Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Goat Mountain and Deadman's Lake, Washington - Backpacking

Earlier in the summer, Keith, Melissa, and I discussed the idea of backpacking near Mt. St. Helens National Volcanic Monument.  We wanted to coordinate with our friends, Katy and John, so that they could join us from Seattle.  We knew the weather would be most ideal for backpacking in late September or early October, but the only weekend that worked for everyone was October 22-23.  We made our plans for that weekend and hoped for the best, despite a very rainy forecast.  I flew up to Portland on Thursday night, and we were off to meet up with Katy and John at the trail head on Friday morning.

Our drive to the trail was more of an adventure than we had planned.  A washout on NF-26, not far from the turnoff to the trail head, resulted in us driving back and forth, and then back again, before finally accessing the road we needed from the NF-99 side.  Amazingly, Katy and John were waiting for us at the trail head and hadn't been there long, despite it being hours past the planned meetup time.  It was a late start, but we were off to climb Goat Mountain.

Starting the hike up Goat Mountain
Katy and John on the climb up Goat Mountain
Ryan Lake
Clouds and fog limited the views on the way in
After a fairly strenuous climb, we reached the ridge line of Goat mountain.  The views opened up, but low clouds and fog prevented us from seeing much beyond the valley below.  It was interesting the see the pattern of trees and grassy fields, indicating the areas that survived the blast of Mt. St. Helens and the areas that didn't.

Along the ridge of Goat Mountain
Patterns of trees reveal the blast zone
Tonic, Melissa, and Katy make their way along the ridge

After traversing along Goat Mountain, we crossed over the ridge and began our descent toward Deadman's Lake, the planned camping spot for the night.  We arrived to find the entire lake to ourselves, with plenty of open space to spread out and set up our tents.  Not long after setting up camp, the wind picked up and light rain began to fall.  Keith's shelter kept us mostly dry as we made dinner, but the wind whipped the rain around and made for a chilly evening.  Fortunately, substantial quantities of wine kept our spirits up as the rain and wind increased in intensity.  After crawling into my tent, the rain came down hard and continued for the rest of the night.
My tent set up at Deadman's Lake
Enjoying wine and taking shelter from the storm
Tonic the dog enjoying her backpacking trip

I was surprised to see blue sky when I emerged from my tent on Saturday morning.  The lake was calm and peaceful, and rain from the night before had frozen on our tents and gear.  It was a chilly, but very beautiful, morning.  We made breakfast and decided to do a day hike to nearby Vanson Peak, leaving our camp set up for a second night at Deadman's Lake in case the stormy weather returned.

Deadman's Lake

The hike to Vanson Peak offered some stunning views of Mt. Rainier as we made our way through the peaceful forest.  As we reached the summit, we were treated to views of Mt. Adams as well.  The weather was perfect and we were  thankful to have clear skies to see these massive, snow capped volcanic peaks.

Keith at Vanson Peak
Mt. Rainier

Views of Mt. Rainier from Vanson Peak
Mt. Adams
Heading back to camp from Vanson Peak

The weather held out the entire day and we were able to made it back to camp before sunset to make dinner and start a fire.  Thankfully, Keith's fire starting skills and Katy's awesome fire starters combined to save the day.  We were able to enjoy a wonderful, warm fire despite the wet conditions.

Back at camp before sunset
A fire made the second night more comfortable

We expected Sunday to be a rainy day, so we were surprised to find dry conditions when we emerged from our tents on Sunday morning. We packed up camp and headed back the way we came, up and over the ridge of Goat Mountain.  Our original trip plan was to make a loop hike via the Green River valley, but our late start from the trail head and the wet weather made the shorter out-and-back hike a better choice.

Melissa heading back up Goat Mountain

Katy on the ridge on Goat Mountain

It was very windy on Goat Mountain, but the visibility was better than on our hike in.  We finally caught a few glimpses of Mt. St. Helens as we made our way along the ridge, and Mt.  Hood could be seen in the far distance.

Katy and John and the ridge of Goat Mountain
Goat Mountain
Mt. St. Helens peeks out from the clouds

We made it back to the trail head around mid afternoon and headed towards Randle, WA.  We had some good views of Mt. St. Helens on our way out, despite the haze and clouds.  We were happy to warm up and dry off, and enjoyed some food at the Tall Timber restaurant in Randle before parting ways with Katy and John.

Mt. St. Helens
Mt. St. Helens

Monday, August 22, 2016

Flagstaff, Arizona - Hiking and Sightseeing

I met up with Stephen and Jared on Thursday morning for another great adventure in Stephen's quest to climb the highest peaks in the United States.  This year's plan was to climb Humphreys Peak, the highest point in Arizona, with an elevation of 12,637 feet above sea level.  Humphreys Peak is part the San Francisco Peaks, a group of extinct volcanic mountains located near Flagstaff, Arizona. We made the two hour drive from Phoenix to Flagstaff and walked around town for a bit before checking in for the night.  The downtown area, while small in size, was very lively and filled with restaurants, bars and shops.

San Francisco Peaks near Flagstaff, AZ

We decided to hike Humphreys Peak on Friday morning, hoping to avoid the stormy monsoon weather that was in the forecast for the entire trip.  Everyone agreed to an early morning start, and we were at the trail head near Arizona Snowbowl at 5am.  We started hiking in the dark, but the trail was easy to follow and it gained elevation gradually from the open field where we began.  As daylight arrived, we were treated to blue skies and beautiful views of the surrounding forests.

Stephen and Jared on the trail to Humphreys Peak
An early start to beat the storms

Around 3 miles into the hike, the trail became noticeably steeper, climbing quickly above treeline and reaching the saddle below Humphreys Peak.  The views of the surrounding summits and expansive forests below were spectacular.  The weather was clear and cool, a bit of a surprise given the gloomy forecast.

Stephen hiking towards the saddle
View from the saddle
Jared and Stephen at the saddle

We made a navigational mistake at the saddle and took the Weatherford Trail away from Humphreys Peak.  Eventually,  we realized our error and made our way back to the saddle.  The sign indicating the correct trail to the summit was turned around to face downhill traffic - not very useful for hikers arriving from below.

Wrong trail but great views

The last mile to the summit was very rocky, and the trail was occasionally difficult to find and follow.  It was slow going walking over the rocks, but everyone was enjoying themselves as the weather was perfect and the views were amazing. The summit finally came into view after a few false summits, and we arrived at the peak around 8am.  We completed the entire hike at 11am, just as the first thunderstorms of the day rolled through.  Thai food, beers (for me) and sweet treats were the rewards after a great day on the mountain.

Stephen making his way to the summit of Humphreys Peak
Humphreys Peak
At the summit of Humphreys Peak
Jared at the summit of Humphreys Peak

On Saturday, we headed towards Winslow, AZ to see the world-famous Meteor Crater.  I visited the crater with my grandparents when I was very young, and I was excited to see a place that I remembered well from my childhood.  The crater was formed when a meteor impacted the area about 50,000 years ago, blasting a hole 1 mile in diameter and over 500 feet deep.  Fortunately, it was interesting enough to offset the $18 admission price.

Meteor Crater

On our way back to Flagstaff, we stopped at Walnut Canyon National Monument.  The monument was established in 1915 to protect the ancient cliff dwellings that were built by the Sinagua people between 1100 and 1250 AD.  We hiked the Island Trail, descending 185 feet into the canyon and along a rim containing several  preserved cliff dwellings.  Aside from the interesting dwellings, the quiet solitude and beautiful flowers made Walnut Canyon a stunning place that I could have enjoyed for an entire day.

Cliff dwellings at Walnut Canyon National Monument
Island Trail at Walnut Canyon National Monument
Walnut Canyon National Monument
Walnut Canyon National Monument
Flowers along the Island Trail at Walnut Canyon National Monument

The final stop of our busy Saturday was Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument, a dormant cinder cone located north of Flagstaff, AZ.  The volcano erupted around the year 1085 AD, spewing ash and lava flows across 800 square miles and disrupting the lives of the Sinagua people living in the area.  Like Walnut Canyon, this monument was peaceful and beautiful, with several hiking trails around the lava flows and cinder cones.  We hiked the Lenox Crater trail, a 1 mile trail that offered some great views of the San Francisco Peaks, Sunset Crater, and the Bonito lava flow.

Lava flow in Sunset Crater Volcano National Monument
View of the San Francisco Peaks from Lenox Crater Trail
Flowers along the Lenox Crater Trail
Sunset Crater

I spent Sunday walking around the Northern Arizona University Campus and visiting the exceptional  Museum of Northern Arizona.  To finish a great trip, I enjoyed some delicious beers at  Lumberyard Brewing Company and Mother Road Brewing Company, and had a fantastic dinner at Red Curry Vegan Kitchen.  I fell in love with Flagstaff and hope to return again soon.  Thanks to Stephen and Jared for planning a great trip!

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Fremont Indian State Park, Utah - Camping, Hiking, and Biking

Roger and I discovered a hidden gem in the Utah State Park system over the 4th of July weekend.  We were looking for a camping and hiking trip that wasn't too far from Salt Lake City and wouldn't be too overcrowded on a holiday weekend.  We also wanted a location where we could watch some fireworks on Monday evening.  After a lot of searching, Fremont Indian State Park seemed to fit the bill.  We left Salt Lake City on Saturday morning, passed through Richfield a few hours later, and made our way over to Fremont Indian State Park.

Clear Creek running through Fremont Indian State Park

We stayed in the Castle Rock campground, a two mile drive from the park's visitor center, at the end of a gravel road.  The campground was beautiful and well maintained, and many of the sites were surround by trees and spectacular views of the surrounding rock formations.  It seemed like an oasis on the desert with Joe Lott Creek running through the center of the campground.  Our site was large, but a bit exposed, and it felt more like a parking lot.  We found a more secluded area for our tent and set it up just before a strong thunderstorm moved through.  The rain and hail came down hard for several minutes, and the air was filled with the smell of pine as needles were ripped from the surrounding trees.  After hunkering down in our tent for almost an hour, I emerged to find the ground covered in ice and fog shrouding our campground.

Our tent surrounded by hail at Fremont Indian State Park

Thankfully, the sun came out and quickly warmed the air, giving us a chance to hike around the campground and explore the castle-like rocks.  Later that evening, we joined a "scorpion walk" hosted by the state park.  After listening to a talk about scorpions in the Utah desert, we were given blacklights to look for the arachnids on a nearby hill.  Scorpions fluoresce under blacklights due to chemicals in their cuticle.  We saw several small scorpions before heading back to camp and calling it a day.

Castle Rock campground at Fremont Indian State Park
Exploring the Castle Rock campground
Dinner at Castle Rock campground
Sunset at Castle Rock campground
Scorpion fluorescing under blacklight at Fremont Indian State Park
On Sunday, we drove to the town of Sevier with our road bikes and found the trail head for the Candy Mountain Express bike trail.  The paved trail travels up the canyon, following the Sevier River, and offers great views the entire way.  The trail ends at Big Rock Candy Mountain, an interesting roadside attraction, and the entire round trip back to the trail head was only about 14 miles.  We intended to continue our ride after returning the to trail head, but more thunderstorms were brewing. We decided to return to Fremont Indian State Park and hike some of the short trails in the area for the afternoon.

Big Rock Candy Mountain Express bike trail
Big Rock Candy Mountain

We checked out the interesting visitor center museum while the thunderstorms passed.  As the weather cleared, we hiked a few of the looping trails that surround the visitor center.  While construction was occurring to build Interstate 70, the largest known Fremont Indian village was uncovered in the area.  Many of the surrounding rocks and cliffs contain pictographs and petroglyphs left by the Fremont Indians several hundred years ago.  The noise of cars and trucks from the interstate is hard to escape in the park, but it adds another level of human history to the canyon as a corridor for travel.

Petroglyph at Fremont Indian State Park
Petroglyphs at Fremont Indian State Park
Example of a wikiup at Fremont Indian State Park
Example of a pit-house at Fremont Indian State Park
Petroglyph at Fremont Indian State Park
On Monday, the 4th of July, we headed into Richfield to watch the town's parade before riding our bikes from Elsinore to Big Rock Candy Mountain and back.  We enjoyed some relaxation time back at camp before checking out the fireworks in Richfield later that evening.  For a small town, the fireworks display was spectacular, and many people were launching their own fireworks in the streets prior to the main show.  It was quite event in Richfield and a great way to spend the last evening of our trip.

Castle rocks
Birthday boy relaxing at camp
Castle rocks at Fremont Indian State Park

As we traveled back to Salt Lake City on Tuesday morning, we made a stop at historic Cove Fort.  It was  built by Mormon pioneers and founded in 1867 and served as a way station and stagecoach stop for people traveling between the towns of Fillmore and Beaver.  It's a great place to learn some interesting Mormon history and tour beautifully restored structure.

Cove Fort
Cove Fort
Peaceful surroundings of Cove Fort