Simple Gifts

I believe I live in one of the most beautiful places in the world; the Snoqualmie Valley. I get to see amazing things everyday. It's time to celebrate that. (You can view pictures in larger format by clicking on them)

Monday, September 26, 2005

Capturing the magic - Commonwealth Hike

If you want the narrative of my hike (I talk too much) check out my previous entry. You can click on a picture to see it larger.

Autumn color on a vine maple

The tree is growing over the boulder,
its roots reaching for the nourishing soil



Distant colors playing peek-a-boo

Red Mountain

Guy Peak

Commonwealth Creek

Commonwealth Basin hike, on the PCT

It was my only day off. I had chores, but it was also one of those amazing sunny autumn days. So midway through the morning I changed my plans from responsibilities to adventures.

I headed up the Pacific Crest Trail going north from I-90. My goal was the Commonwealth Basin. The problem with the PCT trail near Snoqualmie Pass is that you can hear I-90 and it can be pretty crowded. But since it was a Monday in late September I knew I was safe from crowds. The solution to the noise was simple enough, I brought my ancient, taped together walkman. I knew once I got away from the road noise I could listen to the sounds of nature, but to begin with Crosby, Stills and Nash would suffice.

Autumn color, looking towards Snoqualmie Pass

The trail goes through beautiful old growth forest. The wonderful thing about old growht is there is such variety. There really is so much to seee, especially when you stop to notice the small details. There were numerous mushrooms out. I really need to learn my mushrooms, that is an area I'm woefully ignorant. Some were beautiful and many had already been chewed by hungry rodents. Most of the trees were evergreen but I got occaisional veiws of distant slopes with autumn colors and every once in a while I would walk into a slide area with small Vine Maples just starting to change colors. There were also red berries on several plants. I don't think I've ever noticed just how beautiful the berries are on the False Soloman's Seal.

False Solomon's Seal Berries

I had hiked close to 2 miles when a small and obviously young Douglas Squirrel darted out no more than 2 ft in front of us. Coal, the squirrle and I were all surprised. The squirrel froze in the middle of the path. This is not the best survival strategy, hopefully this little guy will live long enough to get smarter. It was the smallest Douglas Squirrel I've ever seen and it had a large cone in his mouth. It darted back into the woods then turned around and came onto the path and stopped 2 ft in front of us again. It was so close that my wonderful mutt had no intentions of chasing it (Coal might actually catch the squirrel which he finds frightening not fun). Finally the squirrel darted into the woods and then crossed the path further ahead. He stopped on a log and somehow managed to chirp at us with the cone still in his mouth. For all the squirrel's confusion and proximatey, the only pictures I got were blurred pictures of darkness.

Pikas are such fun!

After this adventure I came around a bend in the trail. It's a magical moment. The sound of I-90 fades as you move from dark forest into an open talus slope. The sun is warm and you hear the sound of a river far below and closer by the whistles of Pika. And you truly are in a basin. Mountains surround you! I kept stumbling because the trail was all rock (of course!) and I was too busy looking around. I did get to watch one Pika for a while. I love watching them move. They are so quick for the squat little body. This guy seemed content to watch Coal and I from a safe distance before trundling off.

Some of the trees twisted
in amazing ways

I ended my hike at Commonwealth creek. It's not the end of the trail, but I didn't have enough time to go further. Besides the beauty was stunning and there were wild blueberries to eat and sometimes the journey is taken by stopping and taking in all there is to discover (see pictures in my next entry). This journey had me really seeing the complexity of the forest.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

High elevation

I went deep into the woods (near Snoqualmie pass) with my work group. It isn't the way I choose to travel because were in a group and talking about work. Still I can't complain, because working in such a setting is a gift.

In the morning we made a stop at a site we needed to investigate. It was cool out and a bit foggy. We were granted another gift because there were elk. They watched us as we tromped through the woods. Katie and I had a hard time focusing on work. How could we when we could peer at elk through the trees and watch their breath come out in wet clouds. It was magical. There was also a woodpecker madly busy in a tree. I looked and looked for the pecker but I could never actually see it.

We got high enough to see Mt Rainier. I love living in the Snoqualmie valley but I miss the Mountain.

Saturday, September 10, 2005

Rattlesnake Ledge Photos from the top

The view on top of Rattlesnake ledge is always stupendous but today the clouds and late day lighting made it better than normal. You can click on a picture to see a larger view.

Mt Si and the Snoqualmie Valley

All of Mt Si


A close up of Mt Si and Little Si


Looking east towards Snoqualmie Pass


Looking south towards Chester Morse Lake

Rattlesnake Ledge

It rained heavily today. It was a good day for curling up with a book. I started the wood stove. But then the rain stopped and the sun came out. A beautiful fall day calling me outside. Getting out after a rain is such a great way to explore nature. Things are fresh and bright. My friend insists it's a great time to see animals. She saw a family of weasels right after a rain.

I wanted a hike but it was late, so I went to a favorite I haven't been to in a while. Rattlesnake Ledge is entirely too popular and there is a reason, it has such amazing views and it's a short hike. I had about 2 hours before dusk but the sun was already partly behind the the mountain. As you walk around Rattlesnake Lake to get to the trailhead, the Ledge abrubtly peaks out at you. Then you get to the back of the lake and you go through an immediate transition. I love walking in to the dark forest, it feels like entering into a magical, mythical world.

Heading up I was enchanted by the foilage. The bright leaves of the Salal kept capturing my attention. New fresh green , almost a mint color, contrasting with the usual dark. I also saw the longest Trailing Blackberry vine I have ever seen. It had to be 15ft long. It seemed to be making a voyage, winding down the bank and moving across the path. All the plants leaves looked clean, fresh and vibarant. Many still had water drops on the surface or hanging from the tip.

I reached a point halfway up the ledge hike where you suddenly have a view. It's a point where some realize that the very steep climb on this short 2 mile hike is too much and they turn around. I had no inentions of turning around but I had to stop and take in the beauty. With the sun already so low, the lighting was amazing. I have always loved the sudden shine of bright sun, slipping through the dark forest and highlighting a tree. The tree takes on a glow and presence, suddenly an individual. This held all that beauty and even greater power as the background was the forest 500ft below.

The brightness marks the 1/2 point

Just before you get to the top, you enter a very dark piece of forest. It makes the arrival at the top even more stunning. I took a lot of pictures. I think I'll make a separate entry, just with Ledge-top photos. At the top I watched the light change and the clouds dance. Like always, I marveled at the geology. I have so much to learn! I did explain to some other hikers the general landscape and how Rattlesnake Lake (now 1,000 feet below) formed. I guess I was in a sharing mood, I don't normally talk to people when hiking. Except of course the people who fall in love with Coal. That always happens :) The sun was nearly down and I didn't have my flashlight. I've done that once, come down off a Rattlesnake Ledge after dusk. Without Coal to guide me I would have needed to spend the night up there. That was on the old trail that was much more treacherous and there were spots that I scooted down on my butt. Even with the better trail, I really felt no need to repeat that experience, so Coal and I headed down.

Coal loves the smells on Rattlesnake Ledge

It was getting dark and the plants had faded to the backgroud but finally the animals were out. Robins were making there evening proclamation. Juncos flitted along the trail. I've noticed before that they seem to out and especially active when most birds are bedding down for the night. A Douglas Squirrel, that was either very young or just foolish walked along the ground. I thought it a bit odd when he didn't head up a tree when I drew near but when Coal walked close and he still didn't run I was startled. Coal couldn't resist any more and was ready to give chase (I had a hold of him) and the squirrel finally darted up the tree, chirruping furiously. A few switchbacks down a Cottontail Rabbit hopped by! We were way up the trail in heavy forest. I see them all the time by the lake, but I can't figure out what that guy was doing up there. The rest of the trip down was uneventful except for the beautiful red clouds peaking through the forest. We ended with rabbits hopping about the parking lot, which is where I expect to see them (not specically the parking lot but in the open and brushy areas around Rattlesnake Lake).

Monday, September 05, 2005

Lost Lake, unplanned adventure

What a glorious day. I got in my car with no plan. I was pondering where to go. I was looking for something fairly simple but not too easy. I wanted to immerse myself in the woods. I wanted to be away from people; on Labor Day! I thought of Franklin Falls but it would be crowded and was too easy. I thought of going to the Snoqualmie Middle Fork area but by the time I made my choice my car, headed east on I-90, had passed the exit. So I thought I would try Annette Lake. I did mention it was Labor Day and gorgeous out? When I pulled into parking lot it was full, so I pulled out without stopping. I kept going east past Snoqualmie pass. I realized I had to make a choice soon and I was being a bit foolish. My gas tank was nearing empty.

I took the exit to Stampede pass. I hadn't planned on a long outing. I didn't have supplies or enough gas in my tank. I didn't dare go across the pass. But there was a sign "4 miles Lost Lake". Aha, I had a plan. I love driving on mountain roads. The gravel roads don't worry me. I passed the John Wayne Trail and I was tempted to stop. I've never been on that trail this far east, but now I had my destination set. I was going to Lost Lake. The road got rougher and I climbed above the Lake. I realized I had missed the 'parking lot' for the lake. My gas light had also come on. So I snapped a quick picture looking down on the lake and turned around to see if I could get my little car in and out of the 'parking lot'. No wonder I had missed it, it was a steep drop to a deeply rutted gravel area.

I did manage to get in the parking lot. When we got out I heard an elk! I was delighted. There was only 1 other car there and a couple was unloading a canoe. There were no real trails but after giving Coal a chance to cool off in the lake we began our journey. The lake level was quite low so we traveled along the steep, rocky bank. At first there was a trail of sorts to follow, but we left that behind. We also left people and roads behind and we had such amazing views. The lake was so still and clear. I kept hearing a Kingfisher. Looking across the lake I could see autumn color. It was just so beautiful and quiet.

The lichen is so beautiful if you really look

I love walking with my camera because it helps me to see things. Scrambling across the rocks was hard work but there was such distinct colors and patterns. The hillside was rich with moss and lichen. It's amazing to realize how many different species are living on one rock. I also noticed the distinct water level lines marking the drying of the lake. After scrambling for a ways (maybe 3/4 of a mile) it was time to just sit and enjoy the beauty. I sat and listened to the quiet. Coal got all excited and acted like a pup again because a chipmunk was playing hide and go seek with him from under a fallen log. The game was fun for Coal, since there was no chance of catching the chipmunk. I finally saw the kingfisher I'd been hearing. It flew below us, making me realize how high on he bank I was. I saw fish jump. I watched one large fish come to the surface and feed. You could see the lips above the surface, opening and closing, no different than any goldfish.

I need to find out the name of this peak

We headed back and realized just how much work climbing over the rocks was. We were hot and hungry by the time we reached my car. Coal and I shared the small amount of trailmix I had stashed in my car. I discovered I couldn't get my car to start because the rocky road had bounced one of the connectors to my car loose. I thought I had it tightened back on but after our first bump it came off. You can't even put on hazard lights when that happens! I really needed a pair of pliers, but I finally got it secure. Still, it was a fantastic outing and after getting some fuel (for me and the car) at Snoqualmie Pass, I turned off I-90 and headed down the Denny Creek road so I was out of the heavy Labor Day traffic. I was very tired, but couldn't resist a quick trip to Franklin Falls. It was ridiculously crowded and I didn't stay long but I am delighted I went. I have never seen a rainbow there before.