Category Archives: Seasons

The seasons, they are a’changing

lake-keechelus

After a busy week of work, I escaped the urban hubbub for a quiet afternoon ski in the mountains.

Winter wonderland! Or so I thought. Yes, there was still plenty of snow and clouds clung to the surrounding peaks. But there were small, but vivid, signs that winter had given notice to vacate and spring was preparing to move in.

The first telltale sign was the temperature. The air was chilly, but not cold. It didn’t take me long to remove my jacket and ski with only my long-sleeved wool top. I stopped yet again to remove my hat.

Snow and ice is the norm in deep winter in the mountains. But on this day, I was aware of water. The snow was soft and slushy at the trailhead. The trees were drippy as snow slowly melted and fell from their limbs. I listened to the soft “thumps” in the woods as nearby trees released snow bombs.

The distant sound of water tumbling over rocks became louder. Soon I was a crossing a creek on a bridge. A few weeks prior, this creek would have been buried under snow. I spied a watery hole in the once frozen solid lake.

I noticed bugs! There was an occasional flying one and I spotted small bugs crawling on the snow’s surface every time I stopped for a break.

It was after five o’clock when I finished my ski and, despite the overhead layer of clouds, there was still ample light in the sky. Yet another sign that the seasons are changing. As I toss my skis into the Outback, I am looking forward to my next mountain outing and wonder what new changes I will observe.

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A Tube of Lip Balm Saves the Ski Day

We hightailed it to the Methow Valley last weekend for a few days of skiing. What fun it was!

ski-the-loupWe spent our first day alpine skiing at low key and family-friendly Loup Loup Ski Bowl. The only chair lift leisurely carried us to the top of Little Buck Mountain and, on this day, above the fog layer blanketing the valley floor. We had the pleasure of skiing many runs alone–a rarity at the ski resorts on the west slopes of the Cascades.

Steve and I love the atmosphere at The Loup. It’s a community ski hill that is operated by a nonprofit, volunteer driven organization. Locals glow with pride when we tell them we made the trip from Seattle to ski their hill. And the skiing is worthy!

The next day we slapped on our skinny skis for some cross-country touring. With over 200 kilometers of groomed trails, the Methow Valley is home to the largest Nordic ski trail system in the nation. The trail network is adeptly managed by the nonprofit Methow Trails. This is what draws many to the valley in winter.

img_0447We opted to ski the trails at Sun Mountain to avoid an organized Nordic event that was using other portions of the trail network. I guess other folks had the same idea as the trailhead was a party. But we didn’t have to ski too far before the skiers thinned out and we had some quiet time on the trails. Snow fell quietly and an occasional critter scampered by as we skied up and down the rolling terrain. It was a pleasant afternoon.

On our last day, we awoke to a mix of rain and snow in the valley so we decided to drive up to Loup Loup Pass and ski the groomed Nordic trails at the South Summit Sno-Park. Several inches of wet snow had fallen and it was still falling. We could tell that the trails had not been groomed in a week or more, but we were game for a ski.

The wet snow stuck to the climbing scales on the bottom of my skis and pretty soon I wasn’t gliding. I stopped to search my backpack for some ski wax. Bummer! I didn’t have any with me.

“Do you have a tube of lip balm?” asked Steve.

I did! I pulled the Blistex out of my pack and handed it to Steve. He knocked the sticky snow off my skis, then rubbed the waxy lip balm over the scales. I was gliding again!

The lip balm is no substitute for ski wax as the snow started to stick again at times, but it saved my ski day and I was able to finish my ski tour.

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onions.jpg

Two days ago it was summer, sunny and 92 degrees. We went for an after work swim in the lake. Yesterday it was fall, breezy and 70 degrees. We harvested the onions from the garden.

The in-between season has arrived. Summer has given its notice to vacate and fall is preparing to move in. The signs are everywhere. Some are subtle hints while others are in-your-face obvious.

Subtle signs:

  • Color shift. Nature is gently shifting from green to gold. Trees that were a Kodachrome green a month ago now have some golden tints.
  • Fewer hummingbirds. My fuschia plants attract hummingbirds throughout the summer. Visits by these little birds have dropped in recent weeks.
  • Less garden produce. Our garden is in transition as we tear out summer crops to make room for some winter ones. The winter garden will be smaller and we’ll rest some beds.

Obvious signs:

  • Less daylight. The time between sunrise and sunset is shrinking.
  • Parks and beaches are less crowded. The weather is till pleasant but fewer people are flocking to local parks, beaches and trails.
  • Back to School. Families with kids are busy preparing for the start of the new school year. Retailers are holding Back to School sales.

What signs have you noticed of summer’s impending departure and fall’s arrival?

 

 

Wallowas: A Hike on the Wild Side

Wallowa wildflowers

Wandering a wildflower-filled meadow while gazing at hazy blue mountains in the distance, the Wallowas casts its magical spell on me.

One of the advantages of living in Puget Sound is easy access to hiking in the mountains.

One of the disadvantages of living in Puget Sound is that nearby hiking trails are often busy because of their close proximity to the urban area.

Because we craved an outdoor experience that would be quieter for our 4th of July holiday, Steve and I journeyed to the lofty Wallowa Mountains in eastern Oregon. We were rewarded with expansive views, winds whistling through evergreens, sparkling mountain streams dancing downward to valleys, and sharing sunset with an elk herd. And solitude.

Solitude is a key element of the wilderness experience for me, and our backpack into Eagle Cap Wilderness delivered on this point. We avoided the popular Lakes Basin area and chose to hike into the wilderness via the lonelier Summit Point trailhead. Amazingly, we encountered only one other backpacker during our 4-day ramble.

But we were not alone. We camped a couple of nights on the edge of a beautiful meadow populated with song birds, hummingbirds and Clark’s Nutcrackers. At sunset, a herd of elk joined us to graze on wildflowers and drink water from a nearby pond.

Camping in view of granite peaks.

Camping in view of granite peaks.

One morning as we hiked a trail, I noticed a cougar paw print among the elk hoof prints. Now alert, I looked around but saw no other sign of it. This is typical. Backcountry visitors seldom get to see this solitary, secretive creature.

Hiking in the Wallowas is an exhilarating experience as the granite peaks rise like skyscrapers above the valley floor. We found ourselves wandering meadows and ridges upwards to 8500 feet in elevation. These heights offered us breathtaking views of mountains near and far, farm lands in surrounding valleys, and glimpses of the Snake River and Hells Canyon on the Oregon-Idaho border.

This was my fourth visit to the Wallowas and I don’t expect it to be my last. When the daily grind of urban life builds its crust on my spirit, I will again answer the siren call of those remote peaks.

Cycling Old Blewett Highway

 

Old Blewett - big view

Old Blewett Highway is a great break from the urban streets that I am accustomed to riding around Seattle. It has almost no traffic, beautiful scenery and offers a great nature fix. It’s roads like this that I enjoy bicycling. Continue reading

Spring Pedal on the Snoqualmie Valley Trail

Snoqualmie Valley TrailMetro Seattle has an amazing network of trails. On a sunny spring day, some of these trails become clogged with people recreating, commuting, and enjoying the outdoors. It makes for great people watching.

But today I didn’t want to watch and dodge other trail users. I wanted to take a quiet bike ride and embrace spring. It was time to ride the trail less traveled, the Snoqualmie Valley Trail.

At 31 miles, the Snoqualmie Valley Trail is the longest trail in King County’s regional trail system. It meanders through scenic Snoqualmie Valley, passing through the towns of Duvall, Carnation, Fall City, Snoqualmie and North Bend, before terminating at Rattlesnake Lake and the start of the John Wayne Pioneer Trail. Continue reading