Snow Days

So, the past two days have brought us more snow and ice in the Seattle area. I present to you my nominations of “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly”:

The Good: Can’t get out of the neighborhood, so we work from home.
The Bad: Can’t get out of the neighborhood, so we get cabin fever.
The Ugly: Can’t get into the neighborhood, so the garbage company can’t pick up our trash.

A new record: 2 hour commute

So that was less than stellar. Another snow-storm hit the Seattle area this afternoon, and the drive home took just shy of 2 hours. Quite amazing, considering I live around 8 miles away from my office.

I wish I had taken some photos with my cameraphone — but I was too busy not getting rammed by some random guy in a BMW 5-series that kept sliding sideways. The mail isn’t getting through either – saw two USPS semi-trucks parked on the highway (one on the shoulder of the road, one in the middle of the road). Mass transit wasn’t doing well either — saw several buses parked on the side of the road, and at least one nearly perpendicular to the flow of traffic resting against the jersey barrier. Very odd, as on the drive in this morning, I saw several buses with snow chains on already… None of the parked buses had snow chains on.

The drive home was truly amazing — WSDOT (Washington State Dept. of Transportation) shuts off the “metered” on-ramps to prevent cars from sliding down, so that starts hurting the commute. Combine that with the aforementioned sideways buses, parked semis, and guys-in-sliding-5-series, and traffic quality dwindles. Quickly.

Tomorrow, as the snow sitting on the ground turns into ice, should prove fun and interesting as well.

Lake Elizabeth

Hiked On: December 31, 2005
Weather Conditions: Approximately 30°F-34°F, overcast, some snow
Elevation: 2150-2750'
Distance from Seattle: Just over 90 miles
Pictures: None
US Forest Service: Lake Elizabeth, Trail 1071

Even though the USFS page says this one is easy, it wasn't. We couldn't drive all the way to the trailhead (snow), so had to park it a good ways down at 2150', with the lake actually being at 2900'. We don't know how far we hiked, because of this. The hike was walking along a USFS road primarily, uphill. The first mile or so was occasional snow, and after that, we had to throw on the snowshoes for the rest of the hike. We did this hike after relaxing with Jeff and Misty at a cabin up in Skykomish. We got a bit of a late start (it sure is nice to sleep in every once in a while), and didn't have much information about the trail beforehand. We had no idea what elevation the lake was at, or how far it was! Never again… ๐Ÿ™‚

Once the afternoon moved on, we decided to turn around so we could get back down before the sun set. After sitting here doing some research, it seems we were only about 150' vertical away from our goal.

Side note: snowshoe hiking is hard work!

Total distance hiked: Unknown, total elevation gain: 600' (400' of which were in snowshoes).

Snowshoeing in Snoqualmie Pass

Diann & I went snowshoeing up at Snoqualmie Pass this past Saturday at the Winter Trails Day event sponsored by the Seattle Mountaineers branch. It was pretty fun, actually, considering neither of us had ever been snowshoeing. Several snowshoe manufacturers were on-hand to let people try out their snowshoes ( MSR, Tubbs, Atlas and Red Feather ) so we got to check out a variety of types and brands of snowshoes. REI was on-hand to give how-to lessons and little 30 minute tours throughout the forest in Snoqualmie. While there, it was lightly snowing and we were snowshoeing through a good 18-24″ of very dry powder. Turnout was mentioned to be not as good in years past, but there was a Seahawks playoff game happening at the same time (which they, of course, couldn?t hold on to the lead again and subsequently lost).

All in all, an enjoyable experience that pretty much seals the deal on us paying for membership in the Mountaineers. Oh, Washington Trails Association ( WTA ) was also on-hand too.

UPDATE: Some pictures from the area are available here ; however, there are no actual snowshoeing pictures. ๐Ÿ™

Heather Lake Trail

Hiked On: January 2, 2005
Weather Conditions: Approximately 15-30°F, beautifully clear skies
Elevation: 1600-2450'
Distance from Seattle: 70 miles
Pictures: Here
Forest Service: Trail #701, Darrington Ranger District

Diann & I picked up this hike also based on a recommendation from the same book as we used in the last several weeks' hikes ( Winter Hikes in Puget Sound & the Olympic Foothills: Mostly Snow-Free Trails from Lowland Forests to Summit Views , ISBN 1570611491). The hike was approximately 4 miles round trip with an additional 0.75 mile loop around the lake. We couldn't have asked for better weather for today's hike — the temperatures were low, but the skies were clear without a cloud in the sky. The trail was in good condition for the most part, but did show some signs of erosion at several points above the 2000' line. At several spots along the trail, there was proof that winter is upon us in the northwest — frozen mud, icy rocks and icy tree roots. Approximately 0.25 miles from the lake, packed snow started to show up occasionally. At the lake itself, approximately 1-2″ of snow surrounded the entire landscape and the lake was frozen over, seemingly solid. The ice over the lake looked approximately 1.5-2″ thick at the lake edges. While we saw sunshine, we were always in the shade of Mount Pilchuck that surrounds the lake on three sides. It took us approximately 1 hour to get to the trailhead from Seattle and about 4 hours of hiking to do the round-trip and the lake loop. Sadly, the Verlot Public Service Center has been closed the last three times we've been up in the Darrington Ranger District — I haven't been able to buy the Green Trails topo maps.

Lake Twenty-Two

Hiked On: December 26, 2004
Weather Conditions: Fog in Higher Elevations, approximately 43°F
Elevation: 1000-2460'
Distance from Seattle: 60 miles
Pictures: Here
Forest Service: Trail #702, Darrington Ranger District

Diann & I picked up this hike also based on a recommendation from the same book as we used in the last two weeks' hikes ( Winter Hikes in Puget Sound & the Olympic Foothills: Mostly Snow-Free Trails from Lowland Forests to Summit Views , ISBN 1570611491). The hike was approximately 5.4 miles round trip on some improved trails. The aforementioned book claims it is a “moderate” difficulty hike (compared to last weeks “easy / moderate”), but I disagree. Compared to this hike, the last week's hike was a cake-walk. The USFS claims it is a “More Difficult” hike. The elevation change (approx. 1400' in 2.7 miles) doesn't seem like much, but I'd guess that about 25% or more of this hike was flat. The slopes were relatively steep, with the most difficult being several switchbacks up and across a talus slope. Thankfully, Diann & I picked up new hiking boots and other miscellaneous keep-yourself-warm gear at REI last week. This hike also demonstrated to us the wonders of layering clothes. At the trailhead, we started in gloves, hats, jackets, sweaters and scarves. By the time we hit the top, only the sweaters were left (well, and pants/socks/shoes/etc., of course). Lake Twenty-Two is a bit of an experiment for the US Forest Service — in January 1947, it was deemed off-limits for logging/development/touching to study the long-term effects of unmanaged vs. managed forests. Going to Lake Twenty-Two is definitely a step back in time — old growth forest, tons of huge Western Red Cedars, beautiful waterfalls throughout the climb, etc. — and proves to me that managed forests (managed by logging companies with interests that fly against the concept of a forest) have nothing on unmanaged ones. The trail follows Twenty-Two Creek the entire way up from the trailhead to the lake. Unfortunately, when we got to the lake (at the top), it was fogged in where we couldn't see beyond 10' or so. The climb down made the entire trip worth it — the fog cleared and we saw several peaks in a nearby range (maybe this will teach me to pick up some of topo maps soon so I can identify these peaks, but I believe it's Three Fingers and Liberty Mountain). This was the first hike that we've actually encountered other hikers on the trail — we even encountered a few heading up as we were reaching the trailhead as dusk fell; several websites claim that the trail is extremely popular in the summer, and it looks as though it gets its share of use in the winter as well. It took us approximately 1 hour to get to the trailhead from Seattle and about 3.5 hours of solid (and exhausting) hiking to do the round-trip.

Big Four Ice Caves

Hiked On: December 19, 2004
Weather Conditions: Low Fog, Occasional Rain & Sleet, approximately 40°F
Elevation: 800-1000'
Distance from Seattle: 70 miles
Pictures: Here
Forest Service: Trail #723, Darrington Ranger District

Diann & I picked up this hike also based on a recommendation from the same book as we used from last week's hike ( Winter Hikes in Puget Sound & the Olympic Foothills: Mostly Snow-Free Trails from Lowland Forests to Summit Views , ISBN 1570611491). The hike was approximately 2.5 miles round trip on all improved trails (approximately 0.5 miles of wooden-plank boardwalks and occasional bridges, the remainder was pebbled). There was a long footbridge going over the Stillaguamish River, which is a beautiful (and presumably glacially-fed, based on the color of it) river. The actual ice caves themselves are formed by snow/ice debris falling off the rock face of the Big Four Mountain and packing at the bottom; the waterfalls flowing under then melt out the bottoms and create the caves. The US Forest Service indicates that entering the caves or climbing on the ice pack is subject to extreme danger, so we didn't do that… yet. It took us approximately 1.25 hours to get to the trailhead and about 1.5 hours of easy hiking to do the round-trip.