gothic basin (outside the season)

Standing in thigh-deep snow I toe with my right foot, pushing forward with my knee until I feel the scrape of metal on stone.  I push off my poles slowly, adjust my center of gravity, and stand on my new foothold.  Slowly I bring my left leg up, pendulum at the knee, and beat back the snow, but as I search for another hold my left pole gives way and plunges deeper into the snow, sending me sprawling backwards and sliding several feet until my crampon catches on the base of an evergreen.  Lying there I can’t help but think that at least it smells nice.

And how stupid it was to sell my snowshoes.

It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that hiking in deep snow with crampons is ineffective, but it’s also fairly reckless –its only a matter of time before the spikes on one leg catch the tender flesh of the other.  But when you make a last-minute decision to hike to a basin out of season and then oversleep, you work with what you’ve got, and what I’ve got is a set of crampons.

I’d made my decision late last night after feeling the restlessness of a wasted day in the city snarl up my spine.   Declarations that “you need these days” or “you need to take time to relax” came from well-meaning family and friends, but they just made me that much more annoyed.  Life isn’t for relaxing, I’d think as I responded agreeably, and days off aren’t for catching up on sleep and watching 30 Rock.  I mean, Tina Fey is awesome, but not awesome enough when you live somewhere this beautiful.

So I’d leafed through my hiking books and settled on something in the North Cascades/Snoqualmie Baker region since I was on a budget, was flying solo, and was not in a position to shell out $35 in ferry fees (plus gas) to head out to my beloved peninsula.  The color coded tabs in my Craig Romano tome led me to a few hikes that I hadn’t checked off this summer, and after checking WTA trail reports and seeing either snow-closed roads or roads on the losing end of a wash out, I opted for Gothic Basin, a popular hike with a lake and some alpine views that would likely be less crowded, being outside the suggested hiking season.

The ride to Gothic is surprisingly easy.  The closest town, Granite Falls, is only about an hour from Seattle, and from there it’s a relatively easy 32 miles to the trailhead in the park.  You’ll need a Interagency or a Northwest Forest Pass to park, the latter of which you can get from the Lochsloy Store on Granite Falls Highway (along with any other forgotten items *cough* gloves *cough*) for a reasonable price.

the start…down the road from where you’d expect.

The trail starts at a gated former mining road just east of the snow gate for the rest of the park (I’m not sure how accessible this will be once the real snows start coming).  Important note: the start is down the road from the parking lot, which marks the beginning of several other trails (including one across the road)–these are not the way to go; look for the threatening signs.

The road ambles for about a mile giving close views of the Sauk river and the surrounding mountains.  A comprehensive trail description is available here, but I figured I’d point out a few fuzzy spots that tripped me up (a reminder to always bring a good map, not pictures you take of one with the iPhone they will pry from your smug, tech-savvy hand when you’re found in the spring):

a bridge to old(ish) growth. don’t take it.

Around the half mile point you’ll come to a bridge that cuts right and goes into some older growth, which is a change you’re looking for.  But this isn’t it.  Continue straight toward Weden Creek.

Eventually you’ll hit the river, bear right (at about a mile) and come to a kiosk for Gothic Basin.  Now you can carry on a bit less perplexed.  After another half mile or so you’ll reach a stream crossing, which as the book mentions, can be tricky at high water.

crossing consisting of a few short logs and moss-covered rocks.

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hunting in cove 2: it’s not about law; it’s about community

I started my morning mindlessly perusing Facebook and sipping a cup of bad coffee. Then I stopped on an image that confused me.  It was a diver at Cove 2, recognizable by the gravel beach and seawall–and he was holding a sizable limp octopus.

As I followed the link to the NWDC forum page, I learned that this animal was not dead of natural causes (actually very much alive), but rather, that the individual holding it had ‘hunted’ the animal from its den and had been observed (allegedly) punching it as he swam it back to shore.

Like every other diver on the page, my blood boiled.  Octopuses are something of a sacred animal to divers, particularly in the PNW.  They fascinate us with their intelligence, evolutionary adaptations, and the instinctual tuning that causes them to protect their offspring as they slowly starve to death over a series of months.

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floating the skagit

For Rod’s (the previous owner) of Wildwater River Tours (now Wildwater River Guides) last run, a group of guides, past and present (his time with the company spans 30 years) came out to paddle with him for the last time.  Known more for its beauty than its whitewater (though there are a few fun rapids), the Skagit at this time of year boasts an robust eagle population that draws aficionados out to catch a look at the numerous nesting pairs along the river.  Tucker, Neils, Ashley, and I were happy to participate in Rod’s final float.  I was most excited for the whitewater (and my new drysuit).  Below is the extend of the frothy stuff; they can’t all be white-knuckle videos.

An eager eagle watcher?  WRG runs trips from the end of November through January; it’s a great chance to see some of the coolest animals in the area up close.  Dress warmly!

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tieton run

I’d never had a chance to run the Tieton, so when the the dam holding back Rimrock Reservoir let loose, Neils suggested that I tag along with Wildwater and learn it.  Not a bad idea, given that the last river I’d attempted to learn–the White Salmon–deflated my ego a bit by being way more technical than I had expected and also by kicking the crap out of me.

After packing and leaving Seattle at midnight we crashed at 2:30am in Neil’s garage before loading up the car and driving towards Naches, WA, and into what, at the time, was one of three wildfires in eastern Washington.

Smoke-flavored river guide is on the menu.

I decided to paddle in a raft with another guide for my first run, opting out of IKing a river I wasn’t familiar with, and when we launched I was glad I had.  While there was less obstruction than the White Salmon, this river moved fast.  Unnervingly so.  It was like a tighter, faster Wenatchee with more strainers.

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the parental files: day 9

Today Mom and Dad left Seattle, which was a true bummer.  I picked them up at Kevin’s place and we had a quick breakfast at Phinney Market, and then stopped by my place before making the drive down to the airport.

I was legitimately sad to see them go.  At first I had been a little daunted by the length of their trip–9 days is a long time, but as we drove south past the stadiums I couldn’t think of a trip where we’d had more fun together.  Sure we’d all had moment of being tired and worn out–I was pretty beat myself, so I can’t imagine how they handled it–but there was never a point I hadn’t enjoyed having them here.  Part of the appeal, I think, was my ability to show them all of the wonderful things here that cause me to continually make the painful decision to live on a coast so far away from my family.  And after four long years, I was finally able to show my Mom and Dad the sunset over the Olympics from a Seattle ferry, the thrill of  Sounders game, or the fun of Woodland Park Zoo.  They’d met my friends, seen my home, and experienced my city, and we’d had a lot of fun experiencing all of that together.  When I dropped them off at their gate and waited at the security checkpoint I kept looking forward to the next time we’d be making a trip together, and hoping that it was soon.  It’s easy to get wrapped up in your own life and its moments and forget that time is passing on the other coast too; I’d never forgotten how important my family was to me, but sometimes it feels like the reminders have gotten a little too spaced out.

I waved goodbye as my parents rounded the corner past security and out of site, made my way back to the car and started to drive home.  As the city came into view I noticed the clouds closing in overhead; Seattle, it seemed, was about to pay up on some of its precipitation debt.  It hadn’t rained in the 9 days my parents had been here.  Once again, their timing had been perfect.


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the parental files: day 8

Though I haven’t been able to volunteer in about a year, Seattle Aquarium still feels like home, and I was happy to walk in at 9:30 this morning and wave to Madison diving in the Window On Washington tank in the great hall.  As I scrambling to remember a few facts about the tank for my parents I heard a call from behind “Hey, Bryan!”  It was Jeff Christensen, Dive Safety Officer for the Seattle Aquarium and all-round dive guru, handling the dry-side interpretation for Madison.  While he initially intimidated the living bajeezus out of me when I was going through our dive-skills class, Jeff is really a very nice guy and incredibly knowledgeable about every aspect of diving you’d care to pick his brain on.  We chatted for a bit and he threw me the mic “Here, talk to Madison!”

“Hey Madison!  How’s it going?” I spoke into the headpiece.  Madison waved to Mom and Dad as Jeff kindly offered to let me go live (full broadcast over the speakers), which I declined in a panic.  We said goodbye to Jeff and Madison and let them get ready for the show and then headed up to the cafe where I knew Alan, Steve, and Brad–and the rest of my old warmwater team–would be having morning coffee after having prepped the tanks.

I happily caught up with Alan and introduced my parents to Brad, who immediately lied to them about what a responsible volunteer I’d been, and went about telling stories of some of our more recent diving adventures.

Once coffee was finished we made our way around the usual tour spots with Brad, who had cleared our access with Alan (I no longer had a working pass, either).  Mom and Dad got a view of coldwater holding, quarantine, and food prep areas, as well as the top-down view of the Wow tank we’d just been peering into, while Brad aided my rusty brain with the correct facts about what they were looking at.

checking out the top of the WOW tank

Warmwater holding and behind-the-scenes was the next stop, including my personal favorite–the enormous hard coral and giant clam tank.  I’ve always loved the views from the top, with the edges of stony corals nearly peaking out of the water.  Despite their relatively slow growth rate, the corals had gotten markedly larger since my last visit, and I think Mom and Dad had an appreciation of the colors and the complex setup of the tank given some of the smaller systems I’d kept when I was back east.

hard coral tank

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the parental files: day 7

The morning came too early, as they are wont to do, and after picking up the troops at Kevin’s at 6:30 we were soon standing in line for the Clipper, boarding the ship, and then struggling to stay conscious on the 2+ hour ride to Victoria.

The ride was smooth, and most of the family was asleep as I sat drinking an Irish coffee and attempting to justify the $7 I had spent on it.  I leafed through the magazines I wouldn’t read, and then the book I’d never touch, and eventually settled on staring out the window and slipping in and out of consciousness until the port came into view.

Victoria exudes the feel of a retirees vacation destination; everyone sports fashionable tourist-wear, is window shopping, and rents scooters to whisk them around the coastal roads under bright blue skies.  Add in a voice over about zero APR for the first six months and you’ve got a Capital One commercial.  It is touristy, cleanly historical, and makes for a very nice weekend out for couples.  As someone who prefers tents and woods to bus tours and wine tastings, it was a bit of a stretch from the norm for me, but one I was happy to make for my parents.

Mom finds a Victoria moose

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the parental files: day 6

In a city of proud traditions and stores of pride (if at times ironic), it’s a big deal when something like the presence of the Blue Angels stands out as something special.  A staple at SeaFair, the Angels announce their arrival with weeklong practices in Seattle over Lake Washington, thundering overhead with more Gs than most of us have in our bank accounts.

The nice thing about the practices is that it allows people like us to watch the Angels in action without having to sit through most everything else, particularly the crowds.  With a late breakfast under our belts and a lawnchair in tow, we made our way to a friend of Kevin’s house on the far side of the lake to park the car and walk to the water’s edge.  A moment of watching a neighborhood osprey was shattered with the thunder of afterburners as, from across the lake, the angels screamed across the water and over our heads.  It was on.

the angels!

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the parental files: day 5

It’s time for the zoo!

In flashes of childhood memory I have one that stands out for each parent that I think influenced my interests.  For my Dad, it was a day we ventured out in search of Buttermilk Falls, a trip he may not remember (I don’t know if we ever found them, actually), but I do remember reaching a river with a cool waterfall nonetheless.  For my Mom, it was being woken up early and asked if I wanted to join her on a class trip to Boston to go to the New England Aquarium; I couldn’t eat my Rice Crispies fast enough.

Dad has, I feel, always shared my enjoyment of the outdoors, and Mom my love of zoos and aquariums.  So I knew she would enjoy our trip to the Woodland Park Zoo, a Seattle gem so well hidden that I often forget that it’s there, and I live 6 blocks away from it, literally.  Occupying an entire block, the Woodland Park Zoo is truly impressive; home to a wide collection of animals including snow leopards (and cubs), grizzlies, lions, tigers, red pandas, penguins, hippos, and elephants to name a few, the zoo itself resides behind a muted green fence and is marked only by its animal-shaped parking signs.

We were a bit later in waking up since it had been such a late night, so the sun was up and warm when we walked through the gates and I bought a yearly membership (support the zoo!), grabbed a map, and made a plan of attack with the parents.  Slowly by surely we began to tackle the park–which can easily take up the full day.  Divided up by region, there are several loops connected by lightly marked trails that can have an Alice in Wonderland effect on visitors.  We made our way past hippos and tigers, on to wolves and elephants, and eventually made our way to the raptor center where we took our seats for the 30-minute raptor show, an educational lecture that explained the birds of the region and demonstrated some of their hunting skills through live flight demonstrations.  The audience also experienced some up-close encounters as some perches had been mounted behind the bleachers, allowing for the raptors to fly so close overhead that we were warned to keep our hands down.

Mom watching hippos

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the parental files: day 4

Since Kevin and I both had to be in our offices today, Mom and Dad were on their own for the first part of the day.  After traveling for the almost two weeks straight, I’m sure they enjoyed the opportunity to have a relaxed morning and catch up on laundry and postcard writing.  After lunch, they hopped a bus downtown to get to the Seattle Art Museum to see the King Tut exhibit.  I would be heading into a 4-hour meeting at work.

Interesting turn of events: King Tut is not at the Seattle Art Museum–it’s at the Pacific Science Center, a mistake that we were apparently not alone in making.  So with the passes I had gotten them they looked around the museum for a while and then headed to a coffee shop to hang out until I was out of work.  I sympathize.  I’ve never really gotten art, and when someone tells me it’s not about “getting it”,  I get annoyed.  If the definition of art is really just anything that allows one to make his or her own interpretation of a piece, then why have museums at all–it’s called the outdoors.  Art show=24/7.  Basically, the Ford Tauruses with christmas lights hanging from the SAM ceiling just piss me off and make me feel like I’m not in on a joke.

After my meeting we’d had a corporate happy hour, and after a few scotches on the company dime I headed down to meet my parents and then walked them down Post Alley to our next destination: Nijo.  Dad had never really tried sushi, and Mom, with no desire to try it but always with a desire to try a new restaurant, agreed to come along.  Once seated we scoured the happy hour menu for entry-level sushi and a terrestrial option for Mom.  The air was warm out on the deck, and it was nice to sit and watch all the cars trying to scramble home (or start on the tricky uphill from Alaskan Ave).  I ordered a spicy tuna roll and some sashimi.  Day opted for the Bainbridge wrap with salmon and shrimp, and Mom landed on some deep fried vegetables of some sort.  After an entire lifetime of being taught by my parents it was nice to be able to show them something new.

dad giving sushi a shot

mom goes for the vegetable; fish is not happening here

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