Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Hike 2 of 47 - Fragrance Lake

Fragrance Lake (elev. 1,100') is located in the Chuckanut Mountains, which are reached via Route 11. The Chuckanuts are foothills of the Cascades and the only place where the mountains meet the ocean. The views can be amazing, looking out over Samish Bay, with the San Juan Islands on the horizon.

Sunday morning came a bit too early for me! I knew it would....and it did.   Being an evening shift worker, I'm usually just getting tired around 2:00, falling asleep around 3:00 a.m., and my best sleep occurs between 4:00 and 8:00 a.m., so the thought of getting up and out of the house by 8:00 is enough to make me cringe....and it did. However, I really wanted to be on this trail long before the crowds on what was going to be a beautiful, warm summer day. So, I set my alarm for 7:15 and woke up at 7:10. Most of my gear was waiting by the door, so I got dressed, downed a cup of coffee, loaded up Jack and I was on the road by 7:55. I headed north on I-5 for about 5 miles, and exited at Exit 231 (Route 11-Chuckanut Drive). Within one mile of exiting the freeway, the farm lands were enveloped in a fairly thick fog. As I headed north, the fog seemed to be getting thicker. Naturally, I was hoping it would burn off by the time I trudged my way to the viewpoint on the way to Fragrance Lake.

I was the first car at the small parking lot at the trail head, located just after the entrance to Larrabee State Park. The trail head parking is on the right and holds about 6 or 7 cars. I backed in to make leaving that much easier. Route 11 is a narrow, winding road and backing out onto it on a busy summer weekend could be difficult. I hung my Discover Pass on my rear view mirror, put on my pack and we were off.

My GPS listed this trail head at about 170' elevation. This trail starts with couple steep switchbacks, meets up with the Interurban Trail, I turned right and after about 25' I picked up the Fragrance Lake trail on my left. I climbed and climbed up a series of switchbacks passing a tipped-over tree. It always amazes me how big the root ball is on these trees. Although this tree was only about 3 feet in diameter, look at how big across the roots are.  It's difficult to put into words for others, so I sat Jack in front of it for comparison sake.  He's a good size dog, over 90 lbs and about 2 to 2-1/2 feet tall. Quite impressive...

Jack in front of a tipped-over tree

From the trail head, I climbed for about 40 minutes before reaching a well-marked turn off to a Viewpoint. That's what the sign said "Viewpoint .2 mi".  On this trail, there was one blow-down that took a big step over. Initially I thought that one could prove challenging for little kids, but if they made it up those switchbacks, then that toppled over tree won't be much of a hindrance. Out at the viewpoint was a nice log to rest on, and a split rail fence to (hopefully) keep anyone from falling back down to the roadway. Unfortunately, the marine layer was still resting over Samish Bay. Although beautiful in its own way, I wanted to see the islands and the water. I could see the tip top of some islands poking through the white cloud layer.

Looking west over Samish Bay

We headed back down the Viewpoint trail and turned left on the main trail making our way toward Fragrance Lake. As I came to the main trail, I could hear some women talking, and so did Jack. The trail then began another series of steep switchbacks and the we took a break on a log bench, to let the women catch up and pass us. We passed these amazing "nurse trees"....I just love these trees! 

At least 3 trees growing on top of this downed tree. Isn't nature amazing?

And one tree growing right on top of what's left of what was a GIGANTIC tree.

The lake is another 1.1 miles from the Viewpoint trail. It may just be my imagination, but the second set of switchbacks seems harder than the first set, although the elevation gain is very similar. Perhaps there are fewer switchbacks, I don't know and I didn't have the energy to count them!

Just before reaching the lake we passed through a bike barricade. Fragrance Lake trail is open to hikers only while other trails allow horses and/or mountain bikers. I saw none of either of those.  When we reached the lake, Jack walked into the very clear water and took several long, cool drinks. After he finished quenching his thirst and cooling off, we headed counter-clockwise around the 7/10 mile loop around lake, crossing over several boardwalks and bridges that were part of someones Eagle Scout project in 1999. Presently there is not any water passing under them, but some areas were muddy.   There are lots of benches placed at waters edge all around the lake. Around the back side of the lake there are some interesting rock formations, that look to be a hangout spot for some people. I saw evidence of a camp fire that was built under a rock overhang. Lots of skimming bugs flying over the lake, too.
Beautiful spot for a picnic!

As we approached what I thought was the completion of our orbit around the lake, we headed off to the right to pick up the next leg of our hike. After about 1/10 of a mile, I realized that this area did not look familiar, so I turned around to see what I would have seen on my way up....nope, definitely did not look familiar at all. I must admit there was a very brief moment of panic; am I lost? How could I be lost? Then I realized that the bridge we just crossed looked similar to the one at the beginning of the loop had we gone clockwise instead...similar, but not the same bridge. So, we walked back to the trail junction we just left, and finished our loop around the trail. Occasionally looking back while hiking is a good way of "staying found"; it gives you another perspective.

We went back to, but not through, the bike barricade and took a left. We passed a lady with her little dog, who was off-leash. It was the first time we've ever passed a little dog who didn't snarl and growl, I was impressed and thought about them for the next several minutes. Within 1/10th of a mile, we got to another bike barricade and out on to what I now know is Fragrance Lake Road. It's an old road, just gravel, trees on both sides. We headed right which was somewhat south, and passed a sign on the left for Lost Lake Trail. Someday we'll do that hike. After stopping to chat with a man and his son, giving them some directions about how to get to Lost Lake Trail, about 1/2 way down this 2 mile road we passed a small waterfall. Jack hopped in and got a drink and I stared at it, somewhat mesmerized by the sight and sounds of the waterfall. It was a small one, maybe a foot wide and falling 15 feet or so, but there is something soothing about the sound of water.

We passed another woman who stopped to pet Jack, and a family with one small child and a dog hell bent on meeting Jack. Soon, I could hear the traffic noise and the trail ended in the Clayton Beach parking lot. Crossing the parking lot, we picked up the Interurban Trail and headed north. One half mile later, were were back at those first few steep switchbacks that started our adventure. The trail itself is excellent condition, rooty in parts, is completely mud-free and downright dusty in parts. I saw many more people who were just headed up the trail as I came back down. I was glad that I made the effort to get up and out of the house "early" to beat the crowds! 

Heading back south on Route 11, the traffic was quite a bit heavier and the fog was gone. Many people were pulled off to the turnouts to catch of glimpse of the amazing views of Puget Sound. Next time I'll This was a good hike, an excellent workout and close to home, and I'll certainly be back to explore more of what the Chuckanuts have to offer as part of my 47 Hikes.

Sunshine and Shadows!

The elevation profile pretty much says it all!

Fragrance Lake Summary - 8/28/2011

Miles:  6
Time:  2 hours 15 minutes
Calories:  1,450

Monday, August 22, 2011

Hike 1 of 47 - Little Mountain

Today I was all set to hike in the Chuckanuts; trail map printed out, dog collar and leash by the door, CamelBak filled, stocked and ready to go.....and then the clouds rolled in. I decided to go more local just in case it started to rain. There are amazing views to be had from the Chuckanut trails, and I didn't want to miss them. I know most of you from other parts of the country probably think it rains "ALL THE TIME" in Washington, but it really doesn't.  Sssssh, just don't tell anyone that I told you.  We have many days of heavy mist, which count as rainy days. For the record, parts of Florida and Hawaii have more rain than Seattle does, it just happens to fall all at once in those places.

I headed out to drive the 2 miles to Little Mountain Road, here in Mount Vernon. Now, before you "glass half empty" kind of people ask me what kind of hike could it possibly be on a mountain called Little Mountain; let me assure you it's a hike!

Little Mountain Park is part of the City of Mount Vernon Parks & Rec Department  It's at an elevation of 934' and mostly all beautiful forest.  There is a paved road up to the top, for those who'd prefer not to walk. There are approximately 8 miles of trails of varying difficulty and 18 different single-track trails. Many trails are designated for hikers only, but some do allow mountain bikers. Up at the summit are two viewpoints; one looking southwest and the other looking north. Both viewpoints offer beautiful sights, especially on clear days. From the south viewpoint, one can see the Puget Sound, the farmlands of Mount Vernon, the tulips and daffodils in full bloom in April,  Mount Erie and Sugarloaf (another two of my 47 hikes). From the north viewpoint you can see our house, the Skagit River, some of the San Juan Islands, the refinery's of Anacortes, Skagit Valley Hospital and much more. Certainly worth a hike, walk, run, pedal or drive to the top.

For today's hike we parked on the side of the paved road and walked up and around the locked gates. Normally the gates are unlocked for vehicle passage around 10:00 a.m. Today I chatted with one of the Parks Depts workers who said they were building a kiosk just inside the gate and were blocking the road with their trucks. Yep...there it is...the new kiosk. Awesome!  I saw a total of 3 new kiosks on my hike today. So, that makes a grand total of......3 kiosks!

One of the new kiosks

Another trail, Upper Surfers Way

I generally start walking up the road to see how the asthma is going to behave. Once I was sure it was going to be a good breathing day, I walked up the road for about 1/2 mile to the hairpin turn where I veered left and picked up the trail called "Up Quick"...that should tell you a little bit that trail. Another new thing that the awesome Trail Builders are doing is replacing the wood plank signs that are nailed to trees with these fancy new things that you see here...I think they are made of a synthetic material, similar to Trex decking, that will probably last forever.

New trail signs

After a short jaunt on Up Quick, I took a slight right onto Julienne Trail. A sharp right would have put me on Ridge Trail which I've taken many times. I'd only been on Julienne Trail once before and I distinctly remember crawling up one portion on my hands and knees.  My doc, who is one of the trail building regulars  on Little Mountain, told me that they put some "steps" on this trail....I was looking forward to seeing what that meant.  Now,after a short while on this trail I felt like I was climbing up, only to descend, then up again. I started watching the elevation on my Garmin, and I was right, this trail undulates as it goes along the side of Little Mountain   750'.... 734'.....693'....710'....722'....680'....725' finally I quit watching it because it was irritating me! Although, I must admit, I do LOVE my Garmin Forerunner 305. I love being able to see where I've been, calories, elevation, distance, etc. I love it all!

This trail is marked as "difficult" on the trail map, so I was expecting it to be a good workout. I unleashed Jack since I hadn't seen any other people besides the guys working on the kiosk. It's safer for him and me if I'm not hanging on to his leash when I trip and fall, as I've been known to do.  I was enjoying the sights and sounds of the forest when I felt a couple of drops and wondered if it was going to rain, then instantly realized it was sweat dripping into my now-burning eyes.  Yep, this trail is a GREAT workout!  A few minutes later I heard some thunder boomers and wondered if being on the highest point in town, amongst the tall trees was the best decision I'd made today.  The wind was blowing, the trees were creaking and small branches were falling from above. As sheltered as I was in the trees, I still got wet. Although, I must admit, it did feel good!

Here my patient hiking partner, Jack, waits for me. He always waits, never runs off unless it's to the swimming hole. Any turns in the trail where he can't see me, I can always count on him to wait there for me and to come running back to me as soon as I call him. I'm sure he always puts in 3 times the miles that I do, with all the running back and forth. I think he feels it's his duty to watch out for me.

I followed Julienne Trail up past an old car....the only bit of trash that's left, thanks to the Trail Builders.  I don't know what kind of car it is, but something from the 1930's or 1940's, I'm sure my hubby Bruce or my brother-in-law Bud will tell me as soon as they see this picture.

What's left of the old car. Can anyone identify it?

We kept on going, up Julienne Trail until we got to those "steps" that Doc mentioned to me. Don't get me wrong, I love these steps! This is the exact spot that had me on my hands and knees, and Jack looking at me like I'd lost my marbles, the that last time I was on this trail. They are BIG steps, for someone vertically challenged like me. Here they are! 

Looking UP!!
Looking DOWN!

 This park is kept in such great condition by the trail builders and Parks and Rec employees, but they've worked hard at it and pulled out a lot of trash and debris left behind by some thoughtless folks. Julienne Trail was a tad overgrown in parts, but nothing to where I couldn't find the trail itself.  I'm sure it's not the most used trail in the park!

We made it to the top, covered in rain and sweat....well, just I was covered in sweat.  You can tell by the pictures at the beginning of our hike and the pictures from the top just how much the weather had changed.
When we got to the top, we were much more exposed so I snapped a couple of pictures from underneath the covered viewpoint, then stashed my camera in the unused doggy poop bag I'd been carrying.  Here are the shots from the top. The view is much better when it isn't raining.

Southwest view from the summit of Little Mountain. On a clear day you can see the Olympic Mountain range.

Farmlands in south Mount Vernon. That's I-5 in the middle of the picture and part of Puget Sound in the background.
Before heading down, I stood on the grass at the summit and turned my sweaty face skyward. I was thankful for the rain that made my hike much cooler than it would have been otherwise. I opted to head down the paved road, just in case there was anymore thunder and lightening.

All in all, I can always count on Little Mountain as a great local hike. It's close, it's beautiful and it's doable before work. What more can Jack & I ask for?

If you are interested in trail building, visit Mount Vernon Trail Builders. No experience necessary and it looks like they always have a good time! I will be getting out there to help soon. Next work day is September 10th.  Check it out!

Little Mountain Park Summary
Miles: 3
Time:  1 hour 15 minutes
Calories: 1,450

That concludes Hike 1 of 47. Stay tuned for more!

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

A new adventure!

Today I'm starting a new adventure.

I will turn 47 in a couple of weeks and I was trying to think of something big, something unforgettable to remember this year by. Something that I will look back upon and be proud. Let's see....what can it be? So, I started thinking of things I'd like to do.  I'd like to spend 47 days hanging out at the beach with my daughter...I'd like to take 47 road trips....I'd like to send 47 underpriviledged kids to college....I'd like to see my mom 47 times this year....I'd like to spend 47 days in Ireland. Yeah, I'd love to do all of those, but come on, be real Liz, none of those are going to happen this year.

It's got to be something that I can actually accomplish, but also something that will challenge me. Something that won't be easy, but something that won't be so hard that I quit. Something I have to work for, something that is attainable yet still be proud of myself when I'm done. Something I enjoy doing, that doesn't cost a lot of money, that I can do on my own, that I can drag Jack, my German Shepherd, along with me, that will be a challenge, that will be fun, that will be healthy, that will enable me to see new places, it's got to be something I already love to do....then it hits me...HIKING! I'll do 47 hikes in my 47th year!


So many hikes pop into my mind. I'm fortunate enough to be smack dab between the North Cascades and the Olympic Mountains. Hundreds and hundreds of hiking trails are right outside my back door.  The hardest part will be choosing which hikes to take.  Some will be easy while others will challenge the heck out of me. Some will be very close to home, others may be a couple hundred miles away, but all will be in the beautiful Pacific Northwest that I call home. Having grown up in the desert of southern California, the clean air, the deep, cold Puget Sound and the gigantic trees still amaze me. 

Being in the great Pacific Northwest, winters in the North Cascades are brutal. It's mid-August and many trails are still under many feet of snow. Who knows if they will even melt out this year. Snow can occur during any of the 12 months here, not to mention avalanches, bears, volcanos..... It's an amazingly beautiful place to live yet Mother Nature let's us know that she rules the roost. So, hiking season is short if you aren't inclined to take along snow shoes or crampons and an ice ax, therefore I'm getting an early start to get as many hikes in before winter strikes again.

There....I've done it. I have set a goal and said it out loud. That makes me accountable to you all.  I want to accomplish that goal while seeing some of the most amazing country on this Earth. I'll share my adventure through words and pictures. I invite you to come along with me; either in person or in spirit.  Come along with me on my journey. I'm going to have the time of my life and I hope that you will too.