Friday, November 23, 2007

Moolock Mountain Ramble

"Moolock? Isn't that the degenerate half of the future human race as envisioned by H.G. Wells?" "No," Mark Vande Kamp corrects me, "the Moolocks are the degenerate half of the future race of cows as envisioned by Gary Larson." Actually it turns out that Moolock is the name of a tiny lake in the Cascade mountains that's about 30 miles northeast and 3800 feet above my Issaquah home. A quick Google search reveals that Moolock is also a Chinook word meaning elk.

Mark and I quickly determine that a bike trip to Lake Moolock might be just the kind of the thing we need to burn off the Thanksgiving turkey. Getting from my place to the lake involves some real roads, some logging roads and some things that on the map look suspiciously like moolock trails. My wife, who is the wisest person in my household, points out that snow in the high country may thwart our plans. I mumble something about the journey being the reward. She mutters something about me freezing my ass off.

Brad Hawkins, Matt Newlin and Jan Heine all decide that this Moolock adventure is something worth doing so we form a plan to meet at my place at 8:00 AM on the Friday after Thanksgiving.

It's 28 degrees (Fahrenheit) when Mark, Matt, Brad and I all meet up at 8:00. The day is cold, but clear. Mark assures us that Jan is riding over from Seattle but must be running late. We wait for a while and then leave a note for Jan before heading out. Jan is speedy (he was the first American finisher in Paris-Brest-Paris this year) and we figure he'll catch up.

We ride the trail out of Issaquah and up to Highpoint. There is frost on the bridges and the shoulders of the road. At my suggestion we stop at the coffee shop in Preston, a clever maneuver that nets me a hot beverage and gives the speedy Mr. Heine opportunity to catch up with the group. The plan works on both counts and the five of us roll down the Preston Trail toward Fall City.

Just past Fall City we connect with the Snoqualmie Valley Trail where we climb up to the Tokul area and then follow the logging roads onto Weyerhaeuser land. Many of these gravel roads are huge, designed for big logging trucks but as we work our way further into the back country and higher into the mountains, the roads get smaller and rougher.

Mark is our navigator and he does an admirable job in a difficult situation. At best, the map is an approximation; old roads have become abandoned and overgrown, new roads have been added and in some cases the land itself has been reshaped by bulldozers. We make only one obvious wrong turn that we correct with a bit of bushwhacking and even that slight miscalculation leads us to a nice spot for lunch.

Brad has to be back in civilization earlier than the rest of us, so he turns back near Lake Hancock at noon. The rest of us climb for another hour, on roads where we debate the grade. Everyone seems to feel it's at least 15%, the debate is mostly about how much steeper it is. All I know is that I'm extremely glad that I brought my light bike with the 22*28 low gear. Jan, Matt and I all experiment to see if walking is any slower than pedaling on some of the sections and don't really come to any firm conclusion. Walking does work some different muscles and on some of the slick sections, it seems preferable.

We climb into the snow. It is not deep snow but it is enough to make us all think carefully about what it will be like when we are descending quickly instead of climbing slowly. With the sun and the climbing, we're warm but in the shady patches, it's cold.

After our hour of climbing, Mark explains where he thinks we are. He shows us a depressingly small number of contour lines in our wake, and a depressingly large number of contour lines between us and Lake Moolock. He points up a steep, snowy, rocky ridge. "I think," he says, "Lake Moolock is on the other side of that."

We start talking about June. Lake Moolock is probably lovely in June. We'll save it for June. For now, we'll take this other fork, still snowy, but not so up.

The other fork leads to a clear-cut, what the timber folks call a temporary meadow. We scramble over fallen logs, take our bearings and take some pictures and then head for home. We stop for a bit at Lake Hancock, where Mark impresses the rest of us with his rock-skipping ability. Lake Hancock is nice, but it actually has one cabin on it, so it's still a bit too civilized.

But a lake called Moolock? That's probably really something.
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