Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Olympic Peninsula

Though we were reluctant to leave the beautiful Cascade Mountains behind, we decided to spend the last few days of our trip on the Olympic Peninsula. We traveled by car and ferry across the Puget Sound to Port Townsend, a cool, eclectic city we would like to spend a lot more time in some day.

While on the Olympic Peninsula, we stayed in the small town (the largest one of our trip, though) of Forks, Washington. In addition to being a really fun logging town, and being very close to tons of beautiful places (inluding Olympic National Park), Forks is also the setting for the Twilight book series. The people of Forks have embraced their accidental stardom, and every store, restaurant, and hotel now caters to Twilight tourists.

Once you get your Twilight fix (for Jeremy and Tenny, that took about 3 seconds), there are a million (no, really) other fun things to do in the area. Here are a couple examples (with more to come):

Sol Duc Falls

Sol Duc Falls is a beautiful waterfall at the end of an easy (about 1 mile, pretty flat) trail that winds through the Olympic rainforest.
I couldn't decide which of these pictures to include, because a different Tenny showed up for each of them, and he's so cute in both.

Sweet Tenny

Crazy Tenny
And now, an important Public Service Announcement from Suzanne: this bridge is dangerous for small children. Do not take your youngins here without a leash.

We now return to our regularly scheduled program: this is a great little hike. You should really try it someday.

Hoh Rain Forest

The Hoh Rain Forest is a temperate rainforest on the western side of Olympic National Park. It is one of the wettest spots in the Continental U.S., receiving between 140 to 170 inches of annual rainfall.

"The Big Sitka Spruce Tree," older than America, and bigger than our house.

The rolling phone gathers no moss.

Suzy shot this Roosevelt Elk.

There are a handful of trails that branch out from the visitor's center. No matter which way you go, it's going to be beautiful. Even at the end of the summer, the enormous trees are teaming with mosses and fungi and all sorts of bugs you don't want your child to touch.

Tennyson's favorite part of the rainforest was a little stream that was filled with baby salmon. He would still be sitting there watching the "fishies" had his mean parents not pulled him away.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Cascade Pass/Sahale Arm Trail

Adoring fans have been writing in all week wondering, "If Marblemount is the 'Gateway to the American Alps,' then what are the American Alps?" The long wait has ended, and you may now begin basking in the splendor that is North Cascades National Park. Largely because of its inaccessibility to the average motoring tourist, North Cascades is one of the least visited national parks. That's not a flaw; it's a feature. If you're willing to work for it, North Cascades will reward you with solitude and jaw-dropping beauty (and amazingly, all without entrance fees!).

Jeremy's favorite hike of the Washington expedition was the Cascade Pass/Sahale Arm Trail. With no exaggeration (or the usual Stewart-roundup), the views from the trailhead parking lot are some of the most beautiful we have ever witnessed. Towering peaks, hanging glaciers, about a dozen waterfalls, and a black bear meandering through the hikelberries . . . not bad considering we hadn't strapped on our hiking boots yet.

The views get even better. But first you have to step into the dense forest and ascend a couple miles of switchbacks. Of course, that's beautiful too, but really we just wanted to get back to the views.

Ahhh, the views. After about 3.5 miles, the trail climbs out of the forest and onto Cascade Pass. The views from the pass are stunning -- the peaks that tower overhead seem like they could topple over at any minutes, and the enormous valleys seem to fall right out from under your feet.

After climbing several dozen more switchbacks (and having Tennyson yell "switchback" at every turn), we reached the ridge leading to the Sahale arm. This would have been the perfect place for a snack break, except it was quite difficult to chew and sing "The Hills Are Alive" at the same time. And singing took precedence.
Unlike other chameleons, Tennyson cannot fully blend in due to his volume knob being stuck on high (got that from his dad). Not a bad attempt, though.
The trail follows the winding ridge for another couple miles. On one side you can enjoy views of Sahale Peak and glacial waterfalls feeding into Doubtful Lake. Look the other way and you can see Switzerland.

And this is the Sahale Arm (the huge ridge leading up to the summit of Sahale Peak). Tennyson had reached his limit, so we didn't make it to the summit. Instead, we spent a couple hours up on the arm enjoying the beauty, snacking, and relaxing in the sun.

It's not an easy climb, but the Cascade Pass/Sahale Arm Trail is magnificent from start to finish. We'll be wandering this trail in our dreams for a long time.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Marblemount Sunrise

Next stop: Marblemount, Washington, "The Gateway to the American Alps," where mother nature puts on quite a show in the wee hours down by the Skagit River:

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Sunset at Picture Lake, Mt. Shuksan

Picture Lake is an aptly named alpine gem at the end of the Mt. Baker Highway, near the Mt. Baker Ski Area. The reflection it affords of Mt. Shuksan is spectacular, particularly at sunset.


Tennyson found an old, hollowed-out tree stump to play in. Mr. T puts the cheese in "say cheese."

Not quite as inspiring as Ghandi, but stunning nonetheless.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Yellow Aster Butte Trail

Of all the hikes we did in Washington, the Yellow Aster Butte Trail in the Mt. Baker Snoqualmie-National Forest was Suzy's favorite. It was a close second for me, but I didn't get to fully appreciate the loveliness because Tennyson was in rare form - singing, screaming, kicking, and hitting me in the head for most of the trip. I'm sure it had nothing to do with the molasses cookies flowing through his veins:

It really was a delightful trail. After about a mile of switchbacking through the old-growth forest we came to a beautiful meadow flowing with big, juicy "hikelberries" (that's Tenny speak for huckleberries; we liked it so much we adopted it).

We hesitated to leave the mother-of-all-hikelberry patches, but were glad we did. As the trail ascends the canyon walls, you're rewarded with with spectacular views of Mt. Baker, Mt. Shuksan, and countless other peaks towering over endless evergreen forests.

The view from the top is inspiring, even when my beautiful bride isn't there.

Reaching the top was a special treat for me, since I could finally get the monkey off my back and let him run around like a crazy person. Tennyson loved running free and exploring the great outdoors.

The Butte hovers over a series of glistening tarns. We would love to return to spend a couple nights at the backcountry campsites down by the water (there is a tent in the picture, for perspective).

Oh, and did I mention it's gorgeous?

Tennyson slept in the pack the entire trip back down to the car, leaving Suzy and me to soak in the peace and beauty of this amazing place.

At 7.5 miles roundtrip and about 2,500 feet of elevation gain, this hike is pretty much perfect. We highly recommend it to anyone who likes beauty and/or hikelberries.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Skyline Divide Trail

Our warm-up hike was the Skyline Divide Trail, in the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest. The trail begins with two miles of steep switchbacks, climbing about 1400 vertical feet through a dense, old-growth forest. Here is Suzy near the top, where the trees started to thin out a bit:

After a couple miles, you climb out of the forest and onto the ridge -- the Skyline Divide -- and are instantly greeted with spectacular views of Mt. Baker, a glacier-covered active volcano, and countless other rugged peaks everywhere you turn.

Tennyson really liked the ridge because he could get out of the pack and run around like a crazy person. (There's a trend here.)

Suzy was particularly glad that I was carrying the camera, so that I could take a million photos of her and post them all over the web. Here is my beautiful bride with the lovely Mt. Shuksan in the background.

After reaching the ridge, you can continue hiking along the Skyline Divide toward Mt. Baker pretty much as long as you want.

After a couple miles on the ridge, we decided to drop down into a valley to wade our feet in a small stream. Yes, that's snow. And the water was about 5 degrees (Kelvin). It did make for a terrific spot to eat cherries, and cashews, and pistachios, and all of our other favorite hiking snacks.

And that's where we turned around. About a 10 mile hike, with about 2100 feet of elevation gain (then loss). A great little hike -- though we would recommend doing it in early July (for the wildflowers) or mid-September (for the full Autumn effect - we caught just the beginnings of the color changes).