Heather Lake Solo Day Hike in Mount Pilchuck State Forest

4.6 miles round trip / 1100′ elevation gain

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Heather Lake, Mount Pilchuck State Forest

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Heather Lake Trail

A day hike to Heather Lake ended up being the perfect choice for my first solo trip.  The drive to the trail-head was only about an hour and luckily traffic was on my side.  My boots hit the trail around 12:30 pm and I returned to the parking lot around 4:00 pm.  The first mile of the trail was fairly easy with a gradual incline and  few switchbacks.  Even on a cloudless day, the thick forest canopy was preventing the sun from shining through to the trail.  As I made my way along the trail I could always faintly hear running water in the distance.  Each time the sound of the running water would get closer, the trail seemed to switch back just before it came into sight.  After the first mile the trail started to get steeper and muddy.  Now it was as if I was hiking right through the water source I couldn’t seem to find earlier.  This section of the trail had many obstacles including large tree roots, slippery rock, and thick mud.  The last section of the trail dried up and started to slowly descend towards Heather Lake.

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Boardwalk on the Heather Lake trail

The view of Heather Lake peaked through the boulders just beyond the boardwalks that had been leading me along the trail.  I welcomed the cool mountain breeze and my feet welcomed the much needed rest.  I found a quiet, shady spot to picnic and sketch for a while before continuing my hike around the lake.  The lake was flat, reflecting the mountain peaks with a few tiny patches of snow still scattered about.  A waterfall that seemed to be cascading from the very peak of the mountaintop was a constant sound.  As I looked out over the sun speckled lake with small ripples from the jumping fish I also enjoyed the sounds of several birds chirping.  While the mosquitoes were not a huge problem, they were just irritating enough to move me along my way sooner than I had hoped.

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Heather Lake, Mount Pilchuck State Forest

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Boardwalk along Heather Lake

 

Traveling around Heather Lake was my favorite part of this hike.  Fields of wildflowers were blooming all along the waters’ edge attracting butterflies to the trail-side.  Several boardwalks wind their way through boulders, meadows, and marshlands.  Many varieties of berries are just starting to ripen and the sun was reflecting their vibrant colors across the landscape.  As I finished my trek around the lake I found it a little tough to leave the peace that comes when visiting the wilderness.  I always enjoy hikes that end with a descent, although I did have to make my way carefully down this trail avoiding the many obstacles along the way.

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Boardwalk along Heather Lake

 

Cascade Pass Day Hike in North Cascades National Park

7.4 miles round trip / 1700′ elevation gain

Cascade Pass trail

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A curious squirrel at Colonial Creek campground

After a spur of the moment decision to go camping for one night, my husband and I spent the evening in a first-come, first-serve car camping site in Colonial Creek campground in the North Cascades National Park.  The next morning we enjoyed our dutch oven breakfast and instant coffee while listening to the sounds of chirping birds and barking squirrels alongside Diablo Lake.  After breaking down camp we headed to the North Cascades Visitors Center to get a suggestion on a day hike in the park as we headed southwest back towards Seattle.  The park ranger we spoke to suggested a hike she had taken with her mother less than a week prior describing vast views of glaciers and crossing meadow fields full of blooming flowers.  We decided this was the hike to make since the ranger had hinted that if her mother could make the hike with two easy snow fields to cross, then we could easily do so as well.

After about an hours drive we arrived at the trail-head and started our ascent towards Cascade Pass around 2:00 pm.  We met a couple at the trail-head who were starting their first day of a week long trek to Stehekin and back on their honeymoon – they had just been married two days earlier!  I had to snap a shot of their packs showing “Just Married” attached to their backs.

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The mountainside covered with cascades

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Honeymooners

As soon as our boots hit the trail it slowly started climbing upwards, switchback after switchback meandering through the thick forest.  When travelling along the trail we could hear the sounds of the many cascades flowing from the glaciers and snow melting from above. As we gradually climbed up, the first few miles of the trail were not very difficult as it had a continually slow and steady incline.  At one point we tried to step aside to allow a few hikers to pass on their way down, but they insisted we go ahead since we still had “fresh legs.”  Once we reached to the top, we starting hiking along the ridge which became a easier, flatter hike.  It was at this point we had to cross a few snow fields where I admittedly had a difficult time overcoming anxieties I have about hiking in the snow.  Once I took the last leap from the snow onto solid ground again, we had arrived at the top of Cascade Pass where I instantly realized how worth the trek was.  The views in every direction were breathtaking looking through what appeared to be endless valleys.

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The view from Cascade Pass looking into the valley

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The view from Cascade Pass looking back towards the ridge

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The sun setting behind the North Cascades

At the top of the pass, we reconnected with the honeymooners sharing stories of our adventures in the Pacific Northwest.  After a short rest we wished our new friends good luck, and started our decent back down the trail letting gravity assist us along the way.  While going down has it’s own challenges, we no longer had fresh legs and our muscles welcomed the relief.  Just as the sun started to dip below the glacier topped mountain peaks, my husband and I arrived at the trail-head around 7:30 pm.

 

 

 

 

 

 

North Fork Skokomish River Backpacking

3 days, 2 nights / 20 miles round trip / <1200′ elevation gain

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A view of Hood Canal from Glen Ayr Resort

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North Fork Skokomish River

On the evening prior to our trip, my husband and I stayed in Hoodsport, WA on the Hood Canal.  This allowed us to sleep in getting plenty of rest and enjoy a hearty breakfast in town the morning before hitting the trail.  We started our journey along the North Fork Skokomish River from the trail-head at the Staircase Ranger Station.  We left an almost empty parking lot around 11:30 am arriving to our destination at Nine Stream backpackers camp at 5:30 pm .  Our hike included a few stops along the way taking pictures and enjoying a lunch of jerky, dried fruits, and homemade granola bars.  This was a pretty easy going 10 mile hike the entire way with an occasional stream or log crossing.  We had been warned of a few calf deep water crossings along the trail, but fortunately the rivers and streams were low enough to allow us to keep our feet dry.  The weather was perfect all three days we were in the park, with temperatures in the low 80’s and partly cloudy skies.

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North Fork Skokomish River

We only saw five other people during our hike including one park ranger who checked our wilderness permit. We asked the ranger if she had any reports of bears in the area, and she explained the only reports recently were a few sightings at the Two Bear backpackers camp.  She explained that the bears were not travelling down this low in elevation since the berries haven’t ripened yet.  As we hiked past Camp Pleasant we did not see any backpackers in the campground, and as we arrived at Nine Stream solitude was waiting there as well.  My husband and I picked a nice spot to setup camp just past the bear wire to the left of the trail.  Though the hike to the privy and water was a bit farther than the other sites, it was worth the privacy and seclusion in the case other backpackers should arrive.  The camp site had a nice make shift bench and a few wide chopped logs to use as tables for cooking and eating our dehydrated meals.  Our first night was pleasant as the sound of the Skokomish River lulled us to sleep allowing our aching muscles to finally rest.

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A butterfly sitting alongside trail

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A fallen tree has been cut to allow hikers to pass

We slept in the next morning lingering in the tent as we waited for the sun to reach the valley to warm our bodies.  After having breakfast and enjoying a slow, peaceful morning at camp we loaded our packs for a day hike.  We started our hike continuing up the North Fork Skokomish trail towards Two Bear hoping to get a glimpse of at least one bear. This part of the trail begins to get tough with elevation climbing quickly as the trail switches back and forth several times.  We only hiked a couple of miles before our muscles screamed for a break, not quite making it to Two Bear. We noticed a few ripe blueberries as we gained elevation, and at times we were surrounded by wildflowers along creeks and streams. Sometimes when when turning a corner in a switchback, we’d get surprise views of snow capped mountain peaks with blue skies as a backdrop. We stopped and picnicked beside a creek, taking an hour or so to draw in my sketchbook and read a few pages in Steep Trails by John Muir while my husband explored the creek.We only saw two people during our hike who were camping at Spike Camp and day hiking up to First Divide and back.  Once we began our decent back towards camp, my husband ran ahead, leaving me to soak in the absolute solitude of the wilderness trail. We met up back at camp to begin our evening camp preparations.  Only two additional campers arrived that evening setting up camp together at the site beside the trial near the privy.

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Along the trail between Nine Stream and Two Bear

On the morning of our final day in the park, we woke up around 6:30 am to eat breakfast and break down camp early. We wanted to hit the trail as soon as possible to continue our journey towards our Fourth of July destination for the evening, leaving the woods for the guests pouring into the park for the holiday weekend. We left Nine Stream around 9:00 am and arrived at the trail-head around 2:00 pm. We stopped near a log crossing and enjoyed lunch as we watched people take their turns at the crossing. We counted 79 people hiking in, most of them appearing to be backpackers.  We had left the solitude of the wilderness on the trails behind us scattered with enthusiastic hikers.