Hot on the Trail of Lewis and Clark

When you follow the trail of explorers, you might as well follow the best.

SkiZer recently got the chance to hit the road from Clarkston to Cape Disappointment, hot on the trail of Lewis and Clark and their Corps of Discovery.

Well, not exactly hot on their trail. The explorers, you’ll remember, traveled across Washington state in 1805 at the behest of President Thomas Jefferson, who wanted them to find some kind of cross-continent waterway. After leaving Missouri in May of 1804, the Corps spent 18 months traveling more than 4,000 miles over unknown mountain ranges and running rapids on unknown rivers.

When they hit Washington state, they were in a hurry to get to the coast. Winter was about to close in and they hoped to reach the mouth of the Columbia before they were trapped in snow and ice.

The only problem was negotiating the rapids on the Snake and Columbia rivers. Their journal accounts are filled with harrowing adventures on the difficult waterways.

Today, their route remains fascinating and wild in many places. SkiZer camped and made like a Corps of Discovery member in their wake.

To follow their route offers a great opportunity to try to imagine what they saw with fresh eyes.

Looking down on the Palouse River in the Snake River Country.
A dawn visit to the Listening Circle at Chief Timothy Park near Clarkston.
A train travels over the Snake River on a high trestle.
SkiZer checks out a dugout canoe at Sacajawea State Park in Pasco. 
SkiZer walks the hills high above the Columbia near The Dalles, Ore.
The Stonehenge World War I Memorial at Maryhill.
Hiking at Beacon Rock State Park in the Columbia Gorge.
Finally — on the Pacific Coast at Cape Disappointment State Park.
Checking out “Clark’s Tree” on the Long Beach Peninsula.

With the Clock Ticking, A Quick Run to Rainier

SkiZer usually makes it up to Mount Rainier several times a year.

Not this year. No hikes at Sunrise, one of the SkiZer’s favorite places on Earth. Not Mowich either, which is now closed after tons of snow fell last weekend. The SkiZer gazed longingly at the big mountain, wondering if he’d miss out completely.

Then, after some lovely fall weather returned to Puget Sound, SkiZer decided to go for it.

The road to White River Campground remains open, but will close any day now. SkiZer gunned the engine out of Seattle and two hours later hit the trail for one last quick romp to Glacier Basin.

The hike is a straightforward 6.2 miles roundtrip into a beautiful alpine basin. With temps warming up into the 50s and lots of sun, it was a fantastic day — one last chance to see Mount Rainier’s dramatic northeast side before the roads close for good.

Little Tahoma looms above the lower Glacier Basin trail.
About 18 inches of snow was on the trail at Glacier Basin.
Lunch break overlooking the Inter Fork River at Glacier Basin.
Lots of snow and warm temperatures brought some energy back to the creeks on Mount Rainier.

What’s With the Name? Cape Disappointment Delivers

SkiZer hit the beach in October and found some nice surprises.

It was perfect timing to visit the Long Beach Peninsula in Southwest Washington. The hiking and cycling proved to be excellent and the early October weather was warm and friendly.

Now, for the surprises.

Camping — yes, you can camp year-round at Cape Disappointment State Park —  is fantastic. Within the park, you’ll find miles of hiking trails, several gorgeous beaches and two scenic lighthouses.

The SkiZer explored the North Jetty in the park, which juts out into the Pacific at the mouth of the Columbia River. The jetty is used by fishermen — this time of year, they were going for crab — but it’s also a great place to see wildlife. As the SkiZer stood there thinking deep thoughts and gazing at the water, a humpback whale surfaced nearby.

The scenic Discovery Trail is surely one of the best recreation paths in the state. It winds from the cape into the dunes of the Long Beach Peninsula and offers some fantastic riding for cyclists.

At the tip of the peninsula, Leadbetter Point State Park was another surprise: The mile-long hike thinned crowds and offered views from a remote and wild beach.

The Discovery Trail dips and winds through the dunes.
Views from the jetty at the mouth of the Columbia River. Moments later, a whale surfaced.
A fisherman hauls in a crab from the jetty.
The scenic Cape Disappointment Lighthouse stands above the Columbia River.
A short hike delivers hikers to a remote beach at Leadbetter Point State Park.
Rainforest-like surroundings are part of the hike at Leadbetter Point State Park.
Walkers take in North Head Lighthouse from Benson Beach at Cape Disappointment State Park.

With Great Fall Weather, Let’s Keep Hiking

Early October and the weather was fine. The SkiZer said to himself, “Why not squeeze in one more backpacking trip?”

Great decision. Six hours later, the SkiZer hit the Ozette Triangle trail to the Washington Coast. The 9-mile loop is popular in summer, but in fall, it’s empty. The wilderness coast once again becomes truly wild.

Streams start flowing again. The rainforest comes back to life after the dry days of summer. Seals outnumber hikers by at least 20 to one.

It was an incredible trip. SkiZer even squeezed in a day hike north to the Ozette River, where things feel even more remote. Not a soul was to be seen on a stunning beach that felt warm and friendly in 65-degree sun.

The boardwalk trail to Sandpoint.
On the coast north of Sandpoint.
Sunset, first day, at Sandpoint.
Fording the Ozette River north of Cape Alava.
Campsite at Cape Alava.
The sun sets behind Ozette Island off the Washington Coast.

It’s Looking a Lot Like Fall in the North Cascades

Easy Pass in the North Cascades is an amazing fall hike.

Fall colors are just starting, and there’s a refreshing nip in the air. Best of all, most people pass by this trailhead, at milepost 151.5 on the North Cascades Highway.  The SkiZer saw only one person on his 7.4-mile round-trip.

They’re missing a stellar hike. The hills are golden, red and orange, and the larch trees are just beginning to turn. The gorgeous Fisher Basin, visible from the pass at 6,500 feet, is one of many payoffs.

Put it on your list for this fall before the snow flies.

Still mountain blueberries to be found on the red bushes.
The trailside brush is looking red and golden.
Cool nights and warm days are turning the hillsides golden at Easy Pass.
Fisher Basin is one of the payoffs from the top of Easy Pass.


Climb a Living Mountain

Rocks fall, steam rises, a glacier moves as the mountain rumbles. To climb Mount St. Helens is to climb a living, breathing mountain.

It’s hard not to feel moved by the experience.

The SkiZer got the chance to summit St. Helens after scoring a permit in late August. While it’s not a technical climb, the five-mile route to the summit is strenuous, gaining 4,500 vertical feet. The last three miles gain more than 3,000 feet, traveling through a sketchy boulder field and what is called “the vertical beach” — a slide-y, sandy trudge to the rim.

Once you’re on top, you don’t want to leave. It’s fascinating to look inside the rim at a mountain that first blew up in 1980, then reformed its lava dome with eruptions from 2004 to 2008.

It’s something everyone should do at least once in their life. SkiZer is thinking this might be the year for a second summit trip in the winter to see this magnificent mountain covered in snow.

Dawn hits on the climb up Mount St. Helens.
A climber makes his way through boulders on Mount St. Helens.
Climbers struggle up “the vertical beach” near the top of Mount St. Helens.
A panorama takes in the crater rim and the lava dome at Mount St. Helens.
SkiZer looks down from the rim at Mount St. Helens.
Climbers make their way across the rim at Mount St. Helens.
StHelens_Summit (2)
Taking a break at the top.

7 Great Hikes in the Leavenworth Area

NOTE: This story by the SkiZer first appeared in The Spokesman-Review in Spokane. Link to the story here.

Colchuck Lake is one of the most popular hikes in the Leavenworth area.

LEAVENWORTH – This might be hottest mountain hangout in Washington state.

With world-class hiking, rock climbing, mountain biking and whitewater accessibility, Leavenworth is being rediscovered as an outdoor recreation Mecca by people who once dismissed it as a kitschy Bavarian-themed roadside attraction.

“Recreation is definitely bringing in a younger crowd of visitors here who want to do things outdoors,” says Jessica Stoller of Leavenworth Chamber of Commerce. “It’s also bringing in people who want to live here – they’re trying to find a way to stay here and make a living.”

Hiking is a big part of Leavenworth’s popularity.

“We have seen a dramatic spike in visitor use on the Wenatchee River Ranger District over the past four or five years,” says Carly Reed, lead wilderness ranger.

Dozens of trails begin near town. And higher up off of Icicle Creek Road, dozens more wend their way up steep hillsides for picturesque views of some of the most iconic peaks in the Cascades.

Before heading out, check on trail conditions at the Wenatchee River Ranger District building in Leavenworth just off U.S. Highway 2, call (509) 548-2550, or go to the agency website.

By far the most popular hikes in the Leavenworth area are into the Enchantment Lakes Basin, Reed says. Of the estimated 75,000 hikers last year in the ranger district, 25,000 went into the Enchantments. The beauty of the high-mountain basin is undeniable, but if you want to avoid crowds consider hiking elsewhere. You’ll have plenty of choices.

Here’s a look at seven great hikes in the Leavenworth area:

Blackbird Island offers an excellent escape in the middle of Leavenworth.

Blackbird Island

  • Rating: Easy
  • Distance: 2-mile loop
  • Elevation gain: 100 feet

What’s great about it: You’d think that a hike through a city park would be tame, but this ramble feels remarkably wild. You might even see a bear or three.

Starting in Waterfront Park just off Ninth Street, the hike follows the shoreline along the Wenatchee River, dipping into some dense cottonwood forests. You’ll find several viewpoints that take in snow-capped Wedge Mountain looming over the valley. Concrete bridges lead to and from Blackbird Island, and each section of the hike has wide, easy-to-navigate trails with maps that show your route options. Go out one way, return another to make it a loop.

Bears are frequently seen on the Enchantment Park end of the trail, so keep an eye out.

The top of Icicle Ridge offers great views of Tumwater Canyon and Leavenworth.

Icicle Ridge

  • Rating: Moderate
  • Distance: 6 miles round-trip
  • Elevation gain: 1,800 feet

What’s great about it: This is a relatively quick climb to a lovely viewpoint. Starting 1.4 miles up Icicle Road, switchback up the hillside to a saddle with commanding views of Leavenworth, the surrounding valley and scenic Tumwater Canyon on U.S. 2.

Unlike many alpine hikes to ridgelines in the Cascades, the trail doesn’t feel overly steep. The saddle viewpoint above town is a great place for a picnic, and if it’s crowded, keep climbing on the trail that eventually goes the length of Icicle Ridge. You’re sure to find solitude just a few minutes away.

Hikers head up the Snow Lakes Trail.

Snow Lakes

  • Rating: Difficult
  • Distance: 13 miles round-trip
  • Elevation gain: 4,300 feet

What’s great about it: This is one of two ways into the fabled Enchantments. The route, while long, climbs moderately most of the way, leading to several high alpine lakes.

Starting from a trailhead 4.3 miles up Icicle Creek Road, immediately cross the rushing creek via a footbridge and begin climbing through a rock garden and pine forest. Within about a mile, you’ll enter the Alpine Lakes Wilderness and continue climbing along Snow Creek, with a dramatic, 700-foot rock wall rising behind it. At 5.2 miles, you’ll reach Nada Lake, a nice place for a picnic and to turn around. If you want to go higher, Snow Lakes and more of the magical Enchantments Basin are another 1.2 miles up the path.

Fourth of July Creek

  • Rating: Difficult
  • Distance: 10.6 miles round-trip
  • Elevation gain: 4,500 feet

What’s great about it: The views are astounding. And if you like a physical challenge, this one is a true grinder.

Starting about 9.5 miles up Icicle Creek Road at 2,300 feet, begin climbing gently through the forest near the namesake creek. The “gentle” part is soon over and within minutes, you’ll be slogging up what feels like an endless series of steep switchbacks.

About a mile in, you might want to apologize to your feet for the pain you’ll inflict over the next several hours. Why do it? Turn around and look across the valley, where you’ll have wonderful views of Cashmere Mountain and the Stuart Range that just get better the higher you go.

This is not a hike to do on a hot day. The south-facing climb bakes and is famously friendly to rattlesnakes. Water is scarce, so carry lots.

Icicle Gorge

  • Rating: Easy
  • Distance: 4-mile loop
  • Elevation gain: 120 feet

What’s great about it: You’ll be walking along the banks of one of the state’s prettiest creeks, with numerous places to stop, picnic and marvel at the alpine beauty.

The trailhead is 17 miles up Icicle Creek Road at 2,600 feet. Hike the trail clockwise, walking downstream first, then cross a footbridge in about 0.5 mile and head up the far bank. Take your time, enjoy the views. On a hot day, this is a great hike – step into the rushing stream and get your tootsies wet for as long as you can handle the frigid temps.

You’ll eventually hit the road; cross on the bridge and pick up the trail on the other side back to your car.

Colchuck Lake

  • Rating: Moderate
  • Distance: 8.2 miles round-trip
  • Elevation gain: 2,500 feet

What’s great about it: This is the upper entrance into the Enchantments. For not too much work, you’ll be transported into a world of polished granite, jagged peaks and turquoise waters. Be ready for crowds – midweek hiking is your best bet to avoid conga lines.

Drive 8.5 miles up Icicle Creek Road to Forest Road 7601 near the Bridge Creek Campground and turn left, continuing to the trailhead about 3.5 miles away.

Starting at elevation 3,400 feet, begin climbing along Mountaineer Creek for 2.5 miles, reaching a signed intersection with the Lake Stuart Trail. Continue toward Colchuck, climbing in and out of forest until reaching the lake at 5,570 feet. Across the lake, Dragontail Peak – with its dramatic craggy face – dominates the setting. Hot after the hike? Go ahead, jump in the impossibly gorgeous water.

Want more? Head around the lake to the right until you reach the steep, rocky path to Aasgard Pass, a 2,000-vertical-foot climb over about 0.75 mile to the Upper Enchantments Basin, where everything is several times grander. Don’t attempt this in icy conditions – it’s steep and dangerous.

A growing number of people are day-hiking the entire Enchantment Basin from here, doing a car-shuttle to the Snow Lakes basin. It’s an epic day hike, only for the fittest: 18 miles from the Colchuck trailhead to the Snow Lakes trailhead.

Lake Edna

  • Rating: Difficult
  • Distance: 12.5 miles roundtrip
  • Elevation gain: 4,500 feet

What’s great about it: If you want the high alpine without the Colchuck crowds, this hike gets you there. It takes a bit more work, but the reward is solitude.

Drive to the trailhead 14.5 miles up Icicle Creek Road to the Chatter Creek Trail and climb steadily for 2.5 miles where you’ll reach a hanging valley topped by an impressive headwall. Unfortunately, you’ll be climbing that very headwall.

At 4.5 miles (groan) you’re on top of a 6,800-foot ridge, taking in views of Big Jim and Cashmere mountains. But wait, there’s more: Descend the back side of the ridge for a short way, then head up again. At 5.75 miles, you’ll hit the Icicle Ridge Trail and continue climbing another half-mile to tiny, scenic Lake Edna in a gorgeous basin at 6,735 feet. You’ll likely have it to yourself.

Smoking Hot in the North Cascades

Remote, beautiful, difficult.

Those adjectives only go part-way to describing a rough week of backpacking deep in the North Cascades.

It was also a trip that challenged our spirits. High heat turned the forest into a biting-insect filled oven clouded by dense smoke from nearby fires in Canada and Eastern Washington.

It could have gone very wrong. But our group of five sturdy backpackers stayed positive and made the best of a wild experience along the north edge of the Picket Range at Whatcom Pass.

Over the course of a week, we saw only six other hikers. For three days, we saw nobody, save for a couple of shy black bears.

Our route took us on the “Beaver Loop,” starting on the Little Beaver Trail on the north end of Ross Lake. It took two days of hard hiking to reach the edge of the Pickets, on the shoulder of Whatcom Peak and within reach of legendary Mount Challenger.

Hot weather and smoke-filled skies cooked us, but we persevered. We spent a lovely day on the flank of Whatcom Peak and then camped high above Whatcom Pass at Tapto Lakes, as close as you can find to a perfect, backcountry camping destination.

Then it was an epic-two day push out on the Big Beaver Trail, with a final-day, 18-mile death march to Ross Lake.

What can you say after 60 miles of rugged hiking under such challenging conditions? It was exhausting, but rejuvenating at the same time. We were tested, persevered and experienced something truly wild and wonderful.

John Stucke dives into Ross Lake on day 1, before the hiking begins.
SkiZer prepares a day two Thai curry.
Zane and Ted Barnwell climb toward Whatcom Peak.
Ted Barnwell on the arm of Whatcom Peak.
Mount Challenger in the distance from Tapto Lakes.
John Stucke climbs along a snowfield near Whatcom Peak.
Our group reaches a high point on Whatcom Peak.
Matt Folwell climbs a ridge above Whatcom Pass.
Zane Barnwell on Whatcom Peak.
Heading down the 45 switchbacks of Whatcom Pass.
Zane Barnwell leads the group on our final 18-mile death march to Ross Lake.
Rest break on our final day.

Water, Water Everywhere Along Denny Creek

After our huge snow year, the mountains are coming alive with picturesque streams.

Denny Creek near Snoqualmie Pass is a great example. This tumbler is looking fantastic as last-winter’s white stuff dissolves into liquid energy.

Avalanche lilies are just starting to bloom along the trail. Accompanied by his daughter, SkiZer pounded out a five-miler up to the upper Denny Creek basin before high-country snow turned us around.

Easy access, great views and a gorgeous stream — just what you want from a quick mountain escape.

Hiking along the Denny Creek Trail.
Avalanche lilies are starting to bloom along Denny Creek.
About a mile in, a perfect spot to sit and watch the river.
Getting ready for a stream crossing.
Keekwulee Falls along Denny Creek.

Quick Hiking Fixes from Seattle: Cougar, Squak and Tiger

A lot of hikers in the Seattle area tend to ignore the Issaquah Alps peaks — Tiger, Squak and Cougar mountains.

Until this year, the SkiZer was one of them. He thought, “Too close to the city. Not challenging enough. Boring.” It’s hard to admit, but the SkiZer was wrong.

In recent weeks, SkiZer has summited all three peaks and found things to love about each of them. And that thing about being close to the city is actually quite a benefit: A hiker from Seattle can get to the trailhead within minutes, pound out a great hike, and be finished in a couple of hours.

That kind of access is pretty amazing.

Here’s a look at those big three peaks looming above the city of Issaquah:

The summit of West Tiger No. 3.
Hiking the Section Line Trail on Tiger Mountain.
Near the summit of Cougar Mountain.
Lovely Wilderness Creek on Cougar Mountain.
Climbing “Maggie’s Way” trail on Squak Mountain.