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Category: Washington

Snowshoeing uphill

Snowshoeing on Hurricane Ridge

The Olympic National Park

Hurricane Ridge is a mountainous region in the Olympic National Park that overlooks Port Angeles and the adjacent Pacific Ocean.  Only 30 minutes from town, the road climbs from sea level to over 5,000 feet (1,600 m) where there is an average of over 400 inches of snow fall a year.



The post in-front of us is normally 10 feet tall. 

Terry by the pole.

Terry standing by the same pole. This was taken when we hiked the ‘hill’ last July.

School Hike

Terry and I jumped at the opportunity to join a school group to spend a day floating over the 70 + inches of snow currently on the trails.  Our fellow adventure seekers are primarily foreign students from China, Malaysia, and Vietnam.  Our fun was enhanced by their enthusiasm to see so much deep snow and unique scenery.

T with student

Terry with SJ, a Peninsula College student from Malaysia.

Snowshoes have been used for 4,000 to 6,000 years.  The equipment we rented is for the same purpose but is definitely from modern times as we had polished aluminum, plastic, and composites shoes rather than the hide, sinew, and wood of the classic models.  Hurricane Ridge turns out to be almost as active in the winter (although only open Friday through Sunday) as it is in the summer.

John holding poles

John about to embark in another adventure!

Chains are often required for the trip, but we had no issues and enjoyed the van ride joking with our fellow students, even though most are younger than our kids.  Terry even knew a few of their songs!  The mountain top visitor center hosts a small ski area with a tow rope, an overflowing parking lot and miles of snowshoeing trails.

Terry snowshoe

On top of the hill, cold but sweaty.

Thankfully snowshoeing is easier to learn than other winter sports (I am pointing my finger at you ice skating and downhill skiing!) and after adjusting a few straps we were plodding and darting across the snow.  Effective traction plates makes climbing steep hillsides a breeze.  You are only limited by your lungs, nerves, or sense of good judgement.

Soccer players snowshoeing

Three members of PC women’s champion soccer team enjoying the day.

Our group started out together up the Hurricane Hill Trail.  Soon we lost sight of our fast contingent of the NWAC Champion Female Soccer team.  During stops for water or photo opportunities we were approached by fluttering Camp Robbers (Gray Jays).


A Gray Jay bird.   Photo: wikimedia commons

These beautiful birds were cute enough that I hardly minded that Terry fed them most of my peanut butter sandwich.  A great day was had by all.  On the return trip the quiet bus full of sleeping Peninsula College students was proof positive that although snowshoeing is fun, it is also hard work!

And below is a short video of the trip

Have you ever gone snowshoeing? Did you enjoy it? We’d love to know some of your favorite spots. Thanks for reading!

Mount St. Helens

On May 18, 1980 Mount Saint Helens volcano in Washington state erupted.  Over the next weeks this was a major story on TV and in print. Most impressively I remember a fine film of ash covering our local roads 890 miles away in Billings, Montana.  With the Offpeakers traveling in Washington State, we could not pass up a visit to see the still active volcano and the fascinating Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument.   We were right in the neighborhood on a futile effort to get a view of Mount Rainier.

Mt. St Helens canopy is covered with clouds

Mt. St Helens on the right side of park sign is partially covered with clouds

Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument was set-aside for research, recreation, and education. Inside the 110,000 acre Monument, the environment is left to respond naturally to the havoc created from the eruption.  The large sight has a variety of entrances, viewing areas, informational and educational displays, and opportunities for entertainment.  A $5 pass for Monument access is required.

Scenic & traffic free drive to the park

The roads are lined with evergreens, peaceful, scenic  & traffic free drive to the park

This admission is also covered by the useful Inter Agency pass.  Mount Saint Helens is a popular destination.  It sits only 75 minutes north of Portland and 2 hours south of Seattle.  This is the high country, so a visit is best made in the summer, as many of the Forest Service Roads (the Monument sits inside the Gifford Pinchot National Forest) are only open from July to October.

Wildflowers such as these pink foxgloves line the side of the road

Wildflowers such as these pink foxgloves line the side of the road

Most visitors enter from the west side along Interstate 5.  Our approach to the Monument was from the east side. This is a series of little used roads that have scenery worthy of a visit themselves.  In an hour we saw active logging areas, thickly timbered land, mossy trees, clear streams, varieties of wild flowers, and evidence that a patriotic man does not care for Nancy anymore.

We laughed at this eye catching sign

Eye catching sign dedicated to Nancy, complete with the American flag!

Top off the gas tank and bring along lunch, because there are very few services in the direct area.

Forest Service road 99 goes all the way into Windy Ridge, right between Spirit Lake and four miles to the crater.  As we drove in starting 15 miles from the crater two things surprised us: how visible the effects of the eruptions were 36 years after the fact, and the resiliency of life.

Young trees and wildflowers now surrounding the dead trees

Young trees and wildflowers now surrounding the dead trees

Information displays at Bear Meadow show where some of the famous photos of the blast were taken 13 miles from the crater.  An amateur photographer was camping with two friends on a ridge.  He managed to snap 22 pictures in 30 seconds.  He quickly realized that even at this distance he was not safe and they managed to get in their car and careen down the primitive roads, just getting behind a steep ridge to avoid the worst of the blast and survive.

Pictures of the eruption May 18, 1980

Pictures of the eruption May 18, 1980

The power of the eruption was immense.  The side of the volcano had been expanding by 6 feet a day.  The intense pressure sent a shock wave that traveled 670 miles per hour with temperatures of 700 degrees F.   There were zones around the north eastern side (direction of the blast) where for several miles everything was incinerated and destroyed.  In this area even the topsoil was stripped and recovery is much slower.

Flattened miners car

Flattened miners car

Further was the knock down zone where all trees in the direct blast were leveled.  An interesting relic from the blast is the “Miner’s car”.  This 1973 Pontiac Bonneville had been driven in by three people working a small mining claim.  They had been warned of the danger and had signed release of liability forms.  The car was flattened by the shock wave, the men disappeared.

Much of this area is showing signs of recovery.  Downed timber has rotted away, adding nutrients to the scorched soil.  Areas on the back side of hills were less damaged and seeds survived.  The recovery of the area was greatly enhanced by the time of year of the eruption.  As it was mid May, there was still significant snow on the ground.  In the protected areas at least 8 miles from the blast, the three feet of snow allowed seeds (and in some cases, even small animals such as mice) to survive and begin the gradual recovery.

New tress are growing where the old timbers are now rotting

New trees are growing where the old timbers are now rotting

Driving in there, are several trail heads and informative displays to explain the eruption and aftermath.  Further from the knock down zone is the vast areas where the hot gases scorched the trees bad enough to kill them.  To this day the burned dead trees fill the sides of hills as monuments to the blast.  All the way in at Windy Ridge, the ground is still gray pebbly matter from inside the volcano.


Spirit Lake – note the logs still floating along the distant shore and the bare hillside to the left where all soil was scoured away by the landslide.

Here you can see visible remnants of one other onslaught from the eruption, a massive landslide. The side of the mountain broke free and slid down the valley.  It roared up the other side, scouring the hillsides down to the bedrock.  Over 300 feet of debris ended up piled on the ground around Spirit Lake.  The slide roared over the lake and up the steep hills on the other side.


How can these two be so happy at the sight of a disaster?

When it receded, it took the thick stand of trees that stood there back to the water, creating a thick mat of tree trunks that still choke a significant part of the recovering lake.  A steep hike up a neighboring butte took us to a long ridge that has amazing views of the crater, lake, and surrounding areas.  Just now plants are beginning to come into this area.

Wildflowers & berries are now growing

Wildflowers & berries are now growing

Thick wildflowers and young grasses are coming up in areas.   We were surprised to see elk tracks along the damp path.

We saw a group of elk including this bull, cow & calf

We saw a group of elk including this bull, cow & calf

Even more so it was a pleasure to actually see the small group of elk that were beginning to make this area part of their range.  On this overcast day we were pleased to receive a quick view of the mountain’s new, less lofty summit.

Hmm...Not sure of there are apes in that cave

Hmm…that cave will probably make a monkey out of us

Take some time and see other sights affiliated with Mount Saint Helens.  There is a Visitor Center on the west side of the Monument.  On the southern side, the Offpeakers just had to see Ape Cave.  Ape Cave is a 2.5 mile long lava tube from a previous eruption, it is open for hikes but in total darkness.  There is good access to a significant portion of it with two options, normal or more extreme.

The cave is dark and cold and did I mention dark?

The cave is dark and cold and did I mention dark?

On this day we chose the normal option.  It is a chilly 43 degrees F year round in the tube.  While we enjoyed the twenty minute hike in the dark, we wished we had better flashlights or had arrived in time to rent the available lanterns.

We enjoyed our visit to Mt St Helens National Monument.

We enjoyed our visit to Mt St Helens National Monument.

Interesting numbers help visualize the eruption.   Mount Saint Helens lost over 1,300 feet of elevation in the event.  The ash thrown out comprised nearly a cubic mile in volume.  If the ash was piled onto a football field, the stack would be 150 miles high.  Great scenery, fun hikes, learning, this is another National Monument that has it all.  The Offpeakers suggest you work Mount Saint Helens National Volcanic Monument into your Northwest travel plans.

Do you have any volcano memories?  Share them with us below!

Mount Rainier

Moving can be stressful along with hunting for a new place to live.  After the search is over, then there is the waiting game to move-in.  Waiting for ours gave us a good excuse (not that we need any) to go on another road trip and get to know our new neighborhood, the beautiful Pacific Northwest or PNW.  Sometimes referred to as Cascadia, PNW is a geographic region and megaregion in western North America bounded by the Pacific Ocean to the west and loosely, by the Rocky Mountains on the east . Though no agreed boundary exists, a common conception includes the U.S. states of Oregon and Washington and the Canadian province of British Columbia.

At the entrance, photo c/o two nice gentlemen on their mormon mission.

At the entrance, photo c/o two nice gentlemen on their LDS/Mormon mission.

Our first stop was Mount Rainier National Park.  The park is known for its crowning jewel Mt. Rainier, the highest mountain of the Cascade Range of the Pacific Northwest, and the highest mountain in the U.S. state of Washington.  If you’ve visited Seattle and it’s not rainy then you have seen this towering beauty.  Established in 1899 this national park encompasses over 236,ooo acres! There are many activities in or out of the park year-round such as biking, fishing, camping, and hiking to name a few.  Park fee is $25 per vehicle which is covered by our annual Inter Agency National Parks pass.

Yup it was winter up in Paradise

Yup it was winter up in Paradise

It was cloudy and cold during our visit so we did not get to see the glaciers up close.  But the weather did not stop us from enjoying the natural beauty of the park.  After a brief stop at the wintery Jackson Visitor Center in Paradise we proceeded to our first hike at the Bench/Snow Lake Trail.  The park ranger recommended this short and beautiful trail after we have expressed our desire to see some sub-alpine wildflowers.

The trail leading to Bench lake

The trail leading to Bench lake, a bit hard to see the tiny white Glacier lillies

The trailhead is located just a few steps from the parking lot right off Stevens Canyon Road.

Bench lake

Bench Lake

Gradual succession of ups and downs leads us to the first lake called “The Bench” so named because of the surrounding flat area. The trails continues to a flat meadow dotted with white bear grass flowers and glacier lilies.

Snow Lake

Snow Lake

We crossed a stream towards a series of twisty & uphill trail and was excited to finally see the clear turquoise green waters of “Snow lake”.

Surrounding mountain

Tatoosh mountain range surrounding Snow lake.

The lake got its name because it is filled by icy melt from the surrounding Tatoosh mountain range.  It’s fun to see snow mid-July!  We continued and enjoyed the very scenic drive along Stevens Canyon Road towards Ohanapecosh to hike an old growth forest trail.

Canyon bridge, can you spot John?

Canyon bridge, can you spot John?

Along the way we stopped to see the box canyon. From the bridge, 180 feet (55 meters) below we saw water rushing through a narrow slot canyon. We remembered the time we swam the deep volcanic fissure of Las Grietas in Santa Cruz Island, Galapagos.

We felt tiny

We felt tiny by these two!

Grove of the Patriarchs Trail visits an old growth forest.  It is an easy hike through thousand year old cedar, hemlock and douglas fir trees.

by the root of a fallen tree.

by the root of a fallen tree.

We had fun crossing the suspension bridge, enjoying the multicolored rocks visible in the waters of the Ohanapecosh river and sharing in everyone’s joyous spirit.v We felt tiny as well as blessed to be walking through these giant trees.

Lake Crescent

When the Offpeakers asked around for fun places to visit near our new home in Port Angeles, Washington, Lake Crescent was mentioned several times.  On a bright morning we drove 17 miles west on Highway 101 to see for ourselves.

Wow! Crescent lake is so beautiful!

Wow! Lake Crescent is so beautiful! Crystal clear cold water.

Lake Crescent is a deep vivid blue reminiscent of Caribbean Ocean water. The color is due to a lack of nitrogen that prevents the growth of algae that obscures other lakes. Crescent is large with a length of 12 miles and surface area of 5,000 acres as well as being one of the deepest lakes in Washington state.

Flowery fields by the visitor center.

Flowery field by the Lake Crescent Storm King visitor center.

This Olympic National Park lake is popular with boaters and kayakers. People drop in for a snapshot and linger, walking along the shore and going out on the pier to marvel at the clear water.

The water is so clear, we can see the bottom.

The water is so clear, we can see the bottom.

Our primary interest was the network of hiking trails leading from the lake. Our first trail was an easy but beautiful hike to Marymere Falls.

Beautiful trail leading to the falls

Beautiful trail leading to the waterfalls

A fast two mile trek, the Marymere Falls trail is one of the most well traveled paths in the region. The trail begins at the Storm King Ranger Stations, skirts the lake, ducks under the highway, and then takes you back in time. Huge moss covered trees and ferns remind you of the heavy rainfall this area receives.

Easy to imagine the time when dinosaur roam in the surroundings

Easy to imagine the time when the dinosaurs roam inside the ancient forest

The air is cool and heavy. The trail beckons you but there is so much to see in all directions. The more adventurous can branch off to other longer trails (Barnes Creek, Storm King), but we wanted to see Falls Creek plummet down its granite course.

One of the bridge leading up to the falls

One of the bridge leading up to the falls

A couple of fun bridges (you can alternatively bound from rock to rock if you choose) later and it is time for a brief ascent up switch backs and stairs. The payoff is a gentle but pleasing 90 foot high cascade.

We made it to the waterfalls

Climbing to the higher viewing area provides more exercise but a poorer photo opportunity. Now that this goal was achieved, we quickly followed the same route back to find our next adventure. We loved the hike and recommend that you include it in your Olympic National Park visit.

Paved bike path near the trail head.

Paved bike path near the trail head.

With this as a warm up, the Subaru took us to the east side of the lake’s East Beach Road in order to hike the Spruce Railroad Trail. The Spruce Railroad trail skirts the northern edge of Lake Crescent. This trail primarily follows the route of a railroad line worked on during World War I. This line was intended to open up new areas of spruce to log to support the war effort. Fortunately the war was ended before the route was fully complete, saving the forest but wasting all the hard work of the construction crews.

The trail

Step lightly Offpeaker!

The workers had even nearly finished a large tunnel through solid rock. While the work did not result in a usable rail line, it has evolved into a nice hiking path. The trail is an easy 8 mile round trip. As this was a railroad grade, there are few hills. The first people we saw on the trail were mountain bikers, followed by people with happy dogs. Several spots on the well groomed route accessed sandy beaches on Lake Crescent.

Near the area where we saw people swimming the frigid waters

Area where we saw people swimming the frigid waters

Just as we were wondering if the water was too cold for bathers, an impressive group of athletes appeared swimming smartly. Dressed in wet suits, this appears to be a normal occurrence as we saw two other (admittedly less rigorous) groups of swimmers.

Devil's punch bridge, we saw 2 people jumping off the cliff!

Devil’s punch bowl is to the right of the bridge, we saw people jumping off the cliff!

Further on, we crossed over a steel bridge next to the Devil’s Punch Bowl. Our timing was perfect as we saw a young lady scale the rock cliff along the lake and, after a big of preparation, jump at least 25 feet down into the mesmerizing blue water. As maybe expected, she surfaced sputtering “COLD!!!!” amid our applause. On our return, a motorboat full of anxious swimmers arrived and tied up at this popular point. Our hike continued. The tall timber shaded us from much of the direct sun.

We almost missed it.

We almost missed this impressive tunnel.

We almost walked right past the tunnel. It is nearly closed on the leading side and situated well above the foot path. A quick scramble got us a the edge of the tunnel and we just had to walk through it on the jumble of fallen rock and remnants of timbers. Much manual labor was expended for this relic. We cheered their achievement and our joy to be enjoying this beautiful area.

Beautiful trail from beginning to end

It’s  a scenic and fun trail from beginning to end

Overall the hike was fun and scenic, just as advertised. If we get active with our bikes this will be one of the early off road trails we will enjoy owing to its gentle grade, proximity to Port Angeles, and fun scenery. Hiking these Olympic Peninsula trails is great to get exercise and enjoy the outdoors. What are some of your favorite hiking areas? Share them with us, we promise not to litter!

Dungeness Spit

A record setting spit can brighten anyone’s Independence Day.  The Offpeaker’s Fourth of July centered around an 11 mile hike on the Dungeness Spit here on the northern edge of the Olympic Peninsula.

Caption here

Sure it’s only 5 miles each way! but nobody mentioned the stones!!

Yes, we are now in the beautiful Pacific Northwest!  If you have visited the area and love the great outdoors, you will understand why.  The Dungeness Spit, named by explorer George Vancouver, is the longest spit (a deposition sand bar or beach found off coasts) in North America.

At the start of the hike...wait, where's the lighthouse?

At the start of the hike…wait, where’s the lighthouse?

The Dungeness National Wildlife refuge contains the spit among its 770 acre holding just outside Sequim, Washington.  The refuge is home to more than 250 species of birds, 41 species of land mammals, a harbor seal birthing area, excellent infrastructure, an operational 1857 lighthouse, and a near constant powerful wind.  This wind, varying in strength from strong to wicked, was our hiking partner the entire day.

You can tell by the smiles that this is at the beginning of the hike :-)

Still smiling so this must be at the beginning of the hike 🙂

Our hike along the spit to the lighthouse would be 11 miles long including the return. The entrance fee is $3, which was waived as we are proud holders of a National Park Service Interagency Annual Pass. For $80, we get 12 months access to more than 2,000 sites governed by 5 federal agencies.

Are we there yet?

Are we there yet?

Now that the Olympic National Park is our new back yard, we needed affordable long term access. An early start was chosen to beat the holiday crowds. With a packed lunch and cameras, we hit the trail. The first half mile goes through heavy ferns and old growth cedar and spruce.

The heavily wooded path to the trail

The heavily wooded path that leads to the spit.

If you don’t have time for the full hike, you will enjoy the short walk and view from a nice platform over the beach. Our arrival coincided with low tide, so we had the maximum width of the spit (maybe 40 yards?) to travel.

The shore birds

Shore birds resting on huge tree stumps.

After the initial mile, hikers have to stay on the north side of the spit, leaving the south side for the many shore birds. We were impressed by the huge stumps and logs that had blown up on the spit. A few imprints in the sand and two cars in the parking lot told us we were not the first on the trail today.

Park ranger ATV bringing supplies to the lighhouse

Park ranger ATV bringing supplies to the light house and a container ship in the background.

A lone ATV passed us, taking supplies to the light house. We were walking along the Strait of San Juan de Fuca. Occasionally we saw large boat traffic heading for Seattle/Bremerton including container and cruise ships. Not many interesting shells to be found, but lots of well polished interesting stones.

John don't want these so T just made a cairn. Not as good as Matt's.

John didn’t want these rocks in his pocket so T just made a cairn. Not as good as Matt’s.

Terry excels at finding the rocks, John is judged to be the better carrier.  Orcas and seals are routinely spotted, we did not encounter any on this day. Although the walk was flat, it was a bit hard on the legs with spots of soft sand and shifting rocks.  About three and half miles in we rounded a long curve in the route and saw the distant light house.

Ya, there is a light house!

Yay, there is a light house!

This encouraged us to speed up and achieve our goal. Hikers are welcomed at the site with potable water, restrooms, and a nice picnic area. The Offpeakers took the opportunity to enjoy sandwiches and empty our boots of sand.

Great spot for a picnic!

Great spot for a picnic!

Although mostly overcast, it made the day special to enjoy the meal under our Stars and Stripes surrounded by coast and the light house structures. The New Dungeness Light House is not very new, having been activated in December of 1857. The Coast Guard removed its personnel in the early 1990’s. Staffing was resumed by a volunteer organization from Sequim.

In front of the light house

In front of the light house, feeling patriotic on Independence Day!

The volunteers maintain the site and host tours. We enjoyed the climb up the tower, but were disappointed that only the official volunteers are allowed out on the cat walk. We did get a nice (and warm) view from the interior of the tower. The old lamp and surrounding trim and railings are just some of the brass that needs continual polishing. If you sign up, you can experience a week long stint as a lighthouse keeper.

The small museum & light house behind us

The small museum & light house behind us

It is not cheap ($375), as the funds go towards conservation of the site. While we probably won’t be marooning ourselves here for seven days anytime in the future, we are grateful to those that do that allow our visit. Refreshed, we prepared to return to the mainland. Instead of warming up, the increasing wind had made it quite cold.

There are more hikers coming and going on our way back

There are more hikers coming and going on our way back

A fast pace (like yours Irena!) soon had us warmed up, where we could share greetings with the inbound hikers. As we search for an apartment to be the Offpeaker World Headquarters in the Peninsula while we go to school, we are enjoying putting downtime into fun outdoor activities. So far we love the area and we will share the special places we encounter. How did you spend your Fourth of July? Do you have a favorite lighthouse? Share with us in the comments below!

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