Heather Lake

I hiked to Heather Lake, roughly 5 miles roundtrip with 1000 ft. of elevation gain. Along the trail, we passed by stumps of old-growth trees, with new, thinner trunks shooting off the stumps. We hiked by waterfalls and over rickety wooden boardwalks. A section of trail was flooded by shallow running water. Near the lake, the trail was covered in snow. I had waterproof boots, microspikes, and poles, so there were no issues. I even had mats to sit on in the snow. It’s great to be geared up!

Heather Lake panorama
Heather Lake panorama

The lake was mostly covered in ice and mushy snow. We rested on the shore in the snow, a strange contrast to the bright, sunny, 70° weather. We could hear the roar of waterfalls on the other side of the lake, a robust flow from the snowmelt. As we milled at the lake, the number of arriving hikers started to pick up, and on our way down there were some traffic jams. We also missed a turn, and ended up doing a loop through the snow, stepping over tree branches and walking through mud.

Overall, I enjoyed the hike to Heather Lake. It was leisurely, and the views at the lake were gorgeous.

Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge

I took a 5-mile walk in the Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge. We rolled in when the visitor center opened at 9AM, and borrowed binoculars from the visitor center.

At the start of the trail, we saw tens of sparrows diving in the air and flapping erratically, in contrast to the steady glide of larger birds. We saw several gaggles of Canadian geese. Whenever the geese took flight, they would shatter the silence with their loud honking. On the Twin Barns Loop Trail, we tried to find the three baby owls, but apparently they had changed trees. On the Estuary Trail, we spent some time observing two statuesque herons. They slowly waded in the water, then were patiently still as they fished. We also saw crows, red-winged blackbirds, various species of seagulls, and even an eagle soaring over a narrow strip of trees in the middle of the mudflats.

The visitor center overlooks a freshwater march. As we walked farther along the trail, the freshwater started to mix with the saltwater of Puget Sound, and we could smell the saltiness in the air.

An overlook on the Estuary Trail
An overlook on the Estuary Trail

I was surprised by the length of the boardwalks. The boardwalk to get to the Puget Sound Overlook was a mile long. The landscape was surreal, flat grassy marshes and mudflats (it was low tide) as far as the eye could see in all directions.

I thoroughly enjoyed my time birdwatching. Fellow birdwatchers were all friendly, eager to share the location of any birds that were spotted. Many brought a full-size telescope or a camera with telephoto lens. As we walked back to the parking lot, we passed by a lot of families, so we were glad that we were able to enjoy the wildlife refuge when it was uncrowded. The trails are all flat, so the wildlife refuge is a place I would consider taking my parents for a relaxing stroll.


Afterwards, we walked around Olympia. I ate a crab benedict for brunch. We saw the old legislative building and the current state capitol. The gray marble interior and chandelier felt cold and unwelcoming compared to the natural beauty that the capitol building overlooks. Outside one of the chambers, there are portraits of current Washington statesmen. One portrait stood out from the rest: a man wearing black sunglasses. It turns out, that man is the Lieutenant Governor, has accomplished quite a lot as a politician, and is blind. We strolled along the nearby boardwalk at Percival Landing, which displayed sculptures along its length. We climbed a wooden tower to get a view of the lake.  Then we made our way to the farmers market. All these locations were within ten minutes of each other. Olympia’s core area is conveniently walkable.

Umtanum Ridge Crest

I wanted to get away from the unceasing Seattle rain (at record levels this year!), so I drove east towards Yakima, where the skies are blue and the sun beats down relentlessly. I hiked Umtanum Ridge Crest, a 6-mile roundtrip hike with 2400 ft. of elevation gain.

Though I was only 2 hours away from the Puget Sound, the Umtanum Canyon region was like stepping into another world. The coniferous trees of the Sound were swapped for desert fauna, short grasses, sagebrush. Wildflowers were in bloom—blue and purple drops, yellow flowers in star and circle shapes— peppering the rolling hills. Overgrown shrubs encroached on the trail.

Beginning of the trail
Beginning of the trail

There was no forest cover. The packed dirt trail was exposed, winding through hills, always with a moderate incline. We trudged along the dusty path of loose rock, walking past waterfalls and rocky caves.

After some winding turns, we could see the end, the top of a mountain. The trail turned extremely steep. Any steeper and the trail would be a scramble. There were some incredibly fit freaks of nature doing a 50K race, and they ran up and down the ridge with great agility, undaunted by the ridiculous incline.  We pushed along, legs burning, but spurred on by the sight of the end of the trail.

Stacked rocks at the end of the trail
Stacked rocks at the end of the trail

At the top, we soaked in the panoramic view. The way in which we came had a view superior to that of the other side of the mountain. Looking behind us, we could see a massive caldera, with a single yellow tree inside. The valley undulated below us.

Umtanum Ridge Crest panorama
Umtanum Ridge Crest panorama

We ran back down the mountain, as it was more efficient than walking down slowly. The wind died down. The bugs, which gave the hike the white noise of a constant buzzing hum, swarmed thicker as we descended, no longer deterred by strong winds. I kept swatting them away from my face.

As we trekked back, we passed the familiar curves of the trail, the caves, the waterfalls, past the live railroad tracks and the green suspension bridge.

On the way home, we passed by a store that advertised in big letters, “APPLES”, “ANTIQUES”, and interestingly, “ASPARAGUS.” We stopped by for groceries and ice cream.

The next few days, my legs ached. It hurt to walk, especially up staircases, even to stand up. I will remember this hike fondly. Washington’s diversity of ecosystems is astounding!

Bridal Veil Falls and Lake Serene

I hiked to Lake Serene, making a detour to see Bridal Veil Falls along the way, bringing the hike to 8 miles roundtrip with 2000 feet of elevation gain.

The start of the trail was wide and flat. At around the 2-mile mark, the trail branched to climb upwards to Bridal Veil Falls. There was a steep snowfield we had to cross. I brought microspikes, which I got to use for the first time. The falls were powerful. Water beat the rocks below and produced a far-reaching spray.

Bridal Veil Falls
Bridal Veil Falls

On the way down from the falls, I tried glissading, but I could not stop myself on the steep, slick snow. My heart raced, as I was sliding down out of control. Luckily, there was a tree branch I could grab on to. And if I were to have fallen farther, there were some patches of shrubs below that would have probably stopped my fall. After that incident, my fellow hikers gave me advice on how to use microspikes. Instead of glissading down without an ice axe to self-arrest, they said to “trust the equipment, trust the microspikes to work.” Rather than step gingerly on the snow, they said to take firm steps to create footholds, toe-first while ascending and heel-first while descending.

Back at the juncture, we continued on towards Lake Serene. We passed the lower falls, which were nearly as impressive as the Bridal Veil Falls, also wide with a large throughput of water. There were clear swimming holes at the base of the falls. But this was not a day for swimming— during the hike, the weather alternated between rain, sleet, and snow.

The lower falls on the way to Lake Serene
The lower falls on the way to Lake Serene

The flat trail turned into a slog of switchbacks, a stairmaster consisting alternately of actual wooden stairs, roots, and rocks. At higher elevation, again we donned our traction devices as the switchbacks became completely covered in snow. After the switchbacks, we hiked through precipitous snowfields on narrow trails forged by whoever hiked before us. A one point, there was a fairly large drop from the snowpack trail into a creek. We had to slide down, cross the creek, then lift ourselves back onto the trail.

Lake Serene covered in snow
Lake Serene covered in snow

When we finally reached the lake, I was elated. I had eaten breakfast, but the hike made me hungry, and I felt a dull and growing burning in my stomach as time went on. I guzzled down a sandwich while admiring the lake, which was covered in snow. It was certainly serene, watching the quiet lake while snowflakes fell. On the way back, the clouds opened up and we saw a rainbow in the misty blue sky. I was surprised, hiking back, seeing that we had travelled so far.

The snow made this hike challenging for me, and it was not a hike that I would have been comfortable doing alone. I am thankful for my fellow hikers, who lent me their hats to keep away the precipitation, for letting me borrow trekking pulls, giving me advice, and pulling me up steep sections. Most of all, they were all very friendly, humorous, and supportive. Back in the parking lot, I felt relief, glad to have made it and flush with the feeling of accomplishment and expanded capabilities. I will feel more confident and capable doing hikes with this terrain in the future.

Oyster Dome

I hiked to Oyster Dome from Chuckanut Drive (Highway 11). The hike was 6.5 miles roundtrip and 2000 feet of elevation gain. We walked through forest dense with ferns and trees covered in emerald moss. We passed small waterfalls, some old-growth conifers, and story-tall moss-covered boulders.

View at the Oyster Dome summit
View at the Oyster Dome summit

Unfortunately, it was a cloudy day, and at the summit, we were surrounded by a thick fog that impaired all visibility of the Sound. We snacked in the rain, then went back down the trail. As we descended, the clouds broke. We could see shellfish farms. Underwater lines that were covered in shellfish were arranged in neat rows, akin to the rows of crops in a field.

Shellfish farms were visible
Shellfish farms were visible

Overall, this hike was quite enjoyable. The hike was easy enough that I stuffed my pack with stout, wine, and snacks. Since I did not have to work hard to reach the summit, I did not feel much disappointment that the fog had spoiled the view. This hike was low enough that there was no snow, only mud, making it an ideal early season hike. I wouldn’t mind hiking Oyster Dome again on a dry, sunny day, but I imagine on such days it would be thronged with people.

There was an attempt

I tried to hike to Mailbox Peak on the new trail. It’s about 4,000 feet of elevation gain to the mailbox. At around 3,000 feet elevation gain, the snow was deeper and slicker, and the trail became steep. I would need traction devices and trekking poles. It was hailing and there was limited tree cover at that elevation. I was not feeling particularly energetic to begin with, so I turned back.

As I hiked back down through the trees, the hail turned to snow. Then as I reached lower elevations, the snow turned to rain. I passed all the familiar landmarks from my ascent: burnt trees, waterfalls, bridges, then back to leafy brush. I was disappointed that I didn’t make it to the mailbox, but I know I made the right choice in turning back.

Ebey’s Landing

I did a 5-mile loop around Ebey’s Landing in Coupeville, on Whidbey Island. Isaac Ebey was Whidbey Island’s first settler. We saw his fertile homestead, still being farmed to this day.

Farm at Ebey's Landing
Farm at Ebey’s Landing

Overlooking the water, there was the Lincoln log blockhouse he built to protect against raiding Indians. Ebey was assassinated by Indians before he turned 40, but he had accomplished much in his short life. He studied law, was an attorney, farmer, father, and well-respected leader in his local militia, even assisting in the separation of Oregon and Washington. Those early pioneers were so adventurous and diligent. Where is the frontier of my generation, what is left unexplored? Modern comforts are standard. People spend so many hours watching TV,  frittering life away in a semi-catatonic state.

The reflection of the bluff on the water
The reflection of the bluff on the water

Anyway, the hike was pleasant, beautiful views all around with no effort, only 300 ft. of elevation gain. The trail went parallel to the water along a grassy bluff, with offshoots into into thorny bushes and coniferous forest.

Posing on the grassy bluff
Posing on the grassy bluff

Then eroded trail went down along sand and rocky shore, then along the shore, the trail looped back to the beginning. The shore’s rocks were varied in size, color, and speckles. Driftwood lay scattered along the coast.

Rocky coast full of driftwood
Rocky coast full of driftwood

Afterwards, the group ate lunch on Front Street. I tried the local Penn Cove mussels. We drove back to the ferry terminal, thankful for the pleasant day. Somehow, it rained all day except for the hours we were hiking.

Deception Pass

I hiked 9+ miles of trails at Deception Pass, so-named by George Vancouver because he was deceived into thinking that Whidbey Island was a peninsula. There were steep sections, but overall elevation gain was minimal.

Oh, didn't see you there. Hi!
Oh, didn’t see you there. Hi!

First, I hiked to Lottie Bay and Lighthouse Point. The scenery was beautiful. In hiking all the trails, I saw Deception Island and the bridge from every angle. Tree-covered bluffs rose up out of the sea. The lighthouse was rather small and unconventional, a metal box surrounded by silver beams.

green waters and mountains at Deception Pass
green waters and mountains at Deception Pass

Below a cliff where I stood, there was a group of 12 sea lions (or a raft of sea lions, the plural form of sea lions on water). Their heads bobbed above the surface. Occasionally they would dive and disappear for a while. Sometimes they would spin on their body axis, revealing their speckled white bellies. On a rock far from the coast, sleek black cormorants rested idly.

the rock on the left had a climbable path
the rock on the left had a climbable path

The sky was cloudy, but towards the afternoon, the sun broke through. I ate lunch on Fidalgo Island. There was a wooden carving of a woman with flowing hair holding a fish above her head, the Maiden of Deception Pass. Some placards told her story, a story of the Samish people. A maiden was gathering shellfish, when a hand from the sea reached out and grabbed hers. This happened on several different trips. One day, the maiden requested to see this person, and a handsome young man rose from the water. He met the maiden’s family. He requested to marry her, but the maiden’s father would not allow it, saying she could not live in the sea. The young man said that it was his household that generously provided all their water and seafood, and so he stopped his generosity.  Having no more food to eat or clean water, the father relented, under the condition that his daughter visit every year. Each time his daughter visited, the family noticed she was becoming increasingly colder and inhuman, with scales and barnacles growing on her. She was sad to be away from her husband. So the father said she no longer had to visit if she didn’t want to. And though the maiden stopped visiting, she continued providing for her people.

scenery at Deception Pass
scenery at Deception Pass

As I crossed over the bridge, I could see Mt. Baker. The snow-capped mountain was in stark contrast to the darker mountains surrounding it. I dropped a stick and a rock off the bridge, and watched them fall and fall and fall. It was a long way down from the bridge into the swift currents below.

the green beams of Deception Pass Bridge
the green beams of Deception Pass Bridge

At Goose Rock, the sun was setting. To the left, I could see Mt. Rainier, a faint white mountain on the pink horizon. To the right, there was a sweeping view of trees, buildings, and water.

view from Goose Rock
view from Goose Rock

Enjoy the Silence

I snowshoed a 5-mile loop in the Commonwealth Basin, walking through a dense forest of fir, cedar, and hemlock. Some trees were 700+ years old. Scientists took cylindrical cores of the trees, and counted the rings under microscope. I saw a couple trees with prism-shaped hollows. Early settlers carved these hollows and would lay there marten traps in them. There was even a tree trunk with spiral grain, theorized to be caused by the uneven distribution of nutrients in the soil and the changing location of where light broke through. I saw the tracks of a snowshoe hare, a perfectly straight line of footprints to conserve energy and get from Point A to Point B.

The snow had accumulated 7 feet above the actual dirt trail, the actual trail nowhere to be seen. I thought back to the time I had hiked in the snow without snowshoes, and was glad to be prepared this time. The snow completely transformed the landscape. There were tree stumps with mounds of snow on top, and trees whose trunks curved under the weight of the snow like spiraling ferns. I crossed over Commonwealth Creek on bridges of snow. Some snow bridges looked tenuous, with top-heavy piles of snow overhanging the creek on thin logs. The snow transformed the landscape, but at the same time, it made everything look the same. Looking one direction, snow, trees, and mountains. Looking another direction, more snow, trees, and mountains.

Snow mounds on trunks
Snow mounds on trunks

The mountains boxed me in at all times. I could see the Kendall Katwalk, Red Mountain, and other Snoqualmie mountains.

a view of Kendall Katwalk
A view of Kendall Katwalk

The best part of snowshoeing was the all-consuming stillness. There was no rustling of branches, for the trees broke the wind and the supple branches drooped under the heavy weight of the snow. There was only the crunch of snow under my feet and sparkle of the snow-covered ground in the sun. Like dust, snowy powder fell from branches and danced where rays of light broke through the trees. I mostly snowshoed in the shadow of trees. Whenever I was in a sunny clearing, the difference in temperature was palpable. The numbness left my face, and I basked in the warmth and brightness of the light.

Me posing in the clearing where I ate lunch
Me posing in the clearing where I ate lunch

I would say my greatest joy from snowshoeing is when all the ideal conditions simultaneously converge, and that is, going downhill breaking trail in fresh powder under the warm and blinding sun. My feet sank into the softness. Even if I fell, it did not matter, it was falling into a bed of feathers.

Franklin Falls

I hiked to Franklin Falls. Normally, the hike is 2-miles roundtrip, but the road to the trailhead was narrow, icy, and closed, so I parked off of the I-90 exit and hiked from there. I was feeling energized from brunch, and I ended up running most of the way there and back (7-miles round trip).

a forest winter wonderland
a forest winter wonderland

Elevation gain was minimal, mostly gentle inclines and declines. There were some particularly steep, slick sections of the trail, and for those I would slide sitting down on my snow pants. But thankfully my hiking boots gave a solid grip on the snow, and I felt secure in my winter trail running.

Everything was covered in snow— the trees, the trail, even the water. The mounds of snow on the water looked surreal.

mounds of snow on the water
mounds of snow on the water

As I was running across a rusty bridge, I saw someone had graffitied “Beware of clowns!” The warning was duly noted. At the falls, a lot of clowns were milling around, enjoying the payoff of the hike.

Though the temperature had managed to climb above the freezing point for the past few days and the walls were near vertical, some brave clowns were climbing the ice walls, slowly, testing the ice with a pick in each hand. I watched in amazement. The climbers had belayers, but someone had to have set up the rope at the top to begin with.

ice climbing and spectators by the falls
ice climbing and spectators by the falls

Water still flowed from Franklin Falls, albeit a trickle compared to the deluge in spring. The mist from the falls had frozen into ice, enclosing the stream of water. I posed under the falls, feeling the spray of the cold water. When I got back down, I noticed that the water on my hair and clothes had instantly frozen into ice. It wasn’t bad though, the run back to the car warmed me up.

me sitting by the waterfall
me sitting by the waterfall