Monday, June 16, 2008

Kettle Valley Trail - Coquihalla to Hope

On Sat. June 14, Tina and I met a Vancouver friend in Hope just after 10am and after a drive up from Bellingham. We left a vehicle in the town center and drove all 3 mountain bikes to Coquihalla summit pass. We were pleased to find a parking area and restroom facilities on both sides of the highway, right at the tollbooth. There is a rough gravel shortcut between both sides of the highway, so you can avoid paying the $10 toll each direction. From the lot, we biked through the toll area to find a small road dropping off to the right, east. When the road bottomed out, we took a right to find a large locked gate and sign saying that we were in the right place.

Immediately, we found ourselves going down a canyon on a cobbly road due to the towering rocky walls constantly releasing their rock loads. However, the rough spots are short enough and the scenery spectacular enough to keep on going. The actual KVR grade stays above you for about an hour as the pipeline road drops a little faster. Unfortunatley, the kvr above is no longer navigable as the trestles have already been either blown up or taken down by landslides. The Trans Pipeline oil company maintains the parallel gravel road and has replaced many of their bridges in recent years. It improves the further south you travel. Eventually, the road crosses the Coquihalla River and does a short climb up to join the KVR grade again. There we found a hole where a stream pops out of the mountain and plunges under the road. Continuing on, we passed through a short tunnel where we ate lunch and enjoyed the scenery down valley. The sun was out but cool and pleasant for exercise. With all the snowmelt happening above us, there were dozens of waterfalls to view throughout the route. It was a good time to be there.

After the tunnel, we passed an old snowshed and noticed the road was improving. We encountered some people on atv's who were not really supposed to be behind the gate. The road once again left the kvr grade and passed through a roller coaster section of small hills before reaching the highway about 3pm. At that point, we needed to cover about 6km of pavement but the grade was all down, allowing us to cover the ground in about 15 minutes or less. Then we found the Carolin Mine turnoff and followed a grade parallel to the highway for a few miles. Parts of this road are on the KVR original grade and pass by a couple of private gates. Once you reach the pavement again, there is about 20 minutes of mostly downhill riding to the Othello Tunnels turnoff. We would have covered it a little faster but a strong headwind made us fight the downhill gradient.

At the Othello turnoff, we followed the rural road until we found a sign telling us to go left 1km to the tunnels recreational area. From there the gravel path starts and passes through the stunning Coquihalla canyon where 4 tunnels must be passed through. The trail then continues on for awhile until you reach a paved residential road. This road quickly reaches the Kawkawa lake road going west into Hope. We arrived there around 6:30pm. The next item on the agenda was of course, dinner. So we scouted some places and settled on a Japanese restaurant we had passed by on the way into the town center. We locked the bikes there and drove back to the car waiting at Coquihalla summit, about one-half hour away. We choose to kill time at the restaurant and did not leave until around 9:45 to make sure the border wait would be minimal. there were only 3 cars when we crossed around 11pm.

The section we covered in a day was about 40 miles. It is possible to shorten the day by only cycling the pipeline road and leaving vehicles at both ends of that. We took our time enjoying the scenery on this section but you could spend more time there by skipping the highway sections. Then finish the day by driving down to Othello tunnels for a walk or even bike back to Hope with a car spotted there. It is also possible to cover the whole 40 miles in less time, but we were not in a hurry. We look forward to attempting the sections near Princeton next.
Paul Cookson

Monday, March 17, 2008

Stetattle Creek Trail - March 15, 2008
Leader: Ken Wilcox, with Marjan, Frank, Chris and Nick

Our fearsome five bravely left the snowshoes behind on
this late winter day and departed Bellingham around
8:30-ish Saturday morning, March 15,headed for a
tantalizing trek into a great unknown: Stetattle Creek.
The drive was rainy, but uneventful, and it was
mid-morning when we hit the trail. The trail leaves
from the company town of Diablo, a few miles up-canyon
from the company town of Newhalem, and is easy to find.
When we encountered lingering snow patches within the
first 100 yards, I began to wonder about those snowshoes
hanging on a hook back home. But the creek engulfed our
senses and we trudged on.

After about a third of a mile of easy walking, the
trail began to deteriorate from flood damage. At one
point, we tiptoed along a narrow ledge of dirt against
a rock wall, but there wasn't enough exposure there to
spook this group. The next obstacle was about a half-mile
in where the trail was completely gone. A large
landslide on the opposite side of the creek appeared to
have deposited some jaggy boulders on our side, but we
all scrambled effortlessly over this ten-foot barrier.

Soon the trail improved and the snow began to cover
perhaps 80 percent of the trail. A few deeper drifts
required some extra trudging, but not for long. Once
the trail switchbacked out of a shady valley, we
encountered a welcome stretch of bare trail. Then
around another shady corner we found more snow, though
firm enough in most places to manage without the fat

We easily rock-hopped past a pretty waterfall (perhaps
the scenic pinnacle of the trip), then climbed to a bare
shoulder with a peek-a-boo view of Davis Peak rising
high above the rushing creek. Rainless clouds swirled
above. It was time for a lunch break. Davis is reputedly
the only place in Washington where the Earth rises more
than a vertical mile in less than one mile of horizontal
distance, making it the state's highest rock wall.
Unfortuntately, there is no full-on view of this giant
wall, even in summer,since the old trail fades before you
get to a place with a decent enough view. The Stetattle
Creek Trail once led all the way to the high ridge
connecting with Azure Lake and the Southern Pickets and
was used by climbers way back in the olden days. But no
more. Other routes now provide slightly easier access to
this still remote region of the North Cascades.

Bellies glad, we studied the deepening snow ahead, then
decided oh, what the heck, and continued on. While the
snow was generally walkable, most of us did manage to
step in exactly the wrong spot a couple times and sunk
to our knees or worse. The GPS promised that Bucket
Creek was "just a bit farther" so we mushed on. A few
hundred yards seemed like a mile, as we lost, then found,
lost, then found the snow-bound trail.

We finally rounded the last bend, with the creek
a-tumbling below. But our happy destination turned out
to be anti-climactic. Too much snow to really get close
to the little falls and a steep, deep, snow crossing just
to see the white blur through the trees. We'd gone far
enough and it was time to beat feet back again, before we
lost the trail altogether, or stepped into more holes up
to our necks.

The return seemed quicker and easier, given that gravity
was on our side now. The sky remained cloudy and
rainless (for the entire hike). We poked a few more
post-holes in the snow justfor fun, and worked our way
through the previous obstacles without difficulty. By
3:00-ish we wereback at the truck--just in time for a rain
shower. For the fearless five, the 2008 North Cascades
hiking season had officially begun.

Although we encountered good conditions overall, beware of
high water and potential avalanche exposure in a few spots
in early season. Otherwise, this is a good three-season
hike, probably most enjoyable in summer or fall. If you
venture far, don't loose the trail! A hiker became lost
in the Stetattle Creek valley last summer, and despite a
happy ending, spent five cold nights out alone.
Ken Wilcox

Friday, February 29, 2008

Hiking Chiang Dao, Thailand

During my recent trip to Thailand I quickly discovered that SE Asia is not really a mountaineers choice location for summits. However, there is at least one mountain worthy of a hike to the summit. Chiang Dao is the 3rd highest peak and the highest limestone mountain in Thailand, standing at 2195meters. The highest peak is Doi Inthanon at 2595m, a simple drive to the top. I chose Chiang Dao on recommendation by a recent visitor and for its impressive prominence as you approach it. Birders from all over the world flock here to pursue locating a number of native birds. You can hire a birding guide to speed up the identification curve. The weather in winter is just cool enough at night to use a blanket and still reach the 80s during the day as opposed to Bangkok where it stays hot night and day in winter. Furthermore, it happened to be the only area in Thailand I encountered where the land seemed to still be in a relatively natural state of preservation. There are other national parks which likely, have nice natural areas as well; but my trip was short.

Access to this mountain is by bus (~$2) about 1.5hrs north of the city of Chiang Mai in far northern Thailand. Get off at the north end of the small town of Chiang Dao and find the intersection with a road going west 5km to Tham Chiang Dao caves. Here you can hire a motorbike taxi (<$2) or truck to the cave area and choose from a few different guesthouses or just stay in Chiang Dao Inn on the highway. Be sure to stock up on snacks in town. I choose to ride the motorbike 6km to Malee's Nature Guesthouse. Maelee's is in a good overnight location for exploring the caves, hiking and birding. You can buy meals here or from the small restaurants and mini-marts at the cave entrance. If you arrive the afternoon before your hike, you can visit the sacred retreat complex of Samnak Song Tham Ph Plong. This is a monastery where Buddhist monks can be seen meditating. Go about 1km past Malee's and climb the long, steep stairway up to a large temple, among forest and limestone cliffs. With more time, you can explore the Tham Chiang Dao caves which takes about an hour. At the caves, you hire a guide with a lantern to show you around the stalactites and stalagmites. From this area, there used to be a direct trail leading up to the summit of Chiang Dao. Since the national park did not like the condition of this trail, they closed the old trail and moved the trailhead to a higher location. This requires your own transport, renting a motorbike or bicycle, hiring an expensive taxi or hitch-hiking to a pass about 12km further up the road. The guesthouses will all try to convince you that it is too dangerous to go on your own and that you will get lost. They really just want to make some extra cash by selling you a tour with a guide service. So I had to just ignore the warnings and find my own way up there. I wanted to avoid having to pay some $32 for a 2 day trip I could do in one. I stood on the road around 7am and caught a ride up about a half hour later. The driver was taking 3 locals to a further village for the day's work. All I had to do was watch the scenery of the towering north face go by and look out for the trailhead sign near a pass.

From the trailhead, it must be around 3500' to the summit, just based on the time it took me to summit, about 3 hours. The guesthouses tell you around 5-6 hours from the trailhead to summit and most people camp. The trail initially starts off deceivingly flat before shooting up steeply to a notch, giving views of rolling rounded mountains and a village to the north. There is a little bit of muddy, root-grabbing terrain just before the notch. The tropical vegetation is mostly thin and open to the sky, giving lots of views throughout the length of the trail. However, there are periodic clusters of forest to find shade. If you are early, you can make it about half way to the summit in the shadow of the mountain.

Once you attain the initial notch, the views of limstone cliffs are inspiring and continue towards the summit. You are not able to see the summit here, but the trail curves left and follows an inner valley for about an hour. Along this stretch, you pass one intersection with 2 signs labeled in Thai. Not knowing Thai, I chose the trail to the left which seemed to be toward higher points. Luckily it was the right way and I passed through a campsite with about a dozen birding tourist staying. Most of them were scattered along the trail from to summit to camp, all with expensive cameras, binoculars and scopes. Beyond the camp, the trail steepened up a bit and wound up through more open country to a rocky knoll. From the top I could see a number of false summits around the mountain complex. By this time, it was already around 11am and the mid-day haze had developed. This prevented me from seeing very far away but the closest peaks of Chiang Dao were enough to hang out and admire for awhile. The air was warm, with a light breeze and I had it all to myself.

The walk back down took around 2 hours and the afternoon was heating up. Plan on 3 hours of leisurely walking down. No one stopped to pick me up at the trailhead. So I walked quickly down the paved road for about an hour until the same worker truck gave me a lift back to the park entrance gate. They had to stack crates a mile high on the bed to replace our bodies. With another 4km or so to go, I started walking again until a motorbike pulled over and took me the rest of the way to the cave for exploration. Malee's offered an amazing $4 buffet of Thai food that evening. I will have to say.... I did get my money's worth after that hike! Coincidentaly, there was a small group of students from Huxley College, WWU staying at Malee's that night.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

Orcas Island Ski and Snowshoe Trip

When the snowlevel comes down to sea level, long-time club members like to think of special outings. In recent years we’ve managed to tour up to Blanchard Overlook, and along the Samish Bay dikes.
This time as the snow filled the lowlands we tried a variation on what is normally a special outing even in the summer.
With the highways difficult to drive due to lowland snow it seemed a remote idea to travel to Orcas Island, but the ferries aren’t bothered by snow that easily.
Driving into Eastsound the view was unusual to say the least for anyone who had been here in the summer. Looking more like Leavenworth than a seaside village we enjoyed snowshoeing and skiing on the trails and beaches around town. A study in contrast, we skied up the northside of Turtle Mt. but were able to hike a warm sunny, and mostly snowfree trail on the south side.
After some tentative exploration to Sunrise Rock and past the waterfalls of Moran State Park we were ready to tackle the “Big One.” Mt. Constitution!
What an adventurous and rewarding trip.
Beginning at the bottom with thin slippery snow and boot hiking; we soon transitioned into deeper snow where snowshoes and eventually skis became a necessity.
The last section of trail seemed to be along the top of a cliff band and we had to move with extra caution. Soon after, the final trail segment led to the startling sight of what of course appears to be an ancient rock watchtower rising up above all else, in a world of white and grey. Beautifully feathered in ice crystals from blowing snow we carefully made our way to the top; over drifts of snow spilling in from the open window slots and spreading about the floor and stairs. We could only remain outside briefly due to the powerful winds and cold but despite the lack of views, none of us were disappointed.
The trip down on a combination of snow and ice covered road and trails was not as enjoyable as we had hoped but the brief opening in the clouds just as we reached the viewpoint of Little Summit made it all worthwhile. In town, it felt like we were hut skiing, warm, dry and comfortable each evening, and yet picturesque accommodations on the waterfront. A very special trip.

North Cascades Ski and Snowshoe Exploration

When the winter snows have closed the North Cascades Highway, it’s always fun to pick a good day to drive to the gated end of the road and enjoy the serenity and beauty of this often overlooked outing. A small group of club members did just that. Frozen lakes and waterfalls, snowcapped peaks, and what seem like short simple hikes in the summer become more strenuous and exciting winter snow trips. The final segment of this special day was the ascent of Thunder Knob overlooking Diablo Lake. Two stream crossing, both flowing, route finding on a sometimes vague trail, and a final crosscountry compass trek were required to reach the summit. Wonderful views and not a little fulfillment was the perfect end to this day. Scouting some other trails though, gave us some more ideas for the next trip up the North Cascades during the winter.

Snowshoe and Ski Outings

From the snowy frozen highcountry of British Columbia to the magically transformed Baker Lake area the club has made good use of the Short=Notice Outings to enjoy some spectacular days.
Some of these trips required 4-wheel chain driving while others were suitable for any vehicle. As always conditions ruled the choices.
The Baker Lake outing was especially beautiful and included a mixed group of skiers and snowshoers able to tour along the sandbars revealed by low winter lake levels.
Baker and Shuksan were spectacular in the blue sky and the wildlife teemed along the lake margins, seemingly enjoying the brief burst of warm golden sunlight.
A simple nature trail at the summit of Grove Mt provided a magical snowhike and ended a wonderful day.

White Salmon Snowshoe Outings

Snowshoeing in winter can be an exciting and challenging experience. Fresh, deep snow, so lovely in the trees and on the mountains can be a struggle. With these conditions it’s best to have a large assortment of trail breakers. Thanks to Herm, there’s been a wonderful, almost weekly selection of short notice outings up the Mt. Baker Highway, this year. White Salmon Road has figures often but with exciting connections to viewpoints, Salmon Ridge Nordic Area, The White Salmon Lodge and various loops and alternatives. Conditions have varied widely sometimes hip deep fresh powder and other times fairly firm more moist snow. Many days were spectacular view days and others were, let’s just say “interesting.” Consistent throughout all these outings, everyone came away happy and eager to go again. Thanks for the great outings Herm, see you on another Short-Notice snowshoe soon.