Saturday, May 28, 2016

Wanderings: Barclay Lake

Barclay Lake reflections

Phenomenal. This was the name of the Alpine Trails Book Club read for the month of May, and is also a fitting word to describe the view from the shores of Barclay Lake on the chilly, rain-soaked Sunday morning when our book club met for our monthly hike.

After following Highway 2 east with the familiar peaks of the Cascade Mountains looming before us, my sister and I turned onto a narrow gravel Forest Service road rutted with crater-like potholes that would challenge the ground clearance of any vehicle smaller than a pickup truck. With blind corners and stretches of road narrow enough for only one vehicle, it was a bit of a white-knuckle drive uphill to the trailhead. A word of advice: go slow. While my sister and I grew up on a gravel road and are pros at dodging potholes while traveling forty miles per hour, this road requires a bit more caution!

There were a few cars in the small parking area when we arrived at the trailhead and met up with our group. A steady drizzle falling from low gray skies quickly drove us into the drier, but still drippy, refuge of the forest as we set out on the trail.

The drizzle quickly strengthened to rain, and we found ourselves walking through a dark forest that was gleaming wet and green everywhere, save for a brief stand of hemlock so dense that very little sunlight found its way to the forest floor, which was a result was bereft of any verdant vegetation. A large western red cedar stump hinted at the big trees that once held court here. This is clearly a second growth forest, and of course, we're hiking in an area with a long history of logging.

We crossed a rustic log bridge over a wide, clear creek, pausing to watch the water rushing and tumbling below. It still rained. We hiked uphill, through the forest, past innumerable blowdown trees, and across a few rocky slopes, hoods still pulled tightly over our heads.

The lake materialized into view as the trees thinned out, its shores empty for the time being, its surface rippled and blurred by the persistent rain. Towering over the lake's opposite shore was formidable Baring Mountain, swathed in misty clouds and still bearing a few patches of white snow, although the meltwater tumbling down its rocky slopes suggested those bits of snow might not last much longer.

The view was phenomenal, and I found myself musing whether the word "phenomenal" encompasses places (such as this one) in addition to the events we'd read about in the book (like the aurora, great migration, and bioluminescent waters). As I considered that each of these events was tied to a particular place on earth, I concluded that yes, a place can be considered phenomenal - if not for the events that occur there, then at least for the feeling it gives you to be in the presence of such a place. Lake, mountain, low trailing clouds and dripping green forest evoked a sense of wonder and tranquility, the feeling of being very small but yet belonging to this place. Yes. Phenomenal.

After dubiously evaluating our options, the group finally settled into the relatively dry (or at least slightly less drippy) shelter beneath some large hemlock trees to eat lunch and discuss the book we'd read. After awhile, we started to feel chilled and decided to head back down the trail to get some blood and warmth flowing through our bodies. Luckily, the rain had abated and allowed us the opportunity to more fully appreciate the lake views, and to snap some photos without worrying about drowning our cameras!

Barclay Lake, post-rain

There were some flowers blooming along the trail, most notably the tiny bunchberry. I also spied some blooming vanilla leaf and one lone trillium blossom still holding out, while its breathren throughout the forest had long been naught but headless trios of green leaves.

Vanilla leaf

With the good company, mystical scenery, fresh air, and reprieve from the rain, the hike back down the trail went by all too quickly. Well-wishes, farewells, and see-you-next times were exchanged as we headed back to our cars, shedding rain gear and preparing for another bumpy and careful drive back down the winding road.

If you go: Be sure to bring your Northwest Forest Pass, or purchase and print one out online to take with you. There are reports that the rangers patrol this trailhead frequently and hand out tickets to cars without passes! And as mentioned... be cautious when driving up the forest service road and look out for oncoming cars, especially around those blind corners. With only 500 feet of elevation gain, this is a relatively easy and family-friendly hike, with a beautiful destination.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

In the News: Wildfires in Western Washington

A hillside scorched by last summer's wildfire near Newhalem. Lainey Piland photo

It's only May, and already wildfire season has begun in western Washington. Wait... is that right? Western Washington? We're used to hearing of wildfires burning during the summer months on the state's drier side east of the Cascade mountains, but wildfires here on the west side are typically limited to small blazes burning along the roadside or highway medians thanks to carelessly discarded cigarettes. I know I'm not the only one shocked to see headlines like these in the Seattle Times:
Prepare to flee. 

In my entire life, the only thing I've had to flee from is the Snoqualmie River. I lived for several years in an apartment on the second floor of an old barn situated about 25 yards from the river's edge. On more than one occasion, my sister and I had to grab our cats and a few day's worth of clothing and flee from the churning currents that left the access road and bottom floor of the barn flooded with the Snoqualmie's chilly waters.

In rainy western Washington, we're used to fleeing from floods. But wildfires? Those are only in eastern Washington! Or at least they were. It now appears that we'll need to get used to fleeing from wildfires over on the west side as well.

As of this writing, the wildfire burning in Gold Bar (a stone's throw from my childhood hometown of Monroe) has burned 325 acres. The fire up north near Oso has burned 130 acres. So far, there is no information on what caused the fires. Both are reported to be burning in logging areas, which is making the fires even harder to fight, with all of the available fuel lying around.

Normally, fires wouldn't find great quantities of readily-burning fuel this time of year, with the landscape still well-saturated from winter and spring rains. But this year, with an April that was the hottest on record, and with May kicking off with temperatures we typically see in early July, there is plenty of fuel dry enough to burn in those logging areas, and things are clearly anything but normal around here.

In fact, I'm not sure how much longer we'll be able to say "well, normally at this time of year..." because we're rapidly shifting to a new normal. Back in 2014, I wrote a blog post reviewing the 2014 National Climate Assessment and the anticipated effects of climate change it described for our region. In summary, it was projected that we'd see warmer, wetter winters (low mountain snowpack in winter 2014-2015, anyone?), hotter, drier summers (like the record number of 90-degree days in summer 2015), fewer rainy days overall, but a greater number of days with intense downpours (like this one last year), and a significant increase in land area burned by wildfires (like the record-breaking Carlton Complex fire in 2014).

These are the impacts climate change has wrought in our region. They are no longer one-off anomalies, they are now a trend. They aren't predictions for some distant future, they are predictions that we have already reached - surpassed, in fact - decades sooner than projected.

After running a few errands this morning, I pointed my car eastward and headed out to the Snoqualmie Valley to visit my horse and do barn chores, as I do every weekend. Upon reaching the bottom of the hill at the intersection of the Woodinville-Duvall and West Snoqualmie Valley roads, the familiar panorama of the Cascade mountain range came into view, dominating the skyline before me. Today, the mountains were scarfed with trailing brown smoke, the cloudy sky tinged an eerie orange hue thanks to the fire burning in nearby Gold Bar. It was an unsettling sight. Continuing down the valley, the skies grew darker, and a hesitant spitting of raindrops pattering on the windshield soon became a full-fledged downpour. Go to Gold Bar, I thought to the deluge. Go to Oso.

Let's hope today's rain will help firefighters extinguish the wildfires, but let the unsettling sight of those flames smoulder on within us, kindling us to take action on climate change and protect this place we call home.

Please keep the people of Oso, Gold Bar, and surrounding areas in your thoughts, as well as the firefighters and first responders. 

Monday, May 2, 2016

Wanderings: Deception Pass State Park

Bowman Bay, Deception Pass State Park

Those who have visited Deception Pass know it to be a stunning place, with lush coastal forests and churning turquoise-green water breaking on rocky beaches. It is also a place filled with mystical wonder and native stories, such as the tale of the Maiden of Deception Pass, about a lovely maiden of the Samish tribe who went to live in the sea to save her people and ensure they have plentiful seafood to sustain them. As the legend goes, you can still see her long hair flowing in the currents around Deception Pass, in the form of the plentiful kelp that grows there.

Last weekend, my sister and I joined our book club for a hike around Deception Pass, and on that day the Maiden of Deception Pass had her arms open to welcome a gusty storm moving ashore. Her hair swirled and swayed in currents that were truly "ripping" that day.

After parking at Bowman Bay, on the north side of Deception Pass State Park, we geared up to hike in the light drizzle, but anticipated that we might encounter a downpour at some point, given the ominous dark skies and chill wind. I broke out my rain pants right away. We met up with the group and then headed out for the trail to Rosario Head. We passed the Maiden of Deception Pass, then continued along the trail that looped around a high bluff at Rosario Head. Here, we encountered winds so strong that my hair was immediately blown into disarray, and I had to stand with my feet staggered to brace against the gusts buffeting us as we paused to take photos and admire the view of the stormy ocean, with its rip currents and whitecapped, choppy waters.

Feeling brave, I crept to the edge of the cliff and knelt to peer over the edge. Far below, there were the Maiden's kelp-strand locks trailing in the current.

We followed the trail around Rosario Head for more breathtaking (literally, in that wind!) coastal views before passing the Maiden of Deception Pass once more and heading back into the dripping forest of wind-wrought Doug firs and twisting madrona trees in bloom. There were so many things blooming: we spotted some camas on the bluff and thimbleberry and Nootka roses along the trail. I had never smelled a Nootka rose before... they are heavenly! We also found a fairy slipper orchid and a few chocolate lilies, along with what I'm tentatively identifying (after doing a Google search) as indian paintbrush in the most vivid orange hue I'd ever seen. It was a good day for wildflowers!

Purple camas
Nootka rose
Fairy slipper orchid
Indian paintbrush
Chocolate lily

After passing back through the parking lot at Bowman Bay, we continued on the trail toward Lighthouse Point and Lottie Point. We picked our way across seaweed-slick, barnacle-covered rocks and followed the sandy beach toward the trail, which wound through lovely coastal forest that was green as could be! As the trail traversed around the point, it revealed magnificent views of the Deception Pass bridge, and the narrow, stomach-churning Pass itself.

Upon emerging from the forest onto the exposed trail around the point, we were immediately hit by those exhilaratingly gusty winds. Following the trail through wildflower-sprinkled bluffs and rocky headlands adorned with moss frothy and white as sea foam, we enjoyed more views of the churning ocean. A hazy white horizon was moving ever-closer to us. The rain was on its way.

The trail left the point and wandered back through the verdant forest, where we passed by some impressively large cedars and Doug firs before rejoining the loop trail and heading back toward the beach and parking lot. The tide had gone out during our sojourn around the point, so we were able to amble along the sandy beach and avoid the slippery rocks.

As we waded through the damp clover-sprinkled lawn back toward the parking area, the rains that we'd seen on the horizon arrived in full force. We made a beeline for the Depression-era stone picnic shelter built by the CCC, and ducked inside to shed our dripping coats and soggy packs before digging into our lunches and chatting about the book we'd read. After awhile, we began to feel the dropping temperature, and thoroughly chilled, decided to call it a day and head home. I went home feeling refreshed, as though those cold coastal winds had blown the stale air and cobwebs from my spirit, my hair as wild and wind-tossed as those stormy seas.

If you go: be sure to take your Discover Pass, or plan to pay the $10 day-use fee. Also note that these trails have steep (unfenced) cliffs that drop straight into the ocean, so keep a close eye on children and keep those pets on leashes!