Monday, September 19, 2016

Supporting the Pacific Northwest Environment: Volunteer!

With explosive growth in the Pacific Northwestespecially in Seattle and Portlandmore and more people are adding to the stresses on our rich and complex natural environment. How about pitching in to help keep this place beautiful and restore damaged habitats?

Recently a group I'm involved with spent part of a day volunteering with the Nature Conservancy at one of their sites in the Puget Sound region.  (One of the cool things about helping out the Nature Conservancy is that their sites are often scenic and rarely open to the public. Hence, no crowds.)

On a breezy Sunday morning, about 10 of us, an eclectic collection of Zen Buddhists, a retired teacher, father and son duck hunters, conservation biologists, and more, met up near Camano Island and carpooled to a private property to access the Livingston Bay Pocket Estuary site on Camano. Our goal for the day:  pull invasive Scotch broom, which changes the chemical composition of soil and crowds out native plants.

Our Nature Conservancy coordinater for the event, Lauren Mihel, gathered us in a circle for introductions before heading down through the woods to the beach.

"What's your name and what are you excited about for fall?" she asked as an ice breaker. Our responses varied from "making soup again", "fall colors," "cooler weather and rain," and mine: "hiking to see the golden larches." Then we headed down to the estuary with tools for uprooting the Scotch broom and big plastic bags for picking up trash.

We spent a few hours uprooting most of the Scotch broom we could spot, and some of us walked the beach looking for trash.  

On the outside of the pocket estuary, exposed to the ebb and flow of the tides, a lot of trash had washed upplastic bottles, plastic lighters, plastic bags, a few stray shoes, old tires, bits of plastic, and even a big plastic trash can.

I filled a big bag until it got too heavy to squeeze in anything else. Sadly, this much trash, predominantly plastic refuse, is now common, even on wilderness beaches and shorelines. So there are plenty of opportunities to help clean up on your own, too.

Pulling Scotch broom among the driftwood.
This plastic trash can was trash on the beach.
Photo courtesy of Milo Zorzino/Nature Conservancy.
Some things wouldn't fit in trash bags.
We finished up a bit earlier than the allotted time, and gathered for Lauren and fellow coordinator Joelene Boyd to talk a bit about the site, ongoing restoration efforts here that began in 2012, its value as refuge for juvenile salmon, and the Nature Conservancy's programs in general.
It's all part of a larger restoration effort in the area. 

In a sweet gesture, Lauren passed around tins of excellent chocolate chip cookies she made for the group.

Lauren Mihel, Nature Conservancy volunteer coordinator and cookie baker extraordinaire.
And of course it was a beautiful, peaceful place to spend several hours on a sunny Sunday.

Photo courtesy of Milo Zorzino/Nature Conservancy

Overall it was a thoroughly enjoyable and rewarding day well spent.  I met good people, got better acquainted with people I already knew, felt a sense of accomplishment, was outside moving in fresh air, and learned more about our precious Salish Sea ecosystem.

While there are many options for volunteering with the Nature Conservancy, there are lots of other organizations that could use your help too. Here are a few:

The U.S. Forest Service in the Pacific Northwest needs volunteers for many things such as trail maintenance and youth programs. Conservation Northwest has many volunteer needs for things like monitoring wildlife and planting native trees. EarthShare Washington and Oregon have a variety of volunteer and organizational needs. Portland Audubon and Seattle Audubon have active and well-organized volunteer programs. Sierra Club offers lots of ways to get involved. Washington Trails Association has regular work parties. The Portland-based Mazamas has lots of volunteer needs.

I could go on and on, although time doesn't permit it right now. Maybe you would like to suggest some ways to volunteer and your favorite environmental organizations by leaving a comment below! Or let me know if you'd like me to contact you with more ideas.  Because it's important!

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.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

September Backpacking in the Pacific NW: Rain, Sun, and Huckleberry Pancakes

Despite watching the mountain weather forecast for several days in advance of our weekend backpack trip, here we are at the trailhead in a steady, drippy downpour. 

Welcome to hiking in the Pacific Northwest, where we hike in the rain. Even east of the Cascade Crest (the "dry side") in Washington's William O. Douglas Wilderness, it's time to bring out our rain gear.

After last year's massive wildfires, this late summer rain is actually a blessing. 

We pull on rain pants and shells, cover our packs, and head on up the trail, dodging muddy spots as best we can. It is what it is, which is beautiful here in the damp forest. The air smells of pine, decaying trees, earth, and rain. (Yes, we can smell the rain here.)

My friend Mark has organized a mellow trip to accommodate someone with recent knee surgery, two reluctant teenagers, and several of us in so-so shape. The plan is an easy hike up to Twin Sisters Lakes, where we'll set up camp for a few nights and do day hikes.

Day 1
After driving the rough and bumpy dirt road (Julie calls it "a horrible maze of rockness") 7-ish miles past Bumping Lake and Goose Prairie, the trail up to the lakes is easy by comparisonjust 1.5 miles with only about 1,000 feet in elevation gain.

Ten of us are converging from Seattle and Missoula. Since the Twin Lakes area is popular with horsepackers, Mark and Andy quickly find a campsite that accommodates five tents. 

Our first night involves hovering close to the campfire, trying to dry out damp hats, socks, sit pads, and other gear without burning anything. With the drenching rain, it's safe to have campfires in designated pits.

Day 2
After a night with rain and wind buffeting our tents, our first morning is thankfully dry. Today we're hiking up another 1,000+ feet to the summit of Tumac Mountain, a volcanic cinder cone across the lake. (Amusing factoid: Tumac Mountain was named after two Macs, McDuff and McAdam, Scottish sheepherders.)

Tumac Mountain in the distance.
We lay about for a leisurely morning around the campfire, sipping tea/coffee/hot cocoa, cooking various versions of breakfasts. About 11 a.m.  our group sets off for the 2.25-mile trek up to the summit, the site of a former fire lookout.

We're on a high plateau about 5,100 feet in elevation, so the first 1.5 miles is relatively flat through picturesque meadows fringed with alpine fir and shrubs still wet with last night's rain.

The teens set a blistering pace...well, I set the pace because their parents insisted they follow an adult, but they want to MOVE. When the trail starts to really gain elevation, I relinquish the lead to Rick. (My intent isn't to let him brush the shrubs along the trail clear of moisture for the rest of us, but, well...)

Soon we lose the meadows and come out onto the gravelly, rocky upper reaches of the cone toward the summit. Thankfully the switchbacks get more gradual and less steep. And then we're on the summit.

Can't quite keep up on the last push to the summit.
View NE toward Pear Butte and Bismarck/Rattlesnake Peaks.
View east.
View NW to Twin Sisters Lakes.
While the panorama from up here is magnificent, clouds are obscuring the Big Kahuna due west (Mt. Rainier) and most of the Goat Rocks south beyond White Pass. But still, we all linger up here for over an hour in the sun, lunching, relaxing, taking photos, and signing the climbers' register. A previous comment on the register could just as easily be found in an online thread about the Presidential election. (Politics is not what comes to my mind here in this splendid wilderness. I'm happy to almost escape it this weekend.)

On the way down several us can't resist stopping to fill zip-lock bags with the abundant low-lying blue huckleberries. Earlier we passed some berry-infused bear scat on the trail, so we're not the only ones out here enjoying them.

Later this evening, after we've dined on things like mac & cheese, pesto pasta, rehydrated Thanksgiving stuffing, and chicken, the stars come out to shine.  There's nothing like a night sky brilliant with stars criss-crossed by the Milky Way, which so many of us rarely see in our urban lives.

I stop and gaze upwards for a while in a forest clearing before retreating to the warmth of the tent for another 10-hour sleep.

Mountain lake morning.
 Day 3
Now this is what it's all about. We awaken to clearing blue sky and soft sunlight filtering through the trees, mist rising off the lake like a freshly brewed cup of hot tea.  Out on the lake, the other nearby campers are out for an early morning paddle.

Now about those huckleberry pancakes...

I can't claim them. While I nibble on a half an apple and hard-boiled egg sandwich, I enviously eye Andy and Mark's pancakes slathered with real butter and maple syrup. But I plan on using my huckleberry stash when I get home.

Today I'm hiking out, ahead of most everyone else (work beckons), so after packing up, several of us go for an hour-long hike over to the bigger Twin Sister Lake for some last exploring. It doesn't disappoint, with numerous scenic inlets and some beautiful old growth forest hugging the shoreline. 

Early afternoon I say my goodbyes and head back down, too soon of course. Maybe it's not truly an accident when I do a full-on faceplant on the trail after stepping on a loose rock. (If only I had that on video.)

Mark mentioned heading a few miles farther east toward Naches on Highway 410 for "burgers on the outbound" at Whistlin' Jack, but we opt to head back west and stop for milkshakes at Wapiti Woolies in Greenwater. Again...doesn't disappoint.

There's nothing like a hot shower after a camping trip, but then there's also nothing like leaving behind city sounds for nature sounds, starry skies, all that fresh air, good exercise, and lovely scenery. 'Twas a wonderful weekend indeed.

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
We turned off Highway 410 (Chinook Scenic Byway) 19 miles east of Chinook Pass and continued past Bumping Lake to the end of the road at Deep Creek Trailhead/Campground. The road was so bad the last unpaved 7 miles that it took us almost an hour in my Subie Outback. You need a Northwest Forest Pass to park here. The drive from Seattle to the trailhead took us about 3.5 hours (excluding a 30-minute stop in Enumclaw).

Probably because of the rain, we saw hardly anyone else. Just a couple across the lake from us, and a few other parties passed en route to sites at the bigger Twin. Surprisingly, we saw plenty of horse droppings but no horses.

Bug Status: In what is clearly prime mosquito-breeding habitat, with lots of little ponds as well as the lakes, we were mercifully spared this weekend. Some climbers on the register complained about the brutal bugs, but with the heavy rain and perhaps the beginning of autumn, it was a bug-free trip.

Camping Etiquette: We were chagrined to see so many wads of toilet paper left carelessly on the ground in the open woods around the campsite. I'll spare the details, but it wasn't pretty. Please bring a small trowel to ALWAYS BURY YOUR BUSINESS (better yet, bring a zip-lock bag and carry out the TP) and LEAVE NO TRACE!