Tuesday, January 9, 2018

In Celebration of Winter Hiking in the Pacific Northwest

When the weather is damp and cold, the sky is many shade of gray, and days are short, sometimes it's hard to fight our natural urge to hibernate. 

Fight it. Get outside on a dreary winter day and go for a walk or hike. Throw on rain gear, bring an umbrella, whatever.

For starters, you'll be rewarded with relative solitude and a healthy dose of nature. Within a couple hours of Portland or Seattle, solitude is an increasingly rare treat while hiking. 

And here on the west side of the Cascade Mountains, it's so green. When I lived in New England, I came home to Oregon for Christmas and was surprised at the lushness I hadn't fully appreciated while growing up. 

So last weekend I headed up to Deception Pass State Park at the northern end of Whidbey Island north of Seattle. I've blogged about hiking there numerous times before, but I'm drawn back often.

There are miles of low-elevation trails both north and south of the historic Deception Pass Bridge, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. This day we wandered up and over Goose Rock, down through rich forest, and along bays and beaches. 

In the winter, the road down to the North Beach parking lot is gated closed, so we arrived early enough (about 9:30 am) to snag a spot immediately south of the bridge. 

We walked over 3 hours, and despite carrying umbrellas just in case (yes, real Northwesterners have been known to actually use umbrellas), had a rain-free hike.

Our route took us down toward Cornet Bay and back along the perimeter trail and under the Deception Pass Bridge. 

West of the bridge we dropped down to North Beach, where we walked until high tide forced us back up into the trail above in the woods.

At the end of the westerward point we scrambled over rocks for views up the Strait of Juan de Fuca before heading back. By this time, after noon, more people were about. 

But it still wasn't crowded. Come back on a warm spring/summer/fall day and it's a very different scene.

After Hike Eats
An abundance of excellent options are relatively close (generally speaking) to Deception Pass for some good chow.  Skagit County to the north and east is now well known as a farm- or sea-to-table food destination. Or down island en route to the Clinton ferry terminal, the Langley area offers some excellent places for a bite

We opted to head back north over the bridge to Highway 20 and cut south on Best Road through the heart of the Skagit farmland to Rexville Grocery. This deli/cafe in an old converted gas station has been a favorite stop for years, and locals often gather there at the counter. My half sandwich and cup of chicken noodle soup were just perfect on a chilly winter afternoon.

That evening I was "good" tired from all the fresh sea/forest air and walking for hours. Answering to hiberation mode, I fell into a deep sleep early and slept almost 10 hours. (Besides being outdoors in nature and moving, I always say one of life's greatest pleasures is a good night of sleep.)

I'd love to hear about your winter hikes/after hike eats in a comment below!

Happy trails and thanks for visiting Pacific Northwest Seasons! In between blog posts, visit Pacific NW Seasons on FaceBook, Twitter, and Instagram for more Northwest photos and outdoors news.

When You Go
Deception Pass State Park is about an 80-mile drive north from central Seattle, and the drive there takes about 90 minutes in good/moderate traffic conditions (early!). Remember to bring your Discover Pass to park, or expect to pay a $10 fee. You can find a map of park trails here, or find one at the parking area by the bridge.

Thursday, December 28, 2017

So Long 2017: Another Year of Pacific Northwest Adventures

As the year turns, here we are again. Yes, the seasons do seem to fly by more quickly with each passing year.

While I had a good, busy year, the blog has lagged. I can't say exactly why. Social media burnout? Work overload spilling into evenings and weekends? New distractions in life? Probably a combination of all.

Regardless, sharing annual Pacific Northwest highlights is a tradition here at Pacific NW Seasons.  I hope you enjoy, and I'd love to hear about your 2017 highlights, too, in a comment below.

When I'm not skiing on weekends, I've been hiking lowland forests in the winter the last couple years. It's getting harder to find forests to hike near Seattle or Portland that aren't overly crowded or threatened by logging and development. 

I spent several hours on a January day walking the sometimes confusing trails of the lush Port Gamble Forest, which sits on a northern finger of the Kitsap Peninsula, across Puget Sound from Seattle, Washington.

Save for a few mountain bikers, we saw no one else.  I'm happy to report that several thousand acres of this forest, which was slated for continued logging, has been permanently protected as of late December 2017.

Continuing the lowland hiking theme, I enjoyed a lovely day hiking windswept Ebey's Landing on the western edge of Whidbey Island with the Alpine Trails Book Club. This is a perennial favorite hike any time of the year, but it's quieter in the winter.

This trail offers a nice combination of upland and beach walking. The views up the Strait of Juan de Fuca are spectacular.

In March 2017 it rained. A lot. We had a record-breaking rainfall last winter.

On one of those rainy, mucky days, I joined some friends from Blue Heron Zen Community to team up with the Friends of Jackson Park Trail and Thornton Creek Alliance and pull invasive weeds along the Jackson Park Trail in north Seattle. 

It was wet and muddy, sometimes it felt like an exercise in futility, but it felt good to be out there with other civic-minded people. We smiled and laughed a lot, then ate pizza together huddled under a tarp.

I highly recommend taking a few days each year to volunteer.

Indeed we had April showers in 2017 as our wet spell continued into spring. Rain be damned, I went to the University of Washington Quad to catch the cherry blossoms in bloom. This has become a tourist pilgrimage now, so the rainy day kept the crowds down.

Another destination that's especially brilliant in the spring around here is the Bloedel Garden on Bainbridge Island. On the way there in April, we stopped and visited the grave of Chief Seattle (Sealth, Suiat'l) in Suquamish on the Kitsap Peninsula.

I was moved thinking about what this region was like in his lifetime and how it has changed. I felt connected in a small, not-so-nice way, as I've been told that his daughter worked as a maid for my great-grandparents on Alki in West Seattle.

Our heavy rains abated, and May brought beautiful weather for some great hiking in western Washington. Besides another hike with the Alpine Trails Book Club to Boulder Creek, rich with waterfalls, I rambled along the Mid-Fork Snoqualmie River Trail outside North Bend east of Seattle.

Years ago this was harder to reach with miles of dirt road; today much more is paved. But the reward is still great. You can walk miles through a lovely forest with occasional views like below.

To help a longtime friend celebrate a milestone birthday, a group of us journeyed south to the central Oregon coast for a weekend. When I moved from Portland to Seattle for college, I used to miss what I called "real beaches," the dramatic Pacific coast beaches along the Oregon coast.

I snuck out for a hike at Cape Perpetua Scenic Area just south of Yachats, where the views southward are stunning. Well worth a visit, and if you go, plan to spent a whole day exploring if you like to hike.

With snow retreating from the higher elevations, I joined a friend for an exhilarating hike up to Third Burroughs on Mt. Rainier. If you do this hike, you must go on a clear day for the brilliant views.

At about 10 miles round-trip from the Sunrise parking lot, this hike is a great workout. As always, go early!

Several friends joined me for a fantastic hike up Beckler Peak on Fourth of July, just below Stevens Pass.  En route below the summit, we passed this little guy.

I used to say that August was my favorite month, although these days I trend toward October. But ah August, the rich, well-seasoned later summer, is a great time here in the Northwest.

We were plagued by intensely smokey days from forest fires raging throughout the region, but on early morning of the total solar eclipse day, skies cleared for perfect viewing in western Oregon. What an absolutely awesomely amazing thing to witness!

We were camped at a farm near Silverton, Oregon, and also got in a lovely hike in Silver Falls State Park. Go if you can...early.
Some say September is the shining star month here in the Pacific Northwest. Often we have Indian summer conditions, the pesky summer bugs have mostly gone away for the year, and it's a fantastic time to hike, kayak, or whatever outdoors pursuit you like.

A highlight for me was a gorgeous, invigorating hike up Mt. Townsend on the northeastern edge of the Olympic Mountains. 

On a sad note, the Eagle Creek Fire engulfed large swaths of our treasured Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area forests.

A nice day in October is a treasure. I now claim October as my favorite month for the fall colors, the touch of winter sometimes creeping into the air (skiing!), the end of the fall harvest (Washington apples!), and much more. 

In 2017 I got over to the Leavenworth area and beyond to Stehekin on the upper end of Lake Chelan. I love north-central Washington for its drier climate but beautiful rugged mountains. Great hiking too.

Usually our first snow in the mountains comes in November, and 2017 was on target as usual.

On a chilly clear November day, the Snow Lakes Trail above Icicle Creek outside Leavenworth was pretty much all ours. In the summer this trail is full of hikers and climbers, some en route to the Enchantments or just the Snow Lakes above. But again, off season is the time to go for more solitude. (If that's what you like.)

And here we are as I write this. It has been a hectic, whirlwind of a month with the holidays. 

I've not gotten out much except for a few good walks in Seattle's Discovery Park. Not a bad place to walk, really. In fact, I'll get more enthusiastic and call it an urban treasure featuring a lowland forest, prairie bluffs, beaches, and stunning views.

It's time to think about skiing, which I hope to be doing over New Year's. But also, for me,  the turning of the year is a time to take stock of the year past and the year ahead. 

What will 2018 bring? Stay tuned for more Pacific Northwest (and beyond) adventures.  Wishing you and yours a happy, fulfilling, fun, and peaceful new year.

Happy trails and thanks for visiting Pacific Northwest Seasons! In between blog posts, visit Pacific NW Seasons on FaceBook, Twitter, and Instagram for more Northwest photos and outdoors news.


Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Thanksgiving 2017: Elemental Gratitude

As an especially beautiful autumn here in the Pacific Northwest begins its slide into winter, I'm thinking about gratitude. For this year's annual Thanksgiving blog post, I'm keeping it simple. 

Last year at this time I was still recovering from the shock of an accident, so I was simply grateful for my life.  Now I'm paying homage to nature. 

If you've been here before, you know Pacific Northwest Seasons is in large part about our beautiful environment. I'm nourished by being outside in our mountains, forests, national parks, or on our waterways. I'm convinced it's essential to good health and well-being.

So I'm grateful for mountains, which have presented many opportunities for adventure and growth. After living on the East Coast for a few years post-college, I was drawn back home in large part because I missed "real" mountains, craggy and layered with glaciers.

My gratitude is great for trees, especially western red cedar (thuja plicata). These trees literally sustained and nursed me as a little girl who lost her mother far too young. I grew up surrounded by them in our yard in East Multnomah County, and their presence was a soothing balm.

I'm thankful for water. Of course! Stream, rivers, the Salish Sea, and the Pacific Ocean, they've all coursed through my life. I've reveled in jumping into cold freshwater mountain streams, kayaking the sea, playing in ocean waves, swimming in sun-warmed lakes, slaking my thirst on long hikes with fresh cold water, and much more. 

I could go on, but these are my iconic trio. They are elemental to our life here in the Pacific Northwest (as many places of course, but especially here.)

I'm sad for the degradation I've seen to our forests from past/present logging and development that displaces former woodlands, for pollution that still affects our water quality, and for global warming that is causing our glaciers to melt.

Many good people and organizations are working in support of the health of our many and varied ecosystems here. For them I'm also grateful. Most nonprofits could use our support, like homegrown Conservation Northwest and Save Our Wild Salmon, the Sierra Club, the Nature Conservancy (Washington and Oregon), and lots more.

And while I love alone time in nature, I also am grateful that being outdoors together has created and cemented many great friendships.

So today, I salute what's still here, beautiful and majestic. For all this, I am thankful.
I hope you have a lovely Thanksgiving and holiday season, whether you celebrate with family and friends, in nature, alone, or any other way.

I'd love to hear what tops your gratitude list this year in the comments below.

Happy trails and thanks for visiting Pacific Northwest Seasons! In between blog posts, visit Pacific NW Seasons on FaceBook, Twitter, and Instagram for more Northwest photos and outdoors news.  



Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Weekend in Stehekin: Celebrating Autumn and Community

Want to really get away from it all? No wifi/cell reception, traffic, and streetlights, and quiet-except-the-sounds-of-nature away from it all?

It's getting harder since the Pacific Northwest has become a magnet for the thousands moving here the last several years. So a recent weekend getaway to Stehekin, way up in the mountains at the northern end of Washington's Lake Chelan, was a balm to my city-addled soul. 

No roads lead to Stehekin. You can only get there by boat, small plane, or walking in over mountain passes (which I did many years ago). Any way you go, it's a journey.

The Voyage North
Friday morning we caught the once-a-day ferry at Fields Point Landing north of  Chelan for the 3-hour cruise up lake on the Lady of the Lake. We snagged two seats in the fore bow, but spent most of our time out on the back deck in the breezy sunshine.

Lady of the Lake

Along the way up the lake, it was disheartening to see the formerly forested mountains hugging the lakeshore now mostly bare with stands of dead snags, remnants of the many forest fires that have raged here the last two decades. After about 3 hours and a few stops along the way, we arrived at the collection of wood-framed low-rise buildings that are more or less "downtown" Stehekin.

The Arrival
Our lodging over the weekend was at the North Cascades Lodge (pictured above) adjacent to the boat landing. We came for a "Fireside Circle" weekend with Washington's National Park Fund (WNPF), a great nonprofit that raises funds to supplement projects in our under-budgeted national parks here in Washington. 

WNPF had a full weekend of activities planned, so after settling into our rooms, most of our group of about a dozen hopped on a park shuttle to Rainbow Falls for a short walk, followed by a stop at the famed Stehekin Pastry Company. For a cookie monster like me, it's a dangerous place.

Lower Rainbow Falls
The Main Events
Our weekend was organized around the annual Buckner Orchard Harvest Fest, which started with music Friday night at the one-room Stehekin School. While a couple of the amateur musicians stumbled on lyrics or chords, the easygoing crowd sang along in encouragement. A highlight was the school kids singing and a sweet father-daughter duo.

Saturday morning before the cider squeeze, some of us hoofed about 1,000 feet up the Purple Pass Trail behind the lodge before heading back down to catch the shuttle to the orchard. (Would like to go all the way up to the pass next time for even better views.)

A few miles beyond the head of Lake Chelan lies the Buckner Homestead, a designated Historic District inside the boundaries of the North Cascades National Park complex.  Our destination was the the organic orchard, which is so isolated that no pesticides are needed. 

naturally organic
Everyone was welcome to pick beautiful apples to take home, but the real focus was the cider squeeze. Local musicians played as we feasted on the community potluck. Of course everything was homemade because there are no grocery stores anywhere near Stehekin. We filled our plates with delicious chili, cornbread, salads, flaky fruit pies, and cookies.

In this beautiful setting surrounded by mountains and exceptionally friendly locals, I was sold on the benefits of living in such a remote community many miles away from strip malls and box stores. It's a throwback to a simpler, rural American small town way of life that is sadly disappearing.

The Last Morning
When I awoke before sunrise after another night of deep quiet and a restful sleep, I grabbed my cameras and ran out to shoot the sunrise from the lakeshore. Although it was chilly, we were treated to a lovely show of changing light on the snow-dusted mountains above.

After breakfast at the lodge, most of our group caught the national park shuttle up the dirt road beyond Stehekin as far as it goes (about 12 miles). First we stopped at a Stehekin River crossing to see an abundance of crimson red kokanee salmon heading upstream to spawn. 

At road's end, with about 15 minutes to hop out, I shot a few photos a short way up a trail. 'Twas indeed another beautiful day in the North Cascades, freshly frosted with new snow that fell over the weekend.

Before departure at 2 pm when the Lady of the Lake headed back south, several of us took full advantage of our last hour in paradise with a walk along the Lakeshore Trail as far as we could go. Then it was time to leave.

Too soon.

The pace of life in Stehekin

Cramming a beautiful weekend of fun, great people, and more photos into one blog post is tight, so I'll leave it at that. You'll just have to see for yourself sometime.

We'd love to hear your Stehekin/Chelan/North Cascades experiences or answer your questions in a comment below. 

Happy trails and thanks for visiting Pacific Northwest Seasons! In between blog posts, visit Pacific NW Seasons on FaceBook, Twitter, and Instagram for more Northwest photos and outdoors news.  
When You Go

While you can visit Stehekin year-round, things do slow down in the winter. The Stehekin Pastry Company just closed last weekend for the season; look for it to reopen next spring. While we stayed at the convenient North Cascades Lodge at Stehekin, there are other options, like the cool Stehekin Valley Ranch. Here's the link for ways get to Stehekin. Hiking into and around Stehekin is my favored activity, but there are lots of other things to do.
And last but not least, think about getting involved or donating to Washington's National Park Fund. These days our parks especially need extra support.