Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Sucia Island Kayaking, Camping, and Hiking

Ewing Cove
Northwesterners play outdoors year-round, but the longer days of late spring/early summer really pull us outside.  Who needs a triple latte to start the day when it's light from 5:00 a.m. until after 9 p.m. and the skies trend more blue than gray? A perfect destination to start (or finish) the camping season is Sucia Island State Marine Park, which lies just north of Orcas Island in Washington's San Juan Islands.

Throughout the summer and into the early fall, Sucia is a very popular place
a little too popular on a nice weekend. Regardless, the park (which also encompasses numerous small islands/islets) is big and varied enough to handle many campers/boaters.

On a peak summer weekend I join a trip with the Seattle Area Sea Kayaking Meetup Group to kayak over and camp a night on Sucia, my second kayak trip there. After the alarm wakes me up at zero-dark thirty for the 80-minute drive from Seattle to Anacortes, we catch an early Saturday morning ferry over to Orcas Island. As any Puget Sounder knows, ferry lines to the San Juans on a summer weekend can backup for hours.

Our destination on Sucia is Fox Cove, a protected bay on the southwest side of the island, with a generous wide, sandy beach for landing. We park and launch from North Beach on Orcas for the 2.5-mile crossing under cloudy but clearing skies and a light breeze. 

Image courtesy of the U.S. Geological Survey

Sucia Island ahead

In about an hour we pull into Fox Cove and find a few campsites on the isthmus between the cove and Fossil Bay.  Fortunately for us a group is just pulling up stakes and leaving. However, it's not exactly quiet and secluded. Lots of groups and families have filled up the many campsites tucked in the woods and open areas here.

Fox Cove looking toward Little Sucia Island

Since we arrive early, our group goes for a hike after setting up camp. A network of trails (10 miles total) passes through forest, lovely coves, and intricate and unusual sandstone formations.  The western/southern part of Sucia is composed of 80-million-year-old seabed that drifted north from Baja California, in contrast to the eastern/northern part that's part of the Nanaimo formation found in Canada's Gulf Islands and Chuckanut Sandstone from western Washington.

"Ghost" forest on Shallow Bay
 For our 4-mile trip out and back from Fox Cove, the turnaround point is on the north side of Echo Bay.  On the way back, a few of us scramble around some sandstone because, well, it just looks fun.

Echo Bay, North and South Finger Islands

 I couldn't resist

After dinner, the conditions are splendid for a sunset paddle along the western side of the island. Calm seas and just a few clouds make for a spectacular evening.

With such an early morning and active day, we all drift to our tents not long after dark (which is around 10 p.m.), only to be awakened by a crying child at a nearby campsite a few hours later. Not much solitude at the bigger campsites on a summer weekend.

Before heading back to Orcas on Sunday, we paddle out to magical Ewing Cove at the northeastern part of Sucia.  This morning we head south and east around the island, passing dramatic shoreline rocks.

Southern shoreline of Sucia

Enroute in Echo Bay, we're briefly surrounded by several shiny dark harbor porpoises that pass so close I could reach out and touch them with my paddle. They don't seem to mind us.

Ewing Cove and the surrounding small islands are a popular area for all sorts of kayaking tours and trips. Personally I most enjoy kayaking along and around small scenic islands, and here there are plenty.

Some passages can't be negotiated at low tide.

Ewing Cove
Because this is a one-night trip, we reluctantly pack up and head back to North Beach on Orcas by mid-afternoon. During the crossing on placid and calm sea, a big dark something barely surfaces several times perpendicular to our line of travel. We know we've seen a whale, and ultimately the best guess is a minke.

A one-nighter is not enough time to thoroughly explore Sucia, but it's a good start.  The ex-pat Russian family camped next to us had been there all week.

Have you been to or camped on Sucia? We'd love to hear about your trip in the comments below.  Happy trails and thanks for visiting Pacific Northwest Seasons!

When You Go
Sucia is of course only accessible by boat, and various outfitters offer day and longer trips there.  Here's a link to a water taxi to Sucia in the summer season. Many go there via private motor boats, sailboats, and sea kayaks.  Click here for information on reserving one of the 60 campsites in the park.  Here is a link to a few Washington Trail Association trip reports about hiking the island.


Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Hiking the Columbia River Gorge: Heavenly Angel's Rest

Due to the extensive fire that raged through the Gorge in September 2017, the Angel's Rest Trail is still closed as of April 2018. Trailkeepers of Oregon are organizing work parties to begin to work on this trail, next one will be 4/14/18. Check out their page to sign up.

Walking and hiking in the western Columbia River Gorge  always makes me feel euphoric.  All that lush, intensely green vegetation, trees, and wildflowers! That sweet, moist fresh air! 

Abundant with coursing streams and waterfalls, the Gorge boasts a crazy profusion of plants and trees, some not found anywhere else in the world.

And then there are the views.  

Since scrambling around the  Gorge as a teenager, I've hiked all over the globe. But I still get excited any time I hit a trail in the Gorge. When I went up to Angel's Rest last weekend, I had to wonder a few times if I'd ended up in Heavenat least my version of Heaven.

Surprisingly, it's my first hike up to Angel's Rest, about 4 miles west of Multnomah Falls. Or maybe this hike has blended together in my memory with many hikes I did as a teenager.

Dead tree snag leftover from 1991 fire.

Regardless, Angel's Rest is an extremely popular and splendid hike, just 45 minutes from downtown Portland. I get to the trailhead around noon on a cloudy Saturday and find a parking place close by. Perhaps the threat of rain is keeping the crowds down.

For the first half of the 2.4-mile hike up, the trail meanders, then switchbacks upwards through forest dense with underbrush, crossing Coopey Creek and providing peek-a-boo views of Coopey Falls and then the Columbia River.

Can you say green?

After gaining more elevation, the trail crosses an old rockfall and later emerges into the burned area, with even better views.

Columbia River Basalt cliffs across the Columbia River in Washington.

And before I know it, I've reached Angel's Rest, where columns of aging basalt look like  teetering stacks of pancakes along the spine and edges of the bluff.
Northwest view

View north

Other hikers have plopped down atop various rocks, but I'm spinning around, taking in the view. The edge of the 1991 fire is still very visible, separating more mature forest and thriving new growth.

View south
View westward, downriver
View eastward, upriver
With a rain squall moving visibly downriver toward us, I scoot over the sometimes rocky trail that leads to the prow of the bluff. A few others are here already, but more and more hikers are coming up behind me.

Rain approaching

Although the top of the bluff is thick with shrubs like serviceberry, I still step carefully.   It's a long way to fall. I would not want to be up here on these weathered old rock formations during an earthquake.

On the way down I pass plenty of hikers headed uphill, in everything from light sneaks and tank tops to heavy-duty hiking boots and REI-wear.  This being close to Portland, I even pass a hipster hiker wearing leggings and a skirt. Be forewarned, even in dry weather the trail can be rocky and muddy in places.

While my goal was to be up and down in three hours, it stretched to four. This hike is just too beautiful, there were too many photos to take, and too much exuberant foliage and waterfalls to be savored.

Have you hiked to Angel's Rest? Any special memories there? What is your favorite hike in the Gorge? Would love to hear in the comments below. Happy trails and thanks for visiting Pacific Northwest Seasons.

When You Go
The hike to Angel's Rest is just under 5 miles round trip and considered moderate.  It's not that steep but a steady grade of uphill for about 1,400 feet. Eastbound on I-84, take Bridal Veil Exit #28. The trailhead is on the south side of the historic Columbia River Highway, opposite the junction with the interstate access road in Bridal veil. From westbound I-84, take Ainsworth State Park Exit #35 and follow the historic Columbia River Highway for 7.1 miles (11.4 km).  An alternate, more scenic eastbound route is to come down from the Corbett area via the historic Columbia River Highway, with stops along the way at Chanticleer Point and Crown Point/Vista House.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Cape Flattery: Drama at the Continent's Edge

At the remote upper left hand corner of the continental United States lies a pilgrimage trail that calls to the adventurous and those stalking wonder.  

The lovely Cape Flattery trail winds through the forest to a series of five dramatic overlooks. When you arrive, stand on a platform overlooking a precipice at the northwestern-most point of the Lower 48 and watch the roiling Pacific ocean in all its power and beauty. With ocean-cut sea stacks, colliding cross-current waves, and a constant breeze, the views here are always breathtaking.

Although I've been to Neah Bay on the Makah Reservation, this is my first time hiking out to the point at Cape Flattery. When I was younger this was a much more rugged hike, but thanks to the Makah Tribe, a new trail was installed in  2008 with boardwalks over the muddiest portions and safe viewing platforms near the point.  

After driving to the end of the road on Cape Flattery above Neah Bay, we park  at the trailhead.  Then it's an easy walk down through a forest kept rich green by frequent drenching rains off the Pacific.
Skunk cabbage in bloom.

About 3/4 of the way down the 3/4-mile trail, the ocean to the west and the Strait of Juan de Fuca to the north come into view through the woods.

Looking northeast toward the Strait of Juan de Fuca, Vancouver Island in the distance.
 Here wind and currents combine and collide in showy displays of splashing waves and rough seas. These headlands and cliffs are being pounded and eroded away by the sea.

While we're blessed with blue skies today, this would be a stunning place to visit in any weather.  The view below is one of the many reasons I'm so passionate about my homeland.

View west-southwest to the Pacific Ocean

On an April weekday, we don't see many others on the trail, but with the renovated trail and newly paved road, more visitors are making their way here.  Today we find a few birders from Whidbey (Island) Audubon at the point, who let us look through a spotting scope at some huge Steller sea lions on a rocky outcrop offshore. 

Because I can't resist, I sneak around the platform to touch the northwestern-most tree in the contiguous U.S.  But just for a second because it's not a safe or smart thing to get too close to the cliff edges off the trail.

Kids, don't do this...

Lighthouse on Tatoosh Island.

This place holds special meaning for the Makah, who have lived in the area for thousands of years.  Tatoosh Island just offshore was a fishing camp for the tribal whalers and fishers, was a Coast Guard station (now decommissioned), and is the subject of several decades of ongoing biological research showing alarming changes likely related to climate change.

For now I put aside concern for our oceans and marine wildlife and just enjoy the beauty all around. Currents here boil and smash together as water rushes in from the Pacific and out from the Stait of Juan de Fuca, creating some impressive sprays.

It's hard to tear ourselves away and head back up the 300 feet we descended from the trailhead.  A few weeks later I'm still carrying the wonder and thrill of seeing this unique and stunning place.

Have you been to Cape Flattery? Before or after the new trail/road was installed? Would love to see your comments below. Happy trails and thanks for visiting Pacific Northwest Seasons!

When You Go
Neah Bay is about 160 miles northwest from Seattle on the almost-northwest corner of the Olympic PeninsulaClick here for directions to the trailhead from Neah Bay. A Makah Recreation Pass must be purchased in Neah Bay prior to arriving at any trailheads on the Makah Indian Reservation.  

While in the area there are several other things to do/see since the hike out to Cape Flattery only takes an hour or two out and back. For a short side trip after you come back from the Cape trail, cross over the Waatch River to see Hobuck Beach and Shi Shi (pronounced shy shy) Beach. Also the Makah Museum in Neah Bay is worth a visit.