Author Archives: Nikhil Navali

About Nikhil Navali

I’m Nikhil Navali, pursuing my masters in Computer Science at Cornell University. I love to be outdoors enjoying the fresh air and indulge in various physical activities. That said, I dont shy to sit days together with just my laptop and internet. I am basically a “Neophiliac” who wants to try many things in the world ranging from testing my taste buds to trying out adventurous activities. My favorite passtime includes reading books, watching historical documentaries on youtube and updating my bucket list which is always fresh and full.

A winter hike in the summer – Chain lakes loop trail

Navigating the snowy trail around the semi frozen lakes in the Mount Baker National forest with changing wallpaper like views of surrounding snow covered mountains on every step surely felt like a winter hike in the middle of July.

In the continued effort of showing beautiful places in Washington to my brother in law – Amit, we chose to drive to Artist Point area. The road till the view point was not open yet so there was some hiking involved. Since it’s 2.5 hours of 1 way drive, I didn’t want to just do that short hike and browsed all trails for nearby hikes. Chain lakes loop trail looked interesting but with snow on the trail, few hikers had recommended snow gear. We packed our snow boots, microspikes, poles and extra socks but I was still not sure whether we would do the loop. We left Seattle a little late and it was around 11.30 AM by the time we reached the Heather Meadows visitor center. The chain lakes loop could be started from the visitor center and it goes around multiple lakes and also the artist point. There was considerable amount of snow in the area – I could see a partially frozen lake right from where we had parked. I also scanned few people on the chain lakes trail but wasn’t sure if they were attempting to do the full loop.

Assessing the conditions

After discussing multiple options we chose to do the loop in anti-clockwise direction (so that we reach the steep sections of the trail early on) and were ready to turn around if we came across any treacherous sections.

We started the hike to reach the partially frozen Upper Bagley lake which was already quite scenic. After crossing a cute small rock bridge, we got on to the main loop trail and I kept asking people if they had attempted the full loop so that I understand the conditions. Everyone said No except 1 girl – she had taken the clockwise direction almost completing the loop and gave a positive outlook on conditions. That was the moment when I thought that we could actually complete the loop and was excited. We passed the lake and started gaining quite a lot of elevation. It was a clear summer day and the uncovered trail exposed us to the Sun which got uncomfortable as we proceeded. The number of hikers we encountered reduced but there were some who overtook us. Shuksan kept growing in size as we reached higher and it looked just magnificent with its wide snow dressed rocky body.

Mt Shuksan – A family mountain

I have always admired the mountain and due to its broadness, I tagged it as a Family mountain (compared to other lone wolf volcanic peaks in Washington). We crossed multiple sections of snow patches and they were relatively safer to navigate. I was expecting to see Baker as well once we had reached the highest point and there it was with a surprise. The iceberg lake – semi frozen as well – made an appearance too and it looked spectacular with its blue waters. We were at an elevation of 5.5k feet and had panoramic views of Shuksan, Baker, few lakes and mountains – all majorly in snow. It was hard to believe that we were in middle of summer and yet experience so much snow.

Mt Baker and Iceberg lake

We then started our descent to Iceberg lake and it was bit tricky for Divya and Amit to hike down the steep snowy sections. The footsteps were helpful but were in multiple places and I had to use all trails to ensure that we were on track. The time was ticking fast, it was already 3.30 PM and we were hungry. We found a lunch spot overlooking Hayes lake (situated beside Iceberg lake) surrounded with greenery. While having lunch, we saw 2 people taking a dip in the lake and I guess it was quite refreshing for them. After lunch, another breathtaking view awaited yes which I thought was a bit unusual for Washington. One vertical face of table top mountain was visible with a small waterfall resembling the scenes from Yosemite in California. I think Washington has less vertical rock faces and I was delighted with the sight.

Mazama lake was the last of the chain lakes and the area around here resembled the Enchantments area. I was just amused at the variety of landscapes we were experiencing for a relatively short hike. The Sun lit us for most of the rest of the hike and to make it worse, we had carried less than 3 litres of water between 3 of us which fell short.

Divya and Amit navigating the snow

Treasuring the remaining water, we marched on to reach the Ptarmigan ridge junction to see the Mt Shuksan again. The next stretch involved crossing the steep sections on table top mountain to reach Artist point and there were multiple snow crossings. This was the section which I thought was the most tricky to cross as any miss-foot would send us sliding down and maybe hit some rocks. Gladly, we all made it without any stories.

One of the many snow crossings

It was quite some time since we had seen another soul and I wanted to complete the hike safely in time. Mt Baker and surrounding snow covered peaks were behind us the entire stretch and the scenes here resembled the high altitude Himalayan peaks and Divya was so excited witnessing them.

Finally we made it to Artist point and I was quite relieved to see few other people enjoying the snow there. That meant that we had left the sketchy sections of the trail behind us. There was still so much snow around and only the roof of restroom was visible. I didn’t even know that it existed since I had always visited Artist point during winters. Also, the yearly ritual of visiting Artist point was fulfilled but without fresh soft snow this time. From there on, we followed tracks and other people to descend. The road was exposed at some sections but we took some shortcuts and reached the parking lot. I was quite happy for not only completing the loop safely but also for witnessing some of the most beautiful landscapes in Washington. We hadn’t hiked much this winter owing to Covid, so this kind of made up for it. We stopped at Picture lake and that doubled the beauty of Shuksan.

I had never visited this place in summer and it looks quite enchanting as in the winter. This is truly a special place in Washington.

Activity Overview

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Categories: Adventure, Outdoors, Seattle, Snow | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment

Hike to Iron Bear peak

My brother in law, Amit has joined us in Seattle for this summer and in an effort to show the beautiful Washington through hiking, I was looking for a relatively easy trail with good views and less crowd for a Sunday. I have been observing that the number of people willing to venture outside has increased recently. With a 2 hour long drive, Iron Bear trail seemed like a good bet. We started early and even though it was cloudy en route, the skies cleared up by the time we reached highway 97.

Google maps put us on a slightly different road (NF-9175) and I realized only after couple of miles that NF-9714 was the right one. But the 9715 gained quite an elevation and had good views along the road and I made a mental note to explore this at a later time. We reached the trailhead and it was already crowded with cars parked on the side of the road. The trail was well maintained, gained gradually and nearly rock free. This allowed bikers (with and without motors) to share the trail and we saw few of them. Wildflowers added to the beauty along the trail at various stretches and as usual Rainier made an appearance after a distance. We reached the peak around noon and it had a decent view of Mt Stuart, Rainier and few other surrounding peaks.

Also there was ample amount of space to host multiple groups and we got a good spot for lunch. We left after an hour and passed many hikers during the descent. I was wrong in expecting less crowd and there were lots of cars by the time we reached the trailhead. Overall, it was a good day out but I don’t think Amit was that impressed. We decided to get him hiking shoes so that he could try challenging terrains on future hikes.

Activity Overview

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Biking the Iron Horse trail

Sai had started a new hobby of biking the trails in Washington. He had a bike rack which could take 2 bikes and I joined him this Sunday to bike a stretch of Iron horse trail. The forecast predicted just the clouds and our original plan was to bike near Snoqualmie pass which included a tunnel. It was raining when we reached there and it didn’t look like it was going to abate anytime soon. We then decided to drive further east to Lake Easton and try the stretches around. The trail now known as Palouse to Cascades State Park Trail stretches from the mountains around I-90 near Seattle to Palouse and is 212 miles long. I was impressed by this fact and was excited to bike since this was the first time ever I had taken my bike outside Seattle.

At Lake Easton state park, we started from the west parking lot in our biking attire. After a mile or so through the trees, we joined the gravel Iron horse trail. Since I had a commuter bike (sort of hybrid), I was not sure if my bike would fare well in the off-road trails. Soon we were welcomed by a sturdy looking bridge which had an amazing view of the lake and mountains around with double railway tracks beneath. We rode ahead and found a tunnel and I was pleasantly surprised at the variety of things we were finding. The trail was mostly gravel and so well maintained that I was comfortably enjoying the ride on my bike. We reached the Easton town after 3.5 miles and decided to retrace the off-road trail instead of going on the roads to complete the loop. On return we stopped by the tunnel and tried some photography.

The trail between the trees, on the bridge and inside the tunnel was fun. Can’t wait to try other trails in the state. This was a short ride of 7 miles but it gave me a taste of biking outside the city and I am already looking forward for the next ride.

Activity Overview

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Hike to Cow Heaven

It had been a long break from hikes and I was craving for a weekend with good weather. Jim posted a hike on Sunday for which the forecast was ok. The recent downpour of rain had some road closures and the hike was rescheduled to Cow Heaven in the North instead of one in the south. Even though the stats mentioned 4000 ft gain with around 8.5 miles roundtrip and this being my first snowshoeing of the season, I was ok to try since I hadn’t hiked this mountain before. We reached the trailhead in 3 cars and started our hike by 9:30 AM.

Hike started with a difficult creek crossing where we scrambled around to pass without getting wet and continuous switch backs thereafter which I counted to be around 50. The break from hikes was already taking a toll on me and we hadn’t even put the snowshoes on. It was around 2 miles when we wore them and continued our ascent. There were no views at all till the last part so it felt like a slow grind. There was a mix of sunshine and clouds and we could see the surrounding mountains from the first viewpoint. We continued to ascend the ridge on the soft snow which I totally love and the views kept getting better. At a high point of 4400ft, we stopped for lunch amidst the 270 deg views. We had taken around 4.5 hours for the climb. The only relation to “Cow” and “Heaven” I could make during the hike was the fresh soft white snow. I felt nice looking around but didn’t wow me for some reason, maybe cold was getting on to me. My fingers and toes had started to pain. I was glad to start the descent after sometime since I knew it would immediately warm my body.

The downhill took a toll on my knees and couple of the hikers had cramps. My thigh muscles were reminding me of hike even after 4 days. It was a challenging long hike. We returned to trailhead by 4.15 PM and we reached back after having early dinner at a Ranch house. It was good to get out after a long time.

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Categories: Outdoors, Seattle | Tags: , | 1 Comment

Hike to Trappers peak

Seeing the Picket range of North Cascades national park from up close was in my bucket list since long and I didn’t want to miss the chance now, especially due to the snow in early winter. I expected to see the range dressed with snow and I got exactly that on a perfect blue bird day for October.

I got up at 5:20 AM even though I had only 4 hours of sleep due to previous night’s potluck. We carpooled from Lake Stevens and reached the trailhead by 9 AM and I was glad that I could get some sleep en route. I decided not to carry ice axe which I thought was a bad idea initially. We started hiking at 9:30 AM and first 2 miles of the trail ascended only a bit after which it was steep all the way till the summit. Snow appeared after a mile from there and it was around 11:45 AM by the time we reached the intersection for Thornton lake and Trappers peak. There was lot of snow, we were discussing our options and fortunately we saw 2 hikers descending from the peak’s direction. They had camped the previous night and had made all the way up-to peak and back without an ice axe. They mentioned that there were boot paths all the way which encouraged at-least me. Most of us decided to give a try and started our ascent.

The first part was a class 3 scramble after which we could see Picket range and many snow capped mountains around. I carried on and 2 ladies who were ahead of me asked me if I would want to lead. It was funny that in-spite of not carrying an ice axe, I chose to lead the group. The boot marks on snow were super helpful and I followed them diligently. There were few sketchy sections and especially one narrow ridge path.

After a while it was just a fellow hiker and myself who were quite a way ahead. I mustered the courage to carry on remembering what the 2 other hikers had mentioned. We reached the peak by 1 PM on what I would describe as a perfect day for October. With clear blue skies we had a 360 deg panoramic views and there was hardly any wind. The snow enriched the beauty and I was so glad to be there. The picket range was just across the valley and truly lived up-to its fame of having many pointy peaks.

We could see 3 lakes nestled in the mountains and numerous features around. Soon rest of the group caught up and we had lunch while Jim was hurrying people to start heading back. The descent was uneventful except crossing those narrow sections and we made it to the trailhead by 4:50 PM. I was fortunate to make it back safe without an ice axe. The snow was just right to be passable without danger. I would strongly recommend carrying one in winter. My phone measured the distance to be 11 miles with 3800 feet as elevation gain. Surprisingly, I was not that tired for that stats. I would mark this hike as one of my bests.

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Categories: Adventure, Outdoors, Seattle | Tags: , , | 1 Comment

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