In which we took a day trip to Mount Rainier

You know you’re going to miss a place when you can go on a random Thursday afternoon road trip with your awesome neighbors to say goodbye to your favorite mountain.

It started off cloudy

It started off cloudy

We stopped at the Box Canyon on the way - it was such a steep and narrow drop that a picture doesn't adequately encompass it.

We stopped at the Box Canyon on the way – it was such a steep and narrow drop that a picture doesn’t adequately encompass it.

We hiked the short Grove of the Patriarchs that we think should be renamed - or at least get us our own Matriarch Grove.

We hiked the short Grove of the Patriarchs that we think should be renamed – or at least get us our own Matriarch Grove.

The trail was short, but full of giants.

The trail was short, but full of giants.

And required crossing a cool bridge.

And required crossing a cool bridge.

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There were plenty of photos taken, but none do it complete justice.

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Anna's water bottle to commemorate her first time at Mount Rainier matches mine.

Anna’s water bottle to commemorate her first time at Mount Rainier matches mine.

The largest trees had a built walkway around them.

The largest trees had a built walkway around them.

You couldn't help but look UP.

You couldn’t help but look UP.

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Giants.

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So lucky.

Is this real life? Is this Thursday?

Is this real life? Is this Thursday?

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When we emerged from the forest we caught our first glimpse of the Mountain. She had been obscured by clouds all day.

When we emerged from the forest we caught our first glimpse of the Mountain. She had been obscured by clouds all day.

See?! She is SO BIG!

See?! She is SO BIG!

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I have amazing friends

I have amazing friends

After stopping at all the view points, we popped into the Paradise Visitor’s Center. Seattle may be getting ready to slide into the sea in the coming Big Earthquake, but we’re safe if Rainier erupts:

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The clouds obscured the summit before we were done - so we headed home.

The clouds obscured the summit before we were done – so we headed home.

I will miss this Mountain and all her beauty. I will miss my dear friends. I will miss all of this so much. But how lucky am I that I have so much good to miss?

I will miss this Mountain and all her beauty. I will miss my dear friends. I will miss all of this so much. But how lucky am I that I have so many amazing things to miss?

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In which we go on our Graduation-moon, Part I: Haleakala

Jeff and I decided to take a celebratory trip after graduation. Twenty-three grades, four degrees and two certificates now under my belt; we both needed a vacation. Since we are currently “so close” to Hawaii and neither of us had been it was an easy choice. Picking the island was a little harder – but we narrowed it down to Maui or the Big Island in part because they both have national parks. Maui won out and I’m so glad we picked it – we had an incredible time!

Po'olenalena Beach

Po’olenalena Beach

The first day on the island we picked up our 2015 Nissan Rogue (thank you Priceline for letting me bid on an incredible deal – having an SUV was a fun luxury) and drove to our VRBO condo in Kihei. The Rogue was brand new – only 520 miles on it. We would double that amount on our adventures. Most of the rest of the first day was spent sleeping, which was much needed after the hustle that was finishing residency and my final graduation. The second day we explored our nearby beaches (Kama’ole I, Po’olenalena, Makena Landing and Big Beach), snorkeled in among the reefs (and saw sea turtles!) and ate the best lobster of my life at Mama’s Beach House. It was so good we went back for the only other reservation available during our time there and we both ordered it again! My Aunt Teresa and Uncle Larry would be proud of us – we toasted with Cakebread chardonnay – from one of their favorite vineyards.

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Wednesday we woke late and had a lazy brunch at Chez Meme in Kihei after seeing the line for the other popular breakfast spot, Kihei Caffe, was going to be an hour long. It was a great choice – they had delicious mimosas and french toast and a couple of freshly baked pastries ended up coming home with us for later.

After relaxing on our beach, we drove to Pai’a and picked up a picnic lunch and dinner from the Hana Picnic Lunch Company and began the winding, foggy drive up the volcano.Most of the drive was in thick clouds – so much so that the car in front of us just gave up and stopped driving in the middle of the road. They insisted on waving me around by way of the oncoming lane – a scary proposition considering it was so hazy I couldn’t see the front of their car, but we made it. The road snaked through the Maui high country, then into deep coniferous forests and then out into fields that looked like Scottish moors. We finally emerged from the soup into a landscape that looked more like the moon than a tropical island:

Emerging

Emerging

At the top we ate our lunch sitting on beach chairs in the parking lot and took in the visitor’s center. You could see over into Science City where national space observatories and secret Air Force tracking facilities are housed.

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The road into Science City. The pale blue ocean is separated from the sky by a thin line of clouds on the horizon.

At the observatory

At the observatory

After lunch we started on the first of many hikes that we’d take on our visit here: Keonehe’ehe’e,  or as we called it, Sliding Sands Trail down into the crater of the Haleakala volcano.

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You can see some of the cinder cones in the right of this picture. Each one marks a different eruption.

While it looks warm the temperatures hovered in the mid-70s since we were 10,000 feet above sea level. Every step you take going down this trail makes you acutely aware that you will have to come back up the other way soon enough. We marked our progress by time – one hour down in order to give ourselves two hours to return. We were pleasantly surprised it only took us an hour and a half to climb out though.

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Clouds rising off the western shores of Maui and cooling as they reached us. It felt so good.

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Like walking on the moon

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I don’t even care if this picture is sappy. We needed this vacation! We’re done! We made it!

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You can take the girl out of the South.. but you can’t keep her from hiking in a skirt.

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Stepping off the trail damages sensitive roots of endangered plants and wrecks the fragile ecosystem

These are 'ahinahina plants - also known as Haleakala silversword. They are found here and no where else on earth.

These are ‘ahinahina plants – also known as Haleakala silversword. They are found here and no where else on Earth.

Their Hawaiian name means

Their Hawaiian name means “grey grey” – the closest word the ancient Polynesians had considering they had never seen silver metal. They are only found at elevations above 6,900 ft on this island and came close to extinction due to cattle grazing and people taking them for ornamental purposes.

They are like salmon - they bloom once in their 15 - 40 year life spans, and then they die.

We were lucky enough to see one in flower – they bloom once in their 15 – 40 year life spans, spread their seeds, and then they die.

Overlooking the crater on the way back up.

Overlooking the crater on the way back up.

After hiking we hung out around the summit waiting for twilight.

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Feeling on top of the world.

Feeling on top of the world. This is looking towards the north – strange to think there is nothing but water until you reach Alaska.

Sunrise and sunset on Haleakala have taken on a mythical event status for Maui tourists. Most people (in the throws of jet lag, I’m convinced) rise at ungodly hours, drive up that windy road in the dark and watch the golden light rise from the ocean. Many then bike down afterwards. Neither rising early on our vacation, nor hurdling down the side of a 10,000 ft mountain, white-knuckled and potentially ruining my newly-earned career that needs fully functioning hands, appealed to us, so sunset it was:

Moon rise over the observatory.

Moon rise over the observatory.

Everyone gathered for the sunset. Bonus for being crepuscular later - less people to share the summit with.

Everyone gathered for the sunset. Bonus for being crepuscular later – less people to share the summit with.

Another spin around done.

Another spin done.

I loved how it bathed the volcano with it's last rays.

I loved how it bathed the volcano with it’s last rays.

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Changed into warmer clothes for the plunging temperatures.

Going, going...

Going, going…

...and gone.

…and gone.

I became mildly obsessed with taking pictures of the tiny people silhouetted by the setting sun on the rim of the crater. It just looked so cool:

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As the last bits of light settled out of view we retreated to the Rogue to rest and eat our picnic dinner while it got really good and dark. I wanted to try to take pictures of the stars since we were in one of the best places on Earth to see them. Unfortunately a brilliant full moon wrecked our plans to see the Milky Way, but it was cool nonetheless:

Too many lights

Too many lights

Kahului from above. While the full moon ruined plans for some spectacular stargazing we did see Jupiter and Venus at their closest point in the sky in 2,000 years. Some think that the last time they were so close together was the inspiration for the Star of Bethlehem.

The town of Kahului from above. While the full moon ruined plans for some spectacular stargazing we did see Jupiter and Venus at their closest point in the sky in 2,000 years (upper left corner – the big dot is Venus, the smaller one to the right, Jupiter). Some think that the last time they were so close together was the inspiration for the Star of Bethlehem.

Despite the full moon, it's easy to see why you would put an observatory up here - it's so far from light and air pollution you feel as if you could reach up and graze the sky with your fingers.

Despite the full moon, it’s easy to see why you would put an observatory up here – it’s so far from light and air pollution you feel as if you could reach up and graze the sky with your fingers.

We ended our full day crawling slowly back down the mountain, listening to the Rolling Stones and Jimmy Buffet and planning our next adventure on the island.

In which I glamp with the neighbors

Glamping is the portmanteau of glamorous camping. And my new favorite thing, or at least the RV version of it. Until now I’ve always experienced the outdoors under the thin cloth of a tent, but after tasting the civilization in the wilderness that is wine, cheese, Trader Joe’s appetizers, an actual mattress and a heated, dry place to sleep, glamping might be my new thing. This past weekend I went with my friend-neighbors Anna and Mary out to the Sol Duc area of Olympic National Park – an absolutely gorgeous corner of Washington state. Even the drive out was breathtaking:

Crescent Lake

Crescent Lake

Fog lifting briefly off the road

Fog lifting briefly off the road

Gary the Mann took our picture by the side of the road.

Gary the Mann took our picture by the side of the road.

The next morning after setting up camp we decided to make an easy hike up to the Sol Duc Falls. We started in a light mist that progressed to heavier rain.

Starting out

Starting out

And then, was that snow? And then, omg snow! So much of it!

Covering the trailhead in a winter wonderland.

Covering the trailhead in a winter wonderland.

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What do you get when you mix a rain forest with snow? A mossy, cold wonderland:

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The falls were fairly close to the trail head – good thing, because we were cold and wet at this point:

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Overlooking the water

Opposite side of the falls

Opposite side of the falls

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Close up of the falls

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So cold – let’s go to the hot springs!

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Bridge over the river

Lunch was sandwiches complemented by bacon jerky and prosecco eaten under a 1938 shelter built by the CCC - galloping at its finest.

Lunch was sandwiches complemented by bacon jerky and prosecco eaten under a 1938 shelter built by the CCC – glamping at its finest.

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I wish I could show you how large this forest feels. The greenery is overpowering and my neck was constantly looking too far up to grasp it all. It overwhelms you what tiny, tiny creatures we are in this forest; how small we are on this planet:

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Mary and Anna

Anna and I

Anna and I

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You can tell you're almost back to the springs by the sulfur smell in the air

You can tell you’re almost back to the springs by the sulfur smell in the air

After our hike we spent some time in the hot springs that Sol Duc is famous for. I never quite got a picture since I did not want to take my camera, but here is a picture from the website:

The large pool in the background was 53oF (cold!!!), the smaller ones closer were in the between 98oF and 103oF.

The large pool in the background was 53oF (cold!!!), the smaller ones closer were in the between 98oF and 103oF. It was fun to soak while it snowed and then jump in between to get the circulation going.

All too soon we had to get home.

Kingston-Edmonds ferry.

Kingston-Edmonds ferry.

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When you wave goodbye to the mountains off the back of the ferry – the fact that you’ve had to travel over land and sea to get there combined with their perpetual misty cloak, makes the Olympics seem like a forbidden land unlike any other.

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Here’s to many more adventures with these two!

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.

#43

#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.