Snow

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

Winter hike to Mt St Helens, an active Volcano

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.

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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.

Activity Overview
Photos and Videos

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

Snow in Seattle

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.

The lights were the best part

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.

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