This past weekend an unusually large storm for the season slammed into the Northwest, dumping nearly 2″ of rain in Seattle on Saturday with some areas getting up to 5″. The mountains saw more than twice that amount and snow levels plummeted to 5000 feet. Sunday’s forecast called for a brief lull in the action before a second storm raced ashore later in the day with more rain and potentially damaging winds.
Sounds like a perfect outdoor hiking weekend, right?
Not to be deterred by one of the worst September storms Seattle has ever seen, I packed my rain gear and met up with my crazy friend Annette to bag a peak on Sunday anyway. Hey, we’ve got a summit contest to complete – no way Mother Nature is standing in our way! Our last hike to Jolly Mountain went way too easily, so we knew our number was up.
Annette picked Rampart Ridge as our Sunday destination: an 11 mile hike in the Alpine Lakes region with only 2,200′ of climbing. 2,200′ over 11 miles? Easy! A great hike to pick with the awful forecast. We’d be in and out in no time. No problemo!
We held out hope that the forecasted lull in the weather would translate to a sunny 80-degree day. As we approached exit 62 past Snoqualmie Summit on the usually sunnier side of the mountains and were greeted with steady rain, we realized we had been hopelessly optimistic. I was so optimistic I had even worn my dry weather hiking clothes.
Rampart Ridge is described as a busy hike known for having huge crowds. We turned into the massive parking lot and saw exactly one other car. No one in their right mind was out in this weather. Except us of course. And our 3 dogs who didn’t mind in the least that we were going for a swim on the trail today.
I begrudgingly changed into my nordic ski pants and layered up when it was clear the sun wasn’t coming out. Clad in rain gear, we hit the trail, dogs in tow, and quickly had to negotiate our first hurdle: a deep water puddle right at the trail entrance. We made our way around it, careful to keep our feet dry. I laugh now because we had no idea what was coming. Maybe if we had read a few trip reports describing several water crossings on the trail, we might not have picked this particular hike for a day after the mountains got probably a foot of rain. Minor details.
We cruised up the easily graded trail, dodging water puddles here and there, stopping a short ways in to check out the raging creek alongside the trail. It sounded like a freight train and looked like a mini class V rapids. We couldn’t get over how much water was coming down the mountain!
It wasn’t long before we turned a corner and faced our first big obstacle: a water crossing with a smattering of almost fully submerged rocks. We managed to get across without getting too wet but shortly afterwards we hit another crossing. Shit. It was only ankle-deep but we were either walking across and getting our feet completely soaked or not doing the hike.
Just as I’m questioning if we REALLY want to walk across water that’s likely freezing Annette steps in and quickly walks to the other side. The dogs follow right along like it’s no big deal and look back at me as if to say, “What’s the problem?”. Hiking with someone crazier than you doesn’t give you many bail out options.
Well damn. After a lot of hesitation I go for it. It’s frigid cold and my feet are now sloshing around in the aquarium that is my hiking boots. I’m pretty happy I wore my wool socks AND my actual Vasque hiking shoes instead of my usual minimalist trail runners. I hope my feet have a slight chance of staying warm. Annette tells me to just keep moving and we’ll be fine.
Until of course we turn the corner to a beautiful raging waterfall with yet another crossing. This one a little deeper. Just as my feet were finally wringing out and getting warmed back up from the first one. Great. We slosh through and meet another hiker on the trail on his way down. At least there’s someone else just as insane as us.
He says there is no one on the trail and that it’s snowing up on Rampart Ridge. He also tells us there is a water crossing ahead with “gaps” and that it might be difficult without water gear. We tell him thanks for the info and bid each other a fun day.
Gaps? Difficult without water gear? What does that mean? I’m wearing snow pants and gaiters, how much more water gear can I have?
Soon we get to the crossing and it’s apparent what he meant by “gaps”. This crossing is pretty wide with no rocks to step on and is going to involve a knee-high wade across a pretty swiftly moving current. As usual, Annette jumps right in and the dogs quickly follow with no hesitation. I, on the other hand, sit there for a few minutes convinced there’s a magical way across that doesn’t require getting my feet wet but damn if I can find it.
I take a deep breathe and step in. The water is ridiculously cold and as I near the middle I’m a little surprised just how strong the current is. The rocky uneven footing and swift current throw my balance out of sorts and I feel like a complete retard making my way across. I really don’t want to fall in! I’m so happy Annette was there to capture the moment on video.
Thank goodness this would be the last crossing, but now the trail takes a ridiculously steep turn upwards. We’re pretty much hiking straight up a rocky, rooty wash that has literally turned into a river in this weather. We keep toiling upward, a few times wondering if we’re even on a trail, but we continue. Turns out the trail gains about 1300′ in a mile. So much for that easy flattish hike. We come to a bit of a clearing with a pretty view and notice the rain changing over to snow. We’re barely at the 4000 foot mark!
We reach beautiful Rachael Lake and the snow is now coming down hard but not sticking. We only stop for a minute, knowing if we don’t keep moving our poor soaking wet feet will freeze quickly. I wonder if hiking in the snow while soaking wet is a good thing? In another mile or so the snow starts sticking. The trail is a bit tough to follow and we unknowingly step the wrong way onto a side trail that quickly disappears. We look around and realized we’ve hiked right out onto the edge of a rocky cliff. Oops.
It’s precarious but not dangerous. The dogs; however, are unable to get back up from where we came from and suddenly we realize they’re the ones in a dangerous situation. Annette’s pups get quickly freaked out and start howling and whining. Annette decides the best solution is to help the dogs slide down the rocks to a flat area below. I stay on the ledge trying to help but I can’t see Annette or the dogs as they’re on a steep rock just below me. All I can hear is a lot of whining and howling and rocks knocking loose and rolling down the cliff.
As I’m standing still my feet quickly begin to freeze in the snow. No problem here. We’re just stuck on the precarious side of some rocky mountain with freaked out dogs, totally soaked, with snow all around us. No problem at all! “We’re going to die up here” I think to myself and then start to laugh, realizing Annette + Me + 3 dogs + any sort of outing + crazy weather = some ridiculously stupid adventure.
Luckily with a lot of coaxing Annette got the dogs safely down, Jake being the tough one since he’s a hefty 85-lb guy. They quickly forget the traumatic ordeal and happily follow once we get back on the trail, which climbs unrelentingly skyward. We finally make it to Rampart Ridge but barely stay 5 seconds. My feet are frozen solid and my gloves have reached a saturation point where they’re now freezing my hands rather than warming them. I’m ready to be done, can we call a chopper?
We try to hustle down to stay warm but the terrain is so steep, rooty, and slick with rain and snow that it’s a slow arduous ordeal. Not bringing a hiking pole was a major mistake. The hike back down to Rachel Lake is painful agony. My feet are completely numb and painful, my knees aren’t working and I’m grumpy and really tired of being wet.
My feet finally start to warm a bit once we make out way down off the snow and I’m surprisingly happy to see the first water crossing because it’s the end of the gnarly steep trail that is going so slowly. Now instead of picking our way through puddles and carefully across the water we’re just plowing right through, eager to get back to the car. It’s not like we’re going to get any less wet at this point!
The rest of the way goes quickly on the smooth trail and my mood bolsters some knowing we’re almost done. Once back at the Jeep the next hurdle is getting the tailgate and doors unlocked so we can change into dry clothes. My hands don’t feel that cold but they’re so frozen I can’t even turn the key in the tailgate lock. It takes all the strength Annette and I have just to turn a stupid little key.
I grab dry clothes and immediately try to change but all of the heavy, sopping wet gear I’m wearing has snaps and buckles all over it! Are you kidding me!?!? I’m desperately trying to get my fingers to work, to unsnap anything at all so I can get out of this shit and get into warm stuff. I can’t even use my fingers to tie my wet hair into a ponytail. I can only imagine what we must have looked like.
After about 20 minutes of sitting in front of hot air inside the Jeep we start to thaw, the dogs completely passed out in the backseat. We drive out, hit up the North Bend Bar & Grill for some post-hike libations, and sit right in front of their fireplace. Well, Rampart Ridge is done! Maybe one of these days I’ll go back and see what it’s like on a dry day.
I’m not sure I really want to top this one. We’re crazy. Don’t ever go hiking with us.