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.

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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: 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.

A Hiking Adventure: Little Bandera Mountain

Two weeks ago my life went from routined to busy and full of new adventures and it all began when I joined my new church’s outdoor group. This group sets up various outdoor adventures throughout the year and last weekend they planned to head to the southern Cascades for a moderate (or difficult) hike at Bandera Mountain. Since moving the Washington, I have became very interested in researching places I’m going and this was no exception. What I learned about Bandera Mountain wasn’t nearly enough to prepare me for what I was about to experience.

This hike, Little Bandera Mountain, located in the Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest (Snoqualmie Pass Corridor-West), was a 7-mile round trip with a total elevation gain of approximately 2,850 feet, totally at 5,050 feet above sea level. Below is a quick summary, click here for more information.

Little Bandera Mountain tricks you at first with a gradual elevation gain/incline on an old logging road through the trees, but slowly turns into a steeper path. As you continue to climb, the scenery becomes less dense turning from trees/forest to meadows and flowers before hitting the point of no return- the 2-mile marker. Here is where the fun begins. The meadow/boulder-like trail runs right straight up the side the mountain to the ridge compiled of granite boulders, which you have to physically climb over at times (well, I did. Camera in hand too, mostly). At the summit of Little Bandera, you can enjoy panoramic views scanning the Cascades and an overview of Mason Lake, which is a break-off trail from Bandera. And if you think I’m joking about the “side of the mountain bit”, go check out the photos here.

Besides the amount of effort this trail took, one of the best parts to this hike was that I wasn’t alone. I was joined by 15 fellow Christian hikers, who I learned more and more about as the day went on and a few who became good friends. It was a different experience for me to hike with that many people but it felt pretty wonderful having others to share in the beautiful of Mother Nature and experience some of the beautiful land God created for us to enjoy. We all might have had different levels of skills and endurance, but the final destination was the same. Hiking alone might be something I’ve done in the past, but I quite enjoy the company and am excited for another Outdoor Group adventure.

Family Travel: Parents Visit Washington

I don’t even know where to begin this post. I haven’t seen my parents in six months, which is the longest we’ve EVER gone without seeing each other and this past weekend they came to visit the PNW. Oh yeah, and me! My mom came shortly after I moved, however her trip wasn’t really a “vacation”. This time was different. My goal for their PNW weekend vacation was to have them see why I LOVE the PNW and for them to love it too.  I thought long and hard about what to show them during their short 4 day weekend (not counting their 3 day adventure in Victoria, BC, Canada to visit a family friend) here in Washington. The results…well keep reading to find out.

Seattle, as some of you know, is not the “cheapest” location to stay so we decided to head east of Lake Washington where we stayed at a beautiful Marriott property in Bellevue, WA. What I found interesting is that the hotels here provide guests with van services that will take you anywhere within three miles of the hotel. Of course we utilized this service on our first night and found ourselves wandering through Downtown Bellevue Park before hitting up Happy Hour at various locations recommended by a friend and locals. Slightly anti-climatic but nothing less than a perfect and relaxing first night with the parents.

Seattle was the next stop in the adventure where we partook in a food tour, rode the Seattle Ferris Wheel, headed up the Space Needle and ended the night with a beverage overlooking Pike Place Market. I heard through the grapevine that a food tour is a MUST when in Seattle and Seattle Bites Food Tour was ranked #1 on multiple sites. Those sites didn’t lie. This tour took us through the history of the market; how it got started, how it was almost destroyed, and how it continues to thrive today. It gave us various tastes of the market; German brats, Indian chicken tikka masala, French crepes, locally grown fruits, and America’s Best Clam Chowder with Seattle’s Best Coffee and a local winery for refreshments. Ending with a unique outlook on the famous Pike Place Market with an additional stop at the Gum Wall, the second most unsanitary location in the world (second to the Blarney Stone). We continued to stroll Pike Place Market following the tour with a Starbucks in hand, where my mom and I decided it was entertaining watching my dad stare, with his mouth open, at everything going on in the market (if you know my dad you’ll understand why this was funny). Oh yeah, did I mention that one of my mom’s co-workers from Phoenix was on this tour with her husband and they had no idea? Small world!

The Seattle Ferris Wheel was next on our agenda. This attraction opened in June and provides the riders us with a beautiful view of downtown Seattle with the Space Needle peaking through the sky-rise buildings. Plus I learned that my dad squirms with heights, something I never knew before. We continued our tour of Seattle with the Space Needle. We took the 41 second ride up 520 feet to the observation deck where we relaxed and enjoy another fabulous view of the city of Seattle, Mt. Rainier, and the Puget Sound. By the time we ventured down the Space Needle, our stomachs began to growl so what better place to enjoy a sunset Happy Hour than at the patio of Hard Rock Cafe!

Saturday wasn’t as full packed as Friday but still adventure driving none the less. Following my parents morning 10 mile run (I slept), we headed out to Cougar Mountain for a short hike through Washington’s Wilderness! Hiking in Washington is a huge part of my life and spending time with my parents in the wilderness hiking was one thing I wasn’t going to pass up! Wine Country in Woodinville, WA was next on our schedule of events. We enjoyed a tour and tasting at Chateau Ste Michelle Winery,  lunch at Redhook Brewery, ending our day with a tasting at Columbia Winery. Well sort of ending…we actually ended our day at Costco for a little shopping therapy!

Off to Port Angeles, WA via Aberdeen and Ruby Beach. I wasn’t sure if I was going to be able to show my dad my home this trip, so when the opportunity presented to travel the extra few hours, I didn’t hesitate! I loved driving him around Aberdeen, showing him where I work, place I go, and even introducing him and my mom to my friends! Continuing on our WA adventure, we headed north on the 101 with stops at the Quinault Rain Forest, World’s Largest Sitka Spruce, Largest Red Cedar, and Ruby Beach. Port Angeles isn’t known for much other than being a gateway to Canada and the San Juan Islands, however there is one thing special about Port A. It is 17 miles north from Hurricane Ridge, a location that provides a spectacular view of the Olympic Mountains on one side and the Strait of Juan de Fuca with Canada on the other. When we woke up Monday morning, we didn’t know if we would make it up to the ridge as we were on a strict time restraint. Luckily, we had plenty of time to enjoy the clear air and views the ridge had to offer before I had to send my parents north to Victoria, BC, Canada. Saying goodbye sucks but It won’t be too long before I head home to AZ to support my dad as he competes in the Ironman Triathlon!

So, do you think I showed my parents enough of Washington for them to fall in love? Click for Pictures.