In which we visit the Ice Caves

I have been traveling quite a bit lately, so it was nice to have an entire weekend in Seattle for the first time in while. After watching Duke beat MSU yesterday (and we’re going to the championship!!), we decided to spend our balmy Easter seeing the Big Four Ice Caves in the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National forest.

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They’re formed by avalanches off the mountain behind it and carved out by summer streams. Their position in perpetual shade means they’re there all year round – making them the lowest elevation glaciers in the lower 49 states.

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The caves and ice fields are actually pretty dangerous – people have died as a result of falling ice. Signage was everywhere.

People have died

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In which we climb Oyster Dome

We eked out the last bit of our sunny three day weekend on a hike up to Oyster Dome in the Chuckanut Mountains near Bellingham, WA. The difficulty says 3.5/5, and that it is “family friendly” – but for two out of shape city folks this trail proved to be a lot of uphill lung busting. Fortunately the views at the top of the Sound and islands was well worth it!

Finally at the top - view of the San Juan islands in the distance over Samish Bay.

We started a few feet above the water pictured below. Finally at the top – view of the San Juan islands in the distance over Samish Bay. Elevation 2025 feet.

Relaxing on top of Blanchard Mountain

Relaxing on top of Blanchard Mountain

Made it to the top!

Looking much better after some lunch.

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Much of the hike was through old growth forests

Much of the hike was through second growth conifer forests

Ghostly tree stumps reminded us of how large these behemoths once were before logging days

Ghostly tree stumps reminded us of how large these behemoths once were before logging days. On parts of the trail you could see old rusting logging coils left over (and harboring tetanus).

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Part of the trail runs with the Pacific Northwest Trail that runs from the Olympics to Glacier National Park in Montana.

There are only two really good places where you can see the Sound. Most of the time you're in the forest. Here was the other one besides the Dome.

There are only two really good places where you can see the Sound. Most of the time you’re in the forest. Here was the other one besides the Dome.

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Total length: 6.5 miles with 1900ft of elevation gain – whew!

In which we check one off: North Cascades National Park

For my birthday Jeff gave me a map of the US with all of the National Parks on it because he knows of my love of travel, my love of the outdoors and most of all, my love of checking things off lists.

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We hit a few of them on our way out here a few years ago (though sadly I didn’t know about the Wind Cave in South Dakota even though we were so close to it! Ahh!), and this weekend we checked another one off – the only one we were missing in Washington State: North Cascades National Park.

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#43

It’s only three hours drive north of Seattle now that WA 530 state route is back open after the Oso mudslide. We drove through the devastated area where 43 people died when the side of the mountain came crashing down one morning back in March. The road was early quiet – like driving through a graveyard.

State Route 530, opened one week ago on June 20th.

State Route 530, opened one week ago on June 20th.

The side of the mountain that came down and the destruction underneath.

The side of the mountain that came down and the destruction underneath.

We left after work on Friday and after fighting Seattle traffic, rain and some bad directions, we made it to the campsite with the last bit of our long Pacific Northwest daylight around 9:15pm, just enough to pick a spot and put up the tent. We had planned to use our air mattress like we had before in Yellowstone, only we hadn’t factored in that we had bought a larger size to replace the old one that died on my trip up to Whistler in January. It did not fit at all. But in the dark and pouring rain, all we could do was deflate it halfway and cram it in as best we could to get out of the wet – it filled up probably half of the tent by volume. We climbed in and managed to balance ourselves somewhat, now much closer to the tent roof and constantly readjusting our lopsided selves on top of the squishy behemoth. The air mattress at this point took on a life of its own; it was the third creature in our three-person, three-season tent. It felt like sleeping in what Jeff described as a half inflated fun house. It’s been years since I’ve slept outside where it rained hard throughout the entire night. I remembered that I do not miss that.

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John Muir in a letter to his sister, 1873

The next morning I managed to light the camp stove in what had let up to a light drizzle and we made coffee in the French press – it was much needed after the soggy, squished night. We then decided to hike up nearby Thunder Creek to the 4th of July Pass (it being close to the holiday and all and one of the only trails the park ranger said wasn’t covered in snow). We made it about 5 miles in the rain before deciding that we had had enough fun. A steep ascent had left us exposed on the side of an open mountain face and Jeff did not have adequate rain gear, so I made the call to turn back. It wasn’t fun rain. It wasn’t just deal with it rain. It was beat at you without tree cover, soak you to the bones rain. I’ve had hypothermia once before, many years ago and I wasn’t willing to repeat it.

Sometimes knowing when to turn back is just as important as knowing when to push on, even when it’s hard. We were close to the Pass and close to the top, but it was just getting too dangerous. It paralleled an experience I had had with a patient just the day before: a sweet kid with a medical condition that I could have easily precipitated into a medical emergency with a little stress of dental treatment. Sure, we could’ve gone ahead with the filling, and maybe nothing would have happened, but the conditions that day were just right for the makings of something more sinister and I had to make the call not to risk it. Same with the hike – we could have made it. Or because of today’s conditions, one of us could have gotten seriously hurt in the storm. The older I get, the easier it is to make the call. I think they call that maturity or something? Anyway, we got a few pictures of the old growth forest and Thunder Creek on the way down:

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Very wet Elise

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The water is milky blue green - from when the park's many glaciers have crushed the hills into fine power. This "mountain flour" mixes with the water and reflects the light to make it look this way.

The water is milky blue green – from when the park’s many glaciers have crushed the hills into fine powder. This “mountain flour” mixes with the water and reflects the light to make it look this way – it’s surreal.

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We ate lunch back at our campsite and spent the rest of the day driving around looking at things. A lot of the trails still aren’t open yet because of snow – crazy to think that even after the official start of summer things are still thawing out here!

The old faithful Jeep - still trucking.

The old faithful Jeep – still trucking after 189,679 miles..

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Overlooking Ross or Diablo Lake

It was freezing cold and still raining.

It was freezing cold and still raining.

Diablo Lake

Diablo Lake

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More clouds moving in – time to get back in the car

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Peaks peaking through

Around this time I began to feel very sick from lunch. We had grabbed to-go sandwiches from the grocery store since this was a last minute camping trip and we hadn’t had time to prepare well. Something in mine did not sit properly with me and I was struggling. This, coupled with the prospect of another rainy sleepless night in a deflated fun house of a tent, was too much. I called it again, for the second time in one day. The reason there are no pictures of our very picturesque campsite in Colonial Creek (right by a very blue lake in an old growth forest, really a spectacular spot) is because we packed everything in ten minutes of this decision and headed home.

I was fully reminded and humbled that June is not a summer month here. No matter what the calendar says, July 4th is the official start. This post on reading it highlights a lot of horrible things on our 28 hours trip up north – but it was in fact actually really good to 1) check off a new, and beautiful National Park and 2) get our bearings for when we come back. It’s too close and too pretty not to return. When it stops raining.

In which we had MLK Jr. weekend

Last year we made our three day weekend stretch into a quick trip down to Portland, but with Seattle playing for a chance at the Superbowl, Jeff and I decided to stay in town.

Glad we did! That was an exciting and well fought game against the 49ers. So pumped that my new town's team is headed to the Superbowl!

Glad we did! That was an exciting and well fought game against the 49ers. So pumped that my new town’s team is headed to the Superbowl! This is a reading of the seismographs UW placed under CenturyLink field (so clearly we win nerdiest football city on top of the NFC championship).

In fun rivalry news: The fans of the 49ers and Seahawks tried to out do each other in raising money for their opponents’ children’s hospitals, with the respecting football teams matching the funds. Seattle managed to raise $73, 941 for UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital and the Niners fans raised $34, 412 for Seattle Children’s. Love this.

Monday promised clouds, but no rain, so we headed up to Deception Pass State Park to hike the trails on the other side of the bridge. We were rewarded with stunning views of Mount Baker, the Sound and not a cloud in the sky (love when the weather forecast is that kind of wrong!). It was perfect:

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Looking across to where we hiked last time

Looking across to where we hiked last time

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So nice to be able to celebrate freedom in such glorious sunshine. To end, my favorite MLK, Jr. quote (when it’s difficult to chose from so many good ones):

“Let no man pull you low enough to hate him” – MLK, Jr. 

In which I had a beach walk

We had a rare sunny winter day here today and I took advantage of it to explore Discovery Park.

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The mountains were out in all their full glory. From the lighthouse point there were breathtaking views of a huge Mount Rainer, the Olympics and other snow capped Cascade peaks.

The Olympics across the Sound

The Olympics across the Sound

Sunshine and salty air were the perfect to top off my batteries before heading back into the school quarter tomorrow.