Last week, Gwen and I pulled our 1983 Colemen tent-trailer up and over the passes to the greater region, known as The Methow. This area receives enough rain to naturally support some trees (mostly pine and fir) but not nearly enough to promote dense forest like here on the westside. So, you find rolling hills with treed drainages and woodsy clumps surrounded by meadow. Lots and lots of meadow!
It is beyond lovely and no wonder why it has attracted artists, ranchers, the independently wealthy, and gritty salt-of-the-earth types. Tourism is alive and well as Seattle-ites can easily travel there in a half-day’s drive. Winthrop alone sustains two or three densely stocked outfitter shops for hikers, climbers, and hunters-fishers to stock up on gear.
For us, who are used to carrying provisions to high elevation camps, the tent-trailer is glamping for sure. Included in the luxurious package are queen-sized down comforter, cast-iron skillet, and a hatchet for kindling.
From this basecamp, we drove wildflower-flanked forest roads to two trailheads on two different days. The first trail ascended (but not strenuously so) to Crater Lakes, with the creek in earshot the majority of the time. The alpine here was just beginning to melt out, but the snow was not too soft, not to hard…just right.
The following day we ventured along a ridge with spectacularly expansive views of the lower-lands. This flower-strewn ridge topped stone formations that belong in Utah or Arizona. Sheer cliffs of weathered rock just like Arches or Red Rocks or Zion here in volcanic country. Truly a gem of a place!
Sunday was a perfect day. It was in the mid-60s, with a light breeze and bluebird skies, conditions that are almost unheard of in mid-April in the Pacific Northwest. And the perfect weather coincided with the height of blooms in the Skagit Valley tulip fields. For a few weeks in April or May, Skagit farmlands are abloom with hundreds of acres of tulips in every color. Conditions were so perfect, in fact, that the entire state of Washington and most of British Columbia decided that Sunday was the day to tour the tulip fields. Country roads that see little traffic for 11 months of the year were suddenly congested with cars lined up bumper-to-bumper, creeping along stop and go, for stretches up to 6 miles long. Maybe not the perfect way to spend the day, after all.
In lieu of the autocar, we opted for our trusty two-wheelers. We parked our vehicle just…
This time of year with its 33˚ and steady drizzle, snow piling up on top of the high trails, I absolutely ache for summer. It becomes palpable and I find myself pouring through photos of past trips or flipping through guide books and maps planning this year’s escapades.One trip, now two and a half years past, still gives me a glow upon remembering. The trip began with a drive through the town where one of my favorite TV shows was filmed. Roslyn, WA, adorable home of the set for Northern Exposure. I can totally see Gwen and I fixing up an old farmhouse there and letting the dogs go wild. The trailhead to Chikamin Lake is at a mere 700 ft of elevation. That means there’s a LOOONG way to go before treeline. Much of this approach, though extremely brushy, at times, was quite pleasant thanks to the unspoiled nature of the forest. Still, the camera didn’t come out much until a glimpse of a view showed itself, hours later.There is something sublimely rewarding about walking through a dense Cascade forest and feeling the woods open into a clearing here and a meadow there until all that’s left are the occasional sentinel beside the trail. The trail crested here, as we soaked in the expanse, then made its way down to a lake where we were met a slope of house size boulders and no clear way through.If you look close, you can see me beginning to navigate and get a sense of the scale.And here are Gwen and Dusky in two shots next to the impossibly upright monolith.We passed a crystal-clear triangle-shaped tarn at the top of the boulder field and were heartened to find a semblance of trail soon after. And it wasn’t long until we were very happy campers! The following day we set out on a loop that was, as Gwen would say, “Josh-style.” It is a hunt and peck method of wilderness travel, admittedly. Exploratory, as in, let’s just go a little further to see how doable it is. It certainly got exciting at times!And we were blessed with views from Mt. Baker (back home) to Mt. Rainier and beyond.Then, rewarded with fall color and a chain of lakes to rival the Enchantments.We simply couldn’t have planned it any better!
Days like this in January are rare like a wolverine sighting. I’ve talked before about input & output in the context of wilderness experience…yesterday was 95% output.
Elevation gain: 3400 ft
Mileage: 12 mi
Time: 6 hours
On a hike to Baker Lake a few weeks ago, I was struck by the relative lack of snowpack and wondered how far a low-clearance all wheel drive could make it up the Forest Service road above the lake. Turns out, all the way to the berm created to keep monster trucks off the groomed snowmobile paths.A couple of years ago, Gwen and I snowshoed a similar approach to some high snowy meadows and were passed by about 3 dozen sleds all leaving behind a two-cycle induced petrol-plasma that our working lungs had no choice but to inhale. Yuck! Yesterday, Dusky the-ever-loyal-dog and I saw only two!I foolishly assumed there was only one road that lead to the destination of a summer trailhead. Nay, there were forks and branches of FS roads that I somehow managed to navigate, even with zero signage.It was my first time trying out micro-traction devices. WOW! They proved incredibly efficient at traveling the hard pack snow and sections of ice and not nearly as cumbersome as crampons.I had been eyeing this butte from a distance and was heartened to find it getting nearer and nearer as we climbed. After a late start (got out of the car at noon) the winter sun was already starting to dip quickly. But, I knew that there would be jaw-dropping views up there and so, changed out foot tools to snowshoes and headed up. Straight up.Once we gained the ridge the way was as clear as the sky. And thus began the creation of many, many panoramas.And some close-ups:
And one last pano’ on the way back down:Still five miles from the car sans headlamp (“bad, bad hiker”) it was a starry walk back!
From your first steps into the forest, your entire body feels changed. You feel the gentle breeze on your skin and the trail under your feet. You breathe in and notice the clean, crisp air with the familiar smell of the forest that is sometimes punctuated with the odors of specific plants you pass, like a fragrant flower or a pungent sage. After a long hike, you feel recharged, and not just because of the exercise.
If that describes you, you’re not alone. A growing body of science is showing that nature is good for you. That includes spending time in nature, but it even includes looking at natural scenes out a window.
Should this really be news? After all, human being…
At first I thought they were gimmicky. Then, one day on a climb, my left knee’s patella femoral syndrome flared up at 8,000 feet with 5,000 feet yet to descend. A fellow hiker leant me his poles for the remainder of the hike and from that point on I was sold.
While many of our friends in other parts of the country are enduring a deep freeze, we’ve been having one of the calmest winters in memory here in the Pacific Northwest. A friend of mine who is a kite boarder has been totally bummed by the lack of wind. So bummed, he spent the las three weeks in Florida rippin’ up the warm surf.Continue reading →
This is the second and final installment from our short trip to Las Vegas where we chose to play in the slot canyons rather than play the slots. Here’s proof, however, that Gwen and I actually spent an evening on the “strip.” The following morning, hangover-free and still “in the black,” we were raring to get to nearby Red Rocks Conservation Area. The warmth and dryness of which was easy to settle into.Continue reading →
Last week Gwen and I flew direct out of Bellingham to Las Vegas, Nevada…for cheap. We were originally going to pull the camper Southward to a better chance of sun and possible warmth, but the 49th parallel is a LONG ways from anything resembling summer this time of year. Continue reading →