Monday, February 22, 2016

Wanderings: Fragrance Lake

Last weekend, Saturday dawned cool and overcast, and as I eyed those smooth gray skies I felt a bit apprehensive about setting out for a hike. The previous weekend's soggy slog along the Lime Kiln trail was still fresh in my mind. Those worries happily proved unfounded, however, as the skies cleared and temperatures warmed throughout the day, making it the perfect weather for the first hike and meetup of the book club I just joined, founded by my fellow blogger over at Alpine Lily.

After a quick stop for coffee, my sister, her pup Ruby, and I drove north through scenic Skagit County and along the gorgeous, twisting Chuckanut Drive to Larrabee State Park, where we'd meet up with our book club friends and hike to Fragrance Lake.

We parked at the Larrabee State Park lot, which at this early hour was nearly empty. After meeting up with our group, we crossed the street and headed into the forest along the Fragrance Lake trail. The trail begins climbing right away, and I was immediately reminded how out of shape I am as my lungs started to burn and my heartbeat thudded in my ears. Thankfully, one of the many wonderful things about hiking with like-minded people is that we all like to stop every so often to admire a particularly magnificent tree, or to marvel at the mossy green forest, or to watch a woodpecker, and of course to snap photos of all of the above. These moments gave me a chance to catch my breath during the uphill climb. Clearly I need to get back out hiking more frequently again!

The trail wound through some truly lovely second-growth forest, with moss everywhere, green sword ferns carpeting the forest floor, and a handful of huge Western red cedar and Douglas fir trees that had somehow escaped being felled by loggers decades - perhaps a century - ago when this forest was logged. There were also plenty of stumps bearing precise rectangular springboard notches in their crumbling flesh - evidence that these ancient trees had met their demise by the saw and been hauled off to the lumber mill. Many of these stumps, though they seem like tombstones for the magnificent trees lost, are signs of hope as well, with a new generation of trees sprouting from them and flourishing on the rich nutrients.

The trail leveled out after a few miles of climbing, and we followed the lake loop trail to the left, which took us past some wondrous sandstone walls that actually had trees growing from them! Walking past, I paused to rub my fingers across the stone's gritty surface, loosening a few grains of sand and marveling that they'd once been submerged in some ancient ocean. And now here they were, towering over a lake high up in the forest, with a forest of their own growing on top of them.

The lake itself was small and tranquil, and closely hemmed in by trees which only allow peeking glimpses of the dark rippling water through their branches.

We found a warm, sunny spot with a bench along the lake shore, where we stopped to drop our packs, have some snacks and chocolate, and discuss the novel our book club had read: The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey (a great book - I recommend it!). After some great discussion and lovely poetry was shared, we were beginning to feel the chilly air that suddenly seemed to have scoured all the warmth from the forest around us. I couldn't help but think of the snow child in the book - a young girl who could summon ice, cold, and snow at will - and felt my skin prickling with eerie goosebumps as I snapped a few photos with painfully chilled fingers, casting an eye toward the surrounding forest and wondering if I might see her there!

The lake loop trail continued along the shoreline behind a screen of trees that largely appeared to be Western red cedar, crossing several of the lake's inlet and outlet streams before rejoining the main trail. Down the winding trail and switchbacks we went, until we reached a short spur trail out to a lookout. We'd passed this trail on the way up, hoping that the skies would clear and we'd have a nice view of the ocean and San Juan Islands on the way back down... and did we ever! Between sea and sky and distant hazy islands, the scenery seemed to be colored in every possible shade of blue.

Leaving the viewpoint, we continued back down the trail, which was rapidly filling with a steady stream of hikers and dogs (many of which were off-leash... that's a big no-no!!!). I was grateful that we'd gotten an early start, and thus avoided the crowds. After we arrived back at the parking lot, our group decided to take the short trail down to the beach at Larrabee State Park, where we stood on the rocky shoreline, listened to the small waves breaking, saw a bald eagle soaring, and were treated to a sea-level view of the vista we'd admired from the viewpoint just a little while earlier.

With tired Ruby in tow, my sister and I made our way back to the car after our nearly six-mile hike, bidding our new book club friends farewell, and looking forward to the next adventure. In the meantime, we'll try to follow the advice written on the back of a sign at the Fragrance Lake trailhead:

If you go... take your Discover Pass and go early in the day! We set out on the trail just before 9am, and saw very few other hikers on the way up to the lake.

Sleepy Ruby on the drive home.

Friday, February 19, 2016

Wanderings: Lime Kiln Trail

The lime kiln

We've got to be getting close, I thought to myself, growing more desperate with every squelching footstep and each jacket seam breached by the unrelenting downpour, leaving cold wet patches on my skin. Rain collected in fat drops on the branches overhead, splattering with startling force on my hood as though I were being bombarded with tiny water balloons from the heavens.

My husband and I had been hiking for the past two and a half miles in the pouring rain, headed for the historic lime kiln on the aptly-named Lime Kiln Trail in Granite Falls. I'm a nature nerd and my husband is a history buff, so this hike seemed like a great opportunity to combine both of our interests. However, we happened to choose an extraordinarily soggy day to explore this amazing trail that lies within the Robe Canyon Historic Park.

Bundled up in waterproof jackets and pants, we joined a handful of other intrepid folks braving the miserable weather on the trail, and set out from the sparsely occupied parking lot into a mossy, green, drippy, enchanting forest. The trail was muddy, with an occasional puddle that I could easily skirt around. My husband was smart to wear waterproof boots, and gladly sloshed right through the puddles while staying comfortably dry. A little ways in, we encountered what probably was supposed to be a wooden bridge, but which was now completely underwater, save for the logs running along the sides. Balancing carefully on the slippery log, I was able to make my way across while keeping my feet dry... for now. But this was only a glimpse of things to come!

Shortly thereafter, the trail turned into a wide gravel path and the sky opened up overhead as the bare deciduous trees retreated to the edges of the wide trail behind a wall of tangled salmonberry branches that already (!) are showing little buds from which the leaves will soon sprout. We followed the trail uphill for a stretch, then turned a corner and gradually descended. We were headed back toward the forest, but first had to cross a very swollen stream that gushed across the trail and flowed with such force and volume that some of the water was diverted out of the channel and down the trail. I cleared the stream with a running leap (it doesn't look very wide in the photo, but it took some ooomph on my part - and my husband pulling me by the hand - to make it across!) and then we continued down the flooded trail into the darkest, gloomiest forest I'd ever set foot in.

A thick canopy of tangled, moss-covered branches blocked out much of the light on this section of the trail, leaving the forest floor below dark, drippy, and eerie, with the atmosphere of a primeval, enchanted forest from which an ogre might appear at any moment. It was delightfully spooky!

We followed the trail over a wide bridge, then took a sharp turn to the left where the trail descended along a steep canyon slope before leveling out at the old railroad grade where the Everett and Monte Cristo Railroads once ran their steam engines, hauling lime and timber from these remote hills to the smelters and lumber yards in Everett. Eyeing the narrow grade cut into the hillside and the steep cliff descending to the muddy, rain-swollen and swift current of the Stillaguamish River hundreds of feet below, I marveled at how a train could have possibly run through this place. There were historical photos of that very thing at the trailhead kiosk however, so we knew it had been done!

This part of the trail was level, and had great views of the Stillaguamish below. Bigleaf maple, cedar, and hemlock trees stood watch from the hillside as we crossed more streams, ducked under trees that had fallen across the trail, and picked our way around puddles. Or at least I was picking my way around, still (fruitlessly) trying to keep my feet dry. One particular stretch of trail was so flooded that there was no way for me to get around on dry ground. I'd either have to slosh through and come out with soggy shoes and socks, or my husband would have to give me a piggyback ride. So piggyback ride it was. It was at this point that the (still) pouring rain overwhelmed my jacket's water-repelling capacity, and I could feel a cold wetness seeping through to my shoulders and soaking my sides.

I knew we were getting close to the lime kiln when we began spotting rusty artifacts along the trail: broken saw blades, rusted cable, twisted pieces of metal. Then at long last, the imposing form of the lime kiln resolved from the surrounding forest, its hundred-year-old stone structure covered thickly with moss and ferns. The forest was attempting - and certainly succeeding - to reclaim it. We clambered around the kiln, admiring the carefully laid stones and brickwork adorning its three stoking ports, where fires would have been kept burning to process the lime. The inside of the stoking ports still have white lime residue spilling from them. Cluttering the ground outside of the kiln are more rusty saw blades, bits of metal, corroded iron doors, and broken pieces of brick that still bear legible writing stamped into their faces.

We poked around the kiln a bit, and I took as many photos as I could while trying to keep my camera from getting too waterlogged in the continual downpour. The trail continues on for another three-quarters of a mile or so beyond the lime kiln, but at this point the soaking-wet state I was in became too miserable to bear, so we made a speedy beeline back up the trail, toward the parking area 2.6 miles away. I just sloshed right through the puddles this time... I could already feel water squishing between my toes with each step, and there was no possible way my feet could get any wetter than they already were.

The rain had abated to a misty drizzle by the time we were back to the trailhead and parking area, were we gladly peeled off the soggy raingear, turned up the heat in the car, and vowed to come back during the summertime for further exploration. While it was fun to see the gushing creeks and dripping mossy banks during our rainy hike, I know this trail will be more enjoyable when fair weather offers us the leisure to more fully appreciate and explore the history and stunning natural scenery of this intriguing place.