Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Lake Ann (Teanaway)

Summit Chief, Bears Breast, and Mount Daniel rise over Lake Ann
8.2 miles round trip, 2600 feet elevation gain
Difficulty: Moderate
Access: Good gravel road to trailhead, Northwest Forest Pass required

Want subalpine larches on a reasonable day hike within a reasonable drive from Seattle without the crowds? Lake Ann in the Teanaway is a good solution: while lacking the big views of Mount Stuart from the hike to Lake Ingalls on the other side of Ingalls Peak, this hike delivers great views of the Central Cascades, has a decent amount of larches, and gets a fraction of the traffic of its better known neighboring hike. While the tiny lake and the sweeping views of this hike can be enjoyed throughout the summer and fall, I highly recommend visiting around the first two weeks of October to catch the subalpine larches in the Fortune Creek Valley turn gold.

I hiked this trail on an autumn Sunday. From Seattle, I took I-90 east to Cle Elum. I followed Highway 903 through Cle Elum; the road turned into Highway 10 after leaving town. About three miles past the town, I stayed to the left to head onto Highway 970 in the direction of Wenatchee. Another four miles on, we turned left onto Teanaway Road and followed the paved but narrow road along the Teanaway River, with good views of both the Teanaway and Stuart Ranges. The paved road changed to a good gravel when the road entered Okanogan Wenatchee National Forest; I followed the gravel road for a little over a mile past a bridge over Stafford Creek to the junction with NF-9737. Here, we took the left fork and followed it to the Esmeralda Basin Trailhead at the end of the road. While the road was a bit washboarded, it was in pretty good shape- substantially better than the field of potholes that I had to navigate to get to the same trailhead four years earlier.

Lake Ingalls is very popular on nice October weekends and that day was no exception: I arrived a little after 9:30 and found cars parked alongside the road for a quarter mile out of the parking lot (at its worse, hikers arriving around 10:30 had to park as far as a mile away). Luckily, these crowds won't follow you as just about everyone is heading to Lake Ingalls and not Lake Ann. Come midweek if you want solitude at the trailhead as well as on the trail.

From the trailhead, I headed off on the Esmeralda Basin Trail, which immediately began to ascend as it followed an old road alongside the North Fork Teanaway River. In a third of a mile, I arrived at a junction where Ingalls Way (Trail 1390) broke off to the right and Esmeralda Basin Trail 1394 continued straight. The steep and sharp profile of Esmeralda Peak East rose precipitously above the clearing at this junction. I went straight at this junction, leaving behind the heavy foot traffic heading towards Lake Ingalls and spending most of the rest of the day on a fairly quiet trail.

Esmeralda Peak East at the Ingalls Way junction
The trail was fairly uneventful past the junction, continuing an uphill climb at a steady grade that it maintained all the way to the junction with the Lake Ann Trail near Fortune Pass. For the most part, the trail followed an old road trace that once led up to mines in the upper part of Esmeralda Basin. At times, small clearings along the trail allowed for nice views of the rocky Esmeralda Peaks that surrounded the basin.

Esmeralda Peaks
The steady ascent was maintained as the trail approached the western end of the basin; here, the trail began a series of broad and fairly gentle switchbacks as it ascended towards Fortune Pass. At no point did Esmeralda Basin Trail No. 1394 feel particularly steep. As I ascended through the switchbacks, I exited the forest and was greeted by sweeping views of the Esmeralda Peaks.

Esmeralda Peaks
At just over 3 miles from the trailhead, I came to the junction with the Lake Ann Trail, which broke off to the right and began a steeper climb. Looking further along Esmeralda Basin Trail 1394, I realized that I was almost at Fortune Pass, so I decided to take a brief detour to the pass before continuing on to Lake Ann. This added about a half of a mile round trip and somewhere around 100 feet of elevation gain to my hike; I arrived at the pass shortly after passing the junction. The bald pass gave a view to the west of the impressive north face of Hawkins Mountains and of the Alpine Lakes Wilderness peaks in the distance, as well as the Esmeralda Peaks to the east. While this was a nice short detour (adding about 20 minutes total to my hike), the view is not quite as impressive as that from the shoulder of Fortune Peak above Lake Ann further on the hike; I wouldn't recommend this detour for hikers who don't have the extra time to do it.

Mount Hawkins at Fortune Pass
Returning to the junction, I started uphill on the steeper grade of the Lake Ann Trail. Views of Fortune Peak ahead faded in and out with the varying sparseness of forest. As I climbed higher, views of Mount Rainier began to occasionally peep through the forest to the south until I finally broke out into a broad, open slope higher on the slopes of Fortune Peak with clear views to the south of Rainier and Hawkins Mountain.

Rainier from the shoulder of Fortune Peak
At about 3.8 miles, I arrived on the shoulder of Fortune Peak, overlooking Lake Ann. Here, I spotted the first larch of the hike right next to the trail- as well as a few groves of larches scattered in the basin below. Fortune Peak rose to the east, at the end of the ridge leading up from where I stood and the summits of Ingalls Peak rose to the north over small and shallow but pretty Lake Ann. Glacier Peak made an appearance through a valley to the north.

Ingalls Peak rises above Lake Ann
From the trail, I followed a social path just briefly to the west to reach the local high point, where I had a sweeping view over not just Lake Ann but the entire Fortune Creek Valley and the high peaks of the Central Cascades to the west. The most impressive peaks of that range were on display here: Lemah, Chimney Rock, Overcoat, Summit Chief, Bears Breast, Hinman, and Daniel. Bright golden larches dotted the valley below.

Larches in the Fortune Creek Valley (late afternoon)
This was perhaps the most scenic viewpoint on the entire hike, with plenty of views of larches and rugged mountains. I spent time at this viewpoint both on my way in to and out from the lake, catching the scene with two very different lighting conditions.

Larches in Fortune Creek Valley (noon)
Lemah, Chimney Rock, Overcoat, and Summit Chief rise above Fortune Creek Valley larches
After enjoying the views, I followed the trail down to Lake Ann. The trail dropped about 350 feet from the ridge to the lake, descending through a scree slope with open views of Fortune Peak, Ingalls Peak, and the lake. The trail passed by a small grove of bright larches before dropping through rocky terrain to the lake itself.

Lake Ann
Lake Ann had a pretty turquoise color but was both small and shallow; in many ways, pond seemed a more apt descriptor than lake. The spectacular setting of mountains and larches made up for what the lake itself lacked in charisma.

Lake Ann
The larches around the lake were at peak color, displaying golden needles that emitted a fiery glow when backlit by the sun. These are subalpine larches, the more scraggly but more colorful of the two varieties of deciduous conifers in Washington state; their cousins, the western larch, is typically found at lower elevations in friendlier climes. Each October- typically between about the first and twentieth of the month- the subalpine larches in the Teanaway turn from green to yellow as these conifers shed their needles for the winter.

Larches at Lake Ann
The trail tracked the western edge of the lake, never coming to the lakeshore itself; I followed a social path to the shore of the lake to take in the contrast of the green water with the golden larches.

At the northern end of the lake, the trail crossed the outlet of the lake; here, there was a nice view to the west of some of the Alpine Lakes peaks paired with some larches.

Chimney Rock, Overcoat, and Summit Chief
After crossing the outlet stream, I decided to make a circumnavigation of the lake. Leaving the trail, I alternately followed social paths and scrambled my way across talus slopes to get around the lake. The eastern shore of the lake offered nice views of the lake with Mount Daniel and Summit Chief rising above larches as a backdrop.

Lake Ann
Lake Ann
Lake Ann
There was just one couple at the lake when I arrived and they left by the time I finished circling the lake. As it was still early in the afternoon and I had time to kill, I lounged by the lake alone for much of the rest of the afternoon, taking a nap in the warm autumn sunshine and embarking on an off-trail hunt for more larches. Leaving the trail at the southern end of the lake, I explored a few groves of larches that I had made note of while on the ridge above earlier. Larch density was quite a bit higher away from the lake and I enjoyed getting to spend more quality time with these soft and brilliant trees before returning to Seattle that evening.

Fortune Creek Valley larches (off-trail)
Fortune Creek Valley larches (off-trail)

Sunday, October 7, 2018

Toleak Point

Olympic Coast near Stawberry Point
14 miles round trip, 1000 feet elevation gain
Difficulty: Moderate-strenuous
Access: Paved road to trailhead, no pass required

Seven miles from the nearest road, Toleak Point provides an exemplary wilderness beach experience along Olympic National Park's rare stretch of wild Pacific coast. Toleak Point is usually approached as a backpacking destination due to the multiple low tide crossings necessary to reach it but a number of stops along the way (Third Beach, Taylor Point, the beach below Taylor Point) are viable day hiking destinations. Here, the waves of the Pacific Ocean break on sandy beaches, craggy sea stacks, and tidepools brimming with marine life. Lining this coast are rocky headlands and silent rain forests: this is one place where the beach doesn't mean a carnival. Despite the relatively tame elevation gain stats for this hike, expect a fairly difficult hike: when the trail isn't following beaches, it skirts impassable headlands, making steep climbs requiring the use of rope ladders, which can be challenging with 30-pound backpacks.

I hiked to Toleak Point over three days at the end of June, taking some time off during the week to accompany a good friend who had just finished his intern year as a medical resident. We camped for two nights at Scott Creek, breaking up the hike into very manageable short segments. It's important to understand that there are two points on this hike that are impassable at high tide: hikers should consult tide charts and plan out their schedules accordingly.

From Seattle, we drove out first to Port Angeles, where we stopped at the Wilderness Information Center on Race Street to pick up backpacking permits and borrow a bear canister. We then continued west on US 101, dealing with a bit of construction traffic around Lake Crescent before turning right onto Highway 110 just north of Forks to drive out towards La Push. We parked at the Third Beach trailhead, about two miles short of La Push.

The Third Beach Trail left the parking lot and plunged into the forest. The forest was largely uneventful and flat, exhibiting the typical moss-covered character of the rain-soaked Northwest. After a mile and a quarter, the trail began to descend into a gully carved by a small creek and followed this gully out to Third Beach. The seastacks of the Olympic South Coast and the sandy beach were visible before we got onto the beach itself; a high pile of logs at the high tide mark of the beach presented a substantial obstacle course to cross to reach the beach itself. We scrambled over the logs and made good use of our poles for balance to drop down to Third Beach.

Third Beach
Once on the beach, we followed the coast east and south, passing the many day hikers who had made their way out to enjoy time on Third Beach. We walked along the beach for a half mile until arriving at its far end, where the beach terminated at an impassable headland. A small waterfall tumbled off the cliff here, making for a particularly picturesque scene.

Third Beach Falls
Here, the trail became much more serious. To exit Third Beach and reach the headland, we had to scramble directly up the steep, eroding slopes of the bluffs. A few fixed ropes provided extra assistance for us as we scrambled up the headland. Once up on the bluff, the trail remained extremely rough: we were met with rope ladders and fields of mud. A steady rain set in, making the journey even rougher than it would've been with just the trail challenges. Progress was slow although elevation gain and loss was minimal.

While crossing the headland, the trail dropped at one point to cross the stream which fed Third Beach Falls. Here, a short unmarked spur trail broke off to the right and led to the top of the waterfall. We made a brief stop here, walking out to a view of the falls tumbling into the Pacific. The top of the falls also offered an excellent view back over all of Third Beach; we spotted a bald eagle flying below from this vantage point.

Third Beach Falls
Third Beach
The trail stayed high on the bluff above Taylor Point for over a mile before dropping back down to the beach just south of Taylor Point. The descent was much tamer than the ascent up the headland and involved fewer rope-assisted scrambles. The trail dropped down into a cove with a rocky beach with a few picturesque seastacks nearby, including a seastack topped with a single conifer.

Coastline south of Taylor Point
Once on the beach, we followed the rocky shoreline around a stone cliff. This stretch of the shore is inundated at high tide, so it was important for us to make it past this point in time; this was the only low tide crossing that we had to make between Third Beach and our campsite at Scott Creek, but it's one of two low tide crossings that one must make if journeying all the way out to Toleak Point. We wandered into the caves carved by the sea into the cliffs here before continuing across the beach.

We spotted another bald eagle here (one of about ten bald eagle sightings on our three day trip) as we were walking along the beach.

Bald eagle in flight
At the far end of the beach, the sea pounded the rocks of Scotts Bluff, forcing us upwards and inland to go around another headland. Here, we made another 100 foot ascent up a steep, eroded bluff with ropes for assistance and spectacular views out to the seastacks that dotted this stretch of the South Coast.

This detour was short and we were quickly returned to the seashore by a gentler descent. Arriving back on the beach, we quickly arrived at Scotts Creek, a small stream that spilled out of the rainforest onto the sandy beach. We found a quiet site where the forest met the sand and set up our camp for the night, about four and a half miles from the trailhead.

Campsite near Scott Creek
We got water from the creek (just yards away), watched the sunset, ate pasta and tofu by our beach campfire and settled in for a night at Scotts Creek. On a Monday night, there were perhaps only two other groups for two hundred yards in either direction.

Sunset at Scott Creek
The next morning, we headed out for a day hike from our campsite to Toleak Point. At low tide in the morning, we explored the tidepools just south of Scott Creek. Here, we spotted a handful of starfish and sea anemones- the most tidepool life we spotted on the hike. While I enjoyed this stretch of the coast overall, I did find the tidepool life here to be somewhat limited compared to what I've seen around Kalaloch or further north around Shi Shi- although it's very possible that I just explored insufficiently!

Sea anemones

This stretch of beach- a maze of rocks- also required a low tide crossing. This was the last tide-dependent crossing point for the hike out to Toleak Point. Past the tide crossing point, we followed the beach for a mile out to Strawberry Point, admiring the procession of seastacks marching along the coast to the rhythm of the surf.

We spotted numerous bald eagles, crabs, sea snails, and the carcasses of a stingray and a seal.

From Strawberry Point, we had a final walk of a mile along a beautiful crescent bay to Toleak Point. We passed some of the most remarkable seastacks here, including the uniquely shaped Witch's Hat, which had become the perching spot for a bald eagle when we walked by.

Witch's Hat near Toleak Point
As we arrived at Toleak Point, the coast opened up to both the north and east. Lines of seastacks hugged the shoreline in both directions, with forested wilderness rising from the ocean for as far as the eye could see in either direction. Pacific surf crashed against the rocks here; we took a nap in a driftwood shelter that earlier hikers had built and enjoyed a lazy afternoon on the beach before returning to our camp.

Toleak Point
Looking south along the South Coast from Toleak Point
In midweek, we found the hike to Toleak Point to be a relatively quiet experience. I'd expect more crowds on weekends, but either way this is a gorgeous and relaxing way to see a stretch of the wilderness South Coast on the Olympic Peninsula.

Friday, October 5, 2018

Skyscraper Mountain

Mount Rainier from Skyscraper Mountain
8.5 miles round trip, 1500 feet elevation gain
Difficulty: Moderate, some minor scrambling necessary to reach summit
Access: Paved road to trailhead, Mount Rainier National Park entrance fee required

Skyscraper Mountain is one of the many day-hike destinations in the Sunrise area of Mount Rainier National Park; as it sees far fewer visits than more popular Summerland, Mount Fremont, and Burroughs Mountain, it is also one of my favorite hikes in the area. As one would expect of a peak named Skyscraper, the summit offers sweeping views of Mount Rainier and its environs, including peeks at both the largest (Emmons) and lowest elevation (Carbon) glaciers in the contiguous United States. The hike is entirely in the alpine, with constant views from the trailhead to the summit. Although this trail is less popular than its nearby peer destinations, it's still a good idea to visit Sunrise on a weekday or arriving very early on weekends, as entrance into this portion of the park may be restricted on busy summer weekends.

I hiked Skyscraper Mountain on a beautifully clear July day with a friend visiting from Virginia. We left Seattle early to avoid weekday traffic, taking I-5 south, then Highway 18 east to Auburn, then Route 164 south to Enumclaw and Highway 410 east through Greenwater to the entrance of Mount Rainier National Park. Once in the park, we continued on Route 410 until reaching the turnoff for Sunrise; here, we turned right, passing the entrance gate and the White River Campground before following the road up the winding switchbacks to the Sunrise Visitor Center, where we parked to start our hike.

From the day lodge at Sunrise, we followed the road towards the picnic area and then hopped onto the trail towards Sourdough Ridge. At the junction between the connector trails leading east and west towards Sourdough Ridge, we took the west (left) fork, ascending through the meadows with amazing views of Mount Rainier, Little Tahoma, and the Cowlitz Chimneys. In a third of a mile, the trail met up with the Sourdough Ridge Trail atop the meadow-crowned ridgeline with a view directly down into Huckleberry Basin to the north and out to the far off peaks of the Central and North Cascades.

We would've stopped to enjoy the view, but we were quickly surrounded by a mob of flying, biting insects. To avoid being the main course of a mosquito buffet, we took the left fork on the Sourdough Ridge Trail and began following the trail west towards Frozen Lake and Burroughs Mountain. The views of the massive Emmons Glacier spilling down from Columbia Crest and the unsettling levelness of Burroughs Mountain made the progressions of ups and downs along the ridge easy to handle.

Rainier and Burroughs from the Sourdough Ridge Trail
We passed a junction with the trail to Huckleberry Creek and then continued along the Sourdough Ridge Trail. The trail crossed a scree slope where some amazing trailwork had been done: here, a wide corridor had been cut through the talus, with an impressive stacked stone wall defining the north side of the trail. Past the talus slope, the trail made a short climb to arrive at Frozen Lake. In early July, the lake lived up to its name: a snowfield remained on the northern and western shores of the lake and a number of small icebergs had been calved into the lake itself. Skyscraper Mountain, Mount Fremont, and Burroughs Mountain rose to the three sides around the lake. As the lake is the principal water supply for Sunrise, the lakeshore was blocked off from public access.

Frozen Lake with Skyscraper Mountain visible in the distance
At the far end of the lake, we came to the junction with the Wonderland Trail, the Burroughs Mountain Trail, and the Mount Fremont Trail. The Mount Fremont Trail led off to the right towards the lookout on Fremont; the Burroughs Mountain Trail led off to the left, heading straight up the steep sides of the mesa-like mountain. The Wonderland Trail headed to the east in one direction to return to Sunrise and west in the other direction towards Berkeley Park; we chose to head west, following the path that led straight through the junction.

Rainier rises above the Burroughs Mountain Trail
The Wonderland Trail passed through the alpine saddle between Burroughs Mountain and Mount Fremont before it began to descend into upper Berkeley Park in the basin north of Burroughs Mountain. The steep sides of Burroughs hid most of the bulk of Mount Rainier, leaving only the glacier-covered cap of Columbia Crest and the rockier Liberty Cap visible as we descended slightly into a valley. The trail to Berkeley Park broke off to the right; we stayed on the Wonderland Trail, heading west.

The Wonderland Trail
Although the peak wildflower bloom had yet to commence, upper Berkeley Park was already beginning to put on a flower show, with white heather blooming widely across its meadows and a good number of vividly colored magenta paintbrush.

Paintbrush and heather
As the trail circled around the cirque at the head of Berkeley Park, we had good views of both nearby Skyscraper Mountain and Mount Fremont and out the valley to Glacier Peak and the Central Cascades. Hiking well above the treeline, we had constant views of Rainier's attendant peaks.

Skyscraper Mountain
Mount Fremont
Rainier itself poked in and out of view, sometimes emerging from a saddle or dip in the ridge above to complement the green meadowed slopes of the trail.

Wrapping around the back of the basin, the trail then began to traverse north along the western side of the valley towards Skyscraper Pass. We crossed a short section of snow to reach the pass on the ridgeline of Skyscraper Mountain. From the pass, Rainier was resplendent to the south: we had a clear view past Third Burroughs Mountain to the Emmons and Winthrop Glaciers, Liberty Cap, and Observation Rock.

Rainier from Skyscraper Pass
At the pass, an unmarked trail led to the right towards Skyscraper Mountain. We left the Wonderland Trail here, following this social path slightly down to a saddle before beginning a steady ascent through meadows towards the Skyscraper summit. This was the steepest portion of the hike, climbing 400 feet in a third of a mile to reach the 7077-foot summit. At points, the trail required what might qualify as minor scrambling as it followed the south ridge of the mountain towards the peak; there was a spot with some minor exposure just short of the summit. The climb was through completely open alpine slopes, allowing us to spot a group of mountain goats lounging about lower on the western slopes of the mountain.

Final ascent up Skyscraper Mountain
The rocky summit commanded a 360-degree view of Mount Rainier and the Cascades. The Fryingpan, Emmons, Inter, Winthrop, and Carbon Glaciers all made appearances on the great slopes of Rainier. Mount Fremont rose to the east above the meadow-filled valley of Berkeley Park, crowned with its oft-visited fire lookout on its north ridge. The sharp double spires of Sluiskin Mountain rose to the west. The remarkably flat, table-like Grand Park lay just to the north and beyond it rose the many peaks of the Central Cascades: Kaleetan, Chair, Glacier, Chikamin, Daniel, the Stuart Range. The relative lack of bugs at the summit made it a nice place for us to enjoy a long break before returning the way we came.

Skyscraper Mountain views
Mount Fremont and Berkeley Park
Glacier Peak and the Cascades rise over Grand Park