Thursday, August 16, 2007


Epic ride last evening with two good pals: John Clark (also known as Johnny B. Clark b/c it just occurred to me) and Jim Robbins (8th and Walnut, b/c his name reminds me of radio ads I'd hear in the Philadelphia area). Three hours, some 2,100 feet of elevation gain and views galore--Mount Baker, the Sisters Range, Bellingham Bay, the San Juans, etc. Stunning.

John led the way taking us on some terrific trails: Cedar Dust, Wonderland--on which I inevitably break out into my faux Springsteen, "Tonight, ... in ... Won ... der... land" (a bastardization of "Jungleland"), Oly, the Intestine (which people seem to pronounce so that the last syllable rhymes with 'mine'), and a bevy of others. Jim volunteered to be the one that got bloody, taking an impressive fall that I watched with mouth-gaping wonder until I took the exact same fall. The speedy John, meanwhile, flew through with no problem.

Top photo is Jim on Wonderland ("Tonight, ... in ... Won ... der ... land") taking in Baker and the Sisters; middle is John on the climb to the Towers; bottom is John and Jim on the Ridge Trail, the barn door open and maybe an hour of sunlight left. Great fun.

Whilst I have you, at your leisure, please to take perusal of my story in today's Seattle Times on a lazy kayaking outing near Mount St. Helens: Hard-hitting, nuthing but the facts, coverage and analysis you can count on.

Monday, August 13, 2007


This was my third road race of the year (third ever) and as usual, all I can say is that bike racing is unlike anything else I've done. You get dropped from the leaders in a 5K, a 50K, a triathlon, and you're never going to see them again. Well, maybe at the post-race buffet.

In a bike race though, you drop off the main pack (several times), you get passed by the follow car (several times), you pretty much figure it's not your day--and it's still possible to claw your way back to the front and find yourself in 4th place overall with a mile go, 5th with about 200 meters left. Such was my sitch in the Masters C/D race up in the Nooksack-Sumas corner of the world.

Truthfully, leading up to this race, I was scared. Reese Hill, which we'd climb twice, was a killer and South Pass Road could be brutal too. What I didn't antipate, or ride before the race, was North Pass Road which was on the first short loop of the 41-mile course. It about killed me. The hills were shorter but seemed steeper and more brutal. Or maybe it was just that I wasn't expecting it. For whatever reason, I quickly fell off the back and if it weren't for the fact that a couple others did also, I'd have been done for. Luckily we worked together and were able to hook back on with the main group in time to start the two longer loops.

The ride out to Reese Hill is through flat cornfields. Nobody talked to each other; it seemed we all knew what was coming and were silent. Like we were being led to our deaths. The race website says it's 1.5 miles long but I measured the really tough part as climbing 350 feet in 0.8 miles. After that, it's a free-for-all of rolling hill fun as the fractured pelaton attempts to get back together. (The whole thing climbs about 500 feet in 1.5 miles.)

Again, I fell out the back, but with some strong riders (more than just three this time) and we were able to fight back and latch back on to the main group somewhere on Frost Road. A most pleasant surprise to me was that we rejoined South Pass Road much farther west than I expected and thus two of the three step-like hills were eliminated. Back with the group it was mostly a fast descent back down to earth and the start of the final Reese Hill loop.

(Up ahead, John Kodin and Rob Cambell, a couple Fanatik guys, had gotten away and would go on to win by about five minutes.)

Folks seemed more relaxed on the way out the second time, we knew what was coming and that we had to do it only once more. Again, the pelaton broke up on Reese Hill but I wasn't as far back as on the previous climbs and while it was still painful as hell working my way back, there were a lot of other riders doing the same thing and we could help each other.

Once back with the main group, I pretty much figured my race complete. All I wanted to do was not get dropped and have a solo ride home (as happened a couple months ago at the Methow RR when I got caught between two groups). But with about three miles to go, there's some shifting the pelaton and I feel myself just kind of floating toward the front. I got behind some Zoka guy who was leading the whole thing, no way I was going to pull, and just sorta hung there figuring I'd watch how it played out.

(Crazy--I'd been passed by the follow car three times but here I was in 4th place with like a mile to go. At the time I thought I was in second place; I didn't realize the two Fanatiks were way ahead of us all.)

At the 200 meter sign, the sprint starts and I do what I can to try to keep wave upon wave of riders from passing me like I'm standing still. Suddenly, there's that sickening crunch and smack sound of a crash right behind me as Glenn Powell and two others crashed (Glenn's OK and is hoping to race again this coming weekend) and after that it's somewhat of a blur. A bunch (but not too many) riders passed me in the last 50 meters or so and we were done.

Results, as I say, were less than an inexact science. At the prerace chat, the official pretty much said, keep an eye on who you finish near then come tell us afterward. I finished near a couple guys riding bikes really fast. They had helmets on, sunglasses, and really tight shorts. One of 'em might've been wearing arm warmers. But I don't really care. I wasn't last and I had fun.

(I found out later that I finished in 14th place.)

The above pic is not from the race but from the countless laps we all did around Nooksack Elementary School while waiting for the race to start. There's Stacy Moon, who won the Mens 4/5 Time Trial, and Tom Fryer near the front.

Oh yes, and because I haven't shown one for a while, below is a photo of the lovely Jen in our newly painted and freshly floored bedroom. The lamination continues ...

Friday, August 10, 2007


BELLINGHAM, WA (AP)--Mike McQuaide, Bellingham outdoor writer guy, helped Jud Sherwood, noted Bellingham jazz drummer, moved two pianos on Thursday and in the process pulled what feels like half his fricking ribcage muscles.

"This should help me out a great deal on Sunday's Nooksack Omnium road race (," said the youthful-looking McQuaide who has a birthday in less than two weeks and who wouldn't mind it too terribly much if a cyclocross bike showed up birthday morning on his front porch. "Reese Hill, North and South Pass Hill--yeah, these stabbing pains in my sides whenever I breathe should help me greatly on those killer climbs."

The piano pickup and delivery (and muscle damage) was instigated by Sherwood who, as part of his Jazz Project (, runs a program wherein donated and recycled pianos are lent to players in need. McQuaide's 8-year-old son Baker was the lucky recipient of one such piano, with the added bonus being that McQuaide, who's birthday is in less than two weeks (did I mention that already?), had the opportunity to drive a big, scary truck up and down narrow, vintage neighborhood alleys and help pull 400-pound pianos up steep grassy lawns.

"I'm not one to make a big deal about my birthday," McQuaide said. "I mean, it's only a number. But as we're talking about it, that Redline Conquest ( looks like a really nice bike."

Sherwood's piano program is true winner and helps place pianos with folks who need them. The only cost is to have them tuned. When the piano recipients are done with them, the pianos are put back in the piano pool and someone else gets to use it.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007


It’s nothing that I’m proud of, but when it gets right down to it, I’m probably not the backpacking type. I’ll run-hike the Loowit Trail around Mount St. Helens, climb Mount Baker or Adams or Shuksan, but when it’s time to lay me down to rest, I want a bed. And maybe a TV with a clicker so I can watch the day’s highlights on “Baseball Tonight”.

Lucky for me, my next-door neighbor, Sterling Chick, is the same way. So when I was looking for someone to join me in hiking through the Enchantment Lakes in one day (usually, it’s a three-to five-day backpacking trek) all I had to do was give a holler across the fence to see if he was interested. He was.

Located about 10 miles southwest of Leavenworth, the aptly named Enchantments is a magical 7,000-plus-foot plateau of crystal-clear lakes, gurgling and gushing waterfalls, rocky spires that pierce the clouds, and mountain goats that scurry across broad granite slabs. In fall, the area’s larch trees turn gold, photos of which are featured on probably just as many photo calendars and coffee table books as are images of Mount Rainier.

“It’s the kind of place where you expect fairies to pop out from behind the rocks,” my friend and Enchantment backpacking veteran Elizabeth Hampton, told me. “It’s got this totally different feel from anywhere else.”

There’s no easy way to get to the Enchantments. Just getting there requires either a 10-mile hike that gains 5,400 feet from the east, or six-mile jaunt from the west that includes the near vertical climb to Aasgard Pass, a rough climbers route that ascends 2,000 feet in about a mile. Sterling and I opted for the later.

After sleeping in beds at Leavenworth’s Obertal Inn, Sterling and I left for Icicle Road at 5:30 a.m. To make this a point-to-point hike, we parked my truck at the Snow Lakes Trailhead, where we’ll finish, and his car at the Stuart Lake Trail, where we begin.

Sterling, a Bellingham family therapist, has hiked all over—Grand Canyon, Utah, Maine, Colorado etc.—and has both backpacked and day-hiked the Enchantments. But because he began and finished his day-hikes at the Snow Lakes Trailhead, they were especially burly affairs—like 28 miles! Ours should be about 20.

After about an hour and 45 minutes of dark forest hiking, we reach Colchuck Lake, a spectacular rock wall- and forest-rimmed lake about four miles in. It’s a perfectly still morning and the water is glass—a mirror, reflecting the jagged spires of 8,800-foot Dragontail Peak rising almost 3,200 straight up out of the water. Just to the left and nearly as high (7,800 feet), is Aasgard Pass, the only notch on this side of the Enchantment Peaks.

“Wow, that’s big,” says Sterling, echoing my thoughts.

In Norse mythology, Aasgard corresponds roughly to Greek mythology’s Mount Olympus. Here, Aasgard is the doorway to the Enchantments. There’s no foyer. Once we reach the pass, the lakes are ours. But first we have to get there.

Chipmunks skitter this way and that as we follow the trail to the right around the lake. We pass campsites and food hung from trees, and at the head of Colchuck Lake, we cross the first of what is, by conservative estimates, the 87 bezillion boulder fields that we’ll negotiate this day.

The way up to Aasgard Pass is a wide gully choked with granite boulders that make no bones about crunching a person’s ankles or knees. Caution is key. There’s some boot trail, but mostly it’s a matter of following those who’ve gone before and thankfully left strategically placed cairns for others to follow. It’s extremely steep, but since we’re day hiking, our packs are small, our balance isn’t compromised and we make good progress.

Part way up, we pass a young woman who tells us her backpack weighs 50 pounds; we don’t envy her for a second.

“It’s giving me impetus to stop and eat a lot though,” she says. “It makes my pack lighter.”

Tenacious blooms of Indian Paintbrush poke their way through the cracks and to our right, a rushing creek bounces down the mountainside providing a soothing soundtrack.

Near the top, we look back down on Colchuck Lake and see the shadow of the Enchantment Peaks receding across the water. As the sun hits it, the lake glows a brilliant turquoise.

Moments later, at 9:50, about an hour and 10 minutes after we began climbing, we reach the pass and its immediate rewards. Across a vast, rocky plateau, lakes and puddles and tarns and ponds of every shape and size spread are spread out before us. They’re contained by granite stacks and spires that rise high above us on all sides, and great rocky slabs that keep the lakes from running in to one another.

“It’s like a Disneyland of lakes and plateaus up here,” Sterling says, and he’s right.

We could spend days exploring up here and still we wouldn’t see everything. As it is, we have just hours and must keep moving. We zig and zag past ponds and waterfalls so numerous we can hear many at once. They all have different tones—gentle gurgle-gurgles and high-pitched swishhhhhes and baritone swooooshes. I raise one of my trekking poles and for a moment pretend that I’m conducting a waterfall orchestra.

We veer south toward Little Annapurna, so named because of its resemblance to Annapurna, an 8,000-meter peak in the Himalayas. A half-hour later, after climbing another 800 feet worth of scratchy granite blocks, we’re at the top looking down over the edge. Straight down, almost 5,000 feet, is the Ingalls Creek Valley.

“Holy-moly!” says Allan Maas of Puyallup, who’s already at Little Annapurna’s summit when we arrive. “That’s a long way down!”

I feel like I’m looking off the edge of the earth and reflexively step back. Instead I focus on the distant views, which include Mount Rainier and Glacier Peak. Were it not for the haze from various forest fires, we’d see Baker and Adams too.

We lunch atop Little Annapurna and 20 minutes later are again down in the basin following the trail of tarns. That’s when we hear the barking.

I’m stunned. The Enchantments’ ecosystem is so fragile that dogs aren’t allowed anywhere near here. I can’t believe that even the most avid, canine-insane, dog lover would consider letting Fido run loose up here in such a wilderness paradise.

“Look over there,” says Sterling.

About 10 feet away, from behind a boulder steps a fluffy footed white-tailed ptarmigan. It’s three-tone, gray-brown-white feathers make it almost indistinguishable from the surrounding rocks. What sounded to me like far-off barking was its little cooing call.

We descend toward Inspiration Lake, Prusik Peak’s needle-like spires seeming to pull us along. There’s more vegetation the lower we go, and the landscape becomes less stark. Asters, paintbrush and other wildflowers add color to heather meadows and we pass stand upon stand of the area’s famous larch trees, still green in mid-August.

We drop farther down the basin, past Perfection Lake, which spills into tiny Sprite Lake, where we see a lone mountain goat picking its way along a rock slab. It eyes us, but quickly finds us not worthy of its attention. We cross a log bridge at the foot of Leprechaun Lake, and shortly thereafter reach Lake Viviane, at the easternmost edge of the Enchantment Lakes basin.

Sterling and I filter water and head down. It’s about 10 more miles, past the Snow Lakes, Nada Lake and a forest of blackened tree trunks that were burned 10 years ago in a massive fire. Closer to the trailhead, we see the huge billowing smoke plumes rising from the Fischer fire in Dryden, about four miles southeast of Leavenworth.

Back at my truck we shake hands, tired and giddy from a great hike. From the Stuart Lake Trailhead to the Snow Lakes Trailhead, it took us just about 11 hours. We estimate it to be 20 miles, and my altimeter tells me that we climbed 5,740 feet.

Driving back to Sterling’s car, we recount all we’ve seen. We luxuriate in the knowledge that back at the Obertal, we can shower, eat like lumberjacks (guilt-free) and last but not least, find out how our Yanks and Red Sox fared.

To do the point-to-point, Enchantment Lakes-in-a-day hike park one car at the Snow Lakes Trailhead, where you’ll finish and the other at the Stuart Lake Trailhead, where you’ll begin. Because the Stuart Lake Trailhead is about 2,000 feet higher than Snow Lakes, this way ensures that you have 2,000 feet less climbing to do than if you were to hike in the opposite direction.

Getting there: For the Snow Lakes Trail, go east on Highway 2 over Stevens Pass to Leavenworth. Just before entering the town, go right on Icicle Road and continue for 4.3 miles to the Snow Lakes Trailhead on your left. Elevation: 1,300 feet.

For the Stuart Lake Trailhead, continue on Icicle Road for 4.2 more miles and turn left on Forest Service Road 7601. Go left and drive 3.7 miles to the road-end trailhead parking lot. Northwest Forest Pass required for parking at both trailheads.
The hike: 20 miles point-to-point. Elevation gain: 5,740 feet; elevation loss: 7,600 feet. Subtract about 2 miles and 800 feet of elevation if you skip the side trip up Little Annapurna.
Follow the Stuart Lake Trail for 2.5 miles to the intersection with the Colchuck Lake Trail. Go left and follow for 1.6 miles to the lake. Follow the shoreline trail along the right side of the lake until you reach the foot of Aasgard Pass. Go up and up. Once over the pass, follow the zigzagging trail across the basin for about 3 miles to Lake Viviane. From there, it’s about 10 miles (almost all downhill) back to the Snow Lakes Trailhead.
Map: Green Trails, The Enchantments 209S
Permits: The Enchantments are perhaps the most lusted-after backpacking destination in the Northwest. So lusted-after that, to limit the damage to this fragile environment, overnight wilderness permits are required and they’re only available through a lottery system. Day hikers do not need overnight permits.
More information: Leavenworth Ranger District, 509-548-6977 or