Monday, November 26, 2018

Lowland Hiking around Puget Sound: Japanese Gulch

Now that the snow is flying in the Cascade and Olympic mountains, many of us hikers/walkers turn to lower-elevation places for our daily dose. Within an hour or less from Seattle, there are many places to walk in the woods and get a good workout.

This past weekend I ventured about 20 miles north to walk through Japanese Gulch in Mukilteo, close to Puget Sound. The gulch got its name from the many Japanese families who lived there in housing for millworkers for the Mukilteo/Crown Lumber Company, which operated there for about 30 years until 1930.

We passed several large stumps, evidence of the past logging here. What I would give to have seen this area before it was logged, when the grand old growth trees were abundant.

We printed out a map, but the trails on the ridge above the gulch are so twisty and hard to correlate to the map that we just took forks that seemed to head the general direction away from where we started (next to the dog park).

On a late November day, most of the leaves were down and covering the trails in a slick carpet of brown and gold. It's also muddy in some spots along the trails.

After about 20 minutes of walking down the gulch, then up the ridge, we had a peek-a-boo view toward the Sound at the only viewpoint along the way.

As we walked through the forest, there were a few jets and planes flying close overhead while coming in to land at nearby Paine Field. Boeing owned and used this area from the 1960s until 2007, and the railroad tracks in the bottom of the gulch accessed Boeing facilities. 

Actually the low jets were not all that bothersome, although I can't speak for the wildlife. However, black-tailed deer and numerous cool birds use the area.

Along the trails, there is much beauty to be observed in small details. Pay close attention and you'll spot lots of treasures in a winter woodland.

Maindenhair fern
A profusion of lichen
A friend says that water trapped atop a mushroom is a fairy pool.
About an hour (?) along, we took a fork down toward the stream that flows through the gulch and eventually crossed a small bridge. Then we headed back up the gulch.

This part of the walk, flat between the stream and railroad tracks, is not as scenic, but there were some interesting human-related remnants.

This old car has been in the gulch for at least 30 years.
A deep well riser above the stream.

Overall we walked about two hours with several stops (for me to take photographs), and I estimate we covered about 3.5 to 4 miles. There also wasn't much trail traffic; we passed less than half a dozen other people.

As we near the winter solstice, these walks in the woods, this "forest bathing," is fuel to keep my engine running through the dark months. Until we can get up and go skiing...

I'm interested in hearing about your visits here or other lowland winter hikes that you recommend 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
Mukilteo is about 20 miles north of Seattle, Washington, sandwiched between Edmonds and Everett along Puget Sound. To get there, from Interstate 5 take the Mukilteo Speedway (Hwy 525) into Mukilteo. Just before crossing the railroad tracks to the ferry holding area, turn right (north) onto 5th Street. Continue north on 5th for five blocks, then you'll see parking is on the right. There is no fee for parking or using the area.

Monday, November 19, 2018

Gratitude 2018

At Thanksgiving time, I'm once again challenging myself to write about gratitude, as I've done numerous times over the years here at Pacific Northwest Seasons. 

Some days/years it's harder than others to muster the enthusiasm to come up with an inspirational post. Sometimes I have to battle my inner grinch, who has been stoked this year on several fronts. 

But then, when I start pondering, the good stuff wells up pretty quickly. So for starters, I'm grateful to have been born, raised, and spent most of my life in such a spectacular corner of the world. 

When I was a shell-shocked little girl who had lost her mother, I was nurtured by the abundant and healthy western red cedars that grew close around our home. Many nights while the East Wind blew fiercely down the Columbia River Gorge, the branches of an old growth cedar brushed against my bedroom window like comfort, as if to say, I'm old and sturdy and here; I'm never going to leave.

Some of the cedars on the grounds of my childhood home.

So for my "totem" tree (thuja plicata) and especially the tree that still stands strong outside my childhood bedroom window, I'm grateful.

Last night I had dinner with dear "framily" friends. Spending time with these longtime friends, in whose presence I can totally relax, is another balm for my soul. I feel grateful to have numerous such friends, so for all of them, I'm very grateful. I hope you, too, have such friends.

The two in the rear. And many more!
I've been self-employed for 15 years now as a writer/editor. Over the course of those years, I've had the opportunity to work on some interesting projects and meet smart, fun, and dynamic people. For the work and the people I've met along the way, I'm grateful.

Currently working on a Gas Works Park project in Seattle.
I've done some fantastic hikes this year and spend many weekends in and around Leavenworth, Washington. It's such a pleasure to have leisurely time in one place rather than zipping through en route to the trailhead. For the beauty of the north-central Cascades and the friendly community of the Wenatchee Valley, I'm grateful.

View up Icicle Creek Canyon

For the numerous communities I'm involved with, including the regulars for morning coffee/tea at Preserve&Gather in north Seattle, I'm grateful. Because community is the glue that holds together civilizations.

Early morning at Preserve&Gather, our table waiting to be filled with camaraderie.

As I sit here at the keyboard and think about my gratitudes, the list grows. So much to be grateful for! Good books, bad jokes, my family and loved ones, the double-edged sword of social media (yes, have reconnected with some childhood friends), morel mushrooms, the kindness of strangers, belly laughs, fall colors, art in its myriad forms.....

 Just think of everyone's list together, and it's infinite.

I would be honored if you share some of your gratitudes in a comment below.

May everyone have a place to call home.
Wishing you and yours a lovely Thanksgiving and holiday season, whether it be boisterous and hectic or quiet.

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.

Monday, November 12, 2018

Foraging for Wild Morels: A Treasure Hunt in the Cascade Mountains

Several decades ago, I read the news that four people in Portland, Oregon, who foraged wild mushrooms ended up requiring liver transplants after consuming them in a stir-fry dish. They mistakenly gathered and ate a highly toxic mushroom variety nickednamed the "death cap."  I remember distinctly thinking at the time:

Nope, never going to eat wild mushrooms.

Then about a decade later, chanterelles and morels started showing up at local farmer's markets and grocery stores. Somewhat hesitantly, I bought a few and brought them home to cook. 

Chanterelles were my gateway wild mushroom.  Sauteed in butter and olive oil until slightly crisp, then folded into an omelette or spooned atop roasted chicken or fish, they quickly became a seasonal regular in my kitchen.

Since then, I've experimented with porcini, oysters, lobster, and other varieties of wild mushrooms.

But heart belongs to morels. Besides being weirdly wonderful looking, their earthy, complex, tangy flavor hooked me right away. When they appear in markets for a month or so each spring, I always snatch some up. The rewards in flavor are great.

Over the years, I read about "foodies" foraging for mushrooms and found blogs like Fat of the Land devoted to foraging. But I didn't know anyone directly involved and pined for an invite from afar...until this year, when I finally got invited to go hunt for morels. 

I was seriously thrilled.

Of course I've been sworn to secrecy, but I will tell you we left Seattle around 6 a.m. on a late spring morning. I can't tell you which direction we traveled, but we were in the Cascade mountains. 

Blond morel
Three of us traveling together arrived at a recently burned forest, which morels love. After all, they are among the first line of organisms to regenerate the burned soil and, ultimately, the forest.

“Morels thrive after wildfires because they are feeding on the released carbon and minerals after a fire,” says David Rust, a co-founder of the Bay Area Mycological Society. “Post-fire they give off their spores and regenerate.” 

After we parked, I followed the others up a steep slope into the burned woods with my basket and small knife. As we spread out, pretty soon I heard whoops of joy. Not long after, I spied my first morel. Whoops all around!

Carefully observing the ground all around and in front of me with each step engaged all my senses. While I make attempts to practice Zen meditation, this was truly Zen meditation. Paying attention, each second, to what was in front of me. 

Just this.

Factoid: Mushrooms are not a plant or vegetable. Their DNA is more closely related to humans.
And so it went, for much of a beautiful spring day. In addition to the exquisite morels, there were other treasures too, like brilliant tiger lilies and ferns springing from the burned forest floor.

Besides our occasional calling out to each other, it was quiet, with just the sounds of the forest, birds, and occasional breeze rustling branches and shrubs. At one point we heard a strange whumpf sound that I thought was a bear, until we realized it was a small night hawk circling overhead.

I must say, it was all addicting, the thrill of finding a morel or patch or morels, being on a mission in the wilderness without the distractions of "regular" life.

It was hard to tear myself away when it was time to take leave and return to the city.  I harvested about 5 pounds, but the others, more experienced, got 9 and 11 pounds.

For a few days it was all I could do to cook and eat them (it's not good to overdose on them, even if they're an edible mushroom) and give some away. So my patron/inviter dried the rest for me. They're excellent reconstituted in water and thrown into risotto, salads, soups, and more.

Overall it truly was a bucket list experience. I'm grateful for the splendid day, and I'm happy to have plenty of dried morels to take me through the winter.

So how about you? Have you foraged successfully for wild mushrooms? I'd love to hear 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

Don't go unless you're with an experienced forager! I don't want anyone ending up like those people at the dinner party in Portland many years ago.


Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Simply Golden: Autumn Larches in the North Cascades

For a few brilliant weeks each October, the mountains here in the Pacific Northwest are sprinkled with gold. When we're lucky enough to have clear blue skies and a fresh dusting of snow, the combination of blue and white with golden larches is, quite simply, magical.

Last week, we drove up to Rainy Pass in the North Cascades and camped overnight at the Pacific Crest Trail-Cutthroat Pass trailhead, prime larch territory. Even though it was a weekday, we wanted an early start the next morning. 

It was frosty cold when we started up the trail through the quiet forest. The real drama wasn't revealed, except for a few openings in the forest, for the first several miles of hiking.

A couple years ago I attempted to get to Cutthroat Pass the same time of year, but we were snowed out after a couple miles. Today the weather cooperated beautifully. 

We tramped across several streams and up easy switchbacks for about 3 miles into a valley bracketed by the dramatic, craggy peaks characteristic of the North Cascades. Several hundred feet above us, we could see a smattering of golden larches.

As we drew higher up the valley towards timberline and the forest opened up, we started catching glimpses of small, stunted larches starting to turn from green to gold. Then the magic began.

As we entered the alpine larch zone (in north-central Washington, east of the Cascade Crest, between about 5,000 to 7,000 feet in elevation), it truly felt like entering an enchanted forest of unicorn trees. Okay, my whimsical imagination is running a bit rampant, but being amongst these trees, at the peak of their golden phase, feels otherworldly.

Of course I stopped every few yards to snap shots, slowing us down. But why rush through such natural splendor?

And of course as we got closer to Cutthroat Pass, the general panorama was increasingly magnificent too. We identified the heavily glaciated peak in the  distance at the center of the shot below as aptly named Glacier Peak (a potentially dangerous volcano).

There's something so bracing and clarifying about being up high in these raw, rugged mountains, especially on a brisk, breezy autumn day. It's literally a peak experience for me.

 And the views at the pass!

Silver Star Mountain
Cutthroat Lake far below.

Dave, who has climbed many of the surrounding peaks, pointed out several on the horizon, most prominent being massive Silver Star Mountain. Its Wine Spires were named by climbing legend Fred Beckey after wines that his then girlfriend Vasiliki loved (and then he named nearby Vasiliki Ridge after her).

Just after we arrived at the pass, two youngish guys in shorts arrived and sat down to enjoy the view. We learned they were on their last few days of through-hiking the Pacific Crest Trail after starting at the Mexican border in May.

Chili Mac was only 3 days away from finishing a 5-month trek from Mexico.
"My goal now is to never work an office job again," said through-hiker Chili Mac (his trail name), who celebrated his 36th birthday on the trail below Glacier Peak a few days earlier. I hope he achieves his goal.

On the way down we passed a lot more people coming up. I was inwardly thankful for the early morning quiet on the trail.

Overall we hiked 10 miles round trip and gained 2,000 feet in elevation. But don't be daunted by the distance; it's a relatively easy hike, not too steep with a well-maintained trail.

I'm hooked on seeing the larches at their peak each year. Our unusually dry fall, however concerning in terms of climate change, has been especially brilliant.

If you can, go see for yourself, soon.

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

The most easily accessible and popular larch hikes are becoming increasingly crowded, so think about your timing or head farther away from Seattle, like to B.C. or Idaho. We hiked to Cutthroat Pass from Rainy Pass (see a map and directions at the WTA website), although the more popular route seems to be from the Cutthroat Lake side.

Check out earlier posts about larch hikes here at Pacific Northwest Seasons, including the super popular Maple-Heather Pass Loop, Ingalls Pass, and Blue Lake.

Monday, October 8, 2018

Hiking Near Leavenworth: Solitude at Trout Lake

Here's an understatement: Leavenworth, our favorite faux-Bavarian town nestled in the north-central Cascades of Washington, is a popular destination. 

As I write this, Leavenworth's annual Oktoberfest is going on over several weekends, people are hiking the spectacular Enchantments area trails up Icicle Creek Canyon en masse (weather permitting), and the apple and pear harvest is in full swing.

For those hikers who value solitude in nature, think beyond the most well-known trails near Leavenworth. I've hiked some of these trails numerous times in the last year and haven't blogged about them because, well, most local hikers already know about them and they don't need more advertisements (I'm talking about you, Colchuck Lake, for starters).

Dramatic Colchuck Lake, NOT what this blog post is about. :)

While it's no longer possible to do the "greatest hits" hikes without a crowd on weekends, it's still possible to have a relatively quiet experience and not share the trail with many, or any, others. A few hints:

Go on a weekday if you can (although that's no guarantee anymore), go when it's raining (same), and go to a less spectacular but still invigorating hike like the trail to Trout Lake.

Last Friday morning we drove up to an empty parking area at the trailhead near the end of Icicle Creek Road. Due to an autumn chill in the air, we pulled on hats, gloves, and jackets and started up the trail into the Alpine Lakes Wilderness. Within a hundred yards or so, we passed the junction to Jack Creek Trail and skirted along Jack Creek, then crossed it on a sturdy bridge and headed up into the woods. 

Horseback riders also use this trail, and the tread has loosened from many passing hooves. It's soft underfoot. (On the way down, after raining for a while, this made for mud-caked boots.)

A couple miles on, I was startled by a whoosh of wings from flushing out a ruffed grouse. Dave pointed to depressions in the soft dirt along the trail and told me they were giving themselves a dust bath. Then I noticed several similar depressions along the trail and saw another grouse ahead.

Ruffed grouse (Bonasa umbellus)

After about 3 miles of hiking upward on long switchbacks through lovely forest, we passed another junction (always keep left going up!) and reached a few openings in the forest caused by big rockslides.

Then following a long traverse, the trail turned and continued up a small valley (the Trout Creek drainage) on a fairly level trail with minor ups and downs. By this point the views had really opened up.

Looking back towards Icicle Ridge, incoming rain.
For a couple more miles, we rambled up the drainage, passing through a few forested stretches and enjoying the brilliant golden larches and cottonwoods below.

As we entered a particularly lush patch of forest, the insistent rush of a mountain stream nearby drew us close to Trout Creek, flowing down valley from Trout Lake above. Unlike much of the forest east of the Cascade crest, a thick and damp underbrush carpets the forest here.

At a nearby junction that's also an old campsite, another signed trail diverges across the stream up towards Windy Pass, although the "bridge" across the stream is just a big log. We continued up the main trail through the woods another 1/2 mile to Trout Lake.

Approaching the lake, we entered a swath of forest that had recently burned in what was clearly an intense fire.

"There are spots that are still smoldering!" exclaimed Dave.

Indeed, when I stopped to look around carefully, I noticed at least half a dozen spots where smoke was wafting upwards from the ground or downed trees. It was eerie and unsettling.

Recently charred forest.
With low-lying clouds limiting visibility, combined with the smoking ground, we decide to not stick around very long. I made my way through brush and over some burned logs to a clearing by the shoreline to snap some shots (see photo at top of post too).

Despite the recent fire, I still think it was lovely.

Scorched shoreline marsh, thankfully green forest beyond.
Later I did a search and read that many of the trails up the Icicle had been closed for the last month due to the lightning-ignited Jack Creek fire, which didn't do much initially but flared up in September. Coincidentally, some of the trails just reopened within the last week.

So we retraced our steps back down as the low clouds overhead let loose with a steady rain. I didn't mind because it was helping diminish the remaining fire hot spots and, honestly, I enjoy a walk in the rain.

When we got back to the trailhead later afternoon, there was just one other car. They must have taken the Jack Creek Trail because we didn't see them. We didn't see anyone else but chipmunks and ruffed grouse, which I consider a stellar day hiking.

According to the WTA website, we walked 11.5 miles round trip to the lake and back, with an elevation gain of 2,000 feet up to 4,800 feet. It probably snowed at the lake that evening after we hiked, and by late November (Skadi, snow goddess willing) all the trails up Icicle Creek Canyon will be snow-covered.

Larix lyallii (Alpine Larch) on the left.
After Hike Eats
By the time we got back to Leavenworth, wet and a bit tired, we didn't feel like making dinner. So we went to a most unlikely but actually quite excellent place in town: The Wok About Grill, which is definitely a contrast to the bratwurst and brews beerhall tents set up around town right now.  

With a huge "salad" bar of fresh veggies, meats, tofu, noodles, and sauces to choose from, you select items in a bowl and then hand them to the chefs, who will quickly stir-fry them up into a healthy meal.

So get on out there if you can, soon. The larch needles are ramping up to their annual gold glow, the vine maples are still crimson, and it's the prettiest time of year to be out on the trail IMO.

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
You might be wondering why I'm telling you about this hike at all when I clearly treasure quiet trails. I'm realistic; I know this blog isn't going viral in a big way. So if you've stumbled your way here, I consider you a kindred spirit.

To get to the trailhead, take Icicle Creek Road (Forest Road 76) outside Leavenworth for 16.3 miles (the last 4 miles aren't paved) to Rock Island Campground. Turn left, cross Icicle Creek, and after 0.2 mile turn left onto Forest Road Spur 615 (signed "Jack/Trout Trailhead"). In 0.2 mile bear right to trailhead parking (elev. 2850 ft). You need a Northwest Forest Pass to park there or risk a fine.