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Luna’s twelfth birthday was this past weekend and we celebrated with friends (dogs and people) and a hike to Cutthroat Lake Sunday afternoon. The original forecast had been for good weather but it was overcast and tried to rain on us. Not enough to get us wet. Going up the trail, we passed many people coming down and all of the dogs were well behaved. We got them off to the side so others could pass. Of course, it took quite a while to get to the lake but there was no big hurry. At the lake, we pretty much had it to ourselves that late in the day. The young dogs – Molly and Kala mostly – ran in big circles chasing each other and burning off steam. Luna, the twelve year old labradoodle kept up with them for one round. Sky found a stick. Really, she did. We visited and photographed and enjoyed the scenery, knowing soon all of it would be deeply covered in snow and we may not get up there again for many months.

This hike at this time of the year is nearly irresistible. How can you NOT do this? Just the drive to the trailhead is enough to make you stop and pay attention.

Yesterday afternoon we walked here on our hill. It was nice to get up into the tall bitterbrush and sage that did not burn four years ago.

Seasons have changed. Generally speaking, we have three seasons defined by color – white, green and brown – and we are officially in the brown season now. Or maybe it’s more of a golden season. That sounds nicer. Most of the foliage that grew vigorously in the late spring and early summer has dried to a yellowish tan with a few sparks of color here and there. Remnants of wildflowers and berries. Aspen leaves – some still green, many yellow and some more orangish.

This hike had just about everything – stunning fall colors, lingering wildflowers, grand vistas, perfect weather, wildlife sightings. Oh my.

We got out early and made the long and arduous drive to the Freezeout trailhead in order to hike up to 8000 plus foot Tiffany Mountain. The road is rocky but passable for most cars. It just takes a while. And I took even longer because I kept stopping to look at and photograph the fall colors. Some of the aspens were a vivid orange red instead of yellow. The dogs were getting anxious since I wasn’t letting them out. At the trailhead, while I was fiddling with my gear and before the dogs were out of the car, I heard a strange bellowing sound. It was something I’d never heard before. Bigfoot? I didn’t hear any thrashing around in the brush and wasn’t sure what to make of it but I had an idea of what it was.

The dogs wore their orange vests because it is hunting season for bear and grouse and also archery deer season. I had hardly seen anyone along the way but I figured it was better to be safe. The car said it was 45 degrees in the sun and on the shaded trail I found frost. There were some migrating raptors, mostly accipitors that I identified – Sharp-shinned and Cooper’s Hawks. There were lots of Clark’s Nutcrackers gathering seeds and making raucous calls. Chickadees and kinglets and bluebirds and juncos too. I saw a pika in the rocks near the mountain top.

The larches were vivid. The golden needles against the blue sky takes my breath away. The views that unfolded as I walked above the treeline were also breathtaking. I could see the North Cascades all the way to Mount Baker. Farther south, there was Glacier Peak. And I could see the continuing smoke from the Crescent Mountain wildfire. It will burn til the snow falls.

When we were returning to the trailhead, I heard some thrashing through the brush ahead and to the right. And then a cow moose crossed the trail not 100 feet ahead of us and she was followed by a bull moose! So that was the sound I heard earlier. The bull moose was bugling! It all happened pretty fast so no photos. There are moose in various places around this region but you just don’t see them very often.

Summer has come to an abrupt end. The good news is that wildfires no longer threaten people and their homes and soon the smoke will be gone from the valley.

Last week Mary and I and our pack of dogs headed for Harts Pass and the Pacific Crest Trail. We had a good hike to Grasshopper Pass, going past many PCT thru hikers who were anxious to keep walking. If everything went well for them, they’d be in Canada, 35 miles away, the next day. A few flowers were still blooming and we heard marmots and pikas and we ate a few huckleberries along the way. We had a little sunshine, some breezes, a little misty rain and ever-changing light. It was really lovely.

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