Monday, November 28, 2016

Wanderings: Lord Hill Regional Park

Black Friday dawned cool and sunny, with blue skies that offered a welcome respite from the heavy clouds and incessant rain we'd seen for days on end. What better day to join the growing number of people choosing to "opt outside" on Black Friday, rather than hitting the sales at the shopping mall and big box stores. The Opt Outside movement was initiated by outdoor retailer REI last year, as they gave their employees the day after Thanksgiving off to spend time outdoors, and encouraged others to do the same. I'm not one for crowds and long lines, so it didn't take much convincing for me to make Black Friday hikes a new tradition!

Last year, my husband and I took a walk at the Redmond Watershed Preserve on Black Friday. The year before that - before opting outside was even a "thing" - my sister and I hiked to Coal Creek Falls on a particularly rainy and cold day after Thanksgiving. Despite arriving home soaked to the skin and freezing cold, the experience left me with memories of a fun adventure with one of my favorite people.

This year, my husband was once again my hiking partner as we hit the trails at Lord Hill Regional Park in Snohomish. Okay, let me be honest... I did have one other hiking partner with me. And that would be the future nature nerd growing in my rapidly expanding belly. We're having our first child in early May of next year - an entirely new adventure for the both of us! We chose Lord Hill for our Black Friday hike not only because it was a park close to home that I had yet to visit, but also because the gentle trails would be easier on this pregnant hiker who has sore knees and hips, and gets winded just walking up the stairs.

There were few cars in the parking lot when we arrived and made our way to the large map posted near the trailhead. We planned to take the Main trail to the West View trail, where the map advertised a viewpoint I hoped would offer views of the mountains or valley below. This would give us a nice hike of about three miles, and hopefully satisfy my longing to spend time outside, which I've been doing entirely too little of lately.

From the parking lot, we followed the trail as it wound downhill, left muddy and slick after the Thanksgiving deluge. The black mud was pockmarked with tiny craters where water had dripped from rain-saturated branches overhead. We crossed a few boardwalks over swampy areas and swollen streams, and marveled at the enormous old-growth cedar stumps still present in this second-growth forest.

We picked up the Main trail and followed it beneath an impressive bower of bigleaf maples, their branches bare now save for a thick coating of moss. Beneath the maples and scattered Doug firs, an unbroken grove of sword fern carpeted the forest floor. It was dark and shaded and damp through this stretch.

When the trail forked, we headed to the right and followed the West View trail as it sloped gently upward. This trail was bright and open and sunny, with glimpses of the valley below just visible among the thickly clustered maple trunks. We reached the top of a hill where the trail forked again, but the previously well-marked trails were now completely blank. Without really knowing which way to go, we took the right fork again and decided to see where it led.

As luck would have it, we should have taken the left fork. Our chosen trail ended up being the Devil's Butte trail, which winds downhill and around a large swampy pond before meeting up again with the trail we had actually wanted to take to the viewpoint. Although choosing the wrong trail added another mile or so to our hike, the narrow footpath brushing through waist-high sword fern also offered a chance to explore an interesting wetland ecosystem that we wouldn't have seen otherwise... and what would a hike be without some aspect of adventure? We circumnavigated the pond and then hopped over its slightly sulfurous-smelling outlet stream before climbing a steep hill that led us to the viewpoint which had been our original destination.

However, the name "viewpoint" was an unfortunate misnomer. The only view at this point was of the blue sky overhead, and the bare maple trunks all around the small clearing. Standing on a wet, algae-slick picnic table, I was able to take a photo of the only view available through a gap in the branches of a Doug fir.

We headed back to the West View trail, ambling slowly along the muddy path striped with alternating sunshine and shadow. Woodpeckers tapped on resonant tree trunks, wrens scolded and flitted among the tangles of salmonberry, a gentle breeze set bigleaf maple leaves waving, the golden leaves refusing to let go and fall to the ground. It wasn't climbing a mountain, it wasn't hiking miles to a lake or waterfall - but this hike in a quiet county park was all I needed to feel refreshed and reconnected to the greater, grander, marvelous world out there. And I think perhaps that's what "opting outside" is all about.

Upon reflection, after getting past the extra-sore hip and knee joints, I was grateful for the wrong turn that took us further into the woods and made our hike longer than expected. This hike ended up being a great reminder that not all hikes - and not all things in life - are about the destination. It's about enjoying the unfolding journey and embracing the small beauties, detours and wrong turns that make for an exciting adventure.

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