Monday, September 1, 2014

Glacier Peak Wilderness Backpacking - Spider Gap - Buck Creek Pass Loop

Glacier Peak Wilderness

Glacier Peak Wilderness holds the Northern Cascades only wilderness volcano.  And in this year when we celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the Wilderness Act, it was a perfect time to go into the remote wilderness area and explore.  No we didn't climb it, but we did spend 5 days at the end of July backpacking through the majestic beauty that surrounds it.

With the late snow that came in this year and the heat that came with the end of July, we were in for a treat.

Day 1 - Trinity Trailhead 

We started the day in Spokane, WA and drove to the Trinity Trailhead.  After parking the car here, we had a 3 mile hike up to the Spider Meadow trailhead.  I was thankful once those three miles were over and we were able to head into the woods and shade.  The goal was to hike to Spider Meadow, but after another couple of miles, the heat and lack of sleep took its toll on us.  We found a camp spot in the woods and decided to call it a day.  As we finished dinner and settled in - we had our first of many experiences with the wildlife in the wilderness.  A female mule deer wandered into camp.  She must have enjoyed our presence as she kept coming back.

Day 2 - Spider Meadow, Spider Gap & Upper Lyman Lakes

Spider Meadow looking toward Spider Gap @ Glacier Peak Wilderness
Spider Meadow looking toward Spider Gap
Waking up to a beautiful morning in the wilderness refreshed, we packed our gear and headed to Spider Meadow and Spider Gap.  Spider Meadow still held some of its beauty of wildflowers and gave us an amazing view toward Spider Gap and the peaks around it.  We also got our first view of the many marmots we would encounter in the wilderness and more mule deer grazing in the meadow.

After hiking through the meadow we climbed the trail up to Spider Gap and finally got a view of the Spider Glacier.  All reports for this trip stated to bring an ice ax with you to climb over the glacier.  But with the heat we had on this trip, the conditions of the glacier made it so that you didn't need it.  It was an amazing 1/2 mile hike up the glacier to the top and the high point of this trip (7100 ft).  The coolness of the snow and ice of the glacier made it so the heat that was bearing down on us didn't feel so bad.  

Tip: Take time once you get to the top for a break and the opportunities to take some great photos of the glacier and the Upper Lyman Lakes area.

Spider Glacier with a view back out toward Spider Meadow @ Glacier Peak Wilderness
Spider Glacier with a view back out toward Spider Meadow

Upper Lyman Lakes from Spider Gap @ Glacier Peak Wilderness
Upper Lyman Lakes from Spider Gap
After taking a break and enjoying the views it was time to head down to the Upper Lyman Lakes area.  The hike down was fun through the soft snow until we hit the end of the snow.  At that point it turns into a scramble down loose rock.  And then you find the mosquitoes.  After another break to take some pictures of the Upper Lyman Lakes area we headed over to the other side of the bogs and where we would camp for the evening.

Lyman Glacier from Upper Lyman Lake @ Glacier Peak Wilderness
Lyman Glacier from Upper Lyman Lake
View back toward Upper Lyman Lakes, bogs and Spider Gap @ Glacier Peak Wilderness
View back toward Upper Lyman Lakes, bogs and Spider Gap
After setting up camp, we had time to wander around the area and take in the reflections in the pools of water that were all over in this area.  But with that said, we also had the pleasure of battling the mosquitoes - head nets were a necessity.

Camp in the Upper Lyman Lakes area @ Glacier Peak Wilderness
Camp in the Upper Lyman Lakes area.
Sun setting above Spider Gap @ Glacier Peak Wilderness
Sun setting above Spider Gap
Evening brought us the beauty of the sun setting in the wilderness.  And with the clouds in the sky, it was even more beautiful.

Day 3 - Upper Lyman Lakes to Miners Creek / Image Lake

Waking up to another glorious morning in the wilderness (even with the mosquitoes buzzing around), we ate breakfast and headed out to our next destination:  Miners Creek to camp and a side day trip to Image Lake. Our first obstacle of the day (besides the mosquitoes) came as we got down toward Lyman Lake and had to cross the river via a downed tree.  Now crossing a river over a downed tree is not that bad, but this one happened to be right over a rapid and falls.  If you slipped on the log it was a not a short fall or would it be a soft landing - you would probably get hurt.

Lyman Falls @ Glacier Peak Wilderness
Lyman Falls

Lyman Falls crossing @ Glacier Peak Wilderness
Lyman Falls crossing
After a quick stop to take pictures of Lyman Lake we headed up to Cloudy Pass and our connection with the Pacific Crest Trail.  Make sure to take some time once you get up on Cloudy Pass to enjoy your last view of Lyman Lake and Spider Gap.  And to take in the view of all the wildflowers in the meadow up on the pass.

Cloudy Pass looking back at Lyman Lake and Spider Gap @ Glacier Peak Wilderness
Cloudy Pass looking back at Lyman Lake and Spider Gap
Cloudy Pass wildflowers - Lupine, Heather and Paintbrush @ Glacier Peak Wilderness
Cloudy Pass wildflowers - Lupine, Heather and Paintbrush
Once over Cloudy Pass, it is a short 1 mile hike to the Suiattle Pass and then down to Miners Creek.  At Miners Creek we diverge from the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) and set up camp across from an older Miner's Cabin. 

Miners Cabin @ Miners Creek - Image Lake Trail @ Glacier Peak Wilderness
Miners Cabin @ Miners Creek - Image Lake Trail
From here we take a 7 mile side trip to Image Lake.  This is not to be missed.  On this side trip we encountered our next adventure with a water crossing, meadows full of wildflowers and our first good views of Glacier Peak.  And of course Image Lake.  

Miners Cabin @ Miners Creek - Image Lake Trail @ Glacier Peak Wilderness
Paintbrush and wildflowers in the meadows on the trail to Image Lake
Image Lake with Glacier Peak in the background. @ Glacier Peak Wilderness
Image Lake with Glacier Peak in the background.
Marmots all over the place, this one was hiding out along the trail. @ Glacier Peak Wilderness
Marmots all over the place, this one was hiding out along the trail.

Falls and crossing area at about noon. @ Glacier Peak Wilderness Image Lake Trail
Falls and crossing area at about noon.
Falls and crossing area at 5 pm @ Glacier Peak Wilderness Image Lake Trail
Falls and crossing area at 5 pm
Water crossing area at 5 pm.  At noon we there were rocks to cross, not at 5 pm
Water crossing area at 5 pm.  At noon we had rocks to cross, not at 5 pm.
Day 3 was a lot of hiking, but the side trip to Image Lake was well worth it.

Day 4 - Miners Creek to Buck Creek Pass

Today we had more friendly visitors to camp while we were eating breakfast.  We had seen him the evening before but today he came back with his lady friend.

video

It also felt like the hottest day so far on our trip.  We headed down from Miners Creek and out toward Buck Creek Pass.  As we headed up to the first pass and took a break, we found a side trail that we explored before heading on the rest of the way to Buck Creek Pass.  The side trip was well worth it.  It took us to another meadow full of wildflowers.  
Side trip to another meadow of wildflowers and great views of the mountains around us. @ Glacier Peak Wilderness
Side trip to another meadow of wildflowers and great views of the mountains around us.
After heading back to the trail, we continued on toward Buck Creek Pass and where we would spend the night.  We stayed up on top of the pass where we could have nice views of Glacier Peak and the surrounding area.  And of course more wildlife.  
Mule deer @ Buck Creek Pass
Mule deer shaking off the bugs.
Glacier Peak from Buck Creek Pass @ the start of sunset.
Glacier Peak from Buck Creek Pass @ the start of sunset.
Sunset from Buck Pass looking toward the Pacific Ocean
Sunset from Buck Pass looking toward the Pacific Ocean
What a great way to end the day and for our last night in the Glacier Peak Wilderness.  It was hard to believe the next day we'd wake up, pack up and head out.

Day 5:  Buck Creek Pass to Trinity Trailhead

Day 5, it came so fast.  After waking up early to watch the sun rise on Glacier Peak it was time to pack up and head out of this beautiful wilderness area.

Sunrise on Glacier Peak from Buck Creek Pass @ Glacier Peak Wilderness
Sunrise on Glacier Peak from Buck Creek Pass
It was 9.6 miles from camp to the car, but it was a beautiful hike down through the forest and valleys.  As we hit Buck Creek and followed the trail toward the car, we passed a number of avalanche areas which are just amazing to see.  For all the beauty nature offers us, it can also be very destructive.

Glacier Peak Wilderness - Buck Creek trail and route out
Glacier Peak Wilderness - Buck Creek trail and route out
Glacier Peak Wilderness - Avalanche area along Buck Creek
Glacier Peak Wilderness - Avalanche area along Buck Creek

As this trip came to a close, I got the same feeling I get every time I go out on a trip like this.  I always feel like I'm losing a part of myself when I head out of the wilderness.  Not because I'm leaving it in the wilderness, but because I can't take the wilderness with me.  In the wilderness I feel whole, at one with nature.  It's always a different challenge which is something I crave and enjoy.

Good thing is after this trip, I headed over to Mt Baker and did another backpacking trip.  It was a relief to know I could head right back into the wilderness.

Trip stats:
Dates:  July 26 - 30, 2014
Elevation gain:  11,082 ft
Elevation loss:  10,999 ft
Distance:  ~48 miles

"Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature's peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop away from you like the leaves of Autumn." John Muir

More information on Glacier Peak Wilderness.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Munising and Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore Waterfalls Winter to Spring

Northern Michigan Waterfalls

Northern Michigan has some amazing waterfalls scattered throughout its vast expanse of wilderness and park areas.  Last December (2013) I visited Munising for a couple of days after Christmas to snowshoe at Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore and visit a few of the Munising, Michigan area waterfalls.  With plenty of snow on the ground and cold temperatures coming in, we got some pretty breathtaking and up close views of the waterfalls in their frozen or nearly frozen state.  (This was prior to the polar vortex moving south.)

Of course, after the winter we had with snow and cold, I started to wonder what these same waterfalls would look like in the spring months.  So off I went on Memorial Day Weekend 2014 back up to the Munising area to find out.  With spring being cold and seeming to come in late, some waterfalls still had ice at the bottom and even Lake Superior still had ice.  It was pretty amazing to see.  But all the waterfalls were flowing briskly and providing another view of nature's beauty.

Laughing Whitefish Falls

Laughing Whitefish Falls State Park is just west of of the Munising area.  It's a smaller state park with a nice trail that you can take to get to the waterfall.  In the winter the road to this park is not maintained and you do need to park out near the main road and go by foot.  If you have the right amount of snow, you can easily make it into a beautiful snowshoe hike.  In the summer, it's a quick walk from the parking lot to the falls.  You can also connect from this trail to the North Country Trail if you want to extend your hike for a few more miles or a few more days.

Laughing Whitefish Falls, December 26, 2013

Laughing Whitefish Falls, May 26, 2014

Wagner Falls

Wagner Falls is located just before you get into Munising on M94.  You can park along the road and take the short path that will lead you to the falls.  

Wagner Falls, Munising Michigan waterfall
Wagner Falls, December 28, 2013
Wagner Falls, Munising Michigan
Wagner Falls, May 24, 2014

 Munising Falls

Munising Falls is amazing in the winter.  The ice fall is big.  And even with the ice, you can still hear the water that is cascading down inside the waterfall.  Munising Falls is a short drive from Munising and is at the entrance to Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore before you get to Sand Point.  In the winter, the stairs that lead up to the higher level views of the waterfalls are roped off.  But if you visit at that time of the year, you'll notice that doesn't stop people from going up and even behind the waterfall for a close up view.

Munising Falls, Munising MI
Munising Falls, December 26, 2013

Munising Falls, Munising MI
Munising Falls, May 24, 2014

Miners Falls

Miners Falls is within the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore area.  In the winter it's a bit more of a challenge to get to as the roads within Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore are not maintained and you will need to park ~3 miles from Miners Falls.  Snowshoes again are the perfect way to get to the falls and to continue on and explore the park.  In summer you can drive to the parking area for the waterfall and hike the short .6 miles to the waterfall.

Miners Falls, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan Waterfalls
Miners Falls, December 27, 2013

Miners Falls, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Michigan Waterfalls
Miners Falls, May 25, 2014

Miners Castle and the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore Superior shoreline

No trip to Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore would be complete without a trip to Miners Castle.  Even in the winter when it requires backcountry snowshoeing along Miners River and through the wilderness forest.  And no, there are not any trails that lead from Miners Falls to Miners Castle - we went a little of course and navigated our own way.

Miners Castle, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Munising MI
Miners Castle, December 27, 2013

Miners Castle, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Munising MI
Miners Castle, May 25, 2014

These are just a few of the many waterfalls in Northern Michigan.  They're definitely worth a visit and even worth the challenge in winter.  Snowshoe in and you'll have these places all to yourself, along with the beauty of winter and nature all around you.

I encourage you to break away and explore these beautiful places.  And for this post - there is no better quote from John Muir that describes how I felt when visiting these places both in winter and in spring.

"The snow is melting into music."  John Muir

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Spring Thaw on the Ice Age Trail

As spring arrives to Wisconsin, hiking on the Ice Age Trail can sometimes become a challenge.  With the traffic some sections of the Ice Age Trail receives during the winter, the snow gets packed down on the trails.  As the spring thaw comes and this packed snow melts and refreezes, it creates an ice pack on the trail.

Last week I hit up the Ice Age Trail which travels around Devil's Lake and it was a challenge in a lot of areas due to the ice.  This week I hit up the Ice Age Trail in Northern Kettle Moraine heading south from the Greenbush Recreation area and again there were some challenges.

Spring Thaw on the Ice Age Trail


Heading up to the Ice Age Trail from Milwaukee I had the thought that I'd be hiking through a lot of mud since in the city and north of the city, the snow has melted and things have started to dry up.  But as I hit Northern Kettle Moraine and was driving through it via the scenic route, I noticed a lot of snow yet still on the ground in the forest.  My first thought was - yeah, I get to enjoy a little of winter one more time this year.


Ice Age Trail - Northern Kettle Moraine - Greenbush Rec Area
Ice Age Trail - Northern Kettle Moraine
Arriving at the trailhead, I realized there is a lot of spring thaw still going on in this area.  And the 50 degree weather today was going to really help it along.  That's both good and bad on a day like today.  Immediately hitting the trail, I was on ice.  Melting ice.  Slippery melting ice.  Great.  Today I am training again with a full pack and I brought the dogs with me so no trekking poles along for support.  Ok - so off trail we go around the icy hills.

Ice on the Ice Age Trail - Northern Kettle Moraine State Forest - Greenbush Recreation Area
Ice on the Ice Age Trail - Northern Kettle Moraine State Forest

Melting ice on the Ice Age Trail Northern Kettle Moraine State Forest Greenbush Recreation Area
Melting Ice, Slippery Melting Ice.  Ice Age Trail Northern Kettle Moraine State Forest
Spring thaw also hit the open areas on the trail.  Ice. Snow. Mud.  Again - great.  The dogs are finding all of it.  And I know it will all be brought into my car.  But finding the open fields that were drier and having the sun hit us was a good feeling because it is a reminder, spring is coming.

Spring thaw on the Ice Age Trail - Northern Kettle Moraine State Forest - Greenbush Recreation Area
Spring thaw on the Ice Age Trail - Northern Kettle Moraine State Forest
Though I am a lover of winter and snow, having a spring thaw reminds me that with spring comes a refreshing newness.  And with this comes new life in the forest.  And hiking the Ice Age Trail in a few weeks will be completely different than it was today.  Beautiful greens from the plants, vibrant colors from the flowers, buzzing of bugs flying through the air.  I think a hike today with the spring thaw has finally mentally prepared me for the next season.  Though I'm sad to see winter gone, it will surely come again and I'll be right here ready for it to arrive.

“Spring work is going on with joyful enthusiasm.”   John Muir

That's kind of how I felt today.



Saturday, March 22, 2014

Spring Training at Devil's Lake State Park

Spring Training at Devil's Lake State Park

With another trip just around the corner to go backpacking in the Pacific Northwest I figured Devil's Lake State Park would be the perfect spot to get in one last good training day.  Devil's Lake State Park, located in the Driftless Area of Wisconsin has some great bluffs bordering each side of Devils Lake.  Great for training when you need to get some quick elevation gain.

Devil's Lake State Park: East Bluff and West Bluff trails
Devil's Lake: East Bluff and West Bluff trails


Spring At Devil's Lake State Park

Having trained in Spring 2013 at Devil's Lake State Park for my Mt Whitney trip with Backpacker Magazine for Big City Mountaineers, I knew to expect the East Bluff Trail to be in a little worse condition that the West Bluff Trail due to the lack of sunlight in some areas.  Well, I'm not sure that was the case today.  With our crazy winter this year of freezing temps and snow on the ground for 90+ days, spring is coming slow.  

The trails were clear in some spots, snow covered in locations and ice covered in many locations.  Carrying a full pack of gear, maneuvering off trail to get around the ice on the slopes of the bluffs was a challenge.  But one that I was willing to take and enjoying.  

Snow on the East Bluff Trail at Devil's Lake State Park
Snow on the East Bluff Trail at Devil's Lake State Park


Still Winter at Devil's Lake State Park?

The best part of training today at Devil's Lake State Park was that I found a little bit of winter.  With my love for cold weather, snow and winter, I felt like not only did I get a good day of training, I got to experience winter one more time.  Arriving at the park it was 28 degrees (20 degrees with the wind), small random flakes of snow falling were present and the lake was still frozen over.  I'll take it.  And I needed it - a little bit of winter is a great way to refresh the soul while training.

Devils Lake frozen over
Devil's Lake frozen over (March 2014)

“I care to live only to entice people to look at Nature’s loveliness.”    John Muir.

And I hope I inspire some of you to look at, feel and be with nature - it gives far more than it receives.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Taking in Lake Superior's Ice Caves

With a winter that has lived up to the predictions of being piercing cold and snowy (Farmer's Almanac predictions for 2014), we are able to get a glimpse of something we don't get to see very often and it is predicted that we will get to see less and less in the future.  Lake Superior freezing over.  And as of this week it is about 90+% frozen over (NOAA).

Apostle Islands National Lakeshore Ice Caves

Because Lake Superior has frozen and the shoreline along the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore is frozen, we have an opportunity to visit the Ice Caves located along the shoreline.  And I took advantage of this opportunity.

Visiting the Ice Caves requires a 1.3 mile hike on the ice to arrive at the beginning of the shoreline where the Ice Caves are located.  Because of the national attention this has been getting I chose to splurge and take a few vacation days to visit during the week versus attempting to hike out there when the masses of people are there on the weekend.  This was the perfect decision and a great use of my vacation.

On a Monday morning, when the air temperature was -19 degrees fahrenheit, I laid out the gear I would need to defend against an air temperature this brutally cold and knowing that once I hit the shoreline of a frozen Lake Superior I would run into a cold wind which would drop those temperatures even further.  After inspection and packing - I felt good and was ready to go.

The drive up from Iron River was beautiful, the sun came out and I thought, this will be a good trip.  But as I arrived to the parking area, that all changed.  Snow was coming down, the wind was so strong it was blowing it sideways, there were whiteout conditions and within one minute at the back of my car trying to find gear without gloves on, I needed to get back in the car to warm up my now frozen hands.  As I sat there, I mentally prepared myself and thought - you have the gear, you have hand warmers, you have toe warmers and you came here to go see the caves.  I pulled on all my gear in the car and set out.  My first vision as I hit the shoreline was the view of walking snowmen, in reality it was a couple who were just returning from the caves - the wind and snow was blowing so hard, they were literally caked in snow.  Their word of warning was to be prepared for the trip back from the caves as you walk directly into the wind and snow.  Got it, I was going.

Apostle Islands National Lakeshore and a frozen Lake Superior
Apostle Islands National Lakeshore - Walk to the Ice Caves
The walk out to the Ice Caves was peaceful and quiet - with the weather conditions as they were and being a Monday morning, there was no crowd.  It was an amazing view for what you could see in the whiteout conditions. Lake ice piling up, a wooded shoreline and the anticipation of finding the caves.

After rounding a few bends, the shoreline changes and becomes less wooded and builds up with the sandstone bluffs that makes viewing ice caves possible.

Apostle Islands National Lakeshore Ice
Apostle Islands National Lakeshore - Ice

Once I arrived at the sandstone bluffs I spent my time exploring the ice caves and continued down the shoreline for another 1.5 miles.  The ice formations inside these caves was just amazing.  Between the water seeping through the porous sandstone rock to form the hanging ice cicles and the splashing of the water from Lake Superior before it froze over - Mother Nature did her job in creating a wonderland to explore.

Lake Superior Ice Caves
Lake Superior Ice Caves
After exploring for a while it was time to turn around and start the trek back toward my car.  Yes, it was windy just as the advice from the walking snowmen was when I started my hike.  But as I turned around to head back, the snow had stopped and the sun was just arriving along the shoreline.  I had timed it just perfectly.  The sun was hitting the ice and providing some amazing views of the sandstone bluffs and the tree lined shores.  

Sun is coming out along the Lake Superior Shoreline
Sun is starting to shine along the Lake Superior shoreline.

Sun hitting the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore - Lake Superior
Sun hitting the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore - Lake Superior
This was an amazing journey, one that I definitely will not forget.  And thanks to my advanced planning of what gear I would need to survive a cold, windy, snowy day - I never got cold.  I'd definitely do it all over again.

For those that are curious, what does one wear in conditions like this to stay comfortable and warm. Here's a list of what I had on:

Top:

  • Smartwool NTS layer
  • Polartec Fleece
  • Mountain Hardwear Jacket - used my synthetic (similar to the B'Lady)
Bottom:
  • Patagonia Capilene 3
  • Old pair of Columbia pants
  • Old pair of Columbia snow pants
Head / Hands / Feet
  • Balaclava
  • Hat
  • Glacier Glasses
  • Scott Gloves (similar to the Traverse)
  • Hand warmers
  • Wool Boot Socks (LL Bean)
  • Toe warmers
  • Lands End winter boots

"In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks." John Muir