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Archive for the ‘anecdotes’ Category

Climbing the Storm King trail above Lake Crescent is not for the faint of heart–or at very least not for the weak of legs.  Those hiking this trail will want to park at the Storm King ranger station near Lake Crescent Lodge and take the Marymeer Falls trail under Highway 101.  After somewhere between 1/3 and 1/2 a mile, just after a gigantic douglas fir, the Storm King trail splits off to the left under a large boulder.  There is a sign marking the trail.  From this point on you can expect a grueling climb.  In the remaining mile of your hike you will gain about 2,000 feet of elevation.

Steep is just the beginning of the adjectives you may want to use for this trail, which climbs up the back side of a ridge bordering the lake, so no water views for you until you get to the top.

Arora Ridge is visible for much of the ascent

A third of the way up, the trail gets less steep–almost flat, even–as it passes across a small shelf through open forest that would make a good campsite, then the climb continues without a break up to a knife-edge ridge spine where you can finally look out over the lake and wonder how you got so high in so little trail.

the forested shelf

the end of this hiker's line

This is where I stopped my hike on February 2nd, though I am told the trail continues for another .4 miles or so until it abruptly stops on the side of the mountain without really reaching a destination.  If you came to climb to the top of a mountain on this trail, I’m afraid you will be disappointed.  The view from the spine is a good one, if frustratingly cut off to the west by the forest you climbed there through, and a little dangerous as you have to stand or sit on the edge of a 400 foot cliff to enjoy it.

a lunch-worthy view

a view-worthy lunch: rice with smoked herring, apple with peanutbutter and nutella, homemade granola bars

maybe it's better not to look down

Some hikers might complain that the reward to effort ratio is too low to make this a worthwhile hike, yet I found it a pleasant one and would make the climb again.  Going on a sunny winter day, as I did, I found exactly what I was looking for: fresh air, open forest, lovely views, an achievable challenge, and solitude (I was the only person on the trail that day).  I would recommend this trail for cool-season hiking.  So much exertion on a south-facing ridge on a hot summer day would overheat me to great discomfort, and I am told the trail can be quite popular during vacation time.

Who needs benches?

a cheeky hiking companion

Made it to the top--I'm not quite used to such bright sun in February!

back at the lake, I pause to look at how high I was

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Friday morning saw camping-buddy Lavon and myself heading out to the Olympic peninsula for a weekend of camping.  The plan was to spend two nights at the Hoh rainforest, with a roughly six mile hike up the river as our Saturday activity.  First things first, though; Friday was also an eventful day for our little town: the grand opening of our very own Trader Joe’s.  We stopped in on our way out of town and experienced live music, hula dancers, and something I’d never seen in a grocery store before: lines 15 people deep in which every person was cheerful and smiling.  We picked up some of Joe’s Spicy Chai Latte just-add-water mix, which turned out to be quite tasty and an excellent thing to take camping because it meany we could have chai without bringing along milk.

It’s 160 miles from my house to the Hoh, so we made a couple of stops along the way.  The first, at Hurricane Coffee in Sequim, is a stop we make nearly every time we pass by.  The place has a really nice atmosphere and some pretty delicious coffee and bagels.  Later, we had a picnic lunch (falafel with olives, capers, tsaziki, and tomatoes in pita) at La Poel, a small peninsula that sticks out into Lake Crescent, which, I learned on this trip, used to contain a truck stop with cabins and a tavern, but now just has picnic tables and fire pits.  No overnight camping is allowed at La Poel, but it makes a tranquil mid-day retreat.

As we passed through Forks, Lavon and I started planning an imaginary Twilight themed ice cream shop.  We had fun thinking up flavors to go with books we’d never read until we came to the turn off to get to the Hoh…  where we were stopped by a ranger.  He informed us that there was a mother elk that had just given birth and was charging at people, so they had to close the area.  There went that plan.  We turned around, made our way back through the Twilight Zone–I mean, Forks–and headed to the coast to camp at Mora, right across the Quillayute River from La Push.

There appears to be some force in the universe that is constantly driving me towards Mora.  I have camped there four or five times, yet only one of those times was intentional.  When other campgrounds are full or close, Mora is where I end up.  And I don’t mind, because Mora is actually my favorite campground of any that I’ve been to.

So we snagged site 31 at Mora, a cozy little site with a tent pad set back in what Lavon called a grotto made of vine maple and elderberry bushes.  Most of the rest of the afternoon was spent mapping out the campground, which took quite a while as there are nearly 100 sites between five irregularly shaped loops.  Loops C and D were closed because the campground wasn’t very busy, and A hardly had anyone in it, so we got to walk into a whole bunch of the sites to really get a feel for them.  #18, in loop A, had this really cool stump in it:

For dinner we had sausages with sauted onions and mushrooms and polenta (perfect camp fare: hearty and delicious), after which we went a mile further down the road to its end at Rialto Beach, where we watched the waves under a darkening grey sky.  Back at camp, my home-made fire starters worked reasonably well.  I wish I had taken the time to fill them up further with wax so they would burn longer, but they got the job done.

Sleep that night should have been easy.  There was a lovely chorus of frogs, and while our neighbor did snore, he was far enough away not to be a nuisance.  The rain that started around 11:30, on the other hand, was a problem.  Our lovely little tent grotto sent large drips hammering down on the tent’s rain fly, making a terrible racket.  The noise, along with my constant worry that all our stuff would become soaked as it touched the edge of the tent, kept me awake, though I know I did get some sleep, and probably more than I thought.

The rain was still going come morning, though by that time it was more of a heavy mist.  After breakfast, when we had saturated a towel mopping up small puddles in the tent, we decided to cut our losses and pack up.  When I lifted my sleeping pad off the tent floor, I discovered a small lake waiting underneath.  By some miracle I had remained dry for the night, but I doubt I would have remained so for a second one.

We made our way home, tired and damp, but still glad we had gone.

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While I work on my map making skills so I can show you all some more results from my trip to Staircase two weeks ago, let me tell you how excited I am about my next planned camping trip–and it’s not even in the Olympics!

Next weekend I’ll be chaperoning somewhere between ten and fifteen junior high students from the church youth group on a “Rock and Roll” trip, meaning we’ll be going rock climbing and river rafting.  I’m going because I know how to belay.  (I’ve actually taken a group of junior highers camping and rock climbing in the same spot we’ll be going to when I worked for a summer at Tall Timber Ranch.)  The other half, the river rafting, I’ve never done before, and I’m both excited and a little nervous to do it.  It’s not that I think I’ll drown, I just don’t want to get wet and cold.  I know, I’m a sissy.

It is my plan to be thoroughly over prepared for this trip.  Most of the gear will be provided by someone else, but I still intend on bringing most of my camping supplies–just in case, right?  And anyway, when you’re responsible for a bunch of younger teens, it never hurts to have some extra stuff, which is why I’m bringing two sleeping bags and three waterbottles, as well as extra sweaters.

Those extra sweaters might turn out quite handy, if I am to believe one of the ladies who went on the trip last year.  Apparently all the guys were warm, but the gals, who were informed by one of those guys that it wouldn’t get too cold on the trip, were all freezing.  I’m not surprised.  Staying warm is always my biggest problem on camping trips, which is why I fell in love with wool last year.

Wool is amazing!  I don’t understand why it’s gotten such a bad rap.  It’s warm, durable, doesn’t hold odors, and isn’t even itchy if you get stuff that’s been handled well.  Last spring I bought myself a set of wool/synthetic blend long underwear and it pretty much saved my life when we were camping in Yellowstone in June and the temperature dropped to around 25 degrees every night and it snowed half of the days we were there.  I recently knitted myself two sweaters out of 100% wool, and let me tell you, they are warm and comfy and not scratchy at all.  I have a feeling they will come in quite handy next weekend.

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Getting to Staircase is more difficult that it seems it ought to be.  I suppose it should come as no surprise in this land of water and mountains; traveling between points in Western Washington often take two or three times as long as it would anywhere else.

My journey began with a circuitous rout south and west and north again around Hood Canal to join up with Highway 101, the necessary starting point for all journeys into Olympic.

The turn for Staircase is an unassuming road hiding in the middle of Hoodsport, a cute little town that I will have to return to and explore.  It looks to be a good place to pick up supplies that may have been forgotten at home or to take a break from the road.  Driving by I saw a gas station, an IGA grocery store, a promising looking coffee shop, and a run down “Family Mexican Restaurant” that (knowing how these things usually work) probably has some pretty good food.

119 (the road to Staircase) immediately starts climbing into the hills towards Lake Cushman.  Lake Cushman is not a pretty lake.  It was created by a dam, as the dead trees and stumps sticking up out of low water will tell you.  A fork in the road directs you left around the lake on a forest service road of compact gravel plagued with pot holes.

Upon reaching the park boundery, the change in management is immediately apparent.  The road is paved, second- and third-growth forest gives way to towering old-growth trees, and even those who know nothing about river ecosystems will notice that the north fork of the Skokomish River looks much healthier here than when if flows into the lake a mile downstream.

Half a mile later the road ends in a parking area by the ranger station, campground, and trailheads.  I laughed to see a phone booth sitting under the hemlocks and cedars as we left the car to set off up the trail.

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Here are two interesting and unique things about Olympic National Park:

1—the park contains a surprisingly large variety of ecosystems: alpine, subalpine, rainforest, a rain shadow, old growth lowland forest, second growth forest, coastline, and an entire river system from headwater to ocean.

2—there are no roads that cut through the park, only spurs that lead in from highway 101, which encircles it.  This can make places seem far apart when they really aren’t.  For example, Sol Duc hot springs and the Hoh rainforest visitor’s center are only about 8 miles from each other—but to drive between the two you would have to travel 68 miles and it would take about two hours!

These two facts can combine in interesting ways, and it’s a profound moment when you realize that  some very different sections of the park are almost literally on top of each other.  I got to experience these large differences in a small space in 2004 when, along with my father and my friend Lavon, I hiked from Hurricane Ridge down into the Elwha river valley.

It was surprising when I realized that these two points, which are 25 miles and almost an hour apart by road, are only six miles away from each other by trail.  Of course, they are also about a mile apart in another important way—vertically!

But we were going downhill all the way, so that morning we parked my dad’s CRV down in the valley and then drove up to the trailhead to Hurricane Hill, laced up our boots, and hit the trail.

Alright, it wasn’t entirely downhill; the first mile or so was actually uphill, as we followed the trail almost all the way up Hurricane Hill to where a much narrower trail carved its way across the subalpine meadow.

This trail lead us along a rocky ridge line and through some stands of subalpine firs, where fog (or really, some low-flying clouds) rolled in.  I imagine there are wonderful views from that ridge, but the clouds lent their own imposing atmosphere to the place.  We stopped for lunch among the trees and were delighted when a young buck, velvet still on his antlers, decided to graze for his own lunch right beside us.

When the ridge ran out, the trail dropped steeply down a meadowy mountainside, passing erratic outcroppings of stone, and dropped through the strait edge of a high forest.  The boundary between forest and meadow was surprisingly stark, as though the trees, in their march uphill, had come to the point and said, “that’s it, one more step and it will be too high for me to grow,” so they stopped.

The forest was full of dim light and surprisingly open.  There was virtually no undergrowth, just conifers and vanilla leaf.  As we continued to descend, though, more and more plants entered the scene.  It was like walking through geological strata, or a layer cake.  I hadn’t imagined that different altitudinal regions would appear so distinctly, but I’m sure, had I had the right knowledge about which plants grow at which elevations, that I could have told you how high we were within 10 feet at times.

We ended up, at the bottom of our hike in a wet, lowland forest full of big leaf maples, moss, and ferns.  By this time we had made our descent of nearly a mile in five miles of trail.  I won’t tell you whose knees gave out first and him or her sliding down the muddy trail.  They were surprisingly good-humored about it, considering the circumstances.

And the next day?  Well, I could barely walk, but I considered it worth it to walk through so many ecosystems in the space of a couple of hours, and to see so much beauty with cheery companions.

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