Monday, January 2, 2017

Wanderings: First Day Hike at Saint Edward State Park

Seminary Trail, Saint Edward State Park. Lainey Piland photo

For the fourth New Year's Day in a row, my husband and I headed out to one of the fabulous Washington State Parks for a First Day Hike in the chilly winter sunshine. In previous years, we've visited Deception Pass State Park, Wallace Falls State Park, and Cama Beach State Park. Thirty-two state parks hosted official First Day Hikes this year. Although Saint Edward State Park wasn't one of them, we decided to revisit this familiar and favorite place for a leisurely hike, knowing these trails were still within the ability of my nearly-six-months-pregnant, tired, achy body.

With temperatures hovering right around freezing and the previous night's trace of snowfall still an icy crust on the ground, we bundled up in the car and then made a brisk beeline for the South Canyon trail. There were just a handful of cars in the parking lot, and I could count on one hand the number of people we passed on the way down the cold and shaded trail, greeting each with a jubilant "Happy New Year!" This was the quietest I'd ever seen the park.

Quiet was the rule of the day! As we hiked down toward the shore of Lake Washington, all that could be heard was our footsteps squishing into the muddy trail, the trickling creek running through the canyon below, an occasional chirp in a forest normally bursting with birdsong, and the constant pattering noise as rain dripped from the blue sky above as frost and snow melted from sun-warmed branches overhead. Licorice ferns waved silently from mossy bigleaf maple trunks.

The lakeshore was a bit more crowded, as a handful of small groups scattered along the shoreline and squinted over the waters of Lake Washington gleaming in brilliant sunshine. I watched a tiny fluffball of a ruby-crowned kinglet flit among the rocks at the water's edge, searching for something, it seemed. After warming ourselves in the sunshine, we headed for the Seminary trail to hike back up to the park.

I generally avoid the wide, graveled Seminary trail because it is the most heavily-used trail here. But on this day, even this trail was quiet, and we didn't pass a single person on the entire half-mile hike from the lakeshore back up to the park. This trail was on a sunnier side of the hill, and warm light shone through tree trunks, filtered by thin veils of fog.

We emerged from the woods to the park's vast grounds and imposing seminary building flooded with sunshine. It didn't feel so chilly anymore, I thought as my out-of-shape and overtaxed lungs gasped for air and my cheeks flushed red from exertion. My hips and lower back were screaming at me as well. Was I really the same person who hiked Mount Si just seven months ago? I tried not to feel badly about being so wiped out after a hike that just nudged the two-mile mark. After all, I am hiking, and breathing, for two right now!

Two crows supervised from the seminary steeple as I limped back to the car with my husband, passing more First Day Hikers who were heading into the forest. I was glad to see so many young adults and families choosing to spend a cold New Year's Day in the outdoors. Hopefully they'll create a tradition of it as well, and use January 1st of each year to explore and learn more about the history and ecology of the wonderful parks we have in Washington State.

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