Tuesday, July 2, 2019

Early Summer in the Pacific Northwest: Hikes, Good Eats, and Ferry Rides

Despite my best intentions to tend to the house and yard on weekends now and then, I usually find myself out and about, hiking or meeting up with friends or relatives.

So today features a few highlights of the last month or so here in the Pacific Northwest, local style.

Bluebird Hiking
In mid-June, I finally managed to meet up with a family friend I hadn't seen since...college? You don't need to know how long ago that was, but wow it was great to connect with Andy after so many years. From summiting Mt. St. Helens to Mt. Fuji in Japan, Andy and his wife keep it all in the family.

But that Saturday was just Andy and me, and the hike up Scorpion Mountain in the Wild Sky Wilderness near Skykomish, Washington, was truly a gem. Neither of us had been there before, and it was surprisingly not too crowded. 

This is mostly a ridge trail, with some steep ups and downs. Once we broke out of the subalpine forest to the summit ridge, the views were magnificent. Directly to the north was the lesser known Cascade volcano Glacier Peak, in all its rugged splendor.

 Andy said we hiked 9.1 miles roundtrip from the trailhead to the 5,500+ elevation summit, with a little over 2,700 feet in gain and 1,300 feet in loss.

Port Townsend and Environs
In June I managed two trips to Port Townsend to visit family. I'm always up for a ferry ride, and the Edmonds-Kingston run is my route.

Morning at the Edmonds ferry terminal
I met up with cousins for an excellent and tasty lunch at the thoroughly charming Finn River Farm & Cidery in Chimacum, WA, about 10 miles south of Port Townsend. With a sprawling complex of buildings and open air dining, this is THE place to be most evenings in the summer, with live music and dancing. 

I opted for crispy thin-crust pizza topped with farm fresh veggies and cheese from local Mt. Townsend Creamery, plus garden fresh green salad. Cousin John and his daughter Nia had bratwurst made from pork raised nearby. To drink, I had the crisp pear cider, which happened to be perfect IMO.

To burn off some of those calories, afterwards we walked down and along the beach at Old Fort Townsend State Park just south of Port Townsend. On a Friday, it was pretty quiet along the lush forested shoreline.

Before heading back to Seattle later in the evening, my aunt insisted on taking us to a nice Italian dinner at Lanza's in Port Townsend. I did not go hungry that day.

Misty/Rainy Day Hike
Although the bluebird days are nice, this year we're mindful of the impending bad fire wildfire season. So Dave and I didn't mind hiking in a light rain to Merritt Lake east of Stevens Pass.

Despite the very rough road (in places) to the trailhead off Highway 2, the hike itself seemed pretty mellow and switchbacked leisurely up 2,100 feet over about 3 miles to a sweet alpine lake.

When we got near the lake, a whiff of smoke and fire blew past on the breeze--definitely NOT good in the drought-parched woods. We found a still smoldering campfire, with a bit of flame, littered with a half melted plastic bottle and foil. 

Here in the Pacific Northwest, we aim to practice the Leave No Trace ethic, so finding this fire was concerning. I chugged my water and then took several trips to the lake to refill the bottle and dump water on the fire. Sigh.

Regardless, this was a lovely hike and not as long or rigorous as the Scorpion Mountain hike a few weeks earlier.

And Then There's Wine
So I don't drink much (except water and tea), but I was all on board the party van for a dear friend's milestone birthday outing to the Woodinville wine country northeast of Seattle. Yes, we literally went there in a big van with a hired driver. Better safe than sorry.

I hadn't been in several years and was shocked at the traffic and proliferation of wineries out there now. Our first stop was the classic DeLille Cellars, where we had a sampling of half dozen beautiful wines, from a light roussane white to robust reds (which I didn't taste because I just can't do red wine anymore).

Our next stop, Mark Ryan Winery, was much louder and more crowded than DeLille. We happened to be there with a large contingent of women wearing faux leopard skin (dresses, shoes, pants, hats, etc.) and wondered if one of the vaguely familiar women was a reality TV star.

"Do you notice it's mostly women at these tastings, except for men with their wives/girlfriends or gay guys," pointed out Shannon. Yes, I did notice many more women than men.

But the wine was good; I particularly enjoyed the dry white viognier.  

A relaxing place to finish up was Matthews Winery, which had a spacious and lovely contemporary tasting room set against a wooded hillside. By this time I wasn't really catching all the wines, but I did enjoy more white and rose here.

 So there you have it. Just a smattering of places and things that we locals do here in the Pacific Northwest (well, western and north-central Washington to be exact). 

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

Thursday, June 13, 2019

Backpacking in the Pacific Northwest: A Sweet Nature Fix

"As you're hiking," says Ashley, "try to notice smells, what you hear and see. And don't feel the need to push yourself. Just take it all in."

We're at the Ingalls Creek trailhead in north-central Washington, about to head on up the trail for what is my first backpack of the yearand for a couple women, their first backpack trip ever.

I might have paraphrased what Ashley said a bit, but it's the gist of our overnight trip this weekend with the Alpine Trails Book Club. We're thinking about this month's book, The Nature Fix.

Author Florence Williams makes a compelling case that nature is not just beautiful but also good for us in terms of health, happiness, and creativity. (See my recent post on forest bathing.) 

On this late spring weekend before the heat of summer, our group quickly spreads out along the trail. I lapse into my old "motor mouse" mode, charging ahead, and have to remind myself to slow down. 

Essentially we're walking up a creek drainage through both burned and intact forest. Here on the eastern crest of the Cascades, we see a mix of ponderosa pine and common regional trees such as Douglas fir and western redcedar.

What I notice quickly is the dramatic difference between the burned parts of the drainage versus areas that haven't burned for decades. Initially we walk through forest that was engulfed in 1994 by the massive Rat Creek Fire.

As the trail meanders above mountain fresh Ingalls Creek, we first cross through fairly open areas. Here some trees are still scorched black, while others show green growth higher up. Since the last major fire, the underbrush and shrubs have come back vigorously.

And the wildflowers! Lush patches of purple lupine, occasional Nootka rose, brilliant red-orange Indian paintbrush, delicate columbine, and much more line the trail. Tiny purple and big multi-colored butterflies flit from flower to flower, eluding capture in a photo.

Red columbine

Nootka rose
After an hour of tramping,  I stop at a big flat rock for a snack break and am soon joined by the others. I'm feeling previously "silent" leg and hip muscles from the weight of my pack. But overall I'm pleased that I've settled into a steady pace, despite the heavy load.

I think we're all buoyed by the refreshing sound and views of the adjacent creek, still swollen with snowmelt. As it dances and courses downward over big boulders, downed logs, and cobbled riffles, we continue gradually upward, sometimes crossing small tributary streams.

When we've hiked a couple hours upstream, we decide to make camp at a spacious campsite next to the creek, a little under 5 miles from the trailhead. There's plenty of room to pitch multiple tents, with sounds muffled by the insistent rush of Ingalls Creek.

But before I give in to the urge to relax, three of us continue another mile+ up the trail in search of more expansive views. Ultimately this trail leads to gorgeous alpine Ingalls Lake 14 miles from the trailhead. But today we're content with taking in the forest, abundant fresh air, and the sounds of nature.

Looking back down valley.
Back at camp, with my tent set up and pack discarded, I head to the creek and liberate my feet for a soak in the icy cold water. I think fondly of my late father as I do this. On warm summer days after work, he would sit on the foot bridge over the stream that ran through our front yard, roll up his pants above his ankles, take off his shoes and socks, and dangle his feet in the cool water.

Despite a sizeable group, later in the afternoon we spread out, nap in the sun, read, sketch, whatever. We're just enjoying being unplugged and tuned in to our surroundings. After a good discussion of the book, where Ashley encourages us to feel the dirt with our bare feet and hands, we cook our dinners and drift to our tents before it's completely dark.

For me, sleep comes quickly. I'm always lulled to sleep by the sound of nearby water. 

I awaken cozy warm and refreshed around 5:30 a.m. I'm up and out before anyone else, and take a few moments to silently express my gratitude for this gift of a night in the woods with a fun and supportive group of cross-generational women (and one husband).

While I love my morning tea, and especially enjoy drinking it out of delicate china, I've never thought of bringing a fancy cup along on a camping trip. So I'm charmed when Brenda pulls out her cup and saucer, which she does camping and hiking as a whimsical ritual.

Getting ready for tea al fresco.
Late morning we're off back down trail, and too soon we're back at the trailhead. I'm just hitting my stride and could continue for several more miles.

Motor Mouse, a few years on.
Photo by Mala Giri.
Our goal wasn't the destination, it was the journey and experiencing fully where we were without an agenda other than to just be present and aware with all our senses. I came away refreshed, despite some achy muscles. 

And as I sit here in my office typing, I close my eyes and imagine myself out there again, seeing the morning light filtering through the forest, with the soundtrack of a mountain stream. It's calming, and studies show a nature fix can lower your blood pressure, among other health benefits. 

I highly recommend that you, too, think about getting a nature fix as often as you can.

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

Thursday, May 16, 2019

Walking Seattle: The City at 3 Miles an Hour

Sometimes accidents can turn out to be happy accidents. 

Last  week my car keys inadvertently traveled over the mountains in a friend's car while I (and my locked car) remained in Seattle. He wasn't going to be back for several days, and my spare key fob went missing a while ago.

Since the City of Seattle is actively trying to make residents drive less, I was a model citizen for a few days. Between the bus, walking, and bicycling, I also got more exercise than normal. It felt great.

Okay, so I did snag a few rides from friends, but not much. I like to go as many days as possible without getting in my car and driving. But this wasn't planned.

What struck me while walking were the details that drivers usually blow past, like the dog that really wanted to crawl out from under the fence I passed but didn't quite fit. Or little sidewalk "libraries," where people add and take books for free.

I passed sweet dragonflies painted on a mailbox.

On Sunday morning I took the bus 3 miles downhill to the Ballard Farmer's Market, with a plan to bus back up to Crown Hill where I live. But when I started walking to catch the bus to go home, well, I didn't stop walking until I got home.  Later I estimated over 5 miles walking around my Northwest Seattle quadrant that day.

The next day there were two mile+ trips to Greenwood for tea and errands. I'm blessed to live around tree-lined streets with exuberant yard landscaping.  I was also fortunate to not have a busy schedule that day.

Tibet in Seattle; I spin the prayer wheels outside Sakya Monastery when I walk past.
When I passed the multi-story developments sprouting up like mushrooms in Ballard and creeping northward, it wasn't so pleasant because the developers basically scrape the lots bare and then add token sidewalk shrubbery. 

Single-family residential zoning is being chipped away in favor of more density in Seattle. This is changing the city's character and eliminating trees, yard landscaping, and gardens. But that's another discussion.

  I realize that to a lot of Millennials and transplants, being without a car is standard practice. But Seattle is still playing catch up with Portland to the south and Vancouver to the north on efficient transit options. And if you use Uber or Lyft, you're still driving around,  even if you're not behind the wheel.

Urban chickens on the next block.
When the days are longer, warmer, and drier, it's easier to walk more. But I'm energized to aim for more car-free days regardless of the weather. How about you?

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

Thursday, May 9, 2019

Wenatchee Hiking: Above it all at Saddle Rock

My Wenatchee, Washington, area friends all seem to have found the fountain of youth--or at least an elixir to slow the aging process.

I think in large part it's because they're so close to such splendid outdoors opportunities, like the mile+ dash up to Saddle Rock on the southwest edge of town. One friend seriously does this hike from her home as a morning workout.

Saddle Rock rises spectacularly almost 1,000 feet above Wenatchee in what is now the Saddle Rock Natural Area, a city park. I've heard about friends' hikes there for years but didn't make it up there myself until a couple weeks ago.

The Hike
At my friend's recommendation, we parked at the northern trailhead access at the Wenatchee Racquet and Athletic Club’s (WRAC) main parking lot off Skyline Drive. A few spots near the entrance to the lot are designated for hikers.

While the trailhead was easy to find, we did manage to misinterpret the trail signs (raising my hand here, guilty) and did a longer hike. But no worries, it just made for more exercise and time in this beautiful place.
We wandered left instead of right at the first junction, and ended up just below a lower set of crags (which I'm sure are named). We realized our error and cut right towards a higher junction to Saddle Rock. 

The rocky outcrop to the upper left in this shot is NOT Saddle Rock.

Despite the brilliant sun, the breeze that day had a cold bite, so we bundled up against the windchill and slathered on sunscreen (at least I did). With each strong gust of wind, the silver-green bunchgrass along the hillside undulated like waves on a rough sea.

Of course the arrowleaf balsamroot was coming on strong, but we were a little too early for much purple lupine action. No matter. In a month or so the green in these foothills will fade to dusty brown.

Arrowleaf balsamroot

With the wind and profusion of spring bird calls and wildflowers, it really did feel like the hills were alive. At least many things are alive in the hills (thankfully no rattlesnakes showed themselves). 

The higher we walked, the more spectacular the views became. It's no wonder so many come up here for the sunrise or sunset.

Looking down at Wenatchee and the Columbia River in the distance.
Before Saddle Rock came into view to the south, we crested a rise and then dropped down for the grand finale.

Saddle Rock formations from north and above.
View downriver of the Columbia.
In late April, snow still lingered up on Mission Ridge about 4,000 feet higher. This annual intersection of spring green, blue skies, and snow is my favorite time of year over here. (Well...autumn is pretty spectacular too.)

We didn't spend that much time on the rocks. It drops off pretty steeply. 

On the way down we heard some lovely bird calls from sagebrush near the trail. I couldn't identify, but I'm sure birders would be all over it.

By the time we made it back down to the car, we estimated about 4+ miles of hiking with the detour, with a gain of over 1,200 feet. It was a perfect couple hours on a brilliant spring day.

Have you done this hike or do it frequently? Always love to hear about your experiences too in the comments below. Due to the increasing amount of spam, please leave your name (or at least a pseudonym) and a little something to personalize your comment so I know you're not a bot. We LOVE comments. :)

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

When You Go
Check out Wenatchee Outdoors' informative web page about this hike, with trailhead instructions.

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Into the Woods: Forest Bathing in Mosslandia

While I've always felt better after hiking and playing in the woods, only in the last few years have I learned there's a movement that started in Japan called forest bathing (shinrin-yoku).   

Shinrin-yoku means bathing in the forest atmosphere, or taking in the forest through our senses. According to a 2016 study, forest bathing significantly reduced pulse rate and significantly increased the score for vigor and decreased the scores for depression, fatigue, anxiety, and confusion of the participants.

Not that I needed to be told all those years hiking through Pacific Northwest forests have been good for me. 

But with the explosive growth here, which has spilled over to hiking and all things outdoorsy (thank you social media), the hikes I used to take to mountaintops and spectacular views are being overwhelmed. These days, I often head to forest trails that don't particularly lead to a summit or lake. 

And I especially relish our lush forests west of the Cascades, where the ground and trees are carpeted in moss and ferns along with other native shrubs. Things grow in a western forest, often abundantly.

And when trees fall in the forest, lots more things grow on "nurse" logs. It's a big symbiotic chain reaction.

I've been reading The Hidden Life of Trees, and it raises interesting questions: Are trees sentient beings? Do they have feelings? Do they communicate with each other?

While we can't know for sure whether trees possess self-knowledge, the reactions of trees to various conditions and events is indeed real. And they do indeed communicate and support each other in a forest.

As the author concludes: A happy forest is a healthy forest. And I firmly believe that a healthy forest is a healthy place for people to pass through, with respect. Or, as John Muir said, more loftily:

“The clearest way into the Universe is through a forest wilderness.”

I've done many forest hikes over the years and a few recently. Sometimes, like this past weekend along the Salmon River east of Portland, I stop and just sit in silence in the woods, breathing deeply and inhaling the richness of life all around.

Sweet wildflowers sprout beneath trees and along the trail in the spring and summer. As I noted in my last blog post, trilliums are a favorite and still peaking. And this past weekend I was especially enchanted by the abundance of delicate fawn lilies, with mottled leaves resembling the back of baby fawns.

Trillium ovatum

Oregon fawn lily (erythronium oregonum)
So next time you hit the trail, think about a quiet walk in some woods. Observe all the trees and plants, and perhaps think about how they are interconnected. Notice different types and sizes of trees. And then, maybe consider how can you help protect such life and richness.

I no longer blog about every hike I do, but here are a few favorites where you'll get a good "bath" in the woods:

  • For a lowland forest walk near Seattle, try Japanese Gulch or Big Gulch trails in Mukilteo, WA.
  • I've read that the Crater Loop Trail at Larch Mountain east of Portland, OR, has re-opened. However it has suffered from lack of trail maintenance during its prolonged closure after the Gorge fire in 2017. Proceed with caution!
  • Downey Creek Trail outside Darrington, WA, in the North Cascades is reliably quiet. Might have something to do with the 15 miles on rough road to get there.

Happy trails and thanks for visiting Pacific Northwest Seasons! 

In between blog posts, visit Pacific NW Seasons on FaceBookTwitter, andInstagram for more Northwest photos and outdoors news.  

When You Go
Check to see if a parking pass (Northwest Forest Pass, Discover Pass) is required for trailhead parking. And think about taking an extra big bag for picking up trash you find along the way, which sadly is not that uncommon these days. Also think about being quiet rather than talking loudly; focus on absorbing your surroundings. Enjoy!