Saturday, January 7, 2017

Winter Hike

The Bowman-Rosario Trail at Deception Pass State Park

Winter here, in the classic sense, begins in December and runs through early to mid January.  This is when temperatures at or below freezing occur.  Since Christmas, we have been experiencing temperatures well below freezing accompanied by sunny, blue skies. That's about to come to an end now with rain forecast for this weekend.  I decided I better get one more hike in before this happens.

Early yesterday morning I headed for Bowman Bay in Deception Pass State Park to hike the Bowman-Rosario Trail.  This is always a good choice for beautiful scenery. interesting nature and frequent wildlife encounters.  It also provides a little terrain for a bit of exercise.  It begins at sea level, rises to skirt the cliff edge over Bowman Bay, then returns to sea level at Rosario Bay.

I love hiking in the winter.  I am not really a hot weather person.  Dressing for cold weather is easy, but undressing for hot weather can only be taken so far.  For me, cold weather hiking is invigorating, while hot weather can be exhausting.  Perhaps this is an expression of my Viking genetics.

Cormorants in Bowman Bay

When I set off, the temperature was right at freezing, 32° F, 0° C.  The temperature wasn't as bad as the biting wind that accompanied it.  Even the Cormorants in Bowman Bay were hunkered down in the wind.

Ko-Kwak-alwoot, the Maiden of Deception Pass

At Rosario, I always pay my respects to Ko-Kwal-alwoot, a Samish girl who was courted by a sea spirit.  To save her people from famine, she accepted his proposal, and was transformed into a sea spirit herself.  It's a story of personal sacrifice for the good of the community.  The Samish story pole has two sides representing her two lives, one as a human and the other as a spirit.  This side with kelp leaves for hair is her spirit side.  It faces east to greet the morning sun.  It is said if you look down into the water from the Deception Pass bridge, you might see here hair drifting with the currents.

Rosario Bay

The islands and rocks in Rosario Bay are painted a golden color by lichens.  This is enhanced by the "golden hour" of early morning sunshine.  Across Rosario Strait, Lopez Island in the San Juans can be seen.

Douglas Fir on Rosario Head

The iconic Douglas Fir atop Rosario Head is evidence of the persistence of life.  It grows from solid stone and endures almost constant winds during the winter.  Its size most certainly belies its age.  Despite (or because of) the harsh conditions, the tree produces cones every year.

Rosario Head

Imagine standing on this exposed headland in freezing temperatures and a brisk wind.  The warm, golden-tinged hues don't reveal the actual conditions.  If you enjoy the outdoors, however, it's not bad.

Cirrocumulus undulatus clouds create a striped pattern in the sky.  They may be predicting an approaching warm front and rain.  Has anyone else noticed how difficult it is to find a decent website for identifying cloud formations?  I would appreciate hearing suggestions on good reference sites for cloud types.

Rosario Field Classroom, Deception Pass State Park

In the 1930's, Deception Pass State Park was built from wilderness by the men of the Civilian Conservation Corps.  An example of their work is this bath house at Rosario, now restored and repurposed to serve as a field classroom.  It sits next to the trail back to Bowman Bay.  The timbers, stone and roof shakes are all materials from on site.  It would be rare to find such craftsmanship in modern park buildings anywhere.

For anyone interested in the history of the park, I can recommend the book Two Hands and a Shovel. an amazing collection of vintage photos, first hand experiences and history.  It pays homage to the men of the CCC's.  For exploring the modern park, check out Exploring Deception Pass.  The proceeds of both books benefit the Deception Pass Park Foundation.

Moss Growing on Stone

The cracks in this stone next to the trail provide a foothold and a little moisture for moss.  Nature has a knack for finding even the tiniest opportunities to exploit.

Grandmother Madrona Showing Her Age

Grandmother Madrona is showing her age, but is still going strong.  The broken trunk and dead sections are evidence she has suffered a lot of hardships.  Nevertheless, these "wrinkles" only add to her beauty and charm.

I camped here in 1958

In 1958, this was our campsite (no. 283) at Bowman Bay.  I was twelve years old, here with a best friend from school and his family.  Back then, the fire pit was down in front, near the road.  In my mind, I still feel the warmth and smell the smoke of that fire.  Another memory was the young Bald Eagle we startled as we came around a bend on the Bowman-Rosario Trail.  The startling was mutual.

It is amazing to think my history with Deception Pass State Park spans almost sixty years.  In those days, it was a long drive to get here from where I grew up in south Puget Sound.  Also interesting, when I posted this collection of photos on Twitter, this was the one that got the most attention.  It's not beautiful, scenic, unique or interesting in any way, but it seemed to strike a chord.

The CCC Worker Statue at Bowman Bay

This statue at Bowman Bay honors the workers of the Civilian Conservation Corps who built the park.  He is facing back towards Ko-Kwal-alwoot at Rosario, acknowledging their shared importance in the long history of Deception Pass.

The CCC Interpretive Center, Bowman Bay

Another repurposed bath house now serves as the Civilian Conservation Corps Interpretive Center at Bowman Bay.  If you are a history buff and find it open, don't pass it by.  It is a fascinating museum containing period artifacts, vintage photos and a video that tell the story of the CCC's and the park's beginnings.  Anyone interested in the history of the thirties and forties will enjoy it.

Bath houses were apparently popular in the 1930's.  It is interesting that none of them originally built for the park are still in use as such.  The fact is, the waters here are much too cold for swimming.  It is fortunate that these exquisite, hand-crafted buildings received new lives educating park visitors.  If you want to swim, go over to Cranberry Lake at West Beach on the Whidbey Island side of the park.

By the time I got home, the temperature had risen to 36° F, 2° C.  By mid-January, or so, we should should start to enter our "early spring," weather-wise.  By February, many native plants will be blooming.  Today, I am watching the overcast roll in to prepare for the expected rain and/or snow tonight.  Thanks for joining me on this hike.

Monday, January 2, 2017

First Day Hike 2017:  The Pacific Northwest Trail

First Day Hike 2017, Deception Pass State Park

The theme for this year's First Day Hike at Deception Pass State Park was the Pacific Northwest National Scenic Trail.  This is a 1,200 mile/1,931 km trail system that connects the Continental Divide in Glacier National Park, Montana to Cape Alava on Washington's Pacific coast.  We completed a portion of that trail on yesterday's hike.

First Day hikers gathered in the dining hall at the Cornet Bay Retreat Center.  Here, we fueled up with hot drinks and pastries provided by the Deception Pass Park Foundation.  Hikers ranged in age from toddlers to seniors with everything in between.

First Day Hike 2017, Deception Pass State Park

The first leg of the hike took as to the Deception Pass Bridge via the Goose Rock Perimeter Trail, about 1.5 miles/2.4 km.  The trail went from sea level to high on the cliff overlooking Cornet Bay.  It descended back to sea level skirting along Deception Pass.  It ends at the bridge where we took a rest stop.  We had just completed a piece of the Pacific Northwest Trail (in section 08-05 on the map).

First Day Hike 2017, Deception Pass State Park

From the bridge we climbed to the summit of Goose Rock, 484 feet/148 m above sea level.  In the crisp, invigorating winter air, we enjoyed panoramic views of the San Juans, the Strait of Juan de Fuca and north Whidbey Island.

First Day Hike 2017, Deception Pass State Park
First Day Hike 2017, Deception Pass State Park

For the sixth year in a row, we had perfect weather for the First Day hike.  The day gave us mostly sunny skies and a temperature of 36° F/2° C.  We encountered the high winds that were forecast only while at the Retreat Center.  Even at the summit of Goose Rock, the winds calmed for us.

Jeff Kish, Executive Director, Pacific Northwest Trail Association

We climbed down Goose Rock on the opposite side from our ascent and returned to the Retreat Center.  Hikers were greeted by the smell of hot coffee.  We were now treated to an amazing multimedia presentation about the Pacific Northwest Trail by Jeff Kish.  Jeff is a thru-hiker, journalist and Executive Director of the Pacific Northwest Trail Association.  He has completed both the PNNST and the Pacific Crest Trail, and is a gifted storyteller about his experiences.

I could imagine myself on such an adventure as he spoke.  Since I have now passed from the Pepsi Generation into the Metamucil Generation, I can only daydream.  But such wonderful daydreams they are.  The PNTA is based nearby in Sedro Woolley, Washington.

Pacific Northwest National Scenic Trail Logo

When you see this logo posted along trails in Washington, Idaho and Montana, you know you are hiking a portion of the Pacific Northwest National Scenic Trail.  (Image used by permission)

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Cairns at Lighthouse Point

Cairns at Lighthouse Point, Deception Pass

Back in March of 2015, I found these beautifully constructed cairns on the beach at Lighthouse Point in Deception Pass State Park.  Lighthouse and Lotte Points are the grassy stone outcrops that can be seen from the Deception Pass Bridge looking west.  The Lighthouse Point Trail runs from Bowman Bay to the shore of Deception Pass.  As I always say, when you go hiking, you never know what you might find.

Cairns at Lighthouse Point, Deception Pass

Humans have been piling stones for various reasons since prehistory.  The Vikings built stone altars called Hörgar.  The word cairn comes from Scots Gaelic càrn (plural càirn).  The ancient Celts built cairns to mark important places or events or to commemorate the graves of loved ones and important people.  The Arabic word rujm (رجم) appears in place names and refers to piles of stones.  In the Sinai Desert, stone piles or altars are thought by some to mark the path of the ancient Israelites in their exodus from Egypt.

Cairns at Lighthouse Point, Deception Pass

In North America and Greenland, native peoples built cairns as landmarks or to mark game paths.  They have come to symbolize safe and welcoming places.  In modern times, such a sculpture called Inuksuk appears in the flag of Canada's northern territory of Nunavut.  In 2010, the Vancouver Winter Olympic Games adapted the symbol for its logo.

Cairns at Lighthouse Point, Deception Pass

After almost two years, I had forgotten all about these photos.  When I came upon them the other day, I decided I should do something with them.  A lot of thought went into these cairns, and they should be seen by more people.  It looks like even the colors of the stones were given consideration when they were assembled.

Cairns at Lighthouse Point, Deception Pass

Sometimes, simple stone cairns say nothing more than "I was here."

Cairns at Lighthouse Point, Deception Pass

Naturally, such beautiful monuments cannot last.  They are long gone now, victims of the winds and tides.  They have been returned to the random rubble of the beach, waiting to be reborn.

Cairns at Lighthouse Point, Deception Pass

In rocky places, it is common to find stone sculptures built by previous visitors.  It seems to be a human compulsion to create them.  I think you will agree, these cairns are better than most.  They were built with love and inspiration from this beautiful place.  Perhaps another creative soul will come along and do it again.

Monday, December 26, 2016

Previewing the First Day Hike 2017 at Deception Pass

Cornet Bay Retreat Center, Deception Pass

The route for this year's First Day Hike at Deception Pass State Park has been announced.  Starting at the Cornet Bay Retreat Center (above), the route will take us around the Goose Rock Perimeter Trail, up and over the summit, then back to the Retreat Center.  At the end of the hike, Jeff Kish from the Pacific Northwest Trail Association will present "Experience the Pacific Northwest Trail."  This 1,200 mile scenic hiking trail extends from Glacier National Park in Montana to the Pacific Coast of Washington's Olympic Peninsula.  The First Day Hike will include a part of it which passes through Deception Pass State Park.

After being shut up in the house for more than a week by the weather, I was itching to get outside.  Christmas Day delivered clear skies and sunshine, so I decided to preview the route for this year's hike.

Goose Rock Perimeter Trail, Deception Pass

The Goose Rock Perimeter Trail begins with a walk in the woods along the shore of Cornet Bay.  Here, I was serenaded by the calls of Ravens and Bald Eagles.

Goose Rock Perimeter Trail, Deception Pass

The trail climbs up the cliff overlooking the bay.  The vegetation defines the Cornet Bay microclimate.  Growing with Douglas Firs, Madrona, Sedum and Oregon Grape reveal a dry coniferous forest.

Goose Rock Perimeter Trail, Deception Pass

At the highest point of the trail, hikers are treated to views of the Cornet Bay community.

Mount Baker from the Goose Rock Perimeter Trail

After descending back to sea level, look past Ben Ure Island.  With a clear sky, Mount Baker will be easy to spot.  From this point on, the trail will skirt the edge of Deception Pass.  Watch for the sign at the junction of the Northeast Summit Trail.

Goose Rock Summit, Deception Pass

Near the top of Goose Rock, the final push to the summit means scrambling up these rocks.  Be careful if they are wet or icy.  They will be slippery.  You will want to wear sturdy footwear with good traction for the hike.

Goose Rock Summit, Deception Pass

At 484 feet (148 m) the Goose Rock summit is the highest point on Whidbey Island.  To the northwest, little Deception Island marks the entrance to Deception Pass (above).  On the horizon is Lopez Island in the San Juans.  The Olympic Mountain Range is visible to the southwest.  Looking south, you can see the Whidbey Naval Air Station.

Goose Rock Summit, Deception Pass

Notice the geology underfoot at the summit.  The grooves in the stone mark the paths of moving ice sheets that receded 11,000 years ago.  Goose Rock would appear to be a pluton, once the magma chamber of an ancient volcano.  Glaciers carved away the mountain exposing a solid stone monolith.  Nearby Mount Erie, El Capitan in Yosemite and Mount Rushmore are other examples.

Goose Rock Summit, Deception Pass

The grassy meadows atop the stone bloom with wildflowers in the spring.  These are fragile and easily lost to trampling feet.  Visitors are asked to stay within marked paths or on the stone surfaces.

Pacific Rhododendrons on Goose Rock

On the descent from the summit and return to the Retreat Center, you might spot the wild Pacific Rhododendrons growing on the flank of Goose Rock.

Back at the Retreat Center, we can expect warm drinks and goodies served by the Deception Pass Park Foundation.  I am also looking forward to the presentation on the Pacific Northwest Scenic Trail, a part of which we will have just completed.

Directions:  Meet at the Cornet Bay Retreat Center, January 1, 2017 at 10:00 a.m.  Allow for at least three hours.  From Interstate 5, take the Highway 20/Anacortes Exit #230 at Burlington.  Head west and cross the bridges onto Fidalgo Island.  Look for the Deception Pass/Port Townsend Ferry intersection and go left.  Cross the Deception Pass Bridge onto Whidbey Island.  At the stop light near the main entrance to the park, turn left onto Cornet Bay Road.  A sign on the left marks the Retreat Center driveway.  The difficulty of the hike is described as moderate.  Bad weather affecting safety of the hike might lead to cancellation.  I would check the Foundation website for any last minute announcements.  See you there.


Thursday, December 15, 2016

Big Cedar Trail, Deception Pass State Park

Big Cedar Trail, Deception Pass State Park

There is a brand new trail in Deception Pass State Park called the Big Cedar Trail.  The photo shows just the base of its namesake, a Western Redcedar, Thuja plicata.  I find it is difficult to portray the size of a big tree in photos.  Without a person standing next to it for reference, it could be run-of-the-mill.  Let me say, if a six foot man was added to the photo, he would easily fit in the frame.  The tree is 8 feet (2.4 m) in diameter and 26 feet (8 m) in circumference at shoulder height.  It is truly a very big tree.

This past summer, I recall seeing a line of ribbons tied to shrubs heading off the left side of the Ginnett trail.  I wondered if something like this was planned.  We can thank the volunteers of SWITMO (Skagit-Whatcom-Island Trail Maintaining Organization) for clearing and cutting the new trail.  Anyone hiking it will appreciate the labor that was required.

Big Cedar Trail, Deception Pass State Park

The new trail, shown in red, is in the Pass Lake section of the park.  It connects the Ginnett Hill trail (no. 6) with the Pass Lake Loop trail (no. 5).  Hikers exploring Ginnett Hill now have an alternate return route to the Pass Lake Loop.  This avoids having to return using the same trail.

If taking the north to south route on the Big Cedar, be prepared for a steep climb.  This can be avoided by going in the opposite direction.  In my case, I find it easier to keep my feet under me hiking uphill rather than on steep downhills.  My route was the east Pass Lake Loop-Ginnett Hill-Big Cedar-west Pass Lake Loop for a leisurely two hours.  After doing this, I am glad I made this choice.  You can visit the tree and avoid both the climb and the steepest descent.  Enter the Big Cedar Trail from the top of the Pass Lake Loop.  The tree is not far from there.

Ginnett Hill Trail, Deception Pass State Park
Ginnett Hill Trail, Deception Pass State Park

Ginnett Hill Trail, Deception Pass State Park
Ginnett Hill Trail, Deception Pass State Park

The Ginnett Hill trail is one of my favorite places in the park.  It starts in a dry coniferous forest, descends into a small rain forest in Naked Man Valley (a.k.a. Heilman Valley), then climbs back into dry coniferous at the summit homestead site.  The terrain is incredibly varied with a lot of nature to explore.  This is not a heavily visited section of the park.  Many people are missing out on some of the park's real treasures.  Click or right-click the photos to view them full size.

Clockwise from upper left:  1. Several notched stumps serve as historic sites commemorating the region's logging heritage.  They could be 100 years old or more.  2. Giant glacial erratics provide homes for moss and Licorice Ferns.  Do these stones reveal how the valley was formed?  3. The three gargoyles conceal a hidden pond that fills with bright yellow Skunk Cabbage in the spring.  4. Rain forest denizens greet you at trailside.

Big Cedar Trail, Deception Pass State Park

As you begin climbing out of the valley, look for the junction to the Big Cedar Trail.  There's no sign yet, but go left to Big Cedar, right to continue up Ginnett Hill.

Big Cedar Trail, Deception Pass State Park
Big Cedar Trail, Deception Pass State Park
Big Cedar Trail, Deception Pass State Park

Almost immediately on entering the Big Cedar Trail, a long, steep climb begins.  A few short switchbacks help, but not much.  Because the trail is new, the surface is still loose and rocky in places.  Wear sturdy hiking boots with good traction.  You'll also want them waterproof.  In winter, there are seasonal wadis to cross on the Ginnett Hill trail and some muddy spots on the Big Cedar.  Part of the west Pass Lake Loop is an old logging road.  Much of it goes under water in the winter.

The trail levels off a bit near the top where you will find yourself in a ravine.  Look for the bones of another big redcedar that didn't survive our windstorms or perhaps fire (right photo).

Big Cedar Trail, Deception Pass State Park
Big Cedar Trail, Deception Pass State Park

Soon, you will spot the Western Redcedar that gives the trail its name.  Just as our Douglas Fir is not a fir, this is not a true cedar.  It is actually an arborvitae ("tree of life") in the Cypress family.  True cedars are in the Pine family.  It has probably been dubbed "cedar" because of the wonderful color, fragrance and durability of its wood.

Pojar and Mackinnon describe the redcedar as the cornerstone of Northwest Coast native culture:
"A Coast Salish myth says the Great Spirit created redcedar in honour of a man who was always helping others.  Where he dies and where he is buried, a cedar tree will grow and be useful to the people--the roots for baskets, the bark for clothing, the wood for shelter."
The Quinalt call themselves the "Canoe People, the People of the Cedar Tree."  It is called the "tree of life" by the Kwakwaka'wakw.  When you visit the tree at Deception Pass, be mindful how important these wonderful redcedars have been in our local history.

Big Cedar Trail, Deception Pass State Park

Continuing on the Big Cedar Trail, I spotted a Star Gate disguised as a pair of Big-leaved Maples.

Pass Lake Loop Trail, Deception Pass State Park
Pass Lake Loop Trail, Deception Pass State Park

Pass Lake Loop Trail, Deception Pass State Park

One of the highlights of the west Pass Lake Loop is a large moss meadow surrounding the trail.  The meadow includes shrubs decorated with blue-green lichens.  Mosses are at their best after the rains start in the fall and in winter.

Pass Lake Loop Trail, Deception Pass State Park

Pileated Woodpeckers have been working diligently on this old Douglas Fir snag.  The decaying wood hosts a lot of goodies to eat.  Perhaps in time, this will become a Chickadee condominium.  Nothing goes to waste in a forest.

Directions:  From Interstate 5, take the Highway 20/Anacortes Exit 230 at Burlington.  Head west and cross the bridges onto Fidalgo Island.  Watch for the Deception Pass/Port Townsend Ferry intersection and go left (in a couple of years, this will be a traffic circle).  You will come to Pass Lake bordering the highway.  The parking lot is just off the highway on Rosario Road.  Bring your Discover Pass or purchase a day pass at the parking lot.