Category Archives: Hiking

MSR EVO Snowshoe Review

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Last weekend I cooked up the idea to go climb The Tooth’s south face.  I say cooked up the idea because the weather didn’t cooperate sufficiently to actually do any climbing.  This outing though provided me with my first experience with snowshoes and I have to say I feel silly for not owning a pair yet.

The snow on the hike to The Tooth was all around manky.  It was wet, heavy and deep enough to post-hole to mid-thigh.  To combat this mankiness I rented a pair of MSR EVO snowshoes from REI.  The snowshoes were only 22″ and with a pack I was pushing 200 lbs.  REI gave me a pair of tails that added 6″ but even with those I was a little worried about sinking into the mush.

My worries proved to be unfounded.  In general I sank only a few inches and when the snow really gave out, and I sunk deep, the EVO’s didn’t bind up and get caught in the snow.  I was very impressed that the wet heavy snow didn’t ball up and stick to the snowshoe.  I don’t know how MSR did it but I expected to be carrying a few extra pounds of snow on the bottom of the snowshoe and I was pleasantly surprised to be wrong.

There were a few places that the snow got steep on the hike to The Tooth.  The toe crampon did its job fairly well and the snowshoe felt solid enough when I had to kick steps.  It wasn’t the most natural thing to kick steps in snowshoes but it wasn’t that awkward either.  The simple system of two rails of metal teeth on the bottom gave me sufficient bite when the snow was icier but I couldn’t really evaluate how well they’d do going up something steep and icy.

I wan’t particularly impressed with the EVO’s ability to transverse steeper slopes or their ability to go downhill.  In both situations the snowshoe would slip right out from under me.  I don’t know if this is problematic of all snowshoes or just these but for a little over $100 retail I don’t expect perfection.  In general the EVO’s seem to be at a sweet spot between performance and price.

I feel silly for not having a pair of snowshoes now.  They made the hike so much more energy efficient and really make climbing in the winter feasible.  Without them I would have been post-holing with every step and I wouldn’t have had the energy to climb if I was able to get there at all.

Despite being all around good performers I think I am going to buy a pair of the MSR Lightning Ascent’s.  I like the idea of having crampon like teeth all around the snowshoe.  I think the teeth all around would dramatically improve traversing and downhill performance.  They also have heel risers which seem like they would be amazing on sustained steep terrain.  While they are more expensive the extra features seem worth it to me.

Hike to Spider Meadow on Phelps Creek Trail

To celebrate my wife-to-be’s birthday we decided to get out of the city and hike to Spider Meadow in Glacier Peak Wilderness.  I had heard that it was a wonderful trail culminating in a jaw-dropping meadow and that it was a mild 12 miles round trip.

We packed up a tent, a few beers, and our mangy canine trail partner and headed out to Wenatchee late on a Monday afternoon.  We pulled in to the first National Forest campground near Lake Wenatchee at about 10:00, set up the tent, drank a few beers, and celebrated her turning a quarter of a century under the clear night sky.  Her birthday present really was an “us” gift because I bought her her first real sleeping bag.  I found an REI Lumen +25 synthetic bag for $62.83 on sale and couldn’t pass it up.  She was absolutely thrilled and I am glad that we can now go on overnight trips.

We lazily woke in the morning, packed up and drove the 20ish miles on Chiwawa River Road.  In retrospect this was the most difficult portion of our little adventure.  While most of the road is well beaten in gravel there are a number of sections after the turn on Phelps Creek Trailhead Road that are really rocky and gave the tires and suspension on my little Civic a workout.

The trail winds through the forest and over quite a few shallow creeks.  There was a number of delicate rock hopping traverses but the creeks were no more than ankle deep and the consequences of a wrong step were simply wet socks.  It was actually kind of fun.

Some forests are mind-numbingly boring with evergreen, after evergreen, after evergreen.  The forest on the hike to Spider Meadows was surprisingly varied.  Some sections were overgrown with doug fir, while other sections had only a few towering trees with light ground cover.  Some patches had seemingly ancient timber downed by mountain storms, while others were fields of berries and flowers.  The subtle changes in scenery made the miles on the relatively flat trail painless.  There was just enough going on to keep me occupied, but not too much to prevent a carefree conversation.

The six miles to the meadow went quickly and almost out of nowhere the forest opened up and we were greeted with a sea of alpine flowers set against a backdrop of jagged peaks.  It was classic beauty and a sight that every PNW’er should behold.  Spider Meadow imbued a sense of serenity that allowed me to forget modern civilization, whatever that may be.  I had stepped into a holy place where the mountains were my cathedral, the streams my choir, and the breeze my salvation.  That may be a little dramatic but it was awe inspiring to the n’th degree.

We poked around the meadow for a while enjoying the sun and the breeze.  It was a perfect couple of hours but eventually we had to leave.  It was tough to tear ourselves away but we still had a 6 mile hike out and a couple hour drive back to Seattle.

All in all I deem it a +1 in the Jon category for celebrating the wife-to-be’s birthday in grand fashion.

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Pete Lake Hike in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness

Sometimes I just need to get outside.  Most of the time that means I want an adventure to shake out the monotony of day to day life, but sometimes I just want the company of my dog, pretty scenery, and a pleasant trail.  It’s sort of the difference between wanting to waterski and just wanting to sit on the beach.

The hike to Pete Lake is most definitely a meditative hike devoid of adventure.  Yes there are a couple of balancey creek crossing but if you know how to walk then they are fun surprises that nature has added to keep you awake.  That said I did see a guy donning Gore-Tex head to toe (including the $60 hat) with one of those super-fancy seam-welded Arc’teryx pack that crossed a stream as gracefully as jello rolling down stairs.  Don’t be that guy.

The relaxation starts on the drive there.  The road follows the shore of Cle Elum Lake which offers spectacle views at the cost of ten steps from your car.  Often times I am in such a hurry to get to the trailhead that I forget I am driving through one of the most beautiful states.

Once at the Pete Lake trailhead it is a short jaunt (about 5 miles) to Pete Lake.  I went in early July and the trail was just about fully melted out.  I didn’t really mind the early season mud or the random puddles blocking the trail because the forest is calming on a level that only an ancient place can be.  This is not a trail for solitude though; rather it is a trail to find a little offshoot, sit on a rocky perch, and just soak in the moment.

The trail had quite a few downed trees that required a bit of bushwhacking.  It was still early season so the downed pine trees had not had a clear path trampled through yet.  I was fortunate enough to meet two rangers out there doing trail maintenance and stopped to have a chat.  It was drizzly and gray in typical PNW fashion but all of us agreed that it was a beautiful day to be outside.

Pete Lake proper offered me solitude on a wet weekday in early July.  I highly doubt this is the norm because there are numerous well-established campsites and plenty of fire pits set up for drunken storytelling late into the night.  There are campsites all along the north side of the lake that are a little off the trail.  I didn’t check out the south side of Pete Lake but there may quieter camping over there.

Two final notes.  If Pete Lake is just a pretty view on your way to Lemah Valley or Spectacle Lake and for some reason you don’t want to wade Lemah Creek at the primitive crossing, the signs for bridge crossing aren’t correct anymore.  According the rangers two years ago an avalanche took out the bridge.  Also if you’re using a GPS with a map from the Pete Lake Trail doesn’t match up perfectly with the actual trail.  Use some common sense when trail hiking and you’ll be fine.  I have posted my Google Earth kml file that shows me wandering off trail trying to “find” the trail via GPS.  My GPS was also having issues with low batteries so if you check out the kml file I didn’t actually walk through the lake, though that could be kind of cool.

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Pete Lake Hike