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.

Mailbox Peak

I hiked to Mailbox Peak, taking the old trail up (2.6 miles) with 4,000 ft. elevation gain, and the new trail down (4.7 miles).

The old trail started pretty flat as it wound its way through the forest. Then the terrain turned steep. The trail was marked by white diamonds, but they were rather sparse. Everywhere I looked was exposed roots and erosion and dirt, so I wandered off the trail a few times. Not that it mattered though, because as long as I continued upwards, I would hit the trail again.

White diamond trail markers
White diamond trail markers

At the edge of the forest, the old trail and the new trail met up. I continued along the exposed trail, flanked by leafy bushes.

I hit a talus slope, and here, the trail was truly well-maintained and a joy to hike. The rocks for the trail were all flat and arranged neatly into a staircase, any openings tightly filled with smaller rocks.

Talus slope
Talus slope

Finally, I reached the homestretch, the steepest part of the hike: a dirt trail that cut through a meadow. Wildflowers were in bloom: purple and white lupine, fiery Indian paintbrush, fluffy white beargrass. This section had the most animal activity. There were white and orange butterflies, a brown lizard, sparrows, and some buzzing flies.

Purple and white lupine
Purple and white lupine
Wildflowers in bloom
Wildflowers in bloom

I hiked Mailbox Peak on a weekday, so when I reached the mailbox, I had a glorious 20 minutes all to myself. I left some Nintendo swag inside the mailbox. There were panoramic views of the mountain ranges.

Mt. Rainier in the background
Mt. Rainier in the background
Panoramic view towards the trail
Panoramic view towards the trail
Panoramic view towards the back of the mailbox
Panoramic view towards the back of the mailbox

All at once, groups of hikers started streaming in to the peak area. So I began my descent. Not far from the top, there were a couple children complaining loudly. To cheer them up, I congratulated them on almost reaching the top and told them there were prizes in the mailbox. At that, they excitedly started running. I spoke to the mom a bit, and was surprised that her children were only 8 and 10-years-old, and yet were able to hike this strenuous trail. They only brought one bottle of water and drank it all, so I gave her the rest of my water.

I hiked down the new trail without seeing a single person. The new trail is wider and less steep than the old trail, but took longer to hike. It felt like the switchbacks would never end, as it is twice as long the old trail. I tried hiking the new trail earlier in the year, but I turned back because I didn’t have the correct gear to hike in snow. Currently, there is no snow at all, and as I descended I noticed that in my previous attempt I had turned back right before the talus slope.

As for views, the forest section gets rather repetitive, but the hike is breathtaking at the talus slope and onwards. Perhaps the reward to effort ratio is not quite there, so I can see why Mailbox Peak is more of a conditioning hike.

Talapus Lake and Olallie Lake

I hiked to Talapus Lake and Olallie Lake, 6 miles roundtrip with 1200 ft. elevation gain. The trail was wide and had a constant climb, never steep.

There was a hot breeze blowing through the trees, and the sunlight was harsh in areas without cover. Whenever the trail neared a creek, the breeze became cold and refreshing, and the air felt 20 degrees cooler.

Talapus Creek
Talapus Creek

There were patches of deep mud. Before Talapus Lake and halfway to Olallie Lake, the ground was covered in snow. I lost the trail a couple times.

At Talapus Lake, hikers sunbathed on the logs. The smaller logs were rather unstable and one woman accidentally slipped into the water.

Talapus Lake panorama
Talapus Lake panorama

Olallie Lake was still covered in snow. But that did not stop a man and his dog from swimming in the frigid water.

Olallie Lake panorama
Olallie Lake panorama

Overall, this was an easy hike, perfect for a relaxing holiday. I saw some people slip and land on their butts in the snow. So to be safe, I wore microspikes and used trekking poles, but they weren’t necessary.

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.