Thursday, September 1, 2016

Stairway to the Enchantments

Our work crew put in rock steps on the trail to Colchuck Lake

My fifth Volunteer Vacation with the Washington Trail Association involved working on the trail to Colchuck Lake. The Colchuck Lake trail is accessed via Forest Service road 7601, about nine miles west of the town of Leavenworth, Washington.

It involved a three-hour drive from my house near Black Diamond, Washington. I used Google Maps on my iPhone to insure that I didn't make any wrong turns. It worked well. The last four miles to the trail head were over a bumpy and washboard-filled dirt road.

I couldn't believe how many cars were parked at the trail head and all along the road. I parked a good third of a mile away! Fortunately I was early, so I grabbed my pack and waited at the trail for everyone else to arrive. While waiting, I ate my hamburger for lunch.
Cars lined the road at the Colchuck Lake trail head. I had to walk the road 1/3 of a mile! It is a popular trail.

One of the team members, Gary, had arrived the night before, so he had saved a couple of parking spots. One for Claire, our team leader, and one for another person who arrived shortly after. I could have gotten the other one, but didn't want to hike all the way back to my car. As I was eating lunch and waiting for everyone else to arrive, the team of horses and mules came down the trail having left our food, supplies and tools for the week.

Horses and mules return from carrying our food, supplies and tools to the camp site.

We have a team of eight, the maximum allowed on this trip. Claire explained that we would be camped about a mile away from Colchuck Lake, and we would be working on the trail between our camp and the lake.

It was a very warm afternoon, and the hike up to the campsite was fairly strenuous. I tried to keep a good pace, but the constant uphill finally got the better of me. I stopped several times to rest, and drank almost two liters of water.

All of our food, tools and equipment were carried in on horseback. I managed to arrive first, and found a nice tent site right along the stream.

I camped right next to Mountaineer Creek.
We all worked together to set up camp, and to fix dinner. Claire explained that we would be working to build rock steps on the trail, so very little brushing will be done on this trip. Yippee!

Sunday, August 14

Although it was warm when I went to bed, it cooled down significantly overnight. I slept reasonably well since the noise of Mountaineer Creek was soothing.

I awoke before five, but didn't get up until later because it was too dark to see. I made coffee and put on the hot water for tea and cocoa. I helped fix egg McMuffins for breakfast.

After Clair and Richard gave us our safety talk regarding tools and working on the trail, we headed up the trail a little after 8. The trail climbed steadily and we reached our work site within a half hour.

We spent the morning setting stones to make steps in several steep sections of the trail. It is tedious work. At first I was not very enthusiastic because I don't like all of the fitting and refitting of the rocks. I like to stay busy and I did not have the technical understanding to feel I could contribute to the decision-making. But as the day progressed, it was pleasing to see steps that were well designed and effective.

All day long there was a parade of hikers headed up to and down from the lake. Every time they passed we had to pause our work. But, it was very satisfying to hear most of them thank us for our work!

We hauled several heavy rocks requiring four to six people using a rock net.

We used large stones for the steps that required four to six people to move.

After lunch I helped remove rocks and roots further up the trail. We quit at 2:30 and were back to camp by 3:30.

Since I am camped near the creek, I washed up in the cool water, which was refreshing.

I helped cook pulled pork sandwiches and asparagus for dinner. It was difficult to pan fry the asparagus, but I think it turned out OK.

Tom, one of our team members, hiked to his car to get some reading materials, and noticed some bear scat on the trail. Claire took some extra precautions by hanging our trash bags.

It is definitely cooler this evening, so it should be easier to fall asleep.

Monday, August 15
My morning followed yesterday agenda, except we had blueberry pancakes for breakfast. We were on the trail just after eight.

I helped carry two rocks using a rock net before heading up the trail to set some rocks around a small creek. Next we built a small trail reroute were people were going up the hill on two different paths.
We built a re-route of the trail where people were using two paths.

Up the trail we removed more rocks and roots before hitting the 5,000 foot sign, warning hikers that no campfires were allowed above that point.

After lunch we worked on putting in stone steps in an area were there currently was a three-foot high step. We moved two massive stones down the trail and fit them in place. By the end of the day we had just one more step to find and fit.

At camp, I fixed salmon with basil pasta and pan roasted broccoli. I got a lot of good comments that the salmon was very tasty!
I cooked salmon on the grill. It was tasty!
There still have been a lot of hikers using the trail today. I'm still curious why this trail is so popular.
We had to stop working everytime hikers came up the trail. There were a lot of hikers!

Tuesday, August 16

We left for the trail after a breakfast burrito. We hauled a large stone down the hillside. It took six of us to move it into place using a rock net and pry bars. Much of the morning was spent standing around while those with the experience discussed how to set the stone step. I mentioned to Claire that I was frustrated, feeling that I was not really contributing to the day's work. She set me working to put in a stone step, removed roots and rocks, and finished the day getting a stone in place for another step. I felt better about my contribution to the team's efforts.

A group of us walked up to a pretty waterfall. It was nice and cool as the water cascaded down the cliff.

We got back to camp at four. I took a half hour to wash up before fixing chicken Marsala with couscous. It was delicious.

Wednesday, August 17
Midweek is the Volunteer Vacation day off. Everyone is free to take a hike, lay around camp or do whatever they want.

I chose to hike up to Colchuck Lake and possibly beyond. I left camp shortly after six and made it to the lake before seven. The lake is a beautiful turquoise color and is nestled between jagged peaks. It is spectacular!
Colchuck Lake as the morning sun hits Colchuck Peak.

I made my way around to the far end of the lake where I had to rock hop huge boulders. As I took a few pictures I noticed that dropping my iPhone would mean losing it forever. There were many deep, dark holes between the rocks. From here the trail climbed steeply towards Aasgard pass, leading to the Enchantment Lakes. In the video below, you can see the large boulders and I pan up showing the steep slope up to Aasgard Pass.

I pressed on. The climb up the rocky slope was hard. The trail was marked periodically with rock cairns. On the way, I saw a herd of mountain goats. They were not afraid at all!

Mountain goats on the way up to Aasgard Pass. Photo by Richard Mellon.

My goal heading up was to walk from one cairn to the next before stopping to catch my breath!

I made it to the top around 10:30, and then continued on until I reached Tranquility Lake. I had lunch while I admired the fantastic views. It was a perfect day to be here!

Colchuck Lake from the top of Aasgard Pass.

Mountains near Tranquility Lake in the Enchantments

I headed down, realizing that it would be slow going with lots of potential to slide on the loose rocks. Fortunately I managed to keep my footing, although I did foot surf a few times. I met Claire and Richard as they were headed up.

I made it back to camp by 1:30, and immediately washed off in the creek and washed out my shirt and pants. It also felt wonderful to lay in my tent and let my legs and feet recover!

We had flatiron steak and mashed potatoes for dinner, along with a chopped cabbage salad.
Gordon enjoys steak and potatoes.

Tom also enjoys the meal. He made cabbage salad several times which was fantastic!

Thursday, August 18
French toast and bacon fueled us on the trail this morning.
Pat and I prepare french toast for breakfast.

After complaining about not having enough to do yesterday, Claire assigned Tom and I to work with Richard putting in three rock steps. Richard had us find the rocks, move them and fit them into place. We managed to complete the steps by the end of the day. It felt good to be engaged all day. I just wish this had been the case on Tuesday, and oddly it felt like we were being thrown into the thick of things to show us how difficult it is to make all of the decisions.

Each rock requires fitting and adjustment to make it solid. Picture by Richard Mellon

I worked with Tom to fit large stones in a steep section of the trail. Photo by Richard Mellon.

It was hot again today. Steven, who I met on the Pete Lake volunteer vacation, was walking the trail to Colchuck Lake. He brought us two six packs of beer! What an amazing thing to do!

Spent an hour washing up and washing my clothes.

Helped fix burritos for dinner. I somehow got into a foul mood which soured my evening. Went to bed early, hoping to awake in a better mood tomorrow.

Friday, August 19
I slept well last night. The almost full moon lit up the forest in a magical way.

Claire helped me make egg McMuffins for breakfast before we headed back to the work site. I was still in a bad mood as I charged up the trail to our tool cache. I'm not sure what or why I am feeling the way I am. Perhaps I felt that others didn't appreciate how much work goes into prepping for meals? Or maybe I am feeling anxiety that I am not able to do my fair share of the work in setting stone steps? I think it's a combination of things. This likely is my last seven day outing of the year. I love it so much and regret that I don't have more to look forward to.

Claire noticed my displeasure and asked what she could do to help. I felt so embarrassed to have acted like that. But she did the right thing. She gave me a project of chipping away some granite to make a small step in an otherwise smooth rock face. The stone broke away easily as there was an existing fracture in the rock. I noticed that all of the hikers now use my new step!

I then helped Tom and Richard set two more steps in a steep and confined section of the trail. We stopped for lunch at noon and enjoyed the views of the mountains.

Lunchtime and enjoying the view.

This work is tedious, but the steps were solid and should last for years. We quit around two. Several of our group headed up the trail to see Colchuck Lake. Richard, Claire and I headed back to camp. Richard decided to hike up to Lake Stewart. I sat by myself in the shade and enjoyed the moments of solitude.

Everyone was back at camp by 5:30 and Claire fixed chili with cheese Quesadillas. I cut some cherry tomatoes for the chili and spiced it up with some salsa. Tom did his magic in preparing a vegetable salad. For dessert we had the treats that Steven brought up - Oreos, Milano cookies and gummy bears!

I was Patrick's birthday, so Claire gave him one of the beers that Steven brought up yesterday.

In all, it was a good ending to a wonderful trip. Claire is an exceptional leader and I am lucky to have been able to learn from her and everyone else in the group.

L to R: Gary, Pat, Elaine, Gordon, Bob, Tom and Claire. Photo by Richard Mellon.
If you are interested in volunteering for a day, a weekend, or a week, check out the Washington Trail Association web site (

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Within the Blast Zone of Mt. St. Helens - Coldwater Lake

Ranger points to the location of our camp at Coldwater Lake near Mt. St. Helens

In September of 1968, my brother and I camped at Spirit Lake and then scrambled-climbed to the top of Mt Saint Helens. This was before the eruption in 1980.

Mt. St. Helens from Spirit Lake in 1968
Today I headed out to the mountain again, but this time it was to improve the trails near Coldwater Lake. I volunteered for a week with the Washington Trail Association. 

Saturday, July 16
It was a three hour drive from home, and I arrived 45 minutes early. However, as luck would have it, I couldn't find the Coldwater Ridge Visitor Center! I drove up and down the highway, but the one likely road was gated. So I did the next best thing and waited at the boat launch, knowing that at some point the group would show up there to have our gear and food loaded on a boat to be ferried up the lake. Another lady also showed up and we both waited. Finally the Forest Service arrived and said there was a person at the gated road letting WTA folks in!  So we drove back up the road and, sure enough, Claire, our group leader, was at the gate. I was quite relieved!  We carpooled to the boat launch, ate lunch, and headed up the Lakeside Trail. 

The group loads the boat at Coldwater Lake. The boat ferried our packs, tools and food to our camp at the far end of the lake.

It was an easy four mile walk, especially since I didn't have to carry my pack. The wildflowers were incredible! There were fields of flowers everywhere. It took me just over an hour to get to our campsite. 

Wild flowers abound as I walked up the trail along Coldwater Lake

I helped Owen set up the cook tent. And then Claire arrived and said, "Um, we can't set our tent up on the beach." Oops...

We started to set up the cook tent on the beach. WRONG. We had to move it into the woods.

So, down came the cook tent, and we moved it to a spot nestled in the brush near a crystal clear stream. Everyone pitched in and helped set up. I cleared some brush around the tent and helped organize the kitchen. 

Toni fixes spaghetti and meatballs with garlic bread. She did a great job!
The great treat on this trip is that we have a dedicated cook! Toni will cook most of our meals. She even brought some of her own goodies!

We got our sump and latrine dug. These groups always dig a latrine when there are no outhouses or restrooms available. Here is what the latrine looks like. The logs are used as a seat. It actually works quite well.

Our latrine with logs as a toilet seat!

We had a wonderful dinner with an appetizer, green salad with oranges, spaghetti, meatballs, garlic bread, and strawberries with whipped cream and chocolate bites! Wow!

After dinner, everyone pitched in to wash dishes. When done, the water is taken to the sump where the plastic tubs are rinsed. Here is a video where Owen explains the process.

I headed to bed just before nine. I think this will be a really fun group to work with this week!

Sunday, July 17
I didn't sleep well. It took forever to fall asleep, possibly because I was listening to the coyotes in the distance.

We had breakfast burritos. Toni is a good cook!

After doing dishes, Claire and Owen talked about tool safety as well as safety on the trail. 

Claire goes over tool safety. She is holding a McLeod which is used to scrape and rake the trail.

Owen talks about tool safety when carrying and using loppers.

We hiked to the connector trail to the South Coldwater trail. 

We worked on the Coldwater trail #230.

We spent the day removing brush and repairing the trail tread. We ate lunch while sitting on the bridge over Coldwater Creek. 

Lunch time on the bridge over Coldwater Creek.

While there, an enormous Blue Heron flew up the creek and buzzed the bridge. We saw several hikers, and it's always a pleasure to hear their "thank you's" for doing trail work. It makes it all worth while!

I took a "before" and "after" photo of part of the trail. It was really, really overgrown with brush.

What the trail looked like before our work.
What the trail looked like after clearing the brush and repairing the tread.

We stopped at 2:30 and were back to camp by 3. I took a bird bath and washed my shirt. It is so nice to have a second shirt to change into.

I decided to rest in my tent to get away from the flies, ants and mosquitos. 

My tent was nestled under the trees in a meadow of wildflowers.

I probably would have taken a dip in the lake, except I forgot my towel. Darn!

Toni fixed salmon, asparagus, and Mediterranean couscous. For dessert she surprised us with a raspberry cheesecake!

I helped wash dishes and I gave everyone a couple of new riddles to think about.

Monday, July 18
I expected thunder showers last night, but we had none. Instead, there was a light drizzle, enough to wet down the bushes and make everything drippy.

We had oatmeal for breakfast and headed out to continue removing brush from the trail. I cut in a water diversion channel and graded the tread. 

Water had run down the trail and washed out a hole. We dug a channel for the water and re-graded the trail tread. I didn't get an "after" shot - darn!
As we moved up the trail, we came to some really brushy areas. It is amazing how much better the trail looks after we are done. By midday, the clouds collected and we got rain. My pants, shoes and shirt are wet, but I was warm as long as I kept working. 

We quit by 2:30 and were back to camp by 3. It had stopped raining, but no sun breaks yet. 

Chris and Rich hung wet clothes on their clothes line.

My WTA hard hat is covered in dirt and mud from digging along the trail in wet weather!

I changed into my dry shirt and wore my down jacket. I finally decided to lay down for a bit, and managed to poke a hole in my air mattress!  I used my repair kit, but didn't have the clear tape. So far it seems to be holding. 

I helped cook pulled pork sandwiches for dinner. Toni also cooked peppers, onions, fried potatoes and carrots. For dessert we had chocolate ice cream bars.

Pulled pork sandwiches with baked beans, along with fried onions, peppers, potatoes and carrots. Yummy!

By bedtime the sky appears to be clearing.

Tuesday, July 19
I slept well last night. Plus, my air mattress leak apparently is fixed!

We had scrambled eggs with sun dried tomatoes, sausage, and toast.

We headed to the trail shortly after 8. I did some tread work and others pruned and cleared brush. We got to a nice viewpoint and took our break and lunch there. 

Lunch break - left to right - Chris, Toni, Owen (near), Claire (away), Trista (hidden by bush)

I finished lunch early and took twenty minutes to hike up the trail. It's brush all the way to the top!

We quit at 2:30. We all are excited to have a day off tomorrow. I haven't decided where I am going to hike. I'd like to get a glimpse of Mt Saint Helens, but I don't know if that would be possible.

We had Pad Thai for dinner with a fresh green salad. Dessert was cheesecake and chocolate tapioca pudding.

We talked for an hour after dinner, telling stories. 

Rich talked about how the body changes as you get older. The nose and ears all get bigger, which led us to compare him to Mr Potato Head!

We talked about a beaver that Chris had seen in the lake. As it neared the shore it went under water and didn't come up. Someone suggested that it must have drowned. Claire said you'd have to punch the drowned beaver to rescue it. Just then, Owen lowered the back of his camp chair and, as luck would have it, dunked his head in the water carrying bucket that was behind him! We all erupted in a roar of laughter!

This certainly is my kind of group!

Wednesday, July 20

It was a mostly sunny day so I decided to head towards Harry's Ridge, a little over 8 miles away. 

Map showing Coldwater Lake in relationship to Mt. St. Helens and Spirit Lake.
I was headed to Harry's Ridge just west of Spirit Lake

I left camp at 6. The trail climbed steadily. As I got above the tree line, it was fun to see all the wildflowers. The jagged rock peaks added to the wonder. 

Above the tree line near Mt. St. Helens

I saw a large herd of elk in the distance. I could hear their hooves clicking on the rocks as they disappeared over the ridge.

At one spot the trail passes through a rock arch!

The trail passes through a rock arch!

There were fantastic views of Mt Saint Helens. I could see St Helens Lake, as well as Spirit Lake. In the distance I could see Mt Rainier and Mt Adams.

My first view of Mt. St. Helens

Another beautiful view of Mt. St. Helens

St. Helens Lake - lots of dead trees floating in the lake.

Spirit Lake. Mt. Rainier in the distance

I found a lovely spot for lunch and watched the clouds move around the mountain. 

On the way back to camp, I noticed a radio repeater tower on Coldwater mountain. The repeaters are used to relay radio messages from isolated areas. Claire had a radio that could call out for help if needed.
Radio repeater tower on Coldwater mountain

There is beautiful ground cover along the way, as well as beautiful flowers.

Lots of ground cover growing in the rocks

A chipmunk chided me for invading his territory.

A chipmunk checks me out from his log hideout.
As I headed down the trail, a red hat was hanging on a log. Apparently someone had lost it during their 100 mile marathon run on the Cascade Crest Trail.

Cascade Crest Trail 100 mile Marathon Run - I can't imagine running 100 miles over these hills!

I returned to camp by 11:30. My shoes were damp from all the brush alongside the trail. 

I noticed the zipper on my mosquito netting is not working correctly. It would zip, but the zipper would not hold the net together. I used safety pins to hold the netting shut. I think it's time to look for a new tent.

Tonight was steak night, and Toni did a great job. Antipasto salad, pan fried broccoli with pasta and Meyer lemon cookies for dessert.

It is a calm evening. The lake and mountains are beautiful. 

The mountains towered over our campsite.

Thursday, July 21
We had clear skies last night and it was almost a full moon! 

We had almost a full moon last night. It was starting to set when I got up at 5AM.
You can see the blue tent tarp over our eating area

However, it was a bit cooler at night, and with little or no breeze, I had condensation on the inside of my tent.

We had French toast and bacon for breakfast, and then headed out to do more brushing on the trail. It is a longer hike now to get to the worksite, so we all get a workout before we even start working!

I used a McCloud and it really clears the brush quickly. We made a lot of progress, completing 3 long switchbacks. 

Typical working scenario for clearing brush. Chris and Trista use loppers; Claire is using a grub hoe.

For some reason the horseflies were out in force, buzzing around but fortunately not biting. Towards the end of the day we found a perfectly built birds nest.

We got back to camp a little before 3, and everyone headed to the beach for a swim. The water was just the right temperature to be refreshing! I washed my shirt and pants, which I dried in the warm breeze.

The water was warm and felt great after a long day of trail work.

A beautiful day for a swim in Coldwater Lake

We had pork tacos for dinner with real guacamole, sour cream, black beans, lettuce, tomatoes, red onion, etc. They were delicious!

After dinner, Rich showed us how to tie a "munter" knot and a Prussic knot. 

Munter knot

He teaches knot tying for the Mountaineers and has a fixed line in the stairwell of his house. He uses a lawn mower as a weight on a hillside to show the effectiveness of his knots.

Friday, July 22
Rain! The wind came up sometime after midnight and then I heard raindrops hitting the tent. By 5 there was still a drizzle.

After egg McMuffins for breakfast, we headed for the trail. My feet were wet immediately. I'm thinking that waterproof boots might be a good investment. 

Rain-soaked bushes ensure that you are going to get wet while working on the trail in the brush!

It rained-drizzled all morning. I couldn't wear my raincoat because I was too hot wearing it. We ended up finishing another long switchback and headed to camp around 1:30. I changed into a dry shirt and wore my flannel and raincoat. My pants got damp under my rain pants, so I crawled into my sleeping bag. It feels so good to be toasty warm!

The skies seem to be clearing, but I think the weather is just teasing us.

For dinner, Toni fixed chicken with pan roasted potatoes, carrots and mushrooms, topped with gravy. In addition, we had a garden salad. What a yummy meal !

Several times, we've been visited by a "jumping" buddy as we sat near our cook tent. The bunny will come out of the woods, sit for a moment, then realize that we're there, and jump in the air before running off!

A little bunny often visited our campsite.

We started doing the double wash of the Tupperware containers, in preparation for leaving tomorrow. I went through three pairs of sox this evening trying to dry out my shoes. Hopefully they will dry a little bit tonight so I won't have wet feet on my hike out tomorrow.

Saturday, July 23
It didn't rain last night, thank goodness! I got up just before 5 and packed up my tent.

I got out the Tupperware that was washed last night. Trista and I hand dried them with towels. Toni fixed a delightful breakfast of quesadillas with bacon, topped with fresh avocado, sour cream, salsa and fresh tomatoes. We also had sausage links.

I helped wash all of the dishes (twice) and then closed down the latrine and sump. Everyone worked together to breakdown camp and move everything to the beach where the Forest Service boat will pick it up at 10:30.

We all posed for a group picture before heading up the lake on our hike out. 

Left to right - Front - Chris, Toni, Claire
Left to right - Back - Rich, Trista, Owen, Bob

Everyone is heading back up the lake, walking through fields of flowers!

I arrived at the boat launch in time to meet the boat arriving with our gear.

This has been a wonderful trip. 

We made a huge difference in the trail that we worked on. 
I am so thankful to have met everyone on this trip and hope to work with them sometime again.