Saturday, October 30, 2010

A walk to water, a sight to see

"You climb to reach the summit, but once there, discover that all roads lead down." -- Stanislaw Jerzy Lec

Before moving to Washington, there was nothing I looked forward to seeing on a hike more than water. I was a sucker for the splash of a waterfall, the soothing flow of a river or the tranquility of a still lake. But when you see a subalpine lake on an almost weekly basis, you begin to take them a bit for granted. This hike offered me water and view - an unbeatable combo that only cost me eight miles.

I ventured out toward Lake Helen, which was hidden in a forest apparently popular with hunters willing to brave the potholed backroads of Ashford. It was nine miles on a maze of dirt roads that would have been nerve-racking if a snow-capped Mount Rainier wasn’t making a grand appearance from behind the clouds.

Anticipating the rain would pick back up at any time, I moved swiftly along the narrow trail and navigated the ups and downs of the path. It didn’t take long to reach a junction with a sign pointing me toward Lake West. In a hop, skip and jump over a creek, I found myself peeking through the trees at an unbelievably calm blue lake.

The color of the water alternated between a deep green and brilliant blue depending on how the sunlight streamed through the high-arching branches. Large shadows covered the edges of the lake but tufts of clouds were reflected in the clear water. It was one of those places where you could happily sit for hours and think about the meaning of life or nothing at all.

Unfortunately for me, the thinness of the path meant I had spent hours being thwacked by dripping shrubs and bushes and my pants were soaking wet. I walked the rim of the lake and closed my eyes for a few moments but couldn’t keep the shivers from ruining the serenity. And so, I traded my pants for my thermals (which I’d shoved in my pack – just in case) and turned back for the trailhead.

With two miles or so left on the return, I spotted a side trail with the word “summit” in it and I couldn’t help but veer up the hill. Lakes are a treat but I’ve found that my preference tends toward sprawling views of the mountains and valleys below. After a bit of huffing and puffing and a startling encounter with a huge bird, I found myself on the edge of a cliff with an incredible view of white clouds dancing atop rolling hills.


Monday, October 25, 2010

Beauty not deceptive at this park

"Do not bite at the bait of pleasure, till you know there is no hook beneath it." -- Thomas Jefferson

Deception Pass State Park is the most visited in Washington, and it's easy to see why. The waters are
a brilliant blue against the rugged cliffs that drop down to meet them. There are three lakes and an imposing bridge set against a backdrop of islands and green trees snaking along the shoreline.

Deception Pass derived its name back in 1792. Captain George Vancouver initially dubbed it Port Gardner but later claimed he was deceived after learning that the inlet was actually a narrow passage between Whidbey and Fidalgo islands.

You can camp at the park but I was just there to admire the breathtaking views (and hang out with my parents). To get there, you
must cross over a bridge that towers over the turbulent waters below. There's a thin walkway to stroll along the bridge and snap pictures of the scenery. While it was one of the most beautiful sights I've seen since moving to Washington, I couldn't brave the cold for too long. Standing beneath the bridge, however, blocked the wind enough to admire its engineering.

Just miles past the bridge is the entrance to the 4,134-acre park.
The road winds down to two different beaches but we chose West Beach since we had unknowingly walked to
the other beach from the bridge. The beach itself was a thin strip of wet sand and tiny pebbles, with craggy rocks emerging from the water that seagulls had clearly claimed.

Monday, October 4, 2010

On the Katwalk

"There is no path; paths are made by walking."

The anticipation really built for this hike. I intended for it to be an 11-mile trek uphill to reach Kendall Katwalk, a narrow shelf blasted into the cliff side long ago by dynamite crews. What I couldn’t have known was that I would unknowingly pass right over the Katwalk and keep going for miles, elongating a hike that left me limping with a twisted ankle the last four miles.

I was thrilled to spend the day on the Pacific Crest Trail because for years it’s been a dream of mine to hike the entire thing from the Mexican border to the Canadian border. This section is in the Snoqualmie Pass and started in an old-growth forest. It was a bit of a climb but the trees loomed overhead, protecting me from the sun’s rays.

After two miles or so, I muddled along on the switchbacks and eventually found myself on a massive rock chute. With each step, I could hear rattling sounds surrounding me. Not knowing what they were, I feared the worst: rattlesnakes. (Have I mentioned I’m terrified of the slithery creatures?) I envisioned dozens of rattlesnakes hiding among the rocks, ready to strike if I took a wrong step. It was then that I really started to sweat, though I’m unsure whether it was my snake phobia or the increasingly warm temperatures as I continued up the steep slope.

Ahead of me loomed Red Mountain. The orangish-red bushes lining portions of the path couldn’t have had a better backdrop. To my left was a sprawling valley of trees and rolling hillsides, with Interstate 90 barely visible in the distance.

The trail began narrowing and with each step, I envisioned stepping out onto the Katwalk. I’d read that the path suddenly drops off and only the brave summon the courage to step onto the rock shelf. I came upon several travelers who were poised on boulders, eating lunch and staring out at the wondrous peaks. I pushedon. I carefully studied the trail I was following, observing its thinness and searching for any sign that I was approaching the Katwalk.

After another hour or so, I was sure I’d somehow missed the famous Katwalk. I had left the ridge long ago and reached a lake. I asked a fellow hiker where the Katwalk was and he told me I’d passed it nearly three miles back. I was less than thrilled, but made a U-turn and began a second, more successful, search for Kendall Katwalk.

Yes, it is a challenging hike. Yes, the sights are startling in their enormity and sheer beauty. But if you’re ever looking to dangle precariously on a catwalk, this is not the place.