Hey, wait a minute. If I'm the leader shouldn't I be leading? Hm... turns out not. Especially not when heading to a peak that's a TNAB-first. Definitely not when I stopped to fill out a wilderness permit like a good boy. Besides, "leader" on a TNAB trip is a little misleading... so to speak. The leader's job is not really to lead the way to the destination, though that's always a bonus, but rather to make sure everyone gets back to the parking lot. Since that was still hours away I was ok hiking in the middle of the pack even though Tokul was whining she wanted to be at the front.
The destination was Wright Mountain just above Gem Lake. I'd been to Gem once before when Clara was about a year and a half, but hadn't been back. It's a lovely little lake, but that's all there is to it, or so I thought. Wright Mountain is only about 600 feet higher, but has grand views almost all the way around and also held the distinction of being one of the peaks at Snoqualmie Pass TNAB hadn't yet been to, yet was still within reach of a two hour hike... maybe.
My first challenge was finding out if I could really ride the bus and get home in time to TNAB. The answer: just barely. I had to take the first bus heading east and then arrived about when I would have had I driven. Of course, I had to leave the office a little earlier than usual, but we all make sacrifices.
Happily, skipping a Pine Lake concert wasn't a sacrifice for this Thursday since it was a bit damp out and we had already decided not to go. I did wind up deferring packing for the weekend's camping trip to Salmon La Sac, though Amy did much of it while I was off playing in the mountains.
At the trailhead I found a modest turnout of seven of us with one more already up the trail a bit. We set a quick pace up the trail to Snow Lake. Except the late-arriver at the trailhead I was at the back of the pack as a result of my overly strict adherence to all things legal. With a wilderness permit attached to my pack I pushed hard to catch up and finally did about 10 minutes later.
My other obsession is getting to my destination on a hike so i kept pushing hard and wound up passing everyone except Steve who was way out in front. Tokul was keeping up well until the striking lack of panting at my hip made me realize she was no longer with me. I looked back to see the leash she'd been dragging had been snagged on the rocks that make up the rough trail. (She was on leash because dogs are required to be on leash on trails leading into the wilderness. Did I mention I love following the rules?)
As we climbed higher up the headwall separating the Source and Snow Lake basins I got the chance to look back at the rest of the crew as we switchbacked back and forth up the slope. At the top of the ridge the trail starts down the other side. Great for now, lousy for later. As I dropped down toward the fogged in Snow Lake I wasn't looking forward to the return climb.
At Snow Lake I finally caught up with Steve who had stopped to take pictures. We were an hour in and had perhaps a little more than an hour of light left before it was dark. Summitting in the dark isn't much fun so when the majority of the others caught up we continued on.
As we followed the shoreline of Snow Lake we passed the trail down to the Middle Fork along Rock Creek that I've seen from the other side and continue to keep on my to-do list. Just a little bit further and we passed a spot where I'd changed my first (or at least most memorable) wilderness diaper.
The route around the lake climbs and falls over little knolls before getting to the outlet of the lake, which is bridged by a log bridge that has somehow withstood the ravages of floods and storms over the years.
Steve stopped to give directions to the next couple of hikers while Joe and I pushed ahead. Joe's usually a lot faster than I am, but he was the late-arriver and had already made up a lot of ground and wasn't as fresh as usual. Along the way we passed a couple of guys who knew we were TNAB. They were planning to camp at Gem Lake and were stopped on the side of the trail rocking out with some tunes. They told us to "Go TNAB it!"
After we passed them Joe and I wondered what they meant exactly. We came up with a couple of definitions of the new verb.
1) TNAB /T-nab/, verb, to boldly go where nobody else has gone before on a Thursday night and get there really fast.
2) TNAB /T-nab/, verb, to trample the countryside in huge packs of uncouth hikers without regard for the natural beauty surrounding them in an effort to get to the top.
I prefer to think they meant the first, but if it was the second it wouldn't be the first time we weren't appreciated.
As we approached Gem Lake we saw some folks near the outlet who looked to be spending the night. Maybe they were a Mountaineers group in which case they definitely meant to use the first definition because the Mountaineers are often similarly maligned. We didn't get to talk to them because our route followed the trail around the east shore of the lake to a point below a saddle. A crude trail, full of cascading water, led up to the ridge.
Steve was with us again and the three of us (plus Tokul) pushed up. Joe and Steve still had a bunch more in their legs than I did so they quickly disappeared around corners and over rocks while I tried to hold Tokul back. I caught glimpses of them from time to time as we ascended, but never close enough to really be hiking with them.
Tokul wanted to follow them, but her leash held her back. I took it off and then she was stymied by the talus that she so hates. Poor girl. I could tell she must really love me because although she wouldn't cross the gaps between rocks to follow them she would to stay with me.
100 feet short of the summit (according to Mr. GPS) I heard a familiar TNAB-style Hoo-Ah! signifying they had made the top. By the time I caught up with them Steve had his fancy camera out and was shooting all around. Joe had extracted a bottle of Chardonnay and was working on the cork while empty cups sat on the summit cairn waiting for a filling.
Behind me came Josie and Scott (along with Athena and Zeus). Ryan followed soon after to make six of us on the summit for a picture just before the light fled entirely.
The clouds prevented a sunset, but made for interesting vistas as peaks and valleys appeared and disappeared at the whim of the wind. We could see Gem Lake, of course, but also Upper Wildcat, which looks like a great place to go, but not for an out-and-back dayhike. (It would, however, be great as a stopping point on a trip from Snow Lake to Preacher Mountain.)
For the first time this season we donned headlamps on the summit for the trip down. The mist made the rocks slippery and the darkness hid the already sketchy trail so we were pretty much just pointed downhill until we got to the saddle and could follow the stream down to Gem Lake. We found Joe (another Joe, that's three if you're counting) who had turned back only 100 feet short of the summit.
Steve volunteered to bring up the rear so I actually led from Gem down to Snow where we regrouped, again to the Snow Lake inlet, and final up out of the Snow Lake basin and down to the cars. After a quick count of headlamps it was clear we'd all made it out and after declining a trip to the Pour House it was home to pack for the weekend.
Totals: 10.8 miles and 3,150 feet of gain.