Seattle

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

A day out in the North Cascades National Park

Hiked on : Saturday, 4th July 2020
Elevation Gain : ~1000ft
Distance : 5.5 miles round-trip
Activity Overview
3D view of the trail

This 4th of July was my second one in the United states. Although it was a long weekend, we did not plan a multi-day vacation, mainly due to the Covid fear. The fireworks were also cancelled across the US for the same reason. Nevertheless, the missing joy of having an awesome weekend getaway or witnessing the spectacular fire-works was all quenched by our visit to the North Cascades National Park! 🙂

My brother Amit is here in Seattle for the second time owing to his remote summer internship. In an attempt to continue showing him the beauty of the Pacific North-west, Nikhil has been planning hikes. We went on a relatively easy hike on the Iron-Bear trail. This was a very good warm-up – a largely simple terrain with uniform ascent yet beautiful views at the summit. After having visited the Rainier National Park during Amit’s first visit, we thought it would be apt to venture out to the North Cascades this time since we were sure its beauty would never cease to impress him. This would be my second visit there and Nikhil’s second just this year! Yet this visit turned out so good since we were accompanied by my friends, all of which surprisingly worked out in a short period of time. It was this long pending get-together of Me-Nikhil, Priyanka-Varun and Charu-Ankur. More the merrier indeed!

Given the long drive and the limited parking owing to the weekend, we had planned to start early. After gearing up and packing the food and other essentials for the hike, we met at Charu’s place and left Seattle early as planned in two cars. Amit also drove some distance while Nikhil stretched his foot for a bit. We stopped half-way at Darrington for a quick break. This place has a very scenic view of the White Horse peak that stands tall and magnificent. After adoring its beauty while chit-chatting and having Ankur’s variant of the marble cake, we continued our journey towards the mighty North Cascades. Amit was already liking the scenic drive and the country-side scenes. As we merged onto the SR20 and neared the national park, his joy grew manifold. I was excited to be back here and every checkpoint reminded me of the previous visit and its adventures. And Nikhil was of course cherishing his nostalgic memories here while sulking over the fact that we will soon be moving out of Washington and that he is going to miss PNW big time!

Soon we crossed the town of Newhalem and Diablo (where we had to take an emergency break due to Amit’s troubling tummy 😛 ), and the views kept getting better and better. After around 3hrs of drive from Seattle, we reached the trailhead for the ‘Blue Lake’. Given that this is a famous hike since it is close to Winthrop as well, the parking lot was full and the vehicles had overflowed on the roadside. But Varun was lucky to find a spot as he had gotten in at the right time when that spot opened up near the trailhead. We squeezed in as well. Changing into the hiking shoes and gathering everything needed, we started our hike.

The initial mile was easy and consisted of multiple narrow board walks, surrounded by tall pine trees on either side. It was cloudy and whatever little sunlight was out was being blocked by the tree canopy. We all were high on energy, kept talking and making merry all along. After a couple of switchbacks the trail started gaining elevation as well as showcasing some spectacular views of the cascade ranges all-around. The very first views were of this mountain – the rocky peaks with scattered snow, with some patch of green grass half-way down and the tall lush green pine trees towards the lower end. We stopped to capture the beauty and take some insta-worthy pictures. As we proceeded further we could spot better exposure to the same views. This was my first hike in the North Cascades and I was loving it already!

As we continued, we had to cross a couple of fallen trees on the trail. Further ahead, we had to maneuver through muddy portions of the trail as well as the small patches of snow that kept appearing. Almost in the final mile, there were multiple short snowy and slushy patches that needed careful navigation. Helping each other on the trail, pausing for pictures and chit-chatting continued. We could see the pleasing display of prominent landmarks like Liberty Bell and Winter Spires from unique angles as we approached the lake. After around 2 hrs we were almost at the end of our ascent and the final turn revealed this gleaming beauty! The very sight of it wowed me to the core! We were welcomed by this sub-alpine lake feeding the creek, surrounded by lush green trees and the mighty mountains. The lake was frozen with an interesting pattern of ice all over. The peripheral portion revealed the blue tint and the super-clean water showing what was underneath 🙂 As we sinked in this beauty, we walked further ahead to cross the creek and find a relaxing spot. There were many tree logs fallen and we chose to walk over them and reach the other side, giving ourselves further thrill and adventure! We took multiple group pictures as well as solo shots on and around these logs as the location was indeed picture perfect! 

After reaching the other side of the Creek we found a wide beautiful snowy frozen patch on the lake shore. Scenes were getting prettier and our cameras were getting busier! Amit took a group pic of us three couples and we joked upon it saying it’s the ‘Hum Saath Saath Hain’ pose! Incidentally we found two kannadiga guys around; they offered to click our group picture when they overheard us conversing in Kannada. Why would we not oblige! Once we were done capturing the serenity around, Nikhil went on to find a quiet secluded space for our lunch break. We climbed up a bit to reach this spot and the elevated view made the lake look at its best! The blue color was more prominent, and this spot was like having a wide angle view through our eyes! While our eyes had their feast, we grabbed the food for our tummy’s feast 😛 Sevaiya, crunchy poha and cake was on the menu! We had plenty of time – eating and talking and having fun amidst nature. It was indeed an amazing time spent, given that almost all of us were North karnataka people and talking our heart out in the hubli kannada accent was such a joy 😀

As the time passed, more and more people were coming in and the place was becoming crowded. It was around 2:15pm. We had our share of joy witnessing the pristine lake, and decided to walk back. But surprises weren’t over yet! We overheard a lady point out that there was a person walking on a rope between the two tall mountains! And yes, we could spot him! As tall as the Liberty Bells stood, between two peaks, we could see a rope tied, and a person walking on it! This left us spell-bound – adventure at its peak (metaphorically and literally too 😛 ) Of late, we have been witnessing more people venturing outdoors and doing something so daring that it becomes one of the few highlights of our trip 😀

A glimpse of tight rope walking

After packing up and getting down, we decided to simply cross the creek this time instead of jumping on those tree logs. The initial half of the descent was slow especially with those snowy patches all along. As we crossed these rough areas and those fallen trees, our pace increased. Walking and talking and getting down, we reached the trailhead at almost 4pm. Nikhil decided to take us all to one of his all-time favorites, the Washington Pass overlook, hoping the roads would be open at this time and we could drive all the way up. We reached the viewpoint parking area, walked a bit to get to the look-out. Everyone loved the spot, it is indeed one of PNW’s best! Standing at an elevation of around 2000ft and looking at the highway SR20 winding amidst pine trees on both sides, with liberty bell on the right, snow-dressed mountains in the middle and those jagged peaks of the Kangaroo ridge on the left. This is truly a soul rejuvenating sight! Some more work to our lenses, and some peaceful moments followed.

We then headed back and drove to the Diablo Lake Lookout. Priyanka was keen on seeing this, Amit hadn’t seen it either. While we drove back through the SR20 towards Diablo, we could see so many trailheads with over-flowing parking lots, especially the Ross Dam one. There were similar scenes at the Diablo Lake – a lot more people! The clouds had cleared around noon and we had a nice and clear view of the lake, beautiful as always. But I guess Blue Lake had won our hearts as it was a complete package! Also probably because the efforts to get to it made it further more pleasing. Diablo was good, but you know what I mean! 😀 After spending a few minutes here, we decided to visit the ice cream as planned. There is a family owned farm called the Cascadia Farms in the foothills of the North Cascades and it has become a ritual to visit it whenever we are near-by. It would close by 6pm and we raced against time through those curvy roads, to reach there at 5:57pm! Literally! And to note that the last 5 mile drive was to be retraced owing to a road closure. We rushed in and ordered something in the nick of the time! Although due to Covid the experience wasn’t great – there weren’t many options, nor there was any seating in the farm. Nevertheless, we decided to have more food – Priyanka’s special pulao this time alongside some more cake. This time the ice cream shop’s parking lot became our lunch spot. After finishing up, we saw that everyone around had departed, and we decided to play frisbee! It was good long frisbee time and was such a nice way to end the day! It’s rare to get a chance to play beside tall lush green hills on a beautiful green grass, and we made the most of it 🙂 It was around 6:30pm when we decided to call it a day. 

Frisbee at Cascadia farms

It was around 9pm when we reached Seattle, met at Charu’s place again to bid good-byes. Cherishing the wonderful moments and pledging to go on more such hikes, we departed and were back home after a day that was totally worth it! 🙂 🙂 Amit claimed this to be his favorite outing till now in the PNW and we couldn’t agree more! We absolutely love love love this place and will keep coming back to it frequently! 🙂 🙂

Categories: Hike, Outdoors, Seattle, Snow | Tags: , , | 2 Comments

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.

Activity Overview
Photos and Videos

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

Birthday retreat – A visit to Orcas

I sure turned a year older this birthday, but it was different from all my previous ones! The first one post my wedding, the first one away from India and my whole family and friends circle, more so, the first one with Nikhil around! 🙂 He’s someone who feels birthdays are overrated and doesn’t get much excited. But knowing that I consider this a special day, and the fact that it was my first one away from home, he made sure this one feels special to me. Right from planning a wonderful three day vacation to a surprise video with wishes from all my close friends and family, from booking a relaxing time at a spa to taking me on a gorgeous hike, he filled my day with intricately thought-out elements that certainly made it perfect!

We visited Orcas and San Juan Islands, to north of Seattle. The Airbnb place was like ‘Love at first sight’! 😀 I instantly became a fan of that home and it deserves special mention. Named ‘Eagle Ridge Guesthouse’, it was located in a quiet private neighborhood on Orcas a few miles away from the town of Eastsound. It was artistic with all the adorable collections that filled every nook and corner. As the hosts Jodi and Daniel rightly called it, it was a “Thin Place”, a place of energy and purity! The whole idea was that the guests spend time together away from their usual technology driven time. They had nice books to read, paints and sketch books, chess, playing cards, ‘know-each-other’ cards (one of them probably custom-made by Jodi) to name a few.

The exterior of the house flaunted a lush green garden. Another highlight was the hot-tub – well placed amidst the tall green trees around, with the vacation home in the background, giving that panoramic view as far as the eyes could see! There was also a huge patio adjacent to it from where we watched the sunset. The experience was mystical and magical – we saw it all : the misty evening, the clear-view morning, the colorful sunset, the glittering night sky, the cloud covered bay with mountains doing a sneak-peek! Nikhil had surprised me with this selection 🙂

The video snippets from friends and family was endearing too. I was so overwhelmed seeing the people whom I love wishing me and sharing their special messages that I felt blessed to have them all in my life!

This birthday was probably my best till date! 🙂 Something I would cherish for a long long time 🙂

Places Visited :

  • Orcas Island – Mt.Constitution, Turtleback Mountain, Eastsound, Crescent Beach
  • San Juan Island – Lime Kiln State Park, South Beach, McMillin Mausoleum
  • Ferry Rides between islands

 

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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.

Activity Overview
Photos and Videos

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

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