Tag Archives: Elwha

The joy of walking

I think that I cannot preserve my health and spirits unless I spend four hours a day at least — and it is commonly more than that — sauntering through the woods and over the hills and fields absoutely free from all worldly engagements.

– Henry David Thoreau, “Walking”

In recent days I have been doing quite a bit of sauntering, and as I saunter I often think of Thoreau. I had the privilege of visiting Walden Pond as a teenager. I was underwhelmed by its small size and its decidedly non-wild contemporary setting. It’s difficult to imagine the area back in Thoreau’s day, when he wrote:

I can easily walk ten, fifteen, twenty, any number of miles, commencing at my own door, without going by any house, without crossing a road except where the fox and the mink do. First along by the river, and then the brook, and then the meadow and the wood-side. There are square miles in my vicinity which have no inhabitant.

In my corner of the world, there are still places where it is possible to walk for some distance without seeing a house. I can even walk to some of those places from my own house, although I have to pass by many houses on the way to the trailhead. I wouldn’t want to live in total wilderness or total solitude, so that’s all right by me. Yet, like Thoreau, I do find peace and inspiration in those places that have not yet lost their wildness.

At walking speed I see things that I would have missed while running or cycling. Recently I spent a few moments watching two river otters in full courtship dance. No photos, sorry… while I’m watching something like that, reaching in my pocket for my phone to take a photo is the last thing on my mind.

In an effort to make peace with the place where I fell and broke my arm, I have hiked several miles of the Olympic Adventure Trail. It’s an easy, pleasant, relatively level trail. In several places the trail meanders through recent clear cuts — so it’s not exactly pristine — but those clear cuts open up views southward to the Olympics or northward to the strait and Vancouver Island.

At walking pace I was delighted to find calypso orchids on the OAT! There are at least 100 of them in the first mile from the trailhead. I have never noticed them on this trail before.

I’ve often put orchid photos in this blog, but to refresh your memory here is what they look like. They are tiny flowers, not much more than an inch across.

Calypso Orchids

The other day on the OAT, in the midst of all of these “normal” calypsos, I came across a pair of unicorns.

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Those, my friends, are “albino” calypso orchids! It’s not the greatest photo, but I hope you can see that the outer petals are pure white while the inner petals are muted compared to the “normal” flower. Over the past three years I have inspected hundreds of calypso orchids but I’ve never seen any like these before.

Yesterday we went out to the mouth of the Elwha River. I haven’t been to the mouth since before the dam removal project began. The mouth is now at least a quarter of a mile north of where it used to be! The silt that has flowed downriver from the dams has created a broad, easy-walking silty beach.

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At the water’s edge the river and the tide are joining forces to create small canyons, cutting vertical mini-cliffs through the silt. I took this photo looking straight down. The water here is about a foot below the edge of the silt.

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The configuration of this river delta changes from day to day, but the clear trend is growth of the land northward into the strait. A few hours after I took these photos, I was standing on a high ridge line looking down toward the strait, where I could clearly see the river’s current fanning out and outlined against the saltier water of the strait.

While I deeply miss running (and eagerly look forward to the day when I’m cleared to run again), I’m finding deep happiness in hours of leisurely walking. These are all steps in my journey, and each of them is to be savored. There is no going back, no other way but forward.

By walking one makes the road,
and upon glancing back
one sees the path
that will never be trod again.

– Antonio Machado

Slow and happy — here’s to the joy of walking!

Chasing rarities

Some things are rare, special and worth pursuing…

I made a beer run the other day.

San Diego-area brewery Stone Brewing’s Enjoy By series of imperial IPA is always rare, special, and worth pursuing! These insanely hopped big beers are brewed and bottled in small batches every month or so, with a drink-by date emblazoned in huge numbers right on the label — each beer is actually named for its unique “enjoy by” date. To further enhance the “buzz” around this beer, Stone ships each batch only to a few selected markets around the US. Which markets? Well, each batch’s destination is decided by fan voting (via Twitter and Facebook). This brilliant marketing idea creates a scarcity mentality that keeps beer nerds clamoring for the next batch. This scarcity mentality, in turn, leads retailers to guard their supplies and limit sales to just a bottle or two per customer.

Of the half dozen or so batches brewed so far, three have come to my corner of the country. I managed to find a single bottle of Enjoy By 2/15/13 at a convenience store right in my small town, just a couple of days before the expiration date. That one bottle was enough to hook me, and now I regularly check Stone’s web site for news of their latest release.

Enjoy By 4/1/13 was here also, but I actually drank plenty of it in San Diego when I was there in March. I never needed to look for it here.

The latest release, Enjoy By 7/4/13, was my target when I set out on my beer run. I knew from Stone’s helpful map that two stores on my side of Puget Sound had probably received some. As it happened, both stores were in the same town about 65 miles away. What a perfect excuse for a road trip on a sunny spring day!

At the first store they were sold out! But I struck gold at the second store, where they surprised me by willingly selling me… umm… a bottle or two more than I expected. I now have a nice supply of Enjoy By 7/4/13, and I expect to enjoy them a few times between now and the 4th of July.

Having a bottle or two of a rare beer like this one in the fridge is a tasty temptation to anticipate while out on a hike. Recently we hiked up the Elwha for the first time since last autumn. The river was running just a tad higher than it was back on that day. The mossy rocks I photographed were nowhere to be seen!

Along our way we encountered a few rarities. Wildflowers, mushrooms, and odd specimens are popping out everywhere! This is a candystick. It’s one of the strangest but aptly-named plants I’ve ever seen.

It’s not always necessary to hike upriver to find rare and special things. The other day we went to a picnic with some friends at a local county park. Here is the view from very near our table.

That’s a Nootka rose, our local wild rose, in the foreground. Nootka roses aren’t particularly rare here, but special? Indeed! Worth chasing? Completely.

Until next time, keeping it slow and happy….

Running to the Elwha

In prior posts I’ve written about hiking up the Elwha (here and here) and riding to the Elwha. Well, yesterday I ran to the Elwha! With just a few days left in 2012, I’m only a few miles short of my goal of running 600 miles in 2012. From our prior experience of riding our bikes 6.6 miles on a nearly-level trail to the Elwha River bridge and back, I knew it would be an easy, beautiful out-and-back run.

The skies were gray but there was nothing more than drizzle in the forecast. CFL loaded up his bike and we drove out to the trailhead just west of town. He completed two out-and-backs during the time it took me to do the run, so we had several chances to say “hello” to each other along the way.

It was a perfect day to be outside and active. As usual for this time of year, my feet went numb in the first half mile but I was toasty by the time I’d completed my second full mile. The piles of big-leaf maple leaves that I’d enjoyed running over on my bike were long gone and the paved trail was wide open and non-slippery. With all the leaves off the maples, I could see middle-distance views toward the river.

I stopped to take a photo of the two-level bridge as I approached it. Runners/bikers/walkers use the lower level; the upper level is for cars.

Then I stopped in the middle of the bridge to take photos of the river. It’s still extremely muddy. I read the other day that only about 10% of the century’s worth of silt has reached the mouth of the river since the dam removal process started, so there is a lot more mud yet to come!

Elwha River

After a slow, refreshing several minutes of gazing down at the river, I turned around to head back. The ever-so-lightly uphill trail led me back through the trees, past the airport, and toward town.

Olympic Discovery Trail near the Elwha River Bridge

I picked up the pace for the last two and a half miles, as it was beginning to drizzle. CFL’s post-ride grin was as big as mine! We both enjoyed our exercise highs for the rest of the day.

I’m learning that at this time of year we have to go out and grab whatever exercise we can get, whenever the weather offers a halfway decent chance. This time of year it’s all about seizing the best moment to run, or bike, through the raindrops!

Wherever you are, whatever your weather, I hope you find your ways to enjoy your mid-winter moments… slowly and happily!

Riding to the Elwha

I keep coming back to the Elwha River, it seems.

And why not? It’s a beautiful place in the midst of an astonishing transformation, as the two century-old dams are being taken down and removed.

I’ve written here several times about our hikes up the Elwha, upstream from the dams where the river has always run free. I’ve written elsewhere about the changes already taking place at the former Lake Aldwell after the lower dam was removed earlier this year. The removal of the upper dam has been slower and more painstaking due to the immense amount of silt that has accumulated behind the dam in Lake Mills. I have not been able to show you photos of the process of draining this lake because the construction company has kept the site well shielded from the public. I have managed to catch glimpses through trees and construction barriers, however, so I have had a general sense of the declining water level.

A week or so ago they announced that the river was finally falling free over the last few remaining feet of the dam, and that the silt would soon be flowing downstream and muddying the lower reaches of the Elwha.

This sounded like an interesting thing to go and see. Yesterday we decided to ride our bikes to the Elwha. We started a mile or so west of downtown, at an access point to a newly-paved section of the Olympic Discovery Trail (ODT). We guessed it would be about five miles each way, but were surprised to see a sign indicating it was only 3.3 miles! Given that we had the afternoon free, we decided to ride at a leisurely pace and enjoy the sights.

This new section of the trail was absolutely beautiful, nearly flat and mostly straight through fields and groves of big leaf maples. Once I got over my initial caution, it was great fun to aim my bicycle wheel toward the biggest piles of leaves I could find!

This being the rainy, wet Pacific Northwest, we got to cross another stream on our way to the Elwha. I couldn’t get a decent shot of the oddly-named Dry Creek — it was running freely but was almost hidden by the thick trees. Maybe that’s the joke? In any case, the bridge was terrific! This style of bridge is typical of most of the small stream crossings on the ODT.

After Dry Creek the trail headed gently downhill toward the Elwha, but it never got steep because it follows an old railway grade and crosses the Elwha at the top of the ravine. I was able to relax and not worry about having to ride up steep hills on the way back!

The bridge is very impressive. It’s a new double-deck bridge with a road on top and the ODT below. CFL laments the loss of a beautiful old bridge that was taken out when this one was built. I remember that bridge – I even drove over it once or twice. It was a bit scary! I’m glad the new bridge is there and I appreciate its human-friendly design that encourages leisurely river watching. Doesn’t this beautiful bridge make you want to ride your bike across it — stopping along the way for a long slow look?

As for the Elwha, yes it is muddy!

Looking upstream straight into the sun the view was difficult to photograph, but the river looked like a roiling cauldron of mud. We spent a long time watching the patterns that emerged in and moved through the cross-currents. The flows, ebbs, and whirlpools are somehow easier to see than they would be in clear water.

In contrast, the view downstream seemed serene. Even here, however, the water was obviously thick and murky. I like the shadow of the bridge in this photo. If you look closely you can see us standing there!

The silt flow is expected to continue for weeks to months. The dam removals were planned as a slow and careful process to prevent too much silt rushing out all at once — but no matter how slowly you take down a 100-year-old dam, everything behind it does get up and move downstream eventually.

We plan to keep coming back to check on the river’s ongoing transformation. We’ve heard that the stark lakebed of the former Lake Aldwell, which we last visited in May, is now lush with new growth as the forest comes to reclaim it. It’s definitely time for a return visit!

Further upstream, perhaps once the leaves are fully off the trees, I hope to be able to sneak a peek-a-boo photo of the former Lake Mills.

You can expect to read more here about the Elwha River… It is a place/time event that does, indeed, keep me coming back.

Up the Elwha!

Before I dash off into writing about our gentle autumn weather here, let me pause and say that I am thinking good thoughts for friends and former co-workers affected by Sandy.

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The other day we returned to one of our favorite areas to hike: the Elwha River watershed. We caught a brief respite from our two weeks of drizzle and managed to hike for five hours through a rain forest without getting wet! Although we never saw the sun, it was a glorious day.

There are two main trails in this area, both of which eventually cross a bridge and head far up into the mountains. On this trip, we took the trail that we did not take on our most recent hike up the Elwha.

The aptly-named big-leaf maples showered the trail with foot-wide, golden leaves.

Besides the maples, the trees in this forest are mostly conifers… Douglas fir, Western red cedar, hemlocks, and others. The understory is lush with ferns, salal, and in some places an inches-thick layer of moss. The ferns are beginning to fade, mostly turning brown but in a few places ghostly white.

One deciduous tree stood out with its graceful slim leaves that glowed pinkish orange. I’m not sure but I think this may be a Pacific dogwood.

Up close, the forest revealed another set of delights. Here is a patch of lung liverwort (sort of a giant moss) clinging to a boulder.

I had to look closely to spot this interesting specimen. I believe it is a variety of coral fungus.

Despite all of the fabulous photo ops we did manage to actually hike to somewhere. Our turnaround point was Lillian Camp, almost five miles up the trail, on the Lillian River just above its confluence with the Elwha. I want to camp here someday — imagine going to sleep under the trees with the sound of the river close by!

The trail crosses a bridge over the Lillian River here, and you know what that means — bridge inspection! The bridge itself is humble, but I love the diagonals in this view — they pull me in and make me want to hike further… maybe on a long summer day next year?

The view of the river from the bridge is nothing short of idyllic.

I was taken by the leaves on that boulder in the foreground, and the water rushing around the boulder. It’s tough to photograph moving water in low light without a tripod, but I did my best to balance myself against a bridge post. Not so bad for hand-held?

We lingered at Lillian Camp for half an hour, but as the sky began to darken we knew we needed to start back if we hoped to beat the rain and sundown. That didn’t stop me from taking a few more photos of those glorious autumn leaves… they’ll all come down overnight as soon as we get the big windstorm that always seems to come this time of year. But until then, this is a place to be enjoyed and savored. I’m privileged and proud to live here.

After a perfect autumn hike, we celebrated with a homebrew. Our “Angeles Porter” exceeded our expectations and we’ll be brewing this recipe again. Its creamy-sweet maltiness is, I confess, easy to drink and tough to resist. Yum!!!

The next batch of homebrew after the porter is an English style Extra Special Bitter (ESB) – think Bass Ale. “Bass” makes me think of “fish,” and of salmon swimming upstream – up the newly-freed Elwha past the old dams now coming down. I’ve named this beer “Up the Elwha ESB.” We’re bottling this weekend, so in a couple of weeks I hope to report to you that it’s as rich and heady as a hike up the Elwha on a crisp autumn day. Cheers!

Hiking up the Elwha River

Autumn is definitely coming here in the Pacific Northwest, after a late but glorious summer. There’s still no rain in the forecast, but the temperatures are dropping and the leaves have begun to turn colors. The other day I (LKS) wanted to take a long but easy hike to gently keep my muscles working during the time between the Rogue Run half marathon on 9/23 and the upcoming Victoria half marathon on 10/7. The complex of trails in the Elwha River watershed provided the perfect opportunity to get out and enjoy the natural beauty surrounding us in this place and time.

The trails are mostly level except for sections that lead down to and back up from the river’s edge. For a good part of the way, the trail we chose meanders through flat, open forest and mossy glades.

The maples were still in the early stages of their autumn glory, but everything was highlighted beautifully under the azure sky.

 

CFL had suggested that we hike as far as “the bridge,” which he’d seen once before, but I really had no idea what to expect. I soon learned that the bridge in question is a suspension bridge that crosses the Elwha at a point where the canyon becomes too deep for hikers to continue directly alongside the river. The first glimpse of it through the trees is not all that impressive.

Even the signs acknowledge that it’s quite human-scale as suspension bridges go.

It may not be the tallest or longest suspension bridge, but it fits its location perfectly. It gracefully and efficiently spans the river. We spent some time studying it, and CFL explained the structural engineering details to this non-architect. I’m still bemused at what it must have taken to build it here. All that steel had to be hauled three and a half miles up a narrow trail, from a trailhead that is five miles up a steep, narrow dirt road that branches off a small road that is at least five miles off the highway, many miles out of town. Now here it sits on a lightly-traveled trail that most people will never see. This bridge is now one of my favorite places.

From this angle, it’s clear why hikers are forced to cross the river at this point — there is nowhere else to go!

In a couple of weeks, once my last half marathon of 2012 is behind me, I’d like to go back — get an earlier start and continue up the trail beyond this bridge. The other side beckons.

The big news about the Elwha is the ongoing removal of the two dams downstream, but up here the Elwha has always run free and the bridges are humble. What an extraordinary privilege it is to be in this place!