Monday, January 30, 2012

A Long Overdue Questions and Answer Post

We here at Exotic Hikes are constantly being asked questions about hiking, so we decided that today we would finally address some of the more common questions about hiking in, on and around the Olympic Peninsula in a blog. These answers will be brief, so if you have any questions that require more specific detail, please email us at and we will respond as soon as possible.
As always, please feel free to add comments, add questions or give us feedback in the comment section.

 “I am not in great shape, but are there hikes that I can do?”
            The simple answer is yes. The Olympic peninsula has trails for people of all abilities. From handicap trails around the Hurricane Ridge Area, to Steep climbs up scree to hidden mountain lakes, The Olympic Peninsula has all style of hiking. In fact, some of the most popular, remote hikes along the Olympic Peninsula have zero elevation gain! The Olympic Peninsula is for people of all ages and skill, so don't be intimidated by the mountains and peaks. I think that the Olympic Peninsula is suitable for everyone, and encourage you all to come on out and see for yourself. 

”Are there miles of beach trails along the Olympic Peninsula?”
            Again, yes. The Olympic Peninsula has some of the most rugged, isolated coast in America, and trails litter the beach areas. From Ruby Beach to Shi Shi (pronounced Shy Shy) beach, one can walk for mile or feet and see the force of the Pacific Ocean, discover tide pools and watch seals, otters and even gray whales. The Washington Coast is also the perfect place to cuddle up with that special someone and watch storms roll in, while keeping each other warm from the wind and the rain. With lodges, hotels and campsites aplenty, you have no reason not to experience the Olympic Peninsula coast year round.  

“Are there any close hikes to Seattle, Tacoma or Olympia?”
            This question is difficult to answer, as the word close is subjective. Distance wise, the best hikes are a few hours’ drive at minimum from Seattle. You can get to the Staircase Entrance of the Olympic National Park within an hour from Tacoma or Olympia, but this is just a small trail area. Your best bet is to plan a weekend trip, or do what I do and wake up early and get to the trails by 8 or 9am. For beginners, a scenic car trip and a short hike is just what the doctor ordered!

“How many mountains are there on the Olympic Peninsula?”
This may be the toughest question to answer, as there are no consistent numbers of mountains in the Olympic Range. My personal estimate and belief is that there are well over 200 areas which are considered mountains by scientific standards. In fact, while no peak breaks 8000ft, there are 89 peaks between 6500ft and the tallest point, Mt. Olympus, standing at 7,969ft.
In fact, states that “For their height, the Olympic Mountains are quite possibly the most spectacular mountains in the world outside of the polar regions. Nowhere do the Olympics crack the 8000 foot barrier, making them of almost Appalachian stature, but their incredible array of jagged peaks, massive glaciers, and epic approach marches is only matched in one or two other ranges in the entire "Lower 48" United States.”
With so many mountains on the Olympic Peninsula, everyone can find their favorite, private peak. From the heights of Mt. Olympus, to the views from Hurricane Ridge, all levels of tourists can ascend into the mountains and discover their own personal Shangri-La.

“What types of wildlife are located on the Olympic Peninsula?”
            On the Olympic Peninsula, there are many species of Fish, Birds, Amphibians,Reptiles, Marine Mammals and Terrestrial Mammals. From the unique OlympicMarmot, the Roosevelt Elk in which the park was created for and the Douglas squirrel to the many species of Salmon and the awesome, yet phallic Geoducks and Banana Slugs, as well as Whales, Porpoises and Otters, the Olympic Peninsula is full of wildlife. In fact, we have linked directly to the OlympicNational Park’s website listing all the species in the Park.

“Where can I stay if I want to spend the night on the Olympic Peninsula?”
            The Olympic peninsula, while isolated, is full of numerous places of lodging. On the Olympic Peninsula, you can stay at campgrounds in remote areas or stay at resorts located by hot springs, all travel needs are covered. Just a quick Google search shows hundreds of places of lodging, from hostels, bed and breakfast homes to fantastic National Park Lodges and fantastic hotels. The Olympic Peninsula is scattered with places to sleep for all levels of tourists, and for more information, please contact us for our recommended places of lodging.

“Is it dangerous to hike on the Olympic Peninsula?”         
            As with all areas of nature, danger lurks around every corner. However, even with all the wildlife, mountains, streams and trees, you do always have a better chance of being injured in a car accident. That being said, one needs to always study the weather, the trail conditions and talk to rangers and locals about the area. With any drive, hike or climb, certain precautions should be made. Make sure you tell people when and where you are travelling, bring a first aid kit, and sign in to all trailheads, ranger stations and access points.
            Nature is full of unexpected events, making it exciting and connecting our most instinctual motions to landscapes, animals and sweeping vistas. Just because there is a very slim chance for an accident, it is a rare day when your trip to the Olympic peninsula won’t end ina feeling the awesome power of the Pacific Northwest’s Olympic Peninsula.

“Why go to the Olympic Peninsula and not Mt. Rainier?”
            Occurring to my girlfriend, as well as many other locals, Mt Rainier is where you go when you want the crowded, typical tourist trip.  Tend to agree with this because year round, Mt. Rainier is packed with tourists from around the world. While majestic, amazing and inspirational, Mt Rainier offers very little diversity of hikes and views, as well as limited wildlife. The Olympic Peninsula on the other hand is one of the most unique ecosystems in the world. With stunning views of the ocean, the rain forest, numerous species of flora and fauna, as well as some of the most remote areas in the lower 48 states, the Olympic Peninsula will leave you and your family with memories to last a lifetime. The Olympic Peninsula has something for everyone.

Thanks for reading and feel free to comment or ask any questions remaining in the comment section!
See you on the trails,
Douglas Scott
Exotic Hikes

Friday, January 20, 2012

When Weather Impacts Hiking

                Right now, I am snowed in. Not just snowed in but stuck inside from falling branches, downed power lines and 18 inches of snow with half an inch of freezing rain on top of it. With no power, the mind races to entertain itself. Typically when this happens, I can get out, with my road being the worst road. I would drive to a trail and lose myself in nature for hours. This is not the case this week. Right now, nobody is really going anywhere.
                I bring all this up to let you know about the nature of nature. We can try and predict what will happen with the weather, but at the end of the day, we are just guessing. All the snow we have right now was supposed to be gone by now, so many people, reading the forecast, took off for the mountains thinking it would be one day of great powder and then a few days of slow melt. Because of this, 4 people are stranded on Mt. Rainier; many more have been stranded in their cars on mountain passes, or like me, just stuck inside, miles from any hikes. I am lucky. Despite no power, running water and just a fireplace to provide heat, there are people stuck outside in the elements, with our high hitting 31 Fahrenheit. This is why I always check numerous forecasts, and if it looks even slightly like it may be bad, I typically pass on climbing and hiking. I am always prepared with a tent, days’ worth of food and water, a great sleeping bag and extra clothes. However, if put to the test, would I really know how to survive for many days out in the woods? More importantly, would you be prepared?
                As restless as I am to get out, take pictures, hike and blog, I read stories about people surviving for days in the elements and cuddle up with my blanket. To survive in the elements, be it a desert, rainforest or on a mountain takes a sound mind, skill and of course, a decent amount of luck. I have had my run ins with being stranded and forced to sleep on a mountain, and I take the blame for that. I thought I could handle the weather shifts and conditions because I had seen TV shows, movies and read books on survival. People ignoring weather and testing limits happens far to frequently. Just this last week, a man on Mt. Rainier was stranded for a few days. He built a snow shelter and burnt some money in his pocket to stay warm and survive. Yes, this is an incredible story, but I have to question why he was snowshoeing at 6000ft with a storm moving toward him in the first place.
                To me, all of our technology (the weather proof clothes, cars, GPS devices and whatnot) have made us fear nature less than we should. Looking at Aron Ralston, the hiker/climber/canyoneering guide who had to cut of his arm, we see that one misstep could be the end of you. In great weather, he biked, hiked and eventually got pinned down by a huge boulder in a canyon, with no help on the way. Just one small step…
 One step changed his life, his family’s lives and how people view hikers. He didn’t mean to become a sensation, publishing a book and having a movie made from him, but since he survived, it is an incredible tale of survival. Sadly, hundreds of stories don’t end as well, with storms rolling in, avalanches crashing down and people dying every year from accidents. In Aron Ralston’s case, he may have been able to save his arm if he had told people where he was going. In many cases, it takes human error and a small level of stupidity mixed with a misconception of their dominance of nature that leads to their follies.
Some risk is needed to climb, don’t get me wrong. Any time you leave your house, get in your car and drive 60 miles an hour, you are more at risk to get injured. However, when accidents happen on the freeway, there are enough people around to help. On a trail or on a mountain or in a canyon, you may be the only person for miles. This is why, despite our “understand” and ability to “predict” the weather, you still need common sense and need to leave a note of where you are going. Also, make sure you follow the note and don’t deviate from the plan.

You may be reading this, wondering where I am headed or what point I am trying to prove. I am just saying that we still underestimate nature, and that when we feel we can control or understand her, we will be proven wrong. The Buddhists believe certain trails and mountains can’t be climbed without consequences. While I don’t buy into spirits being angry about you climbing on their peak, you need to be aware that life is dangerous, unexpected and full of consequences. One wrong step in any weather on any trail could lead to disaster, so take your time, be safe and enjoy life. 
Until I can charge my laptop...
Douglas Scott of Exotic Hikes

Monday, January 16, 2012

Murhut Falls Trail and Trip Report

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
pictures, watched some Great Blue herons
fly overhead, got back in my car and took a left, heading west on Duckabush Road.

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.

Getting home, we had 5 inches of snow, covering any trace that I had been there just 8 hours earlier. Olympia was a world away from Murhut Falls, and I love that about the Olympic Peninsula. An hour away and you are in different weather, different landscapes and a different world. Murhut Falls is a fantastic day trip, fun for all ages and great year round. I suggest all my hikes, but this one is on the short list for friends, family and out of town guests. Check it out, or better yet, call me and we can go together!

Hoping to see you on the trails,

Douglas Scott of Exotic Hikes

Friday, January 13, 2012

The Land of Enchantment

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.

From Pony Bridge, you can continue to meander up and down small hills toward Enchanted Valley. The hike continues to wander through forests and valleys, giving a glimpse into the primitive landscape, untouched by time. As the trail reaches the Enchanted Valley, hikers will find themselves exiting the dense forest into a vast valley surrounded by the Olympic Mountains with peaks over 6,000 feet high. Arriving at Enchanted Valley, the views are topped off with the first glimpse of the Enchanted Valley Chalet. This chalet is a picturesque two story cabin built in 1931, which was recently added to the National Register of Historical Places in 2007.

From the campsites in Enchanted Valley you can and should take day trips explore dried-up creek beds, searching in hopes to find large crystal deposits, some the size of softballs. While beautiful and unique, remember that everything in the National Park needs to remain where you found it! I only say that because while younger and doing this hike with my family, I may or may not have taken a crystal the size of my fist. I probably wouldn't have thought to pick it up and keep it (assuming I did) if it hadn't been for the fact that my uncle was the one who convinced me to climb up a hillside looking for these primitive jewels. I still wouldn't have grasped it in my hands and possibly placed it in my backpack had it not been for the fact that he was standing directly on it, admiring a small crystal of his own. To this day, I still tease him for missing the giant stone.

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??

Until next time, see you on the trails,
Douglas Scott of Exotic Hikes

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Our Mountain

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.

Mt Rainier is recognizable around the world, used as a coffee marketing name in Japan, and also placed on incense packets in rural China. Travelling around the world, places may not know my city of Olympia, but when I show them a picture of Mt. Rainier, they know what I am talking about. Mt Rainier is also, obviously, the tallest place in the state, and draws tourists year round from all over the world. In fact, it was climbed by Al Gore in the summer of 1999. I would be impressed, but my grandfather climbed Mt Rainier a few years back, so make what you will of it. With a visitor center at the aptly named Paradise area, one can see hikers,
climbers, foxes, coyotes and Clark’s nutcrackers. Also, don't get me started on JZ Knight/Ramtha (who lives near Mt Rainier) and her belief on the Lizard People.

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.

Until we meet again, Good Hiking from Exotic Hikes.

RIP Ranger Margaret Anderson