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

Seattle Aquarium

My brother visited over the weekend. We walked around the city with his co-workers. Coming from conservative towns, they were surprised by the massive turnout for the Women’s March. From the Space Needle, we could see the march stretching from the Seattle Center down south into the city until the view was impeded by skyscrapers. An hour later, after taking the monorail to Westlake, we saw the march was still going strong, with no sign of the tail end.

Marchers blanketing 4th Ave
Marchers blanketing 4th Ave

We visited the typical Seattle tourist attractions. For the first time ever, I visited the Seattle Aquarium. The aquarium was definitely geared towards small children. I found it rather small. Except for a Hawaiian fish section, the species were all native to the Puget Sound. In the tide pools where visitors could touch the invertebrates, I saw a familiar sight: the green anemones and pink algae from the Olympic National Park beach tide pools. The anemones’ tentacles gripped my finger when I prodded them.

Life on the Edge tide pool exhibit
Life on the Edge tide pool exhibit

There was a fish tank modeled after Neah Bay. A diver inside the tank talked about the ecosystem and fed krill to coho salmon. At the end of the talk, the diver asked if there were any questions. A boy raised his hand.

“What’s your question?”

“I like fish.”

Jellyfish
Jellyfish

The flounder glided with an awkward sideways grace. A crab methodically ate some kind of debris off the edges of the anemone. Everything underwater was so slow and unhurried, and so colorful. There was an octopus that remained suctioned to the glass all day. A caretaker gave it fish on a stick, and it grabbed the fish with one tentacle. Otherwise, it remained immobile. The octopuses, seals, otters— they were well-fed, but their tanks were so small compared to the natural environment outside the aquarium. Where would the animals prefer to live, or did they even know any better? I enjoyed watching the otters. They had a lot of energy, swimming on their backs, diving, harassing each other. And they would laze about in a relatable way.

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

until next year

I did a 5-mile hike around Saint Edward State Park in North Kirkland. I hiked the various looping trails. Each trail met at the same spot: a picnic table on the Lake Washington shore. I was pleased with the morning hike. The day was as warm as a winter’s day could be. The sun’s rays were diffused by the clouds, providing a pleasant, mild glow.

In the park, there is a seminary building with intricate windows and brickwork. The style is such a contrast to the clean lines and materials of modern buildings. Living around Seattle, with all the sleek new constructions, I find myself appreciating these sturdy old buildings more. A public notice said that the seminary was going to be converted into a lodge. Nearby, towards the lake, there is a stone grotto. The surrounding grass was thick, uniform, and an unnatural shade of emerald, undoubtedly maintained by a gardener. Inside the grotto, a single fresh rose was placed on the altar.

Someone in the hiking group went to the same college as me, graduating the year before with an economics degree. What a small world. There was some overlap in our electives. It’s strange how an immediate connection can be formed with a fellow alumnus, because we both experienced the same purgatory. Or if I used euphemisms, the same transformative experience. Studying all day didn’t put a smile on my face, but it was fulfilling, better than that fleeting happiness. Anything worthwhile requires great effort. Or maybe it was worthwhile because I put in great effort. I will hear back from grad schools in a few months. And I’ll be starting an evening grad course at the University of Washington when I get back from vacation, so there’s a lot to look forward to in 2017.

Bear Mountain

I hiked to the top of Bear Mountain in New York with my parents and little brother. We ascended on the Appalachian Trail, then descended on the Major Welch Trail. The Major Welch Trail is significantly steeper, with more challenging terrain, so in hindsight it would have been safer to ascend on the Major Welch Trail and descend on the Appalachian Trail. But the challenge made it fun.

In the Seattle area, most of the trees are evergreen, but on the East Coast, most of the trees are deciduous. The ground was coated in golden leaves. Also, unlike the dirt trails common in Seattle area hikes, the Bear Mountain trails were mostly rock. In the first segment of the Appalachian Trail, stone steps were set into the mountain, making hiking easy. Towards the end, we hiked over large slabs of rock. Not small rocks of a talus slope, but the rocky face of the mountain itself.

We reached the tower at the summit. There was a view of mountains and the Hudson River. It is also possible to drive to the summit, so the summit was rather crowded. There were fellow hikers, a large group of motorcyclists, even a bride and groom taking wedding photos. On the one hand, having a developed park at the summit of the mountain made the summit crowded, but on the other hand, we could buy food and drink at the top. There were many a hike where I would not have minded a vending machine at the summit, as unnatural as they are.

Bear Mountain Panorama
Bear Mountain Panorama

We ended up taking the Major Welch Trail down the mountain on a whim. At times, the trail was a single slab of rock with an incline sharper than 45°. My parents took plenty of breaks going up the mountain, but going down the mountain, they were even faster than me and my brother. They held hands down the entire way, helping each other over crevasses and particularly steep sections. I tripped and fell on a slippery rock. My family teased me, saying I’m supposed to be a “hiking expert.” My mother told me to “pay more attention.” And so I trudged down cautiously with a bleeding arm and hand. I told them that the cuts did not hurt, but my ego stung.

Afterwards, we met up with my older brother and got some Shake Shack. Twas a good day.

Rattlesnake Mountain

I had a leisurely hike at Rattlesnake Mountain, starting from the west side of the mountain at Snoqualmie Point (the popular Rattlesnake Ledge trail is on the east side of the mountain). The elevation gain was mild, so we comfortably chatted the whole way. There is not much to see on the trail itself, as the trail is always surrounded by trees. Occasionally, I’d see the massive stump of an old-growth tree. The trail’s dirt was packed, but not too packed, perfect for trail running.

On the way down we stopped by Stan’s Overlook and ate a snack. Who was Stan? I imagined a hiker proclaiming with a Mufasa voice, “Everything the light touches is visible from my overlook.” Through the trees, we could see a valley and Mount Si. There was also another clearing that only afforded a view of power lines. Someone joked of the unimpressive view, “that must be Joe’s Overlook.”

Afterwards, I went to the Issaquah Salmon Festival. I was hungry from the hike and quickly scarfed down some baked salmon. There was a booth selling fried alligator. I had never eaten alligator before, so I wanted to try it. The alligator tasted like gamey chicken. The alligator by itself was rather bland, so the fried breading and sweet chili sauce enhanced the taste. The texture was similar to that of chicken, only springier and chewier.

fried alligator
fried alligator

Annette Lake

I hiked to Annette Lake, a relatively easy hike at 7.5 miles roundtrip and 1400 ft. elevation gain. Most of the hike was through forest. The ground was covered by trees and ferns.

Near the beginning of the hike, there was a bridge overlooking a waterfall.

the roar of the waterfall cut through the silence
the roar of the waterfall cut through the silence

Towards the end of the hike, there were several talus slopes. These clearings afforded a glimpse of the surrounding mountains. There was even a fallen tree blocking the path that I had to climb over.

a hint of color through the clouds
a hint of color through the clouds
clouds burning away
clouds burning away

In the morning, where the trail meets the lake, the lake and the sun are in the same direction. So if someone wants to take photos of the lake that are not washed out, they should plan to be there later in the day (or camp overnight!). I enjoyed the warm reflection of the sun on my face. At the far end of the lake, a tiny cascade generated the soothing sound of trickling water.

posing at the lunch spot
posing at the lunch spot
Annette Lake panorama
Annette Lake panorama