Monday, July 30, 2012

CCC Road: Upper Trailhead

There is a road just outside of North Bend that leads to a large network of trails. It is called the Middle Fork Snoqualmie Road. There is something special about this road. For lower clearance cars, it is only accessible for a small window in spring and early summer. Otherwise, you will need to take a high clearance vehicle. All because of potholes.

I took advantage of the recently graded road a few weeks back and posted about it here. The potholes weren't bad and there were plenty of other lower clearance cars racing along the road. I decided to brave it again a few weeks later, and unfortunately determined that would be the last time I would see the Middle Fork Road this year.

A few gals from my meetup group (plus my parents) met at the Safeway in North Bend, then headed out to conquer the first 10 miles of the road. It took us at least half an hour to go that 10 miles because of potholes. We also had to stop because my parents' Jeep had started to lose pressure in one of its tires. They told us to go on ahead without them while they changed the tire. So on we drove until we got to the parking area, which held about 4 cars.

As we began hiking into the woods, the sun shining through the trees made the forest look ethereal and beautiful. We came to our first creek crossing and I was sure glad I had my poles. The first creek crossing, unbeknownst to us, was the easiest of the 4 we would cross.

Soon enough, we came to another creek crossing. This one was a little bit more challenging, but still doable. We then came to a clearing in the trail, where we could see the silhouette of the moon above a peak. You can just barely see the moon in this picture, but I swear its there!

We continued on to cross another creek, which was even more difficult than the one before. Finally, we came to the last creek crossing, which was rather difficult and almost everyone got their feet wet.

We hiked further into the forest, passing the same man twice, once as we hiked in, once as we hiked out. He was definitely trucking along at a quick speed! We eventually got to this tree that had been struck by lightening. What a beautiful sight it was! The pictures definitely do not do it justice.

It was getting late by this point, so we turned around and headed back across the 4 streams. It was much easier the second time around! We got back to the car and found a note from my parents saying they were headed to the Snoqulamie Brewery. I later talked with my mom and she said they made it to the second creek crossing (about half a mile in) before turning back. I was very proud of them for attempting this hike!

I would recommend exploring the Middle Fork area if you have a high clearance vehicle. If you do not, I still recommend it, but wait until next spring (or when they pave it in 2015!)

Total time: 2 hours (give yourself at least an hour and a half for driving to and from North Bend)
Distance: 4 miles, 400 ft elevation gain
Passes: NW Forest Pass required
Location: off Middle Fork Snoqualmie Road, about 9.8 miles in. GPS: N 47 32.235 W 121 34.650

Thanks for stopping by!

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Granite Mountain

As you drive up to Snoqualmie Pass from the west, there is the large mountain on the north side that has a steep, tree-less peak and it has enticed me since I was little. I have always wanted to hike to the top of it, and I almost got my chance.

A few weekends ago, I met a group of gals from my meetup group and we set out to hike Granite until we hit the snow. Several websites gave this trail a rating of “difficult” and that was definitely true. We had to take many long breaks while we trekked up this mountain. It definitely kicked our butts!

We started out from the Pratt Lake – Granite Mountain trail head. The trail meanders through the forest and doesn’t ever give you a break from going up, up and up. After the first part of the trail there was a ton of avalanche debris that we had to climb over. I was very thankful to whoever put some pink flags for us to follow; otherwise I would have had no idea which way to go. 

The trail eventually splits off, one direction going to Pratt Lake, the other going to the top of Granite. We crossed over streams, waterfalls, and watched the vegetation change from tall evergreen trees with hardly any shrubs to deciduous trees in the avalanche chutes.

That's looking up the mountain
And that's looking down!

After hiking through a few difficult and steep sections, we passed over a nice waterfall that was cascading down the mountainside. If you are afraid of heights, this was definitely a dizzying sight! Eventually tall evergreens were replaced with mountain meadows that were just beginning to bloom. The clouds hadn’t dissipated at all, so when we got to the bottom of the snow field, we couldn’t see anything!

Most people continued trekking up the snow field, determined to get to the top. We had lunch and turned around at the snow because most in our group did not have experience or equipment to hike in the snow and it’s always better to be safe than sorry. I decided to hike up a little ways to test it out. 

Going up was no problem. There had been enough hikers going up that a set of stairs had formed in the snow. It was the going down that was a problem. I was so thankful for my poles! It was so steep that towards the end I had to break into a run to contain my momentum. My heart was definitely beating fast when I got to the bottom. 

Looking up the snow field. I got about to where those hikers are in the middle.

The hike down was still not easy because you had to watch your step and also climb back over the avalanche debris. I am definitely looking forward to hiking this trail again when there isn’t any snow so I can get to the top and finally say I conquered Granite Mountain!

Total time: 4.5 hours (up to 6 hours if you go to the top)
Distance: 8 miles, 3500 ft elevation gain
Passes: NW Forest Pass required
Location: Pratt Lake Trail head, exit 47 off I-90

Thanks for reading!

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Habits: Good and Bad

 Habits. They are hard to break and hard to form. I’ve had a few bad habits that I have broken and it was very difficult. I’ve also made a few good habits, and some were easy, while others were more difficult.

One habit that comes to mind is my daily cup of tea. Back in high school, I did a lot of reading into a healthier lifestyle and made a list of the 10 things I wanted to do every day. This list included, meditate (which I’m not very consistent at), stretch (again, not very consistent), write in a journal (does this blog count?) and drink one cup of tea. So far, as you can see, the only one I’m good at is drinking my daily cup of tea. 

Every day at work, my routine is to go get some hot water while my computer is starting up and let it brew while I check my email. This morning I chose a Strawberry Cinnamon Black Tea. I have a huge variety (Earl Grey (3 kinds!), Bavarian Wild Berry Black, Decaf Honey Ginseng Green Tea, Raspberry Amaretto Black, Apricot Almond Black and a Lemon Ginger Green Tea). I also usually will reuse the tea bag at least 2 to 3 times per day. I guess you could say I go through a lot of tea!

One bad habit that I’ve broken is eating out almost every day. When I lived further north, I had a 45 minute to an hour long commute. I was also (and still am) the kind of person who enjoys going to the grocery store every day to get the freshest produce, so by the time I got home, I would have to immediately drop everything and start cooking in order to get dinner on the table by 6:30. Most days, I would just be too dang tired to cook from getting up at 5:30 and working a 9 hour day then commuting home. 

So instead of just sucking it up and cooking, I would walk across the street to the food court at the mall. Now, the mall I lived next to isn’t like your normal mall. The food court was amazing! It had almost every ethnicity of food you could want! American, Chinese, Vietnamese, Russian, Japanese, BBQ, Thai, Indian, Mexican, Italian. All incredibly delicious! It was so much easier to walk across the street and pick something up than to cook. It was also so much easier to plop my butt on the couch instead of exercising. It was no wonder I gained 25 lbs!

Panera's Thai Chicken Salad
I have most definitely broken this habit. I hardly ever eat out on the weekdays (and if I do, it’s the Thai Chicken Salad from Panera or a salad from my grocery store) and on the weekends, I save my eating out for special occasions (like after hiking, or at a meet up) and most of the time, I will take half (or more!) of it home for a second meal. I’ve also learned that leftovers aren’t always that bad, so I’m more willing to eat the same things I cooked for a few meals in a row. 

Another habit I have broken is my willingness to just sit on the couch in front of the TV instead of exercising. My ex took the TV and I never bothered to replace it. This has prevented me so much from just coming home and sitting on the couch! Now, I definitely still have my down days where I’m lazy and watch endless Gilmore Girls or Mythbusters episodes (and recently Biggest Loser), but those are few and far between. I’m much more inclined to go for a walk, or go hike or run or ski, or do anything but stay home. I would have to say this one was easier to break than the eating out, but it sure helped that I didn’t have a TV that would entice me to sit on my butt.

The reason I’m posting this is to show that good habits can be formed with repetition and bad habits can be broken. It’s just going to take a lot of work and you have to stay on top of it. There will always be distractions. Just focus on the end goal!

Thanks for reading!

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Cherry Lemon Soda

When I made a Cherry-Basil Sauce a little while back, I had to buy some cherry juice for it. Unfortunately, cherry  juice only comes in medium sized containers, even though I only needed about half a cup. I took this as a challenge to find as many ways as I could to use up the cherry juice other than just drinking it plain. So far, this is my first, but I wrote down at least 5 other drink ideas. I've yet to think of any way other than drinks and in a cherry-basil sauce, but I'm sure I will think of something.

This drink is a perfect way to quench your thirst during a hot day. I lightened up the flavor of the cherry juice with some sparkling water, then added in a squirt of lemon juice. I also added in a little squeeze of agave to sweeten it up. I'm quite certain that a hint of vodka would make this soda a fabulous drink to serve at your next party!

Cherry Lemon Soda
Serves 1

4 oz. cherry juice (preferably Bing)
1 tbsp lemon juice
1 tsp agave syrup
1 shot vodka, optional
4 oz sparkling water
lemon slice, for garnish

Stir together cherry juice, lemon juice, agave and vodka in a tall glass. Add ice, then fill to top with sparkling water. Garnish with lemon slice.


Friday, July 20, 2012

Peas and Penne with Mint and Parsley

This is my variation on the classic French dish of peas with mint. I love peas as they are, but I was really craving some pasta. I decided to add in the snow peas at the last minute to cook with the pasta, then I tossed it with a garlic olive oil and sprinkled chopped mint and parsley on top.

Peas and penne is a great spring and summer side dish that is delicious for many occasions. Serve this chilled at your next picnic or as a hot side dish on those rare cool summer days.

Peas and Penne with Mint and Parsley
Serves 4

1/2 box dried penne
2 cups sugar snap peas
3 tbsp olive oil
1 garlic clove, minced
mint and parsley, chopped
salt and pepper

1. Bring a large stockpot of water to a boil. Add penne and cook according to package directions. Add peas during last 2 minutes. Drain and set aside.
2. Meanwhile, heat olive oil in a small saute pan over medium-low heat. Cook garlic until it begins to turn brown. Remove from heat.
3. Toss peas and penne with garlic olive oil and sprinkle with salt, pepper, mint and parsley. Serve immediately for a hot side dish, or chill for a few hours for a nice, cool side for a picnic.


Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Whole Wheat Spaghetti with Meat Sauce

Everyone has their own special spaghetti recipe, right? Some people add meat, others add veggies. It's all pretty much based on personal preference.

I remember growing up, my parents would make a big batch of spaghetti sauce and then freeze it for easy weeknight meals. I don't make spaghetti often, but I can tell you that I have a big container of frozen sauce in my freezer right now. (That reminds me, I should eat it soon!)

My version includes lots of veggies and ground beef with a slightly sweet sauce. It's perfect for any night of the week!

What's in your spaghetti recipe?

Rachel's Spaghetti
Serves lots!

1 lb. lean ground beef
1 onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 bell pepper, diced
1 tbsp olive oil
1-28 oz can fired roasted diced tomatoes, undrained
2 tbsp tomato paste
a few large shakes of Italian spice mix
salt and pepper
whole wheat spaghetti, cooked

1. Heat large stock pot over medium-high heat. Cook beef until there is no more pink left. Remove from pan. Add olive oil, then when hot, add onion, garlic and peppers. Saute until onion begins to turn translucent, but not brown. 
2. Return beef to pan, along with tomatoes, paste, Italian spice mix, salt and pepper. Add enough water to almost cover everything. Bring to a boil, then reduce and simmer for 30 minutes. Remove lid and simmer for another 15 minutes.
3. Serve over whole wheat spaghetti noodles, with lots of Parmesan curls!

Monday, July 16, 2012

Steak and Radish Salad with Wasabi Dressing

Ok so I bet you all have had enough hiking stories and are ready for some more food, am I right? Well here you are! A food post!

I remember the first time I saw this salad in Marie Claire Seasonal Kitchen, my favorite cookbook. I knew right away I just had to make it! So I did, and I loved it!

Unfortunately, I forgot about it until a few weeks ago. I had quite a few radishes from my garden that needed eating, and as I was sifting through my recipe lists, I came across it again.

The recipe has a tangy, but spicy wasabi dressing drizzled over sliced radishes, cucumber ribbons and thinly sliced steak. I call it the souped up version of a steak salad. Yum yum!

Beef and Radish Salad with Wasabi Dressing
adapted from Seasonal Kitchen by Michele Cranston
Serves 4

1 tbsp lemon juice
3 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp soy
1 tbsp grated ginger
1 tsp sesame oil
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 to 2 tsp powdered wasabi, to taste
1 lb skirt steak
bunch of radishes, sliced thinly
1 cucumber, peeled and sliced in ribbons
snow peas
your favorite greens

1. Mix together first seven ingredients for dressing. Set aside. 
2. Grill or sear steak to desired doneness, then slice thinly.
3. To assemble, toss together steak slices, radish slices, cucumber ribbons and snow peas. Toss with dressing.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Mt. Si

Mt. Si is the large piece of rock that shadows over the town of North Bend, also known as Twin Peaks (based on the tv show).  I grew up always seeing Mt. Si as we would drive by on our way up to Snoqualmie Pass, and yet I hadn't been to the top until a few weekends ago. It was definitely about time!

View of Mt. Si from Rattlesnake Ledge

I met up with a few gals from my meetup group, bright and early at 9am. The trail head was fairly busy for a rainy morning, but we got a parking spot not too far away. The trail itself was fairly nice and not too muddy. It was very easy to follow since it was so well signed. There were plenty of people coming down and going up, so you never really felt alone.

For most of the hike, we were in the forest. And we kept going up, and up, and up! I enjoyed the scenery but was rather bummed that it was cloudy because that meant we weren't going to see anything when we got to the top. And this is what we saw:

None of us climbed the Haystack, as the top rocky part is affectionately called. The rocks were slippery from the mist and we were content with sitting on the rocks down lower to eat lunch. Plus, we couldn't see anything, so it wouldn't be worth the extra effort to climb up higher.

There were quite a few critters up at the top, clamoring for food. Several cute little chipmunks were scurrying around, stealing scraps of food from unsuspecting hikers. A grey jay (aka camp robber) tried to steal one of the gal's sandwich right out of her hand! Unfortunately all of the critters were too fast for my camera, so I didn't get any pictures.

On the way down, it started to pour! All 5 of us got drenched! I had to pull out my rain cover for my backpack for the first time since I bought it because it was raining so hard. There was also a thunderstorm that passed right over us, but we were in the trees by then and weren't worried too much.

I was so thankful I had a change of clothes in the back of my car. I was muddy and soaked from head to toe! I definitely want to try this hike again (and climb the Haystak) on a clear, sunny day.

Total time: 4 hours (up to 6 hours if you take your time)
Distance: 8 miles, 1850 ft elevation gain
Passes: Discover Pass required
Location: 46068 SE Mt Si Rd North Bend, WA (roughly)

Thanks for stopping by!

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Squak Mountain - Bullitt Fireplace

I just love the name of this mountain: SQUAK! Sounds like a bird, huh? Apparently, it came from the sound of the Southern Lushootseed name for the mountain. Who knew?

Anyways,  I had been wanting to hike the Phils Trail-Thrush Gap Loop trail for a while, but I still haven't finished the whole loop. Me and another gal from my meetup group started out after work and made out way up the mountain. It was definitely not a walk in the park! This trail kicked my butt!

We passed over creeks and went up, up and up! It seemed like there was not flat part of the trail. There were a couple of trail intersections, but it was fairly easy to follow. We wanted to at least get up to the top of the mountain before 7 pm, our turn around time, so we kicked it into high gear!

We got to the Bullitt Gorge Trail in pretty good time, so we continued up it. According to the signage at the trail intersection, the area near the top of the mountain was originally owned by the Bullitt family, who had built a lodge at the top. When they gave their land to the state to make it a park, they wanted it to stay as pristine as possible, so only hikers are allowed on the top portion of Squak.

Eventually, the trail leveled out and we hiked through a swamp. We were a little off on our map location, but we eventually found the remains of the lodge, which are the foundation and a fireplace.

The fireplace was absolutely beautiful! I so would love to have one like that in my house.. sigh, someday. While we snacked and rested near the fireplace, another large group came hiking up the hill. They were also a meetup group! Fancy that, huh?

We took their pictures, and they took ours, then we headed back down the hill. We made really good time because we got back to our cars before it got dark out.

Overall, I would say this was a really fun hike that was definitely a workout! I still have the other half of the trail to finish, but I think I will save it for a weekend so I don't have to rush through it.

Total time: 3 hours
Distance: 5 miles
Passes: Discover Pass required
Location: 13201 Squak Mountain Rd SE, Issaquah, WA

Thanks for stopping by!

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