What a difference a week makes. Following last weekend’s failed attempt to even reach the trailhead, I decided to try for redemption today. Here are a couple pictures from the top of Mt Aix (elevation 7766 ft). Absolutely spectacular day with absurd views in every direction from the summit. Through the snow, fifteen miles round trip, with approximately 4500 feet of elevation gain on the day. More pictures to come. Left: me with Mt Rainier in the background. Right: Bismarck Peak in the foreground, with the Goat Rocks behind, and Mt Adams dominating the skyline further back.
So I went into Supercuts last night to get a haircut and left without a haircut. I just didn’t have a good feeling about the situation after I put my name in and sat down. The one girl I could see seemed to be really struggling with the head of a guy who’s face was plastered with a perma-grimace. Lots of little corrections as she went along. Snip-snip, a step backward, hmm maybe if I try this. I glanced over my shoulder at the “stylist” behind. Nope, definitely not, she butchered me last time. Noticing the new Now Hiring sign on the front window was the kicker. I put down my magazine and slipped out the front door.
But I still needed a haircut. So this morning I decided to try the barbershop down the street from my job, the one with the homemade “$9 Haircuts” sign. Anybody who paints their own sign on a wooden board has to be good, right? I was greeted by Gary and his single barber chair. Gary looked a little sleepy or possibly hungover and started telling me about how he opened the shop late this morning. Cool, Gary. As I sat down I gave him my usual haircut description. One and a half on the sides, tapered up, and cleaned up and shortened just a little on the top. Gary gave me a look like “how about if I just cut ‘er down real Marine-like” and grabbed his clippers. You got that, right Gary, just trimmed up a little off the top?
The haircut started out pretty normal, but right about the point where every other barber I’ve ever gone to has done that thing where they lift up a little of your hair with a comb and ask “About that much?” indicating half an inch or so, Gary just kept on motoring with that clippers. I started to get a little nervous, but hey, maybe Gary’s got a trick. Maybe it’s a nouvelle Parisian technique that only the really good barbers know about. I felt the clippers bite into a chunk of hair on the back of my head and dive. Rrrrrow. “Whoops.” Oh come on, really? I don’t know if I’ve ever had a barber say whoops out loud before. I don’t think so. Maybe the one time I had Mary try to cut my hair with the dog clippers, but that doesn’t count. It leads to a sinking feeling, I can tell you now. Gary paused only half a second, during which time I’m sure he thought, “well, only one way to fix this” and then the clipping began with a passion usually reserved for athletes on game day.
About this time, Barb the vending lady walked in to refill the candy dispenser and proceeded to thoroughly distract Gary with a conversation about how the paint keeps peeling off her house. She appraised the top of my head with a look like “Oh yeah, I’ve seen that haircut before” and kept on chatting. Probably the most interesting part of the story came out when Gary asked if she lived in a nice neighborhood. To which Barb responded, “It’s much better now that the drug dealer down the street died.” Gary nodded without any followup questions, evidently content to accept this as a normal part of life in Yakima. Yup, it always cheers up the neighborhood when the drug dealers die.
So anyway, I now sport the shortest haircut I’ve had since my fourth grade buzz cut. I suppose it’s good for summer time, or something.
Every year our neighborhood puts on a gigantic block sale. Three blocks of people hawking old junk in their driveways. Some people get creative and set out tables full of fledgling plants or sell homemade pastries for the occasion. It’s quite festive, really. I usually spend an hour trying to sell a few things and then just end up slapping a “free” sign on everything and head off to find something more entertaining to do on a sunny Saturday morning.
I’ve learned that a garage sale really is not the place to sell anything nice or anything that you intend on getting a fair price for. Sure, those snowboards may be sixty percent off, barely used, but they’re still 100 bucks. If something is priced at a dollar people will ask you if you’ll take a quarter for it. Don’t even bother trying to sell a good TV without a remote because people will be baffled about how they’ll ever change the channels (lady, universal remotes are $5 at Target). Tools move quickly though, as does ten-year old furniture under $20. And people love to ask you if you have a lawnmower or washer/dryer for sale. So in the end I spent an hour with the masses, made a little extra money, and cleared a little clutter from the garage.
That was Saturday. Sunday the forecast was for temperatures in the mid to upper 80s and everyone knows that it’s crazy to hang out in that kind of insane heat, so I decided to go find some snow. I wanted to find a peak that I could access this early in the season (almost all of the dirt Forest Service roads are still snowpacked) and that would offer some views on a clear sunny day. After a bit of zooming around on Google Maps I opted to take a chance on Mt Aix, the highest peak in the William O. Douglas Wilderness east of Mt Rainier. Mt Aix should be a good early season hike, in the rain (snow) shadow of Rainier, with southern exposure along the trail.
When the dogs and I rolled onto FSR 1800 an hour and a half later though, we were met with mud and snow on the dirt road. Spying dry road up ahead, I gunned it through the first stretch of slop, the bottom of my car shaving off a layer of snow as we careened through. We swerved around and through mud and snow for another half mile before finally bumping up against an impassable snow blockade. Well, I thought, I guess we’ll just have to see the rest of the road by foot. I figured it was still a couple of miles to the trailhead and the roundtrip hike was supposed to be about 13 miles with 3500’ of elevation gain after that. But the day was reasonably young, I had plenty of food and dog food, and we had water all around us.
The dogs always seem to light up when we’re out in the woods. Trammell just sprints and sniffs and sprints some more. Taylor perks up and looks at everything, cocking her head with one paw raised at shadows in the distance. On foot we followed the snow-covered road along the base of Nelson Ridge, hitting patches on snow three feet deep in places. The dogs alternated between coats plastered in mud and coats semi-plastered in mud as the snow wiped them clean in places.
Our pace was slow and I realized pretty quickly that, unless the snow magically thinned, we wouldn’t be climbing any mountains that day. Maybe solo, not with dogs plopping chest deep into the snow though. So I just enjoyed the moment rather than setting any goals for the day. The rich pine smell. The abrupt blast of cool air across your legs as you round a snow-covered bend in the road. Nelson Ridge sparkling with snow in the background. We hiked for about an hour before turning around and retracing our footprints.
Back at the car I fed the dogs and made them walk around in the snow to clean off. We stopped at Bumping Lake on the way out. I always think reservoirs with their massacred tree remnants are kind of ugly places, but the surrounding scenery was nice. The dogs were too worn out to romp in the water, so we didn’t stay long.
I slept horribly the previous night shivering in the 28 degree cold. Woke up puffy eyed and sore, hoping for sunshine. I jogged a couple laps around the campground and warmed up with some Jetboiled oatmeal until eventually a few rays streaked the towering cliffs around us and melted the frost from our tents. We decided to renew our campsite for an additional day and were surprised to find out that even at 7 am on a freezing cold Thursday our site was one of only three available for the upcoming day. With no set agenda for the day we opted to hike backcountry on the west side of the park on the Left Fork of North Creek, a nine mile roundtrip hike to a unique rock formation called The Subway. We stopped in at the backcountry office to pick up our permit, check the map, and laugh at another record low forecast, then drove 25 miles to the trailhead.
Pictured above: Our campsite and the view early in the Subway hike. The hike started from a dirt parking area, then briefly crossed a sandy upland area before dropping 400 feet down a series of steep switchbacks into the North Creek ravine. Once in the ravine, the path followed the river from bank to bank in an exceedingly fun series of water crossings.
As we trekked up the river, the path-most-travelled generally was apparent, but every crossing or giant rock obstacle provided a chance to try something creative: leaping onto a chain of algae-covered rocks, scrambling over a boulder, or using a tree as a climbing pole. The morning weather began pleasant enough, cloudy with hints of sun, but soon turned winter-like with light snow sprinkling our backs as it blew into the canyon. Throughout the day in my head I kept lamenting how many gorgeous pictures were being squashed by the snowflakes and cloud cover, but there was also something amazing about the freakish snow. In spite of condition reports to the contrary from the ranger in the permit office, we were able to keep our feet dry for the first four miles or so until just before the start of the actual Subway portion of the hike.
There the canyon narrowed and the channel water bumped up against the rock walls. On a typical 80 degree late spring day I’m sure it would’ve been a treat to shed the shoes and wade ankle-deep in the channel. On this day though standing in my flip flops in the snowmelt-filled water with the wind a-howling, it was no picnic. Two steps into my flip flop foray I was promptly whisked off my feet and dumped unceremoniously onto my elbow. Mark was able to dopplegang my mishap almost exactly. Our journey to the heart of the Subway wasn’t exactly beginning auspiciously.
The canyon walls continued to close in until at last we reached our dead-end, blocked by a short rock wall surrounded by deep green pools. It really was spectacular, but we stayed only long enough to get a sense of the place and capture a few photos.
As we retraced our steps the sun popped out for a magical moment, but by the time we returned to dry land the snow was pelting again. My legs shook uncontrollably as I tried to dry my bright pink toes before rewrapping them in socks and shoes.
The return trip was equally amusing as river crossing in reverse were equally creative and once out of the wind tunnel, we warmed up quickly.
We reached the car seven hours after we’d left. In the evening the sun finally popped out again and we road the shuttle around again catching pictures.
I slept in the car and didn’t sleep much better than in the tent, but at least I wasn’t as cold. In the morning the frost-soaked kindling and firewood refused to light until literally my last match lay smoking on the frozen heap. Poof! Ah, the morning will have warmth. The day would have warmth too. We were grateful to have ample sun pouring into our campsite and blue skies overhead. The pace was leisurely as we broke camp. We spent the morning and early afternoon exploring some of the Zion day hikes we hadn’t yet checked out. I jogged back up Angel’s Landing in the morning to get some blue sky pictures while Mark went to Weeping rock and hiked along the river.
By late morning we were baking in the heat. Sweet, sweet redemptive heat. We reconvened and both checked out the Emerald Pools and the beginning of The Narrows (Narrows hike was closed due to high water danger), before returning to car.
There had been some discussion the previous night about possibly returning to the heat of Las Vegas for a night, but in the sanity of normal temperatures we happily headed east. We stopped for peanut butter and jelly lunch on the slickrock on the east side of the park and then a second lunch at Subway in Kanab.
A couple hours later we called it quits for the day at a Motel 6 just past the Glen Canyon Dam in Page, AZ. It was nice to be clean and not freezing for a night. Next stop, Grand Canyon.