crests and slopes

The boys spent most of today recovering from our Tuesday exploration in the Cascades. Adam’s reading one of the seminal books on the haywire Shackleton voyage while Oliver Fern had his nose buried in this household’s dogeared, infamous Jokelopedia book. The grocery shopping got done by me this morning, getting in and out of the store quickly as possible was good for loosening up the stiff, creaky parts. For the second week in a row we got up to a pretty little lake. Unlike last week, our destination had only recently melted out so it was too icy for swimming, akin to electroshock therapy but sure enough the boys went in.  The day was split into two parts, later we walked higher on the quiet mountainside which was blanketed in places by remnant winter snow. I spent some time instructing the boys about evaluating the hazards of crossing steep springtime snow.  Oliver Fern is a loosey-goosey seven year old so we mostly took advantage of creative detours using safe run-outs on drier ground with veggie belays but the boys did test their mettle here or there when I felt the consequences of a slip or fall were fairly non-injurious. In search of the elusive tarns (years ago I admired them from a nearby rocky summit) several hundred feet above, the adventure seemed ended by a mildly hazardous, hanging snow bowl which seemed crossable except Adam felt a little spooked (caution is the better part of valor and he has the makings of a good mountain traveler if he stays interested in the years to come). As we backtracked I was overcome by a premonition about the rugged terrain above: We picked out a forty five degree angled draw which was enticing for the waist-high stunted firs which served comfortable belay. Grabbing at the elfin trees, we crawled seventy five slippery feet straight up, to the reward: An elegant mezzanine of tarn, wildflowers and frogs!

June 2020 - Tinkham Tarn 54-2

The picture-taking wasn’t very good because of high clouds combined with the extraordinarily intimate confines of our magical alpine shelfspace, such stilted photography is always disappointing at first but the boys’ glee was consolation and besides I did get a couple of cool videos for their grandma, of them ticklishly wading in the icy cold tarn. Here’s a token look at the hillside above the tarn, I urged the boys to stay put so I could look around (they were all too happy to indulge this request, already sans shoes and socks). This subalpine scene is highly representative of many of our sheltered, north facing aspects in the Cascades above 5,000 feet, right now. I was hoping to find another, bigger melted-out tarn up here but it was just a snowier version of our Shangri-la. Somewhere beneath my snowy footing a creek gushed downslope. A good cue for retreat.

I’m still not sure how much exploring in the mountains we’ll do this summer. On the approach hike, in the morning to the lower lake, we were cursed with the worst luck in that we would arrive simultaneously with several unusually large parties, extended families thoroughly disorganized, strung out along the trail and panting for breaks in the heat. No one was wearing masks. While we cordially but swiftly overtook everyone we met along the path, it exacted a price this hot day. The three of us commiserated as to the acute sensation of suffocation underneath folded-over handkerchief face coverings. I worked diligently to keep Oliver Fern hydrated. So far this summer the utilization of masks or thoughtful social distancing in confined, albeit outdoor spaces (such as narrow trails on steep hillsides with nary a place to step aside) by fellow mountain travelers has been quite hit or miss. People look at us like we’re Seattle snowflakes and I want to explain we only cover up for close encounters of mankind, that the handkerchiefs are mostly fashion props way out here.  There’s a cottage industry of mask psychology which has erupted into prominence in the quest to solve the puzzle of American selfishness and stupidity. 

13 thoughts on “crests and slopes

  1. This was wonderful, and I have to read it again. There’s a language of and familiarity with mountains that goes over my head. I knew you knew your way around the outdoors, but this is next level + 20. There will be another reply on this one from me, but until then – could you recommend a good Cascades lake trail that wouldn’t do someone in who has gotten embarrassingly out of shape. I need to start my 4 month plan for being a good companion to a German Short-haired Pointer.

    • I hate to admit it but being good at walking is probably my only qualification for outdoorsperson, lol! Wow, a German Short-haired pointer? They’re beautiful! You might have to get a bigger apartment 🙂 Is it a long term dog sitting favor/gig for someone or are you taking the plunge and getting your own pup?

      When you’re ready to graduate to something like a 7-8 mile walk with a couple thousand feet of elevation gain, you’ll find a ton of alpine lakes between here and Snoqualmie Pass. They get a little crowded on the weekends but if that’s not a deal-breaker they’re really super-worthwhile destinations. You should check out Washington Trails Association’s web site for trip reports. I don’t really use it because I know where I like to go after all these years but when someone’s starting out WTA is a pretty nice way to get ideas of what sounds appealing without shelling a bunch of money for guidebooks. It has printable directions, too.

      If you want to take baby steps and try something uncommitting and close to town, Oxbow Lake up the Middle Fork Snoqualmie Road (about 40-45 minutes away, some of the drive is a pleasant, slow tour when you get closer to the trailhead) has always been a personal favorite of mine when I didn’t want to go hiking per se, it’s more of a short walk. I’ve been shooting the river all along the Middle Fork for years, even before they improved the road (it used to be kind of a den for ne’er do wells, redneck target practice, etc.). Oxbow’s more of an overgrown beaver pond but it’s a couple miles around. It’s ridiculously pretty in autumn. If you want more of an actual mountain lake, Talapus and Olallie lakes are pretty short and easy. In case you’re being modest about your fitness, a couple of pretty damn cool lakes right at Snoqualmie Pass are Melakwa and Snow Lakes (they’re separate hikes). They’re a f**kin’ mob scene half the time but if you’re partly doing the walk for exercise, just wanting to see what’s out there and you’re being a realist, rubbing shoulders might not be such a big deal to you. Walking around the shores of them to find your own quiet nook usually ends up making those anywhere from 9-10 mile walks and the elevation gain is less than a few thousand feet.

      You’re not taking some kind of sabbatical from blogging, are you? Your last two essays were intriguing, provoking but at some point I thought I noticed a veiled reference about taking a break. Hope my reading comprehension is just off. Or the break won’t be permanent.

      • Thank you! These are wonderful suggestions. I’ll get back to you on a few of the questions. But there’s one I don’t want to be cryptic about – no blogging breaks, at least not beyond the natural unforced blogging rhythms. I like our little blogging corners of the world. So much more accessible to me than the rest of the world wide web. I’m pretty sure you’ll agree with this – the trick is not to force it, lest it become a burden, something onerous.

      • Oh good…..about the rhythms. I’m really glad it was just my misattribution (i’m probably not using that word correctly but I like how it sounds). That was an interesting, heady post where I got that impression, btw. I felt sort of sure I was probably reading the certain part wrong that gave me the incorrect idea because IMHO you’ve been doing far too well (both writing and the photography side) to think that but then again these are trying times we’re going through that have so many of us feeling out of sorts. I’m in complete agreement with your remark about not forcing anything……I think that’s part of why I’ve stayed interested in journaling here, for so long. And btw, I’d planned to still leave a note back on your side of the tracks. Little by little I’ve been tinkering with Feedly to figure out how it works across platforms. In the meantime I peek at your site at least once a day, I’ve been doing things the old fashioned way for a pretty long time, like lists of bookmarks in my favorites.

        By the way, part of me worried as soon as I made those suggestions that they must have seemed like weird contradictions or not very good advice, telling you places are nice yet peopled but still worthwhile. It’s assumed outside is a different case study, right? Still, these are the weirdest times, how it’s so easy to forget the flip side of things. E.g, like when I was happy there were people at Beth’s Café. Even though you wouldn’t catch me dead in there. Everything that comes out of my mouth starts to feel like caveat emptor, ugh……

  2. Ditto to Hopper8’s comment, I really enjoyed this tale, even though I’m unfamiliar with mountaineering. Is the hanging snow bowl a hazard, because it might detach and slide down the mountain, like an avalanche? And a veggie belay is shorthand for hanging on to shrubs & weeds? Your sons are real wildmen, wading in snow melt!! I can’t even put my hands in icy water like that without them turning white. And there’s another good book, “To The Edges of the Earth,” by Edward Larson, about Shackleton, Peary, and also an expedition to climb K2.
    The picture here, with the boulders and crags, is excellent, and so is the one on the phone version, the pool with the cool reflections and one of the boys in the background, great 3-D effect.

    • Hi Robert. Sometimes up north where the Cascades get far more rugged there can be avalanches on extraordinarily steep, hanging snow (one place is well known for that sort of thing but safely away from hiker paths, Johannesburg Mountain above Cascade Pass) but where we were the terrain isn’t extreme that way…… it was mainly dangerous because the snow was in a shady area (so firm) and then the runout angled into a nasty boulderfield. Really easy to go tobogganing! This was just a hike with some navigational fun, mountaineering is way outside my purview. Some things like veggie belays come in handy though (yes, hanging on to shrubs and trees but maybe not weeds, haha) and the boys just think that’s pretty funny. I really like taking them off the trail to teach them situational awareness, confidence and carefulness with bearings, it reminds me more of the freedom when I was young and played in the woods. The place we were I know like the back of my hand from doing lots of stuff up there the past twenty years. The boys are definitely wildmen when it comes to swimming in cold water, though. Not me at all. I just putter around photo-ops with my camera or take naps….

      That’s too funny about the picture of one of the boys, that you saw. That’s a weird glitch again in WordPress like with the bridge picture. I was going to share that one of the tarn but decided it wasn’t terribly interesting.

    • This is why I sometimes regret leaving WordPress. As wonky as it is, it’s still far superior when it comes to community building. Squarespace hasn’t got that. It’s focused entirely on one-way commercialism. To quote Galadriel – all shall love me and despair!

      • It’s true, WordPress is very nice for staying in touch. It’s really easy and rewarding to listen, stay part of conversations/activity on content. And the WP reader is pretty good. The WP quirks and wonkiness are ever-present, I’ll give you that. Seems like there are constant bugs, fortunately most of them are fairly minor though I did have a headache this winter remodeling my site that resulted in changing the domain and somehow losing all my subscriptions (people I followed and vice versa). It wasn’t too big deal since my circle on here is small but for some people it would’ve been a crushing disappointment. Even on WP I still struggle with social media. There are so many exquisitely good DIY blogs and journals, they’re the very best thing going IMHO but there’s still a lotta transactionality in the blogosphere. Some of us have a long break-in period and just never really figure it out

  3. A veggie belay…took me a moment and a context check to get that one. I did that once scrambling up some creek draw off trail and grabbed a devils club!!! Geez, that was an education in what not to use for leverage while hiking in the PNW.

    Your boys really seem to enjoy the best of what our area offers–the accessible wilderness adventuring and the cultural opportunities afforded to one living in the big city. And I am very impressed at them getting into any kind of water at elevation this time of year! They must be very hale and hardy boys!

    Glad you guys are out and about these days. Summer only lasts so long around here.

    • Hi Ilona. Sorry it took me so long to answer you, I’ve been sort of weirdly tired, hung over, or checked out as it were from all the bad news (in the news) but a note from you always puts a big smile on my face. Devil’s Club, nothing like those kinds of war stories! We’ve already seen some world record holders, this summer. They get so doggone tall even when they’re hunched over and crooked from their own weight. I’m usually pretty good about avoiding it off the trail, it’s a bane. Last year I went to carefully handle the spikes on a six-footer to show Oliver and I still poked a finger bad (this is a theme for me, four or five years ago in Zion NP I tried to show the boys the parts of a cactus and I injured myself, I still get flack for that). I can easily visualize you smarting and uttering some choice words in that creek draw.

      Yes, both of the boys are hardy when it comes to cold lakes. It’ll get a lot more fun in a few weeks when more snow has melted off and the water isn’t heart attack city. I know I told Robert I don’t really go in at all and I do strongly prefer terra firma but once in awhile I don’t mind going in when there aren’t other people around.

      Have you taken the van anyplace? If I lived where you did I think I’d like to go commando camping on one of the better forest service roads to the northeast of St. Helens, drive south from Morton (or is it Randle?) and find a decent pullout with a halfway good view with no one else too close by. Thanks for stopping by. Hope you’re still writing.

      • TF I’ve found it difficult to write anything for the last four months, but I have a few things steeping right now. I’m just not good with writing about the serious stuff until I have had a lonnnng time to mull things over, and I’m not good at writing humor when the world is so weighty. We have contemplated some kind of road trip, fill the fridge, gas up, we don’t even have to use public restrooms and we have a shower, a weird one but it is a shower, so we may head out one day on a little adventure. Until then, it’s fun to follow along with you on your little forays. Keep trekking TF.

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