Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Northwest Fall Hiking: Golden Larches on the Maple Pass Loop

For a few magical weeks each autumn before the snow falls too thick and deep in the Cascades, Northwest hikers stalk the golden glow of larches. The rewards of this gold rush are a riches of startling beauty.

Peak viewing of these subalpline larches (Larex lyallii) in the North Cascades is generally mid-October, perhaps after the first snow dusting adds drama to the alpine landscape.  I was right on target for a hike on the Heather-Maple Pass Loop this past weekend with hiking writer/guidebook author extraordinaire Craig Romano and a group from the North Cascades Institute.

I should just stop with the prose here and post a bazillion photos. It was such an extraordinarily beautiful day/time to bear witness to the splendor that I could hardly stop taking pictures.

But I did manage to hike a good 7.2 miles up and down a few thousand feet in elevation (about 4,000 total) in the process.  We started the loop going clockwise at the Rainy Pass parking lot trailhead (elevation 4,875 feet) on the south side of Highway 20 (North Cascades Highway). Our trip co-leader Sam tells us this direction is steeper but a more mellow grade going down, which sounds just fine for fussy knees.  

But none of it seems that steep really. Or maybe we're  just so elated from the alpine landscape we don't notice. I do remember sweating.

We start up switchbacks through forest for a mile or so until we see the first golden larches. These trees only grow at 5,000 feet up to about 8,000 feet elevation on the eastern crest of the Cascades.

Just the beginning
From here on it only gets more and more spectacular. We skirt along a steep ridge with views down to Lake Ann and Rainy Lake on either side, and pass through alpine meadows laced with scarlet and gold.

 Soon we're hiking through rocky, mostly treeless slopes towards the passes above.

On a clear day, there are panoramic views along this hike of many North Cascades peaks, but today we're shrouded in mist that rises and falls. Which, I think, makes it even more lovely.

Because it's so cool and scenic up here, I've lost track of time and can't tell you how long it took to get to Maple Pass (a couple hours?). It's a party up here when we break for lunch, with at least a dozen other hikers around.

Holiday card shot, Lake Ann in cirque below
Looking back the way we came.
Then we continue down to Heather Pass, which is also dusted in snow, and beyond.  We pass many more hikers coming from the other direction now, including a young couple wearing nothing but shorts and thin tops, without packs (not smart). In contrast, I'm in four layers, with fleece, Gore-tex, hat, and gloves.

Sam, who was up here a few weeks ago putting up signs for the U.S. Forest Service telling people to stay off "social" (unofficial) trails, checks out how they're holding up. Reminder, DO NOT stray off the main trail in these fragile alpine areas.

Heather Pass area
As we descend below snow level and get closer to Lake Ann, the fall colors are even more stunning again, with the golden larches blending with colorful shrubs like huckleberry and Sitka mountain ash.

Don't they look like a happy family?
Writer/author Craig Romano on the trail.
Although Craig Romano is one of the most loquacious men I've ever met, I can't come up with a good quote from him. But as we hike together, his conversation is always entertaining, sincere, and informative. (Go hear him speak at one of his upcoming events if you can.)

 After we get below Lake Ann, the trail is mostly enclosed in forest, except one colorful patch of talus, where I've seen a resident marmot on hikes past.

Overall the going seemed relatively easy, what with the awesome scenery, enchanting fall colors, and fun company. Most hiking guides rate this a moderate hike.

Happy trails and thanks for visiting Pacific Northwest Seasons!

When You Go
To hike this loop before it gets too snow covered, go soon (it's snowing as I write this above 5,000 feet in the Cascades, so....). Check the North Cascades forecast. With the snow flying today, you might already need Yaktrax for traction and hiking poles for stability when venturing there before the highway closes for the season. 

Rainy Pass is about a 3-hour drive from Seattle and about 50 miles east of Marblemount on the eastern edge of North Cascades National Park. Check out the topo map of the area on the WTA website.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Bicycling Vancouver, B.C.: Easy Does It

When in Vancouver, B.C., be sure and have a bicycle ready to ride. What a great way to see this gorgeous city and get some good exercise!

On a recent weekend road trip from Seattle to Vancouver, we decided to bring bicycles.  Wise choice. Vancouver has it all over Seattle as a bicycle friendly city, with well-established and safe bike lanes.

 From the English Bay Bed & Breakfast where we stayed and had the indulgent breakfast shown below (splurge, but nice), we bicycled over 20 miles around the city all day on Saturday, with multiple stops to eat and take pictures.

While we couldn't find a bicycle trail map, the trails were easy to find and well-marked.  From our B&B, we hopped just two blocks down to the Seawall that extends 22 kilometers along most of the waterfront in the West End.

Our first stop was Granville Island after crossing False Creek on the Burrard Street Bridge. Sure it's tourist Grand Central, like Pike Place Market in Seattle, but it's fun to see the gorgeous food stalls and enjoy the waterfront.

Granville Market

Then we headed west up Fourth Avenue (and then up side streets) all the way out the Westside/Point Grey Peninsula to UBC (University of British Columbia) to visit the Museum of Anthropology. The going was very pleasant, with some mild uphills through leafy, prosperous residential neighborhoods, and a great viewpoint park.

Looking back east towards the West End from  Point Grey area
Looking north toward North Vancouver and Coast Range beyond

We calculated about 4 or 5 miles out to the UBC campus, with several hundred feet in gradual elevation gain. After a great visit to the museum, we meandered back to Broadway for a tasty lunch along this busy street.

Then we cut back to the West End across the Burrard Street Bridge again, with a safe and well-traveled bicycle/pedestrian lane on each side of the bridge. Of course we had to stop for the views.

Because we'd only been out for 5 hours :) and it was a gorgeous day, we decided to continue on around Stanley Park on the Seawall. Not too far along we discovered that bicycles can only travel counterclockwise on the trail. With the  help of a friendly well-situated local, we managed to cut across the middle of the park and get to the other side to continue bicycling.

In the woods, Stanley Park

I can't get over the nonstop glorious scenery along this trail. As we rounded Brockton Point (and a wild party in progress) over to the Burrard Inlet side, the trail traffic thinned out a bit.  We had to stop several times to take pictures.

Looking across Burrard Inlet to North Vancouver
Occasionally along the trail at higher-traffic spots, bicyclists are required to dismount and walk, and sometimes the trail is not very wide. But it's one-way, so no worries.

Lion's Gate Bridge
The high and narrow Lion's Gate Bridge span always scares me a little bit to drive across (like the Tacoma Narrows Bridge too). Call it a healthy fear of heights. But no problem bicycling beneath it along the Seawall.

After winding around to the western, English Bay side of the seawall, we slowed down and savoured the end of this scenic day of good exercise.

The next day we hopped on our bikes again and cycled along the Seawall down to Yaletown and then back through the heart of the West End back to English Bay. Very pleasant, very easy, very safe.

For more photos of Pacific Northwest adventures between blog posts, Like our page on FaceBook. Thanks for visiting Pacific Northwest Seasons and happy trails!

When You Go 
Here is a link to an official City of Vancouver cycling map; however, we bypassed some trails on the Westside to travel along quiet residential streets. If you don't bring your own bicycle, it's easy to rent one. We stopped by English Bay Bike Rentals to ask about maps, and they were very helpful.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Cama Beach State Park: Retro Rustic Charm

Want to feel transported back to an earlier, simpler time? On Washington's Camano Island, Cama Beach State Park was converted from an old 1930s-era fishing resort and now features cozy beach cabins, miles of trails through thick lowland forest, and a relaxed, slow-down vibe.

On one of our spectacular September weekends, I grab a friend and head up there from Seattle to check it out, based on the raves from a friend who stayed there recently. 

Our first stop is the Cama Beach Cafe for breakfast, set in a gorgeous new lodge in the woods above the beach. This very popular cafe uses seasonal veggies and fruit, Camano Island eggs, and sausages made in nearby Stanwood. My veggie omelet is excellent, and my table mates rave about the Swedish pancakes.  

Cama Beach Cafe's tasty local fare.
Alas, the  guy just ahead of me in line snagged the last of their famous blueberry scones. I'm sorely tempted by the gorgeous rhubarb pie in the display case, but discipline rules. Next trip.

Cama Beach lodge
 It's just a short walk to the beach and the Center for Wooden Boats, which offers boat rentals and educational programs. Friendly Shane, who manages the facility, is happy to chat with us and show us their boats.

Center for Wooden Boats at Cama Beach
 On a clear day, the westward-facing little cabins overlook Saratoga Passage, Whidbey Island, and peek-a-boo views of the Olympic Mountains beyond.

With a low tide this morning, we walk off breakfast by strolling down the beach for starters. Walking along the rocks and sand requires more effort with each step, so I figure we're burning more calories. :)

Waters of Saratoga Passage with Whidbey Island beyond.

With many trails winding through woods, along the bluffs, and over to Camano Island State Park (where there are even more trails) to choose from, we opt to walk through lush lowland forest to the bluff trail for views. 

 It all seems so right and peaceful walking along the well-worn paths through the healthy forest, with just the soft earth underfoot. We hear the distinctive, eeh-eeh-eeh cry of a pileated woodpecker reverberating through the forest canopy above. 

Looking southwest to Cama Beach (left at the point) and Whidbey Island beyond.

After passing several viewing platforms, it's time to turn around and head back to the city.  Too soon. What a perfect spot for a quiet getaway in the winter or midweek in the warmer months!

Have you been to Cama Beach? Do you have a favorite beach park?

  For more photos and Northwest happenings between blog posts, Like the Pacific Northwest Seasons page on FaceBook. 

Happy trail and thanks for visiting Pacific Northwest Seasons.

When You Go
Cama Beach State Park is open year-round, and it's easier to book a cabin in the off-season. Some cabins allow pets. While I haven't stayed there, my friend Don has a few times recently and says the cabins are basic, rustic, but clean and cozy, with WiFi. For specifics and rates, check here. The cafe is open on weekends in the off-season 9 am to 2 pm for breakfast and lunch.  

It's about a 90-minute drive north from Seattle. You need a Discover Pass to enter and park, which you can buy at the entrance or, better yet, when you renew your Washington license if you're a state resident. Click here for location and driving directions.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Vancouver B.C. Must-See: Museum of Anthropology

Away from the tourist bustle of Vancouver's West End is a gem of a destination set high on cliffs above the Strait of Georgia.  The Museum of Anthropology (MOA) on the University of British Columbia campus at the westernmost edge of Vancouver offers magnificent examples of Northwest Coast art, both contemporary and classic.

Well before explorers and settlers arrived in the region from Europe and beyond, the First Nations people of the Northwest Coast had developed a sophisticated and complex culture of wood carving, painting, song, and dance. The MOA features some stunning examples in a lovely setting.
On a brilliant late summer weekend, we bicycle from the West End over the Burrard Street Bridge and through lovely, leafy residential neighborhoods out to the UBC campus and the MOA.

After parking our bicycles, we wander down the path to the contemporary MOA building, which was designed to reflect traditional northern Northwest Coast post and beam structures.  Just past the entrance, large and spectacular wood totem poles, bentwood boxes, cedar canoes, and sculptures are displayed in the Great Hall. I swear I can feel the power of these treasures set beneath the 15-meter-high high ceiling and glass windows.


Bottom of a Haida totem pole

Down below the Great Hall, we step inside a treasure trove of museum pieces stuffed inside glass cases and pull-out drawers in a darkened collections room. The quantity and quality of the collection is incredible.  To see it all really means many trips here to soak it all in.

Many masks, many more
Another highlight of the MOA's collection is Haida artist Bill Reid's massive wood sculputure "The Raven and the First Men,"displayed to full effect in the Rotunda. Princes Charles (aka the Prince of Wales) was here to unveil this masterpiece back in the 1980s.

The Raven and the First Men
Since I was here in the 1990s, a replica of a traditional Northwest Coast longhouse (or plank house) and a faux beach has been added on the grounds behind the building.  This simulates what a traditional Northwest Coast village would have looked like on one of the thousands of beaches that stretch northward up the coast to Alaska.

As with many museums I've visited over the years for my art history studies and beyond, I can only take in so much before I get sensory overload.  After a couple hours we head to the museum cafe for a cold drink and snack (banana break baked on campus) on the outdoor patio before departing.  

I love this place!  It's on my intinerary for future trips to Vancouver. How about you? 

Happy trails and thanks for visiting Pacific Northwest Seasons.

When You Go
While the MOA is known for its Northwest Coast art collection, it's also world-renowned for its research, teaching, public programs, and community connections. If you're in the Vancouver area or visit often, check out their ongoing public programs.  The MOA is open daily 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and stays open until 9 p.m. on Tuesday evenings. Suggested donation per adult was about $16 when we visited last weekend. Check out their website for information on getting there via bus, auto, walking, or bicycle.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Seize the Day: Late Summer in the Northwest

It's September already and another summer is slipping by fast--too fast. Here in the Upper Left Hand Corner of the U.S.A. (apologies to Alaska), we know there won't be that many more shorts and T-shirt warm days here. So we savor each sunny September day.

Our light this time of year, when the sun is out, seems to have a subtle golden glow. Perhaps it's the angle of the sun, but there's just something sweet and particular about September light. I  know it instinctively.

While I've been working too much and through several weekends, I am getting away this weekend. So check back next week for more blog posts about Seattle's progressive sister (and MSL rival) to the north, Vancouver, B.C. Love that city!

In the meantime, just a few shots from this spectacular and special region.  

Art in the Park, Carkeek Park, Seattle, Washington

Cypress Island from Guemes Island ferry terminal, Anacortes, Washington


Mt. Hood sunset, Hood River Valley, Oregon

Orcas Island ferry terminal, Orcas, Island, Washington
And how do you like to savor September? 

Happy trail and thanks for visiting Pacific Northwest Seasons.