Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Where's My Hike?

I'm going nuts here. This is not a good year.

Washed out roads. Snow all over.

Given that today is July 2, this might seem odd. That's OK. Life is odd, and odder in some corners than others. This is one of them.

Back in 1980 and 1981 when I first began backpacking I hit the Monte Cristo area a couple hours northeast of Seattle pretty hard. Glacier Basin to the north. Poodle Dog Pass, Silver Lake, and Twin Lakes to the south. And the stupendous Gothic Basin to the southwest. That area is served by a gravel loop drive called the "mountain loop road" by most, or the "Mountain Loop Scenic Highway" by the bureaucrats.

Anyway it gave access to several nice backpacks pretty close to Seattle, where I was living at the time. That didn't last long. After my first season we had a hard year and the road to the Monte Cristo resort washed out, but hiking a mile or two more was irrelevant.

Then we had another hard year and the main road was cut. I went back to college anyway and stopped backpacking for a long time. And there were other hard years besides. Time passed.

Here it is so much later and the National Forest Service has an announcement: "Mountain Loop Road Reopened: After a four-year effort to repair more than $10 million in damaged roads and bridges, Mountain Loop Scenic Highway reopened October 26, 2007 to give outdoor enthusiasts access to many of their favorite trails and roads Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest."

That's the way it goes in wet mountain country. About three years after I began exploring the Mt. St. Helens area we had huge winter rains. Six bridges went out. Not wobbly wooden ones nailed together over backcountry trickles but highway bridges. And the roads that went with them.

In November 2006 Mt. Rainier National Park was hit with 18 inches of rain in 24 hours. It had effects.

By last August (2007) the Wonderland Trail around the mountain had been reopened and I realized late but not too late that this was a great opportunity. Not all of the camp sites would have been reserved as they usually are. So I went, starting on Labor Day.

Seven terrific days of backpacking, including an interesting stretch the first day when I misread the detour sign and went down the part of the trail I was supposed to avoid. Not too bad though. Several years of bushwhacking at St. Helens had prepared me for most anything and I got through with only a small amount of fuss and swearing. And avoided six miles of road walking.

Now this year.

It is late, way late. I haven't been out yet.

We had a huge amount of snow over the winter, and lots of heavy rain again right ahead of that. Local flooding. Interstate 5 was under 10 feet for a week and a half, at least.

On my first big year at St. Helens the roads were so new and clean and black that they looked like a huge long tray of brownie dough lovingly laid down by a baker wielding a careful spatula. On April 30 of that year I was out there tramping around, fine as could be. The weather of subsequent years has ripped and clawed the landscape, the roads and bridges so that now many of the trails are not even approachable, and not hikeable anyway. Many trails are cut by deep aggressive arroyos, and bordered by soil that when dry is powder. It can't hold a boot. Life is tougher lately.

But still I got out some last year.

You can't fight snow though. When it falls deep over winter it is reluctant to leave again, and this is one of those years. Most trails are still many feet under, and many roads are still wounded by the floods of six months past.

In 2003 I started a 100-mile backpack on July 3. The second day I crossed my first pass, still under some snow. As I stepped over a small bent tree with its tip stuck in the soft snow it broke free. And caught me between the legs as it sprang skyward, lifting me and my pack into the air, and then dumping me on my head. Life can be interesting.

Conditions can make things so. This year things are more interesting than usual. This year I can't even get to the point where I started that trip five years ago. The news has been vague. A forest road out, and the stretch the national park owns after that. Just today I see that "The Staircase Road will reopen on July 3, 2008." OK by me. Now if I can afford gas to get there I'll be fine. When the snow goes.

But really that's the point. Not the snow but the distance. The drive is 55 miles. Out and back again for let's say three gallons, with a one or two week backpack in between each driving leg. That's why it's important to me. In 2003 I did 100 miles from there, out and back. In 2005 I did a 200 mile loop with only five miles of overlap. I like that kind of story.

Other places are too far to get to any more. Gas just costs too much, so it's important to use what's near, and the snow is making me itchy.

But that's why I like living here too.

During my last big trip in 1981, before leaving backpacking for 15 years, I drove that route north and east. From Seattle to Everett, through Granite Falls, and then hiking down that washed out road leading to Monte Cristo.

The next day I got up high and onto the snow, above 5000 feet. Fourth of July weekend then too. The sun was out, I was young and strong, and the day was cool and calm. I slathered myself with sunscreen, had a hat and sunglasses, and was sweating. So warm I had to remove my shirt. Overall it was a great three day trip. It was summer and I was in snow. That's the right way to have snow. When the weather is warm. You choose your day and location, then go tramp in it until you get tired. Back home again it's summer again.

It wasn't until I got home. That I realized. How sunburned I was.

Worst ever. Despite the sunscreen. Deadly. Evil. Intense pain.

It took a year for the skin of my chest and shoulders to become human again. I've decided not to do that again. Ever.

But I still want to go hiking and this year, so far, is all anticipation and waiting. The snow waits. I wait. Which one of us will win?


Flooding at Centralia and over I-5.

Monte Cristo: Visit to gold ghost town pans out for hikers, historians and families.

Olympic National Park Road Conditions and Closures.

Mount Rainier National Park Images of the Flood of 2006.

Hurricane Ridge web cam.

Mt. Rainier web cam.

Mt. Rainier time lapse web cam.


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