Posts by annmeeker:
- Elliott and I have learned to live in a smaller space, with all of our essentials. Do we need 3,000 square feet? Certainly not. Can we live in 95 square feet indefinitely? Um, no. Among other things, a somewhat larger shower would be nice, as would room for my sewing machine. And having room in the fridge for more than one chilled bottle of wine would be great, though not necessary. Elliott probably misses his computer tinkerings and all of its assorted pieces of equipment. If I were to do this full-time, I’d need two desks: one for my computer and one for my sewing machine. And yes, I like my creature comforts–though fewer of them than I had thought I needed.
- Living isolated has taught us that it’s up to us to get out and move. I can’t rely on my running buddies (though I definitely miss them) to motivate me to run. I miss running–correction, I miss having run–and I’m not sure enough of my footing to go trail running. Hiking is a good alternative, and the uphills keep me huffing and puffing. I still need to make myself go out and hike–the lure of vegging out in front of the computer is strong–but the self-discipline is good. (I think I was a sloth in a previous life. In a warm climate. With plentiful food supply.)
- It feels good to be a part of something bigger than ourselves. (This might be the royal we, as I haven’t really talked about this with Elliott.) Knowing that I can make a difference in every park visitor’s experience is motivation to keep that smile on my face, that “we’re glad you’re here” in my voice. (Though I will admit that’s not always true. There are those rare people who talk down to me as if I were a second-class peon whose only purpose is to fulfill their every park desire. See the vest? It says “volunteer,” not “walk all over me.”) Even picking up litter means that I’m making this bit of the world a little bit better.
- Getting to know a park really well–and the other park volunteers–is rewarding. When someone asks me, “What’s this trail like?” I can reply with personal knowledge and maybe make their visit a little bit rewarding too. As a day-tripper, I could appreciate the scenery from an egotistical point of view (“I like this,” “I find this beautiful,” “I saw an eagle,” etc.) but I couldn’t share a lot about the park itself. Now I can. (And yes, that’s a do-loop of an egotistical point of view as well. I think it’s impossible to escape our ego, but not impossible to let it rule us.)
- And speaking of ego, working in a not-very-well-funded state park means a lot of our focus is on making the park better, and not on ourselves, our experiences, our self-entitled worlds. Everyone here works to make the park a better place. It means some days I find myself plugging mouse holes with 2” circles of wood and a bit of glue, and other days I’m painting ceilings in the bathroom. It means combining Elliott’s trip into town with a stop at the shop to drill holes in the new “welcome, visitors” signs advertising free coffee and tea.
- Why is Mount Constitution called Constitution?
- How high is Mount Constitution?
- Why are female eagles bigger than males (in response to a question on the wall)?
As I write this, we are 11 days from leaving Orcas Island. The time has flown by, and we still have a lot to do before we leave. Primary among those items is the decision on how to dispose of the RV if we don’t sell it between now and then. (Day before yesterday, we listed it on Craigslist and posted notices on bulletin boards all over the island.)
We know we can store it here for a reasonable fee, but then what do we do? Try to sell it from afar? Come back and retrieve it? In many ways, selling it before we go makes a lot of sense because that would tie up loose ends, but even then, in my daydreams, I’m trying to find ways to come back to the island. (Family reunion? Retirement? This has been an awesome–in the best sense of the word, full of awe–experience.)
Orcas Island is a phenomenal place. The people–undoubtedly tired of the 800,000 tourists who come traipsing through here each year–have been uniformly gracious and friendly. The scenery–no matter where you look– is spectacular. The lifestyle is thoughtful and mindful, rather than the mindless rushing about of regular life. Crime is almost nonexistent. The arts flourish here. There are no chain stores (well, I did see a NAPA Auto Parts) and, compared to most of our lives, that is no drawback at all.
Stationed up here on top of the mountain, the weather is a little cooler and wetter than I’d like–but I hear it’s warmer and sunnier down at the bottom, so maybe that’s not as much of a drawback as it seems. (We’re looking at five days of cold and rain coming up–naturally, on our days off when we’d like to get things done.) I’d like to do more running–flat, road running, not this trail running nonsense that eats up my knees, both inside and outside–and I’ve seen several gravel paths running through and near town.
I feel a sense of community with this place. I don’t know how well it would stand up to day-in, day-out, year-round living, but I sense it would be abundantly pleasant. Even allowing for the “grass is always greener” effect, it’s far better than the mindless existence so many of us settle for.
But I am only one half of a couple, and it takes two to make things work. I think Elliott agrees with me on much of the above, but perhaps not enough to drop everything and move. And moving might destroy the dream. There are tough decisions to make. What I’d like to do is grab all the people I care about and move them here with me too–but that daydream is unrealistic.
Home is where the heart is, and part of my heart will always be here on the island, no matter where I’m living.
Seven Lessons I’ve learned by living in a small space (95 square feet, more or less) for two months (so far) with my husband:
There’s only one cook in the kitchen. Literally. The kitchen blocks both the door to the RV (the big door) and the door to the bathroom, so timing is important, sometmes even imperative. If I need to continuously stir something, communication is important. “Little door, coming through” is a cry you don’t need to hear while your hands are busy in the kitchen, the phone is crocked under your ear, and your nose has started to drip.
A comfortable bed is essential. Ours is a little too hard for me, just right for Elliott, but I’m growing accustomed to it. What’s harder is that I’m used to a king size bed, and I sprawl. Right now, I’m too leery of getting comfortable because if I shove Elliott too far, well, there’s a five-foot drop on the other side of the bed. Despite his snoring in my ear (earplugs don’t seem to work as well at a six-inch range), I really don’t want him to fall out of bed. Till he starts snoring, anyway.
Warmth is also necessary. Maybe someday I’ll get used to cold, but in the meantime, I–the nonmechanical one–have had to learn how to turn on the propane gas, the gas heater, the water heater, and the oven. And they all operate differently. I’m still scared of the water heater, but the others I’ve mastered. I suppose it’s an important skill, should I ever be deserted in the cold isolation of a rural area in an RV I have no intention of driving all by myself. Also, we’ve used up our first tank of propane and will need to get more, which entails driving down hairpin curves on a narrow mountain road because the delivery trucks don’t come this far. I would suck at boondocking.
The world does not end if I don’t shower every day or if I wear the same clothes (more or less) three days running. Unless I go running, in which case (men sweat, women glow), I’m lighting up a five-square-mile area at high noon. But trail running isn’t happening here (not with scraped knees and bruised ribs from my last attempt), so the world is safe from my armpits for a few days more.
Headphones are essential. I like to read–okay, I love to read–but reading while listening to the latest sample of Audible’s Daily Deal at high volume is not conducive to comprehension. Hence, earbuds, headphones, or some other way of muting the noises coming from Elliott’s devices. I’m sure he doesn’t want to listen to my Barry Manilow anymore either.
Stir crazy is directly related to sunshine, and television doesn’t help. We’ll ignore the fact that there is not much on television worth watching (I made Elliott watch Shirley Temple’s Heidi yesterday) and not everything on the Internet is worth perusing, and jump right into the fact that staring at each other over our respective computers after many hours does not lead to endearing looks of everlasting love. More like, “It’s raining and cold out there. I’m bored,” sounding much like small children in need of entertainment. I used to tell my kids, “I’m not here to be your entertainment system. Boredom comes from within.” The words have come back to haunt me.
I don’t need whatI thought I did. I need fewer t-shirts but maybe more sweatshirts, given the recent cold weather. I miss my sewing machine and I miss kitchen storage, but beyond that, pffffft. But what I haven’t spent on kitchen supplies, I’ve probably spent on kindle books. I certainly don’t miss cleaning a big house, my garden (that’s a surprise, really), or mowing the lawn. You win some, you lose some.
We won this one. We’re comfortable with each other–and each other’s foibles. You can’t hide much in 95 square feet.
Would I be a volunteer host again? You betcha, and for a whole lot of reasons:
I’m thinking this has opened up a whole new world for us, one that I hope we’ll repeat. I’m not sure I’m ready to give up the sticks-and-bricks home that we’ve built–not yet, anyway–but it has definitely expanded our world.
Length: 5.75 miles. Duration: 2-1/2 hours. Steep downhill, gradual uphill.
While Elliott and fellow volunteer Darlene were off consuming oysters yesterday (fresh, briny little buggers that he reports were delicious), I set off on a hike that was partly already-traversed territory (Summit to Twin Lakes and Cold Springs) and partly new (North Arch area).
Despite being on a 57-square-mile island, the only long-range views of this loop were at the end of the hike. The ripples and currents in the water called for yet one more photo of an ever-changing landscape. These are the views that make you feel like a tiny speck of dust in a giant windstorm, a single mindless drop in an ocean of the same.
The rest of the hike was what I had expected when we decided to head to the Northwest: old trees, mossy landscapes, narrow paths. These views are the more close-in ones, the ones where you are just yet one more example of a
vast landscape of beings and plants. As my hikes get further out from the tourist centers (the lakes, the tower), I encounter fewer people and more mysteries.
Mysteries like the circle of stones with a stone cross bisecting the
circle. Who put these rocks here? Why? When? And mysteries of the two burned trees about ten feet apart–but nothing else had burned near them. [A digression: Some native pine trees require burning to propagate. Unfortunately, controlled burns are discouraged here, for various reasons: There are old growth stands it would be a shame to lose. Some of the second-growth trees are some 150-200 feet tall, and fire would spread uphill rapidly. Fire breaks would be near impossible to create. Rather than even attempt a controlled burn, apparently the state legislature at some time in the past redefined “old growth” to include younger trees, thereby making it politically (environmentally, economically, legally) difficult to get public support for such an attempt. I wonder if it would be possible to select a few trees, cut them off at some lower defined height, station a dozen or so people with fire extinguishers around, and burn the stumps, giving Mother Nature its necessary burn but preserving the trees around them. Maybe? Who knows–not me.]
Part of this hike borders a 23-acre square “hole” in the middle of Moran State Park that is the site of a private antenna farm visible for miles around the area, from Vancouver in the north to the Olympic range in the south (including Mount Rainier). Signs on the trail warn you when you are leaving the park, discouraging unwanted visitors. Deer, however, have no compunction about disregarding the signs, and I spotted one drinking from a pond that was probably just inside the restricted area.
One of the reasons for these hikes is to stay in running shape. I’m not sure it’s working–I’m averaging about 30-minute miles, but I am getting aerobic workouts. Guess I’ll just have to wait and see how I do when I get back to the flatlands.
And a humorous addendum for all of you patient readers who have made it this far:
If I fart in the wilderness, does it make a sound?
Assuredly, yes. Mine must be like bull moose mating calls or something. I stop and listen to birdsong, squirrel noises, and leaves rustling, assuring myself I’m the only one there. But inevitably, as soon as I let loose, someone appears. Yesterday it was a trail runner coming from the switchback path above me. The hike before that, it was at a trail intersection I hadn’t known was there until I reached it–and saw the group of hikers silently parading by not fifteen feet from where I was–silently being the operative word, and which I was definitely not. Deadly is still under debate.
This is extremely embarrassing. I know part of it is due to a healthy (as in lots of beans and rice) diet, some is lactose intolerance, some is age, and some is, well, a lack of muscle control. Being new to this extravagant abundance of gas means that I’ve never figured out how to time such things or how to postpone them. They just happen.
But there is a plus side: If ever I fall off a cliff while hiking in Moran State Park, one toot and someone will arrive to summon the EMTs.
Three days a week–Tuesdays, Saturdays, and Sundays–it is my responsibility to pick up litter in the day use area down by Cascade Lake. This is a recent addition to my duties because two of the volunteer hosts had to leave for medical reasons, and so the remaining volunteers have divvied up all their tasks. Since I have to start my day at the gift shop on Tuesdays and at the learning center on Saturdays and Sundays at 11 a.m., that means I have to get down to Cascade Lake and back up here before that time–and it’s 4.3 or so miles each way, and normally takes four hours just to hike.
I could easily drive to the bottom–but we’re in a borrowed car and are trying not to kill its transmission by going up and down the steep road more often than once a week or so. So I’ve started hitching a ride with the ranger or park aide opening up here at 6:30 a.m., do my litter-picker-upper job, and hike back uphill via the Cold Springs Trail.
Yesterday, Elliott went with me–and since I didn’t have to work in the gift shop, we had all day to hike. We stopped on the way down at a couple of abandoned mine shafts, where someone had gruesomely placed a rabbit skull (Deer? Human?) on a stick at the entrance. Elliott bravely followed the shaft until it split in three directions and then opted to return to me, waiting at the entrance and ready to flee at any moment for help, life, or backup (depending on what he found). Near the bottom we also found what has to be one of the largest trees in the park, though the majority of them are to be found near Mount Pickett–a hike for a different day.
It takes about an hour to pick up litter at the beach, the parking lots, and the picnic areas. Although most people are considerate and dispose of their trash, there are sometimes those who simply leave their tables littered with used cups, paper plates, paper ice cream dishes, the remains of a dozen or so crabs, and so forth. Grrrr! Cigarette butts abound in the parking lot, presumably where someone waited for errant family members to arrive. The worst litter is the fruit sticker, since it gloms itself on to pavement, tables, grass, etc. Many people do stop me and thank me, and it does feel good to leave the area looking much better, so I guess I won’t complain too much about the few.
After dumping the litter in trash cans, we took the Cascade Loop trail to Cascade Falls, where there are actually four waterfalls: Rustic, Cavern, Cascade, and Hidden Falls, all found within about a half-mile of the trail. Cascade Falls is the tallest, at over 40 feet, and the highest in the San Juan Islands. During the course of our hike to Mountain Lake, the path followed the stream–and we found several other, unnamed but equally enchanting, waterfalls. We also found trail riders and a banana slug.
At that point, nearly nine miles into our hike, we called it quits and hitched a ride to the top with Gary, one of the park employees. Facing the last five miles–most of them a steep incline–on a by-now empty stomach was more than we could bear. Still, we’re well on our way to covering all 38 miles of hiking trails in Moran State Park.
Length: 9.17 miles. Time: 4 hours plus the time it takes to devour one dish of sorbet
Elliott and I completed the descent along Moran State Park’s Little Summit Trail from Mount Constitution to Cold Springs a couple of days ago, and it was by far the easiest (so far) of our hikes. It’s a mile and a half from the summit to the Cold Springs picnic area, where explorers can find a spring next to an old well.
There’s not much to see at Cold Springs–well, other than, you know, your typical enchanted green forest, mossy hillsides, and Mother Nature at her finest. There’s also a bat project there that Elliott’s been tangentially involved with. The area comes alive once people leave (or stop talking), with birds be-bopping around, squirrels chittering, and presumably bats doing their sonar thing.
The next hike, a day or so later, I followed that same path but continued on downhill past Cold Springs, where the trail begins a
steep descent switchbacking toward Cascade Lake. Here is strong evidence of the windstorm that struck Moran State Park in 1972. Some of the upraised root structures look like nightmarish monsters. Unfortunately, since then, many of the second-growth Douglas fir trees have become infected with laminated root rot—perhaps as many as one in four trees, the rangers estimate. Part of that is also due to the stress the trees are under from the drought, as evidenced by the cascade of dry pine needles that descend on my head in a gentle breeze. A major cleanup effort in 2011 eliminated the worst cases of the root rot, but it is still prevalent. Thousands of western red cedar and
lodgepole pine—native trees that are not as susceptible to root rot—have been started and will be transplanted to the areas hardest hit by the fungus.
One of the plants I was hoping to find was the phosphorescent fungus I remember from Girl Scout camp days. I found several fungi that looked similar, but since it was daylight I couldn’t quite tell if they were what I was looking for. Apparently, nearby Shaw Island is alive with bioluminescent critters, as shown in this (slightly reimaged) amazing photograph by Floris von Breugel.
A pileated woodpecker showed no concern as I traipsed along the path, nor did a squirrel happily munching a pinecone. I didn’t see any
deer, though their tracks were all around. I met a few hardy souls hiking up as I went down, and ran into them again as I was huffing and puffing uphill and they were sprinting down. But my plans to do this in the mornings in order to pick up litter at the lake before going on duty at 11 at the top have been moved to the category of “Dream on,” because that would entail hiking down in the dark, something not for my cautious feet.
One of my jobs as a volunteer host is to fill in at the Summit Gift Shop, high atop Mt. Constitution and across the dead-end loop from the Summit Learning Center where Elliott and I spend our weekends. The gift shop is open daily, 11–4, and is the primary way the Friends of Moran State Park (FOM) earn funds, 100% of which go to helping the park and its volunteers.
The gift shop is two-room cabin located in an old 8’ x 10’ forestry shed built–like so many of the structures in the park–by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s. FOM sells a variety of souvenirs as well as chips, candy bars, and kettle corn from the building. Unlike most touristy sorts of venues that sell cheap kitsch, most of FOM’s are exclusive to the area and appropriate to a state park.
One of the best things about working in the gift shop is that I get to interact with the public–which, after a couple of days of being hermit-like in our RV and all of our nights of solitude, is a welcome relief. I like knowing where people are from, why they are here, and so forth. Perhaps that’s just another way of being snoopy, but chatting with visitors makes the day go by quickly.
The weather has been exceptionally warm (I wouldn’t go so far as to say hot, though some of the locals do) and dry, despite the little bit of drizzle we had a few days ago, and that means that we’ve had a larger number of visitors. Yesterday’s view of Mt. Baker was obscured by haze and rumors of a forest fire, but that didn’t seem to stop visitors from driving, biking, and hiking to the top.
The bicyclists are amazing, riding all the way to the top of a 4.7-mile incline from sea level to 2400 feet. Most drivers know to share the narrow two-lane road with bicyclists and are aware that a slower bicycle might be lurking around the next hairpin switchback, though we’ve seen a few drivers (and a few younger bicyclists) who seem oblivious to the dangers. Every once in a while a bicyclist takes a spill, usually while going downhill at excessive speeds (in my book, defined as over 12 mph, but I’m a chicken when it comes to high speeds on a two-wheeled vehicle).
Hikers are easily identified by footwear and sweat. Later today I plan on doing the hike to the bottom and back up again (the opposite of most hikers), so more details on that later.* Particularly impressive are the families–sometimes with kids as young as 8 or 10–who arrive at the summit still full of energy, racing each other to the top of the tower. Trail runners are particularly remarkable, as the loose stones, high roots, and fallen trees have to be taken into account. Some of them are training for the triathlon to be held here on Labor Day Weekend–and there will definitely be more about that later too.
* I hiked Mt. Constitution to Cascade Lake, bought a sorbet, and climbed back to the top by way of the Cold Springs trail–four hours, sore muscles, and a hole in my dirty, stinky socks…but I’m glad I did it.
The Summit Learning Center (SLC) is open from 11 to 4 Friday through Monday, other days as can be arranged. Wednesday this week was cold and drizzly–in the low 50s at the top–yet dozens of bicyclists and far more hikers than I imagined had venture out in the weather and arrived at the top, cold, wet, and euphoric. At 10:45, faced with the decision to sit in a cramped RV all day or open the learning center where coffee and heat are found, I decided to open up and put the bikers and hikers out of their smug misery.
The SLC’s budget may never be the same. Coffee, hot chocolate, and tea were in (pun intended) hot demand, and directions to the “shortest way back to…” hikes were requested. Thankfully, I’d hiked both trails leading to/from the SLC, so the questions were easily answered. The supply of cups and hot chocolate were not so easily extended. Still, at least so far in our one week of hosting, that day was fairly typical.
Darlene is the usual Friday and Moday interpretive host, and she is the creative person behind most of the signs and artwork around the center. She, along with Doug (whom we replaced as on-site “interpretive host”), are also the bat specialists, and Doug does all-things-electronic. There used to be a tank of Kokanee fry to educate visitors about the fish hatchery at the base of the mountain as well as a display of live newts, but both have been discontinued as the tiny environments were deemed stressful to the temporary residents. The plan is to create a “bat cam” that will show bats in their natural habitat, without disturbing them (see Elliott’s post on bats (and if I did this right, that should link to his excellent article).
Most of the five hours of hosting duties is spent answering questions, such as:
Because Robert Moran, the man who donated the land for the state park, named it after the USS Constitution. He made his fortune as a shipbuilder.
Depending on which geologic survey you ask, anywhere between 2398 and 2409 feet. The latest and probably most accurate is the 2398 figure.
Nobody knows for sure, but consensus seems to be evolving around the fact that females spend more time on the nest than males after the chicks are born, and baby eagles don’t yet have the ability to regulate their temperature, so mama eagle hovers and provides the warmth they need for the first two weeks or so.
Thankfully, there’s a computer at the center, so if something else comes up I can Google it, such as “What are the caves on the trail and where do they lead? Do they have bears here?” (Mine shafts and no, respectively.)
There’s also a coloring and treasure hunt station. The SLC has a sheet of images that kids are supposed to find and then circle with a crayon (a bird, a moth, grass, etc.). When completed (even partially), the child gets a prize. The best thing for kids is a “Journey Pack,” which includes binoculars, a magnifying glass, several books, and plant identification charts, and they can check out the pack, to be returned to the park office at the base a day or so later.
There’s also a 24-hour webcam showing the weather at the tower, updating every couple of minutes (currently cloudy, cold, and drizzly).
The SLC is operated by Friend of Moran State Park, a nonprofit volunteer organization. They also operate the gift shop across the way, and are the ones who arranged for us to be hosts here. All of their funds go to making Moran State Park a rewarding, enchanting, and educational resource for visitors.
This is an almost 7-mile loop at Moran State Park–though my GPS registered it at 11 miles. I’m learning not to trust my GPS here. It takes about 3 hours to complete, and is rated “difficult” because it has a 1490 foot elevation loss/gain. If you start at the top, the only “unmarked” portion is at Mountain Lake–it *is* marked, but only if you look back over your shoulder after you pass the picnic area.
One of the most interesting parts of this hike is the changing ecosystem. Near the summit, much of the ground is rocky, with brush and small trees emerging from the bedrock–as if you were above the tree line, though that isn’t really the case, as some of the trees at the summit are taller than the tower itself now. On the Twin Lakes trail, trees are old, huge, and mossy, like childhood images of an enchanted forest, sunlight streaming down in sparkling rays to lead you away from the haunted witch’s house. Further down the trail, trees are younger and taller, and trails are smoother. The sky is more visible, and the view opens up to the snow on Mount Baker, over 10,000 feet high and more than 100 miles away; from the trail, you can imagine you’re looking down on it. Then after Mountain Lake, the uphill trail becomes extremely steep and rocky, the remnants of an old pathway for phone lines back when crank phones were still used.
I didn’t see any black-tailed deer on my hike (this photo came from the day before, without any telescopic enlargement), but that’s probably due more to the time of day than anything else, as they are prevalent all over the island, and blasé about humans. “Got food?” they seem to ask, though we’ve been warned not to feed them because they can be unpredictable. One night around 10 p.m. we were startled by the sound of someone shuffling through the gravel right next to the RV. It turned out to be a curious deer in search of food or company.
The trail from Twin Lakes to Mountain Lake was wide, flat, and suitable for trail running in most places. (I tried running for a short distance, but I’m too unsure of my footing. Each rock and root became a major obstacle to my peace of mind.) The path narrowed somewhat when getting to the lake, but from a distance I could hear the sounds of swimmers, boaters, and campers. The loudest shrieks came from kids on a rope swing halfway down the east side of the lake. A small boat ramp showed where kayaks and inflatables put in, and a boat of fisherpeople was loading just as I arrived. The Department of Fish and Wildlife stocks trout in the lake, and both trout and Kokanee salmon are found in Cascade Lake.
And then the hike became a serious uphill trudge. Up till now, it was all pretty much downhill–all 1500 feet of it. The next mile was so steep I found myself stopping often to catch my breath, with all sorts of “what ifs” going through my head. There is no cell phone serivce here, so–What if I fell down a ravine? What if I twisted my ankle? What if a tree fell on me? None of these was likely, so I shoved the thoughts out of my mind and concentrated on the trees and plants around me. The path parallels the road for a while, then branches off toward Little Summit, only a short three-tenths of a mile away. At that point, it might have been 300 miles, as I was too focused on getting back to the top in time to check in at the Summit Learning Center. I’ve been told the views to the west at Little Summit are unlike those at the top, which are to the east. Now, a couple of days later, I’m wishing I’d taken the time to go, but I guess that’ll be a tale for another day.
Hiking the Summit to Twin Lakes
One of the major benefits of living at Moran State Park is the abundance of hiking trails–almost 40 miles of trails in the 5252-acre state park. Some of the trails are only open to hikers, while others allow horses and still others permit mountain bikes in the wintertime. Because we’re based at the tower on top of Mount Constitution, the highest point in the San Juan Islands, all trails lead downhill.
And it’s a heck of a downhill. The shortest trail–that to Twin Lakes–is probably also the steepest. It descends 1289 feet to a pair of lakes a mile and a half away. The brochure describes it as “easy to difficult,” with the easy part being around the lakes themselves. It’s a challenging hike on the way back up.
The trails are well maintained, though deadfalls over the summer mean one has to step over a few of them. Come September, the local mountain biking group will return to clear the paths for winter biking, and then rangers will clear them again in the spring.
Most of the trees–lodgepole pine, Western red cedar, Western hemlock, and Douglas fir–are what I would call “old growth,” though compared to some of California’s sequoias they are probably just mere saplings. Many of them stand more than 100 feet tall, but there is little of the underbrush found in Eastern forests.
Elliott and I saw and heard a raven (though for a brief time I was convinced it was a bald eagle). An interesting fact from the Summit Learning Center: a circling group of flying vultures is called a kettle, because it resembles the bubbles in a kettle of boiling water. Otherwise, our only wildlife viewing was a curious chipmunk.
The trail down to Twin Lakes is variable. Some of the path is filled with loose rock and fairly narrow, while other sections are wider and easy for trail running (at least for this novice). There are only a couple of times where Mt. Baker can be seen. Still, the feeling of being “one with the wilderness” is everpresent.
The hike around the lake is through rocky trails, and hikers venture onto a part of the local YMCA’s Camp Orlika, which shares a border with the lakes. Kids were swimming in the lake, which we were later told was full of leeches. We took our first selfie here.
And then we started back up. I had to stop at nearly every switchback to catch my breath. As Elliott said, this is like going to the top of the Empire State Building on a handicapped ramp. We finished the hike in 2-1/4 hours (including going around the lake, stopping for photos, and so forth), and felt renewed, refreshed, and out of breath.