“In Washington for the next three weeks, hopefully I don’t go insane from boredom!”
That’s an actual post by a friend of mine from the Academy, disagreeable about their summer training assignment. As a Midshipmen, once a summer it’s required we are stationed with a ship for four weeks with an enlisted “running mate” in order to learn the ropes of general ship operations. Due to the logistic nightmare of transporting and housing nearly 5,000 college-aged Navy personnel, the cruise assignments become a range of luck, from port calls in Italy to maintenance duty in Virginia (no offense). To put it nicely, it’s kind of a crap shoot.
However, as it would seem, being stationed in Washington State is not a preferred outcome for many “Mids”. Many find the overcast and light rain that stereotypically defines the Northwest to be a dire mixture of miserable and straight up depressing. I mean, honestly I can’t blame them. Despite all of its water-front property, Seattle isn’t exactly a mecca for beach bums. Yet still, the PNW is my home and I’ll be damned before I see a “Mid”, or any vacationer for that matter, willingly get on a departure plane and after being asked by the flight attendant about their visit they mutter a tiresome “ehh, it was alright.”
Now any travel blog or boastful brother-in-law will tell you to hit the main attractions: Seattle Center, Pike Place Market, Mt. Rainier, Leavenworth, etc. These are all incredible sites and a ton of family fun for a day trip. However, like any well-traveled sage will tell you, in order to get to really know a place you have to go off the beaten path. Washington still remains one of the most rugged, undeveloped states and the heart of its majesty can only be found with real sense of adventure. Plus, why go where everyone else is going?
And so, without further to do and in no particular order, I give you my personal favorite hidden spots in the beautiful state of Washington. All of these places are either completely free or require a small parking fee.
A little something for everyone…
1. Vance Creek Viaduct (Shelton, WA)
Where else could you imagine the perfect scenery for you profile picture? Sitting on a rustic rail bridge 347 feet above evergreen treetops, accented by a tin waterfall in the distance, Vance Creek tops the list of quintessential Northwest décor. Just to make it clear, technically this location is on privately owned property, but so far that hasn’t stopped thousands of Washingtonians from making the pilgrimage to this Insta-perfect site. Built during the Great Depression, the viaduct was a vital part of the Simpson Logging Co. and served as the main outlet for timber until its abandonment in the 1950s. Now the site is owned by a contracting company and, until recently, has been barred by a locked gate and frequently patrolled by security. However, due to the trending #ThatNWBridge in the early 2010s and exponential rise of earnest young travelers, the gate was taken down and security stopped. Visit at your own risk!
Getting to this location is actually less of an adventure than imagined! Simply typing in “Vance Creek Viaduct” on your smart phone’s map will turn up the correct location nine times out of ten. Traveling on the 101 just south of Skokomish, look for westerly turn-off for Bourgault Road followed by an immediate right on West Skokomish Road. I highly recommend you take NF-23 and not NF-2341/2199; the latter, while objectively more scenic, does go through private property and is patrolled often. When you do make it to the trail head, park on the side of the road in one of the gravel turnouts. Be prepared for a mile-long hike over fallen trees and brush. I think it goes without saying that if heights don’t give you good vibes, this hike is not for you.
2. Mt. Pilchuck State Park Lookout (Granite Falls, WA)
What more could you ask from a moderate day hike? Mt. Pilchuck is one of the non-volcanic mountains that Washington has to offer and arguably stand apart from its high peaked cousins due to a uniquely boulder-heavy terrain. The high altitude path with a gradual incline offers truly year-round majesty, optimally viewed from the lookout at its peak. This is also one of the few state park hikes that allow dogs! Camping is highly encouraged, backpacking the norm, and perfect for a casual day hike with the squad. Of course, like Vance Creek, the views on this hike are perfect for keeping your Instagram followers tapping.
Driving to the trail head is easy as pie; this hike is easy to find on Google Maps. From the I-5, take the 528 eastbound onto HWY-9 and then a right on 84th Street through Getchell. Follow onto HWY-92 North, hop onto the Mountain Loop Highway and the follow the signs for Pilchuck Road (should be roughly a seven mile drive from the main road. The down-side, if you consider this a down-side, is that the path to the lookout is definitely a hike! Unless you’re a familiar hiker, 5.1 miles can sound a little daunting, but it honestly goes by fast. Every turn of the trail offers new scenery and when you travel between July and October you are almost guaranteed to see some sort of furry creature. Thankfully snakes aren’t commonly found in the Western Washington!
3. The Fremont Troll (Aurora Bridge, WA)
Ok, let’s take a break from the hiking and go see something uniquely Seattle. Favorited among America’s roadside attractions (or should I say road-under) is the fearsome Troll of the Fremont Bridge. Squatting at 18-feet and with a Volkswagen big in-hand, this troll has attracted tourist and skeptics alike. Since its creation on Halloween, 1990, the sculpture has reappeared in the news as strange events have happened in its vicinity. In 1998, a bus driver was shot by a lone gunman, running the bus off the bridge and crashing into an apartment building adjacent to the troll. In 2013, several gruesome sheep skulls mysteriously appeared in a park only a block away. Perhaps the troll isn’t as innocent as it appears.
Obviously this attraction requires almost no hiking, unless you count the walk down the little gully. Finding the right place can be a little frustrating, though. While the sculpture is named the “Fremont Troll”, it is not actually under the Fremont Bridge. It actually resides under the Aurora Bridge, which is sometimes called the George Washington Bridge. To remove any doubt, it is underneath the overpass on N 36th Street, Seattle. Do not be afraid to climb on the sculpture, but, as many local will tell you, please help to keep the place pristine. No need to leave your mark…or else the troll will come after you!
4. Tubal Cain Mine and the B-17 crash site (accessible from Sequim, WA)
Ok, warm-up’s over, time for some real kick-butt hikes. If I had to recommend one serious hike for someone on the eastside of the Olympic Peninsula, it would be the Tubal Cain Mines. You want deep river valleys? Boom! Ancient navigable mine shafts? Boom! The wreck of a WWII B-17 on the shores of a beautiful glacial lake? Boo-wait…what?! Yes sire, this hike has it all. With so many different split-off trails that explore the valleys surrounding Marmot Pass, you could keep coming back too this trail and always find something new. Camping is highly encouraged! Park at the main trail head and follow the rhododendrons up the sloping path. Look out for the split off that leads to the mine shaft and follow the steep climb up the mountain side. Personally, my favorite part of the hike is gradually seeing antiquated plane parts hidden in creeks and bushes as you climb around massive boulders. The hike is like venturing into a hidden world, frozen in time.
As in the previous hikes, driving to this trail is incredibly simple, if not a little bumpy. If you can manage, I would recommend traveling in a four-wheel capable vehicle, but I witnessed some poor Prius survive the climb, so I guess anything is possible! From HWY-101, take Louella Road just south of Sequim and then a quick left on Palo Alto Road. Follow FS-2880 and after you cross the bridge start looking for signs towards Dungeness Area Trails until you arrive at the parking lot. Bring lots of water and lots of snacks! It’s a 21 mile drive from the highway and you could be hiking for over 15 miles depending on which trails you take. Better yet, bring a water filter pump and take advantage of all the convenient creeks and waterfalls you’ll cross on your hike!
5. Guler Ice Caves (Trout Lake, WA)
Traveling south down the Cascade Mountains and into the Gifford Pinchot National Forest, the geography takes a subtle change. The forests become less dense, the snowy mountain peaks are fewer and far between, and the rocks begin to take on a personality of their own. Hiking around the Mt. St. Helens area is no less magical than stepping into a fairy tale. Just a small part of the majesty is as a result of the old lava tubes and natural bridges that scatter the region. The Guler Ice Caves are a natural made freezer; volcanic rock insulates the cold air and form year-round ice masses. Before the refrigerator became commonplace in Washington, huge barges would cross the Columbia River and transport the ice around the Northwest. This destination is surprisingly very kid friendly and offers plenty of opportunities to climb around this frozen wonderland…in July! Just remember to bring several flashlights and batteries, lighting it absolutely terrible at the back of the caves! A sweater may also be appreciated for extended visits.
From Vancouver, Washington take Highway 14 east to the town of Bingen. Take Highway 141 to Trout Lake and go 4 miles past the Mt. Adams Ranger Station. Turn left on a dirt road (forest service road 301) and it’s a short drive to the caves from there. Another neat attraction in the area are the Natural Bridges, which are back on FR 24 and west another mile. The area has very good signage and the ranger station has detailed maps of the area. While the caves and bridges are the major points of interests, the area offers dozens of small hikes that loop around waterfalls and offer great picnic locations. This can be a great day trip, but in all honesty make sure you go to the Mt. St. Helens Viewpoint! Easily one of the best views in the country for a quick pit stop towards the ice caves!
6. Shi shi Beach (La Push, WA)
¡Vamos a la playa! Imagine the most picturesque beaches of Miami; the warm radiant sun and the tropical breeze that tickles your skin. Yeeeaaah…you won’t find that in Washington. However, in the usual mystical spirit of the Northwest, the Pacific coast captures a certain je ne sais quoi of dynamic beauty. Shi shi Beach is the crown jewel PNW beaches (by the way, just so you don’t sound too much like a tourist, it’s pronounced “shy-shy”). The trip is marked with dozens of seaweed-lined caves and gorgeous stone arches that captures the raging sea. The gray sands trap vibrant tide pools that enclose entire micro ecosystems of sea stars, algae, and crabs. It’s like stepping into an alien world. Plus, as many award-winning photographers have discovered, Shi Shi is probably one of the best spots to take the perfect sunset pictures.
While easy to navigate to, Shi Shi is a bit of a drive from the Sound and definitely not a day trip from Seattle. Yet, if you are in Olympic National Park (the great ONP yo) then why not spend an extra day visiting the coast. I classify this as a “hidden gem” because most other beach-goes end up visiting Long Beach or La Push, skipping right over Shi Shi. You can find the beach on your phone no problem, it’s not exactly secreted. None the less, traffic here will be next to none. Just south of the Makah Indian Reservation, follow Main Line Road west off of HWY-112. At this point, the roads do not really have names, but there is signage aplenty to point you the right way.
7. Ghost Town (Govan, WA)
Man, all these awesome places and the list goes on! Next up we have some prime real estate in Lincoln County, WA. Two bedroom, two bath, full kitchen (with an island), and the site of the most brutal murder in Washington history…hmmm. Starting bids, anyone? Named after railroad engineer R. B. Govan, the town has become the site of several unsolved axe murders. Most famous among these was the death of Judge J. A. Lewis in 1902 which caught on in western newspapers as “the most brutal crime ever committed in the country”. Sparing the gory details, it was believed that robbery was the killer’s motive and since then, the county has never been the same. The area was deemed so haunted, in fact, that the community was bypassed by US Route 2.
Near the “dead” center of the state (I’m sorry), Govan is at the midpoint between Spokane and Wenatchee. Taking Interstate 2 eastbound towards Wilbur, take either Bruce Road or Bodeau Road south into the little town of Govan. The infamous rotting schoolhouse, the epicenter of the area’s hauntings, should be in plain sight standing tall among the amber fields. Feel free to walk around and inside this building…at your own risk.
8. Mt. Ellinor (Hoodsport, WA)
This mountain holds a sentimental place in my heart and stands today as my favorite hike in the Olympic Peninsula. The only infuriating part of this trek is that I’ve never been able to perfectly describe the area’s ambiance to my friends. I guess you just have to be there to understand. The path begins conventional enough; a slight incline on a dirt path over roots and mossy stones. Yet about the surrounding landscape focuses your attention to the ridgeline across from you and the glacier that grips the mountain side. Without any indication, the terrain takes a drastic change to rock-strewn glaciers and misty canyons. This hike has you wandering right into a lucid dream. You’ll start to question you senses when you spot a mountain goat peaking at your between the bushes. These sage-like animals weave in and out of your vision, watching you without trying to be seen. Reaching the peak of Mt. Ellinor should be a requirement because the view is second to none! From the primordial rocky ledge, you can see Canada, Oregon, Seattle, and the distant Cascades. With all the testosterone I can muster, this trail damn near had me in tears.
Mt. Ellinor is one of several peaks in the area, so if you have a couple days there is no reason not to hit a few hikes, the lakes and canyons hold all sorts of little treasures. The trailhead to Ellinor is west of Hamma Hamma (I’m sorry, did I stutter?) on the 101. Drive along North Jorstad Creek Road until it turns into NF-2419. Pretty soon you’ll run up the windy dirt road and into the parking lot. I highly recommend you take the upper trail head. The hike is a lot steeper than you might think and, even as an experienced climber, I was winded. The shorter five mile trail is more than enough! Trust me, you’re not missing much by skipping ahead a few hills.
9. Palouse Falls (LaCrosse, WA)
The Official Waterfall of Washington State? Hmm, that’s kind of a bold title. Why don’t you take a chill pill Palouse and show us what yo- OH MY GOODNESS! May I please have my breath back? Located in tucked away mossy canyon straight out of Indian Jones, these falls hold up to the reputation. It is almost as if someone just took a scoop out of the earth right in the path of the unsuspecting river. The hike is frankly pretty incredible as you wander through tall sandstone formations and prickly underbrush. Sunflowers grow wild in the neighboring valley and apparently, though I have never seen it, there is an abandoned school bus hidden in the fields covered in colorful tagging. The one down side: this is not the place for cliff jumping. The pool at the base of the water fall is almost entirely knee deep. Personally, I think that makes for some kick-butt squad pictures.
So this is one place that I have actually not been too before, I had to look up the best way to get out here. It seems like the easiest way to get there is going on I-9 eastbound until you reach the Columbia River gorge, then head south on 26 to Washtucna. The coolest part about going this way is you’ll pass right by the White Horse Monument. A quick pit stop, the ridge line is topped with dozens of metal horses in mid-gallop. You’ll soon experience magnificence of open plains in Eastern Washington that you can usually only be captured in Montana and Idaho. I’ve grown up on the west side of the Cascades so my bucket list holds several items to see and do in this region. If you have any suggestions, comment below! This will not be my last article!
10. Hoh Rainforest (Forks, WA)
The best for last. In more accurate terms, the most iconic for last. While appearing on every postcard from Everett to Spokane, the Hoh Rainforest has actually dipped in its number of visitors in the past five years. The merrier for you, though, because the forests beauty is in its unsullied wildness. To any of the Tolkien fans out there, tell this place doesn’t look like an Ent will come crashing your picnic. This ancient woods is the only temperate rainforest in the world, which means no freakin’ venomous snakes! Instead, expect to see white-tailed deer, black bears, and the ever-elusive flying squirrels (I have yet to see one). On that note, the wildlife is nearly as dense as the ferns; you are almost guaranteed to see some sort of furry forest critter or slimy swamp beat (Walt Disney eat your heart out). There are almost 20 different trails that loop over and under dense foliage and across beautiful pebble creeks in the valley. The majesty is truly unlike any other. Never have I seen more shades of green in my life! I cannot stress enough that it is a RAIN-forest so don’t get huffy if you left you jacket in the car.
Like I said, there a ton of places to start you visit, it doesn’t really matter where you start. I recommend starting with the Visitor Center to check out all the trails in the area. A good introductory hike is the epically named “Hall of Mosses” because it will give you a good feel for the paths. After that, take the Spruce Nature Trail for a short, easy day or the Hoh River Trail (18 miles) for some good ol’ fashioned butt burning. Camping is very-very-very much encouraged, but please use the bear boxes because these cuddly beasts are not really the “Winnie-the-Pooh”s you were hoping for. Driving here, while a long ways away, is dead simple. Taking 101 just south of Forks, turn east onto Upper Hoh Road and follow it aaaaaaaall the way to the campground. The major trail heads start right in the parking lot of the Visitor Center so park the car, grab your lunch, grab your jacket and start your trek.
Flying down the mountain!
We saved the best for last! On the last afternoon of our family travels to the Squamish area of British Columbia, Canada, we all voted to go zip-lining. Admittedly, I do not like heights or flying, but I couldn’t let the family down, so I found the courage to go. There are two zip-line companies at Whistler. Not knowing the difference, we tossed a coin and went with Superfly Ziplines. It proved to be an amazing adventure!
We booked through their office in the Whistler Village the day before. With the American to Canadian exchange rate at $1.00 USD to $1.31 CD, the price was reasonable. Plus, we wanted to splurge on our vacation anyway. The nice young lady at the booking counter didn’t even comment on my weight when she made us weigh in (they measure your weight to see if you are under the maximum allowed, I was by the way).
I was pleasantly surprised that the equipment was much safer looking than the zip-lines we did when we lived in Costa Rica. They were an amazing experience, but I think the safety standards were more lax. We fondly remember the incredible jungle views from the line we did around Arenal Volcano.
We met at the office the next day with three other adventurers. The company took us all by bus to the base camp where we received our crash course on zip-lining (pun intended). The instructors were all very nice and helpful. They showed us how to wear our harnesses, get on the zip-line, and have fun. After the 10 minute course, we donned helmets, boarded ATVs and headed up the mountain!
The first zip line was the longest. It traversed a large gorge between two mountains. I admit, I was a little nervous stepping up onto the launch platform. The river was a long way down. The guides were very professional and assured us that the zip-line was very safe and reminded us to enjoy the ride. I tried to focus on the spectacular view and remember that this was fun (in a scared to death sort of way).
My wife, Mishele, and our oldest son, Aaron, went first, thankfully. They went speeding across the gorge like eagles (sort of). Since they successfully made it, I figured that I would be fine. Our youngest son, Elijah, and I took off. The ride was thrilling! I did not look down, but I am sure that the view was terrific. I probably looked more like a wounded duck than an eagle, however.
With one line down, we had three more to go. The second line was pretty cool. It skirted the side of a rock cliff so you really got the feel of the speed you were going. The third line was the fastest. It was short, but steep. I came into the landing zone so fast that I thought I was not going to stop. I had a brief moment of panic as I hit the shock absorbers at the end of the line and compressed them to their maximum. I know that they over-engineer these things, but I still get a little nervous. I am not sure if that is supposed to be part of the thrill.
The fourth and final line was the mellowest. My wife and I went down it side by side holding hands. It was not my idea of a romantic moment with her yelling enthusiastically and me holding tightly on to her hand trying to look excited. However, we made it to the bottom hand-in-hand safely. We had a great time! The boys thought it was the highlight of our trip.
Sadly, we had to head south to the border and home. We all agreed that we want to come back again. The Squamish area has so much to see and do that you cannot do it all in one visit. Plus, there are many things we want to do over.
Day 2 of our Squamish Family Adventure!
We woke up early and headed out for more family adventure! This was the second day of our Canadian vacation in the Squamish area and we wanted to maximize every minute of it. After grabbing some coffee at the ubiquitous Starbucks, we headed for Shannon Falls.
Shannon Falls is breathtaking! It can be seen easily from Highway 99, but we wanted an up-close view of this spectacular Canadian treasure. The falls cascade down over 1,099 feet (335 meters) of smooth granite to Howe Inlet. It is British Columbia’s third highest waterfall. Coming in third place, however, takes nothing away from its beauty; it is impressive.
The walk from the parking lot to the base of the falls is only approximately .5 miles (1 kilometer), so it is more of a leg stretch than a hike. Still, it makes for a great family outing. The falls greet you with a cold mist and thunderous roar at their base. The water comes from glacial melt, so is very cold and clear. Since this was late spring, there was a considerable volume of water over the falls. Something about the beauty, power, and loftiness of the falls made people, including us, stare up in awe mesmerized. We had to break the hypnotic effect and force ourselves away to the next adventure.
Next to Shannon Falls is the Sea to Sky Gondola. This new attraction opened in 2014 and has made the high country accessible to those not energetic enough to hike up to the 2,789 feet (850 meters) high viewing platform. The ride from sea level to summit takes 10 minutes. Along the way, you can look back to Howe Inlet as it drops further from view. At the top, the views are amazing! You can see 360 degrees of magnificent breath-taking scenery. To the west is Howe Inlet far below, to the north is Mount Whistler and the Black Tusk, to the east is Mount Garibaldi and the back-country, and to the south is the Sea to Sky Highway and Vancouver.
We ate lunch at the summit restaurant. It was reasonably priced and delicious. Plus, sitting outside looking at the views as we ate was fabulous. From the summit, several trails branch out. We took an easy one called the Panorama trail. This pleasant trail meandered through alpine forest and ended in another amazing viewing area called The Chief. From this high perch that jutted out over the cliff we could see the Chief Stawamus, one of North America’s largest monoliths and much more. We were content to spend the afternoon sitting on high in the sun gazing at the impressive vistas, but we had more to see and do, so down we went.
The trip down is more thrilling than the trip us because you are focused on the descent, which seems much steeper going the other way. At one point, the gondola car passed over a sheer cliff and we all gasped. We also were able to glimpse Shannon Falls from the top so we got see it from both angles.
After we set foot on the ground, we decided to go back to the hotel for a quick rest before we headed out for the next adventure, zip lining!
Stay tuned for the next chapter in our family travels!
Road signs in British Columbia can be puzzling. The indigenous people’s language of western Canada is called Squamish. Many of the sounds in their language have no correlation to any other language. So, different symbols have been adopted to represent the sounds. For example, the ‘7’ in Sḵwx̱wú7mesh is called a glottal stop. I cannot even explain how it sounds, but I do know it is how the Squamish people spell their name.
Knowing the road sign was helpful because we decided to head north for some adventure! Our oldest son, Aaron, is home from the US Naval Academy for four weeks so we wanted to get some family travel in. He has been pining away for real mountains. Since we have been to Whistler, Canada, in the winter, we wanted to see it in the summer too.
British Columbia is a magnificent destination no matter what time of year you go. In the winter when the landscape is covered in a thick white blanket of snow the skiing is world-class. For the non-ski bums there is snowmobiling, snow-shoe hiking, and even horse-back riding. If you prefer to be inside on a cold winter day, then you can stay warm and comfortable in front of a roaring fire in the lodge with a good book.
During the summer, the snow melts away revealing lush deep green forests flanking wild rivers that cascade over tall precipices as awe inspiring waterfalls. The lofty snow-capped peaks make striking silhouettes against blue skies. Everywhere you look there are spectacular vistas. The hiking is absolutely amazing this time of year. That is what we came for.
My wife made reservations at the Mountain Retreat Hotel in Squamish. Squamish lies at the head of the Howe Sound along Canadian highway 99. After Squamish, the highway heads up and inland into the Garibaldi wilderness. A sign on the way into Squamish proudly reads “Outdoor Recreation Capitol of Canada.” It is correct!
The first day, we were anxious to go exploring so we dropped our gear off at the hotel and headed for food and fun. After a nice meal we went to a local park called the Smoke Bluffs. It is a rock climber’s paradise! The natural granite rock formations are neatly cracked and split forming perfect hand and foot holds. Aaron and Elijah upon seeing them instantly became giddy with excitement like young school boys on the world’s largest jungle-gym. Mom and I were a little nervous that they were going to get in over their heads, literally.
The Smoke Bluffs are a great place for novice to advanced climbers. There are numerous well marked routes up the many rock faces, some with pitons already installed for safety. We saw many climbers and climbing instructors scampering up the cliffs. I was in awe of some of these climbers as they braved the dizzying heights. I think you have to be part mountain goat to get up some of the routes. We saw one climber traverse a sheer cliff face like he was Spiderman. Aaron wants to go back and attempt some serious rock climbing. I think he probably will go without us. I have no desire for that level of adrenaline rush.
We all agreed that after the long drive we were ready for an early evening so we could get a good night’s sleep and get up early the next morning for some real adventure. So, we headed for the hotel.
In the next post, I will tell you all about the Sea-to-Sky Gondola and zip-lining across the mountains! Stay tuned!
The Wild Smithberrys summited Mount Ellinor! Why? Because it’s there.
This Sunday we decided to go on a family hike up into the magnificent Olympic Mountains on another family adventure. Since the weather was cool and dry, we decided on a more strenuous climb. Plus, my wife really wanted to see the much adored, and problematic, mountain goats that usually inhabit the area.
Mount Ellinor is a 5,951’ peak in the south east corner of the Olympic Mountain range of Washington State. Although it is not very tall, it provides some of the most spectacular views in the region. From the summit, you can see north to Mount Baker near the Canadian border all the way south to Mount Hood in Oregon and east to Mount Rainier. You also can look across to Seattle and turn around to look into the Olympic Mountains wilderness. A full mile below lays beautiful Lake Cushman. The mountain really gives you an amazing bird’s-eye view of the area.
To reap the reward of these spectacular vistas, you need to work for it, hard. Do not let the mere 1.6 mile trail to the summit fool you into a sense of an easy little hike. Imagine a mile and a half stair case, because that it what it is like. Right from the trail-head you start an unbroken ascent. The route is steep and for most of the trek you are climbing stairs cut into the mountain. It is a serious leg and bottom work-out!
Take your time and bring lots of water. Please remember safety! There are no streams to replenish your water supply on the hike. Towards the top you come out of the trees and are exposed to the elements. That is where the serious climbing starts too.
There is a winter route and a summer route up the second stage. We took the summer route, but still had plenty of snow. We hit the first snow field about three-fourths of a mile up. That one was small and easy. The second one starts at about a mile up. That one requires determination. I highly recommend crampons and poles or at least good hiking boots with large treads. We had good boots and poles, but still struggled. However, we were determined to summit.
A note here: If you are hiking with energetic boys who happen to be on running teams, they will make you feel old and slow. Our boys clambered up the steep snowy slopes like mountain goats. My wife and I followed behind at a more sedate pace. Thankfully, they patiently waited for us in spots.
Crossing the snow field we saw a ghostly white and wooly shape emerge from the thick fog that now enveloped us. It was our first mountain goat sighting! They truly are magnificent beasts well adapted for this rugged and harsh terrain. He made it look easy as he leisurely climbed the barren rock ledges. Show-off!
We continued our ascent as the goat disappeared into the mist. I considered turning back as I looked up at how far we still had to go in the snow. My family, however, really wanted to push-on. So, I obliged and trudged onward and upward. Climbers coming down assured us the exertion was worth the effort. They also assured us that the summit was only another half mile every time we asked someone new. It was a very long half mile.
Finally we broke free of the snow and were on the last push to the top. We spotted a mother mountain goat with her calf beside the trail. I think this little reward from nature made the hike worth the effort for my wife. She was determined to make it the rest of the way at that point.
At the very top we felt exhausted but elated. We did it! Mount Ellinor was conquered! Aaron proudly hoisted his U.S. Naval Academy flag. On the summit were even more mountain goats with newborn calves. They are completely habituated to humans and will come right up to you.
Remember, they are still wild animals and can be dangerous. We kept a respectful distance and did not try to feed or pet any.
We rested and ate our lunch as we enjoyed the beauty around us. Mishele brought pizza for us to enjoy. Dijiorno pizza never tasted better. Aaron, Elijah, and I each ate half of one in minutes. I think we easily burned the calories.
After lunch we reluctantly started the long trek down. Normally, going down a mountain is easier than going up. Not so much in this case. When we reached the snow field, we started to slide. Many hikers glissade down the mountain, which is basically sledding on your bum. We were not originally planning on doing that. That is until Mishele fell into a glissade chute. She slid into one and off she went like an Olympic luger! I am not sure who was more surprised, her or us. She instantly went out of sight. I felt like laughing and panicking at the same time.
Luckily, she came to a stop somewhere down the mountain. Elijah was next up; off he went trying to slide too. Aaron planned a little better and actually got some video of himself sliding. I fell down and was carried away. I was too tired to fight it and went with gravity. Eventually, we all met back up at the bottom of the snow field unhurt and bewildered. Next time, I am bringing a sled. We dropped a few hundred feet in seconds!
We were wet, cold, and tired but still had a mile of downhill to plod to our car. We encountered more mountain goats on the way who at first looked like they were going to stand their ground and not let us pass. We were extremely tired so not interested in playing Billy Goats Gruff. Luckily, they moved aside so we could continue down.
When we finally reached our car we piled in feeling utterly exhausted but proud to have accomplished another family adventure. There is nothing better on a Sunday afternoon than death-defying experiences to bring a family closer together. Mishele and I agreed that the next hike would be flat and snow free though.
For more information on hiking the Olympic National Park, check out Day Hiking Olympic Peninsula by Craig Romano.
Plebe no more!
He made it! Finally, after 11 months of perseverance, hard work, struggle, fatigue, and, sometimes, enjoyment, Aaron has passed his Plebe year at the United States Naval Academy! Plebe year is the first year of a midshipman’s life at the USNA and is marked by many challenges as the young men and women aspire to become naval officers. One of the many running jokes at the academy is that your time at the USNA is divided into three phases: Plebe Summer, Plebe Year, and the rest of your time there. It probably feels like that. Making it through the first year is quite an accomplishment.
The academy is steeped in tradition. Plebes cannot simply end their first year without some sort of customary celebration, not matter how bizarre. So, they anxiously await the Herndon. It is the last event marking the end of being a Plebe.
What is the Herndon?
The following is taken form the USNA Public Affairs Office website:
At the sound of a cannon blast, 1,000 eager, screaming plebes charge toward a 21-foot grey monument that taunted them all year. They attempt to climb the lard-covered obelisk as thousands of spectators watch with the hopes that they complete the task quickly. This event at the U.S. Naval Academy is known simply as “Herndon” or the “Plebe Recognition Ceremony.”
The plebe class works together to accomplish the goal of retrieving a white plebe “dixie cup” hat from atop the monument and replace it with an upperclassmen’s hat. It is a tradition that has endured at the Naval Academy for many years. More than 200 pounds of lard applied to the monument by upper-class midshipmen complicate the task.
To understand the tradition and emotion of the climb, it is necessary to understand the qualities of the man for whom the monument is named.
Commander William Lewis Herndon, 1813-1857, possessed the qualities of discipline, teamwork and courage. In command of the Central America, home bound with California gold seekers, Herndon lost his life in a gallant effort to save ship and men during a hurricane off Cape Hatteras. These are the attributes necessary to fulfill the Herndon tradition.
Tradition states that the plebe who reaches the top will rise to the rank of admiral first. As any observer can recognize, climbing to the top of Herndon takes a lot of teamwork and perseverance. Ascending Herndon serves as a review for young midshipmen, reminding them of the values of teamwork, courage and discipline that are instilled throughout the year.
I am writing another book.
I am very concerned, as I am sure many others are, with the status of our world. However, I am worried that we are experiencing a self-fulfilling prophecy. Is the world really as bad as the media reports or do we have a skewed perception that is influencing our decision making?
Negativity can be a malignant disease that spreads subcutaneously through a society. Once it infects someone, it can be very difficult to cure. Worse, when it envelopes groups, like your work place or school, it can wreak considerable harm by withering morale, driving poor decision making, and destroying hope. In its most virulent form, it can plague an entire culture or society causing widespread fear, distrust, and malaise.
Amazingly, most books set-in our near future do not depict a positive, happy, bright world. Popular science fiction movies, like Soylent Green, Planet of the Apes, The Matrix, Terminator, Hunger Games, and Wall-e, just to name a few, all have a similar dystopian quality about them also. They paint depressing pictures of a future where society has finally imploded. Stories in the genre share a comparable premise of civilization’s inevitable collapse. The writers assume that our fate is already sealed, as if we are doomed to a bleak existence.
I think that is why I always liked Star Trek. Its creator, Gene Roddenberry, must have been an optimist. In the Star Trek world mythos, humankind has its difficulties over the centuries, but we always persevere. Somehow, we overcome our problems and, at times, ourselves and struggle onward. Eventually, we reject racism, sexism, materialism, and war and embark on an epic voyage across the stars. We hope “to boldly go where no one has gone before!”
When I would tell my students that I was a “Trekkie,” usually they would first ask, “What is that?” After my initial shock that they did not know what a “Trekkie” was, I would explain to them that I was a fan of the television show Star Trek. Their disapproving reaction was usually, “That’s a boring show!” and “It so fake.” Their blatant criticism took me back, not because of my admiration of the legendary Captain James T. Kirk, but because they could not seem to accept a future where our world survived. The possible reality of society pulling through and achieving great things was nowhere near as exciting as our imminent demise to them. I struggled to understand if they were brainwashed into believing that we are on a one-way track to self-destruction or that suffering and death is more exciting than exploration and triumph.
I try not to make too much out of my impromptu pop-cultural analysis. However, it has led me to search for some answers. The central question I keep coming back to involves wanting to know where we as a civilization are heading. In the vast dark cosmos, is our light preordained to be extinguished by our own hand? Alternatively, are we living a lie that has been perpetuated and expanded by our omnipresent and increasingly powerful social media?
The internet is an unmatched source of information. It is also a disseminator of dis-information. Sometimes, the wrong information is passed on by ignorance. Other times it is passed on for nefarious reasons. Unfortunately, dis-information can be used to sway people for or against specific issues or to mislead people on specific topics. Maintaining objectivity and getting to the truth of the matter can be extremely difficult.
My goal in writing this book is two parts. First, I want to present a balanced view of our world using reliable and accurate data so that people can make up their own mind which direction we are heading. Second, I want to quell my own boy-hood fears that our world is in dire trouble. As I researched and wrote this, I am much more confident that we are on the path to a Star Trek type future.
Please share your thoughts on this topic. I am sincerely interested to know how others out their on their family travels feel. I want to get a more global perspective. Thanks!
We have been absent for quite some time. Life has a habit of getting in the way. However, we are back!
Just to catch everyone up with our lives, here are some of the highlights of the last year:
We are finally back in our home port of Port Ludlow, Washington. This is a temporary port call as we get our youngest son through high school. Traveling the world is much easier before kids become teenagers. Once friends, especially ones of the opposite sex, intense school studies, sports, clubs, and driving come into play, our children really wanted to stay put and not be mobile. We think that the best place to let them grow up and become young adults was home. They will have to choose their own paths in life soon.
Aaron, our oldest son, is attending the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis, MD. I guess the world travel bug bit him. He is studying astrophysics, running on the varsity cross-country and track teams, and hoping to fly after graduation. He is almost done with the infamous Plebe first year. We are very proud of him. Seeing him in uniform is still a little shocking.
Elijah, our youngest son, is in high school and doing well. He is also running cross-country and track and almost an Eagle Scout. He wants to be either a world-traveling veterinarian or a CIA agent. Don’t ask, we don’t understand either. Whichever direction he chooses, we are proud of him too.
Mish is doing great. She is still teaching online from home. She really enjoys her job. Plus, it has afforded us the opportunity to travel the world. Although she truly loves playing in the dirt with her garden, she admits that going back to Europe would be awesome. The sad news for her and the rest of the family was the death of her father last year. We are a close family, so this was especially difficult. May he rest in peace with God.
As for me, I am working for the Department of Defense on a Navy base in Washington. I like the job. Hopefully, it will take me back overseas in the near future. In the meantime, I am working on my second book, which I hope to have finished this year (maybe). I learned a long time ago to not put artificial deadlines on creative endeavors. I also enjoy working in the yard and on my boat.
We had a few adventures that I need to post on here. We also have some more ones planned. So, please keep checking back. Take care!
Today is the first official day of fall! Even if you did not know that yesterday was the autumn equinox, you can still feel that summer is quickly fading and the season is changing. The signs are everywhere here in the Pacific Northwest of the United States. The air is a little cooler and moister, the days are noticeably getting shorter, the leaves are just starting to turn from greens to fiery reds and bright yellows, Starbucks is serving their delicious seasonal spiced pumpkin lattes, and the boys are back in school. We are definitely sensing autumn is coming.
Even though we have enjoyed spending falls and winters in tropical climates, we always missed autumn for some reason. Maybe because the landscape becomes painted in bright autumn hues transforming it into a surreal vibrantly colored fantasy world. Maybe because you can sense the specialness of the impending holidays which bring back fond childhood memories. Maybe because change always creates an atmosphere of excitement and anticipation. Whatever the reason, falls are truly spectacular here. This is my favorite time of the year to brave the chill and go outside to enjoy nature’s art work. There are numerous places to go to enjoy harvest fairs, pumpkin patches, and fall festivals while soaking in the magnificent scenery.
Now that we are back in Washington state for a while, we are excited to re-explore some of our family traditions during this time of the year. No place is more special to us than the Olympic Peninsula (please read our article about it to learn more). We just came back from a short weekend stay there to get away from the business of life in the city. It is a place where we feel at home despite traveling the world. One of our favorite fall destinations on the peninsula is the Sequim Pumpkin Patch.
Our boys, Aaron and Elijah, have fond memories of this perennial favorite. The Sequim Pumpkin Patch has something to offer everyone in the family. For the kids, there is the enormous corn maze. The corn maze there is not for the directionally challenged. If you easily get lost without your GPS, map, or road signs, then you might want to stay out of it. The maze is usually thematic. One year it was The Wizard of Oz theme. The maze path actually spelled out “THE WIZZARD OF OZ” along with symbols and pictures. The boys love running through it trying to find all of the hidden markers. If you find all of them, you win a prize. Amazingly, people pay to get lost while I do this for free all of the time. Entrance is free, but attractions are individually priced $3.00 to $5.00.
They also have giant sling-shots suspended from telephone poles which you use to launch pumpkins into the air to try to land in a barrel out in the middle of a field. I have yet to win the $100 prize for marksmanship, but it is fun to try anyway. There is something about watching pumpkins fall to Earth and splat like giant orange meteors I find exhilarating. It’s probably a guy thing. Of course for the more traditional pumpkin enthusiast they also have tractor rides, farm animal petting, hot chocolate and fresh apple cider with kettle corn and other treats, holiday gift barn, and more. I think my wife most enjoys watching her “three boys” run around. Oh yes, they also have a pumpkin patch where we pick our pumpkin for carving later.
Now that we are living on the “East Side,” we have found a closer pumpkin paradise called Remlinger Farms in Carnation, Washington. Remlinger Farms takes the traditional pumpkin patch up a notch. The $13.85 entrance fee is a little steep, but worth it. It has an inflatable spooky house, kids’ carnival rides, a real steam engine train, pony rides, and exhibits. The boys and I like the homemade warm doughnuts the best, nice touch! Maybe we like the seasonal favorite foods the best. For a complete list of pumpkin patches, go to The Thrifty NW Mom.
After finding the perfect pumpkin to carve into the family Jack-O’Lantern, our oldest son likes to test his bravery by finding the scariest haunted house to visit. This year we will see if he dared Hauntownsend Carnival of the Twilight in Port Townsend, Washington, on the peninsula. This is not just a haunted house, but an entire haunted carnival at the Jefferson County fairgrounds! Clowns are scary enough in the circus, let alone at night in an abandoned carnival. I’m guessing that Aaron will not sleep for a week afterwards! For a complete list of haunted attractions in Washington, check out the Haunted Houses website.
Probably the most authentic haunted experience you can have in Washington is the original Ghost Tours of Pioneer Square. The tour takes you through the haunted side of Seattle. Their “master storytellers will frighten and chill you to the bone as you are guided through the streets, alleys, and dark shadows of Pioneer Square. Hear the incredible events of people stuck in the mysterious world of the undead.” For $16.00 per person, you can be scared out of your skin! For another hair-raising experience, you can try the Spooked in Seattle Tour or Market Ghost Tours, if you dare. All of the tours take you to places normally visitors to our fair city never see, like the old city of Seattle underground and the original morgue. You can find out why we have a reputation for paranormal activity!
For those of us who enjoy the less macabre side of the season, there are numerous places to take long walks to revel in the autumn foliage. One of my wife and my favorite walks is along the Olympic Discovery Trail on the peninsula. This 130 mile long paved trail connects Port Townsend with Forks, Washington. It meanders through the north slope of the Olympic Peninsula between the Olympic Mountains and the Strait of Juan de Fuca. Our favorite part starts from just east of Port Angeles at the Department of Fish and Wildlife, head out to the coast, and follows the shore line into town. The trail passes over Morse Creek by an old restored train trestle, through dense fern clad gullies, and by the rocky shores of the strait. We usually see deer, otters, seals, eagles, and heron as we walk. Walks with my wife do not get better than that! We normally walk there and back again for a rejuvenating flat 8 mile round trip.
So, whether you like having family fun at the traditional pumpkin patch, being scared senseless in haunted houses, or just wandering through fall colors, western Washington has many things to offer. October is usually a great month here. By the end of the month, nights will start to turn cold, as Aaron and Elijah can attest to by trick-or-treating in heavy coats and thermal underwear. November will bring the start of the rains. However, by December, the mountains will once again be clad in snow singling another change is happening as we move into winter. I will have to write to tell you about all the wonderful things to do around Christmas here! I admit, I do love having the four seasons.
We leave for Annapolis, Maryland, Saturday! This will be a conflicting emotional trip for us. We bought four tickets to Washington D.C., but only three returning tickets to Seattle. We will leave Aaron behind to embark on his own adventure as a new Midshipman at the U.S. Naval Academy. He is starting a life apart from us. Even though we know that children growing up and leaving home is the inevitable natural course of events in life, we are still trying to accept it. We are very happy for him and extremely proud. I just cannot believe that the day is almost here when he will be going away. I will greatly miss his presence around the home. Ironically, he is leaving the week after Father’s Day.
He has been my “Little Buddy” for 18 years. I remember when we brought him home from the hospital. We were new parents without a clue as to what to do with our new bundle of joy. We put him on our bed and just stared at him transfixed while he slept.
For all of the mistakes I made along the way, I am sorry Aaron. After all, you were my first go around at being a father. You were the prototype, son 1.0. I have tried to do better with son 2.0, Elijah. Hopefully, you will only remember the good things I did.
Some of the bad things will fade from memory in time, or with some professional counseling. I am sorry for the time that we woke up in the middle of the night in January freezing because the heat went out. We rushed to your crib worried that you were a frozen popsicle. Luckily, you were sleeping soundly despite the sub-zero temperature, or at least too cold to cry.
There was also that time that we took you camping in the mountains. You rolled off your mat in the night. Mom panicked when she could not find you in the dark. Again, you were sound asleep on the cold tent floor. I guess you built up a tolerance for the cold growing up.
I remember the time that you snuck out of the yard gate. I assumed you were quietly playing in your sand box. I was wrong. I saw the open gate and frantically chased after you down the street. You streaked in your diaper two blocks before I caught you. You giggled the whole way back home. Yes, that was a very funny prank on your dad. Good joke.
How many miles did you ride in your pack on my back? There were many times I felt like a Nepalese sherpa. You got heavy! I was relieved when you could hike on your own. I was even more relieved that you didn’t try to run off anymore. Either you got faster of I got slower.
I took you to your hernia surgery when you were just five. I sat next to you as the anesthesia took effect. As you drifted off, I had the worst feeling in my stomach that you would not wake up again. Thankfully, you did, groggy and a little loopy. Even though you don’t remember much about the operation probably, I do. It was one of the longest hours of my life.
Yes, I made you walk back to the car when you fell off your bike. How was I supposed to know that your arm was broken? I did fix your bike though. Luckily mom was more medically inclined and suggested we take you to the emergency room. I learned that kids’ bodies heal faster than dad’s consciences.
I really appreciated your help coaching the swim team. I picked you up right after kindergarten and took you to practice. You did a great job imitating me. You really got my style down. My swimmers followed your every word. I think, however, that you made them do more push-ups then me and I never did get me whistle back.
You loved for me to chase you through the castle at the playground. We would spend afternoons playing tag. You were very understanding and patient when I gave myself a concussion hitting my head on the low beams. It would not have been as bad if had I only done it once instead of three times.
I was so excited to take you to your first Cub Scout meeting that I forgot you really didn’t know anything about Scouting. I am glad that you played along. We have had some great memories in Scouts. We built a few champion Pine Wood Derby cars! I was extremely proud when you earned your Eagle Scout. I did note, however, that despite being the parent who went on all of the camp outs, including the rainy, cold ones, you thanked mom first.
I taught you how to use power tools. I am sorry that you had to see me cut the tip of my finger off on the table saw. I was trying to show you what not to do. I hope you were paying attention. At least I now know that you really don’t like the site of blood. But, you know your way around an emergency room. How many times did we go?
I taught you how to drive too. Ok, allowing you to drive on the open road without a permit or formal training may not have been my brightest decision, but you quickly learned how to do it. You may borrow mom’s car when you’re home from the academy by the way.
You eagerly listened while I taught you how to swim, fish, camp, build models, play chess, tie a tie, shave, and properly wear a suit. I hope those skills come in handy some day. I tutored you in math, science, history, English, and a host of other knowledge. You even listened to me tell old navy stories and get on my political soap box at times. Despite my help, you did very well in school.
You followed me around as I fixed things and made home improvements. Someday, you might do the same with your son. Try not to use the vocabulary that I accidentally taught you, sorry about that by the way too. Admit it, the wood flooring that took us three weeks to complete looks good. You can also confidently say that you know how to use a plunger and what a stud finder is for.
You helped me build my kayak in the cold garage after work and school for six months too. That was the best Father’s Day present ever. When it was finally finished, I paddled you all over the place so you could see starfish, sea anemones, sea lions, fish, and more. I must apologize for leading you on. I hope you don’t mind some of the wild stories I made up about pirate treasure and Indians as we explored the coastal waters.
I know that most kids want toys and stuff for their birthdays. We believe that experiences are far more valuable. So, I know you might have wanted that X-Box instead of the flying lessons, but you can say that you flew a plane before you drove a car. Even though I arranged it, I will now admit that I was very glad that mom went with you the first time you piloted.
How was I supposed to know that building and launching all of those model rockets would foreshadow your future aspirations? We had a lot of fun though!
If my Navy stories inspired you to consider the Naval Academy, I am sorry about that too. I never tried to pressure you into anything, but instead inspire you and fuel your dreams. I took your desire to fly and become an astronaut seriously. I did not ever dismiss it as a mere child’s dream. If others do, remember I always have total confidence in you. So, I am sorry to push you to strive for more than just ordinary. Someone has to be first on Mars anyway.
We disrupted your life and dragged you to live in foreign countries. I loved watching you explore castles, museums, cathedrals, mountains, jungles, and beaches all over the world. Your face lit up when we went looking for the mythical burial chamber of Merlin in England. I think you had some good times. You learned a lot if nothing else. You know how to navigate your way around some airports, train stations, ferry terminals, and highways.
Maybe sometimes I did live my life through you. I always wanted a hobbit hole. Now we have one! I recommend a tree house or swing-set for your children, much easier. Mom could use it as a garden shed now that you are grown-up? Not!
I sincerely appreciate watching Monty Python, Mel Brooks, Blues Brothers, and Leslie Neilson movies with me. Unfortunately, my warped sense of humor may have rubbed off on you. You can watch dramas with mom.
I really did try to not embarrass you in front of your friends in high school. I only cheered at your cross-country and track meets when no one was looking. OK, I bragged a little too much at times. I tried not to mention you during my veteran’s speech at your school, but failed. Next time you will be able to give the speech because soon you will be a fellow veteran.
Just because everyone knows that you are my son and doing amazing things does not necessarily mean that I talk too much about you. They somehow find out. Ok, maybe I am a little proud of you.
So, after all that and more please tolerate some last advice.
1. Just like the Cub Scout motto, always do your best. The last person you want to disappoint is yourself. It is better to reach for the stars and fail then to never try at all. You can live with failure, but quitting stays around.
2. Never give up on your dreams. Most people do. Live an extraordinary life. After all, you only get to do it once.
3. Do not give up your heart to easily. The right person will come by someday. Trust me, you will know her when she comes. That is why your mom and I are still together.
4. Always live the Scout oath. Corny maybe, but trusted wise words. Look at all the famous Scouts, they can’t all be wrong.
5. Pick your friends wisely. You will be defined by them. Remember the old adage, “It is hard to soar with eagles when you surround yourself with turkeys.” Turkeys get eaten anyway.
6. Remember your family. We will always be here for you no matter what. Where ever you go, you will always have a home. Your little brother will miss you too, even though he denies it now. You will miss him also. Trust me on this.
7. Believe you have a purpose in life, and work to discover it. This one thing is the cure for almost every problem. To quote the Bible: “Where there is no vision, the people perish.”
8. Life is a journey, not a destination. Enjoy the ride.
9. Never stop learning. There is more to know in our world then you could possibly ever remember. You cannot max out your brain.
10. Lastly, from Shakespeare, “To thine own self be true.” I only plagiarise from the best.
You can count on me to dispense more advice and wisdom whenever you need it, whether you ask or not. You are and will ever be my oldest son. I am extremely proud to say that. Thank you for letting me be your father.