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.

Mount Pilchuck

I hiked Mt. Pilchuck, 5.4 miles and 2300 ft. elevation gain. In terms of views and variety of terrain, this hike is top tier. But I was constantly accosted by insects (flies, bees, mosquitoes), so I couldn’t stop moving until I reached the fire tower.

Mount Pilchuck panorama
Mount Pilchuck panorama

Mt. Pilchuck had it all: streams, rocky slopes, slippery snow, still-water insect breeding grounds.

Mount Pilchuck trail through rock and snow
Mount Pilchuck trail through rock and snow

To get to the tower, I had to scramble up boulders then climb a ladder. So I left some of my gear lower down, and after psyching myself up to overcome a mild fear of heights, I climbed the rocks and reached the tower.

Mount Pilchuck Lookout
Mount Pilchuck Lookout

There were a lot of people milling about. Some had brought camping gear to stay overnight, since the tower can be used on a first-come, first-served basis. A brave teenager posed for a picture on top of a narrow rock that fell sharply off, and it made me feel uneasy looking at him standing in such a perilous spot. “I’m wearing my plaid shirt, so nature.”

Another person accidentally dropped his water bottle, and we heard and watched it clang down the cliff for a good minute.

It was a foggy day, so I didn’t even see the tower until I was right next to it. Sometimes the fog would blow away, and I could see panoramic views of the surrounding mountains. But Mt. Pilchuck itself if so beautiful, that even though everything else was not visible, the hike was incredibly fun. Even the drive to the trailhead was an adventure, as the 7-mile forest road is mostly unpaved and laden with potholes.