God must love us because he gave us the coffee bean.
We Pacific Northwesterners love coffee. After all, Starbucks was founded here in Seattle in 1971. Thanks to our obsession with the delicious brew, there are now 23,000 Starbucks coffeehouses worldwide, with 560 in Washington State! Seattle boasts 142 alone. That is one for every 4,000 Seattle residents. That’s not even close to the most in one city. Seoul, South Korea, has a whopping 2,100! There is no doubt that coffee has evolved to more than a mere beverage, it is a cultural phenomenon. I definitely want (need) my mocha latte pick-me-up every day (sometimes more if I am having a rough day).
I hold Starbucks in very high esteem and it is my go-to coffee of choice. However, I do love to taste test other types when we are out and about on a family adventure. I make sure that I stop into a new place every time we are out (strictly for scientific comparison of taste of course). Sometimes I am sadly disappointed by the quality of a mocha latte, but other times I find a true java delight. You need the perfect combination of great rich coffee, friendly barista, and relaxing ambiance for the maximum effect. Most people have their favorite spot. If you are headed our way and want to have a really good coffee experience, please stop into one of these cafés.
1. Java Reef – Seaside, Oregon (2674 Highway 101): Very whimsical décor with a drive-thru and outdoor seating. The owner and barista is very friendly and polite. The coffee is amazing! For the White coffee’s they roast their own Wabi Sabi White espresso blend, which is made from the finest Costa Rican coffee beans. Watch out, their white coffees can have as much as 3X the caffeine as regular dark roast! Their “Shark Attack” has some serious bite! 4 / 5 beans. Check them out @ https://www.facebook.com/JavaReefCoffee/?ref=page_internal
2. Rainshadow Coffee Roasting Company – Sequim, Washington (157 W Cedar Street): Hand-picked coffees from around the world and roasted right on the premises. Their coffee is truly superb! The views of the Olympic Mountains from the café are spectacular also. 5 / 5 beans. Find them @ http://www.rainshadowcoffee.com/
3. Moonstruck Chocolate Café – Portland, Oregon (6th and Alder Street): Combine my two favorite food groups, coffee and chocolate, and you have a winner! Moonstruck chocolates are simply amazing. When they blend their gourmet home-made chocolate into their rich coffee, they make a mocha latte of sheer perfection. I would drive all the way from Seattle to Portland for one (I just might…). 5 / 5 beans. Check them out @ http://www.moonstruckchocolate.com/category/cafes
4. ChocMo – Poulsbo, Washington (19880 7th Ave NE): Founded by three high school seniors from Bainbridge as their senior project, it has taken off and surpassed their wildest dreams. The three friends started from making chocolate truffles in their mom’s kitchen to a successful gourmet café. Their mocha lattes (as well as all of their fine chocolate concoctions) are worth the drive. 5 / 5 beans. Be tempted @ http://www.chocmo.com.
5. Café Allegro – Seattle, Washington (4214 University Way NE): It is possibly the oldest espresso shop in Seattle, believe it or not older than Starbucks! The café is hidden in a small alley off of the main road, so it can be difficult to find. But it is worth the extra effort. The shop boasts good coffee in a historic setting next to the University of Washington, very hipster. 4 / 5 beans. Locate them @ http://seattleallegro.com/
Let us know your favorite coffee shop. I am always looking for a good cup of Joe when we travel. Cheers!
Mishele and I just celebrated our 22nd wedding anniversary! Actually, we started dating 26 years ago. Amazingly, she has put up with me for that long.
We decided to treat ourselves to a short family adventure, but without the whole family (ie. no kids). We even left the dog, Albie, behind, which he is still sulking about. We went back to one of our favorite weekend get-away places, Victoria. I have posted about it before, but wanted to let everyone share in some fond memories.
We were very glad to see that this quaint little capital city nestled on the southern tip of Vancouver Island has only gotten better over time. Downtown is a treasure hunt of unique shops and upscale retailers with many tasty eateries. I recommend the Beaver Tail if you have a sweet tooth (602 Broughton Street). Of course, The Empress is still impressive. We keep saying that the next time we are going to stay there. We stayed at the convenient, and more affordable, Harbor Towers, which is very nice. The staff was amazing and made us feel very welcome. Plus the view from our room was spectacular.
We had a very delicious dinner at a wonderful Greek restaurant called Millos (716 Burdett Avenue). The atmosphere and food were both amazing. Later that evening, we took a romantic stroll along the water front to take in the magnificent scenery. Along the way Mishele bought some chopped-up herring from a vendor at Fisherman’s Wharf to feed an extremely eager harbor seal. They are like adorable puppies of the water. By his tame nature and round girth, I think he was well accustomed to animal loving tourists giving out free meals. I guess begging from sympathetic humans is easier than chasing down your own meal.
The next day we took the short bus ride to Butchart Gardens. They are an inspiration to any aspiring gardener and intimidating to the rest of us husbands who have to help their green-thumbed wives. Just meandering through the lush landscape is relaxing.
Unfortunately, the M.V. Coho only makes the run from Port Angeles, WA, to Victoria twice a day during the off season. So, we had to catch the last sailing or be stuck in Canada for another day. It was tempting…
Four our 23rd wedding anniversary we will have to go back to Europe!
Elijah kept the family tradition alive by winning the 2016 Great Kilted Run in Seattle last Sunday! He took first place overall, not bad for 14 years old. His older brother, Aaron, won the same race back to back in 2012 and 2013. Elijah wants to win the race again to at least tie his brother. Ah, sibling rivalry.
Calling all Highlanders!
It’s back! After a two year hiatus, the Great Kilted Run has returned to Seattle. Start warming up, iron your kilt, and get in the Highlands spirit for August 28th! This unique 5K is held in Magnuson Park near Sandpoint just north of the University of Washington. The Wild Smithberrys have run this race three years in a row. Our oldest son, Aaron, won the race both in 2012 and 2013. This time, it is on his younger brother, Elijah, to uphold the family tradition.
The Great Kilted Run is a very fun experience. You can either run or walk the 5K course through beautiful Magnuson Park along Lake Washington. Everyone is highly encouraged to wear a kilt. If you do not own one, which I cannot believe, you can rent one at the race for $5.00 or make one. You could even start your own Tartan design!
Aaron on the right
The race starts with a mad 50 meter dash to three swords stabbed into the ground. Runners scramble to get one of the swords. If you do, however, you must carry it through the rest of the race holding it triumphantly. Think Braveheart, but with numbers on your chest.
To give Aaron his award, they had to drag everyone out of the beer garden where they planned on having the ceremony because he was under age!
Volunteering is good for the community and you.
“How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.” ~Anne Frank
For the past month and a half I have been volunteering weekly at the Northwest Raptor Center in Sequim. In these weeks I have rocked owls to sleep, fed eagles, have had both crows and owls bump in to me while flying and had to duck at the last second to avoid contact with a hawk speeding by. These have been some of the most exciting and adventurous moments of my summer. This is my experience with wild bird rescue and rehabilitation.
Each Wednesday, I come in and start with the water dishes. I enter each enclosure to dump the water, clean the dishes, and then refill them. With every enclosure this can take up to 30 minutes. After that I proceed with feeding. There is a chart labeling the amount of food each bird gets on the fridge making it easy to follow and not over or under feed them. Birds eat more food than one might expect. For example, a little screech owl can get 6 full size mice every 2 days.
We have a shed in the back called the “rat house” in which we raise our own mice and rats for feeding. Once the rodents are fully grown and finished breeding, we kill them, bag them, and finally freeze them for future use. This process saves both money and time (instead of having to go out and buy them).
After this, my mom and I go to the office, which contains birds that are each too injured or too small to be put in outdoor enclosures. This is where I use a towel to take them out of their crates and cradle them while my mother cleans and adds a filled water dish to each crate. When she is done, I place them back and feed them. After I do this I do any other small jobs here and there and then I am done for the day!
What a great way for a child to spend his summer! Thank you.
The Northwest Raptor Center
1051 W. Oak Court
“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.