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 broken side view mirror and itching skin were the result of this week’s adventure but in return I was treated with an amazing slope of wildflowers and 360 deg view from the summit. It had been a while since I hiked with Mark and he usually posts the one with fantastic views. Mark had mentioned that the last stretch of road to trailhead is narrow due to the overgrown bushes and since I already had a big scratch on my car’s door, I didn’t mind few extras. We exited the Highway 2 to a forest road after Steven’s pass towards Snowy creek trailhead. The first couple of miles was fine but the real test started after that. The bushes were so overgrown that we couldn’t pass without the branches brushing both sides of the car.
I made 2 mistakes here – (1) I did not close the side mirrors and (2) Was over-speeding for those conditions. Soon I hit a thick branch and the passenger side mirror bolted towards the window and cracked. I then corrected both my mistakes and continued with the rest of the journey without any major mishaps. There were only 3 cars from our group on the trailhead and we started hiking.
Another mistake I had made was not to wear a full sleeved t shirt. I should have expected some bushwhacking and the summer bugs. A fellow hiker cracked a joke saying that we were breaking the trail in a summer (Usually we break trails in the snow). Soon the bugs started troubling and it was annoying. We reached a meadow from where we could see the ridge-line and treeless mountain slopes. I used the bug spray from there on but I guess it was too late. The bugs had already made their marks on my hands. We came above the tree-line after a steep ascent and things were all pleasant from there on. We could see the surrounding mountains and numerous yellow/purple/red/white flowers on the slope.
Many switchbacks took us to the ridge and after passing on a short section of snow, we reached the summit. The clouds were intermittent and were above us which provided interesting shadows on the surrounding mountains. The view itself was fantastic with Glacier peak, Mt Pugh and many others in the vicinity. We spent good amount of time having lunch and started our descent. We saw couple of other hikers on our way down and that was it. Even though it was quite warm, I wore sweatshirt to save myself from the bugs. We could see the downpour at a distance, the cloud cover got thicker and there was a drizzle when we reached the trailhead. I duct-taped the side mirror glass and the exposed internals. In the morning, I had observed that the side mirror’s protective black cover had fallen en-route and made it a note to pick up on the return. I was less hopeful that we would find it but we ended up picking two car’s side mirror caps of which one was mine. All in all it was a good summer hike with some learnings. My skin itched for few days and I treated it with ice and moisturizer regularly.
Continuing with the training hikes for Divya, I chose nearby Granite mountain. The trip reports had mentioned about Beargrass and given the cloudy forecast, I thought we could see at-least the flowers on this steep hike for motivation. We started to hike at 8:30 AM and we hit the fog/clouds after a mile. I had kept the Beargrass as a surprise from Divya. We saw the first flower in less than 2 miles into the hike and that’s when I introduced the flower to her.
Love the way it looks. Numerous tiny flowers form a cylindrical dome
I told her that we would see 100s of them ahead but little did I know that I would be surprised myself. The flowers started appearing again especially in the regions where the tree cover was absent. The bottom of the flowers were faded and I was wondering if we were a bit late from the full bloom. Soon, we saw the flowers had lined the trail and we were already going gaga. After few switchbacks, we could see the flowers in abundance enveloping an entire small portion of the hill.
An elderly hiker offered us a couple pic
Motivated, we continued with almost no tiredness and what we saw for the next 1 hour completely blew my mind. I hadn’t experienced such views in my 4 years of hiking in PNW. The flowers had blanketed the entire slope of the mountain and we could see them as far as our eyes could see. The clouds were still hanging around so it felt like we were in a dome full of flowers. I was expecting something in the range of 100s, but we estimated them to be in multiples of thousands. I couldn’t believe my eyes, it was super awesome. The flowers in this section were almost in full bloom. We spent ample of time clicking pics but if only the photos could capture what the eyes saw.
The blog post here captures what the heart felt. Ethereal!!!
There were flowers of red and purple in few places and they contrasted well. The surrounding mountains were playing hide and seek and the Sun lit the place occasionally. We continued on to reach the ridge from where we could see the lookout. The flowers here had hardly bloomed and we could see the buds in the top. After reaching a high ground, we decided to stop there for lunch and return. On the winter route, we could see few people making their way through boulders to reach the lookout and there was a summer route which was less exposed. Enjoying the occasional surrounding views we had lunch and started the descent. The sky got clearer as we hiked down and it was then when I felt it was a summer hike. The blue sky and the green surrounding mountains were a treat too. It was well over 7 hours by the time we reached the car. It was fantastic to observe the number of flowers which appeared in the increasing log scale. The progression of bud to bloom was interesting too. Washington had surprised me yet again.
I was ecstatic when a notification from WSDOT on Twitter read that the SR-20 highway would be opening on 04/18. The highway is closed every winter due to the snow and opens in Apr/May after the plough. I had taken an excursion to Winthrop with my mom soon after last year’s opening in May and we had loved the drive. It was a month early this year and I was excited to repeat the journey with my wife this time. I was also excited about the booking I had made at an amazing lodge in Winthrop. The forecast was favorable for the weekend, we packed and left Seattle around 9:30 AM on Saturday.
It was cloudy when we started and the skies turned bluer by the time we reached Darrington. We were treated with the views already by the surrounding mountains. We stopped for a Hot Chocolate and continued with our drive to reach Highway 20. Our first major stop was at NewHalem where we spent ample of time exploring the bridge on Cedar’s trail, cherry blossoms, an old locomotive and the nature around. While on the highway, we could see numerous tiny waterfalls due to the snow melt which was a pleasant treat.
We passed through colorful waters, creeks and stopped at Diablo lake overlook which provided a beautiful vista of snow capped mountains and turquoise waters of the North Cascades.
We continued our drive through the heart of the mountains and it was nice to see many others had taken the road including numerous bikers. This is the part where the road is closed for the winters and opens usually in Spring. There is an interesting story about a lady who used to visit the opening day every time with Cinnamon rolls which can be read here. We had lunch near the PCT junction and reached my favorite part of the drive, Washington Pass. We reached the viewpoint after a short walk and the view from there was exquisite as usual.
I surveyed the surrounding mountains and passes for possible trails. The snow, jagged peaks, bright daylight and the road amidst the tall trees was a treat for the eyes. Co incidentally Sai was there too and we drove together to Winthrop.
We stayed at Sun mountain lodge which was an amazing place. Living room, bedroom, 2 balconies, views of Mt Robinson and surrounding Methow valley were few of the perks.
We also had our own hot bath tub. With all these unique features, they didn’t have the basic microwave oven which was a bummer since we had carried food. It was a full moon night and it was interesting to see the hills and our shadows in the moon light. The next morning we filled our stomachs with the Easter breakfast and I fulfilled my cravings of Waffles. We played a bit of TT and left for Seattle by noon. En-route, we also had an opportunity to cross the dam and it was super cool to see the gates up close. Journeying SR 20 in the late winter is one of the best things I think to do in Washington. It exposes the beauty of the state in an amazing way that could be experienced with just a drive.
Descending from an active volcano which last erupted in 1980 and watching people emerging from the sea of clouds with pointy Mt Hood in the backdrop was a surreal experience.
I expected a blue bird day on the mountain but what I experienced was completely different. I had been long waiting to climb Mt St Helens and the recent snow and forecast tempted me to sign up for the hike. Mt St Helens last erupted in 1980 and it’s considered as the deadliest and most economically destructive volcanic event in recorded U.S. history. Very interesting part is the caldera which is on the side of the mountain because the volcano erupted sideways instead of the usual top. I had never gotten close to the mountain before and I was excited. Since the trailhead is 4 hours away from Seattle, we chose to camp and then hike early in the morning. So I started from Seattle with 2 other hikers at 3 PM and reached the trailhead around 7 PM. We were at Marble Mountain Snow Park before dark and other hikers had already put up camp fire in the parking lot. We decided to just lay our tents on the parking spots and start the hike by 4 AM. I broke a tiny part of my tent while pitching but managed to set it up for the night. It was not too cold and we had nice time in front of fire having our dinner. I slept ok for the night and this was the first night away from my wife since marriage.
I got ready promptly by 4 AM. With micro-spikes and headlights, we started our hike in the dark at 4:30 AM. We took the Warm flows route which starts from the southern side of the mountain. The first 2.8 miles was quite gradual with most of it in the forest and then the real ascent started. It was interesting to see multiple headlights ahead of us on the mountain and the daylight breaking out slowly. It was very steep from then on and the last 2 miles gained 4000 feet. I started counting steps and kept patience during the slog. It got quite windy at some places and the cold caught on with my toes. I kept hiking without much worry since I had a vague idea of my threshold. Looking at the cloud cover all over, my hopes of seeing the caldera dwindled and I just wanted to reach the rim for the sake of completion. I had counted around 6800 steps in the last 2 miles and it was an arduous ascent with few false summits. Juggling around with my layers, filling my stomach occasionally I reached the rim after 5 hours. Fortunately, it started getting warm and the clouds were getting cleared. I saw the majestic rim initially and could see almost the entire caldera before leaving. We spent at-least an hour on the summit eating, exploring and enjoying the time. I had carried GoPro, but unfortunately it gave up on me and I had to rely on my phone for all captures. I kept scanning the caldera in the North and the escaping fumes were visible which was interesting to watch. In the south, the pointy Mt Hood was visible over the sea of clouds and it was a view to behold.
We started the descent and we saw many hikers making their way up, in-fact too many actually. There were lot of skiers and snowboarders too. I stuck to micro-spikes for the entire hike and it was adventurous descending on steep slopes with ice axe on one hand. There was a thick cloud layer below us and the view of people coming out of it looked quite surreal. We went into the whiteout soon and glissaded few times to help with our descent. The last part of steep section was particularly frustrating since the snow had turned into slush and I kept dancing all around. The final stretch in the forest was ok and it was around 2 PM by the time we had reached trailhead. It took a slight toll on me since it was a long hard hike after a big break but I loved it nonetheless. I was happy that I could finally see the caldera from close and maybe hike during summer, the next time.
Road conditions: Good, no snow on road. Trailhead: Marble Mountain Snow park. Snow permit required for Winter. Trail: Well marked in the forest and quite straightforward on the mountain. Gear: I carried crampons but made the entire hike with just the micro-spikes.
I am not new to snow or snowfall. I have lived in extreme snow conditions during my masters in Ithaca. But seeing the city of Seattle covered in snow and people making the best of it was very amusing. It usually snows just once a year in Seattle but it was different this time. There was lots of snow. Roads were used for sleighing, skiing and snowboarding and tree lined streets looked like a winter wonderland.
Round 1: It first snowed on the evening of Sunday (2/3). After a couple inches of deposit, Divya and I layered up and got out of the home. I chose to explore Seattle Center and the place looked lit 😀 in the night with snow sprinkled all over.
We ventured out again the next morning starting with Centennial Park. I took my bike out and fell on the pavement even before I started riding. Gladly that was the last fall for the day and it was all fun from then on. We both biked, walked the Olympic sculpture park and enjoyed tiny beaches. I then felt the urge to drive and Queen Anne hill provided the perfect slopes and a good vantage view. It was a thrilling experience going down on some steep snowy roads. We then went to Gas works park and I was surprised to see many people enjoying sleighing on the hill. It was a Monday and the school closures had brought many kids out. We didn’t have any sleds with us and managed few runs with an unattended cardboard which was fun but wasn’t that great. I saw few snowboarding and skiing and I just loved the way people were having fun with the snow. There were already news of bus/car mishaps from neighborhoods and I didn’t take car out for the entire snow period thereafter. The snow from the first day didn’t melt completely for the next 4 days and then I was even more excited for a bigger round.
Round 2: I was surprised to see the forecast which predicted a snow storm which would be biggest in the last decade. This had made huge news in the city and people were preparing for what they called Snowmageddon or Snowcalypse. We joined others to prepare for a possible outage and lockdown. It was interesting to see huge amounts of people in the grocery stores. Some shelves were empty and stocking was going in full swing. I was looking forward for the storm than worrying about it since I had most of the winter/camping gear including a portable stove. It started snowing on Friday evening and I could notice the difference already – the flurries were bigger and it was persistent. We went out to explore in the morning and Queen Anne Ave (one of the main steep roads in the neighborhood) had a different kind of traffic. It was closed for cars and people were using the slopes for sleighing, skiing and snowboarding.
The whole stretch was around 400 meters in length and some sled all the way down. What a unique sight it was. I am usually in awe with the different kinds of transport people use in Seattle (from skateboards to unicycles) and now there were more additions. People were using various non traditional sleds and my favorite was a half broken suitcase which I felt was an awesome ‘jugaad’. We walked the streets of Kerry Park and there was at-least 4 inches of snow. Amidst fancy looking houses, beneath the snow covered trees, it was a winter wonderland. The social media had lots to show and I was impressed with the creative ways people were having fun with.
The snow from the second run hasn’t completely melted yet and we might get more snow this winter. I really appreciate the efforts the city and residents to took ensure the safety. City managed to keep the buses running (with chains on), plowed the roads and provided live updates. Residents plowed their respective pavements and it was beautiful to be a part of the community. I experienced Seattle like never before and I would be happy to do it again.