Pacific Northwest Adventure: Hurricane Ridge

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hurricane ridge-13Following our night camping in the Hoh Rainforest, we visited the Hurricane Ridge area of Olympic National Park. On the northern side of the park, this area offers an entrance into the mountainous region of the park. We picked up some provisions at a market in Port Angeles and made ourselves some vegan BLT’s at a quiet picnic area. We could not have asked for a more spectacular view of the mountains and glaciers.

After lunch, we ventured onto the Hurricane Hill trail. The hike provided views of the mountains as well as sections of bright fall foliage. Though there were warnings of aggressive mountain goats in the area, all we saw were a handful of black tailed deer calmly grazing near the trail. At the peak of the trail, we could see back into the mountains of the park on one side and the bustling bay on the other.

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hurricane ridge-10One of the personal highlights of this trip was visiting the former Elwha River dam. Over the summer we started reading about the dam removal and watching the webisodes documenting the progress. It is so amazing that they have been able to remove two dams that have blocked the river for over 100 years and begin restoration of the river. While the area around the former Glines Canyon dam is still closed, we were able to visit the site where the lower Elwha dam had been. The last piece of this dam was removed just a few months ago. While the photos above might not look like much, you can see what the dam and the attached hydroelectric power plant looked like before here.

While it would be easier to demolish these concrete giants in one go, they have been taking their time in order to minimize the sediment and debris flowing downstream. I hope we can return in a few years to see the Glines Canyon area and the restoration work they are doing, particularly with replanting the vegetation in the area that was previously underwater.

While obviously it would have been better if we had just left everything alone in the first place, it’s a relief to see some progress in a positive direction. As of right now this is the largest dam removal in history and I can only hope that we are able to make more changes to help right the wrongs we have perpetrated on the environment.

Previously on this adventure we visited: Mt. Hood and the Hoh Rainforest.
Next: Mount Rainier

Pacific Northwest Adventure: Hoh Rainforest

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hoh rainforest-12From Portland, we drove up through Washington to Olympic National Forest. Occupying most of the northwest corner of Washington, Olympic has four distinct ecosystems and no roads that drive across the park. To start, we visited the Hoh Rainforest, on the west. Surprisingly for October, it was not raining when we arrived. We hiked into the trees to get to our campsite. There was moss and mushrooms everywhere and a handful of trees were changing color.

We set up camp at one of the designated sites right next to the Hoh River and went off to do a little more hiking. When we returned, some deer were grazing not far from where we had set up our tent. They ambled through the woods, munching on leaves, ignoring us entirely. We made our dinner overlooking the river as the sun set; a delicious meal of no beef stroganoff, a new staple in our camping kitchen.

It rained lightly overnight, just enough for us to enjoy the percussion of drops hitting our tent. We woke early, ate some oatmeal and hiked back towards the visitor center and our car. In the early morning we were only ones on the trail and as we walked we listened to the sounds of the forest. I heard a rustling of branches and we stopped to look for movement. Off in the distance, hidden in the trees I spotted the flank of an Elk as it bounded off. Though it was just a tiny glimpse, we were both elated. We continued walking, so pleased with our luck, when we came upon an entire herd of elk crossing the trail in front of us. We were surrounded by elk on both sides and in front of us. They continued to cross the path, slowly going deeper into the woods. We heard a few of them bugling. It was truly magical.

If you missed it, here is part one of our Pacific Northwest adventure: Mt. Hood.
Next on the trip: Hurricane Ridge.

Pacific Northwest Adventure: Mount Hood

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hoh rainforest-1As promised, a few images and notes from our trip to the Pacific Northwest. We started our trip in Portland with breakfast at Vita Cafe. After walking around for a bit we grabbed some treats to go from Back to Eden and headed up to Mount Hood. The Timberline Lodge that is perched half way up the volcano is where some of the exterior shots in The Shining were filmed. It was too early in the year for snow at that level but it was lovely to walk along a tiny bit of the Pacific Crest Trail that I’ve been reading so much about for the past year.

After doing a little bit of hiking and exploring the lodge itself, we made our way down the mountain to Mirror Lake where we ate the quiches and pastries that we had picked up from Back to Eden. They were delicious, all having a singular flavor, and the perfect picnic meal. We walked around the lake before it got dark, enjoying the views of the mountain and the wooded terrain.

Making our way back towards Portland, we stopped and hiked up to Little Zigzag Falls. The short trail was lush and green and beautiful. It was such a stark contrast to all the dried up rivers and streams that I’m used to in California. Seeing water rush over the falls was a real treat.

We spent the night at McMenamin’s Kennedy School. Last time we were in Portland, we had stayed at the Ace, which was great for exploring the whole city on bikes. We both loved the vibe of the Kennedy School, with its long hallways and hidden rooms. It was conveniently close to so many of the restaurants we wanted to visit and just blocks from our favorite bar, The Bye and Bye.

Previously, riding bikes around Portland really allowed us to connect with the city, to travel slowly and take in all the different places we visited. This time, while we did a fair amount of walking around, we opted to try and visit as much of the Pacific Northwest as possible, getting more of a sense of the whole area, rather than just Portland specifically. While it wasn’t quite as immersive, it was great to see some of they outlying areas like Mt. Hood.

Next up: we travel up to Washington to see the Olympic National Park.

Pinnacles National Park







A few weeks ago, on our way up to the Bay Area, we made a detour to visit Pinnacles National Park. It is one of the newest parks, just converted from a National Monument in 2013 and is quite small in comparison to some of the other parks in California. You could hike all the way across the park in a day if you wanted. The rocky landscape was formed by a combination of volcanic activity, movement of the tectonic plate and erosion. Red rock pillars jut into the sky and fallen boulders make caves throughout.

We wandered the trails through the park, making our way through the caves and up to the reservoir built in the 1930’s. There weren’t a ton of people out and we found most of them relaxing by the reservoir. There were quite a few rock climbers and it was exciting to see them high on distant peaks.

The place felt old and mysterious. We joked that we were stepping into Picnic at Hanging Rock. At the end of summer the place was still hot and sort of desolate feeling. Though it would be difficult to get lost in the clearly marked trails, you could imagine in an earlier time one of your party going missing.

There’s a feeling that this place is just crossing over from remote tourist attraction to a protected park. The campground was not very enticing, more of an RV spot than anything, though it oddly had a swimming pool. If we had more time, I would have liked to hike more of the trails. Still, it was fun to picnic there and climb through the caves, exploring nooks and crannies with giant boulders overhead.

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mt baldy hike-7As you might be able to tell, I’ve been in love with hiking and backpacking all summer. In reality though, I’m not super athletic. I spend most days at sitting at a desk, letting my muscles atrophy. On our last few backpacking trips I’ve found myself rather exhausted when we arrive at camp. Hiking with a backpack is so much more difficult than just regular hiking. I’ve known for awhile that I need to start pushing myself if I want to go on longer expeditions.

A few weeks ago I got it stuck in my head that we should hike up Mt. Baldy, the highest peak in the San Gabriel Mountains. It would be a long hike (the loop trail is just over 11 miles) and also one that would challenge my fears about elevations as the peak rises above 10,000 feet. Shawn was shocked that I wanted to do the hike, particularly because he has been asking me for years to go up to the ski hut in the winter. I always firmly decline. It always sounded terribly strenuous, even though he often assured me the hut wasn’t even at the top.

We started bright and early, trying to avoid hiking in the afternoon heat. Even at 7am there were numerous other hikers there, heading out onto the trail. I was nervous when we started but I psyched myself up for the day of hiking. As we started heading upward I saw the ski hut above us. I wasn’t totally sure If I could make it to the top but I made it a goal to at least make it that far. It wasn’t long before we had made it to the hut. There were lots of other hikers at this point. We stopped and had some snacks, then headed up the mountain. I still felt great and this propelled me forward up the mountain.

In the beginning of the hike, I had let others pass us since I am fairly slow. After leaving the hut, I felt energized and raced over the rocky path past groups. Though we were surrounded by people as we left the hut, everyone seemed to disperse as we made our way up. I kept repeating to myself onward and upward as a sort of incantation. We reached a section where people seemed to have cut trails in every direction. At one fork, we veered to the left and found ourselves curving around the side of the mountain. There was suddenly no one around.

We walked on but didn’t seem to be going any higher. So of course, I was convinced we had gone the wrong way, knowing there are other trails in the area. My legs were starting to get seriously tired and the elevation was beginning to have an effect on me. I ate a fruit snack but it was so intensely sweet I couldn’t eat more. It’s strange how elevation can make things taste different. After walking for awhile more, we came upon the remains of an airplane crash. Finally we caught a glimpse of some hikers on a ridge above us and we cut up to meet them on the main trail.

Then it was just up and up and up. The trail was steep and I slowed down to a turtle’s pace. Yet I pushed forward. At once point, we passed a few hikers coming down and a woman, I’m sure seeing how I was struggling, told me that we were only five minutes from the top. I couldn’t even imagine the top at this point. My muscles felt like jello and my head like mush. I figured it was probably another 15 minutes and sure enough, five minutes later, another hiker heading down told us ten minutes more. The last five minutes felt like forever.

At the point where I could finally see the top, I sincerely felt like I could not make it that far. I also knew I had no choice so I just kept shuffling forward. Onward and upward. I wanted to cry (I didn’t cry).

When we finally arrived at the peak I drifted around until I found a spot to sit. Everyone was relaxing, eating lunches, taking photos. I felt miserable. The elevation was hitting me hard. I wish I could say I felt triumphant at this point but I mostly felt like melting into the ground.

Not long after arriving we started our descent. I started to feel better as soon as we made it to a lower elevation. Unfortunately, the rocky trail down from the top was murder on my knee, particularly when my legs were already so exhausted. After awhile we stopped off to the side of the trail and ate burritos that we had brought with us. We were lucky in that the sky remained overcast so it was fairly cool for most of the day.

The descent over the devil’s backbone trail was a beautiful one. In one section we walked along the ridge with views down to either side of us. Though my knee hurt significantly on the way down, my enthusiasm rose as we walked downhill. At one point, we saw the ski lodge off in the distance and it seemed so far away. Eventually the trail led us straight to it. We wandered around for awhile and I thought about previous visits to the lodge. I’d only ever been when everything was covered in snow and it was curious to be there in the dry summer. The restaurant was still full and many people were riding the ski lifts.

From there, we still had about another three miles to go. Three miles is nothing on a normal day, particularly walking on the wide flat fire road. Space seemed to expand, drifting on and on, and still I was ecstatic to be nearing the end. We sang songs that I could not remember the words to (singing in front of anyone, even just Shawn, is not something I do often, which just shows how elated I must have been) and walked and walked and walked. Luckily the smooth road was much easier on my poor aching knee.

As we closed in the on the end of the trail, we came upon a few hikers coming down from the other side playing Kraftwerk from a tiny speaker. We picked up our pace to catch them and then in no time we were at the bottom, the whole hike completed. I ran the last hundred feet to make it back to the start in under 8 hours (so slow!).

Afterwards I was quite tired and my knee hurt like hell, but I was also super excited to have completed something I wasn’t sure I could finish. Despite being difficult and painful, I would do it again in a heartbeat. I know that besides the physical struggles, the hardest part for me is often in my own head. Knowing that I could accomplish something like this hike helps me combat some of the the things I often worry about. I did not feel well at the top, but I’ve certainly felt worse. I was able to climb nearly 4000′ in just 4.5 miles. I’m pretty happy with that alone.

I thought that after we finished the hike, we might relax for the rest of the weekend, lounge around and watch movies. Instead, we went on another, albeit much shorter and easier, hike the next day and it was great. If I could be hiking every day, I think that would be just fine with me.

photos by Shawn Bannon