Fall Colors on Granite Mountain

Blueberry bushes cover the side of Granite Mountain.  Josh and I snacked on the sweet fruit on our way to the top.  Vibrant fall colors painted the bushes with red, yellow and orange hues.  The haze was thick from wildfires on the eastern side of the Cascades, yet it was still a beautiful day to be out hiking.

It had been a few weeks since our climb to the top of Mount Rainier and we had to get back out on the trail and this 8 mile route on Granite Mountain did the trick.  It was fairly steep and definitely a great workout.

At the top is a fire lookout where we met a volunteer for the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie Forest.  An Osborne Fire Finder was still in the lookout to be used in locating fires throughout the forest. The volunteer showed us how it is used.  It’s incredible to think of how this structure was built so high up at 5600 ft.  We were told the materials were carried up by mule teams.

It was an incredible hike in the cascades.  If you want to check this trail out, take I-90 from Seattle to exit 47 and park at the Pratt Lake lot.  Go to the WTA website for more information on Granite Mountain.  It might be too late for blueberries, only because I may have plucked the bushes clean!

Crampons, Crevasses and Climbing: An Adventure on Mount Rainier

“It doesn’t get any better than this,” Sara, our IMG guide, expressed as we climbed up the Disappointment Cleaver on the way to the summit of Mount Rainier.  She was referring to the perfect weather conditions we had been blessed with this entire trip.  Our guides set a steady pace for the six of us in the group on summit day.  Next we traversed Emmons Glacier; the largest glacier in the lower 48 states.  Emmons spans about 4 square miles of the mountain near Little Tahoma peak.

Before dawn at roughly 5am our team summited Mount Rainier on Tuesday, September 4th, 2012.  We impressed our guides with our quick yet steady pace.  The first ones at the top for the day, we had the crater and the summit to ourselves.  Seattle’s lights flickered in the distance where hundreds of thousands of people lay snuggled in their beds.

Three days ago I was a little unsure if I would make it to the top.  The mountain beckoned yet taunted me as we drove to Ashford from Seattle.  We arrived at IMG Headquarters on Saturday where we met our head guide, Austin and our fellow climbers in the group.  One climber with us has completed 6 out of the 7 summits in the world and was training for Everest.  His stories were intense and inspiring me to check some off as well.  Austin briefed us on what to expect and helped us lighten our packs with unnecessary items that could slow us down.

Sunday morning we began our climb from Paradise Park up to Camp Muir.  About 5 hours later we made it to camp with plenty of time for rest and relaxation.  Austin reminded us multiple times to eat a ton and drink plenty of water.  He called it “fueling the tank” for summit day.

From Camp Muir we saw Mount St Helens and Mount Adams to the south.  Even further south in Oregon we saw Mount Hood and Mount Jefferson which is about 150 miles away.  We slept in the Gambu hut that evening at Camp Muir.  It was cozy yet spacious for all of us in the group.

On Monday morning we fueled up with pancakes and bacon before practicing our self-arrest drills on the Cowlitz Glacier.  Once our guides were satisfied with our drills, we packed up and made our way to the Cathedral Gap.  An hour and a half later we traversed into camp at Ingraham Flats.  Little Tahoma stood tall in front of camp as if it were standing guard.  Austin briefed us with what to expect and to be ready for a long day tomorrow.  He advised us to constantly check in with ourselves to make sure we have enough energy to make it back down the mountain, when most injuries occur.

Sleep was close to impossible at 5pm that evening.  I may have gotten 2 hours out of the 6 hours we had available.  Rest was imperative for the journey ahead of us.  We got out of our tents at 11pm and began our climb at 12:30am.

Shortly after hitting the trail, we crossed two ladder bridges over crevasses.  We crossed dozens of crevasses throughout our climb.  In 4 hours and 15 minutes we made it to the East Crater and signed the register for the summit.  We dropped our packs at the crater rim and climbed the couple hundred feet up to Columbia Crest; the true summit of Mount Rainier.  The wind whipped strongly as we celebrated with the group.  Taking pictures at the summit proved difficult since it was still incredibly dark.  Sunrise barely broke with hues of pinks, oranges and reds to the east.

We grabbed our packs at the edge of the crater and fueled up for the long descent ahead.  I noticed my vision was a tad blurry.  I thought, “not again” referring to the last time it happened on Mount Kilimanjaro in 2007.  I had Lasik Zyoptix corrective surgery about ten years ago.  Now when I go to higher altitudes, my eyes are more susceptible to the low pressure and low oxygen levels resulting in blurred vision.  It didn’t stop me from making it down safely, thank goodness.

Thirteen hours after starting our ascent to the summit, we finally made it back down to Paradise.  It was a long, strenuous journey but well worth the effort.  The guides at IMG took good care of us and made this a truly rewarding experience which we will cherish for many years to come.

Meeting Giants in Redwood National Park

Walking around one of the tallest trees in the world makes me feel like I’m stuck in the movie “Honey I Shrunk the Kids!”  The trees in the Redwood National and State Parks are amazingly tall at roughly 200 to 300 feet so it’s hard to not feel tiny next to them with my 5’9″ stature.

Rain and fertile soil is abundant up in Northern California which is part of what makes these trees the tallest in the world. While I’m soaked to the bone by all the rain, the Redwoods are drinking it in as if it’s a protein shake for an athlete.

They are also among the oldest living creatures on our planet.  The elders of the Redwoods are close to 2,000 years old.  Imagine the candles on that cake!

Many people ask if there really are trees you can drive through and the answer is yes.  There are a few on private properties and the owners charge a fee for you to drive through.

If you are planning a trip to the park, I would suggest allowing a few days to fully enjoy its beauty.  Be prepared for many jaw-dropping moments.

Brews of Summer

What does a Slippery Pig and an Iron Horse have in common?  They are both Washington Breweries and were at the Summer Brewfest in Bremerton on Saturday. Over 20 breweries were on site in Downtown Bremerton pouring about 60 different brews.

Most of the choices were light and summery ales while some were more on the experimental side.  For example, can you guess what a beer brewed with beets would taste like?  Grove Street Brewhouse brought the intriguing concoction named “Just BEET IT.”  It made me want to break out in a Michael Jackson routine.  Some of my favorites were Valholl’s Valkyrie Red, Schooner EXACT’s Raspberry-Wheat and Dick’s Golden Ale.  Silver City brought out a Randall to infuse their IPA with fresh tropical fruit flavors.

I wish I could have sampled more but my liver wouldn’t allow it.  For a complete list of the breweries that were at the festival click here.  If you weren’t able to make it to this event, you can check out upcoming brewfests by going to the Washington Beer website.




Gondolas in the Mist

Imagine riding along in a gondola suspended over a 1,000 feet above the valley floor and disappearing into the clouds. The Peak to Peak Experience at Whistler Blackcomb transports visitors from Whistler peak to Blackcomb peak. In the winter, these cars would be filled with skiers and snowboarders. I’m sure it was crazy packed during the 2010 Winter Olympics. The weekend Josh and I went they were filled with hikers who wanted to get out and enjoy the fresh air.

On the first day we visited the air was crisp yet with a slight haze from wildfires in Northern British Columbia. It was overcast the second day and many who hesitated to go up in the clouds missed out on quite an experience. The weather was clear and sunny at the top. The cloud cover was so thick below that we could not see Whistler Village. The gondola cars were less crowded and many times we rode across by ourselves. At the beginning of our ride the cars ahead of us vanished into the mist. Once we got closer to the clouds the spooky factor chimed in. Our visibility shrunk down to about 20 feet. At the lowest point the view cleared up beneath the clouds and we briefly saw Fitzsimmons Creek before riding back up.

I’m glad we had the chance to ride on a clear day; however I enjoyed the cloudy day more. If you plan a trip up to Whistler in the summer and you feel the cloudy weather may slow you down, you may be in for a surprise.

Lions and Lionfish in Tanzania

A lion pride in the Serengeti scoped out their dinner in the distance, while hundreds of lionfish crowded the reef on the coast of Zanzibar.  Josh and I never expected to see both within a few days of each other on our trip to Tanzania.

We had an epic adventure in Africa a few years back and made too many memories to include in one post.  During an incredible safari in Lake Manyara, the Serengeti and Ngorongoro Crater we saw more lions, elephants, giraffes, zebras and other wild animals than we could count.

After our safari we craved a few days of beach time and hopped a plane to Zanzibar.  We stayed in Kendwa Beach for a couple of nights.  One afternoon we went on a one-tank scuba dive with a local dive shop.  Seconds into our dive we saw our first lionfish, then another and then many more.  We’ve seen lionfish before while diving in Hawaii, but never this many in one place.

Close Encounters at the Olympic Game Farm, Sequim, WA

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Life seems good at the Olympic Game Farm in Sequim, WA.  Happy animals roam the grounds while Josh and I went on a driving tour through the park. We saw relaxed Kodiak Bears, Zebras, Tibetan Yaks and American Bison.  Hungry Llama, Elk and Deer were not shy at approaching our car looking for food.  We had to be careful to not get bitten by some of the animals.

If you want to visit the Olympic Game Farm and get a close encounter with Bears, Bison, Elk and more head towards Sequim.  It is about an hour from Kingston after taking the ferry from Edmonds, WA.  This makes a great day trip and you can include a few hours in the Olympic National Park.

Sand Blasted Beauty in Antelope Canyon, Arizona

Strong wind blew sand everywhere as a storm threatened to end our tour early at Antelope Canyon.  Flash floods are frequent in this area of Arizona and our guide rushed us out of the canyon before the rain began to pour.

We managed to get a few good pictures before the storm.  While flash floods are dangerous, they do act like paintbrushes sweeping through the canyons. Water, wind and sand create majestic formations.

Antelope Canyon has attracted photographers from around the world to capture its beauty.  Peter Lik is one of my favorite photographers with amazing shots on display in galleries around the country.  Dozens of people were in the canyon on our tour, which made it difficult to get good pictures.  Tours are available for serious photographers to go at times when the lighting is perfect and crowds are limited.

If you want to check out these amazing canyons, head Northeast of the Grand Canyon towards Page, Arizona.  There are plenty of tour operators for you to choose from in the Navajo Nation.