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!

A Hiking Adventure: Mount Si

Summer is FINALLY here in the state of Washington which means…it’s hiking season once again and this girl is over the moon ecstatic. To start off this summer, my friend Sydney and I chose to hike a mountain that rises sharply above the Snoqualmie River valley with views of the Cascades, Mt. Rainier, and Seattle in the far distance. Mount Si is a 4-mile hike full of steep switchbacks, has an elevation gain of  of 3150 feet (topping off at 3900 ft.), and at the end has a couple large rock formations.

Mount Si is a fairly common hike for many people within the city and can attracts anywhere from 30,000 to 50,000 visitors each year*. What was the most interesting part of this hike were the amount of trail runners running UP and down this trail. I struggled WALKING up this trail and couldn’t even imagine running 4-mile up the side of a mountain.

The first mile wasn’t extremely rough, but not an “easy” start to a trail. When I passed the mile marker, I was already feeling the burn in my calves and quads but was determined to push on. At about the 2 mile marker, there’s a location called Snag Flats, which is the location of an old wild fire that hit this Douglas fir filled area. Good thing about this location is that it’s a bit flat so it allowed for a little break in the climb.

Pushing on upwards for another 2 miles, the last of which was upward HELL, until finally reaching the summit’s basin, also known as the scramble. The scramble changes in terrain from the rest of the hike ,which is all trees/shrubs, to boulders/loose rocks. I say summit’s basin because the actually summit is a HUGE rock formation about 400ft above the basin, known as the Haystack, that requires a little bit of  rock climbing. We ended up forgoing this climb as our legs were already screaming at me and let’s be honest, the view was amazing where we were and didn’t really want to exert any more energy. After sitting at the top basking in the sun with a light breeze for nearly 2 hours, we decided it was time to venture back down the mountain. It was an amazing first summer hike to start the season and I’m ready to hit the trails again.

*Washington Trails Association