Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Pacific Northwest Highlights, Looking Back and Ahead

Descent into Sea-Tac, Mt. Rainier, May 2013.
How was your 2013? 

I've tried to winnow down over a thousand photos taken in 2013 to just one (or two) a month to sum up the year in pictures here in the Northwest. Very hard to do!

These photos mostly reflect my outdoors passions. What would your year in photos look like? 

While business was slow, I got out to play more than usual in the Pacific Northwest outdoors. Not so great for the pocket book, but fantastic for my mental and physical health. 


Just because it's chilly doesn't mean we should hibernate here in the dead of winter. Clear skies and snow made for some wonderful trips: Lake Quinault Lodge where I witnessed a spectacular sunset, the Olympic coastline, Orcas Island, and of course skiing in the Cascades.

Sunset over the lake from Lake Quinault Lodge, WA.

With an uptake in mountain snowfall, more skiing at Stevens Pass and Crystal Mountain, and cross-country skiing the Iron Horse Trail, along with a trip east of the Cascades to Wenatchee and Leavenworth.  An unusual irruption of snowy owls caused a female to spend a few months near Sunset Hill Park in Seattle's Ballard neighborhood.

Fun in the fresh pow at Stevens Pass, WA. Photo by Linda Dimmit.
Sunset Hill snowy owl.

March is a shoulder month here in the Northwest between winter and early spring, but still lots of snow in the mountains and early spring flowers in the lowlands. A late month highlight was an overnight on Mt. Hood, with spectacular stars and a lovely sunrise at Timberline Lodge.

Crater Rock and Mt. Hood, OR, summit twilight. Photo by Scott Conover.

Things start really waking up by April in the Northwest, and a seasonal favorite is the Skagit Valley Tulip Festival.  Hint, don't go on a weekend if possible! Equally special is the display of native wildflowers over at Deception Pass State Park, where I joined a group from the Washington Native Plant Society. Also enjoyed a weekend at Suncadia Resort exploring the eastern Cascade crest.

Deception Pass State Park, WA.

Skagit tulips, WA.

Now we're talkin'. Hiking. Kayaking. Late snow in the mountains.Trips included a typical wet Memorial Day weekend camping on Shaw and Orcas Islands in the San Juans with great hikes and kayaking, an overnight to Paradise Lodge on Mt. Rainier to celebrate Washington's National Parks Fund, and dashing up Rattlesnake Ledge.

Magical and historic Doe Bay, Orcas Island, WA.

June is when we Northwesterners are out camping, hiking, and more but getting a little impatient for the clouds to disappear (although they do some days). Summer never really starts until after the Fourth of July here. Regardless, enjoyed camping/hiking in the Teanaway region in Washington's central Cascades, hikes to Annette Lake and Little Si, kayak camping on Maury Island, and epic summer sunsets from Seattle's Carkeek Park.

Summer Solstice sunset, Carkeek Park, Seattle, WA.

Ah July.  Late month brings the crest of summer here in the Northwest. So much to get out and do. Outings included hiking ever popular Wallace Falls and Snow Lake, kayaking the Skykomish River and through the Ballard Locks, and an epic trip kayak camping off remote northwest Vancouver Island in the Bunsby Islands.

Cuttle Islets, Checleset Ecological Reserve, Vancouver Island, B.C.

August is rich, mellow, and fantastic for high elevation hiking or any outdoors pursuit here. Or maybe just spending a weekend away with friends at a rented cabin, like I did in Hood River Valley. Kayak camping was a theme this year, and an overnight to Sucia Island in the northern San Juan Islands was crowded at the campsite but wonderful.

Sucia Island sunset paddle, WA.

It just keeps getting better. September is often our best month of the year weather-wise in western Washington and Oregon.  Time for getting together for late summer picnics, harvesting wine grapes, and early fall trips back to Orcas Island. So much to do and see and not enough weekends!

Annual grape harvest, Whidbey Island Winery, Langley, WA.

Oh October!  My favorite month of the year. Whoever says we don't have fall colors here in the Northwest has never gone on a hike in the Cascades or to our Japanese gardens around the region. 'Twas a spectacular autumn hiking season this past fall, with hikes to Mason Lake, Mt. Pilchuck, Beckler Peak, and Lodge Lake in Washington's Cascades. More small farm harvesting, too, with a soggy but fun weekend in the Willamette Valley.

View west down I-90 corridor from Ira Spring Trail enroute to Mason Lake, WA.

Usually November is our stormiest month, but 2013 brought an unusual dry but chilly spell. Highlights were a weekend in the Portland area hiking to the top of Multnomah Falls and beyond, bicycling around Portland's waterfront, watching the salmon spawning in Carkeek Park, a sweet trip to Seattle's Japanese garden, and a perfect Thanksgiving--doing the Seattle Turkey Trot before the ferry to Bainbridge Island for dinner.

Base of upper Multnomah Falls, OR.

Usually we're skiing on December weekends, but in 2013 there is barely enough snow to operate and some areas aren't even open yet. It's a crazy busy month anyway. Walks in the lowland forest at Carkeek Park satisfied my need for outdoors nourishment.

Carkeek Park trail, Seattle, WA.
What were some of your 2013 highlights, and what adventures do you have planned for 2014?

Happy New Year and wishing you a 2014 full of laughter, good fun, and lots of smiles.

BTW for lots more photos and NW news between blog posts, Like Pacific Northwest Seasons on FaceBook or follow on Twitter.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Salish Sea Marine Sanctuary & Coastal Trail: Let's Help Make it Happen

If you've been fortunate enough to see our Southern Resident orca (killer) whales roaming the Salish Sea in northwest Washington or southwest British Columbia, you know they inspire awe—and, for many, a fierce desire to protect these highly intelligent mammals.  

For a man leading a seemingly daunting task of establishing a new marine sanctuary, Douglas Tolchin seems anything but daunted.  While speaking at the Water Symposium in Seattle recently, this tall, silver-haired yet boyish man inspired the crowd with his optimism and enthusiasm for the proposed Salish Sea Marine Sanctuary & Coastal Trail

What defines the Salish Sea? Geographically, it's the 7,000-square-mile body of water that includes the Georgia  Strait in B.C., the Strait of Juan de Fuca that straddles the U.S.-Canadian border, and Puget Sound in Washington. 

The Coast Salish people were the first to formally recognize the Salish Sea name, incorporating it into their collective culture in 2008. The U.S. and Canadian governments adopted the name in 2009 and 2010, respectively. 

As a native-born Seattleite who has spent many happy days playing on Puget Sound beaches and kayaking its waters, I'm all for this vision to restore wildlife populations throughout the Salish Sea to more than 50 percent of historic levelsas soon as possible.

Southern Resident orca whale. October 2012 Puget Sound. Photo by Alisa Lemire Brooks.
 In the last 150 years, human activities have taken their toll on this formerly pristine and still ecologically valuable inland sea rich in wildlife, some now threatened. Industrial pollution, shoreline alterations, seabed dredging, and much more have compromised the health of the Salish Sea. 

It's time to make things right.

Tolchin founded the Salish Sea Marine Sanctuary & Coastal Trail effort, but he envisions a widespread involvement. "For the Sanctuary to reach most or all of its full potential, it is imperative that this be a widespread grassroots people-up and also indigenous-led movement.  I foresee Coast Salish First Nations and Peoples substantially leading and shepherding the Sanctuary's vision and implementation through time.  Hopefully with the active and energetic help of a million or more newcomers, the sooner the better."

Harbor seal, Cattle Pass, San Juan Islands.
Marine Sanctuaries in the U.S. are exceptional bodies of water where elevated standards of conduct protect and restore water quality, wildlife populations, cultural resources, and habitats. Here on the West Coast of the U.S, over 50 percent of the California shoreline and wildlife habitat is protected by a system of four Marine Sanctuaries. In the Pacific Northwest, we currently have the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary off the Olympic Peninsula in the Pacific Ocean.

Mt. Baker hovers over the Salish Sea near Bellingham, Washington.
According to Tolchin, the Salish Sea Marine Sanctuary represents a people-up paradigm shift from the prior effort to establish the Northwest Strait Marine Sanctuary back in the 1990s. The current effort is holistic and comprehensive in nature. 

"It will directly and substantially benefit virtually everyone living throughout the entire Salish Sea watershed, in myriad ways.  It is emerging from unprecedented unified vision and action between people of Coast Salish First Nations, British Columbia and Washington State...together."

View across the U.S.-Canadian border to Vancouver Island.

In addition to increased wildlife protection, a bicycling and hiking trail encircling the Salish Sea is envisioned as part of the effort.

"We're having a lot of fun creating and designing the Salish Sea Marine Sanctuary & Coastal Trail. We're involving children, musicians, artists, scientists, students, teachers, business people, videographers, storytellers... pretty much everyone and anyone who loves animals, clean water, clean air, healthy food and a better future," says Tolchin.

To help make this happen, start by Liking the Salish Sea Marine Sanctuary & Coastal Trail page on FaceBook, where you can see upcoming events and updates.  Then check out their website, which details more about their vision.

San Juan Islands, Washington
It's time to join the party!

We'd love to hear your ideas about this proposal and your Salish Sea experiences. Jump in with a comment below. 

Thanks for visiting and sharing Pacific Northwest Seasons.


Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Perfectly Portland: In and Around Downtown by Bicycle

Of course the day starts with a stop at an organic juice bar. It's Portland.

On a recent sunny but cold Saturday, my well-situated friend Matt and I enjoy an easy breezy bicycle ride through P-Town.  Bundled up against the early winter chill and the East Wind, we coast from Goose Hollow down to the Willamette River.

But first there's that stop at Kure Juice Bar on Taylor a couple blocks up from the river. They whip up a cleansing concoction of veggies and fruit to get me revved for the ride.

After a tumble onto the street when my shoelaces get wrapped up in my pedal (good thing the street was empty), I pick myself up and we cycle onto the Waterfront Park - Eastbank Esplanade Loop Trail along the river.

Today we're headed clockwise and cross the river on the historic Steel Bridge over to the Eastbank Esplanade. This lovely trail is scenic and spacious, perfect for whatever means of nonmotorized transportation you wish.

Steel Bridge across the Willamette River

After cruising about a mile or so along the eastbank, we cross over the Hawthorne Bridge (I think!) and cut south along the river for our next stop. Portland's bridges have excellent, wide bicycle lanes.

Our next stop is the Little River Cafe along the RiverPlace Esplanade for a proper breakfast.  My breakfast wrap stuffed with freshly sauteed veggies, eggs, and a little cheese is excellent and large enough to split.

Then we continue south down to catch the Portland Aerial Tram up to the gorgeous OHSU (Oregon Health & Science University) facility on Marquam Hill above the South Waterfront District. When I was a kid this was just industrial land along the river, but Portland has grown up quite nicely, thank you.

We roll our bicycles onto the spacious tram that departs every 5 minutes or so and enjoy the short ride uphill. The view along the way is just as awesome as from the top.

 Mt. Hood is out in all her freshly white-clad glory today, looming large but graceful on the eastern horizon. Love that mountain.

Marquam Bridge
Lots of tourists and locals come up here for the view, and some lucky people like my friend Karen ride the tram as part of their daily work commute to OHSU. We chat up several visitors, including some students from Malaysia and a medical resident out from Kentucky.  A spectacular view on a sunny day makes everybody friendly.

Portland Aerial Tram
Riding downhill from OHSU on the winding, tree-lined road is more exciting than the leisurely tram ride up.  I cringe when Matt shoots down hill upright on his bike while he's adjusting his parka.  I'm too chicken and cruise down with a tight grip on my handlebars as I negotiate the blind curves.

Our last stop is back downtown at the Portland Farmer's Market at the South Park Blocks at Portland State University.  I stock up on the last of the season's chanterelle mushrooms and sneak a few cookies from one of the vendors closing up for the day.

After about 4 hours we meander back to Matt's place in Goose Hollow. Compared to Seattle where I live now, bicycling Portland is a dream. Lots of great trails, not too steep (we cheated with the tram), and very bicycle friendly.

Where are your favorite routes to bicycle around Portland?

When You Go 
The Portland Aerial Tram only cost about $4 to ride, payable by credit card. The Portland Farmer's Market at Portland State is open until December 21 for the year, then reopens in March.


Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Hiking Multnomah Falls Offseason: Ice, Wind, and Magical Mist

If you're short on time but want a good thigh-burning workout with maximum scenic payback, think about dashing up the Columbia River Gorge east of Portland to Multnomah Falls. True, this set of waterfalls is heavily visited and you'll rarely find solitude on the trail up and down, but stillit's spectacular!

However, if you make this trek in the fall and winter when the East Wind is blowing hard and cold through the Gorge, be careful of ice coating the trail near the base of the upper fall.  It's very slick.

On just such a day recently, I drive east up Interstate 84 along the Columbia River to Multnomah Falls. Originally I wanted to hike Angel's Rest, but with a late start there isn't enough time and daylight left in the day. 

Even on a chilly November weekday afternoon, there are tourists/sightseers taking photos and walking the trails around the falls.  I guess that includes me, too.

Today I bypass the historic Multnomah Falls Lodge, where you can get a meal or cup of hot cocoa and enjoy the museum on the bottom level. My goal is exercise and the bracing thrill of the falls.

To reach the viewing platform above the upper fall, it's about 1.2 miles of paved trail up a little over 600 feet (for context, that's comparable to the height of Seattle's Space Needle). After the easy stroll up a couple switchbacks to the Benson Bridge above the lower fall, it's a dozen relentless switchbacks up to the top.

I start by meandering up the path to the bridge, stopping along the way for  photos as water from the falls roils upward in a misty spray.

Lower Multnomah Fall, Benson Bridge

Base of the upper fall

As soon as I pass the bridge and start up, things get wintery quickly. Tubular chunks of ice lie on the trail beneath some of the branches, and the railing is coated in ice. My camera lense gets muddy when I hug the steep slope along the trail to avoid slipping on the icy asphalt.

After I hit the second switchback, the trail is so slick that I decide to abort...until two guys come down and say the trail dries out just a few feet beyond.

I'm so glad I continue. Indeed the trail dries out and angles away from the falls towards the river.  A few pass me on the way down, but I have the trail to myself for most of the way up, with occasional marvelous views of the white-capped river below.

Lest you lose count of the switchbacks, there are signs at every turn indicating your progress ( 7 out of 11, 8 out of 11...). I top out at the ridge above the falls and then drop down a couple more switchbacks to the viewing platform perched just above the lip of the waterfall, where it plunges 500 feet.

It's a long way down!

For more of a workout, I walk up and behind the falls along Multnomah Creek on the Larch Mountain Trail for about a half-mile. Up here the creek runs through moss-covered rocks and forest bracketed by ancient Columbia River basalt walls. As a teenager I used to explore up here (and many other Gorge trails), a Mossback deep in my bones.

On the way down I stop and savor the views in the waning afternoon light. And tread extra carefully when I hit the last two switchbacks before the bridge.

Any time of year, but especially during the chilly season, a hike at Multnomah Falls, and perhaps looping over to Wahkeena Falls, is exhilarating. I'm always drawn to the Gorge and its fabulous waterfalls whenever I return to Oregon.  How about you?

Thanks for visiting Pacific Northwest Seasons. I'd love to hear your comments below about this hike or others in the Gorge.

Happy trails!

When You Go
On a warm spring/summer/fall weekend, Multnomah Falls is best avoided except very early in the day (think crowds). In the winter, sometimes the trail to the top is closed due to icy conditions, so check the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area website before heading there. You'll pass through several microclimates as you weave near the falls and then away towards the river, so come prepared for changing conditions.

From Portland take I-84 eastbound for approximately 30 miles. Follow signs and take exit 31 (an unusual left-side exit ramp) to a parking area. Follow the path under the highway to reach the falls viewing area. For a more scenic trip, take I-84 eastbound to the Troutdale exit. Follow signs for the Scenic Loop drive, then follow the loop up to Corbett and down along the old Columbia River Highway (a National Historic Landmark) to Crown Point and ultimately the Multnomah Falls parking area.

Friday, November 22, 2013

November Sunshine

November is generally our stormiest month here in the Pacific Northwest, with epic windstorms that have brought down trees and even a couple floating bridges in years past.  But right now we're blessed with a stretch of brilliant blue skies and crisp chilly days extending into next week.

A couple days ago some transient orcas swung into Puget Sound near Seattle and treated many here to a fantastic show of hunting off Bainbridge Island (although some of seals met their demise in the process). Others were making their first turns of the new ski season up at Crystal Mountain. 

We're blessed here in the Northwest with so many great things to do and see in our natural and urban worlds.

I'm on the road to Oregon and will post more everyday adventures soon.  I hope you, too, get out and enjoy what's looking to be a glorious Northwest weekend over the whole region.

Happy trails!

Friday, November 15, 2013

Beyond the Northwest: Himalayan Dreams

A journey of a thousand miles begins with one step - Lao Tzu
Occasionally I stray outside the Pacific Northwest for adventures.  Today's post is dedicated to the late Mary Gales, who helped me immeasurably on this and many other journeys. I hope you read through, enjoy, and share.

I was leaving in less than 3 weeks for my lifelong dream trip to trek in the Himalayas, and my right calf was so irritated that I couldn’t even walk uphill to my San Francisco sublet.  Based on the trip leader’s guidelines, I should have been wrapping up at least 6 months of hard training by now. 
This was not good.

From the first time I read about the Himalayas in National Geographic as a girl, a passion to see the world’s highest peaks grabbed hold and never let go.  In my 20s, I heard about friends’ trips trekking in Nepal and began thinking about my own adventure there. 
But the onset of an autoimmune condition in my early 30s left me limping with debilitating Achilles tendinitis and plantar fasciitis, sedentary and depressed.  
After slowly regaining strength and stamina over several years with the help of my physical therapist Mary, I made plans to celebrate a milestone birthday:  3 weeks in Bhutan, with a rigorous trek.

I planned to spend all fall and winter hiking in the foothills and skiing in the Cascade Mountains as training for the spring trek. But crazy deadlines kept me working long hours at a desk job, with numerous Seattle-San Francisco trips.  
Didn't happen that winter!
And then my Achilles tendinitis flared again, seizing up my right calf muscles as well.
After much agonizing, I called the trip leader a month before the trip and cancelled...but I just couldn't give up that easily. The next day I called back and rejoined—I’d chill in town while the rest of group was trekking.  It wouldn’t be the dream trip, but at least I’d be in the Himalayas.

Ten days before departure, I finished the last deadline and returned to Seattle. At Mary’s urging, I scheduled almost daily physical therapy, massage, and acupuncture treatments. 
“You need to get out and walk," said Mary. “Just go walk around Green Lake.”  So I did.

Not Green Lake, but a popular sea level lake in Seattle.

Green Lake, a flat 3-mile loop in Seattle, near sea level—is not where people go to train for hiking in the Himalayas.  But it felt good to walk outside.
Mary told me to pack my hiking gear and sleeping bag, just in case.  So I did. 

When I stepped off the plane onto the tarmac in Bhutan, I shed tears of joy. After years of anticipation, there were the Himalayas! Sweet fresh mountain air filled my lungs, and the sunshine made me squint. Green forest-covered hills rose up close beyond the runway, bracketing the small airport.
For the warm-up hike the next day, our destination was a small 400-year-old Buddhist temple perched on a cliff. I tagged along, figuring I could handle a shorter hike.  Inside monks were chanting in the wood-beamed, candlelit room, where sweet incense smoke wafted upward in delicate tendrils.  I felt transported back to an earlier and simpler time, so blessed to be there.

Then the magic started to happen. 

After a couple days in Bhutan, the tendinitis stopped bothering me and my calf relaxed. I realized clearly:  There’s no way I’d travel halfway around the world to the Himalayas and not go trekking.  I had to try. And whatever happened, I’d deal with it.
With the group’s encouragement, I joined the trek.  The first day was a fairly level route alongside a river up a forested valley, past villages, occasional clumps of fluttering prayer flags, primitive farms, and rhododendron groves.  I arrived at our campsite feeling good after 9 miles of trekking.

By the third day, I hit my stride. I wasn’t lagging far behind the strongest of the group along the rugged mountain trail.
For 3 days at base camp, heavy dark clouds hovered low in the sky, obscuring Jhomolari just above.  This 24,000-foot+ mountain near the Tibetan border is sacred to the Bhutanese, who don’t allow climbers on her summit.  As I scrambled on hikes above camp, I begged her to show herself.  I’d traveled so far, in many ways, to gasp at the splendor of a Himalayan peak up close.

Jhomolari obliged on our last morning as we rose early to pack and leave.  While I shivered in fleece and Gore-tex in the shadow of lesser peaks rimming our camp, she shimmered in snow and ice, ribbed with massive rock walls and contorted, crevassed glaciers tumbling down her impressive shoulders. 

She was stunning.

As we trekked back the next 3 days, I felt fantastic and savored how wonderful it feels to hike all day in the mountains: like my best and natural self, strong and unstoppable.

On the last day of the trip, I easily hiked 3,000 feet up and down a steep trail to Bhutan’s most famous destination, Taktsang Monastery (commonly known as Tiger’s Nest) on the edge of a sheer rock cliff. As I stood quietly on a terrace at the monastery and gazed at the narrow valley below and the forest-covered mountains beyond, I felt a sense of well-being that I hadn’t experienced for years.

Back home, the tendinitis started bothering me again while hiking the Cascades. Not bad. But I figured I shouldn’t push my miracles for the year.
I can’t explain what happened in Bhutan and why I was so free of the foot problems that have plagued me for years.  Was it sheer willpower?  The oxygen levels in my blood from the high altitude? Or, simply, a magical blessing?

No one can answer for certain, although I’ve asked physicians and physical therapists.
What I do know is this:  With determination, and perhaps a mysterious something extra, longheld dreams can come true.