Monthly Archives: November 2008

Sat 29 Nov 08

Jordan flew into Seattle late Wednesday afternoon and rolled into Yakima later in the evening (styling in his rented Buick). Thanksgiving morning we had kind of a late start but eventually decided to find a day hike somewhere to the west. The forecast looked ugly for Mt Rainier so we stopped well short of the park (and well within our pocket of sunshine) and opted for a scramble up Kloochman Rock. I was here earlier in the year and knew it would be a short enough hike to get us back in plenty of time to make Mary’s Thanksgiving dinner deadline. Crossing over frozen mud puddles, we parked at a trailhead near a bullet-ridden sign on the south side of the rock.

The trail wrapped around a mostly frozen wetlands, following what looked more like a game trail than an official trail in places and occasionally tagging along with rutted jeep tracks. Nature at its purest.

After a mile and a half we crossed paths with some cougar prints (I think), then cleared our tree cover and started to scramble up the talus fields at the base of Kloochman.

When we left Yakima the temperature had been below freezing, but now hiking in the full sun I was too warm hiking in shorts and a lightweight longsleeve shirt. Couldn’t have asked for much nicer weather on a late-November day. We traversed along the south side of the rock before turning north and pushing up a gully full of shifting, sliding chunks of basalt.

Onto the summit. The views were somewhat limited by the cloud cover in the distance, but Gilbert Peak was still in sight and the nearby surroundings were plenty enjoyable. Pictured: Jordan consulting with his GPS and me with Goose Egg Mountain in the background.

We retraced our steps, and with appetites now well in place, made it back home with an hour to spare before turkey time. I helped by chopping potatoes (and other impossible-to-ruin tasks) while Jordan played video games and the dogs milled about waiting scraps to fall from the sky. Dinner was outstanding of course.

Yesterday we drove up to Chinook Pass and managed to completely dodge sunshine for the day. It was kind of a fun change of pace, though I wouldn’t have complained if the fog/snow lifted long enough to at least give a glimpse of the surrounding mountains. The nearby foothills were largely snow-free so I was a little surprised to see how much snow had already accumulated at the pass.

We parked near Tipsoo Lake (frozen) and decided to do a short three-mile hike around Naches Peak. We tromped along a path beaten down by cross-country skiers, flanked on one side by icicle encrusted rock and on the other by drops into the valley.

By the end of our hike the snow was starting to blow in a little heavier so we jumped in the car and headed back east, stopping at Union Creek Falls on the way. This random side trip actually was probably the highlight of the day. The topo map I was looking at showed a falls just a short half mile hike from the trailhead, but that little blip of text wasn’t nearly indication enough for the spectacular cascade of water that greeted us as we came around a bend in the trail. Icicles and moss shared the rocky cliffs as water poured off a towering precipice into a green lagoon rimmed with ice. Gorgeous.

Wed 26 Nov 08

Some time between the ages of five and ten I visited my Grandma and Grandpa Z at their home in South Dakota. Actually I’m pretty sure this was more than a one time occurrence, but in my head it just blends together into one visit.

I have a few blurred memories. A house right by a church. Walking into a dim basement to play with something. Someone pointing a video camera at me in the kitchen (and me ducking away). Buying something from a corner convenience store and being a nickel short (coming back and talking to my Grandma about the need of a nickel).

And a couple more poignant memories. Licking a frozen metal pole and freaking out as the adults tugged me free. Traumatic (there’s a story for another day). And racing my dad across a field to a fence. I remember my dad saying “go” and off we went across the grass. It was close at first and then I surged into the lead (a lead compelled I’m sure by the desire to watch a child succeed). Thrilled to be out in front I lunged for the fence, reaching out with my hand to grab the top railing. “I wi…”

Boom. It felt like I got hit by lightning, my arm wrenched from the socket. I don’t think I’ll ever forget that feeling in my shoulder as the electric fence momentarily rerouted its current through my tiny frame. My dad expressed surprise (so I’m pretty sure it was accidental child abuse), but I also remember some exchanged stifled laughter from circle of gathering adults. Hey, after all, what’s funnier than watching a six-year-old in the throes of victory hurled back to reality with the force of a cattle prod. Lesson learned young man.

Anyway, there is point to all this. I went to the orthopedist today, who went through a series of shoulder tests and determined that I do have a rotator cuff injury. Because I was able to support the weight of her pressing on my raised arm (as agonizing as that effort was) among other reasons, she opted for the moment to treat the injury as a rotator cuff strain and not a tear. So no expensive MRI. Rest and physical therapy. No pull-ups for a while, just tiny arm circles and walking my fingers up a wall. If there’s no near-term improvement then other possibilities can be examined.

And this is the eclectic fence part. After my diagnosis, she also gave me a shot of cortisone (anti-inflammatory steroid) into my shoulder to take the swelling down around the injury. The doc gently numbed the injection site, had me take a couple of deep breaths while she described her concoction of drugs, and said “Ok, here comes the little bee-sting.” The needle slid in with the usual pricking sensation. And I was literally saying, “Hey, that wasn’t so b…” when she cut me off with “Ok, now here comes the intense pain.” She actually said those words. Nice bedside manner lady.

“…ad. Wait. Intense what? Hrrgnugh. Holy crap what did you do?!” It was burst of soul-crushing searing pain, squeezing and yanking at my shoulder like a six-year-old tugging on an electric fence. Every other thought disappeared in that flash while I tried to maintain some semblance of dignity. “Boy, he he, you weren’t kidding, that sure burns like a mother… ok that’s getting better.” Thankfully the pain was short-lived and happily replaced by a warming, slightly numbing sensation.

So I’ve been told to keep using my shoulder, but to avoid those activities that cause the sharp pains. Some discomfort is ok. This is reassuring. I can deal with discomfort I just don’t want to feel like that discomfort is gradually exacerbating some kind of tear. Already now, even as the shoulder still feels about the same, I feel my spirits raised about the prognosis. It’s kind like climbing an unknown mountain. The first time you go up, biting winds or tired legs seem worse because you don’t know what’s still to come. How much further you have to go. Whether what looks like a summit is actually the first in a series of false summits. “Hmm, I wonder if this is cold enough to get frostbite?” The next time though with more information at your disposal, you don’t notice discomforts as much. They just blur together as part of the journey and not some debilitating trip-ender. “I’m cold, but I’ve been here before and been fine.” So my shoulder still hurts, but getting a doctor’s opinion sure helps the confidence level.

Tue 25 Nov 08

I have what feels like a fairly serious shoulder injury. I hurt it last week Thursday wrestling around after practice and it’s not even remotely better over the past five days. I can’t raise my arm laterally without significant pain. Tasks like putting on a shirt in the morning or using deodorant have become these goofy contortion acts. My Internet research has me leaning toward some sort of rotator cuff injury. I have an appointment with an orthopedic specialist tomorrow (though it’s really not an appointment since he’s on vacation and I’ll be talking with a PA), so hopefully the that’ll get the healing ball rolling. In the meantime I was at the gym last night (biking, not lifting) and I happened to bump into a chiropractor we played basketball with quite a bit last winter. Super nice guy, he was like oh, come on by after work and I’ll see if I can help you out, no charge. Rock on. So I went there this afternoon and he threw in a whole body joint adjustment which was a treat (my upper back especially was horribly out of whack; I blame the desk job) and taped up my shoulder. Kind of a wait and see tactic on his part. A few adjustments to the injury and some supportive tape and if nothing’s improving with rest then something more invasive may be in order. I’m hedging my bets though and checking in with the docs too. If they schedule an MRI and I’m feeling better before then, I can always cancel.

Sun 23 Nov 08

Trip report from last weekend’s hike in the Enchantments. The forecast for the Leavenworth area Friday looked tolerable but not great. And if Leavenworth was only just tolerable, then that held the potential of turning unpleasant a couple thousand feet higher up. I waffled a bit Friday morning while sitting in my warm, dry house in front of the computer before eventually getting out the door around 9 am. By 11 I was bumping up the dirt road toward the Eight Mile trailhead. I was a little surprised to see anyone else parked in the mucky parking lot, but there was one pickup parked when I pulled up under cloudy skies.

After several days of consistent rain the trail was super sloppy from the start. Some smaller creeks had overrun and were running down the path in places. High winds had also left dead trees and branches scattered about. It didn’t take long though to reach more frozen territory. Within a mile the running water had turned to frozen puddles and patches of snow. A couple of water crossings were particularly treacherous as you can see in the picture below where the boulders were thoroughly glazed in thick ice.

In the snow I picked up a single set of bootprints (presumably from the pickup owner) and I was actually thankful to have them as the snow was thick enough where the trail disappeared in places. I followed the tracks upward for a couple miles trying to figure out what other kind of person would come out for a solo hike on a chilly weekday on November. I tried to make guesses based on the boot tread (looked like industrial work boots), spacing on the footsteps (slightly smaller stride than mine), and other patterns. The prints didn’t stray at all from the path. No stops at scenic vistas, no confused stops at ambiguous gullys. It sure looked like the person knew where they were going and had a specific destination in mind. In the end I figured it was another fairly young backpacker headed toward the Enchantments. On I followed.

I caught up with the bootprint owner about four miles in where he was enjoying a view of Colchuck Lake and Dragontail Peak (view pictured in my last post). A guy probably in his forties just out for a day hike. Close enough. We talked for a couple minutes and then I passed by into untrodden snow.

I was glad when the trail around the south side of Colchuck Lake was fairly apparent. Following the path of least resistance for the most part kept me on track with landmarks that were clearly part of a well-traveled trail. The south side of the lake is dominated by a field of gigantic boulders and I picked my way carefully across their icy caps toward the base of Dragontail Peak. At this point I had still been planning on heading up Colchuck Glacier to the right of Dragontail with summit of Colchuck Peak to follow. But looking up at the cloud cover I realized I wouldn’t have much of a view from the top and decided to head up Aasgard Pass to the left of Dragontail instead. Into the Enchantments, saving Colchuck for another day. Below left: Colchuck Lake from the boulder field. Below right: looking up Aasgard Pass.

Had this not been my first time here I certainly would’ve picked a much better line up the pass. Snow and ice though made following any sort of established trail all but impossible. What followed was an exceedingly unpleasant couple of hours pushing up ice-covered rock covered in inches and eventually feet of snow. It was actually strikingly similar to my trek up Mount Stuart last October, only colder and icier. At one point I found myself pulling myself precariously up a large rock outcropping and quickly realized that any route that required the use of all four limbs was probably the wrong route. I carefully eased back down, reassessed, and worked my way around it instead.

Lots of post-holing (where your leg punches through the snow and plants like a post), at first just knee deep, but eventually hip deep in places. This is especially fun when you get even the smallest bit of momentum going, take a step, punch through, and immediately halt that momentum via a thigh or knee wedged between two rocks. Even in the clouds though the scenery was still striking. I liked the natural snow donuts curled up like cinnamon rolls.

Working higher, the terrain steepened slightly and I still hadn’t located anything approaching a definitive correct path. I looked up at the cliffs to my left, an icy waterfall looming overhead, and a wide stream of water cascading over more icy rocks to my right. Hmmm. Locating the correct path sure seemed like a good idea. I was guessing that I had to cross the cascading stream at some point, but I also saw a set of mountain goat footprints meandering upward. Well if the goat can do it… So I followed the goat footprints. If nothing else it meant I could see the spots where he stepped and didn’t post-hole. The goat picked his way up and over the waterfall and I followed. Again using all four limbs at times, but content enough to have an imaginary guide.

I assumed that once I crested the waterfall portion I would be treated to sweeping views of the Enchantments. Nope. I skittered across the icy rock, stepped into a three-foot-deep snowdrift and was treated to a view of more upward sweeping rock. Oh come on. As the wind blasted across my back, I stood in the snow for about five minutes contemplating. Well if I turn around right now I could at least be off Aasgard Pass by dark. Right? Below left: Ice waterfall; check out the trees for scale. Below right: My view after cresting the falls.

My boots and feet were completely soaked, darkness was closing in, and I was exhausted from slipping and sliding up a couple thousand feet of unstable footing. I knew the forecast for Saturday was better though and it sure would be a shame to come this far without any payoff. So I kept going up, this time cresting what clearly should’ve offered views of the Enchantments, but instead offered only clouds and disappearing daylight. I tromped around in the snow looking for reasonably level ground to sleep on and any sort of shelter from the wind.

I picked a spot behind a large boulder, sloughed off my backpack and tried to dig out enough snow to provide a platform for my tent. As I broke out my gear I realized just how strong the wind was blowing. Even with all of my equipment chucked inside, my tent was still catching air, tipping and lifting like crazy. After one of the straps on my rainfly snapped, I gave up all attempts at attaching what would clearly only function as a sail and decided to hope for the best under the open mesh. I tucked my rainfly under my tent, hoping it would be a good waterproofing barrier, then tried to settle in for the thirteen hours of darkness.

I curled into my sleeping bag, leaning out to jetboil some oatmeal (no asphyxiation danger in my open air fortress of solitude), then lay down hoping morning would come quickly. It did not. The wind continually whipped spindrifts of snow against the mesh of my tent where it would stick and be blown through as mist onto my face moments later. Eventually I had small pools of water collecting on the floor and my sleeping bag was sopping. The wind yanked at my tent, buckling the poles and collapsing the ceiling against my head.

At about 7:30 pm I was able to fall asleep for about half an hour. I woke up shivering in the wind and curled into a tighter ball, promising myself I would never do this again. I fell asleep again at about 9:00 and woke at midnight with the nearly full moon shining brightly overhead. The fog had lifted leaving wispy clouds in its wake. I propped up on my elbows, still shivering, but now able to see the silhouettes of rock in the distance. I took out my topo map and a tiny pen light and eventually aligned the murky shapes with lines. I was happy to see that I would wake to views of McClellan Peak and Little Annapurna. I woke for good at about 6:00 just as flecks of red sunlight were peaking into view to the east.

It was not a morning to be rushed and I took my time making more oatmeal and shaking the water off of my soaked gear. The wind was still gusting but not quite as vociferously as the previous night. And sunlight makes a world of difference. I broke camp, slipped on my soaked boots, and headed off into my own private wilderness. The vows of the previous shivering night were quickly rebuffed. Below: Witch’s Tower and Dragontail in the morning light.

My toes were freezing for the first thirty minutes of hiking but eventually warmed up once the blood was flowing. I hiked around Isolation Lake looking for signs of wildlife (none) and snapping pictures of snow and rock. I wanted to get a view of the lower basin of the Enchantments and decided to hike up Enchantment Peak (pictured below, bottom-right) to find my vantage point.

Hiking up the frozen snow was very straightforward and by kicking steps in the top ice layer I was able to march right up. I didn’t top out on Enchantment Peak as the west face that I was approaching looked a little dicey, but I was more than content with the views from the slightly lower points to the west (elevation 8100 ft or so). Looking down on Inspiration and Perfection Lakes I was slightly tempted to extend my outing for one more day to go exploring, but there was no way I was going to spend another night getting pummeled.

I ate lunch (a partially frozen Cliff Bar and water) sitting on top of the rock in the below-left picture, thawing out my boots, gawking at my surroundings, and listening to the quiet. Then headed down to start the slog back down Aasgard Pass.

Aasgard was still plenty snowy up top, but much improved from the previous day. The ice layer was mostly gone and I could actually see my guiding rock cairns, now snow-free. It was still a long down-climb, but actually having a definitive path helped a ton. I didn’t meet anyone on the trail until well below Colchuck Lake and was glad that to have had the mountains to myself for a full day, shivering and all.

Sun 16 Nov 08

That there be Dragontail Peak and she was not exactly smiling at me as I tromped around her flanks on Friday. The mountains around here have been getting slapped silly by wind and rain/snow, but the weather forecast this weekend appeared to offer a break from the elements. I was jonesing to get some rock under my feet, so partly cloudy with a high temp of 37 was good enough in my book. The mountain pass roads won’t be snow-free much longer so I figured this might be my last chance to gain some elevation this year. I had been eying a return trip to the Enchantments ever since my adventures back in July and with the overnight permits suspended for the winter, the timing seemed right. Friday was not pleasant at all. Saturday made up for it. I’ll have all the gory details and many more pictures soon.