Thursday, July 5, 2012

Hike 15 of 47 - Skagit Wildlife Refuge

Two words describe Skagit Wildlife Refuge in Mount Vernon, WA....flat and peaceful. Never having been to this location that is just a stones throw away from home, I thought it would be perfect for a short walk before work on this fine, sunny 4th of July. I had read the most recent trip reports, jotted down the driving directions, loaded up my pack and Jack and headed to Fir Island. Arriving less than 10 minutes after leaving home, I was the only car in the southern parking lot. 

There is certainly plenty of parking here and by the time I was situated and ready to walk, three more cars had pulled into the lot. There is a privy in the parking lot; look carefully as it is somewhat hidden by bushes. I thought it was just a storage shed!

Mount Baker is hiding behind these clouds.
Jack and I followed the gravel road out of the parking lot and turned right onto the dike. There is a gravel ramp for bikes, wheelchairs or strollers. We walked a very flat 9/10's of a mile following the waters edge. There was a lot of water to our left and a slough or something off to our right, hidden by bushes, that provided a constant sound of trickling or rushing water. The entire way we heard various birds chirping and the wind blowing gently through the trees.
Watching the little bird flit from branch to branch

We ambled on until the road became overgrown. We turned around and headed back the other way, dropping off our doggy bag when we passed the parking lot. Heading left on the dike from the parking lot, in approximately 4/10's of a mile you arrive at an even larger parking lot, a more modern bathroom and a "boat launch". We turned around here after Jack got a drink of water and headed back to our car.
Although I didn't have any kids with me today, this is a great place to take kids for a walk. I'm looking forward to bringing my grandson back in the winter and spring. I saw a HUGE nest in a tree across the water, not sure who built it though; perhaps an eagle or a blue heron? 
BIG nest!
There were tons of birds chirping the entire way. Not being very knowledgeable about birds, I could only identify robins, ducks and gold finches. Previous trip reports mentioned benches, but the only benches that I could see were across the water and sitting in the water. From looking at previous trip report photos, it seemed like there was more water than normal today. 

There are various hunting blinds along the way (is that what those things are called, the place where the hunters hide?). Posted along the way are many signs warning of hunting from September 1 - March 15. I'm not anti-hunting if hunters are providing food for their families, however it seems odd to me that we have a beautiful wildlife refuge, yet hunting  is allowed within the refuge. Especially considering that there are THOUSANDS of snow geese that come here, and snow geese mate for life. 

Looked like a place you'd buy nachos and candy at a Little League game.
This park was very clean. I saw only one piece of trash, which I picked up and brought home to throw away. I came across young families, nature photographers and seniors out walking. I was dismayed to see that I was the only one with my dog on a leash. A couple of dogs were under good voice control, but others were not. I do feel that because this is a wildlife refuge,allowing dogs to run loose and frighten the birds is less than desirable. 

Jack in front of the boat ramp aka dog cooling-off area
My GPS measured about 2.5 miles, but I wandered over to explore the covered area and the bulletin boards in the parking lot. According to the bulletin boards, there are plans to reclaim some of the lost area. I believe floods in years past altered the area quite a bit which probably explains the benches in the water. You do need a Discover Pass here. Be sure to bring your own doggy bags and be prepared to take them home with you., along with any trash as I didn't see any dispensers for doggy bags, nor any trash cans.
Looking northwest, the surrounding farmland is beautiful, too!

If you visit this location via I-5, you will pass this beautiful church in Conway. 
Driving directions from the WTA website ( ): 

Take Interstate 5 to Exit 221. Go west from the freeway and turn right on to Fir Island Road, following the sign for Conway/La Conner. In 1.8 miles, turn left onto Wylie Road and follow for 1 mile to a T-intersection and a Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife sign. Turn left and follow the signs to either of the two parking lots.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Hike 8 of 47 - Orcas Island 25k

Moran State Park on Orcas Island in Eastsound, Washington
January 28, 2012

Please forgive my numbering, it's a little out of whack.

It was snowy, it was cold and I most definitely hadn't trained enough, yet here were were again, giddy with excitment, on the ferry headed to Orcas Island for our second Orcas Island 25k, one of the awesome trail runs put on by Rainshadow Running.  Moran State Park boasts an amazing trail system, with almost 40 miles of trails!  This year, rather than staying in the Group Camp facilities at Moran State Park, we were lucky enough to be staying at North Beach Inn thanks to one of our fellow trail runners. We were excited about showers, a little kitchen and beds that weren't 1966 metal bunk beds! It's the little things that mean so much.

Awesome thrift-shop shirts!
The night before the race, we checked in at the group camp, picked up our shirts, then settled in to our cabins and had a potluck dinner, which is always a good time with delicious food, lots of laughs and a couple of beers thanks to a beer run by Marie.

We rose early well before dawn, got dressed and headed over to the Start/Finish area.This 25k boasts 3,500' of elevation gain, old growth forest, waterfalls and beautiful views from the summit, provided the clouds haven't moved in and obscured the views. Add in the anticipated snow and ice and we were guaranteed a good time!

Someones idea of a good time!
We said goodbye to our friends then Kerrie and I, being hikers rather than runners, took an early start to ensure that we were well into the first climb toward Little Summit before the stampeding pack caught  and passed us.  We left  the Start/Finish line and followed the well-marked course onto Cascade Creek trail. This trail climbs up gently passing the spectacular Cascade Falls and several other smaller water falls. 

We continued on passing the Mountain Lake Dam and hiked along the west shoreline of the lake, which brought us to the Mountain Lake Parking area. From here we picked up the rather difficult Mount Constitution Loop trail and immediately started climbing. Initially this trail is very steep and it is here that the pack caught up with us. I did a lot of stepping off the trail to let the runners pass by. 

Lots of Douglas Fir and Western Hemlock trees in this area of Moran State Park. I read in the park brochure that this trail was initially a pathway for the telephone lines when crank telephones were used. Staying on this trail, we ignored the Little Summit trail which veered left and continued on upward following the orange tape toward the summit of Mount Constitution at 2,409'..

Less than one mile from reaching the actual summit, we came upon a clearing that afforded us some amazing views of the San Juan Islands. Last year the fog blocked our view, so Kerrie and I took a little break, snapped some photos and truly enjoyed the views. That is the true beauty of hiking, enjoying the AMAZING scenery around us, while doing something healthy with people you enjoy hanging out with.
Amazing views!

Kerrie celebrating!

After we left this area, headed for the actual summit less than a mile away, we were finally passed by the last of the runners. It was nice to know we could just hike our hike and not have to worry about slowing anyone down.  Here the snow got deep and our pace slowed.  Finally reaching the summit race aide station after climbing up the last icy hill, we took about a ten minute break and attempted to warm up. Once we stood still, it immediately became clear just how chilly it was! The wonderful volunteers fed us soup, wrapped my shoulders with a warm blanket and generally "mothered" us until we were so cold that walking was the only thing that would warm us us.  With just 7 miles, and a lot of elevation gain, under out belt, we were almost half way done. Together we battled our way across the very icy parking lot trying desperately to stay upright and picked up the trail that headed down.

There was a good bit of descent where I could pick up some time, and then another big climb to about 2,350'. I was feeling "DONE!"  at this point. Somewhere on the descent the trail "sweepers" caught up with us and stayed on our tails for the rest of the hike. It was a little unnerving to feel like I was holding people up, but they assured us that our pace was just fine.  I did the best I could and they were fun to talk to. One of them had a little dog in an argyle print jacket who was hiking, too!
 The second half seemed to pass slowly, but once we hit the major downhill with tons of switchbacks I felt like we were in the home stretch. We came down pass some gigantic trees and eventually ended up back at Cascade Lake, near the Day Use area. There was a great CCC restroom with my name on it!   After a quick potty stop, we crossed the road and followed a trail around the lake, where we were met by Ashley about 1/2 mile from the Start/Finish line. By this time, everyone else had finished, showered and had some warm soup and a cold beer while listening to some great music! 
The Start/Finish line when Kerrie & I arrived
My second Orcas Island 25k was now complete. I cut approximately 1.5 hours off my 2011 time in spite of tons of snow and ice. It was a fun way to burn several thousand calories and see some beautiful sights.  If you are ever in the area, check out Moran State Park; there is something for everyone!
Liz & Ashley