With snow falling deep and fast in the Cascade Mountains now, winter is a good time to explore lower elevation hikes and enjoy more solitude than normal on the trail. While I often head to higher elevations with my skis during the winter, in some ways it's the best hiking time of the year too.
Over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend, between heavy rainfall, a couple friends and I enjoyed a quiet, lovely hike through lush forest and encountered no other hikers in over 5 hours on the trail. With the massive influx of people moving to the region, that's a real treat now within a few hours of Seattle or Portland.
In the rush of the holiday season, walking in intentional silence in the Cascade foothills was a much-needed balm. As I mentioned in my last blog post, I was affected by a scary traffic accident recently.
After leaving Seattle in a driving rain, we were surprised to arrive at the empty trailhead off Highway 2 near Skykomish under a sky that wasn't dark gray and weeping. Everyone else must have been scared off by the rain or out shopping.
So we set off along the mostly level trail without talking, just walking and absorbing the green dampness of moss and evergreens, crossing streams swollen with recent rain.
The forest offered up wondrous and strange fungi, a lovely large wetland beneath craggy snow-dusted cliffs, and the sweet scent of pine, cedar, and logs decomposing into soil.
Every 30 minutes or so, we stopped and plopped down on our sit pads on a log or boulder and just sat in silence for 10 minutes, meditating on each precious moment in such a beautiful setting.
After a couple hours of hiking, the valley narrowed. While skirting along the edge of big rockfalls from the mist-enshrouded cliffs above, we passed immense boulders that came crashing down here some years ago. I was glad to not be around when the cliffside gave way and plunged into the valley.
When we reached a couple logs spanning the river (or was it a tributary?), the thought of crossing slick mossy wood gave us pause. With just a couple hours left of daylight on a late November day, we turned around. Meg, who has been up this trail before, thinks we were just short of where the trail starts climbing steeply to the Necklace Valley.
On the way back, we repeated the drill: walk 30 minutes, stop and sit in silence, get back up, and do it again. Which, in a beautiful, verdant western Washington forest, is always a pleasure.
By the time we got back to the car about 3:15, the daylight was already dimming. I actually started noticing it around 2:30 p.m. Based on time hiking and Meg's recollection, we covered about 9 miles roundtrip, perhaps a bit more.
Our quiet day hiking was such
a sweet contrast to the hectic frenzy of holiday shopping/traffic and
the warm weather crowds that have packed our more popular trails these last couple years.
BTW, I organize and lead these silent hikes for Blue Heron Zen Community, and everyone is welcome. Just leave a comment below if interested in future hikes!
To get there, head east on U.S. Highway 2 toward Stevens
Pass. After passing the Skykomish Ranger Station on the left, continue
another 0.5 mile and turn right (south) onto Foss River Road (Forest
Road 68). The clearly marked parking lot and trailhead will be on your
left at about 4 miles.