Thursday, October 27, 2011

Rainy in the Hoh

The day was cold and wet - what better to do than visit the Hoh Rain Forest? I've already plugged through the moss-laden trees and slept beside the river on the approach to Mount Olympus, but this was just a side trail, a minor detour on the day we pointed the car for home. It's dubbed the Trail of Mosses and it's kept short for tourists who want to get out of the vehicle but don't want to expend a tremendous amount of energy (we're talking less than a mile here).

Everything was bright green, a sharp contrast to the dreary gray day. Even the water contained clumps of electric green moss. The trail made a quick loop through the forest, offering interpretive signs and views of maple groves and natural arches growing overhead. Just the right walk to wave goodbye to the Olympics.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Standing on the edge of the U.S.

Location: Neah Bay

Cape Flattery is the most northwestern point of the contiguous United States and it is worth the long drive and short walk necessary to take in the beauty. It’s at the tippy top of the Olympic Peninsula on the Makah Indian Reservation, tucked in a secluded corner amid cavernous coves and crashing waves.

The walk is ¾ of a mile through a mossy wonderland complete with cedar decks to stand on and gaze out on the turquoise water. This is where you catch your first glimpse of the miniature islands that dot the coast, and possibly the puffins and gray whales that frequent the area.

At the end of the trail, you find yourself on the edge of a cliff and faced with nearby Tatoosh Island. The Makah once used the island as a fish and whaling camp but it has most recently been turned over to the Coast Guard. Staring out at the whitecaps, I noticed a gray whale disappearing beneath the surf and determinedly walked the ridge until I caught his tail in my camera lens.

It’s such a lovely place to relax, it’s hard to tear yourself away.

Boggy and the beach

Location: Neah Bay

Shi Shi Beach is said to be one of the region’s most spectacular beaches but it has been mired in problems since the idea of adding it to Olympic National Park first arose in the 1970s. Land-access disputes with the Makah Indian Tribe were finally settled in 1976 and the sandy beach with gorgeous sea stacks became a national treasure.

The 4-mile trail to access the beach is a boggy nightmare that leads you down a muddy road bed that only gets muckier and threatens to swallow your feet whole. The first mile treks through a Sitka spruce forest, which warrant more attention than hikers give it because so much of the focus is on staying afloat in the bog and praying for the occasional planked bridge.

In just under two miles, you reach the park boundary and begin descending a 150-foot bluff to the beach below. It’s a bit rough on the knees but the driftwood-littered beach is a hidden gem worth a little pain. The tide was coming in when we arrived and the Point of the Arches (sensational sea stacks) loomed down the beach.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Wandering an Icicle gorge

Location: Leavenworth

Distance: 4 miles

Elevation gain: 150 feet

Propelling my parents back into nature called for a special hike so I took them to Leavenworth and scouted out a short stroll through a diverse conifer forest. It was drizzly and gray as we hit the trail and veered left, opting to head downhill first. Icicle River was churning beside us and although the heavy fog blocked our views of the surrounding peaks, we had an up-close view of the trees changing yellow, orange and red for fall.

After crossing a sturdy bridge and admiring the natural carvings on the rocks below, we headed upriver and began working our way on a loop around a gorge carved by the large tributary of the Wenatchee River. The flatness of the walk allowed lots of opportunities for admiring the dark fir stands and pines. We peeked over several viewpoints to the river below and eventually crossed Jack Creek and found ourselves at a mostly deserted campground. We picked up the trail again a little way down the road and continued downstream until we found the car.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

A waterfall and lake beneath the crags

Location: Near Gold Bar

Distance: 8.2 miles

Elevation gain: 2,000 feet

Mount Index is a fierce-looking mountain on my list to climb but today wasn’t the day to take it on so I settled for exploring the waterfall and lake beneath its imposing crags. The trail was relatively flat for the first 1.7 miles, leading me through towering mossy maples and alders and over a series of tributaries.

A right at the junction led me up several wooden ladders and staircases until I could hear the roar of Bridal Veil Falls just around the bend. The water tumbled over a smooth granite slab to the rushing river below. I’d been told to expect a “Bridal shower” instead of Bridal Veil Falls but the splash came nowhere near me, even though I inched my way out to the boulders for a better camera angle. Hoping to beat the crowd that arrived as I stood admiring, I walked the half mile back to the junction and took the left to Serene Lake.

I wound my way through a basin and caught a second glimpse of the tumbling water before the trail steepened and my thighs began burning. I gained probably 1,300 feet in just over a mile but the views of Skykomish Valley below were well worth the work. This was one of the hikes where I was continuously sure the lake was about to pop into view. Eventually a wooden sign directed me to the lake, which was tightly tucked into a snowy basic just beneath the stark walls of Index. The clouds and mountain walls reflected in the water was just what had been promised: serenity.

Friday, October 7, 2011

First snow of the season on Norse Peak

Location: Crystal Mountain area

Distance: 10.6 miles

Elevation gain: 2,800 feet

I wasn’t expecting snow but that’s what I found atop Norse Peak. I set out from the base of the ski resort with basic gear, anticipating a steep climb to the 6,858-foot summit in the rain. It was drizzly when we started up the switchbacks but we held out hope that we could gain enough elevation to rise above the clouds and be treated to majestic views of the mighty mountain rising behind the resort. No such luck.

The clouds stayed with us as we trudged through the rocky meadows, moving slightly slower than usual because we’d had to add extra layers and didn’t want to sweat more than necessary and risk freezing. It wasn’t long before patches of snow sprouted among the undergrowth. We were initially excited to see our first snow this season … but then my shins disappeared into the snow and my excitement turned to uncertainty. I was, after all, in thin hiking pants.

We began traversing along a snowy ridge and that’s where the winds hit. My attention was temporarily directed toward the drop-off to our left and carefully picking my way over fallen trees on the narrow sloped path but it wasn’t long before my fingers turned white and my nose felt numb. I tried staying directly behind my partner to use him as a shield but the gusts kept knocking us both over. Needless to say, the last push to the summit was rather miserable and we hightailed it back to the drizzle as quick as our frozen feet would carry us.