Wildlife Wednesday 11/09/2016

During a recent trip to Hawai’i, I finally had the opportunity to explore snorkeling.  After spending a few hours in the “kiddie pool” at Lydgate Beach Park, I was ready to broaden my underwater horizons.  Anini Beach was the perfect destination for beginner snorkelers, with its’ shallow waters and abundance of wildlife.  After only 10 minutes in the water I spotted several tropical fish, two rays, a sea urchin, and a saddled snake eel.  As I chased down a beautiful tropical fish, out of nowhere a very large sea turtle swam right in front of me.  This was a dream come true!  I spent the next several minutes slowly swimming alongside a sea turtle in its’ natural environment.  Check that one of the bucket list!  ✔

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Sea turtle, Anini Beach, Kaua’i, Hawai’i

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Snorkeling at Anini Beach, Kauai’i, Hawai’i

The Lower Enchantments – Car Camping and Day Hiking: Part 1

 

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Lake Stuart, The Enchantments, Alpine Lakes Wilderness, WA

As the summer was nearing its’ end here in the Pacific Northwest, my husband and I were itching to get outdoors a few more times.  Last month we woke up to a beautiful, sunny Saturday in Seattle with no agenda.  We spontaneously threw our camping gear in the car and headed east over Stevens Pass.  Our plan was to head into Leavenworth for a few supplies and go from there.  As we approached Leavenworth, we noticed smoke filling the skies above the city.  A large fire was burning alongside the hills to the northeast of town.  Helicopters were scooping large buckets of water out of the Wenatchee River to dump onto the fire and emergency vehicles were coming into Leavenworth from all directions.

After a brief stop in town for supplies, we stopped at a local coffee shop and asked our barista for camping suggestions.  She led us towards Icicle Road explaining that it was the best camping around.  Without knowing it, she had led us straight into the Enchantments for our very first time!  I have read about The  Enchantments online, and even applied for a backpacking permit in the lottery this year, but didn’t actually know where it was located.  The drive along Icicle Road is breathtaking as it winds its’ way through the valley along Icicle Creek.  Craggy mountain peaks surrounded us in every direction.  Out of curiosity, we stopped at a trail-head parking lot only to find we were at the entrance into the Enchantments via Snow Lakes.  What I have only read about until this point, was now directly in front in me!  I was almost giddy from the excitement of wanting to hike these trails.  I snapped a quick picture of the map at the trail-head before hopping back in the car.

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Trail-head Map, The Enchantments, Alpine Lakes Wilderness, WA

Our plan was to find a camping spot along Icicle Road and take a short evening hike as the sun set…but unfortunately, things didn’t go exactly as planned.  Every, single camping site was full (with the exception of dispersed camping which we weren’t prepared for.)  We made our way all the way to the end of the road stopping at each campground checking availability.  As we headed into one of the most beautiful areas on one of the most beautiful weekends in the PNW that morning, we were prepared for this.  Our backup plan was to head into Leavenworth and have a local brew and use the breweries’ WiFi to find a hotel to crash in for the night.  Before heading back out of the valley, we stopped at a quite picnic spot to enjoyed dinner beside Icicle Creek.  By the time we arrived back in Leavenworth, the sun had completely disappeared behind the mountains.

It was when we finally arrived back in town that our plan really started to fall apart.  The fire that had starting burning earlier that day had the entire city without cell service and WiFi.  After enjoying a quick pint at Icicle Brewing Company and discovering our latest challenge, my husband and I made our way around town on foot hoping to find cell signal or accommodations.  In one brief moment of cell service, we sadly discovered that every, single hotel room was booked in town.  Our last hope was to see if the KOA had availability or was even open that late at night, as it was nearing 10:00 pm.

We pulled into the KOA full of doubt, but to our surprise the campground was open and had plenty of availability.  There was one minor problem – the campground was on a Level 2 Evacuation because of the fire burning on the hilltops just across the river from the campground.  This meant we would need to be ready to evacuate within 15 minutes if notified at any time during the night.  Preferring not to make the drive back to Seattle at such a late hour, we set up camp and the Leavenworth KOA and called it home for the night.  My husband and I reminisced about our very first camping trip in WA during a vacation over four years ago.  Before calling it a night, we took a short hike down to the Wenatchee River that flows alongside the campground.  Across the river along the tops of the hills, the glow of the fire could be seen against the nights’ sky.

The next morning we woke up safe and sound, and were excited to head back into the Enchantments for a day hike.  After a quick breakfast, we broke camp and made our way into the mountains once again. Now that I knew I was going hiking in the Enchantments, I looked in my WTA backpack and found the hike description for Lake Stuart.  I have seen many pictures of this hike online, and now it was time to see it for myself.  We drove back down Icicle Road this time turning onto Eightmile Road towards the trail-head.   Our car climbed deeper into the mountains along a narrow, dusty forest road.  As we pulled into a mostly full parking lot, we were thankful to have arrived early enough to have access to a space to park our car.

Lake Stuart:  9 miles round trip / 1665′ elevation gain

It was the perfect day for hiking in the PNW!  We were filled with energy as we stepped into this new and unfamiliar territory known as the Enchantments.  The first two miles of trail are shared with hikers headed to Colchuck Lake, a much steeper hike up into a different valley.  We chose to hike to Lake Stuart in hopes that it would be a little less crowded since it is a slightly less popular destination.  The trail was packed with trail runners zipping by as they made they way back towards the parking lot from an unknown distance out of the mountains.  It was not our intention to run this trail, but the excitement of trail runners grinning as they ran by had us pumped to do the same.  We decided right away we would hike up to Lake Start and trail run our way back down.  We continued along the trail slowly climbing into the valley switching back and forth between trees and boulders.  At some point we stopped for a quick snack and watched a squirrel break for lunch as well.

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Squirrel, The Enchantments, Alpine Lakes Wilderness, WA

It wasn’t long before Lake Stuart came into view and dominated the landscape.  The blue waters reflected the craggy mountain peaks and the bright green grass along the shoreline.  I quickly ran to the edge of the water and took off my socks and shoes.  The cold water felt amazing on my tired feet from the hike up.  As I dug my toes into the sand, I noticed specks of glittery flashes reflecting from the sun.  With further investigation, my husband and I noticed tiny specks of gold like flakes all throughout the sand along lakeside.  I hate to make such a cliche statement, but it truly was an enchanting place!

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Lake Stuart, The Enchantments, Alpine Lakes Wilderness, WA

 

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Lake Stuart, The Enchantments, Alpine Lakes Wilderness, WA

 

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Lake Stuart, The Enchantments, Alpine Lakes Wilderness, WA

After a quick lunch, I slipped my shoes back on ready to explore the trail along the shoreline of the lake.  Perfect little camping spots were tucked beneath the trees along the edges of the water.  Large boulders jut out into the water creating the perfect viewing spots with mountain peaks in every direction.

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My husband enjoying the view of Lake Stuart, The Enchantments, Alpine Lakes Wilderness, WA

 

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A perfect day in The Enchantments, Alpine Lakes Wilderness, WA

We knew at some point we would have to leave the beauty of the lake behind us, but were excited about the adventure of running back towards the trail-head.  With our packs strapped on tightly, we headed down the trail filled with enthusiasm.  Since I had not been trail running on a regular basis, I cautiously picked each step between the rocks and tree  roots that covered the pathway.  As I gained confidence, I picked up my pace as the trail zigged and zagged its’ way through the valley.  Like the runners I had seen earlier in the day, I was now grinning from ear to ear myself – this was my happy place!  Just as I was feeling most confident in my footing, rocks suddenly slid beneath my feet causing me to dive forward onto the ground.  I quickly pulled myself up off the rocks as to avoid embarrassment from the nearby hikers.  I took a short glance at my right elbow and saw a stream of blood pouring down my forearm.  At this point, I thought it’d be best to ignore the pain and just finish the hike at a slightly slower pace.

It wasn’t long before the cars in the parking lot came into view, and our journey in the Enchantments was ending.  My husband doctored the few wounds from my earlier crash including two cuts on my arm, a small gash on my pinky finger, and a little road rash on my knees.  Even with my small injuries, the hike to Lake Stuart was one of my favorites to date!  I knew that was the first of many adventures I was going to have in the Enchantments.  As we headed back to Seattle, we instantly began making plans for the following holiday weekend to return to the Alpine Lakes Wilderness.

Wildlife Wednesday 09/07/2016

Last week I spent several days in the Alpine Lakes Wilderness for the first time.  As an amatuer wildlife photographer, I have dreamed about my first mountain goat sighting in the wilderness.  After reading several recent trip reports from many of the hiking trails in the area, I was certain this would be my time.  Unfortunately, after hiking over 25 miles in 3 days I still did not see any mountain goats in the wild.  This friendly goat, however, posed for me near the Enzian Falls Putting Green while visiting Leavenworth during the same trip.

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Mountain goat, Leavenworth, WA

Return to Shi Shi Beach Wilderness Backpacking

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Shi Shi Beach, Olympic National Park, WA

3 days, 2 nights / 8 miles round trip / 200′ elevation gain

Last month my teenage nephew visited from Texas and I wanted to take him on his first backpacking trip.  I knew that Shi Shi Beach would be the perfect destination for a first timer.  We left Seattle as the sun was rising with hopes of arriving at the coast in the late morning.  As we drove closer to Neah Bay, the weather grew dreary with cloud filled skies.  The beginning of this journey was looking very similar to my first trip to Shi Shi Beach earlier this summer.  When we arrived at the day use parking area, I knew we’d be hiking in the rain once again.  After dropping off my nephew with all of our gear at the trailhead, I parked the car at the nearest private lot and walked back.

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My nephew and I at the Shi Shi Beach trailhead, Olympic National Park, WA

We hit the trail in the early afternoon and enjoyed splashing around the muddy puddles along the way.  It wasn’t long before we were done tromping through the mud before we arrived at the section of the trail that heads down towards the beach.  Even though I had hiked this section before, I was nervous about the additional weight I was carrying.  While I usually only carry around 25 pounds, this time I was carrying twice as much!  I powered through the anxiety and cautiously made my way down the trail.  All of my anxieties of the steep trail were washed away instantly as we stepped onto the beach.  The rain had stopped and left the sky filled with clouds.  The two of us hiked along the shoreline of the beach with plans to camp closer to Point of the Arches.  After crossing Petroleum Creek, we looked for a spot to set up camp on the beach close to our water source.

The sunsets at Shi Shi Beach are what called me back to visit once again.  I loved having the opportunity to share the experience with my nephew.  I spent over an hour of that evening attempting to build my first fire on my own.  All of the wood was soaked from the days’ rain, and it wasn’t long before I gave up.  Exhaustion from a day of hiking drove us to  the comfort of our tents early that night.

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My nephew watching the sunset on Shi Shi Beach, Olympic National Park, WA

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Point of the Arches sunset, Shi Shi Beach, Olympic National Park, WA

The next morning I was wakened by the sun warming my tent.  I let the teenager sleep in while I enjoyed my morning coffee and read a book.  I enjoyed the solitude, but was happy when my nephew finally crawled out of his tent.  I was excited to explore Point of the Arches and farther south down the beach.  After breakfast, we packed a lunch and headed out for a day of beach hiking.

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My nephew and I with Point of the Arches, Shi Shi Beach, Olympic National Park, WA

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View from beach south of Point of the Arches, Olympic National Park, WA

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View from Point of the Arches, Olympic National Park, WA

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Peace rocks, Shi Shi Beach, Olympic National Park, WA

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View from beach south of Point of the Arches, Olympic National Park, WA

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View from beach south of Point of the Arches, Olympic National Park, WA

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View from beach south of Point of the Arches, Olympic National Park, WA

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Point of the Arches, Olympic National Park, WA

After exploring the beach south of Point of the Arches, we headed towards a picnic spot in the shade near an arch.  As we were getting ready to unpack our lunch, we noticed an eagle flying along the beach.  It appeared to be fighting with another bird as it made its’ way along the shoreline.  It landed on a rock and we noticed feathers flying all around it.  That’s when we realised the eagle was preparing its’ lunch as well.  After we enjoyed our picnic, we took off our shoes and explored the tide pools in our bare feet.  The feeling of the cool Pacific Ocean and sand between our toes was welcoming on a hot, sunny day.

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Bald eagle, Point of the Arches, Olympic National Park, WA

We arrived back at our campsite in the mid afternoon, and we decided to relax beside Petroleum Creek in the shade.  I read a little more of my book while my nephew took a nap by the creekside.  Once he was rested, we played a few games including bocce ball and Pass the Pigs.  We finally peeled ourselves away from the shaded area among the trees and headed back to our sun filled campsite.  After dinner I was determined to make a fire after the previous nights’ failure.  I spent another hour trying to build a fire without success.  I had almost given up, but after one last try – I finally made fire!  As the sunset and the temperatures dropped we enjoyed the warmth of the fire into the late hours of the night.

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The first fire I have ever made by myself!  Shi Shi Beach, Olympic National Park, WA

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Sunset in front of a fire, Shi Shi Beach, Olympic National Park, WA

We woke on our last morning to a cloudy, misty day.  We decided to wait for breakfast once we got to the tree covered area of the trail, and packed up as quickly as we could.  As we packed, everything was damp and sandy.  Even though I was happy to hike under a cloud filled sky since the previous day had left me slightly sunburned, the rain was not welcomed.

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Crossing Petroleum Creek, Shi Shi Beach, Olympic National Park, WA

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A doe and two fawn, Shi Shi Beach, Olympic National Park, WA

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Looking down the trail back towards Shi Shi Beach, Olympic National Park, WA

We crawled up towards the forested section of the trail, and were happy to have our feet on solid ground.  Two days of hiking on the sandy beach had exhausted certain muscles in my legs.  The last two miles back through the muddy trail seemed to fly by, and in no time we were right back where we had started two days ago.  As we loaded up our gear into the car, the skies were opening up once again.  The drive home along the Pacific Ocean and the Strait of San Juan de Fuca was filled with blue skies and good conversation with my nephew.  I hope this is a trip he will never forget; I know I won’t.

Wildlife Wednesday 07/19/2016

Last week I took my teenage nephew on his very first backpacking trip where I chose Shi Shi Beach as our destination.  We spent the second day of our trip exploring the tide pools near Point of the Arches.  As we were searching for a picnic spot for lunch, we noticed a bald eagle flying along the shoreline fighting with another smaller bird.  After the eagle landed on one of the rocks near us, we made our way closer to try to get a better look.  When we had a better sight of the eagle, we noticed feathers flying around it and realized it was preparing to enjoy its’ lunch as well.  While it isn’t the most clear image, the eagle can be seen sitting at the top of the rock tearing at the smaller bird with it’s beak and feathers flying all around it.

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Bald eagle, Shi Shi Beach, Olympic National Park, WA