Monday, January 23, 2017

Hiking the Puget Lowlands: Port Gamble Forest

While our mountain trails are famously popular here in the Pacific Northwest, there's not much left of our lowland forests in the Puget Sound region for hiking and recreation. Heavy logging, population growth, and ensuing development have taken their toll.

A few weeks ago on my way home to Seattle from Port Townsend, Washington, I noticed a trailhead just south of Port Gamble on the Kitsap Peninsula, tucked between Hood Canal and Port Gamble Bay. How had I missed this on my many trips to the Olympic Peninsula?

So I stopped to check it out. My curiosity was piqued by a notice at the trailhead about a campaign to save this lowland forest from being sold to developers.

Two weeks later with a couple mates in tow, I tramped through the Port Gamble Forest on a chilly but mostly rain-free January day.

These 3,000+ acres of woodlands have been logged more than once, and active logging is going on now. But trees grow easily and more quickly in the lowlands than at higher elevations. We walked four hours through the woods without seeing a recent clearcut.

Parts of it were lovely, and parts were dark, scrubby young forest with monoculture trees packed close together. And be forewarned, it's easy to get lost.

"I've been lost a few times and had to call friends to help me navigate out,"  a woman with a group of mountain bikers doing trail maintenance told us. Heck, we had to backtrack on our first attempt to find the trail we wanted to hike. Most trails aren't signed.

She recommended using the Maprika app to track our location. Paul immediately downloaded it onto his Iphone, and good thing he did.  It helped us several times as we came to unmarked and unmapped forks in the trails and dirt roads. And don't forget a map and compass.

Hikers/walkers, the trails and usage seems much more mountain bike-focused. Some of the trail names on the map I downloaded should have given us a clue: Ankle Biter, Downhell, Lite Speed, Flash, Hyper Space, Bobsled, and Season of the Witch.

We saw a lot more mountain bikers than hikers, and had to step out of the way to let bikers pass a few times. But everyone was friendly.

But we were looking for solitude and quiet and found a lot of it. There's not old growth out here, at least the 5 or 6-ish miles we hiked, but we did pass a few lovely stretches of more mature forest with bogs and little wetlands.

Toward the end of our hike, we came to a fork that wasn't on my map and just guessed which way to go. After a while it seemed clear this wasn't the trail we thought we were on, and Maprika showed us off trail. Some mountain bikers told us my map was outdated. Ha! So if you're coming out here and downloading a map off the Internet, use this one.

After four hours of gentle hiking, with several breaks and lots of stops to doublecheck the map and app, backtrack, and ask directions, we got back to the Bay View Trailhead where we started. 

This area doesn't have the sizzle of a beautiful alpine lake or mountain top, but I say we should do all we can to save it from development.  A good, recent story in the Seattle Times talks about it in great detail, and long-term plans for forest management. I recommend giving it a read and then chipping in whatever you can.

Our Route
From the Bay View Trailhead, we walked Road 1000 to Ranger trail, Ranger to Road 1311 north (the most beautiful forest of the day) and looped back south on Road 1300, then skirted west on the Forbidden Forest trail, with a side trip out Road 1400, then down to Location 4 on Road 1000, then east on Downhell to Hood trail and right down the logging road to Location 3, then north up Road 1000 to Stumps trail and right down to the Bay View Trailhead. This doesn't indicate the several unmarked forks in the trails and roads that we mostly avoided thanks to Maprika.

After Hike Eats
Despite snacks while hiking, we were hungry after four hours of walking, so we headed a mile north to charming and historic Port Gamble General Store and Cafe for some chow.

We were too late for weekend brunch, but enjoyed their mostly locally sourced lunch fare. I had a healthful salad with seasonal veggies, Hilda had a fancy toast with raclette cheese and string fries, and Paul enjoyed the chowder with local clams. We agreed it was a tad pricey, but another cafe is opening soon up the street, so hopefully the competition will be good for pricing.

All in all an excellent day, and you can't beat riding a ferry home across Puget Sound if you're coming from the Seattle area. (I always love a ferry ride).

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
The Port Gamble Forest is on a northern finger of the Kitsap Peninsula west across Puget Sound from Seattle. We took a Washington State Ferry from Edmonds to Kingston north of Seattle (a 30-minute trip), but it's also accessible from the Bainbridge Island ferry that leaves downtown Seattle. The Bay View Trailhead is just a mile south of Port Gamble on Highway 104 (vicinity map here), only about 10 miles from the ferry landing in Kingston. There are no fees or permits required for parking. The Washington Trails Association recommends hiking north from this trailhead toward the Beaver Pond; we went south. Next trip I'll go north. I'd LOVE to about your experiences here in the Comments below.


Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Port Townsend Afternoon: Discovering a Perfect Cup of Tea

While artsy, Victorian-esque Port Townsend, Washington, is indeed quieter in the winter, it's still a fun and refreshing destination regardless of the season. 

When I go there to visit family, I regularly make pilgrimage stops at some favorite local spots like William James Bookseller for used and rare books, Chimacum Corner Farmstand for local farm meats and produce, and Elevated Ice Cream for excellent ice cream. This past weekend, thanks to a transcendent pot of exquisite tea, I've added a new stop to my list.

After a tasty lunch at Silverwater Cafe, my aunt suggested a cup of tea at Pippa's Real Tea, just around the corner on Water Street.

Last time I was at Pippa's was a few years ago, not long after it opened. I remember it as a warm, cozy yet contemporary space with nice tea.

Aussie proprietor/owner Pippa Mills (by way of London and New York) now offers High Tea on Saturday afternoons, opened a courtyard out back for warm weather tea al fresco, and has seen her business named #1 Best Tea House by the Seattle A-List (never mind that Port Townsend is over 50 miles and a ferry ride away from Seattle).

High Tea service at Pippa's
The real Pippa
But back to that amazing tea. I ordered the delicate Silver Needles white tea from Glenburn Tea Estate in the renowned Darjeeling region of northern India. What a revelation!

If you think you don't like tea, I say you haven't had a high-quality tea carefully brewed with expertise (good water heated to just the right temperature, steeped just the right amount of time, served in appropriate china or glassware in a pleasing setting, etc.).

I've had silver needle tea from China, but this Indian tea is smooth, buttery, floral, and light yet crisp. Words aren't doing it justice. Five days later I'm still thinking about it, how that perfect cup of tea sliced through everything and hit the sweet spot.

Pippa came to our table with a beautiful smile and got excited when I raved about the tea. She brought over several canisters of loose leaf tea from Glenburn and described how different teas come from the same plants with different harvesting times and processing techniques.

Different tea, same tea plants
Her enthusiasm and gracious manner (she calls herself a tea maven, not tea master) was infectious. I enjoyed a whiff of each, some richer, stronger, fruitier.

I asked Pippa how she came to open a tea house in Port Townsend.

"When I came to the States from London many years ago, I couldn't find good quality tea. People mostly drank tea in tea bags [which are generally lower quality teas]." When visiting relatives in Victoria, B.C., her family stopped in Port Townsend and fell in love pretty quickly.

Port Townsend, where small businesses have hand-crafted signs out front.
So she aimed to open a tea house serving quality loose leaf teas with excellent baked goods and lunches to match. I'm so glad she did. 

And now I'm off to see if I can possibly replicate the perfect cup with some of that silver needle tea I bought and brought home.

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
Pippa's Real Tea is located at 636 Water Street, the main street that runs along the water in old downtown Port Townsend, toward the north end of town.  They host a variety of arts and food/tea-related activities. Pippa's is open Wednesday through Sundays from 10 a.m. to 5 (ish) pm. From the Seattle area, easiest driving route is to catch a ferry (downtown Seattle Colman Dock Terminal to Bainbridge, or Edmonds to Kingston) and head north/west across the Hood Canal Bridge on Highway 104, then north on SR 19. Check here for detailed directions from either ferry terminal. Expect about 90 minutes travel time if driving, given the ferry loading/unloading.