A Hiking Adventure- Winter Edition: Lake Valhalla

Here in Seattle, winter can be well…wet and grey. I try my hardest to not let it affect me much, even though it’s completely opposite from Arizona winters. The wet and grey never really stop me from doing anything outside because it is just rain. Last year, I trained for running races and did a few non-snow hikes in the rain and cold. This year, however, I decided it was time to venture out into the mountains and to the snow.

Every since leaving college in Cedar Falls, IA and Flagstaff, AZ, snow hasn’t really been something I seek out for fun and enjoyment. It’s cold. It’s wet. Did I mention it’s cold. I didn’t really enjoy it much in Iowa, though I had more sleet and ice storms than snow storms, and I only did 1 day worth of snowboarding during my 2-years in Flagstaff. To be honest, I only remember a few (<5) times where my family ventured into the snow; skiing in Utah and sledding in Prescott to name a couple. I mean, after all my parents did move AWAY from the snow and cold when I was only 6 months old.

So why did things change this year and my new found love for the snow? Well, first off, Seattle is only 45 minutes from the western boarder of the Cascades Mountain Range, and the beginning of winter included MANY feet of fresh powder, which was something we didn’t get the past couple of years.  Several of my friends started posting pictures of their snowshoeing and snowboarding adventures with beautiful white snow capped mountains. The more they posted, the more I became intrigued and eager to explore.

After talking with my friend Chris, we set a date to head eastbound and have a little snowshoeing exploration of an area just east of Stevens Pass, a popular snowboarding/skiing destination (Chris did the destination planning). I was able to obtain an inexpensive but sturdy pair of snowshoes prior to this adventure, which was a great decision to purchase instead of renting. Renting snowshoes from REI can cost around $40 and I was able to snag mine for $70 at Costco. I didn’t feel like spending more as I wasn’t sure if I’d like snowshoeing or not, but I also didn’t feel that the $30 difference was worth not purchasing.

It was finally time to head off towards the mountains and the sun was shining though the weather was FREEZING. When we arrived at the trailhead (or roadside), Chris’s car temp gauge read 2 degrees. I cannot tell you the last time I was in 2 degree weather, let alone 2 degree weather starting a HIKE.

Chris choose a trail to a place called Lake Valhalla, a known nordic location for cross-country/downhill skiers. Before we got started, Chris spent sometime getting me up to speed on my snowshoes and it took a few steps before I was feeling comfortable (though my poor hands were freezing).

For the next couple hours, we shoe’d our way upwards, stopping occasionally for some pictures and eventually found ourselves at a flat surface, but no lake was located. We continued snowshoeing downwards before turning back towards the flat. It was at this point that we discovered the lake was off to the side of the flat surface but completely covered in snow.  I guess we should have known it’d be cover as the mountains got about 4 feet of snow. After we learned this, we stopped for a short snack break completed with tea and coffee!

These hours spent in the mountains, consistently took my breath away. With the amount of snowfall covering the mountain peaks and treetops, the overwhelming white was beyond perfection. My heart and soul were filled with happiness, peace, and love for the snow. It was this trip that I could truly say, I love the winter and I love the snow. The pictures don’t even do this trip justice.

A Hiking Adventure: Blanca Lake

My 28th year was quite memorable to say the least. Not only did I move into the heart of Seattle, I made amazing new friends, became more invested with my running and volleyball family, had a major hardship event in my life, and more personal growth than I could have expected happened.

I wasn’t really sure what I was going to do but I knew one thing was certain, I needed to be in the mountains. For the last three birthdays, I have spent exploring the Cascade Mountains and every year it allows me to reflect on the good, the bad, and the ugly from the previous year.

Because of the many groups I belong to, I knew I could make an event out of this but the closer it came to my actual birthday, the more I realized things were occurring that same weekend. I still consider this hike to be my birthday hike, even though it was two weeks after my birthday.

This year, I selected a very well known and popular hike called Blanca Lake. I have been dying to hike this particular glacial lake for sometime because from what everyone said it is a MUST-DO hike.

Blanca Lake is a 7.5 mile roundtrip hike through the Central Cascades with a gain of 3300 ft, peaking at 4600 ft elevation. You start hiking in what Washington Trail Association calls “second growth forest” with large trees and begin to climb right off the back. This is the major difficulty of this hike as your gaining 3000 feet in less than 3 miles through switchbacks and pretty much begins right at the trailhead. It’s well worth the climb, as when you reach the peak you find yourself on a ridge line, with switchbacks heading up a rocky face with mountains on all sides and a clearcut view of Glacier Peak.

From here, the remaining hike is fairly resting as you walk through beautiful meadows until you hit this amazing view of the valley at the bottoms of the Columbia Peaks. Then comes the greatest view I have seen. This amazingly milky turquoise water lined with mountains and this white lined glacier. Breath-taking to say the least. WTA calls it “robin-egg blue waters” and explains that the l”Columbia Glacier drains via a twin waterfall into the vibrately blue colored water”. The Columbia Glacier is shrinking and I hate to say that it might not last many more years/decades. This is a must do hike for all locals and visitors to the state of Washington.

I was blessed with several friends who joined me on this hike including friends from all my circles, volleyball, running, and church family. We started off a little later than normal but it was for good reason. I had to run 6 miles before hiking and didn’t want to miss it. On our drive, we met up with another friend and got to the trailhead just before 11, but along our drive we lost the second car and had no service at the trail head. We had no choice but to start hiking. It didn’t take long until we met up with my friend Ben, his father, and his niece and nephew, who are under 6 years old (I think/I can’t remember). Once we reached Blanca Lake, we were met with Tessa and Piotr and Beth and two of her friends. In total, their were about 16 people who joined in the fun.

At the lake, we spent some time laughing amongst ourselves and OF COURSE, took a dip in the beautiful chilly lake. Kate and I spent some extra time at the lake because Ben brought a raft to take his niece and nephew out on the lake and offered us to take a spin. Couldn’t pass it up.

Talk about a great birthday with great friends!

From Washington to Montana

The month of August was INSANE. I worked approximately 28 of 31 days and felt like I had absolutely no time to myself or for my friends. Now you might think “who on earth would work that many days” and to be honest with you I don’t know if I’d do it again. Thankfully, I was able to escape for a weekend getaway to the eastern side of the state to spend the weekend with one of my best friends. If anyone knows me, I love road tripping and this particularly weekend we decided that we’d really getaway from society and jet off to Montana. This would be my first visit to the beautiful state.

I left work on Friday and immediately started my road trip. It takes approximately 4-5 hours to travel from Seattle to Spokane and the day before leaving I found my stash of old school CDs. This made the car-ride way more entertaining…I mean how can you go wrong with busting out to Backstreet Boys for a whole hour! The car ride went quickly and before I knew it I was in Spokane. Due to very long days, Sydney and I determined it was more efficient to stay in and enjoy a nice bottle of wine! But to be honest, anytime Sydney and I are together we determine its more efficient to stay in and drink wine. It’s kind of our thing. Granted we did have an early morning planned as we would be road tripping to Montana to hike.

Before I knew it, it was time to wake up and I was reeling in intense stomach pain that gave me a bit of fright that I wasn’t going to be able to survive the day. Thankfully Wal-Mart wasn’t too far away and before I knew it I was feeling better.

Our road trip started with us jamming out to some old school 90s hits that took us back to our middle school years! I don’t think I’ve laughed that hard in quite sometime and as we passed through Couer d’Alene, we both started focusing on the scenery. If you’ve never been in this area of the country than you might not understand. The Couer d’Alene National Forest was breath-taking and with another hour we were on the boarder of Idaho and Montana. In fact, where we decided to hike was literally right on the boarder. We parked in Idaho and hiked between Idaho and Montana with spectacular views of the Lolo National Forest.

Our hike of choice was one called Blossom Lake Trail is a 6.0 mile out-and-back through backcountry. It’s hard to really describe what the forest looked like because many of the terrain have similar looks, but I do remember the start of the trail. You are walking along this skinny path that drops a foot or so on each side. It was something I haven’t seen before when hiking. The weather however was something I have experienced before. It was quite chilly with chances of rain (shocking).

We continued along the trail and kept running into multiple forks and of course we couldn’t decide which way…Left or Right. Another crazy event that occurred was locating the LARGEST PINE CONE I’ve ever seen and the spikiest tree I’ve ever seen (funny tree too). It might not seem like a huge deal, but I love finding new things whenever I go hiking. By the time we made it to the top, it had dropped temperature by easily 10 degrees. We planned at the start to jump into the alpine lake, however it being cold, I completely vetoed that concept. Sydney, however, decided it would be fun. It was fun, for me watching, and freezing for her, but now she can say she swam in an alpine lake in Montana!

We made it down the trail at a fairly decent hour and Sydney planned on taking me back to Spokane along highway 200 passed Lake Pend Oreille to Sandpoint, ID. This drive included more jamming to our crazy idea of a good music including “LET IT GO”. Back in Spokane, it was dinner and passing out from exhaustion.

Waking up on Sunday was something amazing because the weather was simply beautiful, sunshine and warmth. Due to this factor and learning that it was peach season, we headed approximately 10 minutes north to a community called Green Bluff Growers Association. This community is an association of small family farms and stands that was formed in 1902 to protect the local strawberry growers from outside competition. This association hosts seasonal activities including pick-your-own fruit and annual festivals. Because of the peach season, the first place we visited had rows and rows of organic peach trees and I had the opportunity to pick a peach right off the tree. I don’t think I’ve ever done this before and it was just as much fun as I would have thought.

This association is more than just farms and following the map of growers, we found a brewery, some wine tastings, a cider mill (alcoholic) and a meadery. I’ve drank plenty of beer, wine and cider (all of which were fabulous) in my days but this meadery-concept was something new. Hierophant Meadery is Washington’s first meadery, which is home to a tasting room of bottle mead (honey wine), kombucha, and other honey/beeswax products. Sydney and I were in love with this place and it was the perfect way to end one amazing weekend.

Well not really…it was just a good way to end our farm adventure. In fact, we headed back to Sydney’s place and partook in the Ice Bucket Challenge. THIS was a great way to finish my amazing Washington to Montana weekend with Sydney.

…unfortunately our plans for me to return in October for Apple Pickin’ were slightly impacted by Sydney’s new work contract moving her to the east coast… maybe next year.

Family Travel: Little Brother Visits Seattle

It’s been nearly two months since I turned 28 years old and that means it’s been two months since my little brother, Joel, came to visit me from his summer in Chicago. My brother, who was interning with his company at their head quarters in Chicago, was given the opportunity to fly out for an extended weekend. It would be his first time in the PNW and only my second family visitor since moving to WA in 2012. We have been discussing this trip pretty much since the moment I found out his company provided each intern with a free flight. In all reality, it was pretty much me telling him “You’re coming to Seattle”. My parents were also onboard with this plan to use the flight to visit his big sister, because we all knew he’d never come otherwise. I know I shouldn’t say never, but it’s hard for ue Lang siblings to travel to visit each other. So I was so excited when he actually booked the ticket. Plus, it was my birthday weekend too!

He landed pretty late Thursday night and I knew Friday was going to be an early morning so we didn’t do much once he landed. I love playing tour guide so I packed our weekend full of “typical” WA adventure starting off with a beautiful drive and hike in the mountains.

I’ve mentioned this before that the Cascade Mountain Range takes anywhere from a 45 minutes to 2 hour drive northeast/east/southeast from Seattle. For our hike, I selected one that I have been wanting to go on for sometime but haven’t been able to go. This summer has been all about alpine lakes and what better “Welcome to Washington” gift to my brother then to take him 4.1 miles up a mountain and make him jump/swim in one. This particular hike, called Lake Serene, is quite popular to many Seattlites and Washingtonians.

It’s a 8.2 mile round trip hike that climbs 2000ft, reaching the alpine lake at 2521ft. We started off on an old logging road before starting the climb up through  overgrowth forest, crossing over waterways and ascending upwards with the use stairs (yes, physical stairs built along the trail) until we finally arrived at the lake. We took a short break to refuel and then took a dip into the lake. The dip started off freezing, as the sun was beyond the mountain ridge and left us in full shade, but after several minutes became refreshing and much needed.

After the decent, we ventured to a local brewery in Everett, called Scuttlebutt, for some burgers and beers. It didn’t take us long after our arrival home before we crashed, as we knew another long day was waiting for us upon waking.

Saturday came quickly and before I knew it, my brother, my roommate and myself were heading down to CenturyLink Field for some pre-gaming at Pyramid Alehouse, where we met up with several other friends. This was my “birthday celebration” and what better way then to celebrate watching my beloved Seattle Sounders FC. The whole concept of our weekend together was to show my brother what it’s like to live here, and Seattle sports are a huge part of that. I don’t attend the Seahawks games ($$$) and rarely attend the Mariners, but the Sounders are a whole other story. My brother has never been to a professional soccer match and I loved being able experience it with him. The game was against Tottenham Hotspurs, a member of the English Premier League. Not only was this his first MLS game, it was both of ours first European match. It was a high scoring game of 3-3, but did end in a tie. I guess a tie is better than a loss.

After the game, the group ventured to a local pub for some grub. We didn’t last long before exhaustion set in, so we headed home for some RnR. The night was still young and as we were celebrating my birthday, we got ready and hit up the local bar scene in my favorite neighborhood, Ballard.

Ballard is a fairly popular night life spot that is only 10 minutes away from my home. It has one fun bar/dance club that my roommates and I are fond of, so after grabbing beers at King’s, another bar, we decided it was time to dance and DANCE we did, all night long.

You could imagine what Sunday consisted of after dancing all night long. If you’re thinking eating and lounging then you’d be correct. Joel and I left for brunch at popular joint called Portage Bay Cafe, per recommendation from one of my roommates. We weren’t disappointed and came home stuffed to the max. My original plan for Sunday was a microbrew tour throughout Seattle but being completely hungover (not going to sugar coat that fact) we didn’t make it very far from the couch. We did move later the evening and drove down to Tacoma to enjoy a delicious dinner at one of the local breweries and met up with our brother-in-law’s little brother, Joe, who is currently stationed at Fort Lewis. This particular day, we were blessed with meeting his new wife and her daughter. I have spoken with his wife on the phone very briefly but I loved being able to finally met her and we enjoy each other’s conversation. After dinner, we decided that we wanted to relax but still do a little brew tour. Luckily, many of the local brews bottle their beers, so we did a “stay-at-home” brew tour with 6 local brews and watched movies.

Monday, his last day, was our “tourist” day. We drove past the Fremont Troll, wandered around Pike Place Market, stuck gum onto the Gum Wall, visited the Space Needle via the monorail, and walked along the boardwalk. Before his final departure, we ate lunch at The Pike Brewing Company, located in Pike Place Market and brewing since 1943. I “made” him get the beer sampler as one last good-bye from the Emerald City.

It was a hard, sad good-bye at the airport, but I couldn’t have asked for a better packed-filled weekend with my brother, Joel. We hiked, watched sports, drank local craft beer, and saw the sights. Hopefully, someone else will want to come visit me next summer so I can show them the Seattle Experience. I love my city! Until next adventure…

A Hiking Adventure: Spray Park Trail

Another successful trip with The City Church Outdoors Group under my belt. This trip was a photography based adventure located at along the moderately difficult Spray Park Trail within Mount Rainier National Park. Spray Park is located on the northwest corner of Mount Rainier and is one of the three main stops for the Wonderland Trail.

Spray Park Trail is a7.5 mile, 1,600 feet elevation gain trail that ends at 6,400 ft above sea level and has perfect views of Rainier on every turn and the reason for this photography based adventure. The trail itself starts at Mowick Lake and connects to part of the Wonderland Trail. At this point you walk steadily upwards through sun-filled old growth forest before opening up to a beautiful view of Spray Falls. At this point, you are required to perform a little bit of back country style hiking before reaching the base of the fall. On a hot, sunny day like this day, the base had a bit of a splash zone and cooled us off just a little.

After Spray Falls, we continued hiking upwards through switchbacks until ending at large open meadows with boulders, flowers and Mt. Rainier- views every photographer would die to see. Even Washington Trails Association know the uniqueness of  Spray Park. Here is how they put it into words: “In many ways, you never recover from your first walk into Spray Park. The trail isn’t difficult to follow. It’s just difficult to forget.” This statement sums up my experience with the trail itself and it’s diffidently not one I will ever forget. Plus, I got to spend this adventure with amazing friends, new and old! If you don’t believe me, click here for pictures.