5/7/2015 Great Wall to Mt. WA summit (once again)

Mailbox Peak from Mt. Washington

Our plan today was to hike Mailbox Peak (there it is) but the road to the trail head was under construction and a very nice but very firm highway worker told us to scram.

So we came up with a quick plan B.  We went four miles farther east on I-90 and, once again, found ourselves in the parking lot from which most hikes up Mount Washington are launched.  And we decided to do the Great Wall trail again, but this time make the final turn correctly.

Which we did.

Sunny day
Sunny day on a shady trail

70 degrees, perfectly sunny, absolutely perfect weather.  And when you are hiking through a forest, the sunny weather creates some awesome interplays of sun and shade.

Check out the final sentence in the 2nd episode of Joyce’s ‘Ulysses’ and multiply it by several miles and you will get the idea.

Speaking of forest, it has its own attractions:

The woods have their own beauty

View after view makes it difficult to choose a winner but this one is pretty nice: (good eye, Derek!)

great view
Behold the view

The Great Wall is an exceedingly impressive wall of rocks and trees:

lone tree
lone tree

Every time you get a nice view of Mt. Rainier from the summit of this mountain the view is different.  Infinitely interesting:

Mt Rainier
Mount Rainier looks different every day

Looking at the map and adding the distances as best as we can we figure our hike today was about 12 miles.   And we did it in about 4:45 – not exactly running, but given the elevation gain (about 3300 or 3400 feet) not bad.

Our next hike is scheduled for Tuesday, May 12 and we are aiming at Mount Teneriffe.  With just a little luck we will have the Garmin eTrex 20 I ordered last week and we will be able to map our route and gather all the statistics – groovy!

UPDATE 5/10/2015 (Happy Mother’s Day)

Removed video link 5/11, just too much hassle.




Great Wall Again – 4/29/2015

It is my fault, not Derek’s.  We did not reach the Mt. Washington summit.  At the last opportunity to take a wrong turn I steered us wrong.  And I had to be home by 4PM (we hit the trail at 9:10 AM, and it is a long drive home on a weekday afternoon) so when we figured out what we should have done it was too late to do it right.

Getting to the summit via Great Wall is for next time.

But what a fun day anyway.  10 miles round trip, nice and steep much of the way and those views!  Every day is different.  No snow yesterday and I was amazed that so much snow can melt in only 2 days.  There were misty clouds floating around that really gave the scene a wonderful touch:

Along the Great Wall
Mysterious sky

Walking along the ‘great wall’ section of the Great Wall trail inspires a little focus, because you wonder if this is the moment when some of those rocks and boulders decide to take the path of least resistance, give up the fight, and roll downhill?

The rocky great wall
Good news: easy trail Bad news: what if those rocks decide to tumble?

But it is all too easy to let your attention drift from the mountain above to the mountains nearby:

Clearcut areas
Naked slashes on a neighboring mountain

Of course, it only LOOKS like we are in the middle of nowwhere.  At some points you can shift perspective entirely:

Truck stop
Looking down – in every sense of the term – on civilization

But Derek has a wonderful way to find great photos and, as Jan said last night, he has a real talent for framing them.  I love this picture of some lonesome trees:

lonesome trees
Lonesome trees

We are planning on the notoriously steep Mailbox Peak hike next Thursday.  We have not finalized our plans for the weekend but it looks like Granny and Grampy are going to get a friendly visitor for the weekend, so no hike until next week.

Looking forward to testing our legs on Mailbox Peak (and yes, someone put an actual mailbox on the summit and we will put the picture right here).

Mt. Washington via Great Wall (and Steve) 4/26/2015

Steve at the summit

Many thanks to Steve who was able to re-route me and get me to the Mt. Washington summit.  But I am getting ahead of myself.

My plan today was to hike Mt. Washington again but this time via a route that Derek and I had noticed, the Great Wall trail:

Great Wall
This way to the Great Wall

The trail is awesome with views, on average, much better that the main trail.  For example:

Great view
Typical sublime view

A couple of sections of the trail are closely bordered by what I would categorize as, well, as great walls:

Great Wall
Part of the actual Great Wall

I was following footprints.  There was so much snow, and I did not know the way, so the “trail” for me was footprints from someone a few days previously who had blazed the way:

My map

Ultimately the footprints just stopped and doubled-back.  Uh oh!  But I pushed on (and on and on) and finally got to a rocky outcrop just below a summit.  It was a summit but not the one I was looking for.  That’s when I turned around and decided to back-track to the main trail and go up to the summit from there.

But, luckily for me, I ran into Steve, who showed me the correct route.  This is a marvelous trail, and it gets ultra-steep right at the end.  But well worth it for the views on the top:

Mt. Ranier
Mt. Rainier from Mt. Washington summit


Great Wall view
Great Wall view


Mt. WA view

I was hoping to do this route and get back to the car in 5 hours, because I am only going to have 5 hours to hike on Wednesday.  I think this route is a bit long for 5 hours but – this hike is great via both trails, we could do the main trail up and down (perhaps that jog to the right at the pond for a switch) in 5 hours no sweat.

Looking forward to Wednesday and thanks again to Steve!  Without Steve I would have failed in my mission of getting to the summit via Great Wall

McClellan Butte on Shakespeare’s birthday

We were in his 'hood
This guy was checking us out

How fitting we would encounter a mountain goat on Shakespeare’s birthday, as one of his great insults (from Henry V) is: “Thou damned and luxurious mountain goat….”

We saw the goat on the way down.  He kept moving around to get a better view of us so we decided to leave him to his own devices.

It was a great day to hike, perfect weather and views to begin with:

Great view
Is this great or what?

McClellan Butte has some very steep sections and we were not hiking fast:

steep trail
If you look closely you can see one of us way up the trail; this is called ‘steep’

We saw a really cool little lake that is shaped like a salmon:

Salmon Pond
This pond looks like a salmon

The trail has many very nice sections:

Trail view
Typical view of the trail

We did not do the famous “scramble” at the top.  The scramble is a final rock pile of 200 or 300 feet that looks like it would be very doable except for one thing, namely, if you slip you die.  We skipped it:

No way
Final scramble – we skipped this one


But we got close and the view from here is amazing:

Nice summit view
Looking down from the top

All in all, this is a very steep and very tough hike and we loved every minute.  We will definitely do it again when the snow is gone to see if we can improve upon our round-trip time of 6 hours.

Mountain view
It’s a beautiful day in the Issaquah Alps neighborhood

We have hikes scheduled for this Sunday, the 26th and Wednesday the 29th.  Should be fun!

2,133 miles to Chicago – Mt. Washington 4/18/2015

Nice to know the distance
2133 miles to Chicago via the old Chicago-Milwaukee-St. Paul-Pacific Railroad

(click on any photo to enlarge and use the ‘back’ button to return)

I would at least entertain the possibility that I overdid it just a little bit today, but it wasn’t all my fault.

Derek is on call this weekend so I wanted to plan a solo hike.  I needed a hike with a trail on which I couldn’t get lost, and I wanted to train for the next hike we have planned (a steep one, McClellan Butte next Thursday, the 23rd) so what the heck.

I parked near Rattlesnake Lake, which is supposed to be about a 5 mile hike down the Iron Horse Trail to the Mt. Washington trailhead.  Iron Horse is the former route of the Chicago-Milwaukee-St. Paul-Pacific railroad, and dead flat for many miles.  It is a sub-trail of the John Wayne trail – a trail that is far longer than The Duke’s military service.

Anyway, I hiked Mt. Washington a few weeks ago with Derek and we did it the normal way, parking near the trailhead and walking down Iron Horse from west to east maybe 100 yards to the second little trail on the left.

Derek knew what he was looking for and it was easy.  Alas, this morning, walking from east to west I missed the little trailhead and went an extra mile before I realized I was a dunderhead.

So what I planned as 10 miles round trip on Iron Horse plus 8 miles up and down Mt. Washington wound up being 12 miles on Iron Horse plus Mt. Washington for a total hike today of 20 miles.

It actually wasn’t that bad and I am raring to go for Thursday’s challenge.

From the Mt. Washington trailhead to the top was 2:15 minutes, an hour faster than Derek and I did it before.  I have learned the lesson of walking slowly when it gets steep, just trudge along, get into a Zen-like state of one foot after the other.  It wasn’t so bad, 4 hours and 10 minutes round trip.

Just hiking along Iron Horse is nice.  It is dead level, but about 1100 feet elevation, with a north view (your left as you walk towards Mt. Washington) that is beautiful.  For example, check out this perspective on the previously hiked and blogged Mt. Si and Little Si:

A different view of Si
Little Si on the left, Mt. Si on top

There are some tough sections of the trail on the way up:

Sometimes the trail is rocky
I call this “trail”


Things are also looking very good about halfway up:

What we are talking about
The ‘hood

I had a couple of friends at the very top, two birds I tried to photograph as they ate the bread I shared (they have been fed before and know the drill).  They were pretty quick and hard to photograph with our less-than-professional camera:

Hungry Birds
Trying to get a picture of one of the birds who was begging for food (I gave the two of them some bread)

Here is the view from the toppermost-of-the-poppermost:

Not bad!
View from Mt. Washington summit

And here are a couple of nice views from just below the summit, where the view is less constricted:

Amazing view from just below the Mt. Washington summit


Great view
Beautiful view just below Mt. Washington summit

What is the difference between a ‘beautiful’ view and an ‘amazing’ view? – you tell me.

I made it back to the car about 8 hours after I pushed off and immediately fell back to earth.  The Rattlesnake Lake area is popular to put it mildly.  For a mile or more there were cars parked bumper-to-bumper just off both lanes of the narrow two-lane highway, with people hiking on the road.  It took me 15 minutes in the car to go about a mile, which is my pace on Iron Horse.

Then, the freeway back home was gridlocked thanks to some construction and concomitant lane closures.

Oh, well.  These hikes are wonderful mini-vacations from modern life and every moment is precious.

And those mileage-to-Chicago signs are a reminder of just how far Jan and I have traveled from home.

Little Si 4/9/2015 with Derek and Finley

What a great day!

Little Si is possibly the most popular hike in the area.  Relatively speaking it is a gentle hike – Little Si is the little brother of Mount Si – but it is far from flat, and is challenging enough that the hike to the top is terrific exercise.

Particularly for Derek, who carried Fin on his back the whole way.


A boulder in the boulder garden
A boulder in the boulder garden


Typical forest scene
Typical forest scene
The summit is in sight
The summit is in sight
On top!
On top!
Grampy and Fin made it to the top as well
Grampy and Fin made it to the top as well
Little Si's big brother
Little Si’s big brother
We hiked across this one and are going to do it again soon
We hiked across this one and are going to do it again soon

We went from bottom to top (with a detour through the Boulder Garden) and back down in just over 3 hours.  From there we went to the local excellent Mexican Restaurant (Ana’s, for the record) and from there up to a nearby playground because Derek and Grampy wanted to play.

A wonderful day – we have many more hikes we want to do, and our next planned hike is a week from Sunday, the 19th, while Jill, Brittany, Finley, Granny Janny and many others celebrate the little new guy who is coming in June.


Tiger Mountain 4/4/2015

Yesterday Derek and I did a nice ~16 mile hike up and down and around Tiger Mountain.  We would need one those GPS devices that integrates with mapping software to show the route we took but this Washington Trail Association description is pretty close:


I arrived at Derek’s house at 6 and we were on the trail at 6:25.  It was just a bit dark (we have headlamps but didn’t bring them along) when we started and somehow, we learned on the way back, we completely missed a beautiful little pond not far from the trail head.

The weather was wonderful.  It was not warm and sunny during the entire 8-hour hike.  But the variety was fun – grey and cloudy, some rain, some sleet, some hail, a reasonably fierce snow squall, followed by warm and sunny at the end.

The elevation gain on this hike was not in the league of Mt. Washington or Mt. Si (or McClellan Butte, which we are going to tackle as soon as the weather permits) but there were seven or eight sections with enough elevation gain to get our attention.

We have been experimenting with pace.  When you hike mountains you have to pace yourself appropriately.  We met one guy yesterday whose pace was a run.  He ran from the bottom to the top and back down again.

That is not our pace.

We have to go at my pace (Derek can go faster than me, and with Finley on his back!) because I am a decrepit old man.  During the week I practice my pace on a hilly training walk in my neighborhood.

I power-walk downhill and level, but slow down considerably on the hills.

Yesterday, that pacing strategy worked great.  We did a very long and steep section at one point without a single break to calm down the calves or catch our breath.  Slow and steady when it is steep, faster on the kinder sections works fine.

We are doing another hike on Thursday, the Ninth, and since Finley is on spring break next week, if she wants, we could be a threesome.  One option is to drive to the base of Cougar Mountain (not a very tall “mountain”, at least in this part of the world) and hike to the little Cougar Mountain Zoo, hang out there for awhile, and hike back.

But we will see if she wants to go.  If not – well, if the recent snowfall up in the Issaquah Alps has melted we might try the mighty McClellan Butte.

No camera yesterday, still trying to figure out how to show the awesomeiositude of the beautiful environment we are so lucky to be able to enjoy.

Mt. Si – 3/26/2015

Yesterday, March 26, 2015, Derek and I hiked to the top – well, almost the tippety-top – of Mount Si.

The Mount Si hike is one of the most popular hikes in this area.  Indeed, yesterday, a Thursday, we met far more people on the various trails than we had in all our previous hikes combined.  But it was a beautiful day.   Instead of the cool weather and rain we had dealt with on some of our previous hikes, it was sunny and warm, and the moisture was from our sweat.

But let’s start at the beginning.

Derek takes Fin to school so we meet at a local (downtown Snoqualmie) coffee shop about 8:30.  I was sitting around drinking a latte and got up to toss out some trash and my hiking boots got stuck together – the laces snagged on something – and I went down, hard, against the floor and the table next to me.

Ouch!  I banged up my right hand, shoulder, and hip and was sore during the hike.  I am a little sore this morning, Friday the 27th, as I type.

Anyway, we got to the Little Mt. Si parking lot about 9:10 and took off up the trail.  Little Mt. Si is way, way popular and there were a bunch of hikers straight off.  Shortly after we started we hit a loop, and we left the main trail to go onto the loop.

The loop intersected what is called “the old Mt. Si” trail.  It apparently used to be the main trail up to the top of Mt. Si, but a new parking lot a little way from the Little Mt. Si lot, and a new, more gentle trail from there has left the old trail in the dust.

Literally, because it is not maintained, it is a little rough in a couple of places, and it is mostly rather steep.  In other words, it is a great trail to hike.

Derek took a bunch of picture on the way up and we will sort through them and put a few in this blog.  From the verbal description viewpoint, I can say that the day was sunny and warm, the forest we hiked through is magnificently beautiful, and it was 100% fun the entire way.

Speaking of Derek’s pictures, here are a few:

This is Mount Rainier from the top of Mt. Si
This is Mount Rainier from the top of Mt. Si


This is as good as the trail gets on Old Mt. Si
This is as good as the trail gets on Old Mt. Si


Eventually we hit the main trail and took it up to the almost-top.  The real top is a rocky prominence known as the Haystack.  I sat on a rock overlooking the Snoqualmie valley – you could see downtown Bellevue and, way off in the distance, downtown Seattle (and Mt. Rainier from another angle) while Derek investigated the Haystack.

He got back and reported that it was a decent little hike to where you actually start to ascend the Haystack, so I hiked over there with Derek and he was going to see if he felt like going up.  I would wait for him there.

We got to the jump-off point and noticed a group of three people coming down.  They appeared to be stymied and one of the guys was yelling.  From where we watched it looked totally precarious, and with the one guy’s desperate shouting we had the sick feeling that we were about to witness a tragedy.

Fortunately, after we pushed on a ways, we encountered the group, safe and sound, and pumped up about their adventure.

When we hit the jumping off place Derek decided not to go up, because the time was late (we did have to pick up Finley from the YMCA, where she goes after school if she is not picked up at 2:50) and there were three groups, one descending, two ascending, ahead of us.

Ascending the Haystack looks tough.  The path is narrow and – let’s be clear about this – quite steep.  At this point it isn’t mountain hiking, it is mountain climbing.   Some additional gear might be in order to make it to the top of the Haystack.

In either case, the bottom of the Haystack was our summit and we went back down from there.

It is fun and not all that taxing to go down (I was using the trekking poles a lot, they take some strain off the knees going downhill, and are really good for balance – no good reason I could see of take a tumble off the side of the mountain) but it is always a little  sad towards the end because the trail head is the adventure’s tail.

But we will schedule another hike and I will have something to look forward to.

I will close this trip report with a little observation about mountain hiking in general.

I have been in the Pacific Northwest (hiker’s heaven) for 25 years now.  Only in the past few months have I done much hiking – I did a onesey years ago with Dennis Matthews by the Ho River – because I wasn’t in very good physical shape and I was afraid of bears.

I am still paranoid of bears but have convinced myself to be a tad on the rational side.  The probability of being mauled by a bear is far less than the probability of getting mauled by a vehicle on the freeway, so why not suck it up and lace on the boots (if they don’t trip me up in the coffee shop).

Having grown up in flatland (Illinois) I had no concept of what it is like to be hiking around mountains.  It was not conceivable to me.  No one I ever knew did anything like that.

But I am hooked now.  I can tell you that being up in those mountains is so wonderful I do wish I could retire and do it every day.  One of my Boeing friends is not just a hiker, he is a mountain climber and is in training to ascend Mt. McKinley this June.

Anyway, he has two friends who are retired and hike every day.  I am thinking that a daily morning hike and afternoon round of golf would be just about perfect.

I can dream.


First blog entry

It is Sunday, March 15, 2015 and this is the first blog post for Derek Swanson and Joel Grant’s blog.

Our goal is to record our hikes and walks in the Puget Sound area.

Derek lives in Snoqualmie, WA, with his wife, my daughter, Jill, and their daughter, my granddaughter Finley.  Snoqualmie is smack in the middle of a large number of mountains such as Mt. Si, Mt. Washington, Tiger Mountain, and many others.

We hike through those mountains – sometimes Derek and Finley go by themselves, Finley her dad’s back – and, sometimes, like today, just around the neighborhood.

Anyway, we are looking forward to documenting our adventures and having lots of fun (and great exercise) for as long as we can.