Crystal Mountain, WA – The Real Deal!

29 12 2021
First time!

I’ve lived in Portland, OR, since late 1992, and Mount Hood is my neighborhood mountain. I’ve always wanted to ski at Crystal Mountain, which I’d heard was larger and more rewarding for advanced skiers than the resorts on Mt. Hood. But several planned trips were cancelled due to rain. It’s about the same driving hours as Mt. Bachelor, OR. For the 2021-2022 season I purchased an IKON Pass, and it’s good for 4 days at Crystal, so I headed up in mid-December to check it out. As it was early season both for conditions and my ski fitness level, I intended to just check it out, not get overly ambitious and then injure myself.

Everything worked out great! The snow conditions were powdery and dry, it snowed all day, and the wind was dead calm. I spent the evening prior in Enumclaw, and headed up starting before 8:00 a.m. Note: The drive prior to Enumclaw is frustratingly stop and go as it passes through a number of suburban malls. But the view of Mt. Rainier is spectacular!

Enumclaw is a poverty of breakfast spots. I drove all around town and found myself exasperated. Thoroughly hangry, I settled on McDonald’s. Then, at the very edge of town on Hwy 410, the road to Crystal, I spied Charlie’s Cafe, which otherwise would have been my salvation! Next time!

The initial phase of the drive to Crystal, on SE Enumclaw-Chinook Pass Rd., isn’t all that pretty. It has equal amounts forest, mountain views, and unsightly clearcuts.

Further along, the forest closes in, and the road winds along the beautiful White River. It was snowing, still, and the flakes piles up on pine boughs and deciduous branches. Bridges were all covered in sugar.

Crystal is nestled in a narrow valley and there is only a two-lane road accessing it. I was skiing on a Monday, but I could only imagine the crush of Seattle skiers on weekends.

The serendipity of the ride was interrupted toward the last turn off which brings one to Crystal Mountain Boulevard. Traffic was halted due to an unknown hazard ahead. In this valley, I had no cell phone reception, so the only news came from drivers headed back my way. After about 30 minutes, word arrived about an SUV overturned on the access road.

It seemed like the morning was getting late, but in fact it wasn’t even 8:45 yet. Lots time to get turns in!

After all the excitement I reached Lot B. As it’s in a narrow valley, parking lots are stretched out along the bottom. Numerous shuttles ferry guests back and froth from the base to the lots. Quite a number of RVs overnighted. Some dressed for the holidays!

My IKON Pass is supposed to be valid at over 40 resorts worldwide. I just had to verify at the lift ticket window that this thing is real. YES! It does work! So it was off to the lifts. Crystal tops out at 7,012 ft. It has a sh*t ton of in bounds skiing that would be outback elsewhere, including the lift-serviced Northway Area, which the trail map says is “All avalanche prone.”

Crystal has a Gondola, which is a fast way to get from the base area to the main mountain. I didn’t take it, still avoiding un-masked rides in close quarters during Covid.

I spent my day between the Chinook Express, Forest Queen Express, and Rainier Express lifts. It was such a terrific day with an embarrassment of powder snow! 1,000 giggles all around. The trails have terrific fall lines and there are lots of bowls and tree skiing! I’m definitely heading back to explore more.

The snowy drive out of the valley was to die for! But back toward Enumclaw, it was all rain. I will return to Crystal later this winter for sure!





Choosing Ski Goggles

26 12 2021
Ski goggles and lenses come in a variety of shapes and colors!

When it comes to enjoying snow sports, visibility, whether good or bad, can make or break your day! The ability to see changes in terrain, ice, bumps, rocks, other riders and trees, is especially important for skiers and snowboarders, who need to make instant changes in direction. They need to be able to see in bright light, dark, snowy weather, and even under the lights for night skiing. The goggles need to stay fog-free, and fit snug no matter the face. They also need to protect your eyes from harmful UV rays.

What about sunglasses? Sunglasses provide protection from UV rays but often do not keep wind completely out of your eyes. And no protection from the cold. If you’re like me, and you ski fast, wind may billow behind sunglasses and cause your eyes to water. Even worse, I used to wear contact lenses, and my watery eyes lifted the contacts completely off, and they blew off and stuck to the sunglasses! At the very least, choose 100% UV protected sunglasses and aerodynamic glasses.

A good fitting ski goggle keeps wind and snow out, and also helps with warmth. It will allow just enough venting to eliminate fogging.

Night Skiing and Very Dark, Snowy Days

At night, the lights, since they shine at a low angle on the slopes instead of overhead like the sun, create shadows that intensify the visibility of small changes in terrain and the bumps. Lenses that let in as much light as possible make for a better experience than those which cut out light. Clear lenses are ideal, and yellow lenses work well. Category 0 lenses let in 80% of the light.

On very snowy days, and in the fog, yellow, or rose bring visibility to flat light so that changes to terrain are more visible. These Category 1 lenses allow 43% of light to pass through.

Cloudy Days

These conditions call for Category 2 lenses, which let in 18% to 42% of light, depending on color. They could be blue, amber, or rose.

Bright, Sunny Days

On blue bird days, especially at higher altitudes, UV protection and eye strain protection are paramount. These are Category 3 lenses, which allow only 8% to 17% of light to pass through. They are often brown or gray. Often, these lenses are treated with 50% polarization to reduce glare.

Changing Lenses

Price will dictate the quality of lens, the ability to and ease of changing lenses, and how many lenses come with your goggles. Some goggles only come with one lens and additional lenses must be purchased separately. Then there are those that come with two lenses, but changing requires time consuming fiddling to complete the switch. To facilitate the switch, some offer “magnetic” lenses which quickly stick to the goggle frame and can be changed in a flash. For more money, there are photo-chromatic lenses which automatically change shade based upon available light.

Fit Is It

20 years ago, there were only two size of ski goggles: Adult and children. Today, there are choices for women, kids and some that fit flatter or thinner faces and noses. It’s all about comfort and sealing out the wind. Also, pick a goggle that works with your ski helmet, if you use one. There are even goggles that are made to fit over prescription glasses, and goggles with prescription lenses!

Price

Expect to pay $40 to $299 depending on features and quality. Rather than an afterthought in your ski kit, goggles should be a top priority!





Staff River Trip on the Deschutes!

1 11 2021
First night’s happy hour! As you can see adult beverages on the left AND right!

The Covid years of 2020 and 2021 have been the most challenging – and rewarding – to all of us Alder Creek Kayak and Canoe. Each of us has worked our hearts out – practically reinventing the business in the process – slaloming through countless challenges posed by mask mandates, reinvention of rental and instruction procedures, chronic product uncertainties, and skyrocketing pandemic-driven consumer demand. We’ve succeeded. The business is stronger than ever, and we still command exceptionally high customer satisfaction. Congratulations everybody! So in early October, our bosses Dave and Suzi, as a celebration and thank-you, closed the store for two days and took the staff on a two-day trip on 42.4 miles of the Lower Deschutes River.

The trip was to put in at Buckhollow day use area, below Sherars Falls, and end at end at its confluence with the Columbia River at Heritage Landing State Park. The plan was to meet up and camp at the White River Campground, a few miles upstream from Buckhollow.

Meloy, Matt, Alex, Ethan, Byron and I loaded up the van with our gear and a couple of whitewater kayaks. Dave and Suzi earlier headed out with a trailer full of rafts and inflatable kayaks. Road trip!

We arrived within 30 minutes of each other. With daylight slipping away we wasted no time setting up tents and the all-important kitchen and “campfire.” At the departure date, wood campfires were prohibited. We ordered a propane-fueled campfire set up but it hadn’t showed up the day before, causing anxieties. But it showed up two hours before departure, and it was totally a hit!

Suzi did a bang up job coordinating the food and beverages for this trip. There was NO shortage of anything especially the adult beverages, which included wine, tequila, mud slides and mimosas! Our first night’s meal featured pulled pork burritos with this amazing salsa for the toppings. For dessert, she served my suggestion of brownies topped with whipped cream. The night was pretty cold! I sleep pretty warm. I brought my Mountain Hardware Phantom 32 bag plus a packable down comforter. It’s a hydrophobic down bag. I was so comfy I never even zipped the bag. We all had frost on our tents upon awakening.

Wakey wakey was about 7 a.m. with piping hot coffee. We had a nice assortment of Suzi’s home baked pumpkin muffins, yogurt, cereal, and fruit. The idea was to eat quickly and get on the river!

Once packed up we headed down to Buckhollow. Even though it was chilly, it was pretty physical work putting the boats together, and before long, we were wondering, once we put our dry suits on, if we’d soon be de-layering! Setting up involves sorting out gear, inflating rafts and inflatable kayaks, strapping things down, river feature discussion, etc. I was having trepidations about the dry suit I chose – I suspected it might leak. So I wore thick polypropylene pants and neoprene socks. That turned out to be a wise choice!

Off we went! This river section has a couple of Class II and a Class III (sometimes III+) rapid called Wreck Rapid. Turns out the name Wreck Rapid wasn’t referring to wrecking boats. It was the site of a 1949 railroad crash! As it’d been 10 years since I last whitewater boated, I chose an inflatable kayak. It was an Aire Tomcat. Inflatable whitewater kayaks are kind of two-faced. On the one hand, they are very forgiving, pretty much riding over eddies and opposing currents, rather than being thrown around by them. On the other hand, trying to make any sort of quick move just doesn’t happen. They are barge-like. I found the best way to approach a rapid or wave train is to just point it right at the waves and go. The main thing to avoid is being sideways to a wave. What is amazing is how fast they drain! Many times the kayak would seem to completely swamped, only to drain instantly. I brought along my bomber waterproof duffel by Ortlieb. It’d taken me on the Cordillera Huayhuash Trek in Peru, and the Annapurna Sanctuary Trek, in Nepal. But it hadn’t been subjected to constant thrashing on a river trip! This tough as nails bag came though completely dry on the inside. My drysuit, however, was as problematic as I’d feared. The right leg was very damp and foot wet. Yes, after the trip, on inspection, it had some kind of abrasion inside the leg, it had delamination, and the icing on the cake, a hole in the sock.

Today’s objective was to get to a few miles past Mack’s Canyon. If we managed that, we’d have a shorter paddle tomorrow. The river passes through beautiful Central Oregon canyon country. The canyon walls are lined with spectacular columnar basalt formations. Flora is mostly sage brush and juniper. We are on the lookout for Rocky Mountain Big Horn sheep! We glimpse countless Blue Heron, Osprey, and Kingfisher. The Cliff Swallow nests are visible, but the inhabitants have migrated away for the winter. The character of the paddle itself is moving flatwater punctuated by pool-drop rapids.

We chose to go further than Mack’s Canyon, the initial destination. We paddled approximately 3.5 miles further, to a campsite called Homestead. This offered us plenty of space to set up a kitchen with plenty of dispersed tent sites. But our late arrival made for hasty tent pitching and set up before dark! Alex set up a long length of line to hang out gear which we availed ourselves of tout suite! Soon, we found ourselves setting out food and drink, and the fire pit was going. This night we’d enjoy Suzi’s home made pasta sauce over noodles. Prior, as appetizers, we scarfed down crackers, cheeses, plates of sliced carrot, green pepper, cherry tomatoes, and more.

Dinner done, it was time to hang out by the fire. It wasn’t long, after a few quaffs of adult beverages, that calls came out for the “Squim” game. Uh oh. This is a game where quarters are carried to a kettle and aimed and dropped in. HOW, do you ask, does one drop them in? By holding the quarter between the butt cheeks! Not all are skilled in this endeavor. But Suzi has buns of steel and is very adroit at this game. Andrew tried it too, and his new found strut made me just about cough up my beverage in laughter.

Suzi nails it!

I announced I was retiring, and went to my tent. But before, I ensured I had everything inside, including my drysuit. This turned out to be super wise, as it started to rain just as I zipped up the tent fly. My MSR Hubba Hubba NX tent was not the tent it used to be. The tent fly did not leak thank God. But the inside tent’s seam tape had completely disintegrated, and the floor became sticky like some kind of tape. Anyway eventually I got up to check and OMG there were little pools forming at the edges. The foot of my sleeping bag was wet. But inside the sleeping bag it was still dry. Lucky it’s hydrophobic. And if I just stayed on my Thermarest pad I was dry. It was hard to sleep, as I dreaded a drip drip drip falling on me from the fly! I prayed PLEASE rain stop. Which it did. I think it rained 90 minutes. About 2 a.m. I got up to relieve myself, looked up and glimpsed a 100% clear, sparkly starry sky! So the rain was a desert passing shower.

Once again, wakey wakey about 7 a.m. And first things first, the morning Constitutional demanded attention. OH, I ought to mention! On this river trip, this situation was practically a crisis! Only myself and Suzi brought toilet paper, and I only had 1 roll. For like 10 people? Damn. I will leave it up to your imagination. Oh come on, we are supposed to be professional outdoors people, right? I only know in my case I never depend on the campground or whatever for TP, I always bring it just in case! Anyway, here I was early in the morning, my body making demands. Dave had set up the ‘stool’ some ways away from camp. Only upon making the hike did I find the spot more than a place to perform the duty. It was a place of contemplation! Let’s just say, it was a unique spot to complete one’s daily dump.

The Throne of Contemplation!

In my case, my thoughts were occupied with the final few Class II, Class III and maybe Class III+ rapids I’d need to navigate in my leaky drysuit. Dave and Suzi, and Ethan told me repeatedly these were straightforward and not that big of a deal. But I didn’t know for myself, right? Oh well. Just forge ahead, right?

Our Chef’s duties called for my group to cook this morning’s breakfast. The pressure was on myself, Tyler and Ethan. The menu called for hash browns, bacon, and scrambled eggs, with melted cheese if we could manage that. And OF COURSE lots of coffee! The hash browns were of a kind I can’t seem to find at my local Fred Meyers. They come in a cardboard container. Just open, pour into the skillet and cook! The bacon was a snap. Suzi had pre cooked the bacon before the trip. Essentially all that was needed was a nice hot pre-heat. The eggs I did in my own simple way, which is to crack them open right on the skillet and add the other ingredients (milk and in this case cheese), scramble right on the skillet. All went well! The paddlers were satisfied! The funny thing about this trip was that many of us had never camped together before, yet it certainly seemed like we’d been camping together for years.

OK. After clean up of kitchen, packing away wet tents and other gear, topping off inflatable kayaks and rafts, strapping down of duffel bags, camp chairs, kitchen tables and propane tanks, it was time to head off! Today’s journey called for much flat water river journeying, viewing of canyon walls, hiking to petrogplyphs, and 4 Class III and III+ rapids at the end of the float. I was definitely nervous about the end, but it turned out to be more fun than fear!

Yes, once we began, Day 2 was sparklly bright and clear. There would be no rain. Wind was our primary challenge on Day 2, especially toward the end! On this day, we had plenty of fast moving flat water. But lay ahead were rapids with names like Washout, Rattlesnake, Colorado, and Gordon Ridge Rapid (where one of our Wenonah Canoe sales representatives dumped).

Some of switched boats, but myself, Meloy and Byron stuck to their original craft. For Matt, it was his first time piloting a raft, and he performed like a seasoned raft paddler. One thing I learned is that as a kayak paddler on a trip like this, you do NOT want to be behind a raft entering a rapid. As a kayak paddler, if you are behind a raft, the raft blocks your view, and secondly, the raft may, without warning, suddenly change direction, leaving you, the kayak paddler, without time to change position for an upcoming river feature like a hole.

I found that my favorite rapid was the Gordon Ridge Rapid. It seemed unanimous that all of us liked this rapid best! It featured numerous small islets which the river wended around, creating innumerable opportunities to paddle the kayak back and forth to meet the demands of the river. And, it was longer than the other rapids, making more fun! At one point, we were so ‘trafficked,’ that we bumped into each other.

We finished the storied Colorado Rapids, which were followed by Rattlesnake. Funny thing was, I paddled through Rattlesnake and did not even know it. Maybe it was the river level, I don’t know. But I just followed, at a distance, Dave and Suzi’s raft, and it was no big deal.

Then the wind roared. How does this happen? So, in the Summer, the Columbia Gorge gets hot, and even on warm Fall days, and the hot air rises. Something has to displace the air rising. And what would that be? It is air from the Pacific Ocean, and it begins to replace the rising air about noon. This every-day phenomenon starts a race-track all the way from Astoria to beyond The Dalles in the Columbia Gorge. And, it also flows up the Columbia Gorge side canyons like the John Day River and the Deschutes River. On our final miles to our take-out, we were experiencing gusts up to 35 mph. So what to do? PADDLE HARD! It constantly forced my inflatable kayak to turn right. To counter, I had to paddle hard to left, which at some point eventually led to a blister on my right wrist. Alex had a First Aid Kit with a gauze self-adhering bandage which I applied. That kept the damage at bay.

In the end, we all paddled against the wind to the take out. It was annoying but not too bad!

We had a terrific trip! We’re looking forward to a great 2022!





Fort Flagler, WA and the Seals

28 10 2021
Suzanne and Bob at Fort Flagler

Right after my September visit to Lake Quinault, I continued up the west side of the Olympic Peninsula, past Port Angeles, and on to the Port Townsend area where my friends Suzanne and Bob live. They live on Kala Point, south of town, on Port Townsend Bay. Bob built himself a dandy wooden sea going rowing shell. We decided to meet up at Fort Flagler State Park, on the other side of Indian Island for a paddle/row. I brought along the Wilderness Systems Tempest 170 I borrowed from work.

Bob launched from Kala Point and rowed over, whilst Suzanne and I drove over to Fort Flagler. After getting the Tempest 170 adjusted for Suzanne, we launched.

From the launch site the whole of Port Townsend Bay comes into view. I could see a ferry carrying passengers from Whidbey Island, the town’s famous clock tower, and a sailboat race taking place right in front of the town docks. The weather was calm, and it was low tide. So very little current when we launched.

We came to a sand spit across the way, and spotted a colony of maybe 35 seals. They were all laid up on the beach soaking up the sun. But they were wary and all stared at us as we approached. I paddled slowly, mostly gliding toward them. Then, one by one, they moved into the water. Eventually the whole colony was swimming around looking at us. Sometimes, I could see a seal swimming under my kayak! They’d swim upside down so they could see my kayak above.

As you can see from the videos, the seals were wary, yes, but they were just as curious! The cutest part was the pups and their mothers “kissing.”

The tide started coming in. And boy, in that area, when the tide makes it move, it starts cranking! By the time we turned back, the surface was a one-way river!

The experience was very refreshing. I grew up in the northeast 15 minutes away from the shore. Sailboats and salt water are in my blood, so this was so much needed! I shall return.





Lake Quinault, WA Over Labor Day

27 10 2021
Chiyo in my Current Designs Sisu

My good friends Chiyo and Chester joined me for a couple of days camping and paddling on the Olympic Peninsula at Lake Quinault. Lake Quinault is managed by the Quinault Tribe, and they only allow motorized craft for tribal members and home owners on the lake. So, it can be pretty quiet for paddling. On this trip, even on Labor Day weekend, I saw only one power boat. The lake borders Olympic National Park with its legendary rivers, rain forests and mountains.

Any drive up in the Olympic Peninsula involves passing logging trucks!

I brought along my sea kayak, a Current Designs Sisu, and I borrowed a Wilderness Systems Tempest 170 from Alder Creek Kayak and Canoe, where I work in Digital Marketing and as a sales associate and kayak guide. One of the perks is we can demo and borrow kayaks!

My kayak, a fiberglass kayak, came through the drive unhurt. The other kayak is a plastic one, and it deformed, in industry terms, “oil canned.” Storing it on edge somewhat helped. But the polyethylene plastic is so soft and can deform with just a little heat and pressure. Either way, we enjoyed our paddling on the lake. My tent is a pretty simple backpacking tent. Chester and Chiyo’s tent is more like the Taj Mahal!

We paddled along the east end of the lake. At one point I went ashore to take a look around. It wasn’t long before I found evidence of the wildlife living in the area! There were big elk prints in the sand!

After our return, it was time for a sumptuous lunch. Two friends from Portland had brought along their kayaks and paddled with us. Chiyo even brought tiramisu for dessert. I was so stuffed at that point, I could not accept.

The sleeping that evening was the low part for sure. Labor Day had its way with us. One of the other campsites ignored the rules and invited half of Seattle. There must have been 20+ people, and about 10 cars with all the camping gear showed up after dark. The camp host made them pay for all those extra cars, and enforced the quiet hours on them. But there was more! Another campsite went on partying until after midnight. Lesson be learned, think twice about car camping Labor Day Weekend!





Waldo Lake: Clear Water Paddling and Huckleberries

26 10 2021

There’s a magical lake high in the Oregon Cascades. Waldo Lake. It’s so pure, you can see down 140 feet! And since there are no powered boats allowed, it is the same experience as hundreds of years ago. Sailing or paddling along its shores is a truly memorable experience. In fact, just sitting by the lake, listening to the water lap at the shore can cure a multitude of urban stresses.

Speaking of stress, we picked a weekend early in August when there happened to be a number of wildfires in the area. On the way up each of us, in different vehicles, experienced smoke so thick we considered turning back. But our experiences told us to push on, because depending on the wind, it just might be good. And voila! In the last 5 miles of the state highway to the turn-off, it cleared up and was beautiful!

Jessie, Joel and I met up with Bill and Julie and their kids. We had two campsites, both walking distance to the water. Many of the car camping sites at Waldo Lake have significant real estate! Some have an eighth of an acre.

A four-minute walk away were Bill and Julie and their kids. They all brought their kayaks as well.

The smoke was still very close. As it turned out, mornings and mid day were always clear, but then in the afternoon, the wind switched and smoke would to start to cross the lake. Toward day’s end, one couldn’t see the other side. Then at night it would switch revealing a star studded sky.

Sunsets were spectacular!

The following day, after breakfast, we set off to cruise along the north shore, with the goal of finding the headwaters of the Willamette River. We had beautiful skies, warm weather, clear water, and yes, we found the treasure: Huckleberries!

Pictures say it all! Considering that there were wildfires not 10 miles away, we totally lucked out! If you ever come to Oregon to paddle, put Waldo Lake on your checklist. FYI, there are dozens of wild campsites on the west side of the lake with guaranteed privacy!