Backpacking in the Enchantments

Leprechaun Lake (6875 ft) in the Enchantments core zone

The Enchantments is a popular backpacking destination in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness area of central Washington state.  It’s popular enough that you have to submit an application via a lottery system many months in advance (much like the Mt. Whitney trailhead).  We managed to score a permit for the “Snow Lakes Zone” and I was able to join Glenn and Michele and several of their friends (John, Kyle and Fritz) last week in Leavenworth to start our four-day adventure.  Unfortunately, Darlene had to bow out for a work-related conflict but we were able to make another backpacking trip to the High Sierra the week before.

It was looking sketchy with all the smoke from the wildfires across the northwest this summer, including a small wildfire burning in another part of the Enchantments area (closing off the other half), but we lucked out with some not-completely-unbreathable air the week we were there and even a remarkably clear day on our second day.

Ready for a nice long climb from the Snow Lakes trailhead

On our first day, we hiked from the Snow Lakes trailhead at about 1400 ft and climbed about 4000 ft over eight or nine miles to the far side of Snow Lakes.  It’s a lot of elevation but it’s spread out fairly well and, except for a couple of large rockfalls, the trail is in good condition and there’s plenty of opportunities to get water.  Part of Snow Lakes is used as a reservoir and it was down some 20-30 ft when we arrived – apparently drained like a bathtub by an underground aqueduct that shoots a huge jet of water out the side of the mountain above Nada Lake.   We camped alongside some of the exposed beach of Snow Lakes for two nights.

Working through the rockfalls between Snow Lakes and Nada Lake

Glenn and Fritz volunteered to keep watch over our campsite the second day as the rest of us headed up over the western ridge from Snow Lakes to the “core zone” of the Enchantments area.  That turned out to be not so much a trail as a rocky mountain goat path, scrambling up over granite outcroppings.  It was hard to picture carrying a full 40-pound pack over that but many people do the Enchantments as a 18+ mile through hike.  The craziness of that trail aside, the many lakes of the core zone were lovely, though we only went as far as the shore of Perfection Lake (while looking for mountain goats) before making our return to our camp.

Climbing the pass from Snow Lakes up over the ridge

On our third day, we packed up camp late in the morning and headed down the short distance through the rockfalls to Nada Lake, with a brief sojourn to the more natural looking half of Snow Lakes – where we stumbled into a small herd of deer who were remarkably unconcerned with our presence.  We camped along Nada Lake at the base of a huge rockfall of massive boulders that extended all the way up the mountain.  And on our last day, we got a close encounter with a family of mountain goats as we made a leisurely hike all the way back down to the trailhead.

Camped at Nada Lake (4900 ft)

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Backpacking the Silver Divide

I had promised Darlene a substitute backpacking trip when we found out she would no longer be able to go on our upcoming backpacking trip in Washington state.  We were able to take four days over the Labor Day weekend and I picked out a promising area that I hadn’t been to north of Lake Thomas A. Edison that would give Darlene another taste of the High Sierra.

We took off Saturday afternoon amid some unusual high temps as well as heavy smoke that had blown down from numerous wildfires in Oregon and Northern California.  It was a five and a half hour drive to get to the trailhead, including an interesting drive over a very rough, one lane road from Huntington Lake that goes over Kaiser Pass at 9184 feet.  We found a spot to camp along the road near the High Sierra Ranger Station on Saturday night and to wait to get a wilderness pass in the morning.

A meadow along Silver Pass Creek

We had our pick of numerous trailheads near Lake Edison but settled on doing a loop up and over part of the Silver Divide by following the John Muir Trail / Pacific Crest Trail over Silver Pass and then returning via Goodale Pass.  (View map.)  The smoke from the distant fires was still pretty heavy and worrisome on Sunday morning but we managed to just barely catch the backpacker’s ferry boat across Lake Edison and that cut out four miles of hiking our way around the reservoir to get started.  From the ferry landing (7643 ft), it’s about nine miles to the top of Silver Pass (10,900 ft).

Our room with a view over Chief Lake at 10,400 ft.

There’s lots of small, alpine lakes scattered along the divide and we found a lovely spot to spend two nights overlooking Chief Lake just below Silver Pass at about 10,400 ft.  Thankfully the smoke wasn’t too bad at altitude and it mostly cleared out overnight with the winds and occasional brief showers.  Not much to see in the way of stars though with a very bright full moon on display.

Sunset skies over the distant Minarets to the north

In the morning, we were treated to views of the distant Minarets (part of the Ritter Range) up near Mammoth.  There were a good deal of mosquitos in the morning and evening but not as much as I had feared given our really wet winter this year.  The weather alternated between periods of sunshine and heavy clouds with brief sprinkling while we ventured up a nearby ridge on the Silver Divide to get some more stupendous views of our surroundings.

Enjoying the panorama perched on a ridge above Silver Pass

Monday night was tough to sleep through as we had hours of heavy gusting winds but eventually it quieted down.  Our return journey on Tuesday was about 12 miles over Goodale Pass (10,997 ft) down to the Vermillion Resort on Lake Edison.  However, it was clear my boots were not going to make it – the soles were completely disintegrating.  They’re probably also why I lost my footing and ended up crashing into a creek when I attempted to push off one rock to leap to another.  I ended up using my shoelaces to tie the soles to the bottom of my shoes and keep them from coming completely separated before reaching the end of the trail.  I might need some new boots now though.

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A Total Eclipse of the Sun

Darlene and I managed to meet up with Glenn, Michele and Seaerra in Eastern Oregon this past week to experience the total solar eclipse together.  We snagged a nice dispersed camping spot in the Malheur National Forest in an area I had scouted out back in June and we arrived four days early to get ahead of any potential crowds.  As it turns out, we were in a remote enough area to only see a scattering of other campers.

We were also very lucky with the weather as there were a number of distant wildfires filling the skies with smoke days before and then it turned cloudy Sunday afternoon.  But on Monday, the day of the eclipse, we had clear blue skies!  (And smoke-filled skies the very next morning.)

A short video montage of the eclipse viewing experience (2.5 minutes)

And yes, seeing a total solar eclipse is truly an amazing experience.  There’s the hour or so of build up beforehand as the light turns queer and dim and the heat of the sun fades away but then, as the last thin crescent splinter of sunlight disappears, you pull off your eye protection and… boom!  The sun’s gorgeous corona suddenly appears streaming all around the pure black disc of the moon.  It’s an incredible sight to behold.  The sky was dark enough to reveal a couple of planets and a few brighter stars.  The sky doesn’t go completely dark because of both the sun’s wispy corona and scattered sunlight from 35 miles away or less in every direction, outside the shadow of the moon.

The view was entirely captivating but, before we knew it, our two minutes of totality was already ending: a small bright bead of light starts to form which quickly brightens to create the stunning “diamond ring” effect.  And then back on with the solar filters and glasses.

I had several cameras set up and recording different perspectives: one with a telephoto lens, one on a drone hovering out-of-earshot, one focused on the scene of us and one on my telescope to capture a much closer view (an 8-inch Schmidt-Cassegrain with a focal reducer to widen the view) and I’m so glad I did as we were able to see several solar eruptions in progress around the edge.  Gorgeous!

Darlene and Michele also took some nice pics and video with handheld cameras.  Click through for the full gallery of pictures and videos:

     

Here’s Michele (my sister-in-law)’s take on the experience: Midnight Sun


Update:  Somebody asked me about our white sheet spread out on the ground and whether we had managed to see the elusive “shadow bands”.  The answer is no, but this question prompted me to go back to the video that was rolling the whole time to see if I could find them.

They’re supposed to be very faint, thin, moving shadows (aka, “shadow snakes”) that are difficult to see and more difficult to record.  We had looked specifically for them on the sheet about a minute before totality and then of course we were completely distracted by the amazing show in the sky afterward.

However, examining the video recording more closely and turning up the contrast, I think I may have found them:

Shadow bands?

 

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Bridge Out!

Big Sur got hit hard with the heavy rains earlier this year, with several massive land slides and the forced demolition of the Pfeiffer Canyon Bridge.  This severely isolated the community around Big Sur and so a temporary, emergency foot path was created to allow residents to get supplies.  They’ve since opened up a path through to the public.  So, until the replacement bridge is completed (end of September), you can park down near the road closure at the Pfieffer Big Sur State Park, hike the steep 1/2 mile trail and get to ride highway 1 with much reduced traffic.

And that’s what I did today with Mark and his family and friends!  We hiked over and rode as far as Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park and the McWay Falls (about 20 miles round trip).

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Flying Over Humpbacks

I saw this news article in the Santa Cruz Sentinel this morning talking about how active the humpback whales have been near shore off of Santa Cruz and Aptos these past few weeks.  So Darlene and I grabbed the drone and dashed down to Seacliff State Beach.  I’ve been wanting to try flying the drone to get nice, aerial views of the whales.  (A lot of the coastline is protected via the Monterey Bay Marine Sanctuary but flying in this area is allowed.)

There were probably a dozen of them near shore – you could see them popping up every which way!  The lighting wasn’t great (completely overcast) as the marine layer had yet to burn off but it was still very fun to hang around with the drone waiting for them to appear.

It’s quite the challenge to find them and stay with them using the narrow view of the drone’s camera – even when you can easily see them from shore.  Darlene was helping by watching the feed with the goggles because it’s also hard to see small/distant details on the iPhone or iPad screen, particularly when you’re outside. It’s much easier to see with the goggles but then of course all you can see is what the drone sees.

It was hard tracking them too because once they go under it’s hard to predict where to be looking when they come back up. You want to get closer for more detail but if you’re too close you won’t see them at all when they resurface off camera (which happened repeatedly) – and of course not so close as to harass them.  I should point out that the limited view angle of the drone’s camera makes them appear closer than they really are and yet I still had to heavily crop every one of these clips to make the whales appear large enough in the frame – even in the most distant shots.

I did put a polarizer on the drone camera to try to cut through the reflection of the water surface but it didn’t work that well with the diffuse overcast light so it might work better in directed sunlight.

Need more practice! ;-)

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Two More Bobcats

I heard a strange, low moaning/growl from the scrub behind the house.  It definitely got Pan and Hera’s attention.  It sounded like a noise a calf might make – but when I waited around to see if whatever it was would emerge, it turned out to be a pair of juvenile bobcats growling at each other:

Video footage of two bobcats hanging out behind the house (2:31, 51 MB)

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On the Mendocino Coast

Last week, Darlene and I were able to spend six days following the Mendocino Coast (with the cats in the Traveling Cat Adventure Vehicle, of course), continuing north from where we left off on the Sonoma Coast in December, just north of Fort Ross.  We discovered that all the state park campgrounds were full going up the coast for the coming days but we kept managing to find something.

We stayed the first night at Stillwater Cove and then snagged a spot in an overflow area at Salt Point State Park, where we spent an afternoon mountain biking up to the top of the park and part of the morning flying the drone around.  We visited the Point Arena Lighthouse, which turned out to be more interesting than I expected and we snagged a nice spot in another overflow area on the beach at the Van Damme State Park.  We were able to grab a vacated spot in the park the next morning and then headed out to explore the Mendocino Headlands.  We also checked out the Russian Gulch State Park.

This area around Mendocino has a lot of cool sea caves – we’ll need to come back some time and book a guided sea kayak tour to check them out.  Fort Bragg turned out to be pretty uninteresting and we just passed through, stopping at MacKerricher State Park instead for lunch and to walk around.  Our final and fifth night was at Westport Union Landing State Beach overlooking the bluffs.  At this point, Highway 1 turns inland and you leave the coast for good.  Our last day was essentially spent just getting back home to lots of traffic jams.

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A Very Mysterious Package

A month ago I received a mysterious package containing a message in a bottle, clippings, printed emails regarding Kelsey Marine Salvage, a pendant marked with symbols, a message written in pictographs and a modern nautical map of part of the Philippine Islands.  It appears to be some sort of puzzle-solving game surrounding a lost treasure.  Seeing as how it arrived soon after my birthday, and how my brother was acting coy in denial, it would appear to be a gift in the form a puzzle game to solve!  Looking on the web, I saw that others have received these packages many months ago and have formed groups to try to solve them.  However, I’ve avoided looking too hard on the web since I don’t want to spoil the fun of figuring it out.

More recently, I received a second package containing hand-drawn, pseudo-aged map fragments, a contract between pirates, pages from a diary and more printed emails.  So… aye!  We have lost treasure and pirates!

Darlene and I finally spent some time on this last weekend and found that solving the code puzzle in the first package ended up pointing to the longitude and latitude of an island that was then confirmed in a diary page from the second package.  Seems strange to me that it works this way – that a solved puzzle is simply revealed in the later package.  Instead, I would expect solving one puzzle would lead to the key to another puzzle, rather than being simply given away.  We’ll see, I guess.

Without giving too much away, the contents of the second package made it possible to use the message in the bottle and the amulet to pinpoint another location on the modern Philippines map, so we’ll see what comes of it.  That appears to be all there is to figure out so far.  There clearly must be at least one more package coming.


Update: Yes, a third package has arrived!  This one is pretty cool too.  A wooden box retrieved from the sand, containing an animal horn with carvings on it, all wrapped in oil cloth:

  

Surprisingly though, the carvings on one side of the horn only confirm what we previously solved in the first two packages.  (Drawing of the lines on the map and interpreting the message-in-a-bottle as to how to project from the intersection points of those lines.)  On the other side, it does have a little treasure map of the island marking out a trail to follow but I don’t yet see what we can do with it.  And I’m pretty sure we’re not expected to fly out to the Philippines to investigate the island in person.

Another package to come?


Update: Oh, yes.

  

And now several theories confirmed, regarding both the content and the intention of the packages – which I will refrain from divulging to avoid spoiling anything for anybody, except to say… very cool!  Also, I guess my original name for this post was much more apropos than I could have known.

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Layover on Mt. Shasta

Last stop on our return from Oregon was a couple of nights near and on Mt. Shasta in California.  We enjoyed a lazy morning after camping out off a forest road an hour north (with Shasta in view) and then drove up to Bunny Flat on Mt. Shasta at 7000 ft. and spent the afternoon hiking a couple of miles up to the Sierra Club climber’s hut (built in 1923!).  We found a nice spot to camp afterwards just below Bunny Flat.

  

This ended Pan and Hera’s longest outing in the Traveling Cat Adventure Vehicle – three weeks!  They seem to have adapted quite well to traveling in it and it seems like we could go indefinitely now.  Yay!

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Newberry National Volcanic Monument

Heading south from Mt. Hood in late June, we stopped off at the Crooked River gorge in the Peter Skene Ogden State Park between Madras and Redmond.  We were a bit bewildered by how many people were gathering and setting up lawn chairs as if waiting for a big event.  Unfortunately, we made the mistake of asking. ;-)  Turns out they were all there awaiting the passing of an historic steam train engine (Southern Pacific 4449) to cross the bridge.  It was due within the hour so we relocated the Traveling Cat Adventure Vehicle and decided to wait.  After a couple of hours though, it became clear from news being relayed around that there had been delays and it was still an hour or so out.  So we bailed.

Our destination was actually the Newberry National Volcanic Monument and this proved to be a nice place to spend a few days.  We camped the first and last night on some forest roads and one night at one of the campgrounds in the caldera alongside Pauline Lake.  We had a crazy red sky sunset one night, enjoyed some early morning kayaking on the completely still water and a nice trail ride up to near the caldera rim on our mountain bikes.  We hiked the mile-long Lava River Cave lava tube and checked out the lava tree casts.  There’s actually plenty of other trails and caves to visit too but we had to move on.

    

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