Bukhansan

J and I hiked the Bugandae trail of Bukhansan, a mountain in north Seoul.  At first the trail was made up of bricks, with the occasional car driving by. Then the trail narrowed into an endless staircase of white rock.

I described Bukhansan as a “non-trivial hike.” Someone in the hotel overheard me and said that phrase is an oxymoron. I packed light for our trip, so I did not have my hiking boots or poles. But all around me, the locals were fully decked out in sleek matching hiking sets, some with scarves tied around their necks. Basically, we shared the trail with a bunch of dignified, trendy, well-prepared physically-fit old people.

As I continued hiking, my knees became wobbly, and I wished I had purchased hiking poles from one of the numerous purveyors at the base of the mountain. The hike was tiring, but I took a simple pleasure in every step. The leaves had a beautiful red, the trees around me had the novelty of being a distinctly Asian variety, and the air was fresher than the smog of the city. Along steep sections, there was a thick metal rope for hikers to grab onto. The trees along the route had smooth bark where thousands of hikers had latched on for stability.

I was traveling minimally. I had a backpack full of water and snacks, and I’m a lightweight person. But J was having some trouble, so we took frequent breaks. I held his backpack, and it was unreasonably heavy. I wondered what he had packed, because I thought that I was carrying all the essentials for our hike.

“What’s in here?” I asked.

A laptop, an empty metal thermos, and a liter of Japanese lube.

Discovery Park

I like to walk around Discovery Park when I want to get away from downtown Seattle, but not too far away. And lo, what a paradise it is. There is a 3-mile loop through forest and golden fields.  On the rocky north shore, I have seen dolphins and sea lions near the backdrop of a lighthouse and pungent waste treatment plant. On the sandy south shore, there is a view of the Olympics.

South shore
South shore

On one occasion, J was walking a few paces ahead of me. A cyclist coming from the opposite direction fell off his bike, crashing hard into the pavement, right in front of J. His arm and hand bled profusely. J offered his assistance.

When the cyclist was on his way again, I remarked to J, “You’re so handsome, I would have fallen off my bike too.”

Margaret’s Way

I hiked Margaret’s Way, a 6-mile roundtrip jaunt with 1,500 ft. of elevation gain. I stopped by each viewpoint. Supposedly, you can see Mt. Rainier on a clear day, but there was too much haze from the wildfires.

Margaret's Way viewpoint
Margaret’s Way viewpoint

The dirt trail is wide and well-maintained. And that is good. But frankly, I was disappointed by the payoff. At the end of the hike, I was not rewarded with beautiful panoramic views. At the end of the Margaret’s Way trail is another trail.

The end of the trail is another trail
The end of the trail is another trail

I walked a bit farther to Debbie’s view, where you can see surrounding mountains, though the view is obstructed by trees.

Debbie's view
Debbie’s view

The flora got repetitive: ferns, fallen logs, mossy trees. I was so excited to see any animal, even a slug. On the trail there were black slugs, banana slugs, even a garter snake.

Slugs
Slugs
Garter snake
Garter snake

Orcas Island

J and I camped on Orcas Island for a few days. We hiked around Moran State Park. By now, the snow has melted and the waterfalls are gushing. We hiked past the modest Cascade Falls, and did a loop around Cascade Lake. We were the only ones on the trail that circumnavigated the green lake. Our surroundings alternated between exposed, emerald moss and dense, thick trees.

At the summit of Mount Constitution, there were panoramic views of other San Juan islands, and the calm waters of Puget Sound spreading into the horizon. There was a lookout at the top, hand-crafted, made of gray stones. We saw hawks circling below, and alpine lakes nestled between the trees.

Mount Constitution summit
Mount Constitution summit

We also hiked around Obstruction Pass. We read that there was stinging nettle that makes people itchy on contact.  Surprisingly, stinging nettle is edible and looks like harmless cilantro. The beach was rocky, shoreline blackened, covered in algae and bullwhip kelp. Near the shoreline, there was a carcass of a harbor seal, perfectly plump and intact, save for its head, which was picked down to the skull. On a distant island, a single fire covered the island’s entire beach in smoke.

Obstruction Pass
Obstruction Pass

Our little getaway felt surreal to me. Just a 40-minute ferry ride from Seattle, and time slowed down. We rose and slept with the sun, soaked in hot tubs overlooking a bay. There were excellent bakeries and farm-to-table restaurants. It’s hard to mess up breakfast, but it’s also hard to make a memorable one, and Orcas Island delivered.

The island was authentically bohemian. More than half the signs were unironically in Papyrus font. The deer, foxes, and other fauna that populate the San Juan islands got there by swimming from island to island.

Cherry Creek Falls

J and I started the new year with an early hike to Cherry Creek Falls. I enjoyed the drive through Duvall and its bucolic meadows and farms. There were disused barns made up of old and rotten wood, with gaping holes where planks were missing. Other barns were new and massive, walls and roofing in vibrant colors. Brown horses nibbled grass, staying warm in their quilted blue turnout blankets. In the Duvall/Carnation area, there is a lot of wide open acreage. So the area hosts obstacle races and mud runs, which are rather trendy right now.

The hike was relatively easy, only 6 miles round trip with 500 ft. elevation gain. The trail was wide and well-maintained. There were multiple forks, but it was always clear which trail was the main path.

The forest was so green. Trees were covered in emerald moss and the ground was carpeted by ferns. Sun filtered through trees and light fog to provide a warm, diffuse glow.

Near the beginning, we passed by the silver chassis of a car, and I was surprised that a car could crash so deep in the woods. But then I thought about it some more, and the roads in Duvall are winding and shaded, so black ice could form easily. And King County doesn’t salt its roads and is slow to clear snow and does not have the equipment nor the budget for winter conditions compared to, say, Chicago. And when there’s only an inch of snow, everyone works from home because snow drifts form at the bases of hills, and vehicles on inclines get trapped or uncontrollably slide down snow and ice. And it seems whenever it rains or snows, there are many car accidents and commute times become ridiculous, and so perhaps it is not so surprising to see a car wreck in the middle of a forest. Towards the end of the hike, we passed by yet another car wreck, this one more intact. The car is facing the hiking trail, and the trail actually curves around the car. The car still has its yellow shell and brown leather seats. Someone drew graffiti on a seat. The shell was rusting with brown circles on its doors, giving the appearance of bullet holes.

We had to cross multiple streams and large puddles, and only one crossing had a bridge. For the others, we used stepping stones and fallen branches to make our way across and stay dry. There was one creek that was raging from the winter snow melt, and we knew there would be no way to cross without getting our legs soaked, but luckily, there was a downed log by the trail.

The falls were beautiful, three wide cascades feeding into calm waters. It would be a great place to swim in the summer.