– Ben Martens


Lopez Island

While Dad and Mom were visiting, we spent a couple nights in a rental house out on Lopez Island. It was the first time any of us had been there and I really enjoyed it. It’s one of the smaller islands, and while none of the islands are “busy”, this one was very quiet/local. Highlights included some nice, quiet beaches and a short hike out to a rocky bluff where we could watch a LOT of seals. Our best meal was at Southend General Store and Restaurant. It’s not a place you would drive by and expect to have good food, but I think we would all be happy to eat there again.

I took a bunch of Photosynths. There’s the view from the deck, the park with the seals, and one showing the inside of the house.

Thanks to Dad and Mom for renting the house and letting us crash the party!

Climbing Mt. St. Helens

Mt. St. Helens is an amazing National Park. The volcano blew in 1980 and experts thought it would be a complete dead zone for 400 years. Within 3 years, life started reappearing in the desolation. Science has rarely had an opportunity to study a spot like this up close. So it’s understandable that they don’t allow very many people on the mountain! Nobody can go inside the crater or along the north side of it where most of the devastation was. You are allowed to climb up the south side, but you need a permit and during most of the year (except the dead of winter) only 100 people are allowed to climb per day.

Last year, AndyD and StehanieW climbed it with their family, but since you have to pick your climbing day months in advance, they got unlucky and climbed in complete fog. They wanted to do it again to see the sights so on Feb 1, Andy snagged some climbing passes.

The climbing group was to include myself, Tim, Chelsea, Andy and Stephanie. Tyla really wanted to come along, but her knees don’t do well on long hikes so she reluctantly abstained. A couple days before we were to head out, Andy and Stephanie had to back out for personal reasons. Tim, Chelsea and I decided to carry on so on Saturday afternoon we headed around to the south side of the mountain. The plan was to stay in a campground the night before so that we could get an early start. Our campground was in Cougar, WA which is about 20 minutes from the trailhead. There are also free campsites (if you have the climbing pass) right at the trailhead but those are first come first serve.

We arrived at the trailhead on Sunday morning around 7:30am and by 8am we were on the trail. This trailhead is called Climber’s Bivouac. At 3900 feet, it’s the highest point that you can drive on Mt. St. Helens. If you’ve driven to the mountain before, you most likely drove to the Johnston Ridge Visitor’s Center that is north of the mountain. There’s also one other smaller Visitor’s Center on the east side. Neither are as high as this trailhead.

The route begins with a 2 mile stroll through the woods. It goes up about 1000 feet. This part flew by on the way up as we were fresh and the trail was simple. At 2 miles, you abruptly come to the end of the tree line and reach a sign saying that you must have one of the climbing passes to carry on past that location. No one is allowed above 4900’ on the mountain without a pass. We had broken out of the clouds a during the hike through the woods and as we continued, we were in blue clear sky with a blanket of clouds below. We could see Mt. Adams and Mt. Hood sticking proudly out of the cloud layer. Quite a sight!

At this point, the trail completely changes character and head up an old lava flow (from an eruption before the 1980 eruption.) This stretch lasts about 1.5 miles and it’s tough. The rocks will rip up your hands so gloves are recommended. There are many points where you have to climb up on all fours. Climbing over these huge boulders is tough to begin with, but to make it even worse, there’s no specific path to follow. There are route markers every couple hundred yards and you just have to make your way to the next one. Sometimes you can see a good route to take and sometimes we seemed to end up taking the hardest possible route.

The lava flow boulders end eventually and now it’s on to the ash! The last mile is a slog up an ash field. For every step up, you slide have a step back. And by this point, you’re really getting up there so the oxygen is a lot thinner than you are used to. This is the point where the wind can also be whipping the ash around so general advice is to make sure you can cover every part of your skin (long sleeves, long pants, and a bandana for your face.) Thankfully the wind was calm so we stuck with gaiters to keep ash out of our shoes and our hiking poles to give us extra stability.

We made it to the top of the mountain (8366 feet above sea level) in 4 hours and 40 minutes. We did get passed by about a dozen people, but looking through other trip reports, this is a respectable amount of time. We said from the beginning that our goal was the top, not the amount of time it took so we took plenty of breaks for photos and rests.

You can walk all the way up to the crater rim and wow, what a view! It’s so unlike anything I’ve ever seen before (and I’ve been to the visitor’s center many times.) The sheer magnitude of it is readily apparent. We stayed up there for about 30 minutes taking in the views of Rainier, Adams and Hood in the distance and watching steam escape from vents in the lava dome in the center of the crater. I hastily snapped a bunch of photos for a panorama. There are a few problems from where it was stitched together and I should have taken more photos, but I had to stand uncomfortably close to the rim and the wind was blowing pretty hard trying to push me in.

As we began our descent, the ash field was pretty simple. You could keep a good pace with a controlled slide on the heels of your feet, and before no time, we were back at the lava fields. Ugh. Going down was harder than going up. We were only about half way through when I could tell my legs were shot. Your calves take a beating going up and the thighs take the brunt going down.

After what seemed like ages, we made it to the tree line. The smooth trail was glorious, but even the gentle downhill slope was super painful on the thighs and knees. Tim and Chelsea definitely set the pace for this part of the hike as I lagged behind. At one point near the end, I had stopped to get something out of my pack and thought I was standing next to a pile of poo. I realized it was my own B.O. The trees seemed to last twice as long as they did on the way up, but we made it to the parking lot, thoroughly beaten and completely covered in ash and sweat.

One big decision on a hike like this is how much water to take. If you’ve ever run out before (as Tim and I have), you want to err on the side of bringing too much. But every liter weighs 2.25 pounds and you don’t want to be carrying any more weight than necessary. I took a 3 liter Camelbak full of water and a 2 liter one full of Gatorade. The Gatorade ran out right at the crater rim and I finished the hike with 1/4 liter left. Perfect!

It took us 3 hours and 20 minutes to get down which means we were hiking for 8 hours plus 30 minutes at the top. Even though we were so tired, the lure of our beds was strong. We went back to the campground, took showers, and packed up the campsite while we were cooking food on the fire. After eating a delicious meal (anything would have tasted good at that point!) we hopped in the truck and headed home.

It was a long day and I don’t know that any of us are jumping to do it again soon, but we’re all thrilled that we did it!

I owe a special thanks to my wonderful wife who was supportive of me going even though she was staying behind. Thank you Tyla! I love you!

Chelsea and I both carried our little cameras up which were easily accessible during the hike. TIm and I both carried our dSLRs to the top, but his was much easier to get to than mine. We took quite a few photos but it’s really hard to show the scale of the hike in these photos! Nonetheless, I’ve included some of my favorites in this post and put more in the photos gallery. You can also view a big panorama from the top of the mountain. Drag your mouse around and zoom in and out to get the full effect. Also notice the thumbnails on the right side of the panorama. If you click on them the page will reorient and zoom in to points that I’ve marked on the photo.






View the full panorama

Grace Lakes Snowshoeing

Mom and Dad came out for Easter. Since they have only been out here once in the winter (two Aprils ago for our wedding), we thought it would be fun to head up to the mountains to see some snow. It seemed like a good opportunity to try snowshoeing so I stopped by REI and rented some snowshoes.

We drove up to Stevens Pass on a beautiful Saturday and parked in Lot 4. From there we walked along the cat track at the south end of the lot and headed back toward Grace Lakes. Since none of us were experts at snowshoeing, it was nice to be able to walk along the cat track though we did venture out into virgin snow. I was amazed at how well they held me up. It worked so well that I figured the snow must have a crunchy layer, but when I took off one snowshoe, I quickly sunk in up to my knee.

We turned around when we got to a sign warning about avalanche control, but we did get to have lunch on a hill with an incredible view. I snapped off a quick panorama series and posted it on PhotoSynth. Photos are also available in the photo gallery (look at the photos posted April 15.)


Snoqualmie Lake

On Saturday, Tim and I set out to do the longest hike yet. It starts with a 12 mile drive down a dirt road and then you hike 7.5 miles into the Alpine Lakes Wilderness to Snoqualmie Lake. For those of you playing along at home, it’s hike #18 from Beyond Mt. Si.) It’s a huge lake and there aren’t very many people there. We found out why.

The first 5.8 miles are fairly easy as you only gain about 600 feet and it’s along a very old, narrow road. The trail follows the Taylor River and crosses a couple waterfalls that are destinations in their own right. The trail is decreasingly small as it gets closer to the fork at 5.8 miles. The south fork heads to Nordrum Lake but we headed north to Snoqualmie Lake.

The next 1.7 miles were some of the roughest trail I’ve hiked. The trail was very narrow and crossed a number of large rock slides. It turns out that trails up the mountain also make a great place for water to flow down the mountain. Much of that stretch of the hike was up small creeks and there were a couple places where we crossed fairly large streams on logs that people had placed over the water.

We were getting pretty tired by the time we hit the lake, but wow was it gorgeous. There were three other small groups there that had set up tents and that was definitely the way to do this hike. We only met two other people on the whole hike who were doing it all in one day. After 3.5 hours of hiking, we spent 30 minutes at the lake, had lunch and then headed back.

The hike down to the fork actually took us a bit longer than the hike up did. Trekking poles would have come in very handy. I had some in my hands at REI the day before but made the mistake of not buying them. We were happy once we got back to the fork but the prospect of hiking 5.8 miles wasn’t looking great. By about the 10 mile mark, I was getting tired and by 12-13 my feet were starting to scream at me. By the time we got to the car, I had a new definition for tired and sore.

The lake was beautiful. I’m glad we did the hike so I know that it’s possible, but I’m not itching to do something that big again in the near future.

Pictures from the hike are available in the photo gallery and an HDView photo is available too.

PS. On Sunday morning, Tim and I were talking about how sore we were when ScottF’s wife came up and told us he summitted Rainier on Saturday. In ONE DAY. Nobody does it in one day, but he did. 21 hours of hiking from 6000 feet to 14,000 feet in snow the entire way. All we did was hike 15 miles to a lake and back. I feel like a wimp. Kudos to Scott though! I hope to follow in his footsteps (although probably a lot slower) some day.

Thunder Knob

Tyla and I headed up to Concrete, WA to camp with her family for the Fourth of July weekend. Photos from our weekend include shots of a hike to Diablo Lake and Gorge Dam, making fire with flint, mini golf, and blowing my new vuvuzella at the parade.

And since I’m obsessed with these HDView photos, you can see Diablo Lake and Gorge Dam in glorious detail. While the Gorge Dam photo doesn’t have a wide field of view, you can zoom in quite far. The full size image is over 100 megapixels!

Annette Lake

I’ve really had the itch to get some hiking and exploring done. Last Saturday the weather and our calendar finally aligned and we took advantage of it. I had planned to drive back down that dirt road that Tim and I found, but after chatting with a forest ranger on the phone, I found out that the trailhead was 7 miles beyond the closed gate because the road was washed out. After flipping through Beyond Mt. Si (fantastic hiking book!) we settled on Hike #20: Annette Lake.

It was a moderate hike with about 1900 feet in elevation gain over seven round trip miles. We set a good pace and made it to the top in good shape. Trip reports on said that there was some ice around the edges of the lake last weekend but it was clear when we got there. There was some snow along the side of the trail and on the surrounding cliffs, but nothing we had to cross.

The lake is gorgeous. Brush and trees run right up to the edge of the lake in most places so there are only a few spots to access the lake. We found a small one, had some food, and braved the cold water. I made it in up to my knees and found it bearable once my legs were numb.

There’s a beautiful campsite by the lake but it was occupied by some unbeautiful people who were doing their part to destroy the surrounding area. Leave it better than you found it, people. It would be fun to hike up there and stay at that site, but you’d have hikers walking through the middle of your campsite regularly.

This trail isn’t too tough so it’s a bit more crowded than some of the more remote alpine lakes. Still, it’s past the more popular Tiger Mountain, Mt. Si and Rattlesnake Ledge hikes so that thins the crowd. Put this one on your list if you haven’t been there already!

There are a few pictures below and a couple more in the photo gallery, but to really feel what it was like at the lake, you should check out this panorama which lets you pan and zoom. If you don’t want to install Silverlight, you can click on the panorama below to vie the 9MB full sized panorama.

Mowich Lake

Saturday was our one year anniversary. 365 days ago, Tyla and I had our first date, and for some reason, she has put up with me for a whole year. To celebrate, we drove down to Mowich Lake.

Mowich Lake is located in the northwest corner of the park, a part I have never been to. It is the deepest and largest lake in the park. You access the lake via a 17 mile long dirt road. Before you go, make sure you check the website to see if the road is open. It just opened last Thursday so it takes them a while to get it ready for traffic. I think the next time we go back, we’ll take an SUV or a truck. The Subie survived, but I felt a bit bad about bouncing it along those washboard roads. Thankfully, the dirt road keeps a lot of people away and there were not a ton of people around. Don’t worry about trying to find a spot in the tiny lot, just park along the road and make your way down to the trail that circles the lake.

We found a very secluded spot right at the water’s edge to have a private picnic lunch. I was tempted to go back to the car for my swimsuit, but after wading in up to my knees, I realized that swimming in a glacier fed lake wouldn’t last too long. It was frigid! By the way, this was the second weekend in a row that I have played in the snow on dormant volcanoes. Have I mentioned I love the Pacific Northwest?

After lunch, we hiked to the south end of the lake where most of the crowd was. There are about 30 camping sites, but it’s really just a big rock field where you can pitch a tent. If you were doing a lot of hiking in the area, it might be worth it, but otherwise I think we’ll skip that campground.

Normally you’d see majestic Mt. Rainier just over the hills but there were too many clouds to give us a good view. You can check out the photos in the photo gallery or view the panoramic shot by clicking the image below (~17MB.)

We finished the day with dinner at Matts’ Rotisserie and Oyster Lounge in Redmond Town Center. (Minus eleventy billion points for auto playing background music when you open their site.)

Thanks to Tyla for yet another wonderful adventure. The last year has been full of them and I can’t wait to see what lies ahead!

Artists Point Panorama

It’s been a while since I’ve done a panoramic stitch, but Saturday’s ride to the top of Artists Point was the perfect opportunity. There are a couple ways to view it. First, you can open the JPG directly but be warned that it’s about 9MB.


I also made an HDView page for this. (HDView is the Microsoft research project for viewing large images. You can read more about it on their site.) You’ll need to download the latest version of the plug-in if you haven’t used it lately, but once you do, it provides a very nice browsing experience. You can zoom and pan your way around the image.

Heybrook Lookout

The Washington Trails Association website is great for discovering the status of various trails (covered in snow? etc) and finding new trails. They have one great site that lists a bunch of mountain fire lookouts that are reachable by day hikes. On Sunday afternoon, we headed for Stevens Pass to check out Heybrook Lookout.

The trailhead is on the north side of US-2 just east of mile marker 37 (east of Index.) The hike itself is about 1.25 miles each way and 1000 vertical feet. It’s a pretty steady steep incline but we made it up to the top in good time. Once you reach the top, you can climb the 86 steps almost to the top of the lookout. Fire lookouts, by definition, have a great view of the surrounding forests and this one does not disappoint. Tyla was a bit nervous when I mentioned that there were bears in the area. We didn’t see any, but I read some trip reports from that area from the same day and some bears were spotted. Make sure you know what to do when you see a bear if you hike around here.

On the way back, there was a lot of traffic heading west and it got backed up around Sultan. We decided to skip the traffic and explore some back roads so we headed south out of Sultan on 311th and the took Ben Howard Rd west to 203. I don’t know if it was faster, but it was a fantastic drive! We need to head back on the motorcycle. I wish I could figure out how to commute to work from there, but the drive is too long. There are some great houses back there.

Pictures are available in the photo gallery and you can click on the photo below for a large panorama from the top of the lookout. It was a bit hard to snap photos because of the sunny day. Not that I’m complaining.

Rattlesnake Ledge

It is Mom and Dad's last day in town so I took them on a hike up to the top of Rattlesnake Ledge. It was a pretty nice day so we had a great view from the top. I, of course, took another panoramic photo. You can click on it for the full size view.