Monday, June 28, 2010

Update your bookmarks

In case you haven't figured it out yet, I'm not using blogger anymore for my blog. Please update your bookmarks and RSS subscriptions to follow

Thanks a lot folks. See you there.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

We're Getting There

I recently converted my site from Blogger to my own hosting and domain. I also started using WordPress due to its' functionality and flexibility. Because of this, I have a bit of a learning curve, and will be almost constantly tweaking and revamping the design. Be Patient. We're getting there.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Tumbling Rapids

Today the kids were acting all crazy, being cooped up in the house, so I loaded them up in the car and took them down to a nice little campground and nature trail along the Sol Duc River. Tumbling Rapids Park owned by Rayonier corp. is located right around mile 203.5 on highway 101 and in addition to being a cozy little campground on the river, there's a  really nice little loop trail on its' west side.

Called the Ron Smith Memorial Trail, it's about 1/2 mile long, parallels the river for about 1/3 of its' length and for you geocachers out there, there's a fairly good sized cache containing lots of goodies for the kids. It is cache #GC7239 for those of you interested.

At the point where the trail veers away from the river, there's a spur trail that goes to the river itself and a small sandy beach with some shallows perfect for getting your feet wet, and a nice sized fishing hole just downstream.

The trail is fairly unremarkable, but where it shines is in the abundance and diversity of flora contained within. It's perfect for teaching the kids about common plants of the area. You make your way past hemlock, fir, maple, sword ferns, deer ferns, bracken ferns, holly, huckleberries, salmonberries, devil's club, salal and much much more. There was even indian pipe mushrooms sprouting on the trail today.

I figured that with my previous hard core hikes, a nice easy walk with the kids was in order. This is a perfect little area to take a break driving to or from the coast. Lots of shade, a nice cool river and a picnic area at the trailhead makes this a perfect, little known spot to sit back and relax. Enjoy

Dumb Feet by Pat McManus

Growing up, my favorite author was, and still primarily is, Patrick McManus. In a word, he is a genius. He puts into words what every outdoorsman has experienced, and his humorous retelling of hunting, fishing, camping and general rural hijinks is a joy to read. Anyone who has grown up in the country, or spent any amount of time off the concrete can truly relate to his stories.

So, tonight as I was re-reading "The Bear in the Attic", I came across a story that I had totally forgotten about, but upon reading it again, I can't help but relate it to myself and my years of neglecting my feet, and my recent commitment to get back out there and educate them again.

Read it here: "Dumb Feet"

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Field Guide to the Cascades & Olympics

Field Guide to the Cascades & Olympics (Google Books)
Amazon Link

If you could take only one book on the trail with you, this is the one.  Never before have I seen so much information crammed into one little package.

This guide covers everything we have; Rocks, mushrooms, ferns, flowers, trees, insects, fish, reptiles and amphibians, birds and mammals. There is very little that isn't in here. Nearly every plant and animal that I have encountered on the trail is covered.

It starts out explaining the big picture. Different "communities within the Pacific Northwest, from coastal forests to alpine meadows, and how the plants, fungi, and animals all interact to for their respective ecosystems.

It then goes on to lay out the geologic makeup of our different ranges, explaining how the interactions of the tectonic plates formed the various mountain ranges, depositing specific types of rock here and there and the advance and retreat of glaciers shaped the valleys and lakes that we see today.

I bought the book for the flora/fauna identification. The geologic and ecological sections were a pleasant bonus that I wasn't expecting. The authors do quite well at fitting much information into just a few pages, and after reading the introductory sections, I must say it is more than worth the 19.95 price on its' cover.

The full color illustrations and detailed descriptions make identification a snap. In order to fit so much information in such a small package, the authors use a type of short-hand in the descriptions, but it is based in common sense and you quickly get used to it. A glossary of common terms is found at the beginning of the book, and a more specific set of terms is found at the beginning of specific chapters; ie, the fern section begins with a generic illustration detailing all the various parts that a fern may contain: stipe, frond, sorus, rachis, etc.

The sections are laid out intuitively, the cover shows a list of the sections, with color coded tabs, allowing for quick reference to the appropriate section. The "Flowering Plants" section is divided by color of the flowers, with references pointing to other plates if a flower may be found in another section due to turning various colors throughout the season.

The book is made with strong, glossy pages, making it able to withstand more wear and tear than your average field guide. It's a strong compact package and if you have this one book, you can leave the other, more detailed guides in the car. Granted, this guide doesn't show every little subspecies of critter you may encounter, but it has more than enough information to identify any plant, bird or other animal you will encounter in the Northwest.

Edibility information has been intentionally left out, as far as mushrooms go, so this is not that type of guide. When it comes to mushrooms, you can never be too careful, so never eat anything you aren't 100% sure of. Find someone who knows the local mushroom scene, or stick to store bought stuff. There are lots of delicious edibles in the area, but there are also some bad ones that look like delicious edible ones as well. Just be safe. Don't eat any unless you KNOW.

All in all, I would definitely recommend this book to the casual hiker, nature buff or parent looking to spend some time outside with the kids. This morning I took the kids outside and told them to go find a plant or tree that they didn't know the name of... They brought back ferns, leaves and a couple flowers. We thumbed through the book and discovered what they were named, where they typically grew and all sorts of other info. Every so often, I've decided, that 's what we will do: Go out and learn about another part of our environment. The kids love it and it's good for them. Give it a shot. 

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Storm King Mountain

If you want a quick and dirty, thigh burning workout, Storm King Mountain is your ideal destination. It's 2.5 miles. Straight up.

It's my favorite morning workout. Only about 2 hours total, round trip, so it's a great one to do before I go to work. The trail head is on Lake Crescent at the Storm King Ranger Station. Head west on 101 from Port Angeles about 20 miles, it's well marked on the lake side of the highway. Marymere Falls can be reached from here as well. It's a perfect little outing to do with the kids, but thats another post.

This morning I set off at 8:30. Working down the well worn path, through the old growth fir and cedar, there was still a bit of morning fog in the air. A quarter mile from the car is the junction, marked by a small sign simply stating "Storm King Trail" with an arrow pointing left. You can tell immediately that it's not going to be very friendly to your heart, lungs or legs. The first step off of the main, flat, smooth path is pretty much a step straight up; and it doesn't level out any the further you go.

For about a half mile, your legs protest at every step. There are several spots where you have to scramble up over root wads in the trail just to be able to go forward again. You can hear the stream below, just babbling away, and it sounds so refreshing.

After the first push up the hill, you come over a rise, into a more open forest. There's a spot to the side of the trail where you can take a breather and stretch your legs a bit in preparation for the rest of the climb.

The next mile or so is unremarkable, but still straight up the hill. The best part about this stretch, however, is that it's a lot smoother and forgiving path. You may wonder why on Earth would a person put themselves through this masochistic ordeal; well, at the top of the mountain is the answer.

Several times throughout the climb, you can catch a glimpse of Lake Crescent below, but once you hit the end of one particular switchback and peer over the edge at the lake, highway and you car in the parking lot hundreds of feet below, you forget all about how you can't feel your legs anymore. Looking to the north you can see Pyramid Peak across the lake, the Strait of Juan de Fuca, and Canada beyond. Turning around, to the south, you will see the foothills of the Olympics. Not overly spectacular themselves, but the entire experience is quite nice.

Take some comfort in knowing you are almost to the top of the "regular" trail. A couple hundred more meters, up a few more switchbacks, you come to a rocky outcropping with an old sign on a tree. It basically tells you "Proceed at your own risk". You may continue on, up the mountain, scrambling over rocky ledges and ridges that drop off into oblivion on either side of you. It's truly rewarding to see it all from the very top.

Just past the sign is a nice little spot to gather yourself up, have a drink, eat a snack and prepare for the descent back down that hill you just mastered. In many ways, the descent is worse than the ascent. It's so steep that it is quite difficult to not break out in a run. If you do end up trotting down the hill, it's really tough to stop, and I hope you clipped your toe-nails before this, because if you have ill-fitting shoes, you may be apt to quite an uncomfortable experience.

In my experience, it takes approximately an hour twenty, to an hour and a half to get up the hill, and less than 45 minutes to get back down. A trekking pole really helps take some of the impact off of your body, but by the time you reach the bottom, your legs will probably be screaming at you, what did they ever do to deserve this, etc. etc.

This climb is not for the faint of heart. It's only about 2 miles up, and for those of you in great shape, it will probably not be the same experience as us big guys that could lose a few pounds. It is primarily for this reason that I love this trail so much. It's quick. It's intense. It's a great alternative for spending 2 hours in a smelly old gym. I can run out and get it done in the morning before work, and I'm outside where I love to be.

Back at the parking lot, you can take a dip in the lake or stop in and say hi to the Park Ranger and get to know the area a little. They have brochures detailing the entire park. Trails, flora, fauna, where to stay, where to eat, what to see. It's truly an amazing area. I love to call it home.

Sorry for the low quality pictures. In my rush to get out the door, I forgot my camera on the table. I had to use my cell phone.


Friday, June 11, 2010

My To Do List

Here is a list of some of my favorite local trails that I have on my mind.
I haven't come up with a schedule to get them done, but these are going to be my priority.
  • Aurora Ridge
  • Lake Angeles
  • Obstruction Point
  • Pyramid Peak
  • Rugged Ridge
  • Mink Lake
  • Storm King Mountain
  • Lake Ozette / Cape Alava / Sand Point Loop
  • Spruce Railroad Trail
There are many more out there too... Looks like I have some work to do.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

The High Divide

The High Divide hike is probably the most awe inspiring trail you can hike in the northern Olympics. Probably the entire park. You pass alpine lakes, breathtaking views of Mt. Olympus, thigh burning grades, Sol Duc Falls and a 5 mile stretch along the Sol Duc river itself. If you time it right, you trek through miles of wild blueberries; more than you can ever eat. Deer Lake holds lots of little trout and up near the top of the divide is the aptly named Heart Lake, a cool, shallow pool, perfect for cooling off midway through the hike. To do the entire loop in a day is not to be taken lightly. Most people camp around the midway mark, somewhere in the Seven Lakes Basin; most notably, Lunch Lake or Heart Lake.

Map taken from here: Olympic Wilderness Campsite Map

The trailhead is 2 miles past the Sol Duc Hot Springs Resort. To get there from Port Angeles, go west, past Lake Crescent about 2 miles and follow the signs to the left. Fourteen miles up that winding road, following the Sol Duc River, you will arrive at the trail head.
Departing from there, you will reach the falls in about a mile. This is one of the most visited landmarks in the area, and for good reason. The combination of the mist from the falls and the sun peeking through the forest canopy makes for some spectacular pictures, despite its' relatively small size, compared to most frequently visited waterfalls.

Here is where the trail forks: Go right, towards Deer Lake or turn left, following the river and eventually reaching Heart Lake. Personally, I prefer to tackle the steep rocky climb to Deer Lake first; to come down this way after tackling the rugged terrain of the mountain can really do a number to your knees. Additionally, saving the long gradual flats of the river trail for last is a great way to cool down after the steep grades of the divide.

Assuming you take the path to the right and head towards Deer Lake, you are immediately thrust into a steep climb, seemingly endless large boulders and tree roots to step over. It's a great warm-up for things to come. Deer Lake is 3.8 miles up this trail.

Emerging from the rocky evergreen forest trail, Deer Lake is a welcome sight. Not the largest of lakes, it's still plenty big for catching some trout or just relaxing, dipping your feet in the water.

Passing Deer Lake, you rise higher and higher. The trees thin out considerably and you pass many snow melt fed ponds commonly referred to as the "potholes". Continuing up and up and up, eventually you reach the Lunch Lake spur trail. Down to the left here is a couple more beautiful alpine lakes, well worth a look.

Shortly after the Lunch Lake junction is Bogachiel Peak. At 5474 feet it is the highest point on this trip. It is at this point you get your first view of Mt. Olympus and the massive Blue Glacier to the south. For the next 2 or so miles, the view to the south continues opening up to reveal more of the glacier. On a clear day, this presents some of the most spectacular photo opportunities. Off to your left, the north, is Seven Lakes basin with a multitude of alpine lakes and more "potholes" to be seen. This is truly the apex of this hike. 

As you work your way along the ridge and come over the last rise in the trail, below you opens up Heart Lake. True to its' name, it appears as an upside down heart shaped, glacier fed lake. Not much more than 150 feet across, it is still a wonderful sight. Campgrounds and trails ring the lake and after the long haul up the mountain and over the ridge, its' refreshing waters feel like heaven on your feet.

From here back to the trail head it almost exclusively downhill. The trees begin to encroach upon you once again and shortly you will reach the horse camp on the Sol Duc River. There really isn't much to see here, but it's a welcome sign for those in the know: It's easy going from here.

The remaining 6 or so miles is a leisurely stroll following the Sol Duc through the old growth. After the roller coaster ride you just endured, this final stretch is just what you need to stretch out and cool down before hitting the road and maybe picking up a cold 6 pack of your favorite beverage at the Sol Duc Hot Springs Resort.

This 18 Mile loop isn't for everyone. Only the most die-hard hiker tackles it one day. I normally get it done in 7 to 8 hours, and that's chugging along not really stopping to smell the flowers, of which there are plenty. It is a perfect hike for breaking up into a weekend, staying the night at Lunch or Heart Lake. If you are looking to test yourself, this is the one. Rewarding in every way. The views are second to none and the grades can surely test you, it is most definitely one hike that you MUST do, at least once.