Category Archives: Pacific Northwest
Lake Whatcom Park near Bellingham, WA, must be somewhat of a secret since I just discovered it after 11 months of seeking out every good dog friendly hiking trail in the Bellingham area. All good though, the park is primarily known for its really nice and easy Hertz Trail along the lake. What I needed and the basis for this trip report is the trail that leads to Mt Stewart essentially parallel to the Wickersham Truck Road that begins at the end of P2 parking area. The road would continue but it is gated and the trail leads off from the NW corner of the parking area. You can also just hike the road but that is in high demand by the mountain bikers.
The trail winds through various densities of forest occasionally crossing the road. At the first road crossing you need to follow the road up about 100 ft to an opening on the left where you will pick up the trail again. The second road crossing is more obvious that the trail continues on the other side. That is not the case for the second half of the trip.
After a couple of road crossings you hit an extended stretch of trail that takes you to a smaller road spur. This section of trail is really nice offering significant flower cover. Turn right for the scenic overlook and left to find the trail again after a few 100 feet.
The overlook is essentially at the end of the offshoot spur road. You have a excellent view of both ends of Lake Whatcom as well as Bellingham and the North Puget Sound. This site appears that it has been used for some overnights.
I was going to give up assuming that this was the end of the trail, however, I did find the next section that reconnected with the road. At that point you need to climb on the road up to the next turn where you can pick up the trail again.
This last section of trail offers occasional views of the lake but again you come out on the road. From here on I did not find any further trail options, the land contour did not lend itself to more trail connects, however the road was more like a trail. You then merge with the power lines which is a bit concerning because of the loud static crackling from the high voltage electricity transmission taking place. Oh well, I guess we got a charge out of it. Here you have a combination of some clear cut and major power line right of way up and over Mt Stewart.
The view is more impressive for distance, however, I rate the lower lake overlook as the prize view. The real value of this trail for me was the great exercise with approximately 2500 ft vertical. Also very little traffic on the trail since access to the lower lake trail is what dominates the available parking. This is exactly the training I need to prepare for my next career as a full time backpacker. Plus @AussieBrook loved it.
The first nice weekend day we have had in awhile here in Bellingham motivated Brook and I to find a low elevation hike since we have a significant amount of snow above about 2500 ft. So look for river trails, right. Well I found a great blog, Must Hike Must Eat, that provides an excellent regional organization of trail reports.
This allowed me to find some low elevation hikes near enough off of the Mountain Loop Highway and I chose the Boulder River Trail. In researching this trail a bit I did not find a lot of trip reports, so overall my expectations were not real high, but I did like that I was going to get in at least 8 miles and a bit of elevation gain for a good workout. What I discovered was a fairly impressive trail especially for this time of year.
From I-5 take Hwy 530 (exit 208). Exit right toward Arlington. Stay on 530 through Arlington and in 23.6 miles, turn right onto French Creek Rd, just after MP 41. The 4 mile road to the trailhead did have some serious potholes. Parking at the trailhead, end of road, was limited to maybe 15 cars.
The trail is in excellent condition and appears to be heavily used for about the first mile taking you to the first major waterfall. Water was flowing at full volume due to the recent storms. At about this point snow packed trail conditions existed wherever there was an opening in the forest canopy. The trail is a bit technical in that you are navigating numerous streams both across the trail and on the trail. Plus you are getting some vertical change to exercise those winter legs. Brook loved it all as you can see in her trail video.
You have a few opportunities to get to the river bank but mostly you are high above the river on the east side. No real visa views but the trail is beautiful especially during this February hike. The moss covered trees, steep dropoffs and plethora of streams makes for an excellent hike.
I used this hike to get some much needed exercise and by the end I think both Brook and I were feeling it. All in all the Boulder River Trail is a great hike especially during those short cold days of winter.
I came across a reference to William O Douglas’s book “Of Men and Mountains” in the “Hi Alpine” blog. The reference related to how William Douglas was at peace on his sick-bed thanks to the memories he had of his extensive exploration of the mountains around his hometown of Yakima, WA. I’m not much of a reader and don’t think I have ever read a book published outside of my lifetime, but this book published in 1950, turned out to be far more relevant to me today than I would have ever imagined.
I thought the book was going to be autobiographical with significant focus on William O Douglas as a Supreme Court Justice, but no, it was really just about his adventures in the wilderness. I immediately found myself fascinated by the challenges of a young man losing his father at an early age growing up in Yakima, WA, in the early 1900’s. I was able to gleam from the few professional references that William Douglas was a true man of integrity and must have been a tremendous Justice, but again the book was about his beloved Pacific Northwest Wilderness.
There were a few references to his wilderness adventures in New England and I loved his recollection of his trip to New York to attend Columbia Law School. He only had a few dollars so he hitched rides on trains across the country. Otherwise his story centered around Yakima in the Cascades and Wallowas. I have backpacked enough in this area to know of his references, but to share in them from a few generations prior was unique. What gear did an early backpacker use: a Nelson, Norwegian or Horseshoe packs. What did they eat: beans, bread, berries and fish. How did they stay dry: sometimes a tent but mostly they relied on the natural coverage of trees or caves. How did they stay warm: many times they didn’t but wool was their main resource. Horses for riding and packing were a part of their experiences. Interactions with Indians, trappers and herders were intriguing. But what I loved most were the recollections of his early backpacking experiences where his youthful enthusian would call into question the wisdom of some of his adventures. I get that, I think back to some of the stupid things I have done in the wilderness and I am thankful to be alive. In fact, I have always shared the kinship of my early adventures with my friend John back in NW Colorado in the 1980’s. We used to joke that we were the last of the true Mountain Men.
Not long after I started reading the book I shared my interest in it with John. I knew he would relate to it as I have, especially the fishing secrets throughout the book. Yes, for us this book is an easy reading escape back to our own wilderness adventures. And when a first edition copy of the book was delivered to my home, it could have only come from my wilderness brother, John. True friendship is as valuable as anything we have and William Douglas shared many of his friendships in this book. I hope you all have friendships built upon wilderness adventures.
I have reached the fourth quarter of life and I am ready for a strong finish. Quarters are 20 years long and I am hopeful for a long overtime period. So far the game has progressed as I might have expected. The first quarter I grew up,
the second I explored what I wanted to do,
the third I paid my dues
and now on to the fourth I hope to realize my dreams.
It sounds pretty straight forward but along the way you are alerted to those who lose their way or don’t get to finish. It is now as I enter the fourth quarter that I find the greatest reward which is knowing what I want to do. Sounds simple, we work all these years so that you can retire to pursue our life’s passion. The problem though is that many forget to discover what that passion is and even then many don’t ever truly pursue it.
It could be that I have oversimplified the game plan, yes it is a long and hard and the coach is really important. I have been blessed with a great team with a loving wife of 40 years and 3 great children. Many think they know the outcome by the fourth quarter and just accept it, our tired bodies might agree but there is plenty of inspiration to draw from. Your team needs you, pushing a little harder brings incredible rewards, victory is in your grasp. So how will I finish the game.
At the end of the third quarter I quit my job and prepared for the final quarter.
A year of serious backpacking and career diversification has set me up for a strong finish. My body is aging but it still has a lot of great plays left in it. Again, what I cherish the most is that I know what I want to do. I want to score as many points as I can. I want more memories to draw from on my future sick-bed. For many this metaphor translates to chasing financial security. Sure, I have worried about that but I think all is well. I am not worried about money because I know that I can live within my means. No debt, enough retirement income, but the peace comes from the wisdom gained in realizing that your quality of life is not tied to materials.
In six months I will walk away from a fairly lucrative employment situation and as I contemplate extending those opportunities, I think about the value of rewards that await. The opportunity to experience the wilderness beauty of our shrinking earth is my ultimate reward. Dreams of exploring the Rockies, the Sierras. the Cascades, Canada and Alaska excite my soul. Maybe even Scandinavia, the Alps or the mountains of Peru will be attainable. You cannot earn that reward, you must live it. I am so looking forward to a Strong Finish.
The first ski day is always hard on the body. Generally you try to make it into the afternoon before the screaming pain in your thighs finally does you in. This is only amplified as you get older so I thought I would reflect on how my 62-year-old body with 2 artificial hips handled this awesome first day of skiing here at Mt. Baker Ski Area which is really on Mt. Shuksan. The most critical requirement for skiing at my age is believing that I can. Then I think it is critical to insure that you choose a day with optimal conditions. So when the snow began piling up on the North Cascades I started watching for that perfect ski day. Bang, Tuesday had no important meetings, it was supposed to be sunny and only 20 degrees on the mountain. The fact that there was not any wind was a pure bonus. So you commit and then float some suggestions to your friends that you plan on doing this. However, you have to balance skiing with someone who might hold you back with the advantage of someone who knows the mountain. I was totally prepared to ski it alone, but if you do that it is likely that your actual skiing experience will suffer. Luckily I scored a ski companion (one of my employees) who was also a local ski instructor which translated into the ultimate ski experience.
It is about an hour and half drive from Bellingham to the Mt. Baker Ski area and we arrived near opening which gained us an excellent parking spot and confirmation that skiing on a Tuesday was not going to be crowded. I have skied most of my life but I have never been a die-hard skier. Yes, I lived in Steamboat Springs for many years, but even then I only skied when conditions were perfect, maybe 5-6 times a year. That is partly because I devoted equal time to cross-country skiing. Skiing for me is not about a commitment to the craft but instead about the glorious experience of gliding on snow while observing some of the most beautiful scenery in the world. Dealing with cold and fatigue is just part of the price for the chance to experience yet another epic day in God’s glorious kingdom.
How about that view, wow, you come off the lift and take this in before every run. This was so cool because I had a tour guide who could tell the names of all those mountains and help me understand where I have been hiking through my many outings up here at the Mt Baker Wilderness earlier this Fall.
I want to call attention to the photo on the right showing Mt Herman and the saddle over to Table Mountain, location of my first hikes in this area. Now, back to the skiing. Conditions were perfect and I did feel comfortable cruising along on blue runs. I did try to hit some bumps and powder, but age does create limitations. I have mentioned that I have 2 artificial hips which are wonderful, however, the muscles around those hips have never been as strong probably due to being filleted open for the surgery. Combine weaker muscles with the reality that you do not want to crash and dislocate one of those hips and I wisely avoided straying to far from the safe cruising runs. Overall, I was very pleased with my body on this first day out. My transition to hiking and backpacking and raising a dog with incredible amount of energy has prepared me well for this ski day. I really felt great and was able to push myself almost to closing. The beer in the lodge at the end of the day was perfect as well.
My backpacking companion had a few weeks off at the beginning of May and I’m still retired until June so we searched for a challenging early season backpacking trip. Looking for a loop with good temps, flowers and minimal bugs led us to find this refurbished Wild Rogue Loop in Southern Oregon. Last year the Siskiyou Mountain Club with help from grants rejuvenated the 25 mile Rogue River Loop which is a conglomeration of the Rogue River Siskiyou National Forest’s Mule Creek Trail 1159, Panther Ridge Trail 1253, Clay Hill Trail 1160A, and the Rogue River Trail 1160. This was necessary because of the damage done by the 2005 Blossom Fire after allowing the forest to heal for 10 years. The combined trail is one of the best in Oregon. The evidence of fire is minimal, the terrain is challenging and the scenic rewards are stunning.
Once this loop was chosen for our Spring outing, gathering trail details was more challenging, but critical feedback on the trailheads, poison oak and ticks was helpful.
I decided to use the Foster Bar Rogue River Trailhead, which happens to be the West end of the 40 mile Rogue River Trail. This entry was down river a bit further than I expected but access and facilities were good and taking in more of the Rogue River was a plus. Overall I think we stretched our trip into about a 40 mile hike. We completed the trip in three and a half days but probably should have stretched that to 4+. We could have used more information on campsite options.
We set out toward the beginning of the loop heading up the Rogue River on Sunday May 1st. A beautiful day that pushed temps up into the 80s. The trail is cut out of the North bank or wall of the canyon presenting you with moderate difficulty and plenty of river vistas.
The waterfall at Flora Dell would be wonderful for a cool dip. Obviously water is no issue, however, you rely on tributaries since direct access to the Rogue was generally not easy. On this beautiful Sunday we passed many backpackers, hikers and runners heading down river. However, we never encountered another human for the remainder of the trip. I will confirm that poison oak is plentiful until you get above 2000 feet. And yes, I had to deal with a number of ticks, humans can handle this, but I would not take a dog.
We decided to take the shortcut at Brushy Bar over Devil’s Backbone, a decision we questioned after comparing the added vertical to the shorter distance. Camping along the Rogue is primarily geared for the boaters but the camping area at Blossom Creek was perfect for our first night. Complete with a Bear Box and access to the Rogue for some fishing, it was excellent.
We definitely pushed ourselves on this first day but all was good. The second day took us through Marial to the Tucker Flat Trailhead in order to head up the West Fork of Mule Creek.
From our GPS PDF Map on Avenza it was obvious that water sources could be scarce as we climbed toward the top of the Mule Creek Trail.
It appeared that the site marked Camp Hope would be the most likely for water but there were 2 other streams just before there still flowing. The first is where we interrupted a black bear but he scurried off into the forest. Unfortunately the trail in this area does not offer great campsites so we pretty much camped on the trail. A thunderstorm accelerated our efforts to set up camp. Again we probably pushed ourselves a bit more then we would have liked on a warm day climbing 2500 ft.
The next day was focused on experiencing Hanging Rock, and it was all that I had hoped it would be.
I would rank it as one of the Top 10 scenic locations in Oregon.
After lunch on the Rock we had the Panther Ridge Trail to cover and then a decision about how far down the Clay Hill trail we could make before our energy gave out. The 4.25 mile 3000 foot descent back down to the Rogue to complete the loop is tough on old knees.
About half way down we found just enough flat ground to setup our tents just before the rains opened up for the evening. This was another tough day since we had to carry extra water knowing that there would be no more available before we needed to stop.
The fourth and final day presented essentially a downhill hike back to our car but it was another 9 miles with plenty of climbs for two old guys with tired bodies. Hiking the same segment on the Rogue River Trail was entirely different in the opposite direction. Overall this was a perfect time to do the loop.
The wildflowers were plentiful, bugs were still sleepy and temperatures were moderate.