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Josh and I stop for a break in the neverending switchbacks at the beginning of the trail.

Slopes dressed up for Autumn.

Switchbacks and foliage.

I used to joke that the only reason I worked was to earn the money and vacation time I needed to get out and hike. I hiked much of the year, with multiple big trips. These days I am grateful to get out once a year. My annual hike is worth celebrating though. What joy to be on a trail again.

The Enchantments Area in northern Washington state is so popular that people can only get hiking permits by lottery. I did not win the lottery this year (again), so I had to purchase outside the peak season, which ends October 15th. The earliest permit available was this past week, October 24th-27th. That’s pretty late. I paid my fee and told myself that if the winter snows had not begun in earnest, I would hike. If they had, I would consider it a donation to Recreation.gov. (That’s a marvelous website, by the way. Please check it out.)

The Snow Lakes trailhead begins just outside of town on Icicle Road heading out of Leavenworth, WA. Hit the link there and just look at a couple of photos to get a sense of the town. It is totally kitschy and totally touristy but oh, so, beautiful that it’s worth every potential drawback. I reserved a room at the Leavenworth Village Inn, where I have stayed before, and was equally pleased. They offer a military discount, which I used. This lovely little Bavarian-styled town is smack in the middle of Oktoberfest. So Plan B was that if the trail was snowed out, I would drink some ale. Admit it, you love my Plan B.

Prior to the trip it rained and rained and rained and then! Tuesday morning was spectacular.

Sun lights up a lingering thimbleberry leaf.

Because it was so late in the season, and also because I don’t have my mountain legs anymore (spending most of my life decomposing in front of a computer screen all day long), I invited a friend along. As you may recall, this is not my usual approach as I really do prefer hiking alone. However, I am also smart! And hiking in the mountains potentially in snow, for days on end, alone… Well, let’s just say I was relieved when Josh said, “Sure, I’ll go.” (of course, I am stubborn enough that I would have gone on alone anyway if he was not interested…but that’s a psychology session for another day)

Sunrise hits the peaks over Nada Lake.

The trail begins with a shameful number of brutal switchbacks. Up, up, up. I am a good hiker when it comes to “up.” I complain, but my trusty little legs just keep going. Josh (big tough guy) was feeling strong that morning and teasing that we should do the whole 18-mile loop in a day, then do it again the second day. It was his first backpacking trip ever. So I just smiled and kept plodding along. After 1000 feet or so, he was humbled. I offered to let him go ahead and set the pace. Gasping on breaks he insisted that I had to be in front of him for motivation. “I can’t let you beat me at this!”

Trail descriptions really downplay this part of the trail, recommending to start at the other end because there isn’t much to look at on this side. I beg to differ. It’s truly magnificent, and especially so in October, where yellow trees pour down mountain valleys like molten gold. The air was crisp and hinting at afternoon warmth. The sky blue as only October blue can be.

Morning sun on Nada Lake.

The sun drops early in the evening these days, but we made it to the first lake before it got dark and set up the tent while it was still light. It got really cold, really quick, and soon we escaped into the tent for shelter.

Wednesday morning was beautiful and I was energized as I boiled up water for coffee and made breakfast. It was the debut of my new MSR Whisperlite stove. My old whisperlite had been a solid and reliable companion ever since I bought it in 2000. This last camping trip, when I watched the eclipse, it stopped working. I suspected the lines were clogged. Prior to this trip then, I took my little stove out on the deck and pulled it into all its pieces and began cleaning the fuel line. I went into the house to grab some steel wool for scrubbing the soot, and when I came back out I saw that a gust of wind had come up and the teeniest little stove piece had bounced away, off the deck, and likely through a crack and into the weeds underneath. I hunted on my hands and knees under the deck with the slugs and spiders that day for approximately 4 hours (remember how I said I am stubborn?). And then I went on Amazon and bought a new stove. Whatever I paid for that last one, 17 years is a good run and I did not feel bitter about the purchase of a replacement. The brand new stove worked great (of course I had tested it before we left).

Here I am resting during the hike up from Nada Lake, where we camped the first night. Look at that slope! Wicked steep.

Then we loaded everything up and went uphill again. This was a short hike, only a few miles and 1000 more feet. It wasn’t as pleasant as the first day because we were tired, but also because the clouds rolled in while it was still morning, and a light rain began to fall. It rained all day long, but luckily just a light rain that frizzed my hair but didn’t soak through anything. We found a spot to camp at Upper Snow Lake at about 5400′ elevation. As we were looking for a place to camp, we met two hikers that had just descended from the next lake up. They said to be sure and use our ice cleats and snowshoes because of all the ice and snow on the trail. Well, we didn’t have either. Most of my hike life I’ve been a fair-weather backpacker and only recently learned that camping is fun when it’s cold, too. But I won’t go so far as to invest in snow hiking gear. I’m not crazy.

Enormous granite boulders were strewn about, making us feel small in comparison.

You know I love to eat good food in the mountains!

We spent the remains of the day running around in the forest and climbing on rocks. You can act like you’re 10 years old when you camp in the mountains. In fact, it’s pretty much expected.

It rained harder in the evening, and rained during the night. Thursday, to my delight, it dawned spectacularly clear again. It was the warmest day so far and after the fog burned off, not a cloud to be seen. We were still chilled from the wet night and took a long time to get moving. I was trying to decide whether to do a day hike up to Lake Viviane without snow climbing gear. It must have been noon before we were finally packed up. Didn’t even try to dry the tent out. Everything was just going to have to be wet. I was tired and after a tentative query to Josh, who didn’t really warm up to the idea of a few more thousand feet, I committed to heading back down the mountain.

Morning on the shady side of the lake. Still trying to thaw out so I can pack up my gear.

A mountain called The Temple rises above a little peninsula in Upper Snow Lake.

Sand formations in Upper Snow Lake, which is also a reservoir, as you may have guessed, as part of the water district for the city below.

I was intrigued by the patterns and shadows in the sand.

McClellan Peak commands the view of Upper Snow Lake.

This was the hare’s turn to shine. After the stolid and steadfast tortoise was a clear victor in going uphill, the hare practically caught the trail on fire going back down. We went down all 4000 feet in just a few hours – a record for me. He was very patient at first, because we found a couple of places awash in sunshine and I wanted to do nothing but lounge. I wet and re-braided my ratty hair. I climbed up and down hills and boulders and over logs with my camera. I snacked. I smiled. Josh laid on a rock in the sun and didn’t say a word. But when I finally gave the green light and we hefted our packs and buckled in….whoosh! He was gone.

The rest of the day I barely saw my traveling companion.

Sunshine and blue skies make a paradise at Lower Snow Lake.

And hiking alone is my comfort zone, so it was no big deal. But I did get very tired. And my feet were aching. And then my knees started to hurt, and still I had not caught up. Sometimes he would spot me from hundreds of feet below and holler up, “Everything ok? You taking a nap up there or what?” I would signal a thumbs up and voom, off he’d go again.

At one point as I was about to step over a pile of bark from a tree that had fallen over the trail, I noticed that some of the pieces of bark had been shaped into an arc. Only the curve was sideways, making it look like the letter “C.” And I laughed out loud. Yes, that is something he would do: leave me a message to let me know I was not forgotten. What a sweet gesture. It kept me going for another 15 minutes and then I was just about to despair in pain again, but I came across more bark that was indisputably an “R.” And that time I really laughed! That crazy guy was going to spell my whole name! Sure enough, 20 minutes later I found a “Y.” And it wasn’t until “S” that I finally had the sense to take a photo.

T in red needles was my fave.

Camera hanging around my neck and still I didn’t take a photo until I got to the S.

After T and then A, I spotted him waiting for me at a great place beside Snow Creek where we had stopped to eat something on the way up two days before. He asked how I was doing and I said, “I want my L!” I told him I was in pain and was about to suggest a longer break, but he took off my pack and proceeded to transfer about 15 pounds from my pack to his. Well, he did need a little slowing down, so I let him. I am proud and stubborn, but…

It didn’t slow him down at all. Zoom! Gone again. I found my L. And you would not believe this, but he did my last name too.

Berries hanging over the trail were begging for a photo.

Don’t you just love the fire colours of the season?

The lovely day and the lovely foliage did as much to cheer me as the letters on the trail. I kept plodding along, but tortoises apparently are not made for rapid down hill trekking with no breaks and no meals – just snacks on the go. My feet were killing me and I had to stop a lot to sit down and get the weight off my soles. Josh hit the parking lot, ditched his pack, ran back up the hill to where I was, teased me for napping, then took my pack and went back down again. It was still daylight when I finally hit bottom. Well, you know, “finally” as in finally caught up to Josh. But in terms of backpacking down a mountainside, we really smoked.

I’m glad I took the chance on the late season pass. Everything worked out perfectly. It didn’t snow too much before last week, and the weather was splendid for two of the three days. On the trail is where I find my bliss.

My apologies. The writerly in me has gone to sleep. The engine sputtered and coughed and sighed then went quiet in the middle of July and I was only halfway done with telling you all about my Oklahoma trip!! I don’t know what’s going on. I’ll just wait it out because there is no doubt the engine will chug back to life. In the meantime: How lucky are we?! I wrote a post in the Spring that I never published. You can have it now.

On a May visit to Seattle, my brother and his girlfriend took me to see the Ballard Locks for the first time. The official name is the Hiram M. Chittenden Locks, but so far I have not heard anyone call it that. Rather, the locals have named the locks for the Seattle neighborhood where they are found, and it’s the title of my post.

Completed in 1917, the locks link the Puget Sound with Lake Union and Lake Washington. Parking is a bear, but we finally found a spot, and made our way to the locks. Unexpectedly, visitors pass through the Carl S. English Jr. Botanical Garden. I would have been happy to spend more time exploring, but that particular day was too cold and rainy to encourage garden exploration.

Gardens tend to be lovely in the rain as well as in the sunshine.

Past the gardens, and an information center that includes a souvenir shop, we reached the water. There are two parallel channels for boats to travel through. The first one we came to was rather large, capable of containing a large ship, or many small boats. It was not in use, so we crossed the catwalk to the second and much narrower channel. I was distracted on the way by the lovely old concrete architecture.

An office building for staff, I assume. I instantly had visions of Monty Python. Sorry. Can’t help myself.

It was a delight to discover that watching boats go through locks is interesting to a bunch of other people. Many tourists and locals stood out there in the rain, watching the process. There were also cyclists waiting for the gates to open up, since apparently it’s part of a bicycle route to cross the locks.

Looking West toward the Sound, a small boat moves ahead into the lock. You can see several others waiting their turn.

People watch with surprising enthusiasm as the boat enters the lock. A second boat is allowed to join the first.

The first boat heads all the way in, and ties off. Note how deeply they sit.

The gates close.

Two boats in together, as the water level rises.

…and before you can say Bob’s your uncle, the boats are eye level and ready to move into the lake.

We watched the process of moving boats through twice. The locks can elevate a vessel 26 feet from the level of Puget Sound at a very low tide to the level of freshwater Salmon Bay, in 10–15 minutes. It’s fast enough to be entertaining, and crowds grew more dense the longer we stood there. Finally we had seen enough and we walked across the spillway dam to the other side of the water. There is a fish ladder there I would have like to see, but it was temporarily closed. The trip was not in vain, though, because I was captivated by some artwork on the other side.

These spirals, clearly reminiscent of waves, were lit with tiny blue lights. I’ll bet it’s wonderful at night.

On the way back to the locks, we saw a train crossing the bridge. From the look of the cars, this one could be carrying oil.

When we reached the locks again, so many boats had stacked up, waiting to go through, that the large lock had been opened, and they brought in everyone who was waiting. That time, there were about 8 boats in the lock. It took longer to fill, and we tired of waiting and left.

US Army Corps of Engineers manages the locks.

In Ballard we also spent time at the Farmer’s Market and visited an apothecary. I recommend the Ballard neighborhood to any Seattle visitors. And do walk out to see the locks. It’s free, and surprisingly interesting.

Columbine in the Goat Rocks Wilderness

Columbine in the Goat Rocks Wilderness

Second big hike in a row with no mountain goat sightings. Do you think it’s me?

I hiked into the Goat Rocks Wilderness for three days and two nights with my boyfriend. Our timing was uncanny, and we were up there during the only three rainy days in between sunny weeks either side. Though I went up into the mountains seeking profound vistas, thankfully I was able to see the beauty in front of me when the vistas were obscured by fog.

We began at the Snowgrass Flats Trailhead and hiked to a bypass trail to the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT). At the trailhead it was pleasantly warm (in the 60s) and there was a beam or two of sunshine. I photographed a lake and crammed my mouth full of ripe huckleberries that loaded the bushes on both sides of the trail.

I am standing at the junction of Snowgrass Flats Trail and the Bypass Trail.

I am standing at the junction of Snowgrass Flats Trail and the Bypass Trail.

Reflections in a tiny pond near the trailhead.

Reflections in a small pond near the trailhead.

Candy!

Candy!

Several spectacular falls are near the trail as it switchbacks up the mountainside.

Several spectacular falls are near the trail as it switchbacks up the mountainside.

We were treated to a couple of sunbeams on day one.

We were treated to a couple of sunbeams on day one.

The trail climbed about 2000 feet to the place we chose for our campsite. The rain set in as soon as we unloaded our gear, and it gradually picked up as the night went on. Since everything was wet, we were comfortable starting a fire. We hovered over the warmth that night and during the next couple days. Temperatures cooled to near 32 at night (0 Celcius) and warmed to the middle 40s during the day.

As is my tradition, I brought the fixins for delicious meals and was so delighted to have a climbing partner to share the weight. It’s amazing how much of a difference that makes! It was so light, my pack barely caught my attention. The first night we had Salmon Curry Couscous, a new meal I tried out that turned out great and was a snap to put together. We set down our dishes and within minutes a mouse arrived to investigate. The mouse left right away: not a fan of curry, I suppose.

For breakfast we had hard boiled eggs, bananas and homemade oatmeal cranberry cookies. Another meal was Bacon Carbonara (with angel hair so it cooks quickly), we had Margaret’s famous baked brie in brown sugar and red wine with dried apricots, and on the final day we had burritos that I had designed as a cold meal to eat on the way out, but since we were so cold I cooked the refried beans and D toasted the tortillas. Tortillas are packed flat against the back of the pack to keep them in one piece on the trail. We enjoyed fresh avocado of course! The trick to bringing produce is to bring it unripened. The firmness protects the fruit and after a couple days it’s ready to eat!

Preparing the pasta

Preparing the pasta

Mouse finds the entrance

Mouse finds the entrance

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Campsite the first night

Campsite the first night

Bear grass was everywhere!

Bear grass (Xerophylum tenax) was everywhere!

A lightening of the sky reveals a meadow and pond.

A lightening of the sky reveals a meadow and pond.

The second day we climbed north on the PCT toward Old Snowy Mountain, which I climbed a few years ago. However, the rain and cold slowed us down and there were no views to be had. I couldn’t even tell which direction to look for Old Snowy; it was likely right above us. I was discouraged. The last time I was on this trail, the weather was much more cooperative, and no matter where I hiked or which direction I faced, the views of mountains blew me away. It was the most impressive thing about being here. So on my return trip, I sort of had it locked into my brain that unless I saw a view, I was not really at Goat Rocks. Often our visibility ranged from 20 to 100 feet, and I remained disappointed until the splendid and rare scenes in front of my face got through and slapped me around a little bit: LOOK! Look at this!

Indian Paintbrush, Lupine, and Bear Grass blossom profusely.

Indian Paintbrush, Lupine, and Bear Grass blossom profusely.

We wandered through meadows and found scene after scene of astonishingly beautiful wildflowers in full view despite the fog. We discovered a huge spring where water literally bubbled up like a fountain, and in other places poured out of cracks in the earth. At the trail there was no creek, but twenty feet down the hill was a creek bigger than the one on my property. That’s how much water burst from the lush green hillside.

It was fun to talk to the through hikers. Those are the ones who stay on the PCT for months, doing sections and sometimes the entire length of it. We met several of them, as August is a good time of year to travel through this section: recently cleared of snow. You could spot the through hikers because they were dirty and seemed weary. Or, maybe, not as thrilled with the wildflowers as I was, having probably seen them for a month already. They were consistently humble, the ones I met, downplaying their feat of endurance, insisting that they had “only” been on the trail six weeks, or that they were “only” hiking the Oregon and Washington sections.

Foggy blue and green meadow.

Foggy blue and green meadow.

Looking down the PCT as it climbs north toward Old Snowy Mountain.

Looking down the PCT as it climbs north toward Old Snowy Mountain.

The shale rock here allows for some of the most astonishing cairns I have ever seen. They look like ancient human ruins.

The shale rock here allows for some of the most astonishing cairns I have ever seen. They look like ancient human ruins.

In enjoyed this phenomena very much: the leaves of Lupine collect water.

In enjoyed this phenomenon very much: the leaves of Lupine collect water.

The fog lends an otherworldly quality to each scene.

Here, spring water simply gushes from the hill. Fog lends an otherworldly quality to the horizon scene.

We didn’t stay out long, and were tempted to go back to camp where we could have a fire and get warm again. Upon our return, we found that other campers had vacated a great spot on the edge of a cliff. If we were there, even if the clouds only lifted for 2 minutes, I would get a little bit of a view. Hee hee. We moved our camp and had a new fire roaring in no time. Typically I try to avoid fires in the mountains in August. As you all know, wildfires are nothing to mess around with and I never want to tempt fate. But on this occasion, everything was soaked and I was supremely confident that the forest would not burn due to a flying ember.

That evening a troop of Boy Scouts came in and were considering a camp site right next to ours. We promptly and “helpfully” directed them to the campsite we had vacated the night before, which is up the hill and completely out of sight from where we were. “And it has a stream!” added my boyfriend, trying to sell it while he had the chance. They took the bait and moved on. The Scouts brought a mule named Sadie, and we spent a lot of time talking with Sadie and her elderly master, Bob, who had been hiking this mountain for 30 or 40 years. It was interesting to hear him talk about changes that had occurred. He referred to the trails by their old names, and I had to mentally scramble to keep up with which trails he was talking about.

Our new camp site on a ledge, and D getting the fire going.

Our new camp site on a ledge, and D getting the fire going.

Sadie poses for a photo in the meadow.

Sadie poses for a photo in the meadow.

Bob took Sadie out to the meadow next to us to let her graze, and right then the sun came out. Such a lovely gift for the evening. (Isn’t it a sign, when I can clearly remember each time the sun came out?) We went out to pat the mule and let the old man talk. He was a heck of a talker. In among the words though, he mentioned a nearby waterfall that sounded impressive. We got directions (south on the PCT, instead of north, as we had traveled that day) and decided to hike there in the morning.

The theory was (well, at least this is the Pollyanna spin I was giving myself) that a waterfall is going to be entertaining in the fog. Sparkling, loud, exciting, wet, interesting…waterfalls are always a win. So in the light morning rain we packed our day hike gear again and traveled and chatted and made our way through the fog. My boyfriend is almost obsessed with Trump news, and we enjoy sharing our theories on what in the world is going on here in the states. How does Trump come up with the crazy stuff he says? How can so many Republicans say “Yes, his comments are often out of line and intolerable, but I’m going to vote for him anyway.” D can’t stand Hillary, like much of the country, and I harbor bitter thoughts that America is misogynistic as hell, and suspect that as racist as some of us can be, even a black man is a better choice than a woman. But I don’t say that out loud.

And before we know it, there’s the waterfall! And it was just what I had hoped for: large, loud, exiting, beautiful.

Large and lovely waterfall splashes over the Pacific Crest Trail.

Large and lovely waterfall splashes over the Pacific Crest Trail.

We climbed around on the rocks and talked to through hikers for a half an hour or so, and suddenly the skies opened up. I gasped out loud “Oh!” And we spent another hour there, watching the clouds lift up and sink down, revealing a different piece of paradise each time. I found myself thinking of the story of Heidi, who goes to live with her grandpa in the mountains. This was a final and perfect gift from the Wilderness, before it was time to hike back down the hill.

The headwaters of the Cispis River. The PCT arcs around the entire valley, then crosses a saddle to the other side of those mountains.

The headwaters of the Cispus River. The PCT arcs around the entire valley, then crosses a saddle to the other side of those mountains.

You can spot D heading down the trail.

You can spot D heading down the trail.

Looking back the way we had come, down the Cispus River Valley.

Looking back the way we had come, down the Cispus River Valley.

The sun and Snow Creek Wall put on one last show for me by way of goodbye.

The sun and Snow Creek Wall put on one last show for me by way of goodbye.

A rock spire on the side of Snow Creek Wall is lit by the slanting rays of the sun as I descend into the canyon.

A rock spire on the side of Snow Creek Wall is lit by the slanting rays of the sun as I descend into the canyon.

I rose with as much leisure as possible, and waited for the sun to dry everything out before I packed. It was another glorious day in The Enchantments, and I was so reluctant to leave. Finally I began the 4000 foot drop back down to civilization.

Every bit of the trail was as beautiful as it was on the way up. I took lots of breaks because my bad knee was complaining. I would sit on one of the many available granite boulders, and gaze in admiration at the world around me. I passed one point in the trail where rustling leaves caught my attention. I first took a photo, then realized what was so beautiful about the spot was the sound, and not the image. So then I took a video. A couple of hikers came up while I was filming. I held up a finger for them to stay back till I finished. They got very excited and looked intently up the hill to discover what wildlife I had discovered. Then I stopped the video and disappointed them when I explained, “No wildlife, just rustling Aspen leaves.”

It looks sort of pretty, but this photo does not convey the magical sound.

It looks sort of pretty, but this photo does not convey the magical sound.

Lots of people passed me on the way up, which was a mystery until I recalled that it was Friday, and guessed that Seattle people were likely getting an early start on weekend hiking. They asked me lots of questions about trail conditions, campsites, and goats. I tried to encourage them by telling them about the trail ahead in the best possible way. “You’re at least half way to the lake!”

A bracket fungus captured my attention while I was resting.

A bracket fungus captured my attention while I was resting.

At the bottom of the hill the parking lot was jammed, compared to the empty lot I had seen Tuesday morning. Yet another affirmation for hiking popular trails during the week. I dumped my dirty smelly pack into the back of the Jeep and grabbed some clean clothes to bring up front with me – for changing in the first bathroom I could find. I plugged in my phone, and it started beeping it’s little heart out as battery life and cell signal brought in all the texts and phone messages I had missed.

One key phone message was from human resources. Yes! I got a promotion. A new job, more accurately. Since it’s government, there is no such thing as promotion in that someone says “Hey Crystal, you’re doing well and we’ve decided to pay you more,” because that could be unfair. So, when a different position became available, I submitted my resume and supporting documents, went through an interview, and was selected for the position.

Pros: higher salary, completely new job within VA that I get to learn and thus will stay interested in work, good career move, good retirement move since my retirement pay will be based on my highest salary.

Cons: I have to change my schedule from compressed to five days a week, and commute to the office every day while I’m in training. Drive to work. Every day. Cuz…remember I live on Jupiter now. I’m out beyond public transportation, and I do not drive a fuel-efficient vehicle, and I’ll have to pay for parking smack downtown. Bluh. ….but it’s an investment in my future, right?

I get to bury myself ever more deeply into veterans disability claims and with this new position I will be able to help them more than ever before. That makes me really happy.

I was so eager to get home that I decided to make the 4 1/2 hour drive rather than find a hotel. I texted Tech Support, who was house-sitting, and let him know I was on my way. He texted back that the chickens had been loose during the week, but all was well at the moment (Someone must have told them they could fly. I was trying to keep that a secret.) He left the heat and lights on so when I arrived in the middle of the night, the place was so welcoming. 🙂

He also left me with this memento, taken from my place while I was gone:

The starry sky from Crystal's place. Photo credit: Tech Support, friend, chicken-catcher and house-sitter.

The starry sky from Crystal’s place. Photo credit: Tech Support, friend, chicken-catcher and house-sitter.

An apple from my tree.

An apple from my tree.

My piece of land is growing on me as she changes her clothes for the season. I have decided there simply aren’t enough colours out there for a proper Autumn view, and I will plant trees with this in mind, so I can enjoy them in future years. There are a few maples turning colours though, and I have been able to capture a few photos of them. It has begun raining again, and the creek level is rising. The pond is still too low and I’ve talked to a neighbor who has a pump and generator, who may be able to lend it to me to restore my little puddle to something more pond like. I’ve harvested apples from my two apple trees and made a pie. The deer eat what I haven’t had a chance to pick up off the ground. I feel more assured when I can walk around and take stock and see what’s changed and what’s stayed the same. I suppose I’m becoming more of a country girl with each day.

Creek level is rising again.

Creek level is rising again.

A new creek view, available due to some heavy pruning of this big cedar that was dropping branches to the water.

A new creek view, available due to some heavy pruning of this big cedar that was dropping branches to the water.

One of the few maples painting my land red.

One of the few maples painting my land red.

A view up toward the house from down where I'm building a bonfire pile.

A view up toward the house from down where I’m building a bonfire pile.

Distracted by a spider (but you can still see the red in the background). Isn't the colouring gorgeous?

Distracted by a spider (but you can still see the red in the background). Aren’t the patterns on the abdomen gorgeous?

I can't resist red. So yummy.

I can’t resist red. So yummy.

The north side of McClellan Peak lights up in the morning sunshine above Upper Snow Lake.

The north side of McClellan Peak lights up in the morning sunshine above Upper Snow Lake. At 8364 feet, it’s still one of the shorter peaks in the area.

I was much warmer my second night. Maybe it was warmer outside, maybe I chose a warmer spot (in the trees and protected), maybe I’m just getting used to the cold. I dreamed for the second night in a row about people having houses at the top of impossibly steep and treacherous driveways. Isn’t that the funniest thing?

Stars up here blow me away. There are so many stars it’s like a glistening sheet of sparkles, with a few black patches. There are so many stars that I can barely pick out the constellations. There is simply too much going on, light everywhere, the Milky Way busting through the middle of it all. I wish it wasn’t so bleeping cold out, so I could just lie on my back and fall up into the marvelous sky.

Last night there was something barking out in the dried up swamp area beside my camp (remember the cracked mud photo from the last post?). It’s a nice-sized bay, but dry because the lake is so low. Chipmunks are having their family reunions out there and it’s bustling with grassy activity. Anyway, I’m asleep in my tent and I hear a bark. And another. I’m instantly on high-alert, because, you know: wilderness. A bark out here should be high-pitched, like a coyote, but this is low-pitched and throaty, like a large domestic dog. Better yet, it sounded like a seal. And repetitive like a seal: bark, bark, bark, bark. I could not sleep. It went on for at least 20 minutes and I thought I wouldn’t sleep the rest of the night, but then it seemed to get tired of the game. I heard, “bark! bark. …. bark…. hoooo. whooo hooo.” It was an owl! All that time I was wondering what unspeakable beast was out there, and it was just a crazy owl. Interested in the reunions, I imagine.

I was *SO* fired up this morning that my coffee and sausage and eggs were old news by 8 am. I left my tent and took only a day pack with water and snacks, and was on the other side of the lake again in no time and – since I went farther than the first time – found a beautiful camp site beside a creek, only 50 feet past the spot I stopped looking the day before. Wouldn’t you know it? Ah well, too late now.

Whoah! What a sky.

Whoah! What a sky.

Goofing around taking pictures of myself because there was no one else to do it.

Goofing around taking pictures of myself because there was no one else to do it.

Then other hikers passed me heading downhill, and I asked them to take my photo.

Then other hikers passed me heading downhill, and I asked them to take my photo.

Thank goodness for no pack because today the real climbing began! I am talking scrambling straight up the side of granite boulders. That kind of climbing. Wowzers. Ok, so I do not like heights, and I do not like scramble trails, and I am scared of crossing bare-faced rock. But I was in the mood for adventure, so despite remarking aloud to myself many times, “You’ve got to be kidding me! This is for real?” I went right on ahead like a trooper.

I climbed 1300 feet in elevation from that beautiful camp site to the shore of Lake Viviane. There was not always a “trail” per se, but rather rock cairns. In the beginning I loved the cairns for showing me the true path. Later, I cursed them soundly when I spotted them. “You cannot be serious! I have to climb THAT?!”

This shot is from when I still liked cairns, and thought they were beautiful and helpful like a beacon of light in a storm. See the one in the background?

This shot is from when I still liked cairns, and thought they were beautiful and helpful like a beacon of light in a storm. See the one in the background?

The arrow points to the cairn, indicating that yes - despite the warning signs - the

The arrow points to the cairn, indicating that yes – despite the warning signs – the “trail” is this way.

Cairn says,

Cairn says, “Yes, Crystal, the trail crosses 30 feet of bare granite. Step on those bits of rebar if it makes you feel safer.”

I keep pointing out the cairns because I still can't believe it. Really. That is the trail. You can't call that a trail! Give me a break you stupid cairn!!

I keep pointing out the cairns because I still can’t believe it. Really. That is the trail. You can’t call that a trail! Give me a break you stupid cairn!!

Finally, I was there. I was so grateful. A man and his son were eating lunch on the shore of Lake Viviane when I arrived. They told me that just up over the hill, at Leprechaun Lake, there was a billy goat resting in the shade. They had come from that direction only minutes ago.

The Core Enchantments area is known to be full of mountain goats. My pre-hike research set my expectations so high. I totally expected to see a goat. So, all full of confidence and smug satisfaction, off I marched in the direction they pointed, and was determined to get at least one shot. I didn’t care if it was out of focus, far in the distance, whatever. Be vewwwy vewwy quiet. I’m hunting goat.

Lake Viviane reflecting. The yellow trees are Tamarack to me, Larch to people who call things by their proper names.

Lake Viviane reflecting. The yellow trees are Tamarack to me, Larch to people who call things by their official names.

The water of Lake Viviane is startlingly clear and aqua blue.

The water of Lake Viviane is startlingly clear and aqua blue.

The water is this clear! Look at this. I am standing on a rock far above this little guy. You can even see the rocks on the bottom.

It’s this clear! I am standing on a rock far above this little guy, who appears to be floating in air. You can even see the rocks on the bottom.

It’s a really quick trip from Viviane to Leprechaun Lake. It’s less than half a mile and hardly any elevation to speak of. Maybe 200 feet. I began looking for the goat, while simultaneously realizing that if one’s natural body colour is off-white, this would be a really awesome place to hide.

The entrance of Leprechaun Lake

The entrance of Leprechaun Lake

Down the (soon I would find out) wrong side of the lake.

Down the (soon I would find out) wrong side of the lake.

At least there were no horrible cairns. Look at this trail. Wouldn't you expect it to look like this at Leprechaun Lake?

I found this trail perfectly suited for a lake named Leprechaun.

Not knowing the area, I set off immediately on the wrong trail. I was supposed to be back-tracking the path where the men saw the goat, but instead I was following a little goat path myself, around the wrong side of the lake. I walked a good half mile and never saw a goat. I never realized my mistake until I finally lost the trail and turned around in frustration and returned to the beginning. And there, it was clear as day, on the other side of the lake. By this time an hour had passed. I hurried along the trail and passed a few people. “Have you seen a goat? There is supposed to be one here.” They had not. I reached tiny Sprite Lake and took my boots off to cool my feet in the water.

A hiker came up and pulled out his fly rod and began fishing while we chatted in the warm sunshine. It was blissful, and my disappointment and frustration from the goatlessness of it all eventually faded away.

There are lots more lakes. Really close to that spot, too. But my day had been so close to perfect that I knew there was no sense in asking for more. While I talked to the fisherman, the sun dropped and shadows were getting longer. I had eaten enough dried apricots and trail mix to suit me, and I wanted real food, which was down the hill. I put on my socks and boots and back across all those rocks I went.

The spot where I stopped to soak my feet and chat with the fisherman.

The spot where I stopped to soak my feet and chat with the fisherman.

A magical miniature valley beside the path.

A magical miniature valley beside the path.

Another view of the ear-shaped Leprechaun Lake.

Another view of the ear-shaped Leprechaun Lake.

There it is! So close and yet so far. In the distance, Lower Snow Lake and closer to me, Upper Snow Lake.

There it is! So close and yet so far. In the distance, Lower Snow Lake and closer to me, Upper Snow Lake.

Where I grew up in Idaho, these are called Tamarack. The only tree I know that loses its needles every winter.

I learned to love these when I lived in Idaho. The only tree I know that loses its needles every winter.

Looking up the side of The Temple (8292 feet) soaring above the shores of Upper Snow Lake.

Looking up the side of The Temple (8292 feet) soaring above the shores of Upper Snow Lake.

Tamarack needles spinning in slack water instantly made me think of Starry Night by Van Gogh.

Tamarack needles spinning in slack water instantly made me think of Starry Night by Van Gogh.

Looking down onto Nada Lake, I see the sun has finally touched the spot where my tent was. Too late Mother Nature! I got tired of waiting for you and moved on.

Looking down onto Nada Lake, I see the sun has finally touched the spot where my tent was. Too late Mother Nature! I got tired of waiting for you and moved on.

My night was soooooo cold, even though I finally bought a new sleeping bag for this trip. I don’t have a thermometer, so I do not know the low temp. The forecast was for mid-30s, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it was in the 20s. My old sleeping bag is rated to 10 degrees Fahrenheit, but it has lost much of it’s down and warmth. It will be my summer bag now.

In the morning I unzipped the tent and little snowshowers fell as ice broke from the zipper. I hopped around shivering while I made my first cup of coffee, then carried the cup back and got into the sleeping bag to read a book while I waited for it to warm up a little. After an hour, it began raining inside the tent. It wasn’t until I packed up the tent that I saw why: my body heat had caused condensation between the rain cover and the tent itself. Then, that layer of moisture had frozen into thin strips of ice all over the top of the tent! As the day warmed, the ice was melting onto me.

The best way I could think to get warm was to start hiking again, so off I went, wet gear and all.

Luckily there were more switchbacks right away. Ha! Who would have thought I would say “luckily there were switchbacks?” Soon I was in the sunshine and high above my little peninsula. Soon after that, I could feel my feet again.

I took this picture for you: so you could see how steep the climb is between Nada Lake and the Snow Lakes.

I took this picture for you: so you could see how steep the climb is between Nada Lake and the Snow Lakes.

It was a climb of only 500 feet in less than two miles to reach my next camp site, so a super easy climb day for me on Wednesday. I had planned to go the extra mile (heh heh – literally and figuratively) to camp on the far end of Upper Snow Lake, which is as far as my permit would allow. However, once I arrived at the lake, I saw that I would not be able to access the water, and I need water in camp.

The trail reaches both the Upper and Lower Snow Lakes at the same time, as it comes out between them. I passed between the two lakes by walking on a stone wall built by the Leavenworth National Fish Hatchery. There is an aqueduct that runs underground from Upper Snow Lake into Nada Lake, and this is opened as needed. The water is used to keep the valley streams flushed with cold water in the hot summer months to keep the salmon population healthy, and is also used on crops by farmers. I have never seen a mountain lake drained in this way, and it’s disconcerting to see. It is far too low for a human to attempt getting close enough to touch the water in Upper Snow Lake. I am curious as to whether the lake refills to the top each season, or if what I saw is the result of drought.

Upper Snow Lake - drastically diminished due to feeding the crops and salmon in the valley.

McClellan Peak rises above Upper Snow Lake. The water level is drastically diminished due to feeding the crops and salmon in the valley.

Lower Snow Lake is at normal levels, since it is not part of the Fish Hatchery system.

Lower Snow Lake is at normal levels, since it is not part of the Fish Hatchery system.

The dam between Upper and Lower Snow Lakes doubles as part of the trail.

The dam between Upper and Lower Snow Lakes doubles as part of the trail.

Ice beside the stone wall shows that it was still cold even after I reached the Snow Lakes.

Ice beside the stone dam shows that it was still cold at the Snow Lakes.

Lower Snow Lake had plenty of water, so I stopped between the two. I happily dumped my heavy pack in the shade (to keep the perishable food cold). Not quite ready to decide my campsite, I set up the tent so that the sunshine would melt the remaining ice and dry it out. Then I grabbed my camera and followed the trail to the end of the lake, looking for a campsite closer to the trail that would lead up to the higher lakes.

I walked to the other side of the lake (references say it is either 1 mile or 1 1/2 miles to the end of the lake, so that gives you a sense), but found no campsites with water access. I did, however, find other things that amused me. I had been passing multiple signs stating “toilet” with an arrow, and this struck me as highly unusual that someone would take the trouble to construct a toilet at 5500 feet in the mountains. I followed one of the trails and found one.

A mountain toilet. You lift the lid, and sure enough there it is! I find this hilarious... though probably necessary in this very popular wilderness area that fills with inexperienced hikers every summer.

A mountain toilet. You lift the lid, and sure enough there it is! I find this hilarious… though probably necessary in this very popular wilderness area that fills with inexperienced hikers every summer.

I also was delighted to see a few pikas and what is likely the first ptarmigan I have ever seen. Dogs were banned from this trail in 1982 in an attempt to bring back ptarmigan populations.

A pika holds still and poses for me.

A pika holds still and poses for me.

I took a dozen photos of this lovely bird. However, the light was very low and it would not hold still, so most are too blurry to use.

I took a dozen photos of this lovely bird. However, the light was very low and it would not hold still, so most are too blurry to use.

A fascinating fungus.

A fascinating fungus.

Bleached white log beside the aqua-coloured water that was continually captivating to me.

Bleached white log beside the aqua-coloured water that was continually captivating to me.

The view from the far end of the lake, back toward the stone dam, near where my tent is pitched.

The view from the far end of the lake, back toward the stone dam, near where my tent is pitched.

Once I decided I would have to camp back at the other end of the lake, I turned around and made the trek back to camp. I organized my gear, read more in my book, climbed around rocks and beaches, and generally enjoyed myself. The chipmunks and whiskey jacks were distinctly interested in me, and like all the other misbehaving outdoor adventurers they had met before: I shared a few peanuts with them. Yes, do not follow my example folks. Feeding the wildlife: very bad behavior.

The light makes grasses in Lower Snow Lake glow.

The light makes grasses in Lower Snow Lake glow.

An area that would be underwater if Upper Snow Lake were properly full. The cracked mud makes interesting patterns.

An area that would be underwater if Upper Snow Lake were properly full. The cracked mud makes interesting patterns.

Another pika. Cuteness.

Another pika. Cuteness.

A woodpecker pecks only on the shaded side of the tree - specifically to thwart my photography efforts.

A woodpecker pecks only on the shaded side of the tree – specifically to thwart my photography efforts.

Whisky Jack says,

Whiskey Jack (aka Grey Jay )says, “Yo! Toss me something good to eat, lady!” When I didn’t, he hopped all around me as I sat on a rock, eyeing my clothing for crumbs.

The chipmunks and whiskey jacks mounted a joint attack force and my resistance was futile. I shared my peanuts to their great appreciation.

The chipmunks and whiskey jacks mounted a joint attack force and my resistance was futile. I shared my peanuts to their great appreciation.

Though marijuana use is now legal in both Oregon and Washington... this is the high I'm after.

Though marijuana use is now legal in both Oregon and Washington… this is the high I’m after.

Before I left, I told my neighbors I would be gone all week, and by way of explanation I said, “The reason I work is so that I can hike.” It’s only a small exaggeration. Aside from taking care of Tara, and having a house to call home base, the reason I have a job is so that I can save up vacation days and then pay for my play time. Two things top the list titled Play Time: 1) travel, 2) backpacking.

I reluctantly left my comfortable-as-a-cloud hotel mattress behind me in Leavenworth, Washington, ate breakfast at Kristall’s (with a name like that, I had to), and found the trailhead in 15 minutes. I was on the trail by 8:20 am and in no time I had left civilization well behind me.

Looking from the first set of switchbacks toward the western edge of the town of Leavenworth, and the road to the trail head.

Looking from the first set of switchbacks toward the western edge of the town of Leavenworth, and the road to the trail head.

I climbed 3500 feet in elevation in about 5 1/2 miles to Nada Lake – the one you see pictured at the top. There were so many switchbacks climbing up and up and up. On this trip, unlike last year’s, my spirits were soaring, the weather was amazing, and the sights along the trail were constantly photo-worthy. Yes, it was a rough climb, and I was tired, but not discouraged at all.

This is called the Snow Creek Wall, and is popular with rock climbers. On my way up, and back down, I looked carefully, but did not see any climbers on the wall itself, though I did see climbers making their way through the valley back to the trail.

This is called the Snow Creek Wall, and is popular with rock climbers. On my way up, and back down, I looked carefully, but did not see any climbers on the wall itself, though I did see climbers making their way through the valley back to the trail.

Funny thing about the higher elevations: Spring comes so late that Fall overtakes her. Here fireweed continues to bloom, while Autumn turns the leaves orange.

Funny thing about the higher elevations: Spring comes so late that Fall overtakes her. Here fireweed continues to bloom, while Autumn turns the leaves orange.

These bleached white ferns caught my eye.

These bleached white ferns caught my eye.

What month is it? It's the month for oranges and reds and yellows!

What month is it? It’s the month for oranges and reds and yellows!

Cedar trees reach their fingers out to soak up a bit of Snow Creek.

Cedar trees reach their fingers out to soak up a bit of Snow Creek.

I gave myself a break and stayed the first night at Nada Lake. I have not been able to hike all year, and I also have not been exercising regularly. I wanted to be smart about this and save some reserves for the days ahead, since pushing too hard out of day-one-excitement can lead to injuries.

For my campsite I chose a cute little peninsula that I assume is usually below water, based on the signs of lake level around the shores. It’s the end of the season, which means water levels are at their lowest.

As soon as I spotted this peninsula jutting into Nada Lake, I knew I wanted to camp there. Look at the incredible aqua blue of this lake - isn't it remarkable?

As soon as I spotted this peninsula jutting into Nada Lake, I knew I wanted to camp there. Look at the incredible aqua blue of this lake – isn’t it remarkable?

While searching for a way to get to the peninsula, I took off my pack and gazed up at the far end of Nada Lake. Look at my pack there, on her back with her legs curled above her like a dead beetle.

While searching for a way to get to the peninsula, I took off my pack and gazed up at the far end of Nada Lake. Look at my pack there, on her back with her legs curled above her like a dead beetle.

Home Sweet Home. It was as splendid as I imagined it. Who needs a designated camp site?

Home Sweet Home. It was as splendid as I imagined it. Who needs a designated camp site?

I had loads of late afternoon sunshine, so I took my time and cooked up a nice meal for an early supper. I’ve mentioned before that I eat well when I’m camping. The down side is that my food weight is higher than most reasonable back packers. The up side is that… well… I eat really well! And, I always carry wine with me, because one must celebrate her accomplishments, and I like to celebrate with wine.

My supplies for my first supper: Thai curry with chicken, fresh broccoli and mushrooms.

My supplies for my first supper: Thai curry (yes, I used coconut milk) with chicken, fresh broccoli and mushrooms. There are apricots in the photo too, but I did not use them.

Finished product! It hit the spot. Once I cleaned my plate and everything settled, I filled the plate and ate this much again! ha ha

Finished product! It hit the spot. Once I cleaned my plate and everything settled, I filled the plate and ate this much again! ha ha

Wednesday night I had pasta with alfredo sauce, sausage, and sundried tomatoes. I did not bring milk for the alfredo, but with powdered milk, real butter and pre-grated parmesan, that sauce was mouth-watering despite being made with lake water. I use a lot of water camping, and I just boil all the nasties out of it, so it’s safe. In 15 years of back packing, I have not yet been sick from the water, so I’m pretty sure I’m doing it right. I had originally intended to make the alfredo and pasta with chicken, but I was not in the mood for chicken on a second night and opted for sausage instead.

Thursday night I had burritos with rice, refried beans, pre-sauteed onions, cheese, salsa and fresh avocado. There are no photos because I got back to camp late and ate in the dark. I discovered that chipmunks love avocado, when I accidentally left one half of the shell outside by the camp stove overnight, and in the morning found it spotlessly clean with teensy tinsy teeth marks all over it. The avocado trick I learned from back packing mentor M, who took me on my very first trip ever, in 2000. M showed me that if you pick a rock-hard avocado in the store, and carry it for a few days in your pack, it’s perfect!

Before I left I baked cookies packed with things from the pantry: chocolate chips, dried cranberries, oatmeal and walnuts. I also boiled eggs. So several breakfasts were hardboiled eggs and cookies and coffee. I always bring Peets coffee (my fave brand). One morning I had sausage and scrambled eggs from real eggs that I carried. Unfortunately the container I chose to store the eggs were not leakproof, and for the rest of the trip I had a bit of raw egg on the packaging of my other food items. Ah well. I typically melt the Tillamook cheese over the eggs, but it was 34 degrees that morning and the heat would not have been maintained long enough to melt the cheese. I had to scarf it down while the eggs were still warm.

A word on dishes. The blue plate came along not simply because the cobalt blue enamel is lovely and makes my food taste better. The plate is perfectly sized as a lid for both the deeper pot, and the shallower pan that I brought. The pot is for boiling water mainly, but having multiple dishes allows me to store one cooked item while cooking the second item. You can see my entire dish selection below: one pot, one pan, one plate, one cup, one fork, one spoon. I also bring one sharp knife that can be used for food as well as for cutting rope or branches as needed.

Cleaning dishes in the mountains is an endeavor. First of all I try to avoid using soap if at all possible. It is good for killing bacteria and thus is not good for the environment. Scoop a little stream or lake water into your dish, and add a handful of sand. Use your hands to scour, then dump the dirty water well away from the shore. Since it was so bitterly cold in the evenings and mornings on this trip, I was forced to heat the water to make that process effective. Using sand is amazingly effective. You won’t believe it till you try it. The two meals with sausage, I had to use Dr. Bronner’s soap because of all the fat left behind. You want to use the mildest, most quickly biodegradable soap you can bring, and always dump the water well away from the shore, and not onto plants.

Alright, that’s my public service message for the day. Tune in next time for the rest of the trip!

Alfredo sauce, sausage, sundried tomatoes.

Alfredo sauce, sausage, sundried tomatoes.

The final meal. The pasta has a dark colour because I boiled it in the same pan in which I cooked the sausage. That made the water brown, but oh so flavourful.

The final meal. The pasta has a dark colour because I boiled it in the same pan in which I cooked the sausage. That made the water brown, but oh so flavourful.

Roughing it? Says who? I do breakfasts too. Here you see the remainder of the sausage, scrambled eggs, sliced cheese and coffee (in the coffee/wine/alfredo all-purpose tin cup).

Roughing it? Says who? I do breakfasts too. Here you see the remainder of the sausage, scrambled eggs, sliced cheese and coffee (in the coffee/wine/alfredo all-purpose tin cup).

Anyone who watched the show as often as me, will instantly recognize this image from the opening credits of the TV show Northern Exposure.

Anyone who watched the show as often as me, will instantly recognize this image from the opening credits of the TV show Northern Exposure.

This October Columbus Day was a most brilliant day to journey into the mountains of Washington state. My goal is to hit the trail head first thing in the morning and make my annual solo back packing trip into the mountains. But first! I simply had to make the most of the serendipitous location of the trailhead: Leavenworth, Washington. And on the way: the town of Roslyn.

I am a BIG fan of the television program Northern Exposure, and watched it religiously while it was on the air from 1990-95. I have also watched it again, via Netflix, exposing Tara to this quirky make-believe world of Cicely, Alaska. I still quote from the series, when the situation calls for it, and I can still hear the hawk scream right before the program starts (the hawk isn’t in the Netflix versions, btw). Once I saw that the highway to Leavenworth passed within 5 miles of Roslyn, it was a no-brainer that I had to stop.

Do not try this at home. Bravely snapping photos while driving. I couldn't help myself.

Do not try this at home. Bravely snapping photos while driving. I couldn’t help myself.

Just look at the scenery I drove through today. What a gorgeous state in a gorgeous month.

Just look at the scenery I drove through today. What a gorgeous state in a gorgeous month.

My morning went really well – the house is somewhat put into order so that a friend can house-sit for me. For those of you who read insearchofitall, my house sitter is aka Tech Support. Let’s all give a collective Good Luck and Thank You! to TS for taking on the chickens and Racecar for me in my absence.

The weather was so wonderful today. A little cloudy up to Seattle, a couple raindrops over Snoqualmie Pass, and then sunshine and 70 degrees in the mountains. After all the rain and cool temps in the Portland area, I am grateful for such an auspicious omen to begin my journey.

I had a splendid time wandering around the town of Roslyn. I highly recommend it to anyone who gets the chance to stop and look. It’s absolutely darling, and there are interesting things for people who are not fans of Northern Exposure. For example, there are several information stations, a monument, and a museum dedicated to Roslyn’s coal mining history. Coal was discovered here in 1886 and mined for 35 years. Northern Pacific Railroad actively solicited immigrants to move to the US to work in the mines, and people came from 26 different nations. Then the railroad brought up a bunch of African Americans as strikebreakers. So this tiny mountain town was truly international from it’s inception.

Maggie's Pantry, named after one of the main characters in the TV show Northern Exposure.

Maggie’s Pantry, named after one of the main characters in the TV show Northern Exposure.

Look at how cute this darn town is!

Look at how darn cute this town is!

Fans of Northern Exposure will also recognize The Brick.

Fans of Northern Exposure will also recognize The Brick.

“Dr. Joel Fleishman” is still painted in the window of the building that was his doctor’s office in the show.

KBHR (pronounced Kay Bear) studios is not only evident from the outside...

KBHR (pronounced Kay Bear) studios is not only evident from the outside…

...but lovingly maintained on the inside. Complete with an open book, true to

…but lovingly maintained on the inside. Complete with an open book, true to “Chris in the Morning’s” style on the show.

A little train of coal cars outside the museum, filled with actual coal.

A little train of coal cars outside the museum, filled with actual coal.

A mural at a park downtown.

A mural at a park downtown.

Random Roslyn resident I spotted while eating lunch.

Random Roslyn resident I spotted while eating lunch.

I ate at the Roslyn Cafe, with a view of Fleishmann's office.

I ate at the Roslyn Cafe, with a view of Fleishman’s office.

I wonder if the foreign miners are the background to the town of Leavenworth. I have been here before, but the place never stops delighting me. Block after block is filled with buildings constructed in a Bavarian theme. How amazed I am at the compliance of nearly every single building to fit the theme of a Bavarian mountain town. Safeway looks half-timbered, Wells Fargo has carved wood shutters and flowers under the windowsills, and even the hospital is themed. The place is remarkable. And beautiful.

One of the main streets in Leavenworth, Washington.

One of the main streets in Leavenworth, Washington.

Looking west toward the mountains I will be climbing tomorrow.

Looking west toward the mountains I will be climbing tomorrow.

Isn't it convincingly European, in this setting?

Isn’t it convincingly European, in this setting?

This dome was lovely from every angle. I include it again in the nighttime shot at the end.

This dome was lovely from every angle. I include it again in the nighttime shot at the end.

Murals can be found on 80% of the buildings. Not exaggerating.

Murals can be found on 80% of the buildings. Not exaggerating.

Nearly every view today was filled with oranges and reds and mountains.

Nearly every view today was filled with oranges and reds and mountains.

My beautiful room, right downtown, for $89 (a steal for a tourist town during Oktoberfest).

My beautiful room, right downtown at The Leavenworth Village Inn, for $89 (a good price for a tourist town during Oktoberfest).

My view of the captivating onion dome from my hotel room.

My view of the captivating onion dome from my hotel room.

Yes, even the hospital is Bavarian-themed.

Yes, even the hospital is Bavarian-themed.

A shop sign

A shop sign

Christmas shop

Christmas shop

A guest cottage. Now, wouldn't you love to stay in this place, overlooking the miniature golf course and grazing goats.

A guest cottage.

Grazing goat

Grazing goat

Even the signs are in German!

Even the signs are in German!

Gustav's restaurant has it's own dome.

Gustav’s restaurant has it’s own dome.

Yet another picturesque street.

Yet another picturesque street.

Dome at night.

Dome at night.

Evening view out the guest bedroom window

Evening view of the Space Needle out the guest bedroom window

Back to Seattle, can you believe it?

I don’t visit my brother for a whole year, and now it’s been two weekends in a row! It’s a good thing he is an awesome brother and I love spending time with him and his girlfriend.

Our plan was originally to check out the University of Washington campus, so Tara and I had made plans with my brother long ago to make this trip. Then two weeks ago we received a letter from UW that Tara was not accepted. I still thought it could be useful information to tour the campus. Tara grudgingly agreed to go, but our schedule changed and we never did make it to the campus.

Instead, Tara went to Sakuracon!

You may not be familiar with animecons (unless you’ve been reading my blog for awhile), so here’s an example of how popular they are: my views on my Flickr account grew from around 100-300 a day, to over 3000 each day since I posted my photos. And who wouldn’t want to look? Aren’t they great costumes!

Perfect pose

Perfect pose

Animation come to life

Animation come to life

DSC_0051

I caught them while they were posing for another photographer.

I caught them while they were posing for another photographer.

People attending will choose their favourite Japanese anime character, and come dressed as that character. Typically, in a three-day con, a person will have three cosplays (costume + play), and if there is an evening ball, an additional cosplay. If the costume is amazing and took months to put together, then the person will often wear the same one all three days.

Though most characters are from anime, creative people dress as anything else. I saw Alice In Wonderland, the Easter Bunny, and Elsa (from Frozen). Since these are hip young people, they will dress as anything trending on YouTube (Charlie the Unicorn or Nyan Cat), Tumblr or Vine, or non-anime web comics, a TV show (Adventure Time or Steven Universe), or even a radio podcast called Welcome to Night Vale. (Imagine how creative and attentive these kids are to listen to a radio program, then dress as they imagine the characters, and do it so well that other fans recognize the character. I think it’s wonderful.) One fun thing is to come up with an obscure cosplay – the author of Homestuck, Andrew Hussie, let’s say – and then get a total charge out of it when people actually recognize who the character is. This year Tara cosplayed a male character from Homestuck (Sollux) and made it a female character.

For a few days during a con, I actually recognize a few things (a group from Hetalia, who could miss that?), and can call out character’s names, and get a couple of appreciative – though surprised – looks from con kids. For a few days, I’m a sort of almost hip parent…and that is fun. A couple years ago I would have read these paragraphs and been mystified. As soon as Tara leaves home I’ll be right back there. I’m soaking up the cool while it lasts…

Trail to Poo Poo Point

Trail to Poo Poo Point

While Tara was occupied, I spent time with my hosts. They invited me on a hike to Poo Poo Point, and of course I had to go: for the name if nothing else. The trailhead was pretty close to downtown, and the drive to the trailhead never left the city congestion, so my expectations were not for a forested wildland, but that’s exactly what we got.

The trail was in great shape and not very busy, and it was the perfect amount of climbing (i.e. workout) for a Saturday on vacation. 7.2 miles round trip with an 1800 foot elevation gain. And when we came out at the top- what a view! All three of us were impressed, seeing the valley below, stretching to Lake Sammamish and the city of Bellevue in the distance. And, since I know you are wondering:

Loggers used whistles to communicate from the logging tower operator to the workers down the hill, signalling that two logs were tied to a cable, ready to be towed. The whistle made a sound like poo poo, hence the name Poo Poo Point.

The trail crossed a creek.

The trail crossed a creek.

Trillium - one of my favourite wild flowers.

Trillium – one of my favourite wild flowers.

Paragliding launch spot at the top.

Paragliding launch spot at the top.

Behind me you can see Lake Sammamish and Bellevue.

Behind me you can see Lake Sammamish and Bellevue.

We had a picnic at the top. Can you believe the trailhead to this incredible overlook is 30 minutes from the Space Needle?

We had a picnic at the top. Can you believe the trailhead to this incredible overlook is 30 minutes from the Space Needle?

That afternoon I walked to meet Tara and friend at the con, and bought smoothies all around. Tara couldn’t eat regular food because part of the cosplay was fangs – ha ha! Then I headed down the hill toward Pike Place Market and noticed an unusual amount of people in bunny ears and/or dressed as the Easter Bunny. At first it was easy to explain to myself: the next day was Easter, and Seattle people were probably just getting into the spirit or something.

Easter rabbits appeared from every direction, all walking briskly down the hill with me. I took a couple of photos, but remained puzzled. I walked into the fabulous outdoor market when I arrived, browsed the huge displays of tulips and daffodil bouquets because I had decided to pick one up for my hosts as a thank you. I glanced out onto the street when a cheer went up, and to my astonishment saw *hundreds* of Easter Rabbits all gathered in the street directly in front of the fishmongers’ stall. There was a huge furry rabbit in the center with a microphone and a drum, and they cheered and celebrated something – I have no idea what. I couldn’t find a place to get above them and get a photo, so I held my camera one-handed up into the air above us and took a couple photos. It’s the best I could do.

Suddenly, the group began to disperse, and within minutes there were cars passing on the street again. The whole thing had taken about 10 minutes. Don’t you just LOVE being the right place at the right time?

Convention Center

Convention Center

Tara as a female Sollux

Tara as a female Sollux

Weapons are often built to scale.

Weapons are often built to scale.

Cosplay team

Cosplay team

Great hair!

Great hair!

Battle-ready

Battle-ready

Um, you've got something stuck in...

Um, something’s stuck in…

back

back

front

front

I didn’t see Tara that night, and I’m assuming they found fang-friendly food. I walked to a great local place with I and K and we continued the conversation. Such a treat for me to spend so much time catching up on everything in their lives. K is getting ready to leave the Coast Guard, and my brother is contemplating changes to his business. They had given me a tour of the house the previous weekend and I saw that my brother has done huge amounts of work on the house. Re-finished wood floors, laid laminate, painted, repaired, built a custom spice rack, etc. It’s just exactly the tour I got at our brother E’s house in Boise: all the serious handiwork done by my brother. We are all three alike in our approach to home improvement, apparently. I’m glad they have done projects I haven’t, so I can use them as a resource.

Sunday morning while Tara rested up and prepared the cosplay for another day, the rest of us went for coffee at another great coffee shop recommended by K. No joke – Seattle is the place to find the best in coffee. Then we went to a farmer’s market and the mood was relaxing compared to the frenzy of shoppers I joined the day before. They explained that this was where the locals went. We browsed the stalls for farm-raised meats, spring veggies, and ate “salmon sliders” which were unbelievably delicious grilled salmon patties.

Finally I collected my kid and we said our goodbyes and headed back onto the Interstate for Portland. This time, we timed our departure better, and traffic was a piece of cake. In a little over 3 hours we were home.

a gathering of rabbits

a gathering of rabbits

Hey, nice ears!

Hey, nice ears!

Easter Bunny party in the street

Easter Bunny party in the street

Vegetables for sale at the Pike Place Market

Vegetables for sale at the Pike Place Market

Pike Place Market. A must-see if you visit Seattle.

Pike Place Market. A must-see if you visit Seattle.

{I called it right when I realized I needed to blog on the road or I’d never be able to post my whole week of road trip once I got back home. As you have noticed, being home is like entering the caucus race* from Alice in Wonderland, and time for blogging is hard to come by. But in any case, I’m here with bells on. Nice to see you again!}

One wall in Caffe Vita. This is a great coffee shop.

One wall in Caffe Vita. This is a great coffee shop.

Waking up walking distance from the Space Needle was perfect for me and my friend M on Friday morning. My brother recommended a coffee shop, and we hit that first. Caffe Vita is strongly encouraged, should you find yourself in Seattle!

EMP Museum and the Space Needle. The monorail track runs right through the building.

EMP Museum and the Space Needle. The monorail track runs right through the building.

I had it in my mind that I would lead M directly to the Pike Place Market, since he likes markets so much, but we chose a route that went past the Space Needle, because, duh, Seattle. Well, that’s all it took. Only ten minutes into our day, and we were in line to ride the elevator to the top!

My disappointment was palpable, and even M asked what happened. It was a particularly hazy day. Really bad. I pointed out Mt. Rainier to him, but a person sort of had to know it was there to find it through the airborne particles. M was unimpressed with looking in the direction of the mountain, and more excited about the view of the city. And he should be! It’s spectacular! Only, in my mind I was comparing it to all my other visits, and this was truly the worst one. I wanted to show off Seattle to a Sri Lankan/ Bostonian.

M with the hazy Seattle skies behind him, from the top of the Space Needle.

M with the hazy Seattle skies behind him, from the top of the Space Needle.

By the time we reached the bottom, we had to hustle to meet my brother and his girlfriend for lunch. We zoomed through the market, not there to shop, but only to jog through on our way to the federal building. M was in awe, as I knew he would be. I am SO glad we stopped in Seattle instead of pushing on home the day before.

We met up at the federal building, and K led us up to the 34th floor to her office and a one-of-a-kind view of the city. Everyone who has visited knows the views from the Space Needle, but we got to view the needle itself! What a treat! My spirits lifted.

The view from K's office. Outstanding! Even on this hazy morning.

The view from K’s office. Outstanding! Even on this hazy morning.

K, my brother I, and me. Look at the clothes and guess which one of us is on vacation? ha ha!

K, my brother I, and me. Look at the clothes and guess which one of us is on vacation? ha ha!

K bubbled about the “secret waterfall” on our way to lunch, so we went to visit the Waterfall Garden Park, built in honor of the United Parcel Service (UPS). It is enclosed by walls and completely invisible from the outside, but an oasis inside. Please see Lucy Wang’s photos and description of this place!

Across the street from the waterfall, we ate at another place I’m going to have to recommend: The London Plane. It’s a restaurant/flower shop/specialty goods store in a reclaimed industrial building. The light inside and the sky-high ceilings are transportive.

The counter at The London Plane.

The counter at The London Plane.

Looking down at a man making bread in the London Plane.

Looking down at a man making bread in the London Plane.

Spying on I, K, and M as they wait for lunch to arrive. They are at the table by the window, farthest from me.

Spying on I, K, and M as they wait for lunch to arrive. They are at the table by the window, directly across from me.

M was really excited about this monument to Chief Seattle, since he had been taught about the man in school as a kid in Sri Lanka. Wowzers. I never would have imagined.

M was really excited about this monument to Chief Seattle, since as a schoolboy in Sri Lanka he had been taught about the man. Wowzers. I never would have imagined.

Satiated, we said our goodbyes and walked back to the market. It was a delicious madhouse that never fails to delight me. We even caught a glimpse of the famous fish mongers tossing a codfish. Here’s an old video about the fishmongers that I had to watch years ago when I was a forecaster with the National Weather Service:

Flowers at the market.

Flowers at the market.

Springtime colours at Pike Place Market.

Springtime colours at Pike Place Market.

M with Smokey

M with Smokey

It was time to hurry home. We hugged goodbye to my brother I, and to the cat, Smokey, and in seconds we were heading south on I-5, and racing toward Portland at about 4.6 miles per hour, bumper to bumper in 5 lanes of rush hour traffic.

Somehow we made it on time to catch a show in Portland. We swung by the Blue House to pick up Tara, and went downtown to the Keller Auditorium to catch Shen Yun. I had purchased the tickets back in December, and we had been waiting to see it all this time! The show was made up mostly of dancers performing traditional Chinese dances and dances that told stories. There were two professional singers and one musician who played an erhu, a two-stringed instrument that M particularly liked. The orchestra was entirely Shen Yun musicians, who performed all the music for the dancers. There was a political message that was only possible because it’s a New York-based Chinese group and not a China-based group.

Saturday morning we took Tara to the Convention Center to get into line for Abby’s Closet, an organization that provides free prom dresses to people interested in a free, used, prom dress. We had barely begun our day when Tara texted us to come back. Turns out it was a six-hour wait and Tara had other plans to meet friends that day. So the three of us explored Washington Park, the International Rose Test Garden (sans roses this time of year), and Pioneer Courthouse Square. Tara went off and M and I rode the Tram up to Pill Hill (so-called because there are multiple hospitals at the top of the hill).

M at Pill Hill, at the top of the tram route.

M at Pill Hill, at the top of the tram route.

Sign in Pioneer Courthouse Square.

Sign in Pioneer Courthouse Square.

Portlandia!

Portlandia!

Our long, fabulous journey was finally at an end, and I took M to the airport for his flight home to Boston.

At home I began the daunting tasks of home upkeep that had piled up in my absence, beginning with laundry and mowing the lawn. I had just finished mowing the lawn, all green-smeared and in my cowboy work boots, when Tara came home and begged me to go back to Abby’s Closet to see if we could squeeze in before closing, in 30 minutes. I washed my hands and off we went, cowboy boots and all!

It was evening, and they got us through in two hours rather than six. The staff made an exceptional effort to keep us all happy and entertained and moving through. {Imagine: hundreds of teenagers and thousands of dresses. Instructions: Pick one!} I am glad I experienced that with Tara, who leans alternately from tomboy, to stereotypical masculine characteristics, to stereotypical feminine characteristics. It was a really girly experience, and neither of us is particularly girly, so it was good that we could lean on each other in that overwhelming cavern of pink and lace and sparkles.

What a long and action-packed week it was. I hope you enjoyed the journey with us. 🙂

Post Script: M texted me from the airport. “You would not believe what happened in security! The TSA guy going through my bags said, ‘Let me guess: Tillamook! But why do you have so much cheese?!’ I started laughing, and had to tell him what happened at the border. He laughed too.”

*After swimming around in Alice’s pool of tears, the animals need to dry off, and the Dodo recommends a caucus race. There are no rules; all of the participants run haphazardly around in no particular direction, and everyone wins.

One of my many guises

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