Sunday, July 17, 2016

Twin Peaks, WA

With a conveniently-located trailhead (right on highway 12), a taste of the PCT, and a lesser-traveled section of trail leading to a summit of sorts with a panoramic view including Mt Rainier…this hike seems almost too good to be true.  I’ll admit though – I was judging a trail by its name when selecting it for my Saturday outing -  “Twin Peaks” - due to an old TV show I have an affection for…

Most of this hike is a very gradual upward grade.  So gradual, in fact, you barely register you are going uphill…until the very end during which point it is undeniable you are going uphill…but we’ll get to that later.

From the parking area* you immediately cross Clear Creek and soon pass by Leech Lake (aren’t you just dying for a dip in that lake based on its name?).  Somewhere around 2 miles you’ll pass a boulder field where I believe I heard (but sadly never caught sight of) a pika. 

The trail enters forest once again and soon you’ll find yourself passing into Goat Rocks Wilderness.  Pass by Ginnette Lake, a boggy pond, and then you’ll hit the trail junction.  The trail sign for Twin Peaks Trail 1144 is high up in a tree and easy to miss if you aren’t looking for it.  The start of this trail branching off of the PCT descends into a lush meadow and flattens out before your grunt to the peak begins.  There are some fallen debris you’ll be required to scramble over, but all part of the charm of this trail if you ask me.

Leech Lake

It is fairly straight up to the first of the Twin Peaks, but you have plenty of excuses to stop for a breather on the way because each step opens up your view of Hogback Ridge, Dog Lake, and Mt Rainier.  Don’t give up or give in before the high point though…it is completely worth the effort. 

Dog Lake
Hogback Ridge?
Hogback Ridge?
A bare, gravel-covered ridgeline leads you to a neighboring peak if you fancy a bit more exploring at the elevation.  Here you find a bone yard – bleached, burned trees standing as sentinels and a haven for birds.  If you are a birder, you’ll delight in this area so bring your binoculars.  There is something serene and lovely about the skeleton trees in contrast to sky, something marvelously uplifting of seeing how something burned and long dead providing the backdrop for the liveliness of dark-eyed juncos and grey jays

bone yard

The hike back down is almost entirely downhill, so you can complete this hike somewhere in the 4 – 5 hour range, even with lingering at the summit for a long while like I did.  If you rally to getting an early start you’ll find you had the whole hike to yourself as you pass small groups of late-morning hikers on your way out … feeling slightly smug at your achievement of “early bird catches the worm.”

There are many benefits to getting trail time and peak time entirely to oneself.  And I experienced a new one this week.

I had brought a letter from a friend to read at the peak – seemed a novel thing to do.  I didn’t know exactly the words it contained, but apparently it was something God really wanted my heart to hear, because it struck me deeply, and permitted me to cry.

I don’t know if you’ve ever cried aloud, alone, on a mountain peak.  But I now believe it to be one of life’s essential experiences.

It doesn’t have to be a mountain peak actually.  It just needs to be somewhere solitary, with no other human around, and no human sound.  Somewhere exposed so you can let yourself be exposed.  Let your heart be exposed to yourself.

At any rate, reading this letter in this space brought me to tears. They surprised me, but it was sort of intoxicating.  It felt like I was tapping into something not allowed.  Something I should have had to pay extra for.

I hesitated to share this because if you aren’t a melancholy soul, then you likely won’t understand what I am describing.  I mean, if you are all smiles and laughter all the time – marvelous for you. I mean that sincerely and not sarcastically.

But that is something I just can’t be and don’t understand. I know for myself, and I think it generally true for most of us, that we need to allow ourselves be a little more raw every once in awhile…a little more real…a little more exposed.

If you are a melancholy soul you will understand entirely that to cry is not always (or even usually) something to be a cause of concern. I wonder over the social reaction to crying.  We are always trying to stifle it, apologize for it, fix it, hide it.  Our knee-jerk reaction to someone crying is to say something like “don’t cry” and attempt to comfort them to stop the crying – stop not to let them cry.  If we are the one crying, we try to hide our face, turn our head, or apologize for crying.  We try to choke it down, bottle it up, push it away.

Why is it so very much “ok” to smile and laugh, but repulsive and shameful to cry and shed tears?  Why do we apologize for it?  Why do we try to snuff it out before it starts?  Why don’t we just embrace it?

And please don’t misunderstand, the crying had nothing to do with loneliness or being alone.  It wasn’t painful, it felt more like cleaning out something that was gathering dust, something beautiful that needed to get access to oxygen, something that was essential to my breathing.  Something that needed to breathe itself.

It felt therapeutic to be up there alone, mountain ridges all around me, Rainier in the distance, a symphony of bird calls giving texture to the air.  I was hard-pressed to leave.  Hard pressed to let the moment go. 

So, I’m risking to share it here so that if you ever get a chance to experience something similar – don’t let the moment go.

so, let go...there's a beauty in the breakdown (frou frou) 

*Note: Northwest Forest Pass or America the Beautiful annual pass required & don’t forget to fill out your wilderness pass (free at the trailhead) before you begin.

Monday, July 4, 2016

Gladys Divide & Flapjack Lakes, Olympic National Park, WA

Olympic National Park has long been a place I hoped to visit.  There have been several years now of me drooling over photographs and sequences from films of these moss-shrouded, hyper-green, gloomy woods.  I needed to walk in these woods someday.  It being a holiday weekend, and Olympic National Park being a bit of a drive from where I am currently living, I thought it my best chance at getting a visit in…but I was worried that droves of other visitors might deflate the balloon of my long-held dream of hiking in this park with some semblance of solitude.

So, I began researching lesser-known hikes in the park…and I stumbled upon Flapjack Lakes. 

I got to the trailhead (near Staircase Ranger Station) to start my hike around 1015.  There is a gravel / dirt parking lot there to leave your vehicle.  Look for the “North Fork Skokomish River” trailhead sign just slightly uphill from the lot, which will advertise that the “Flapjack Lake Junction” is 4 miles onward.

Those 4 miles are on a well-groomed, wide, trail through moss-covered old-growth trees.  Seriously old – huge cedars and firs that drip age into the air, seem to breath out something ancient for you to breath in.  The thickness of the moss there inspires delightfully dusty thoughts, and if you are an old soul fond of dusty things like me, you smile wide like a kid in a candy store as you pass by – hungry to devour the sweetness of it.  

Around 4 miles in you reach the trail junction, with a sign advertising that Flapjack Lakes themselves are 4 miles further on.  This is where the elevation gain more tangibly begins – first moderately, and then in a way that can’t be overlooked.  It is not a killer climb, but you do breath harder for certain.  

The views along the way help though – creek crossing, waterfalls, wildflowers, and bombardments of green.  Before venturing to Olympic National Park, I hesitated to do so thinking that perhaps I’d built the place up too much in my mind.  After all, I am currently living in a Washington forest – how different could the Olympic peninsula woods be then the ones right outside my door?

They are different. 

I tried to articulate just how they are different.  It has a lot to do with the level of green.  In the Olympic woods it is as if the green volume has been turned all the way up.  The green is almost blinding in its vibrancy - intoxicating & entrancing.  You find yourself surprised that so much green can exist in one place without exhausting the world’s overall supply.   Maybe it does…


This national park seems like it could double as a Land Before Time theme park.  So ancient feeling and green that surely dinosaurs must roam around here somewhere.  And I know what you are thinking – “so…like Jurassic Park?” But, no.  This is not what I mean.  This Land Before Time Park is more whimsical and far less hazardous to your life expectancy. 

(And raptor-less, did I mention it is raptor-less?)

Anyways, on this section of the hike I had a pretty incredible encounter.  Not a dinosaur, but for me just as exciting a gift.  A mother mountain goat and her cloud-fluffy kid walked down the trail toward me.  We both stopped and regarded each other for several minutes.  Both curious and uncertain about the other’s intentions.  I had just recently caught sight of my first mountain goats in the wild a week ago, but from a very far distance, such that I could only view them as specs through binoculars.  Now they were 20 feet away.  I was breathless honestly, and thankful that they let me drink in the sight of them for a bit.

After crossing Madeline Creek via footbridge and passing by a very lush waterfall on your way switchbacking uphill you’ll hit another trail junction – Flapjack Lakes is upward.  The last grunt here is the hardest, but you made it this far so – carry on. 

When you reach the lakes there is a camp sign giving you instructions on where to camp and how to store your food (they provide bear wires here).  I went to the farthest reaching campsite near a creek in the hopes of getting some solitude.  

bear wire

After quickly setting up my tent (I prefer sleeping out…but this is Olympic National Park and rain can spontaneously regenerate from sunshine, right?), it was around 1430 and I decided I had enough daylight and sufficient energy reserves to make an attempt at Gladys Divide.

Candidly, I very nearly didn’t rally to this endeavor.  I wasn’t sure I had the mental or physical energy for any more uphill battles.  But let me tell you – try with all your might to rally to this cause because to miss the sights on the way would be a tragedy.

The hiking guide (see the end of this post) I read regarding this hike said it was “3 miles” from Flapjack Lakes.  I don’t know if that meant 3 miles round trip or 3 miles one-way…it feels more like 1 mile round-trip honestly because the views provided along every step make time and distance non-existent.

After maybe 20 minutes of switchbacks up, I felt as if I’d walked through a portal into a realm that is some fabulous combination of Middle Earth’s Rohan meets the backdrop scenery of The Sound of Music - carpets of wildflowers nestled up to deliciously grey, impossibly toothy, looming peaks.  Slates of snow with boulders and streams peaking through create Nature’s patchwork quilt.  And all this before you even get to the divide marker.

Once at the Gladys Divide marker (5000ft), you are additionally blessed with a stunning view of a valley below and more of the Olympic mountains beyond.  The view across the way warrants pause to drink it in – so pause to drink it in.  I was fortunate to hit this spot on a clear day but with clouds drifting in – delicate wisps that seemed to me the mountains' delicate thought clouds, brooding, but a catalyst of mirth for a melancholy soul like myself. 

 I was up to Gladys Divide and back to my camping spot at Flapjack Lakes in under two hours, including the pause to drink in the view.  After dinner, I fell asleep shamelessly by 1900 (ah the exiting Saturday nights of a 20-something) to the sound of the creek flowing nearby.

Sunday I was packed up and on the trail down by 0545.  I selfishly wanted the trail to myself, and I figured an early sunrise out would permit me that.  And permit me it did.

if you want ancient forest air
with a mountain goat flair
some wildflowers here and there
and toothy peaks (tree-bare)
this is the hike for you.

**For another (better) trail guide –

Note: If you decide to do this one-day camping venture, you’ll need to pay park entrance ($20), unless you have an annual pass ($80), which I recommend investing in if you think you’ll have at least 4 visits to federal lands at some point in a year.  You’ll also need to reserve in advance a backcounty permit ($5) to camp at Flapjack Lakes.  I believe there are some day-of permits possible, but better safe than sorry if you ask me.

Friday, July 1, 2016

Colchuck Lake, WA
When a friend of mine praised her experience of visiting an area she called “The Enchantments,” I was intrigued by name alone.  To overnight in the area has a (relatively) big price tag and a competitive permit-lottery process, but there is also a day hike option.  The hitch is it would require 6 hours in the car (round trip) from where I live currently for a 5-hour day hike…

It is well worth the drive.

After topping at the trailhead to fill out the Alpine Wilderness Permit (free), the first half of the trail is a leisurely walk along Mountaineer Creek on Stuart Lake Trail #1599.  You’ll cross a foot bridge before reaching a trail junction.  At the junction, take the left fork for Colchuck Lake #1599.1.  You’ll cross another bridge and then begins your switchbacks up to the lake, increasing in slope as you go.  This hike has you gain 2280 feet in elevation, and since most of the hike has been pretty flat up to this point, you make up for lost time here.

 Fear not, the view forthcoming makes you forget your labored efforts.

Colchuck Lake feels like a place that should be far more difficult to get to and far deeper into wilderness than a 4-mile (one-way) hike.  When you come through the final veil of trees, around the final switch back, up the final incline, the view spread out before you takes your breath away.

And you are happy to have it stolen.

It is no wonder that this section of the Cascades is called “The Enchantments” – you are most certainly enchanted. Bowled over by it.  Nearly swooning from it as you behold the glacial-turquoise water and deliciously grey, marvelously jagged, peaks (Dragontail & Colchuck) before you.  The remnants of Colchuck Glacier are in fine view and if you are lucky (as I was) you will get some sightings of mountain goats (+ kids!).

The only downside to this hike, is that it is wildly popular (for good reason).  So, once you even on the border of the “summer” season, the trailhead parking lot will be full early, and trail as well.  I went on a Saturday (probably the worst choice), but by starting my hike before 0900 I found that I got chunks of the trail to myself and my time spent enjoying the view at the lake wasn’t inundated with other visitors.  My hike out was full of people hiking in however.  

Regardless, if you are feeling past due from some enchantment, sign yourself up for a hike to Colchuck Lake.

For directions to the trailhead and a another description of the hike itself: