another row of creative parkers. I flagged a carload of folks and pointed them to my spot but let them know I’d need a minute to change out of something a bit less salt-soaked from my exertion. Another half dozen cars cruised by while I was changing but, quickly enough I was pulling out and replaced by the mid-morning hikers. It still took me some effort to extract my truck from the lot and I was surprised at how a few people had parked, leaving only inches on either side of my mid-sized truck as I pulled out.

With the madness behind me I sipped some juices I’d popped into a cooler and headed back home to enjoy the remainder of the weekend. It tickles me to have the confidence to whip up a plan like this: a goodly effort, a non-maintained trail, a solo outing … I may not be the hiker I used to be, but the education I picked up on the trails in my youth continues to serve me well.

Here’s hoping your adventures prove as sustaining; now stop reading and get out there!

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Yet another climbing post

Posted by joeabbott on May 28, 2018

I have a couple problems with being a blogger: I don’t do it regularly enough, I don’t write in a style that’s easy to quickly consume (I’m too verbose), I’m probably not entertaining enough (HERE ARE SEVEN THINGS THAT MIGHT KILL YOU IN THE MOUNTAINS … NUMBER FIVE WILL SHOCK YOU!), and I jump around to too many topics. Is this a gaming blog? A travel blog? A hiking blog? Woodworking? Home projects? Just too many to draw a consistent audience.

But I have been writing a lot about hiking … and today you get another. There’ll likely only be a couple more this year: one for Rainier, another for the annual Test Lab Hike, and maybe something I do solo or with Suzy. But I’d be remiss to fail to post about Mt. Adams last weekend.

DSCF1923ImageMt. Adams was our chance to do a “big mountain” and really test out our gear, figure out what works, and use it as a practice run for Mt. Rainier. I was hoping the whole team could make it, but Tim had pressing matters and it was just five of us. Still a good number.

Our early beta on the climb suggested we’d need to hike an additional 3 miles to the trailhead; snow was still heavy and while days had been nice, no one had been able to drive to Cold Springs campground. Also, I had zero time for planning and was getting frustrated leading up to the outing as I felt everyone was doing a little (well, everyone but me) but no one was pulling a complete plan together. Heath heard my petulant whining, stepped up, and a couple days before we headed out I knew what to bring, who was driving, who was tenting with whom, what fees we’d incur, which route we’d be on, etc. Just the whole shebang like I like it.

Off we went.

Part of the problem with hiking Mt. Adams is that it’s a 4.5 hour trip from Seattle. It went reasonably quickly and before you knew it we were at the Ranger Station dropping off our fees and picking up our blue bags … and for those of you who do not know what a blue bag is, you’re lucky. Essentially it’s your toilet when on a glacier or other heavily traveled path without a latrine. You either poop on the snow or on a provided “target”, use the resources in the kit to scoop your waste into a bag, and then seal all the yucky stuff in another bag. After that, you carry it out and dispose at the trailhead in special containers. It’s nasty but keeps the mountain from being so.

We dropped Dan’s car off at a nearby campground and then all piled into Ron’s truck for the trip as close to Cold Springs campground as we could get. I rode in the bed with Heath, and Cy and Dan rounded out the crew in the cab, and on a rut-pocked road we made it to within about a quarter mile of Cold Springs! I’m not sure if the Ranger Station has bad information or old information, but the sun had melted away a bunch of snow and it saved our feet a long walk.image

Those of us not driving jumped out and moved a few fallen limbs and stones so Ron could park his truck on the shoulder and we then grabbed our gear and started the hike to camp.

The trip in was uneventful. We started around 4700’ and planned to camp at the Lunch Counter: a flattish area on the southern side of Mt. Adams around 9100’. It’s a bit less elevation than the Paradise-to-Camp Muir trip, but similar enough to provide a good test. As we approached the Lunch Counter, rocks started poking out and when that happens, the snow tends to be thinner … I think the dark volcanic stone picks up the heat from sunlight and draws it under the snow to melt things below the surface. Anyhow, we were prepared and donned our snowshoes and avoided a lot of frustration as we walk on the snow, rather than post-holing and punching through (like a number of other hikers who passed us by later, when we were at camp).

DSCF1947imageIt was chilly and the skies were overcast but we setup camp quickly. Heath and I shared a tent, Cy and Ron shared an identical tent, and Dan sheltered his bivy between the two; we had a rising rock formation behind us, a snow slope between us and the summit, and were generally well shielded from any winds. Nice camp.

After setting up we ate our freeze dried meals and then started melting water. I was concerned that this would take all night but with five guys, we got a good setup going. Two people would tend the stoves, keeping them going and continually filling the pots with snow; one person manned the pump filter, continually cranking while a stove-tender moved the end to whichever stove had liquid water; another person would hold a water bottle that was being filled and he’d pass it to the remaining person to dump into whichever water reservoir needed it. Good system.

And then we slept.

Ron awoke us at 4AM and under headlamps we ate our cold breakfasts, strapped on our crampons, and in the chill morning, headed the two miles and 3000’+ to the summit. I kicked steps out of camp, enjoying that the now crusty snow was holding my weight. Previous hikers had stomped a trail into the snow but warm weather and overnight cold, snow, and wind partially obscured it, so there was a little work in re-establishing the trail. We pretty much headed straight to the summit, up over a feature called Piker’s Peak: the false summit. Or, more accurately, the near side of the caldera that just happens to be a bit lower than what is considered the true summit.DSCF1955

At one point I stepped out of lead, letting others kick steps. By the time we started hitting really steep terrain, Ron was in the lead. I felt badly for him as the snow had so little moisture in it, that his steps would break apart. The adage: two steps forward, one step back was never more apt.

DSCF1949DSCF1954I will note that around this time I remembered something about mountaineering I’d all but forgotten: the amount of willpower it takes to keep on. Somewhere on the steep slow to the false summit I got the lead again through the poor quality snow: I was laboring, chilled by a shrill wind that was getting to my neck, still groggy, my water tube had frozen so I couldn’t drink, and feeling taxed overall. I wanted to be about anywhere else and being in the lead again was making me grumpy. And that’s when I remembered to stop talking to myself that way and get on with getting to the top. Anyone can summit a mountain … I truly believe anyone can. You just have to keep going. And that’s what separates those who do from those who don’t.

That notion is stupidly simplistic and falls apart in many situations, but getting to the top was hard, it was not going to get easier, and I just needed to keep moving to be one of those who made it. And so I kept stepping and remembered that mental toughness is as important as physical toughness.

At the false summit we took a small break, admired the distant true summit, and then I headed out. I kicked across the top of the mountain and started to the summit but stepped out to let Ron finish us off. It wasn’t hard climbing but there’s a tiny tiny thrill at being the first on top of a mountain. Even if it’s the first of your team … that day, Ron was first of anyone. It was his first volcano and first big mountain. Nice.DSCF1962

Low clouds still covered the surrounding area but we got a great view of Rainier. Pictures were taken and before another crew hit the summit, we were on our way down.image

The trip back was equally uneventful: just a lotta steps. At camp we put on the snowshoes as the snow was getting soft and ambled down under heavy packs. I was clearly “in a zone” on the way up as I didn’t remember much about the trail in. Hard to miss the way back to the cars, though, as many steps had carved a deep rut.image

And that’s about it. Unmitigated success, a wonderful trip, and some good company … everything you could want in an overnighter in the mountains. DSCF1985

Apologies for an overly long story and thanks for getting this far.

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A new day, fresh batteries, and am I a misanthrope?

Posted by joeabbott on May 13, 2018

Well, I returned to Mt. Rainier to hike to Camp Muir again and it was quite a day. A bit of a spoiler here but the weather was fantastic (evidenced by the awesome v-shaped sunburn I have on my neck), my SPOT appeared to perform flawlessly, and there were so many people on the mountain that most of my inner dialog involved saying rude things to them … fortunately, I keep my mouth shut a lot.

Time to take that trip along with me again!

A new day

DSCF1864DSCF1859I’ve been to Rainier 5 times in the past two months: once I was stopped at Longmire due to road closures (avalanche danger), once we had brilliant weather but only hiked to 9000’ due to time constraints, another time we hiked to 8000’ due to whiteout conditions, and twice we’ve now made it to Camp Muir. We did it in fine time and felt good, but it still takes a toll: the extra effort of hiking in mushy snow where you might post-hole (sink to your knee) in, being under a hot sun for 10 hours, and carrying a lot of weight all wear you down.

But, if you’re going to be worn down, this is the place for it!

Yesterday the weather was gorgeous and we were doing well. Tim felt it took him a while to find his stride and I struggled most of the time but we kept moving. An important part of hiking that many hours is hydration and food management … keep sipping that water and when you stop, make sure you replace those salts as well as keep the carb-train rolling; being on the mountain is no time to practice your diet! I eat like a garbage scow continually pulling in calories and have lost weight over the hiking season while making no other effort to trim down. You burn some calories on the trail!

What do I eat? Well, I have a little hip-belt pouch (had been intended to keep a one-quart water bottle but I use a hydration pouch) in which I carry a small baggie of nuts, some crackers or something crunchy, and I found something called a Stroopwafel


They’re thin, light, and pretty tasty … they have 120 calories per “wafel”: with a caramel filling it’s not a diet snack. I noticed a new product in the REI power bar selection that looks a lot like these; I’ve tried them and they were good, but at over a dollar each, I didn’t get that many. When I came across a package of three dozen for (let’s call it $7 because I’m not sure at all what I paid but that’s what I saw on the Internet), I grabbed then, toss a few into a baggie, and they’re great on the trail.

But, I’m losing track of my point … the day was so clear you could see where we were heading from the parking lot!


It looked a long way away but we had all day. Our only goal was to get there in 6 hours … not a hard goal or one we’d pain ourselves to meet, but it’s what we wanted. Time to head out!

Fresh batteries

Another issue I wanted to address on this hike was my SPOT. As I’d noted, I was having very poor performance from it; so poor, I had contacted the company and they were sending a replacement on generous financial terms. As my model was no longer manufactured, out of warranty and I didn’t have their loss\replacement program, it wouldn’t be free … but, as a customer since 2008, they offered me a new unit for quite a bit off. I accepted their offer.

But, while waiting for the new unit, I put fresh batteries into my current SPOT and tried again. Every season I replace batteries so this would be the second time replacing three lithium AAA batteries in just a few months. But it made the difference! I got dozens of locations marked!


Ultimately it just says that I had discharged batteries, and for that I’m disappointed. While I like the new technology that will be in the new model, I’m not one to replace something that’s working just fine. Looks like I’ll have a backup.

Am I a misanthrope?

We got to the Park at 8AM, not a climbers’ start time, but respectable considering it’s an hour and a half drive for us. But, upon turning into the parking lot we were stunned … dozens! hundreds of people! We ended up parking in the last row and navigated past dozens of groups of people. If you weren’t skiing, you were in the minority and I had to laugh as the trail to the top of Panorama Point looked like the classic Chilkoot Trail image during the gold rush:


And while I’m super comfortable around folks who aren’t from the States, there has to be a cultural thing where others are a lot more comfortable dogging someone else’s heels. We’re on this huge mountain and people continually marched up right behind me and settled in. I would step aside, they’d look up a bit surprised, and march on. This happened a dozen times or so! It was super-frustrating. Partially I was self-conscious about being slow, but who marches right behind someone?

A couple times I’d see the line of people and, knowing that I enjoyed being out to be with Nature and just my thoughts, I’d talk to Tim and we’d create a path across new snow where no one else was marching … and, within minutes, someone would be right on my tail! It was quite disappointing. And I also suffer from the frustration that comes when you are amid other languages and don’t understand what’s being said … it’s off-putting for me. Kinda like hearing a loud-talker on the phone when you can just hear one side of the conversation … similarly annoying. Perhaps I’m just sensitive that I can’t keep up a conversation at that altitude under that physical exertion. Regardless, the outing was less a balm than it normally is when walking along the flanks of this giant.

I will try to redeem myself a little. When we got to the parking lot I noticed a middle aged Indian man helping a very aged woman down the snow-covered, slick slope that’s the final 20’ to the lot. Seeing her concern and his care, I asked if it would be helpful to use my trekking poles and they readily accepted. I walked to the lot, sat down, and tried to regain some energy. After Tim came by and said he’d meet me at the car, I looked around for my poles … and, for a second thought the couple may have confused my offer of a loan for a gift! Then I saw they were still on the slope, slowly working their way down. It was touching and I was glad I could help. When they got to the lot, they happily returned the poles and thanked me, I told her she looked great and that would be all she needed to climb the mountain! And, with smiles and a somewhat lighter spirit, I headed to the car and toward home.


I’m working up to a summit bid in the first week in June. I’m not at the point I’d like to be, physically, but I know I can do it. It’ll just be tougher than I’d like. Heavens knows I’m putting in the time, so I’m not sure what more I should be doing. Perhaps even more time. With just three weeks left, that’s a resource I don’t believe I have, so I’ll make do with where I’m at.

In spite of the pain, discomfort, and continually go-go-going I’ve been living with, it’ll be fun to summit Rainier again. Thanks for joining me as I prepare for this journey.

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A day in pictures (and some words)

Posted by joeabbott on May 8, 2018

I was going to use this post to talk about getting stronger … how I feel broken down all the time but I’m more capable and faster … but, it got depressing. So I hit restart and will just be sharing my past weekend … I’ll let the pics do most of the talking.

imageI got out with Ron and Tim … the picture along the right side bar is our journey from the bottom (Paradise) to the top (Camp Muir) and back. It started in a solid rain, got gloriously clear, then a whiteout, and by the time we got back to the car, we’d just spent 45 minutes in driving rain. It was that sorta day … come along!

Ron’s face isn’t melting … that’s just the rain. We’re barely out of the lot and you can see his Gore-Tex jacket is already showing signs of waterlogging.


Destination … that little spec waaay up there. You’ll likely need to look at the blow-up photo, figure out where that lines up in the first photo, and then try to spot the little square buildings marking Camp Muir. And, yes, they’re pretty hard to spot!


Aside from that, the slog was the same as the slog usually is … sloggy. I was fairing poorly after a strenuous Saturday and struggled under the 50# pack. As you can see, this was my view most of the way: dead last in our pack of 3 hikers!


But then things cleared and it’s GLORIOUS out there! I really love it. This is from somewhere just below Anvil Rock … you can find it on the map to the right.

DSCF1822 Stitch

But, before long, the clouds settled in, I started lagging, and we were back to slogging. But, as you can see in the last picture, we spotted the rectangular buildings of Camp Muir … we were there!


Evidence I made it … but, I felt a whole lot worse than I look!


On the far side of Camp Muir, the trail goes something like this (the green line) … but that will be a trip for another day.


But, the weather being what it was, it cleared a bit before going into total whiteout mode. Here we are saying farewell to Camp Muir and heading back to the cars … on the way down, I made a little better time than Tim and Ron as I was willing to glissade some of the steeper slopes.


And then Paradise was in sight. I’d never seen the parking lot so empty but happy for the one car there that I was looking for … the one containing my dry clothing and that would take me home. As much as it’s nice to get out, when you’ve been walking 10 hours under a heavy pack through driving rain and whiteout conditions, getting somewhere you can relax in comfort is priceless.


Thanks for tromping a long with me and I hope your days have less rain and now whiteouts!

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Climbing in a whiteout

Posted by joeabbott on April 29, 2018

I’m not sure what’s changed, but climbing in a whiteout is pretty disconcerting and I don’t remember it always being that way. Yes, I’m out less than I used to be but yesterday messed with my head in ways that have me pondering my capabilities in the mountains. Even with the GPS and all the right gear, the day wore on me in a taxing way. But, I was out, enjoyed the beauty of Mt. Rainier on one of her moodier days, and will share a little of that day with you.

Here are some pictures just out of the parking lot … we’d just strapped on our traction footwear and were ready to head in. The picture on the left is looking up at the Mountain … in the lower elevation we had about 500’ of visibility; not enough for route finding, but enough to get one’s bearings. The picture on the right is looking back to the parking lot. On sunnier days the Tatoosh Ranges is prominent and glorious from this vantage. See my On a clear day post for a little juxtaposition.


A bit later we arrived at Panorama Point; a spot so-named because you get great views all around. On this day, it was just Tim and me, posing for posterity:


A couple things to note … first, my GPS is pretty handy, because we were using it nonstop. Because I wasn’t able to take a step without knowing if the slope was up or down, I’d just pop it on to determine if we were on the same line we’d put in last weekend. Also note that you can’t see a thing in the pictures other than us. Even looking at the snow around our feet, you quickly lose the ability to discern details beyond 10’ or so and there’s no “horizon” in a whiteout.

After getting just beyond Panorama Point, we stopped. Most other people had turned around by this time and we were breaking trail. I was questioning my ability to get us safely up and down so we broke for lunch, enjoying a few nibbles while waiting to see if the weather would lift. About that time, a group of nine folks in high spirits tromped by us, happily chatting and moving as if they had zero cares. Tim and I shrugged and after about 5 minutes, we followed.

We made it about 1000’ in elevation beyond Panorama Point, just above McCure Rock and The Sugarloaf (we were about 7800’) when I expressed concern. As long as we were right on these folks’ trail, we were doing fine, but on our own, I was reduced to looking at the GPS, taking a dozen steps, and looking again. And while I had spare batteries, I noticed the cold was sapping the lithium batteries I’d installed just the prior weekend; I was already down to the last bar.

So, we turned back.

It was a shame as we were feeling strong, the day was a joy without anyone else (within sight) on the mountain, and we were making good time: we felt like we could have easily made our objective of Camp Muir. While the weather was actually kinda bad, it wasn’t terribly uncomfortable and I’d trade a little inclement weather for solitude any day. It was cold but not so cold our hydration tubes were freezing … it was cold enough that Tim’s spare water bottle shattered, though!


After turning back, we went about 10 minutes before the trail was completely lost. In addition to being in a whiteout, there was a slow pelting of snow and a good wind, leaving the trail to fill fill with snow quickly. So, I started marching us our dozen steps, checking the GPS, and continuing on. At one point Tim became convinced we’d come from the right, which sends alarms off in my mind. Of all the dangers that people fall into on this route, heading off onto the Nisqually Glacier (which is “off to the right” as you descend this route) is the main one that gets people hurt or worse. So while the whiteout was confusing me enough to question whether he was correct, I was adamant not to head too far to the right. So we stumbled on to the left.

DSCF1812In about 15 minutes after that, our troupe of nine high-spirited climbers were descending and marched past us. It seems a ranger heading down from Camp Muir had met them and stated conditions at Muir were just as bad; no better weather up high on the mountain. Once again we were swept up in their wake.

They stopped often, which was an annoyance, as I like to find a pace and just march on, but it appears they were having trouble with navigation themselves. The price of being able to march down the hill on autopilot was to allow those piloting the time needed to find a safe path back. Fair enough.

On the way down we hit two signs that things were going well … first, an actual sign and the second was more climbers. The climbers were hard to see, but you could hear them off in the fog. The thing I liked most about seeing them, is they were the first objects we could make out that weren’t within about 10’ of us. In the below picture, the few people you can see in the lower right are our “guides” on the way down; the new climbers are in the middle of the image, faint and in the distance.


So, as our visibility was extending a bit beyond our immediate circle, we knew we were getting closer to the parking lot. Soon we saw trees … another sign we were getting lower down … but I wasn’t able to spot Paradise yet. Our group of nine had stopped and we’d marched past them, so I was hoping we were still on track; funny how quickly you can question your own confidence. But, when I heard the distance scream of children I knew we were approaching the area where families will sled and frolic in the snow … it was only minutes before we popped out at the parking lot.

It was a good day from the point of getting out, putting in about 5 miles and 3000’ of elevation, but in the four times I’ve been to Rainier this season, I have yet to get to Camp Muir. There may be another try next weekend … let’s hope for better weather.

Thanks for dropping by.

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On a clear day

Posted by joeabbott on April 25, 2018

imageLast Saturday a friend of mine and I planned to hike to Camp Muir high on the flanks of Mt. Rainier as our goal. We also had a 2PM turn-around time and the gates into the Park didn’t open until 9AM, so we knew it was a stretch. We managed to get to 9000’, an hour or so below Camp Muir at 10,000’, so we missed our target, but enjoyed the day all the same.

We hiked about 4000’ (Paradise, our starting location is at ~5000’) in 4+ hours, not bad, and we enjoyed some spectacular weather. The views were phenomenal and the crowds were commensurate; a lot of people were on the trail. Let’s enjoy a few pics from the outing.

From the Paradise parking lot, the day promised to be gorgeous: the mountain was clear and crisp. Our destination was just below and to the right of the big blocky exposed rock above the trees in the foreground.


I saw a lot of Tim’s back, initially. Tim joined me and went without wearing snowshoes. The snow quality was fantastic and held his weight just fine, so he was able to make better time than I was, as I was wearing snowshoes. I didn’t want to break through the crust, and as a Fatty McFat-Fat, that’s a real concern, especially with my heavy, training weight pack on.

There was one slope that reminded me of the classic Chilkoot Pass image, where gold rush prospectors are lined up to climb the Golden Stairs on a final push into the Yukon. Unfortunately, I didn’t take a picture that captured that view well enough … as there are far fewer people in my picture and the ground doesn’t nearly capture the sharp rise it felt we were heading up. But, the many footsteps and paths beaten into the snow tell the tale of a popular winter thoroughfare.


At the top of this rise, there were opportunities for the two of us to have our proper pictures taken. Tim’s picture has the Tatoosh Range and a distant Mt. Adams in the background, whereas mine shows the summit of Mt. Rainier just up there … we should be able to get to it easily!


Few times train you to just put your head down and find a slow pace than when you’re on a snowfield or glacier: the scenery doesn’t change all that much and it’s just you and your thoughts as you plod along. Heading to Muir is one of those times.

And then I got to this slope, just below an area named Moon Rocks. While the entirety of the trip is mostly even without a lot of steeper sections, this one feels steeper. Call it imagination but I cobbled together a few pics to help paint the grade:

DSCF1796 Stitch

And here I was looking up:


It holds this grade for some 300’. I’ve tried counting steps, I’ve tried finding a rhythm of breathing, and I’ve tried ignoring everything but putting one foot in front of the others, and still I find myself looking upwards, many times, wondering when I’ll be over the hump. But the reward for keeping at it is commensurate and then some for the pains:


There were far too many people about for me to revel in the silence and solitude I usually enjoy when I get out in the mountains, but they were welcome companions, kindred spirits who would stretch themselves to find a greater truth … if not of the world in which we live, than a truth of just themselves and what they might achieve if put to a test. But for Tim and I, it was 2PM and time for our return to the car. Someone in the group suggested the gate wasn’t going to be locked at 5PM but the best he could offer was “A ranger named Darby told me.” Setting that against seeing the sign at the bottom stating the contrary, we weren’t convinced and we headed down.

The trip down was far quicker (as one might imagine), but our legs were wobbly and the snow was now of a consistency that made it somewhat treacherous on the few steep places. And, before we got to the parking lot, Tim had put his snowshoes on as the snow’s crust was now sun-warmed and broke through on each step. A final looked back also suggested our fairy tale day was at an end and Mt. Rainier was calling clouds to help welcome the evening.


In many times like this, on leaving the mountains, I’ve thought, “I’ll be back,” without serious consideration for when, but with Mt. Rainier just an hour and a half south of us, I will be back and it’ll be this coming weekend. While the gate had been posted as closing at 5PM when we entered the Park, that sign was removed when we came down. Additionally, we didn’t get to Camp Muir and we’ll need to in 5 weeks or so: we have a summit window of June 4-6. So, the training continues.

Thanks for dropping by and sharing a few snippets of my time out on this hike, and I hope your time out on whatever adventure you choose has been just as grand!

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Annual Test Lab Hike–North Olympic Peninsula Beaches

Posted by joeabbott on September 17, 2017

I look forward to one hike all year: our annual Test Lab Hike. It’s an odd name, but a group of four of us then young-ish engineers who worked for Boeing in their Test Labs and started taking strolls in the great outdoors, enjoying what the wilds of Washington state would afford us. Now, twenty-four years later, we still get out for that stroll.Olympic Peninsula

The plan was for a five-day, four-night outing with travel to and from Seattle on the first and last days. While we’d move our camp each of the days, the tides dictated that we’d have to leave relatively early in the day and arrive at our next camp well before noon; a somewhat odd situation. Additionally, the weather was forecast to be mild with one day seeing potential drizzle and another at 20% chance of rain … which is a pretty decent prediction when heading to a rain forest for a camping trip!

In the above map, the four named locations are the places we pitched our tents. While I’ll try to be brief, this is me … and it may get long-ish.

Thursday – drive to the peninsula, camp at the trailhead

No matter how you look at things, getting to the coast is little more than driving from Seattle. We met up around 7AM at Tim’s house, he made us breakfast, we packed the SUV we’d be taking, and started the 5-hour drive. Rush hour traffic and road construction got the best of us, but we likely only lost a half hour or so to that. We headed south to Tacoma and then west, following the northern coast of the Strait of Juan de Fuca.

At Port Angeles we stopped at the Olympic National Park Ranger Station for current weather, tide, and camp site information; they informed us that Seafield Creek and Yellow Banks were “dry”, meaning they had no running water. Bummer. Also, due mainly to raccoon troubles, we were required to carry the provided “bear-proof food canisters”. These are hard plastic caches roughly 18” high and 10” in diameter and can only be considered to hold a lot of food if you ram your food in pretty tightly.

But, after getting some gas and snacks, we continued on to Lake Ozette where we got one of three final camp sites, ate our freeze-dried dinners, pitched our tent, and got in an evening game of Hearts before the mist started falling. By the time we’d made our final bedtime accommodations, the mist was pretty thick. And sometime late that evening, it was unequivocally raining.

Friday – get onto the beach, camp at Seafield Creek

DSCF1186We arose around 6AM and had stricken camp, did our final packing, moved the car, and were on the trail before 8AM. Not bad for a bunch of codgers looking for the loo, needing hot breakfasts, and wondering just how the heck one packed a bear-proof food canisters into an already-full pack. And then it was walking … I chose to not wear my rain slicker, in spite of the heavy mist, because it was warm enough that I’d be sweating furiously if I did. Wet is wet, and rain feels cleaner than sweat.DSCF1187_stitch

The trail from Lake Ozette to the coast has two paths: a northerly route to Cape Alava, and a southerly one to Sand Point. We took the northern leg and marched the three miles at a modest clip, making it to the beach around 9:30AM. By that time, the mist had slackened and we all became silent as the crashing surf aroused our senses. On top of the distinct sounds of the ocean, dozens and dozens of sea lion voices could be heard barking from some far-off rocky isle. The tide was heading out and we had a camp some seven miles to the north; and so we turned our attention that way and continued our march.

DSCF1506DSCF1191Somewhere just before the Ozette River, Tim lost his footing and took a tumble, painfully damaging his side; as if in commiseration, I shortly thereafter took my own slide. I fell forward and unfortunately had my hand pinned between the rock and my trekking pole … getting a cheese-grater greeting by the myriad sharp barnacles. Upon inspection I saw a bloodless wound and attempted to rip off the hanging flesh with my teeth. I had a faint sickening sensation as the tug was substantial and wasn’t sufficient to part the skin from the thumb: that was a deep wound. I cupped my hand to my chest and made my way bank-side on the Ozette in order to shed my pack and bandage my hand. By the time I had a wrap on it, the blood was profuse. I worried a lot about infection as we all crossed the river and took a small break.


Tim rested his side, Ron and I headed upstream into the Ozette River to filter water for camp, hoping low tide and a plentiful current would provide salt-free water. Unfortunately, the water was still brackish and only really good for use as cooking water or with heavily flavored powders. But, we brought what we could with us and, after our short rest, continued marching the two and a half miles north to Seafield Creek.

We setup camp and Tim realized he had forgotten his sandals back at the Ozette River just after the crossing. Without truly hoping we could get them (the tide was now coming in) … and without a lot of worry if we didn’t … we headed south and while we were unable to make it past the final headwall safely (the tide had risen beyond a safe height to pass), returned to camp happy for a chance to stretch our legs without a pack and enjoying good company.DSCF1201_stitch

DSCF1249A short time later Ron showed interest in heading north toward Shi Shi and, game for most any stroll, I joined him much to the same result as my walk with Tim: we got a couple miles in but were ultimately stopped by impassible terrain and so we walked back.

I figure I added roughly 10 miles to my day but enjoyed the beach walk and company. And, I had slept somewhat poorly the prior night and looked forward to fatigue doing what it does best: providing me a deep and excellent night’s sleep.

Our camp was set about 15’ up a bluffy wall, accessible via two trails: one with a hand-line strung down it, and the other a scampery little path that took one over a jumble of driftwood logs. The platforms were generous and Dan opted to setup his own tent a short distance away. In spite of the fact that we carry a 6-man tent on these trips (we all like our space and room for gear), Dan continues to carry his own 2-man tent for the evening’s sleep. He’ll socialize, play cards, and whatnot, but when it’s time for lights-out, he heads to his own little suite.

The clouds had long-since parted and as we settled into dinner (and, later, Hearts), we hoped the “20% chance of rain” that had been forecast for the next day had happened and was over. And, yes, I slept well.

Saturday – head back south, camp at Cape Alava

DSCF1253We awoke to a fairly good rain coming down. It sounded worse from inside the tent than it felt when one was outside, but it was coming down steadily. I was in a cross mood. I’d have rather waited out the rain but we were low on enjoyable water, had a camp site 7-miles to the south that night, and needed to cross the Ozette River at low tide … which would happen at around 10:30AM. To get there on time, we needed to break camp around 8AM. It was 6AM and I wanted to roll over.

But, I got up (grudgingly) and got going.

Breakfast for me is a Costco muffin … these little darlings are around 700 calories and it’s hard to have what is essentially cake for breakfast and still be annoyed. I managed, but only because the rain was continuing to come down. As we cleared our gear, packed our pack, and made the tent ready, I asked Tim if he wanted to put the tent body (his share for this leg), into a bag. He declined, later stating that he thought the rain would break soon, and so when we got to camp (and it was still raining), we had a fairly soaked sleeping quarters.

I’m getting ahead of myself, but not by much.

The trip south was quick, as are most hikes on the beach, as the sand just above the wave-line tends to be firmly packed and gives you a dead flat, cushioned trail each step. Tim’s sandals were where we thought they’d be, the headwalls were passed over without incident, and we soon arrived at Cape Alava … I believe it was about 10:30AM.DSCF1272

I was still grumpy and after we setup the tent, I tossed a small emergency blanket (it’s a tarp with a reflective surface) inside the tent, dumped my stuff on it, and took a nap for a few hours.

Upon waking up, the world was a nicer place. My mood had dissipated, the rain had ceased, and we had a clean supply of water to refill our bottles. I strung a couple of lines between trees and we quickly filled them with wet gear, hoping to catch the last of the westering sun. As with the other days, we ate our separate dinners together and then got in a game of Hearts to finish the day. DSCF1286_stitch

Unfortunately, I celebrated the clean water a bit more than I should have, and had to arise a couple of times in the evening to relieve myself. Upon exiting the tent around 3AM, I started what I imagine was a large crane. Ron later reported hearing it and he chuckled a bit … I absolutely was not chuckling. That bird has a terrifying scream and to hear it in the dark when one scarcely has his senses … well, it certainly had my attention.

DSCF1322Sunday – continue south, camp at Yellow Banks

Sunday was the sort of day one comes to the beach to enjoy; it was marvelous. As Ron would say: blue skies, sunshine. And it had both of those in spades.

The march to camp would be about 7 miles this day, following the beach from Cape Alava, past Sandy Point, and on around a few headwalls to Yellow Banks. We bumped into a few people but far fewer than you would think you’d see given the phenomenal sights and beautiful crashing surf.DSCF1319

DSCF1344While the seaweed beds were thickly piled on these beaches, and the sand fleas particularly plentiful, the rhythmic crash of waves, the lapping water, and that gently yielding, dead flat “trail” to hike on made the miles zip by. Upon several beaches we crossed rich troves of rocks of a myriad color and patterns. They were so beautiful, upon the return trip, I filled one of my water bottles full of agates, jasper, jet black and pure white stones. A wonder of beauty.

But, as with the other days, our day started early to accommodate the tides and before noon we arrived at the eponymous Yellow Banks. Vegetation has overgrown much of the bluff but it was a very fine sight and we were excited to be there as the tide rose and we were the only ones on the beach. While it wouldn’t hold, we had the entire expanse to ourselves for the afternoon.

DSCF1367After looking over most of the sites, we returned to the camp at the head of the beach and called that home. The camp was pretty cool: another 15’ climb up a bluffy face, but at the top were two balconies made from various drift woods (one balcony complete with a hammock!), and room for our tent amongst the trees to the rear. If we could have spent another night, that would have been the place.

But, rather than setup shop right away, we all spread out our gear in the sun and set it to drying. And while it was doing that, Ron found a few floats lost from various ships and set us all onto a game of bocce ball. In this game, the leader (typically the person who won the last round) would toss a smaller float out several yards; thereafter, all participants would take turns tossing their floats after it. The person closest to the small float won a point … unless his toss ended up touching the small float, and then he would get two points. No one in our games would ever win the two points.DSCF1412

It was a very fun event and I’m pretty happy Ron suggested it and found the floats\bocce balls. At one time I gave my ball toss a bit too much arc and the float cracked upon landing. After a few more tosses it broke in two. No problems, says Ron … and off he ran past the high tide mark and returned a short time later with another whole float. “They’re all over here,” he reported. Amazing.

After dinner we returned to the beach for another game and then our nightly ritual of Hearts. As we played, several other groups entered the beach, taking advantage of the lowering tide. No matters … we had the best camp on the beach.DSCF1439_stitch

DSCF1373Monday – pack up and head home

While our day was driven by the tide, we had great grips to go, needing to drive the many hours back to Seattle this day. And again, arise, eat breakfast, pull down the tent, and pack up. Our practiced routine was made efficient by the now, our fifth packing this trip, and the dry weather helped. I’d taken a small “cave” (a man-made opening in the wall that allowed one to avoid crossing on seaweed-slickened rocks) on the way into the Banks and did so again on the way out, and then trudged north across the wonderfully pebbled beaches to the south part of Sand Point.

Here we stopped, snapped a few final shots, enjoyed a light lunch of whatever we each had left, and then marched along the boardwalk to Lake Ozette. The three miles went quickly and, as usual, I was glad to see the car and enjoy the dry, clean clothing. This was the end of our twenty-fourth Test Lab Hike, and it was a beauty.

Thanks for reading all this. As usual, it got long and reminiscing as I typed this made it longer. May your trails be under blue skies and full of sunshine.

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