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Granite Mountain with the Lunatiques
posted by John : November 13, 2008

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Water water everywhere

The TNAB season never really ends. It just settles down a bit.

In the summer it's every Thursday night, rain or shine, get out and go. In the winter it s a more civilized affair. Once a month, on the Thursday closest to the full moon, if the weather's good, we climb a mountain. They're the Lunatic hikes, or for some reason the "Lunatiques" this year.

In 2006 we tagged Granite Mountain and followed the Nordic Pass Trail up above Snoqualmie Pass. Last year I didn't make any trips, but the snow came so early there were plenty of nightshoes.

So this year I helped agitate for a trip. A lot of destinations were thrown around, but the one that stuck was Granite Mountain. Even though it's been done before (I had five summits already including one earlier this year the wide open meadows and great views promised much if only the clouds would part.

Whether it would be decent weather was quite the question. After all, just the day before it'd rained almost six inches in North Bend, flooded the river, and only late that night turned to snow in the mountains. With a less than stellar forecast turnout was expected to be light.

I left the house just a few minutes late and just past the point of no return I realized I'd forgotten my parking permit. And my water. Of course. This was Granite Mountain. I always forget something.

At the trailhead there were six other hikers from TNAB and four dogs. Three other hikers (and two more dogs) were already on the trail. We waited until 6pm (when we had promised departure in the trip announcement) and headed up the trail at brisk clip. It wasn't long before we realized all the rain that had fallen was still seeping out of the mountain and that the trails down low were more like streams than somewhere you'd want to walk.

Three of the group are notorious for hiking really, really fast. Thankfully, one of them was just getting over a cold and another was keen to keep the group together. Tokul and I actually managed to keep up with them for once. How novel.

Unfortunately, Jo had been fighting a cold and decided to take some meds right before we headed out. They made her less than capable of holding her cookies so she tossed them away. When she and Scott caught up with us they declared they were done, handed over the collection of miniature booze bottles, and bid us good luck as they rested a bit before heading down.

As we climbed higher we got into more and more snow. After climbing about 2,000 feet Steve told us we were spot on for pace. We had to average 1,900 feet an hour to make the summit in two hours. At 3,800 feet the snow was constant and every waterfall we passed, especially the big one, were treacherous with ice.

As we ping-ponged back and forth between the two gullies we'd catch glimpses of the upper mountain bathed in moonlight. It wasn't until we broke out of the trees onto the open ridge that we got the full effect. Headlamps were turned off (except when crossing icy streams) and our eyes adjusted to the low light. There was perhaps two inches of fresh snow coating the landscape and making it a wonderful, if cold, place to be.

When we tackle Granite in the summer (usually right around the Summer Solstice) there's a ton of snow and we follow the winter route. How ironic that now that it's almost winter there wasn't enough snow and we had to follow the summer route. We wound through the valley and a few icy swamps before the final climb to the lookout at the summit.

As usual, the views were great, but it was too cold for much gawking. Thermometers read in the low twenties and pretty quickly we were all feeling a bit numb, though that might have been from the Yukon Jack as much as the cold.

Looking down into the valley we saw headlamps a few times and wondered what was up. As we were near packing up for departure Jo and Scott arrived. After evacuating Jo felt much better. Apparently, they had decided to go see the moon. Then the waterfall. Then the open slopes. Aw, heck. Why stop now? The summit's only 400 feet higher.

We did a quick group shot (or I tried to do it quickly, perhaps that's why I got three bad photos) and packed up for the (hopefully) quick trip down. (Several hikers left before the group shot so it's a little sparse.) The first group had made the summit in two hours and three minutes. (And those three minutes were a burr they just couldn't get out of their coats.) I was about 10 minutes behind them. We stayed for about 45 minutes before it was just too cold and we headed down.

The somewhat slick snow on the way up made for some short boot glissades on the way down. Nothing like the sitting glissades of the summer, but still fun. The waterfall again proved challenging, but nobody actually fell. A clump of beargrass was almost completely iced over. Clara would have loved it.

Unfortunately, as I left the snow behind I grew rather disillusioned with the prospect of another few miles and my mood soured. At the cars the promise of the Pour House and their never-empty glasses of Coke perked me up. The downside to all that Coke was that by the time I got home and in bed it was about 1:30. Not good when you have to get up before the sun to get to work. Blech.

Totals: 8.6 miles round trip with about four in the magnificent moon-drenched snowy meadows above the treeline. About 3,800 feet of gain.

And if you're wondering how Autumn could provide such a great Winter experience I've come to realize that the only difference between the two when you get up high is that in Winter you need snow tires or chains to get to the trailhead while in Autumn you just need a good pair of gloves at the top.

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