Thursday, December 29, 2011

Biggest Dam News Stories for 2011: Olympic Peninsula Version

In the Spirit of year end lists, I decided to compile a list of the top 5 news events from the Olympic Peninsula this year. Many of these slide through the new cycle, as the population is so low that few people ever hear about the events from the Olympic National Park. The National Park does have a newspaper of it's own, but generally, The Bugler fails to cover all the aspects of the park. This list isn't about me, the hikes I went on, the R2D2 climbing helmet I have or my political views; this list is about my favorite news for the park. Without further delay, here we go.

5) We start with something cool, which I didn't hear about until I happened to go to the bank one day and my usual teller told me she had
something that I would be
excited to see. Hoping someone donated millions of dollars, I quickly rushed to the front (but not quickly enough to arouse suspicion, as I always am wearing sunglasses) where she was waiting for me, holding something in her hand.
In her hand was one of the first pressed Olympic National Park Quarters! I was beyond stoked. Rarely does my nerdy side cross paths with my outdoor side so here, in her hand was a great surprise.
If I were you, I'd keep an eye out for these guys, are they are rare and awesome, giving the holder a quick lesson in beauty and the history of the park.

4) Driving out to the Hoh Rainforest, you may get tired and need a break to stretch your legs and use the bathroom. Lake Quinault gives you this, plus amazing views and delicious snacks. However, around this area you may see signage in people's yards, similar to the sign you see on the left. This is huge news, as the Wild Olympics strives to keep land protected from exploitation and use of resources.

Now, I could launch into a tirade about how land needs to be saved and such, but one must remember that the economies of these areas were hit quite hard 30 years ago with timber restrictions and
the spotted owl, so their argument has a lot of merit behind it as well. Whether you agree with land protection from the government, or
responsible use by the people, the Wild Olympics/Stop Wild Olympics movement was a great story. This will also probably be a huge story in 2012, so set up an alert for this, as it could get ugly in this upcoming election year.

3) Thanks to the bad economy, mismanagement of our tax dollars and an antiquated tax code, the State of Washington tried to help with the budget cuts by charging to access
State Parks. While this has it's merits in good intentions, the DISCOVER PASS was a huge failure, resulting in the layoffs of over 80 park rangers. While I feel strongly about access to the park for everyone, both sides have good arguments and something needs to be done to keep roads open, campsites clean and safe and access given to ALL citizens of the world, not just those who can afford it.

2) In a story of human stupidity meeting greed, we have our 2nd best story. In 2010, a man was killed by a mountain goat by Hurricane Ridge and his family decide to sue the national park.
While death is bad, especially when it is not due to old age, this is just ridiculous. The man was killed by a goat that was aggressive. To me, most wild animals are indeed WILD ANIMALS. This means that their actions can't be predicted and one should deal with them as if they could kill you. If you can get bit by a raccoon and get rabies, I assume a mountain goat can gore me; seems logical to me. The man is dead and can't speak, but I assume he is looking down (or up...I didn't know the man) at his family thinking that the 10 million dollar suit against the park is retarded. I don't toss that word around much, but the family of the man must have serious mental deficiencies to think that a) the park was at fault and b) that the park has $10,000,000.
There is a lot more to this suit and while I know the family is hurting, they need to remember that any time you enter nature, you may die. Do you sue the highway because a family member dies in an accident?

1) Finally, we have the biggest Dam Story of the year. According to NewsHour, the Elwha Dam removal is a huge project. They say that "The world's biggest dam removal project -- and the second-largest environmental restoration project in U.S. history -- is in progress on the Elwha River on the Olympic Peninsula in Washington State"
99 years ago, the damn Dam was started, and 100 years later, it is being torn down. In fact, this project is so big, I am only going to highlight it now and write a bigger blog on this issue later. Dam removals are important and restoring a river where Coho salmon used to run is always great, but what I am most excited for are the new trails and animals in the area.

With new birds, less people and more nature, I am sure I am going to be recommending this area to everyone I know. In fact, check out these links below and enjoy!

-Everything else about this Dam Project (Seriously...everything)

With that, my list is done. I am thankful for all of you who have helped make this the best year for Exotic Hikes. Without you, without this park, I would not be able to make this possible, so thank you.
I look forward to another great year and safe happy hiking!

Friday, December 23, 2011

December 2011, Mt. Ellinor Report

3am came early. Much like all 3ams always have. I consider myself a night owl, so waking up early typically doesn’t come after an early bedtime. However, having received 5 hours of sleep, I rolled out of bed, got ready and jumped in my car, ready for the day’s journey. Typically my morning ritual is much more complex, but the night before, I was too excited and packed everything I needed early.

Putting my car into gear, I backed down the long driveway, driving mostly on grass until I hit the main road. The fog was thick, so driving by braille was my best bet this early. Hitting the road, I got out of reverse and I was officially off toward highway 101. From Olympia, the route to Mt. Ellinor is pretty easy. I take Interstate 5, exit 103 to get toward the right routes, and at 330, the road was as empty as my coffee cup, having downed it all in the last 5 minutes.

I exited I-5 and soon was heading toward my next exit, highway 101 toward Shelton, Washington. These roads are an easy drive all year, aside from the random speed trap. I maintained the suggested speed and soon I was passing through Shelton, only 15.7 miles from Hoodsport, Washington. This drive to Hoodsport is best done in the dark, as the road doesn’t give you much of a view and the towns are neither scenic, nor interesting. Again, when driving out here, don’t exceed the posted speed, as most small towns make a large percentage of their revenue on tourists getting popped for going 45 or 50 in a 35 mph zone.

(Editor’s note- Hoodsport is where you are supposed to purchase your Forest Service Pass. Please read this as “Do not stop!! Continue past the store/visitor’s center that is never open and enjoy your fee free day!”)

At Hoodsport, take the main left in the small fishing town and head toward Staircase, the main entrance to the Olympic National Park on the east side of the park. The road leads you up and into the foothills, lifting you out of the fog, giving glimpses, even in the dark, of the large mountains to the west. Rising in elevation, you soon weave around along the border of Lake Cushman, a popular summer hangout. Soon, the road comes to a stop sign, both leading to a dirt road. Take a right; you go to Staircase and the Olympic National Park. Take a left you get to forest service road number 24. After turning right, drive down this dirt road (watch for potholes!) for about a mile and a half. You will come to a small clearing and FSR 2419 will be on your left. To get to Mt Ellinor, you must take this exit. One day I wanted to see what was past this, so I meandered my way through forest service roads and came across more than a fair share of backwoods gun ranges, shot up cars, and even troll dolls in trees, watching my every move. Unless you are feeling adventurous in a whole different way, go up forest service road 2419!

Driving up FSR 2419, watch for potholes, downed trees, fallen rocks, bunnies, owls and hawks. I have been on this in all seasons and time of the day, and always see at least 2 of the things on the list. During the day, you can see a few glimpses of the Olympic Mountains, but I would focus on the road, as it is narrow and windy, and in winter days, can get icy and snowy fast. The day I went up, the snow was prevalent about .5 miles from the lower trailhead, and by the time I got to the lower trailhead, 4wd was needed to proceed any further. Dejected, as the lower trailhead adds another 3 miles roundtrip, I got out of my car, grabbed my gear and headlamp and started the hike.

From the lower trailhead, the hike to the summit and back is 6.2 miles. However, unless you are used to working out on stairs, it feels a lot longer. The lower trail head is around a mile long and gains about 900ft. The Washington Trails Association says that this is a good warm up to get ready for the serious elevation gains that starts from the upper trail-head, but if you can, go to the upper trail-head and save your energy. The lower trail is not that scenic, despite being in the woods and walking along a ridge. If you are a big fan of gaining elevation with no view, do the lower trail-head all the time. Right now, the trail is decent, though a few downed trees make for interesting maneuvering if you have a heavy pack on, as I always do.

Once you make your way up the lower trail and converge on the upper trail, the snow is visible on the ground. The normal, steep switchbacks that allow for a quick climb are icy, so be very careful as a few members of my group (my father) fell numerous times on the ice. Trekking poles or an ice axe are needed, and no, a walking stick will not cut it. Soon (a steep mile hike), you meander out of the trees and have a choice to go to the summer route of climb the avalanche chute. Right now, this intersection has about 4 feet of snow, but the trail is pretty easy to see, thanks to Mt. Ellinor’s popularity.

Typically in the winter, you want to climb the avalanche chute for 2 main reasons. One, it is well travelled, and two, it is much easier to do in the winter than the summer route. This trip, being an unseasonably dry winter, I decided on the summer route. This is where I need to tell you that Mt. Ellinor is STEEP. In fact, climbing Mt. Ellinor is almost twice as steep (at 1100ft climb per mile) as Mt. Si, which is a 787.5ft climb per mile. Mt. Ellinor is also steeper than climbing up to Camp Muir which climbs at about 1000ft per mile. To think that this is an easy route is naïve, no matter what shape you are in. Climbing it this last time, I used crampons and an ice axe to get to the top. It is dangerous, but if you are with someone skilled and you have the right equipment, pushing yourself up to the top, getting a view into the belly of the Olympic Mountains is worth the sweat and sore legs.

At the top, take a break; eat some food and hydrate, because your fun is just beginning.

Remember that climb that took so much out of you? Well, not you get to experience it the other way, glissading down the mountain at speeds from 1-40 miles an hour, depending on your desire for thrills, and of course the snow condition. I opt for the faster route, jumping on my booty and sliding down, controlling speed with my ice axe. While this may sound dangerous, stupid and reckless (and any other word with that meaning), I can assure you that it is amazing fun and you will want to climb back to the top again, just to get the thrill of a Glissade under your belt.

Make sure you go with a skilled guide (me) to teach you the basics though, as with anything, you need to know the right way to do it.In reality, Mt. Ellinor is a struggle to get up, a great training climb, and a beautiful mountain, offering views of not only the interior Olympic Mountains, but Mt. Rainier, Mt. Adams, Mt. St. Helen's and even the city of Seattle on clear days. Right now the snow is piling up, making it the ideal winter wonderland. Despite the struggles of climbing it, everyone who accomplishes the feat of summiting asks the same question when we reach the trailhead. They ask, with a grin on their face “When can I come back?”

I recommend this to anyone and everyone. While steep, I trust you can climb this mountain, see amazing things and above all else, get back in touch with nature. Take some time, wake up early, drive to the trailhead and experience Mt. Ellinor for yourself, I promise you will not be disappointed! For More Pictures, look at our Facebook!

Keep Climbing...

Exotic Hikes

Friday, December 16, 2011

Why Winter Climbing and Hiking??

Often when getting gas at 3am, or stopping off at a coffee shop, I am asked by fellow patrons why I am up so early. With a big grin, I reply that I am going hiking. Blank stares return my comment; I may get a head shake, but typically people look at me like I am crazy. My friends and family ask me why I don’t climb as much in the summer as I do in the winter, and until this blog, I haven’t really answered them.

Winter time is cold, and is viewed as unfriendly, intrusive, maybe even inducing all of us to hibernate a bit until the days start getting longer again. For me, I like the isolation. I strongly dislike going to a trailhead or a mountain and having to battle my way around other hikers and searching for a parking spot. In the summer, I have been at trailheads that seem more like tailgate parties, with people drinking beer, having a fire, swimming in the rivers and listening to music loudly. This is fine and has its place, but when I hike, I try to make it intrinsically meaningful. The summertime hikes are steady, crowded and fun; many of my best memories come from summer hiking. The trail conditions are always known, and the element of surprise is limited. However, the winter time makes the weather, trails and roads unpredictable, and some days, I am all alone on a mountain. From sun-up to sun down, I may not see another human being, and that is what I crave.

Isolation and winter hiking puts me in touch with primitive instincts we long ago started ignoring. Listening to the crunch of snow and ice, testing durability of branches, trees and handholds, all of these things come instantly to me. The crisp, cool, winter air heightens my senses, I feel each breath, each step and every ache and pain I have experience in my life. My skin gets red with the cold, scars appear where I thought they had long since dissipated, yet, I never feel more alive than when I am hiking in the winter. The feeling I get from seeing the land below me and the landmarks hundreds of miles away is difficult to describe. It is the same primal feeling that led to exploration and expansion.

Winter hiking also allows me to glissade down the mountain at speeds I can’t naturally move. The rush, the euphoria that overwhelms by body from scenery and adrenaline, is addicting, and when I try to describe that to people, it typically falls on deaf ears. Adrenaline rushes are reserved for the X-games, for junkies and for athletes. I am none of the above, yet I crave the feeling. In fact, after last year’s glissade, I was shaking from excitement for 30 minutes after I stopped sliding. I searched for that rush all summer, never finding anything that could rival it.

Tomorrow I climb in the cold, without knowing the exact trail conditions, or even how the road to Mt. Ellinor may be. I have called the park service daily, but they don’t know anything, thanks to lack of federal, state and local funding. I won’t be alone tomorrow, but I know that the trail will be empty, the parking lot vacant, and I can be alone with my thoughts while staring into the vast and immense beauty of the Olympic National Park. I will be at one with the elements, at one with my body, and at one with the most beautiful area in the world, the Olympic Peninsula. Tomorrow, I will look out over the Puget Sound, the Olympic Peninsula and the South West of Washington State. Tomorrow I climb in the winter. Tomorrow, I remember what it means to be human.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Forks and Beyond (Part 3 of 3)

Welcome to Forks: Spoons also Welcome

Arriving at Forks in twilight was funny, even if I have never seen or read the books or movies. To me, the city of Forks has always been a small town which I competed against in high school. It was the place of many racial incidents, as well as a school made up of a few last names. Forks is also a town that my dad was offered his first teaching job, and despite the fact that they told him that he, his wife and newborn could sleep in a tent for 6 months (in the winter) until a house was built for them, he declined. To say that the city of Forks and I have an interesting relationship would put it mildly.

Forks, with a population of is just a shade under 3500 people is a stereotypical failing lumber town with nothing more than a school and small businesses to keep their heads above water. With over 100 inches of rain a year, staying above water isn’t so easy, personally or financially. Historically, Forks had a huge lumber industry, boasting as having more millionaires per capita than any other city in the world. While that fact may or may not be true, remnants of the once proud logging industry is prevalent, from their Timber Museum, to the abandoned mills surrounding the city.

Next to the timber museum, Forks has set up a tourist stop for Twilight fans. Whether or not you like the films and books, the fact that this enterprise gave the city a boost is pretty obvious. From movie posters in all shops, to stores being named after the books or characters from the books, Twilight fever is stronger than ever in Forks. Part of me is torn about this, because Makah Tribe (hunters of whales)owned,Native American arts and craft stores, which used to just sell their own goods, have been renamed after the books and sell fake memorabilia. Selling out your culture is tough, but Forks has seen a 800% increase in tourism since 2005, so more power to the small business owners of the area.

Sitting in the parking lot of the closed museum, next to Bella’s (a character from Twilight, I have heard) truck, I watched the near full moon rise over the western Douglas fir trees and from behind the old wooden building that holds so much of Forks history. The city of Forks is behind the modern era, with little cell service, old fashioned diners and a skeptical eye of outsiders taking notes on a bench. However, the undeniable beauty and unique culture fills your spirits, and the fresh air rejuvenates your lungs. Forks, for good or ill, is taking to the Twilight books and making a profit, and I can’t blame them. They still respect their elders, as is obvious by the weekly meeting hosted on the only radio station, where old town’s folk recall funny anecdotes about life during the logging boom or the scare of bombs during the great wars.

The city of Forks is an interesting town that everyone should see. Soon, the old, quaint Forks I know and somewhat loathe will be gone, transformed into a tourist trap with hostels, tour services and a thriving economy. Until then, Forks is a small logging town still reeling from the days when we decided on saving the spotted owl instead of timber jobs. The small town feel won’t last forever, and maybe that is a good thing. Maybe the whole Twilight Saga will help Forks, Washington move into the 21st century.

I pondered all of these thoughts for a bit, took some silly pictures of me groping statues of loggers and continued on my journey around the Olympic Peninsula. No further pictures were taken as my car weaved around and, through and by Lake Crescent. I stopped at Port Angeles and tried to see the lights of Victoria, Canada from the Ferry dock, but no pictures. Nor did I take pictures of the night sky from Deer Park, by "Sunny" Sequim, though I did see a satellite and my favorite constellation, Cassiopeia. I drove past the 7 Cedars Casino, past John Wayne Marina, through Dosewallips, Hoodsport and Shelton. I finally arrived home, 13 hours after I left, with more love for the Peninsula than I can put on paper.

The Olympic Peninsula is backwoods, sometimes depressing, dark, dreary and of course, rainy. The Olympic Peninsula is home to Native American tribes that respect the land. The Olympic Peninsula is home to thousands of people, just trying to get by. The Olympic Peninsula is where I make my living, experiencing beauty daily in the world’s best kept secret, tucked far away from modern society. I love this place and whenever possible, I suggest you take the drive around highway 101, stop in some of the small towns and parks, and experience and fall in love with this unique environment.

Until next trip, be safe and much love and peace,

Douglas Scott of Exotic Hikes

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Ruby Beach and the Hoh Rain Forest (Part 2 of 3)

Part 2:

Ruby Beach and The Hoh Rain Forest

From Lake Quinault, highway 101 turns sharply west, allowing you to beeline right to the coast. These 40 miles to the beach fly by, as you enter the national forest and then the national park. Again, clear cuts are prevalent, but soon, the road becomes dark, even on a sunny day from the overhanging canopy of the upcoming rain forest. The greens of the trees is near black and ferns and other native plant species are seen everywhere. Few houses dot the landscape, showing you just how remote this drive really is.

As the road turns north, the trees on the west clear and you have stunning views of the Pacific ocean. A few miles pass along the coast with good pull out spots to play on the beach, but keep driving past these, as there is a much more scenic area coming up. Soon, you reenter the national park and pass by the Kalaloch Lodge. This lodge is scenic enough and a good place to stop to buy little trinkets, have a nap or just stretch your legs. The staff is friendly, the goods and rooms are overpriced, but again, it is a unique, scenic place to stay so definitely check it out!

Past the lodge, you will come up to another beach access road, called Ruby Beach. This is where you MUST go! Ruby beach allows you good beach access with views of small rocky islands, as well as the lighthouse at Destruction Island. The island, looking like a tabletop or plateau, sits about a mile out, and was built in 1888, one year before Washington became a state. While still operable, it is now fully automated instead on needing employees.

With a good pair of binoculars, you can see a smaller island just south of Destruction Island, which is home to rowdy, noises seals. If the wind is blowing in toward shore, you can hear the obnoxious seals talking. Closer by, if the tide is low, you can explore the rocky enclaves and see star fish, otters, muscles, razor clams and sea anemones. Also, bald eagles, great blue herons and even pelicans frequent the area, so anticipate spending many hours walking the beach and being in awe from nature.

I showed up at the beach as the tide was going out, helping to give me an ever expanding area to explore and photograph. Upon arriving, I watched as Bald Eagle cleaned itself on a rock. Daring to get close, I slowly walked toward the rock until the eagle was scared and flew directly over me. No more than 10 feet over my head, I could hear the flapping g of its wings. Ruby Beach always gives me unexpected surprises. Last time, I was climbing on some of the cliffs on a small island when 2 otters swam below me. This time, an eagle decided to let me photograph it up close.

Ruby Beach is a must see. In rough storms or even on gorgeous days, you will come across very few people, allowing you to fully appreciate the isolation that the Washington coast can bring. However, as beautiful as it was, I needed to make sure I had enough daylight to enjoy the Rain Forest. I took more pictures, walked back up the hill and got in my car to drive the 30 miles to the Hoh Rain Forest of the Olympic National Park.

The drive to the national park again allows one to see the timber industry at its finest and also at its worst. Following the signs to the park, I soon passed the vacant entrance fee ranger station and weaved and wound my way down the road until I reached the Hoh visitor’s center. The visitor’s center is decent, with a small museum and some trails. If you know the area, ignore the visitor’s center, as it is pretty small. Also, as a personal note, don’t expect too much information from the rangers who work there. National Park rangers, while intelligent and wonderful people only have a small amount of knowledge, and many are not local to the area. However, no matter what else you do at the visitor center, take full advantage of the bathrooms, as they are not port-o-potties but real bathrooms with hot water and toilet paper.

Once you are set, do what I did and walk along the Hall of Mosses Trail. If you are here during the first few weeks of December, sockeye salmon are returning home to spawn, making the small streams a great place to see the ancient fish swim to their death. They are swimming in shallow water, allowing you to see their radiant colors and odd behavior of swimming upstream quickly, only to relax and drift back down stream. I was here early in the run, so only a few salmon were swimming upstream. Never the less, it was beautiful and amazing to see the circle of life right before my eyes. With dark greens from the trees and moss, the reds and oranges of the salmon were highlighted perfectly.

After the hike, the sun was setting. I snapped a few more pictures and decided to drive to Forks. The drive back to highway 101 allowed me to see many elk, as well as beautiful sunsets. (Pictured below)

Part 3 coming Soon!!!

Thursday, December 8, 2011

The Road to the Hoh- Part 1

My alarm went off at 7am, taking me away from my slumber and into a world where I wake up to the Imperial March from Star Wars. It was Sunday, Dec. 4th, 2011 and I was going to the Hoh Rain Forest, again. Last July, I drove the 3 hours to the Hoh Rain Forest; I was shocked by how many cars filled the parking lot. The Hall of Mosses trail was loud and crowded and wildlife like a calm place to admire nature, was hard to find.
The Olympic National Park is a huge chunk of land, taking over most of the Olympic Peninsula. The roads are mostly empty, with small towns and remnants of the logging age hiding in plain sight along the road. The drive is pretty enough. Highway 101 is well maintained and seeing it in the winter, with fresh landslides and fallen trees reminds you just how remote this place is.
I left the capitol city of Olympia after a quick stop off at 7-11 for energy drinks and snacks, you know, typical car travel food. From the gas station, I stepped on the accelerator and took off toward Grays Harbor County. Driving through the little towns of Montesano, Elma and Satsop, I glanced to the south and saw the 2 Nuclear reactors that are out of commission. Built in 1977 under one of our worst governors of all time, the project was finished in 1983 due to nearly a billion dollar shortfall. The Nuclear plants have never been active and serve as an eyesore to an already impoverished area.

My mind continued to drift back to my years of living on the coast at Ocean Shores. I live on the coast for 5 years, which meant 5 epic winters of storms, wind and more rain than I can remember. To say it was wet and windy during the winter sells the experience short. Lucky for me, the weather was holding, with a small promise of clearing as I got to Aberdeen.
Aberdeen is an interesting town. The once proud logging town is now not even a shell of itself. Years ago, military members were prohibited from going to the twin towns of Aberdeen and Hoquiam because the town was so rough and full of trouble. Now, sadly, the only real trouble in both towns is unemployment and meth. Driving through the towns, you can see the once proud history, slowly deteriorating, like the mind of a meth addict. It had and to some degree, still has potential, but the city, along with the addict, needs outside assistance to turn its life around. The streets are lined with classic 1940’s house, and if they were to all be fixed up and taken care of, the drive through town would be downright fantastic. As it is, the only thing I was going to stop in town for was to go to the Star Wars shop, but it is only open from 10am to 5pm, and I wasn't going to hang around waiting for it to open.
I followed the signs to Forks, and soon was weaving around corners, heading toward Lake Quinault. The road is the perfect illustration of what logging does to the environment, as you drive through sections of protected lands followed by clear cuts. Abandoned shake mills line 101, again alluding to the once proud logging communities that thrived long ago. The land looks like patch work, and in some clear cut areas, a few trees remain, as if serving as reminders to tourists that trees used to exist in that location. I know many companies now replant where they clear cut, but it still leaves a scar, like hollowed cities of Aberdeen and Hoquiam.

After a while, I see clearing in the clouds and the peaks of the mountains in the Colonel Bob Wilderness area peeking through, teasing me, enticing me to go climb instead of take pictures. I admire them from my car and pass the turnoff where I could go to climb the 6000ft peak, instead gunning my car over a river and nearing Lake Quinault.

Lake Quinault is a beautiful lake, with roads on either side of the lake taking you to the national park. From this entrance, you can hike past Graves Creek and into the Enchanted Valley and Mount Anderson, one of the tallest peaks in the Olympic Mountain range. The “city” of Lake Quinault is much like the other towns you pass on highway 101. A small store, a restaurant and abandoned tourism buildings slowly falling apart are all that remains of a once thriving tourist destination. Yet, even with the sadness of a failing economy, Lake Quinault overcomes these shortfalls with unmatched beauty. It is isolated, desolate, green and wonderful, yet Lake Quinault serves as the official entrance to the land of giant trees, rain forests and amazing beaches. When I get to Lake Quinault, I know I am about to experience the unique beauty that is the Olympic National Park and Olympic Peninsula

After my break at the side of the road by Lake Quinault, I saw signs for something I had never visited and decided to take a quick detour. The signs told me of the world’s largest Spruce tree, which was located .3 miles from the road. I parked, exited my warm car and traipsed, in the cold, down the path to see what this tree looked like. To be fair, I have low expectations when it comes to trees saying they are the world’s largest or tallest, so I walked with quite a bit of cynicism toward the wooden monster. Turning the final corner and crossing a small bridge, my eyes gazed up and were in awe. This beast, over 191 feet tall and has a circumference of 58 feet. Knowing you can wrap nearly 6 basketball courts around it and it is 2/3 of a football field tall, it is huge. I admired the tree for a bit, snapped some pictures and bounced back to my car.
The beach and rain forest were waiting for me.

To be continued

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Exotic Hikes has an exciting project and you can be a part of it!

A message from Exotic Hikes,

Today, it is with great excitement that we at Exotic Hikes get to announce our biggest project yet. Exotic Hikes is now in the process of putting together both a guidebook and a documentary on the Olympic Peninsula and the Olympic National Park.
What drove us to this goal was discovering a lack of information about the parks. Yes, there are books on basic day trails and the park system has information centers, but nothing has been put together combining the culture, history, and uniqueness of the Olympic Peninsula. Having grown up on the peninsula, we have had the opportunity to present the area all around the world. From China to Morocco to Iceland and France, every time we discuss the area, people look at us at us like we talking about a long lost land. From our rain forests to rugged beaches and our hidden, beautiful mountain peaks to the history of the cities, towns and villages, the Olympic Peninsula stands alone in the world for its natural diversity. The Olympic Peninsula has the ability to allow you to feel like an explorer, letting you to shrug off technology, stress and city life to enjoy the timeless beauty that is hidden in, around and above the forests. It is for this reason that we have decided to complete this project for not only you and your family, but for generations of families worldwide.
The meat and potatoes of this project are as follows. We will travel around the Olympic Peninsula, documenting the cities, the culture, the history and the attractions. We will take pictures, video and first-hand accounts of everything, making this serve as a guide to driving highway 101 and exploring the cities. We will also be writing up trail guides, mountain routes and tips of the trade to make your hikes more enjoyable. To better understand, think if Warren Miller joined forces with Anthony Bourdain and the writers of Lonely Planet Guide books. This is our goal, and with your help, we can make this a reality.
In order to make this professional and high quality guidebook and documentary we all expect, we are asking for monetary donations. While we understand that the economy has left a lot of us in bad shape, we are not asking for much. If you skip your daily cup of coffee, forego that of package of Oreos, or maybe you just feel extra generous, we ask that you help us make this happen. All money raised will go directly toward completing this project and by donating, you will be given rewards based on your generosity. (Located at the bottom of the page)

To donate, follow the link below:

We ask that whether you donate or not, please take a few minutes, share this post with your Facebook and Twitter followers, and also send it you your email list. It only takes a few minutes, and you never know, your friends and family could be the ones to help make this happen. Support small business, support local economies and help Exotic Hikes tell the world about the Olympic Peninsula!

Thanks in advance for donating, emailing and tweeting for this project. We will see you on the trails!

Exotic Hikes

Donation Rewards:
$1-$5: Thank you messages on our Website and Facebook Page.

$5-$10: Personal Thank you message from the trail, added to the film at the end credits and a thank you messages on our Website and Facebook Page.

$10-$25: All of the above and a calendar of pictures from the trip.

$25- $50: Producer acknowledgement on the film, live tweeting updates from the trail and all of the above.

$50-$100: Picture book from the trip, first copy of the journal written during the hike and all of the above.

$100-$250: Post-Hike recovery gift basket, with Outdoors DVDs, water bottle, ice packs, a book on hiking and trail snacks, as well as all of the above.

$250+: Personalized copy of the DVD and a special thank you before the video and an invite to a free hike or mountaineering lessons. Also included are all of the above.

Friday, October 7, 2011

A new video to pump you up for the upcoming winter!

So, I made a new video this week after kicking around ideas in my head for about 2 months. This is always the hard part of ending a trip, is trying to capture the feeling and emotions I feel when filming and taking pictures over 2 months later. Sure, I could have made it right away, but I think this does the job well and I hope you enjoy. I really want all of you to experience this climb and glissade, so get to me...I am serious!!!

As always, call me for a tour or whatever at (360)350-8938

Douglas Scott... out

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Lake Constance Trail "guide"

I wish I had the right words to describe this hike. I pride myself of being functional with the English language, but some experiences leave me at a loss for words. Typically this only happens when I am in love or hungry, but the Lake Constance trail left me without the right words…but I will try…

Waking up at 4:45am should have been the first clue that the day was not going to be a proverbial walk in the park. It was going to be a walk in the park, but not in the carefree sense that you see in movies. I want to be clear on one thing right off the bat…this was a more than a hike and a climb. This trail is not for the simple weekend warrior looking for their quick fix of nature while using gear bought with their Amex or REI Visa cards. If your idea of hiking is a picnic lunch with a pretty view, I can recommend a million other trails for you to do. The Lake Constance trail is for those who like to be pushed physically and sweat profusely while being attacked by horse flies and mosquitoes. That being said, I will resume with the trail report and commentary.

Driving to the Lake Constance trail from Olympia is best done early in the morning, slipping through depressing, podunk little bergs like Shelton and Hoodsport without really having to see them. Driving up highway 101, it is about 65 miles from Olympia, and travelled in about an hour and 20 minutes thanks to random stretches of 55mph and some 35mph speed traps. Do not speed to get there faster, as 5 minutes ahead on the road isn’t ever worth the ticket; trust me on this. In the “town” of Brinnon, which is really just a few buildings and a hotel/visitor center/senior center/ sign of better times, turn left on Dosewallips Road/National Forest Development Road 2610. From there, wander through the hills and keep an eye out for elk, as numerous road signs will tell you they may be near. I have been here more times than I can remember, and haven’t seen an elk yet, but good luck to you. After about 7 miles, the road turns to a narrow dirt road littered with tire-sized potholes and continues down to a campground at the washout area. Oh, right, the road is washed out, so unless you already knew this, you will be surprised to know you have a 3.5 mile hike to the trail head.

The turnoff to Lake Constance
At the campground, you will need to be prepared for little or no parking, and what you can find is basically just pulling off to the side of the road. This is standard for any of these Olympic National Park areas, and I am a huge fan of it. This is a nice way to gauge how crowded the trail will be, as well as let you feel like you are part of some hidden, wood loving, vagabond community. Proper etiquette is to drive slow, turn down your stereo, and when you are unloading gear from your car, please be quiet and respectful, as some people are more than likely sleeping in their cars or camping by the road. Nothing is worse than being woken up before a day of hiking by someone blaring country music and yelling and screaming at their spouse about not packing their favorite hat. 

Gear, of which I packed too much
Gear you may need for the Lake Constance trail and beyond may vary depending upon seasons, but the following is a partial list of must have items:
-       Good, comfy shoes
-       Extra socks
-       Plenty of water. If you think you have enough, grab 2 more bottles
-       Hiking poles
-       High protein snacks
-       A good attitude
-       First aid kit
-       Bug spray/sun screen
-       A camera
-       Some sort of map/GPS
-       A comfortable backpack

Once you start the trail at the washout area, you head straight up through the woods for a tenth of a mile to bypass the slide area. This isn’t strenuous, but comes as a shock from sitting for a while. You hike though the woods, then head down again and meet back up with what used to be the road to the ranger station. The next 3.3 miles are a gentle climb next to the river. On my last hike, I saw a few deer, some rabbits and some birds of prey flying over the river. It is very scenic and calming and a great way to wake up. One tip I do have to say is to take your time and enjoy this section of the trail, don’t try and power up it to get to the main trail.

Sign in!!!
Welcome to the Pa
About 2 miles up, you will come up to a moderate sized, seasonal waterfall to your right. About 20 feet, Cassandra Falls is a great place to pause for a picture, have a snack and readjust your pack. Take a picture here, slow down you camera speed and enjoy it. Cassandra Falls is your last pretty sight until you reach the lake. The trail from here gets a little narrower, as the rain has caused trees and shrubs to grow over the old dirt road. Signs of the road still exists, with old forest service road markers and other signage litter the trail. Within a few hundred yards of Cassandra Falls, you enter the park, marked by two signs. 
Cassandra Falls

This is also a great place to snap a quick picture and prepare for the upcoming trek. Past this sign, keep going up a small grade until you come to a few fallen logs that are located right by the Lake Constance Trail. Again, readjust your pack, eat some high protein snacks, take a few sips of water and get ready because your legs will soon hate you.
Get Ready to climb!

The trail to Lake Constance has been called a lot of things, but the words difficult, rough and hellish seem to come up short, at least in the summer months. At 2 miles long, with an elevation climb of 3400ft, simple math dictates that you gain a foot vertically with every 3 feet moved laterally.  Luckily, the trail has no long flat stretches, making this a Stairmaster workout for the ages. Now, I can see a few of you dedicated hikers scoffing at this, saying that you have done something like this before. Trust me, I was like you, doubting the trail reports and chalking the hiker complaints up to inexperience and/or general bitching about a bad day, but this is rough. 
The "Trail" to the lake

Typically a trail like this is built using switchbacks and other ways to minimize the direct elevation gain, but not this trail. From your first step, you may be hunched forward, trying to maintain your balance on a dirt and gravel trail that has no traction. With little to no handholds, it is just about momentum and dedication. This is a trail best done with others, so you can laugh and complain as your legs start twitching like a sewing machine. This trail is done best with a light pack, and not the pack that I had with me. I was hoping to fly up the trail and climb C-141 Peak so I had all my climbing gear with me. A 45 pound pack is not the best thing to have strapped to your back as you stair climb up a sloppy dirt “trail” to a lake. That being said, with a light pack just continue on slow and steady and you will start to develop a pace that is comfortable. As you weave through what is called a trail, but is really just an animal path up a mountain, you start to see some large boulders, wild flowers, banana slugs and amazing old growth trees while listening to water rush down the creek that runs parallel. 
Wild Flowers

Banana Slug
After the first mile, I was in pain from a pre-existing hip injury so I decided to labor on as best I could until the pain got too much. That was much sooner than I care to admit, but I can tell the rest of the trip from past experiences. At the end of the slow trek up to the lake, you come through the woods and stumble into a clearing that comes as a much needed sight for sore eyes and legs. 
Soaking my feet

Sitting in the run off from the snow, I reflect back on thinking that the mountains surrounding lake and Mt. Constance seem like they belong in the Northern Rockies or in the center of the Tetons. With majestic, snow covered peaks Lake Constance is the perfect jumping off point to climb 3 of the top 15 peaks in the Olympic Range. With limited camping spots, make sure you check with Olympic National Park ranger service to comply with all the new rules and regulations for the area.
Lake Constance- Thanks to a friend for this pic!

At the end of the day, I would totally recommend Lake Constance to anyone who is looking for a ridiculously challenging hike with an amazing payoff. Be smart and realistic when planning this hike. Don’t think you can do too much in a day. Arrive early, and plan on leaving late. Don’t get discouraged, drink plenty of water and expect to get bit by lots of bugs if it is bug season. I am not sure how to make this an easier hike, and all in all, I don’t think I would. Having a trail that “keeps the riffraff” out is a good thing, and I do agree with the parks decision in not fixing the road or maintaining the trail. Natural beauty as isolated as Lake Constance is a rare thing in this world, and despite a torturing rise in elevation on a trail as slick as ice, it is one of the few “must hike” areas I can tell you to do. Seeing a lake and mountains while soaking your legs, even a posing next to small, yet gorgeous waterfall on the side of the trail, the Lake Constance trail lets you feel accomplished, and gives you a true appreciation for the original mountaineers and explorers.

                                         Now stop reading and go hiking!! 

Blue Skies are coming your way!

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Soundtrack to a Hike

   When I was a kid, my parents and grandparents took me on numerous hikes, ranging from a few hours to a few days in length. I was allowed to bring all sorts of things in my backpack, but the one piece of technology I wasn’t allowed was my tape or CD player. This was before cell phones, personal gaming systems and mp3 players; in other words, this was the dark ages. I remember my friends, who weren’t as adventures as me, not being able to understand how I could survive for a few days without cable TV or a phone. I never understood their worries, at least not back then.  Now, I can’t be found without my IPod, my GPS, and my cell phone, even when I am standing on top of a 10,000ft peak. Yet, with all these uses of technology and a steady stream of 80’s rock, rap and techno hits filling my ears, it isn’t the same as when I was less than five feet tall. I miss the hikes as a kid. No music, no GPS, no phones, just each other to serve as the trail's entertainment.
            Instead of music to listen to during the hikes, we told stories. Listening to and learning these stories always made me feel like I lived hundreds, if not thousands of years earlier. Walking through the woods, no sign of humans, experiencing the joys of good story telling still makes me smile, and as a child, opened up an imaginary world of adventure and innocence. These stories took my brain away from the monotony of left foot, right foot, left foot and repeat. They also served as a way for bonding through the generations, allowing me a chance to get to know my grandparents even better.
            I listen to the rain hitting the window as I look at my computer screen, longing for the yarns my grandpa would weave as we trudged down a trail, exhausted from the day’s miles on our legs. The weather has pinned me down inside, but it is days like this where I can reflect on just how lucky I was to have the experiences I had as a child molding me into the man I am today. My favorite memory is as follows, so I hope you enjoy this on a rainy day, and pass down stories to your friends and family next time you are out on a hike.
            Years ago, back when Seattle still had a basketball team, the University of Washington was a football power house, and when Clyde Drexler was leading the Portland Trail Blazers to the NBA finals, I lived in a house on a hill in Vancouver Washington. Living in the shadow of Mt. St. Helens, but too young to have witnessed it’s eruption (I was born 1 lousy year too late), I was always curious what it looked like up close. Lucky for me, my grandpa lived just across the Columbia River, and agreed to take my sister and I to climb an active volcano. The route was 9 miles round trip, and heading up was a curious adventure into the many landscapes that surround an erupted volcano. We started in a young forest, with smallish trees interspersed with volcanic rocks and a clean, clear trail. After that, we maneuvered through a solidified lava/boulder field and started to quickly gain elevation. To be honest, I remember the scenery, but not the hike up, that is, until the last quarter of a mile.
            The last quarter mile of the trail is ash, which is like hiking in quicksand, since you are walking up a 60-degree angle. The ash is so deep, that you never see what is below it, and each step you take, you slide back half a step. It is slow, monotonous, and extremely difficult when you are 9 years old. We made it to the top, peered over the edge and had our lunch. It was great to look around from the ridge, see Mt. Hood, Mt. Adams and Mt. Rainier. It was at this moment, standing at the “peak” of my first mountain that I was hooked on climbing. The feeling of being on one of the tallest things is sight is a drug, and I am addicted. My sister, my grandpa and I had a great time at the top, and after hearing the tails they told about the eruption, we started out trek down the mountain.
            Now, I don’t know if you have ever hiked with a 9 year old and a 12 year old, but my grandpa was a trooper. My sister and I got tired not more than 20 minutes down, so my grandpa had to get us distracted enough to keep walking. This is where the soundtrack of my hikes came in to full effect. As my sister and my energy wavered with each step, my grandpa regaled us with a tale of a child who was lost in the mountains because he didn’t listen to his parents. After years of searching nobody could find him. The child was a Native American with the unique name of Falling Rock. Years went by and eventually, his parents started putting up signs all over the country telling people to keep their eyes open for their missing child. The signs read, “Watch For Falling Rock”, which is pretty obvious from the get-go.
            My sister and I were so tired, my grandpa had to stretch the story over 2 hours long, making up random details, pulling from his own childhood adventures to keep us motivated to keep hiking. We eventually got back to the car, got home and collapsed from 9 miles of hiking. Years later, I asked my grandpa about this, and he admitted it was difficult to keep the story going. He continued out of love, and out of the instinctual desire to keep the family unit together. The story of Falling Rock is forever ingrained into my brain, and any time I glance at Mt. St. Helens, or am surrounded by large boulders, I drift back to the days of hiking with my grandpa, and the stories he told to keep me from complaining about being tired.  
Now, I mainly hike alone, rarely having anyone to serve as my storyteller. I listen to my IPod, and sometime catch myself losing touch with the very nature I am trying to experience. Stories told by fellow hikers will always trump music, and I hope to someday share my stories with my family and friends, as we trudge on in some unforgiving, yet uniquely beautiful scenery.
Keep Hiking, stay safe, and keep your eyes peeled for Falling Rock.

Douglas Scott