Friday, January 30, 2015

Hurricane Ridge in the Winter

While people come from all over the world to see spectacular Hurricane Ridge in Olympic National Park, most go there in the summer and fall to gape at the breathtaking views.  Locals know that winter is a quieter but equally wonderful time to visit.

We stopped by a few weeks ago on a short Olympic Peninsula roadtrip, thinking of a hike. We underestimated the  prior day's snowfall, and without snowshoes or skis, that didn't happen. 

No matter, we still have fun trudging through snow with cameras, taking zillions of shots of the gorgeous light and splendid scenery.  Nothing like a pristine fresh snow to make you feel renewed, cleansed, and refreshed (albeit with cold toes.)

When we start up the 17-mile access road from Port Angeles to the visitor center,  low clouds are spitting misty rain and then snow. Higher up, clouds are  floating in tufts and veils, partially obscuring views but allowing hints of the surrounding mountains.

Then  just below the top, the upper ridge comes into view, where I've hiked in the summer wearing just shorts and a T-shirt. Not today.

During the summer this is hiking country, with views along the ridge trail down to the the Strait of Juan de Fuca and Vancouver Island on one side and the craggy Olympics on the other. Now it's snow sports.

Sans anything but hiking boots, we set out from the visitor center armed with cameras to shoot. Blue sky, drifting clouds, white snow, ahhhh!

Snow crystals, just because.
View northward of Strait obscured by marine cloud layer.
Mt. Olympus
After about 30 minutes, it's time to stop inside the Visitor's Center to warm my fingers and toes.  The center boasted some impressive icicles when we were there.

Because we're on a timeline to catch a ferry back across Puget Sound to Seattle, our visit is fairly short and, I'd say, sweet. Like this blog post. :)

Happy trails and thanks for visiting Pacific Northwest Seasons!

When You Go 
From mid-November to April 15, drivers are required to carry tire chains on the drive up to Hurricane Ridge. We didn't need to use them on our drive up. Also, it is a national park, so an entry fee is required at the entrance station just above Port Angeles. Since we were there, snowpack has likely diminished in this unusually low snowpack winter (thus far). When snow conditions are decent, a local sports club operates a couple rope tows and poma lift for skiing or riding.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Northwest Winter Hiking: Denny Creek-Melakwa Lake Trail

A rainy, mucky Northwest winter day is a prime time to seek relative solitude on our over-loved trails. You think a good rain will keep us Mossbacks inside? Think again.

Just west and below Snoqualmie Pass lies the scenic but often crowded Denny Creek-Melakwa Lake Trail.  It's an easy  45-minute zip out I-90 from Seattle and not far off the interstate. So I generally stay away. 

With avalanche-prone slopes, the upper portion of the trail is not normally a winter hike. But with much less snow than normal in the Cascades this season, some friends and I decide to aim for Melakwa Lake on a damp Saturday.

Jennifer checked with the Snoqualmie Ranger Station and was told the Melakwa Lake trail would be a fine destination for an early January hike.  With snow covering most of the trail this drippy day, we see just a handful of other crazies and a dog on the trail.

(Caveat: Since our hike last week, it has snowed over a foot up there. With avalanche potential along the upper trail, chances are this hike will be unsafe  past Denny Creek water slide for several months.)

After pulling Yaktrax/Ice Trekkers onto our boots for better traction on the packed snow, we start out criss-crossing Denny Creek over a few bridges. The first mile or so up to the famous Denny Creek "water slide", the trail meanders through verdant, rich green second- and old-growth forest.

Until we get to the water slide crossing, traffic noise from I-90 above competes with the rushing creek below. Passing under a freeway during a mountain hike is a visual collision of nature at her finest and, well, the antithesis of nature. I wonder what someone transported in a time machine from 1800 would think stumbling upon this scene.

Crossing Denny Creek at the water slide today isn't so bad with careful footing and trekking poles for support. 

A couple coming down tell us they went a ways farther but turned around when they started postholing up to their knees. We forge onward.

In general the snow is not too deep and is pretty packed, but things get messier when we hike across the first open slope. Then it starts raining harder too.  

When gorgeous Keekwulee Falls comes into view, we pause to snap shots before trudging upward, skirting some pretty steep drop-offs into the narrow gorge below. This would NOT be a good place to slip on the snow.

Up here, still about a mile or so below the lakes, we encounter much deeper snow and begin postholing (no snowshoes today).

Things level off higher up for another crossing of Denny Creek. John chooses the icy log bridge, and Jennifer and I plunge across the stream, getting boots wet between rocks.

Higher up, it's beautiful and quiet, not far below Hemlock Pass and the final push to the lakes. 

However, rain, wet feet, time constraints, postholing, emerging muscle cramps, and evidence of some big slides take their toll on me. After a break for hot tea, I have to say the dreaded words amongst some very fit and motivated hiking buddies:

"I think I should turn around now."

Sigh. Two solo guys who made it to the lake pass us on their way back down.  While hiking warrior goddess Jennifer would like to continue, she's gracious.  Not long after I do a major posthole up to my thigh and the cramping begins in earnest. Definitely a good choice to turn around.

But the waterfalls are just as lovely on the way back down. 

We get back to the car damp and tired (at least I'm tired, next time I take electrolyte supplements), but glad for the time outdoors in such a beautiful place. 

Now it's time to ski!

Happy trails and thanks for visiting Pacific Northwest Seasons.

When You Go
Here's a link to a detailed hike description with a map and driving directions at the WTA website. You do need a Northwest Forest Pass for the parking. Our total hiking time was about 4.5 hours to cover maybe 6.5 miles (slow going in the snow), without a major lunch break but lots of photo and snack stops.  We got about 2/3 to 3/4 of the way to the lake, which as mentioned above, could likely be inaccessible much of the rest of this winter. You could probably hike the lower trail with snowshoes before the water slide.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Olympic Peninsula Getaway: Overnight at Lake Crescent Lodge

Although it's just a ferry ride and a couple hour drive from Seattle, Lake Crescent Lodge in Olympic National Park feels a world away in a quieter time. During the recent frenzy of the holidays, we snuck over there for an overnight. I wish we could have stayed longer.

I'm in love with the historic early 20th century lodges scattered around many of our national parks, and Lake Crescent Lodge is one of the earliest, built in 1916. Give me a rustic lodge with wood-beamed walls and ceilings, a big  stone fireplace with a crackling fire, comfy chairs, and a good book and I'm happy for the night.  

With a stop in Port Townsend for lunch, we don't arrive until later afternoon. The drive there is always spectacular, especially after swinging south and west out of Port Angeles towards the lake on Highway 101.

 After skirting along the lake for a mile or so, we turn off into forest toward the lodge complex. Because I booked late, we're not in the lodge or prized Roosevelt Fireplace Cottages but in a modern lakeside unit (clean and comfy).

The main lodge is just a short distance away, where we check in. The guy relaxing on the porch has the right idea.

With the waning light just past the winter solstice, I run out to shoot some photos of beautiful Lake Crescent, just yards away from our doorstep.

Early evening we dine in the main lodge, where I'm pleasantly surprised at the excellent meal.  Sweet winter vegetables were roasted to perfection along with a couple chicken legs, a nice change from the usual breast and more flavorful and succulent. (BTW I asked that the rich-looking sauce with bacon fat be served on the side and didn't use it.)

 And then we settle into a sofa and read in front of the fireplace under the gaze of some big elk heads mounted on the walls.  A glass of wine from the bar across the room was tempting us until at just 9:15 we're told the lodge is closing, which seemed too early.

Lake Crescent Lodge decked out for the holidays.

After a dark and quiet night void of city sounds, the morning brings what looks to be clearing skies across the lake. Although breakfast in the lodge doesn't meet the quality of dinner, we're fueled and ready to go hike/explore.

In the summer I've kayaked on the lake and hiked on some nearby trails, but this trip we head back west for Hurricane Ridge, next blog post!

In between blog posts check out Pacific Northwest Seasons on FaceBook, Instagram, and Twitter for regular photo updates.  Happy trails and thanks for visiting Pacific Northwest Seasons!

When You Go
If you're seeking downtime or a base for exploring the lush forest and craggy peaks of the northern Olympic Peninsula, this is a prime spot for laying your head at night. The lodge is closed for the winter now and will reopen in later spring, but check their website. I got on an email list for specials and got the room for $82/night + tax. Expect to pay more in the summer.