This is going to be picture-heavy, because holy mackerel, what a place.
I’ve wanted to hike to Sahale ever since I saw my friends’ photos from it back when I first started hiking. Unfortunately, it’s just never happened, mainly because it’s in North Cascades National Park, which means no dogs, not even nutrias, allowed.
The crux of this hike is actually getting the permits. Anyone can dayhike to Sahale Glacier, but if you want to camp, you’ll need to secure one of the coveted permits from the ranger station.
This is by far the most popular hike in the park, so people line up in front of the ranger station in the morning like Apple fanboys waiting for the latest iPhone.
Our trip came together at the last minute. I caught wind of Janelle and Jessie’s plans, and finagled my way into their group. Then, the day before our hike, I read on Facebook that Tony was on his way up to the North Cascades to try for a permit himself. I called him, begging, and luckily for us, he was happy to not go solo. He scored the last available permits and saved the day!
The hike itself is just…wow. Even the view from the parking lot is to die for. After hiking up 36 of the least efficient switchbacks mankind has ever seen (you will enjoy them on the way up, but curse them on the way down), it’s non-stop views all the way to camp.
Progress will be slow, as you’ll need to take out your camera every three minutes. Be prepared for bugs flying into your mouth, since the views of the massive, neighboring peaks are literally jaw-dropping. Bring a bandanna to wipe the drool off your shirt.
My favorite part of the trip was the early morning. Tony and I shared a campsite, and at 5 AM, we lazily unzipped our rain flies and watched the sunrise from our tents. Aaah.
Sunrise was followed by a breakfast of bean soup, coffee, and quiet time – just me and mountains as far as the eye could see. Happiness.
…and, shockingly, my breakfast of beans and coffee quickly necessitated a visit to what must surely be the finest toilet in the whole world.
There are some wonderful outdoor privies in Washington (I recommend Hidden Lake Peaks, Headlight Basin, and various crappers in the Enchantments), but this is the ultimate loo with a view.
Perched on my, uhm, throne, I could see mountain goats wandering around way down along Sahale Arm, but in camp, we had to make do with these marmots.
Eventually it was time to pack up and head back down. Sniff sniff. I will be back.
This place is worth the permit hassle for sure.
Halfway down Sahale Arm, we were greeted by the goat herd, adorable kid included. So cute! So fluffy! (Please don’t gore us, mama!)
Then, past Cascade Pass, Tony discovered that he can talk to pikas – this guy popped out every time Tony meeped at him.
36 buggy and seemingly interminable switchbacks later, we were back at the trailhead, swigging delicious Vitamin Waters from Janelle’s cooler. That girl knows how to plan ahead.
Huge thanks to the crew for realizing this dream I’ve had for six years – and for being very entertaining hiking partners (even though Wishing and Hoping was stuck in my head for days).
– Sahale Glacier Camp | 13 miles | 4100 feet elevation gain –
I’ve never really been interested in climbing Mount Adams. It just looked like a boring, long snow slog. And I would have to learn how to use my ice axe. And maybe wear crampons. And walk up and down steep snow…I really hate steep snow.
Still, when JK asked me to join him on the trip that would complete his Washington Volcano Quest, I couldn’t say no, especially since it was a long holiday weekend with a perfect forecast.
We drove down to Randle to pick up our permits on Friday afternoon, then took the long but pretty forest road to the trailhead where we slept in our car. It was surprisingly comfortable, definitely something we’ll do again. It was so nice to have our packs ready to go in the morning, no messing around with a tent.
The hike up to camp was straightforward and pleasant. Flowers were popping up between the charred trees of last year’s burn, Mount Hood and Mount St. Helens were amazingly crisp and clear, and Mount Adams above us looked prettier than I had ever seen her.
We found a great campsite at 9,400 feet that offered privacy (this was important, given what happens to my digestive system when I’m nervous) and views at the same time. The only drawback was that the route up to Piker’s Peak – the false summit – looked insanely steep from that angle.
I had actually felt pretty confident until I saw those tracks going straight up the mountain, but now I couldn’t silence the panic monster in my stomach. Ugh.
The sun was strong at that altitude, so we hid inside the tent for hours, reading, talking, and listening to podcasts. Once in a while I would hear hooting and hollering from the glissade chute and stick my head out to look at the mountain, and I swear, every time I looked up there, the hill had gotten steeper. The panic monster grew.
Some clouds blew in in the late afternoon and offered relief from the sun, so we used the opportunity for JK to melt snow (a tedious chore) and me to practice glissading and self-arresting with my ice axe. I love glissading, but this would be my first time on something long and steep enough to necessitate an axe, and I really, really wanted to avoid impaling myself on it if I slid out of control.
We cooked up some dinner (mashed potatoes for me, the only freeze-dried meal I can stand these days) and watch the world turn pink. Sunset was beautiful, the volcanoes all around us painted in soft, warm alpenglow. It was almost enough to calm my stomach.
I only got three hours of sleep that night, worrying about the climb. I kept having visions of myself slipping and breaking an ankle while wearing crampons. I hate my vivid (and intensely negative) imagination.
Breakfast consisted of strong coffee and black bean soup, which is quite possibly the worst combination of foods you can ingest when you have a nervous stomach…especially when you have a limited number of blue bags with you.
I procrastinated and procrastinated, procrastinated a little more, then realized that I was just making myself even more nervous and that it’s better to just get it over with.
Hiking up really wasn’t so bad. My crampons gripped the crunchy, icy snow like a dream, and all I had to do was keep breathing and moving my legs. I got into the groove, and slowly but surely, the panic monster started to fade.
JK and I discussed the concept of “Type 2 Fun”; the kind of fun that’s not actually that much fun until after you’re done with it. You know, like slogging up a steep, seemingly never-ending slope in thin air. We could have saved some energy by using the established steps off to the side, but we didn’t want to be in the fall line of the guys above us who were hiking up without traction or poles – they looked like they would slip any minute, and one of them took to crawling up the steepest parts.
Despite all the talk about Type 2 Fun, I actually felt pretty good. I got a little lightheaded above 11,000 feet, but I didn’t really feel physically tired. Still, it was slightly demotivating to crest the false summit and realize that, hey! More hill! Significantly more hill! Gaah!
I needn’t have worried, since summit fever took over shortly after. JK got an extra spring in his step too, knowing that he was so close to finishing his goal. Before we knew it, we were on top – 12,276 feet!
I felt proud. For the first time in a long time, I felt like I had challenged myself and accomplished something. Never mind that there was also a dog on the summit who had made it up just fine, as well as a group of young boy scouts. For me, this was huge.
We snapped a bunch of hero shots, then sat down to enjoy the view and eat some mini Snickers (I’m so sick of any kind of granola bar at this point that I bring candy bars instead. Nutrition schmutrition.)
I couldn’t relax quite yet though; I still had to get back down to camp without impaling myself or doing anything else dumb.
To my infinite joy, the snow had softened up by now and was perfect for glissading. It was so much fun. So much. I didn’t want it to end, even though my butt froze – I couldn’t feel my hindquarters for half an hour after we returned to camp, and then I had to endure the painful pins-and-needles sensation of warmth returning to very delicate flesh, but still. So much fun! Type 1 Fun!! Panic monster annihilated!
Back in camp, we ate a hot lunch (more mashed potatoes!), then packed up and headed out. We snuck in a couple of bonus glissades on the way down, and made pretty good time back to the car.
To keep JK awake on the long drive home, I entertained him by reading him old trip reports from Mount Adams (Mark gets electric, Jo’s “weather window”) on nwhikers.net. I came across this quote by forum member Jim Dockery which I really wish I had read before our trip.
I used to tell students in rock climbing courses that if you don’t have a fear of heights you’re an idiot (it is dangerous up there). Climbing is all about raising your skills and knowledge to mitigate the danger, then telling your mind you have it under control (the hardest part).
Telling my mind that I am capable is definitely where my problem lies – and not just when it comes to climbing. I’ll have to remember this quote the next time I can feel the panic monster stirring in my stomach.
– Mount Adams South Climb | 13 miles | 7000 feet elevation gain –
*celebratory trumpet salute for JK for summiting all five Washington volcanoes*
I’ve been looking forward to hooking up with Janelle again after our excellent winter trip to Mazama Ridge, and the opening day of the Sunrise Road was the perfect opportunity to hike with a Mount Rainier expert.
There was a little more snow than we were expecting, but the general consensus is that we’re 3-4 weeks ahead of last year when it comes to snow melt. It’s certainly better than in 2011 when JK skied to Burroughs Mountain on Fourth of July weekend!
We started our day with a snowy traverse to Frozen Lake, followed by a dry trail the rest of the way to Fremont Lookout.
Unfortunately we didn’t see any marmots by the lookout, but we did smell one. Well, we decided it was either weed or a wet marmot. Or a wet marmot smoking weed.
Anyway, our rodent search paid off on the way back when the boulders by near Frozen Lake were suddenly lousy with marmots. Marmots! I love them.
It’s so fluffy I’m gonna die!
We couldn’t hang out with them for too long though; we still had another trail to hike – my first overnight of the year!
Janelle drove us back down Sunrise Road to the Crystal Lakes trailhead where we saddled up and started hiking.
Unfortunately, we had forgotten that we were in the midst of an unseasonable early heatwave and that hiking uphill with overnight packs in the middle of the day might not be the best idea. It was incredibly muggy as well, much too muggy for the west coast. It was really getting to Janelle, and I felt so bad for her. I’ve had heat exhaustion before, and it just sucks the life out of you.
I did my best to cool her off by pouring cold water on and in her wherever we could find a stream. I think the thought of jumping in the lake at the end of the trail was what really kept her going, though.
She powered through it like a champ and luckily felt better as the evening progressed. It helped that the lake and our campsite were gorgeous.
In the morning it was my turn to feel crappy. I barely got any sleep and had a pounding headache – I guess I was dehydrated too. Janelle brought water and a Kind bar to my tent, and after I had that and a strong cup of coffee, I felt almost back to normal.
Still, we decided to skip our planned hike to Glacier Basin and just lounge by the lake for a while before heading back to civilization. It wasn’t such a bad place to spend a lazy Saturday morning.
Saturday marks the fifth anniversary of my hiking obsession! Thanks to Tom and Amy‘s willingness to shepherd a couple of couch potatoes into the wild, JK and I found ourselves celebrating Tom’s birthday on beautiful Shi Shi Beach in Olympic National Park.
I remember eating baked beans straight out of the can, spending the whole trip soggy and cold in my cotton clothing, and limping around the mud in ridiculous shoes. I also remember loving every minute of it.
Five years on and I’m still in love, even when my feet hurt like the dickens, when I’m roasting in the sun on a never-ending hill, or when evil biting flies gnaw on my face (all of which happened during the last week, by the way).
Last weekend it was time for our annual trip to Noble Knob, this time to share our favorite trail with Carlos, Deborah, and our favorite Small Person, Nathan.
In spite of the “mostly sunny” forecast, we spent the approach walking inside of a cloud. A very, very cold cloud. Luckily the trail had lots of eye candy to offer even though Mount Rainier was hiding – all my favorite wildflowers were on display: western anemone, columbine, paintbrush and the always beautiful tiger lily.
We seemed to be right at the cloud line the whole time, and the sun was this close to breaking through…
…but by the time we made it to camp, we were firmly enshrouded in the fog. It felt more like late September than July, and the nutrias, devoid of fur and fat, spent the evening puppy-piled in JK’s sleeping bag. Brrr. Nathan stayed warm in the tent in his sleeping bag and fancy backpacking suit.
But ahh, Noble Knob came through for us yet again! When we peeked out of the tent in the morning, we were above the sea of clouds, the Alpine Lakes Wilderness peaks rising up as jagged islands in the distance.
Now that the sun was out, it was warm enough for Nathan to come out and play. Happiest baby on the rock!
He also got to take a good look at what will likely be his future playground, Mount Rainier.
Wellie and Basil had to pose for photos…
…and I got to engage in my favorite pastime, al fresco reading.
While I reread Wild and Deborah was on baby duty, the boys (minus Nathan) hiked up the Secondary Knob. I took photos of them and tried to make it seem like a harrowing climb…
…but actually it looked like this:
It might have been an easy ascent, but the mosquitoes were ferocious. By the time they made it back to camp, Basil had been gnawed on by so many bugs that his whole face swelled up. Nathan graciously donated some of his Baby Benadryl, and JK and I packed up as fast as we could.
We left the others on the summit since packing up and hiking out with a baby takes a bit longer and we didn’t want to take any chances with Basil. Surprisingly, he didn’t seem bothered by the situation at all, he was his happy self and in full-on explorer mode.
He got lots of sympathy from the White River 50 Mile runners we met along the way, and by the time we got back to the car, the antihistamines had worked their magic and Basil looked almost back to normal. From now on we’ll always carry nutria-appropriate doses of Benadryl (10mg) with us, and put cedar oil on Basil to keep the bugs away. Poor little guy.
– Noble Knob | 7 miles | 500 feet elevation gain –