Monday, January 30, 2012
Friday, January 20, 2012
Monday, January 16, 2012
Waking up Sunday morning, I glanced outside and saw 3 inches of snow on the back deck. Letting the dogs out, the snow was deeper in some places, making me question whether or not I should chance icy, snowy roads with crazy drivers, all in hopes to take awesome pictures of waterfalls. Checking the traffic cameras up and down Hood Canal, I found out that the snow was indeed isolated to a few areas, and the Duckabush area was one of the dry places. Stoked, I grabbed my gear and bolted out the door, battling sloppy, slushy roads until I got to Highway 101. The roads were soon fine and I was enjoying the snow draped trees and birds flying around.
I was headed to Murhut Falls, located 24 miles north of Hoodsport, Washington, on the Olympic Peninsula. From Olympia, it is about an hour and half drive, which is pretty once you leave the Shelton area and actually get to drive Highway 101 on the coast. Deciding that this would be a trip of photography, I stopped off at Potlatch State Park to take some pictures of their dusting of snow. Even without snow, Potlatch State park is a great place to stop and see the unique area that is Hood Canal. Far up in the trees west of the park, I saw 2 Bald Eagles, but decided to not waste my efforts snapping a picture, as they would have shown up as spots. Instead, I focused my attention on the Cormorant sitting on a buoy about 200 feet out.
As I Inched closer, I got to witness it running across water to take off. Snapping pictures, I felt one with the environment. I was silent, and as a light snow began to fall around me, I could hear the flaps of wings and chirps and quacks of birds all around. I slowly walked back to my car, feeling that today might just evolve into something special.
At Hoodsport, the snow started picking up again, and as tempted as I was to hang a left and go toward Mt. Ellinor and the Staircase entrance of the Olympic National park, I kept driving for another 20 miles until I reached Duckabush. Weaving along the water, the snow stopped and soon the sun was making its way out.I had hit the rain shadow, or in this case, the snow shadow. Stopping my car at the turnoff, I looked west and could see, over the old farms and marsh area, the Olympic Mountains looking off in the distance. Beautiful, enticing and remote, they call to me every time I see them “peaking” through the usual gray mass of clouds. I took a few
Duckabush Road immediately drops to 25 miles per hour and while I normally ignore things like that on isolated back roads, I was glad to go the speed limit because of the interesting houses and unusually high amounts of pedestrians and animals walking down the street. About 4 miles in, the road becomes gravel, but keep driving! With few potholes, you can take your eyes off the road for a bit and glimpse at Duckabush River, the old growth forests and if lucky, a chance sighting of a majestic peak jutting through the opening. You soon cross a bridge, entering to the other side of the Duckabush area. I recommend stopping here and admiring the river, as enticing as it may be, avoid taking a dip, it is frigid!
The gravel road to Murhut Falls Trailhead is 6 miles, but it goes by pretty fast. As you get near to the trailhead, you will see the road fork and one side will be closed, obviously keep going. About half a mile further a sign points to the right fork to Murhut Falls. Take this or you will meander through the wilderness with no outlet. The fork leads you up hill for about a mile before you come across the trailhead sign on the right. There is somewhat of a parking area on the left where it is best to turn around and park at. From here, the trail starts right off, with a sign-in area 100ft from the trailhead.
The trail to Murhut Falls is not flat, but it is pretty easy. You climb up at the beginning at a somewhat steep angle, but once you do this, you level off then drop back down to the falls. At a mile long, this trail is great for all ages, and dogs are welcome. (There are no restrooms however, so plan ahead!) Generally, this is a very easy trail, yet when I was there, I was alone.
Sure the weather was cold, but on a Sunday on a 3-day weekend, I was expecting to have at least another car there. Jumped out of my car at the trailhead, signed in, popped on my iPod and before I could really get into the groove, I was already at the falls. Rounding the last corner, the rush of the water overpowered my old-school hip hop, and soon I was able to see Murhut Falls in all her glory.
At 130 feet, Murhut Falls is gorgeous as it cascades down two tiers, the upper one being larger, while the lower one seems more powerful. In the summer, this is a great place to climb around, explore and have a picnic.
The winter has ice everywhere, with the hills leading to good photo areas slippery, dangerous and difficult for beginners to climb. I climbed around, tested my skills and had a blast jumping off big rocks onto the shore. I even climbed and would have had more fun had my foot not slid on some ice, forcing me to plunge waist deep into the freezing cold water. As I mentioned, I was alone, so I wrung out my clothes, poured out my shoes and continued to climb around and take pictures. Soon, I noticed that the sky was getting darker so I decided to pack up and start my jaunt home. As I was walking down the trail, snow started falling all around me. I don’t know if you have been able to be alone in the woods during the first snow, but everything gets quiet and time slows to nothing. I took a few breathes, smelling the mix of snow and pine and headed back to my car.
On my drive home to Olympia, the snow picked up. I also saw the 2 eagles high in a tree over Hoodsport and took a few pictures and then watched the sunset from a snowy field in Shelton.
Hoping to see you on the trails,
Douglas Scott of Exotic Hikes
Friday, January 13, 2012
In the middle of nowhere, far from the hustle and bustle of cities, airports and traffic on interstate 5 there is a place that time is suspended. In a place nearly untouched by modern society, never hearing of the Kardashians, or this year’s trends and political leanings, there is a chalet in the woods. The valley is enchanted, no really, the name of the valley is Enchanted Valley, and is surrounded by mountains, waterfalls and probably a few bridges with trolls under them. With herds of elk, numerous bears and miles from civilization, Enchanted Valley lives up to its name and more.
Another name for Enchanted Valley is The Valley of a Thousand Waterfalls. While this may be slightly over estimating it, entering the valley is most similar to entering a fjord in Norway, with steep cliffs and water falling down everywhere. The journey here is hardly magical; in fact, it is a long day hike to get so far off the beaten path that you enter the magic that is the Olympic National Park.
To get here, be prepared to drive from just about everywhere. Located near Lake Quinault, this is as remote as you can get. Once you reach Lake Quinault, follow the signs to the Olympic National Park. As you meander through land that is privately owned, keep an eye out for bear, elk and deer, as they are seen often from the comfort of your car. The road you can take is pretty simple. Actually, you can take 2 routes, but I suggest taking South Shore Drive, as it gives you an opportunity to ease your way from society and into the rainforest. Driving down this road, keep your eyes open for the ominous sounding, yet pretty, Graves Creek Campground. This is where you enter the National Park, and are greeted (after a mess of a gravel road) by a beautiful entry sign, as well as a gorgeous runoff waterfall next to the road. Depending on the conditions of the road, the drive from Lake Quinault to Graves Creek can take anywhere from 30 minutes to 1 hour to go the needed 11 miles, as there are washouts and road construction often.
Graves Creek is the perfect retreat for hikers who desire nothing more than solitude in the Olympic Park’s natural beauty. The Graves Creek trail to Enchanted Valley offers visitors the ultimate backcountry hiking adventure. The well-marked, yet rugged trail is composed of extraordinary natural wonders including ancient forests, canyons, waterfalls, and epic views of the Olympic Mountain peaks. From Graves Creek to Enchanted Valley, it is roughly 13 miles each way.
Graves Creek, upon arrival, has the feel of stumbling upon a group of very friendly bandits in their hangout, smiling and waving. Campers, rangers and tourists all meander around, enjoying the beauty of the area. Find parking where you can and get ready for a life changing hike. The trail from Graves Creek to Enchanted Valley is quite long at 26 miles round trip, so I suggest take 2 or even 3 days to experience it properly. While, it can be done in a day, you really need a few days to properly experience the isolation and beauty that surrounds the area. With scores of campsites along the way (just make sure to get a back country permit from the rangers for around $5), this trail allows you to enter the Olympic National Park foot by foot. If you are looking for a day hike, I recommend Pony Bridge as a destination. Just 5 miles round trip, Pony Bridge offers you great views of the river, a gorge and the chance to cross an old wooden bridge. By Pony Bridge, there is a small meadow on your left (as you are going toward the bridge) that often has elk remains from hungry black bears. This is a unique experience, as you hardly ever see a half-eaten rack of elk ribs on trails around Seattle.
Enchanted Valley is just that, enchanted. Once you hike for 13 miles and come into a clearing and see a chalet, with snowcapped mountains, and waterfalls surrounding it, you should fall in love with this place. Herds of elk frequent the areas, as do bears. Did I mention that there are bears? About that; bears will leave you alone if you follow all posted signs and make sure you respect them as wild dangerous animals. Despite people’s fears of bears, Enchanted Valley is a beautiful trek to solitude, isolation and land of mystery and amazement. Enchanted Valley makes me smile when I think of my trips there, and despite the 26 miles round trip, I go here as often as I can, just to get away and be mystified by the beauty that the Olympic National Park hides from the world. Oh, and did I mention there are bears here??
Thursday, January 5, 2012
On sunny days throughout the greater Seattle area, we all look east toward Mt. Rainier for a peek “Our Mountain”. When the weather is good, locals say “the mountain is out”, as if it hides from us or has to stay inside on rainy days. In a way it does, but as reflected in our daily local colloquialisms, Mt. Rainier is special and treated as such every day. From Olympia, I look at Mt. Rainier daily, and while my attention also focuses on the Olympic Mountains, Mt Rainier rises from nothing, piercing the eastern horizon.
At 14,410 feet tall, Mt Rainier looms over the Pacific Northwest, calling to all of us to go to her and experience winter year round. Hiking on her trails, seeing the wild flowers bloom in early summer, she never ceases to amaze. This is why, before taking people to the Olympics, I always want to take them to Mt. Rainier. Before Christmas, I took a trip up to Mt Rainier with my girlfriend, and for a few hours we traipsed around in the snow, me encouraging her to do silly things, like climb up hillsides without snowshoes and go on trails that were slippery (some would say dangerous) with ice. We had a blast and she experienced the park the way I know it. Wild, crazy, full of snow and impossible to walk around without proper equipment, Mt Rainier was a good day trip.
With over 12 feet of snow so far, trees are covered and walking around paradise is difficult without the right gear. Cassy seemed to enjoy herself, and getting her into experiencing nature with me has been fun. She has been a trouper, making sure I stay safe while still letting me talk her into doing silly activities, like walking up a steep hillside with no gear and tons of snow, just to see who can make it further up the hill. Without going into sappy things, she has made areas more exciting, new and fresh, and you will probably start to see her in pictures soon.
Despite all the good that I just mentioned, a week after we experienced Mount Rainier National Park or MORA as I call it, a man fled from a shooting in a Seattle suburb and killed a park ranger who was trying to stop him. I knew this ranger. She was cool and her family was always one of happiness, laughter, creativity and love. New Year’s Day should have been a gorgeous, fun, relaxing day on the mountain for all the guests and rangers, and it ended up being a life changing event for a family, a community and for the park. MORA, for the first time in my life, has been closed all week. The park will bounce back, and soon only small mentions of this day will last in the park. Like everything in nature, the rain, snow, moss and natural events will soon cover up a day we all wish never happened. The mountain will live on, showing us what true resilience in the face of adversity is.
I must admit, and I am sure I am not alone, but on New Year’s Day, when I was looking at Mt. Rainier, listening to the news tell me about how a man was on the mountain with guns and ammo, the mountain didn’t look the same. Mt Rainier had claimed lives before, but usually only those who were taking risks. The natural environment had resisted modern society and remained natural and pristine. Fitting though, that in his last hours, the gunman, who was ill-prepared for the elements, died from the mountain. He was shoe-less on one foot, dressed in jeans and a t-shirt, the elements draining his body heat until he could walk no more. He slid, fell into a creek and drowned, unable to move because of the stifling cold that the mountain was giving him. I think, in a way, that this is true justice. The mountain protected one of her own, and made sure that the man responsible for tainting her image died at her hands. Mt. Rainier, our mountain, remained silent that day, doing what she normally does in the winter.
RIP Ranger Margaret Anderson