Monday, April 27, 2015

Hiking the Northwest's Greatest Hits: Heather Lake

Every few years I trek to Heather Lake for a quick, rejuvenating dose of ancient forest and a lovely alpine lake. 

This relatively easy hike (4.6 miles round trip and elevation gain of 1,034 feet) is the closest and easiest alpine lake hike on the Mountain Loop Highway east of Everett, Washington. Which of course makes it very popular, especially on weekends.

Last time I hiked Heather Lake in late May 2011, we scrambled over snow the last stretch of trail.  On my recent hike, over a month earlier, the trail was already snow-free up to an alpine setting that resembles mid-summer instead of spring. Check out the comparison photos below.

May 29, 2011
April 20, 2015

Needless to say, this latest April hike was very different.  While the trail is now snow-free, it's still muddy in some spots.

After starting at the well-signed trailhead just 1.4 mile up the gravel road to Mt. Pilchuck (which was surprisingly quite rough, with some hefty potholes), we pass remnants of former giant trees along the lower trail.

About a half mile along, we come to what looks like a switchback, with the gravel trail continuing down and a messy, branch-covered trail continuing upward. Resist the temptation to take the switchback up and stay on the well-graded trail that drops down a bit.

Soon enough, we cross a small stream, traverse some board-covered trail, and emerge into lush, gorgeous old-growth forest.  Now this is what used to predominate our region.

 As you can see, the trail becomes quite rough in places, sometimes crossing intricate networks of roots and rocks.

Because my knee has been tweaky lately, hiking poles were helpful in these rougher stretches of trail (thanks to Susie for my ad-lib poles:). 

Arriving at the lake, we plop on a big boulder and lounge for a while in the sun, soaking in the rays and the ahhh-worthy view of the lake and cliffs beyond.  This is technically on the northeast flank of Mt. Pilchuck.

Although this is my fourth trip to Heather Lake, I've never before circumnavigated the lake on the well-established trail. Go for it to get different views and add a bit of mileage.

Avalanche path
Since it's a beautiful spring day, despite being a Monday we see plenty of people and a few dogs on the trail. But it's not overcrowded. 

On the way back down, I can't resist snapping more shots of the gorgeous green forest. Despite the logging last century, the forest has come back vigorously in the lower, second growth portion of the trail. And now, thankfully, it's protected around the trail at least.

Between blog posts, follow Pacific Northwest Seasons on FaceBook, Instagram, and Twitter for lots more photos and Northwest events. Have any questions about visiting, hiking, kayaking, etc. in the Northwest?  Just leave a comment below or on one of the above accounts.

Happy trail and thanks for visiting Pacific Northwest Seasons!

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Hiking in the Pacific Northwest: Honor Your Mother

Each April Earth Day is an excellent reminder to take extra care of our wonderful planet. Have you been involved in any activities to make "Mother" Earth a better, cleaner place?

With the seemingly exponential growth of hikers, climbers, and more out enjoying our beautiful trails and mountains here in the Pacific Northwest, I'm  troubled by an increase in trash in the woods/along trails.

So for Earth Day, some practical tips for anyone who ventures into the outdoors. Here in the Northwest (and all over), our ethic is this:

Leave No Trace.

Pretty simple, huh?

That means a few basic things to do/not do. (Find a lot more on the link above, and I realize this post is mostly preaching to the choir. :) 

Don't Toss Anything as You Go.  Even Food.
It's not okay to leave those orange or banana peels or any leftover food on the ground where you had lunch. (It also adds insult to injury if the peel still bears a sticky plastic label.)

To quickly decompose, if left on the ground, food needs the natural bugs and microorganisms in the soil where it originated.  Ever seen an orange or banana tree growing in a Pacific Northwest forest? In the tropics a banana peel  decomposes in a few days. Not so this far north. An orange peel can take months or longer to decompose in a fragile alpine environment.

Not cool.
Also, birds and other forest critters evolved to consume edibles from their native habitat. Maybe they'll eat your leftover sandwich crusts, but it's not great for their health. And it's not pleasant for the hikers who sit at the same spot a few hours or days later.

Carry it Out. Everything.
Yes, that includes any toilet paper you might use (well clear of any water or stream). Bring zip-lock bags (compostable if possible), double bag, and take it with you. Last fall at a popular trailhead I saw over a half dozen different spots just beyond the locked outhouse where people had just dropped their TP and left.

If you must go in the woods, dig a shallow hole about 6 inches deep and do your business in the hole, then use a stick to cover it with soil. (Here is a great website on this topic.) And of course bag any TP and dispose of it at home or the nearest garbage bin.

Your dog?  Just like in the city, bag their doo and carry it out.

In the last couple years I've noticed blue plastic bags of dog doo along popular trails, which were left by hikers with the intent of picking it up on the way down.  Not so great for the rest of us to see a trail of plastic bags along an otherwise beautiful forest/mountain trail.  And some do get left behind.

Please, triple bag if you must, but take those bags with you as you go. (Dog owners have pushed back on this request, what say you?)

Carry a Spare Bag and Collect Litter as You Go.
In the spirit of compassion for our natural places and others around us, try bringing along a spare bag and sticking trash in it as you go. On a hike yesterday we collected orange and banana peels, a McDonald's wrapper, plastic candy wrappers, some foil, and broken sunglasses. There was more that we had to leave after running out of room.

Golden arches not so golden.
Let's do all we can to keep our outdoors as pristine as possible. Everyone and everything benefits.

Think about joining trail clean-up/maintenance parties organized by groups like the Washington Trails Association, Mazamas, or Mountaineers. What are your suggestions/favorite ways to volunteer or address these issues and more?  Jump in with a comment below. Thanks in advance for sharing.

In between blog posts, check out Pacific Northwest Seasons on FaceBook, Twitter, and Instagram for lots more photos and NW news. 

Happy trails and thanks for visiting Pacific Northwest Seasons!

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Exploring Seattle Neighborhoods: It's Going in Greenwood

Beyond the downtown core, residents know that Seattle is truly a city of distinct and thriving neighborhoods.  Our outlying neighborhoods are where more Seattleites live and play.

While some neighborhoods are on the tourist radar now, like Fremont (the Troll!), farther north in quirky Greenwood a new energy and revitalized business and arts scene is growing somewhat under the radar.

Nearby Ballard is close to becoming overbuilt with new condos and is now a  major destination, but farther north Greenwood (about 8 miles north of downtown Seattle) still retains an unpretentious Seattle neighborhood feel. 

So far the area is still mostly low-rise, older buildings, although some in-filling with larger new complexes is beginning and more are inevitable.  But I think these older neighborhoods dominated by small, primarily independent businesses have more unique character. (We'll gloss over the Fred Meyer complex eyesore on 85th.)

I've lived just beyond the western edge of Greenwood for over 15 years and  seen the area slowly evolve and change. Six years ago an arsonist torched several buildings with businesses, but the community rallied to support the damaged business owners. Today with Seattle overall booming, Greenwood is on the upswing too.
[In March 2016, a year after I wrote this post, a gas line explosion ripped through the heart of Greenwood, taking out several businesses. However, the business district is still thriving, albeit without some of the businesses described here.]

Greenwood Avenue, which runs through the heart of the district, is the former route of the Interurban electric railway that ran between Seattle and Everett in the early twentieth century, hence the older buildings and businesses lining Greenwood Ave.

Land of a Thousand Beers
On the far western edge of Greenwood at 8th Ave NW and NW 85th, Chuck's Hop Shop is the hottest draw around.  Formerly a nondescript convenience store on a busy corner, today Chuck's is the de facto neighborhood gathering spot/watering hole/foodie destination.  

Chuck's Hop Shop

A rotating variety of food trucks park at Chuck's every evening and during the weekend days. In the back is the adult pub, and in the front kids can buy fresh-scooped ice cream cones and a multitude of Pez dispensers. It's such an eclectic and successful concept that Chuck recently opened a new location in the Central District.

A Slice of Tibet
Wander east on 85th toward Greenwood Avenue (passing the Northwest Kush Collective, the local pot dispensary) and take a two-block detour south to the Sakya Monastery of Tibetan Buddhism. Outside this colorful, bright yellow building sits a large white stupa (or chorten) surrounded by prayer wheels. A sign invites passersby to walk clockwise around and spin the prayer wheels, which according to Tibetan tradition releases 32,000 prayers for peace. I often stop by on my bicycle and give them a whirl.

Sakya Monastery
Eat, Shop, Arts
Just west of the major intersection of 85th and Greenwood Ave, is the beloved Taproot Theater, which sits across the street from equally beloved Gordito's Mexican restaurant. Taproot suffered severe smoke damage in one of the arson fires, but is all fixed up with a new cafe next door, the Stage Door Cafe.

Between a multitude of little shops and cafes, there are so many fascinating and surprising treasures along Greenwood Ave.  Here are a few of my favorites:

Coyle's Bakeshop
Recently opened Coyle's Bakeshop, a couple blocks south of 85th, hardly needs an introduction; within a few weeks of opening it's already a north Seattle culinary destination. While the French-style pastries are excellent, I think their scones with homemade jam are truly a standout.

Across the street, The Yard Cafe serves up excellent bar food with a Mexican emphasis (I recommend the pork chile verde tacos) and Northwest craft beer and spirits. Last summer this was my go-to destination to watch the World Cup games.

The Yard Cafe's yard

Immediately north of The Yard is another of my favorite hangouts, Chocolati Cafe. This local chain features their exquisite handmade chocolates, but I like the cozy ambiance for sipping good teas while visiting with friends or working on my laptop.

Chocolati Greenwood
On the blocks just north and south of 85th are a trove of spots.  From Insurrection Apparel and Boots, which sells gorgeous leather cowboy boots (in Seattle?! Still closed as of late May 2016 due to the explosion.) and motorcycle jackets, to Pema Kharpo Tibetan Treasures, several small shops are diverse and one-of-a-kind.

Insurrection Apparel

These aren't chi-chi, high-end shops that are starting to predominate down in Ballard and Fremont. Rather, I think these are hidden gems catering to everyone interested in niche items.

For entertainment besides Taproot, Couth Buzzard Books sells new and used books and has live music, poetry, and readings almost every day. I love their motto, "Serving up community, one a time."  To me that's the spirit of Greenwood.

Couth Buzzard
 At the north end of the business district, Naked City Brewery Taphouse, Greenwood's self-proclaimed town hall, "strives to carry on the rich tradition of the American public house" by fostering community with regular events like film screenings and discussions on relevant city topics.

Of course I can't write about the vibrant arts scene in Greenwood without mentioning Greenwood Space Travel and Supply, a former Dave Eggers venture that served as a nonprofit "writing and communications center for the young people of Earth."  Late 2014 it became independent and renamed itself The Greater Seattle Bureau of Fearless Ideas (BFI), with a focus on motivating youth to share their stories. [As of late May 2016, this is still closed due to the March explosion.]

Really there are a dozen more places I could mention, but then who wants to read a long blog post when you could be out exploring for yourself?

If you haven't explored Greenwood, I suggest planning a few hours to wander the area, poke in all the shops and eateries, and then settle somewhere like Gainsbourg Lounge for happy hour or the Green Bean Coffeehouse for a cuppa and enjoy the community. 

Happy trails and thanks for visiting Pacific Northwest Seasons!

When You Go
Greenwood can be accessed from the north and south via the King County Metro Transit Route 5. Route 48 travels east-west through Greenwood along NW 85th.

Friday, April 3, 2015

The Changing Pacific Northwest: Staying Off the Beaten Path

For those of us who grew up and have lived most (or all) of our lives here in the Pacific Northwest, the tremendous influx of people moving to the region has changed how we live and travel. 

That strenuous hike with spectacular views within an hour of Portland or Seattle? Forget about going on a weekend if you treasure a quiet time in nature, especially during the warmer, drier months. Or go well before sunrise with your headlamp. 

Or that cozy little neighborhood bakery in Portland/Seattle that serves the most buttery, melt-in-your-mouth scones you've ever tasted? Don't consider stopping there on a weekend morning, and be prepared to stand in line before they open, sometimes even on a week day. (We restless Northwesterners generally loathe waiting in line for more than a couple minutes.)

The annual tulip festival in the Skagit Delta or the Sequim Lavender Festival on the Olympic Peninsula are jammed on weekends.  I sat for almost 30 minutes last year at a dead stop next to a tulip field as the two-lane local roads were clogged like hardened arteries. (Bicycling is the best way to go here, but so many cars make it trickier.)

It's a double-edged sword, the mushrooming growth of the region's population.  We have better restaurants and a more vibrant food scene, transplants have brought fresh vitality to the arts, and more.  But those crowds on the trail!  The lines at favorite eateries, coffee shops, bakeries, and such!

So we adjust.

Blessed with a relatively flexible schedule (sometimes), these days I tend to either go hiking on weekdays (still plenty of people on the popular trails), as early as possible, or on rainy days. There's a reason we all have good rain gear.

The best time to hit Seattle's Pike Place Market? Tuesday morning on a chilly wet mid or late January day (or some variation). Okay, I jest a bit, but it's not too far off.

But still.  Just this week we waited in line over 20 minutes on a Wednesday afternoon for one of those famous ice cream cones at a popular farm stand. (However, there was no line for their incredible fresh seafood counter.)

While I don't want to go all Ron Judd here because I value the infusion of energy that émigrés have brought to the region, sometimes it's better not to openly reveal favorite places.  

So because everyone enjoys nice pictures, I'm sharing a few of places I love around here but not dropping place names. Some, like the photo at the top of this post, are on private property; some can only be accessed via private property; and some are well-known and popular.

Do you recognize any of these locations or where the shots were taken? I've got Oregon, Washington, and east of the Cascades represented.

On the plus side, I'd like to think that more people out enjoying our precious outdoors here in the Northwest will be moved to donate time and/or money to help protect the land. Some worthy Northwest organizations include the San Juan Preservation Trust, Washington's National Parks Fund, Conservation Northwest, and Friends of the Columbia Gorge.

So how do you negotiate getting outside, around town, to your favorite museum, hike, or such? Have you changed the way your get out and about?
Jump in with a comment below.

Happy trails and thanks for visiting Pacific Northwest Seasons!