Monday, August 15, 2016

Trail Report: Melakwa Lake

Round trip distance: 8.5 miles
Highest point: 4,600 feet
Elevation gain: 2,500 feet
Pass: Northwest Forest Pass

WTA page:

I had never heard of Melakwa Lake until the week that I hiked to it. I was looking for nearby hikes to do that weren't too long, and I discovered this one on the WTA site.

This hike was a lot of fun, had a variety of scenery, and had a TON of wildflowers. I joked that the alternate name for this hike should be "The Flower Tour". It was also on this hike that I realized how awesome it was to be walking completely alone in a valley, surrounded by mountains on either side. As I was doing this, I knew that this was something I wanted to do for the rest of my life, and that I feel happiest when I'm out in the wilderness alone. Some people may not like walking in a remote area where they're the only one around, but I love it.

I did encounter a few other hikers along the way, but the hike definitely was not crowded. I hiked to the lake after work, so I'm not sure how different it is on the weekend. The trail head is off exit 47 and shares with the Denny Creek hike. For the first mile, the trail is the same for both hikes. After crossing Denny Creek, the rest of the trail leads to Melakwa Lake.

Waterfall seen from the trail

About half a mile into the hike, I passed under I-90. Although this is man-made and not something that most people would appreciate having in nature, I thought it was cool because the section I was walking under is my favorite section of I-90 to drive on. The road is very high above the ground and winds its way through the surrounding mountains.

I-90 from below

After crossing Denny Creek, I hiked though a bit more forest and then came to a stream and the beginning of a valley. The majority of the rest of the hike passed through this valley, going across talus fields and between brush filled with wildflowers. The talus fields were fun, and I enjoyed seeing all of the different wildflowers on display. This hike has more varieties of wildflowers than any other hike I've been on.

This was my favorite flower!

Second favorite - these were so vibrant in person.

Once I reached the end of the valley, the trail climbed through some forest and crested over a ridge. I figured the lake would be showing up soon. Eventually I rounded a corner and there it was! It was big enough that I couldn't get the whole thing in one picture (if I was at a higher vantage point it would be possible). To get over to the open part of the shore, I had to cross a log jam.

There were plenty of places to camp, and I saw a tent on the other side of the lake. Maybe one day I will return and camp overnight at the lake!

I would say this hike was moderate in terms of difficulty. There were some steeper inclines at times, but it was mostly the length that wore me out. I would definitely do this one again, as the journey was just as much fun and as pretty as the destination!

Monday, August 08, 2016

Trail Report: Snow Lake

Round trip distance: 7.2 miles
Highest point: 4,400 feet
Elevation gain: 1,800 feet
Pass: Northwest Forest Pass

WTA page;

The trail head for Snow Lake leaves from the parking lot at Alpental at the Summit. I've been in this area several times to hike Snoqualmie Mountain (whose trail head is about 30 feet from the Snow Lake trail head). On days when there are roughly 100 cars in the parking lot, most of them are there for Snow Lake. I think this is what caused me to not be interested in this hike, since I don't like crowded hikes. It also took me a while to start doing lake hikes, as I prefer peaks.

Now that I'm able to hike after work, I decided it would be a good time to hike to Snow Lake, rather than attempting it on the weekend with everyone else. This decision paid off, because I only saw about 35 other hikers. (On the weekend, you can apparently see around a hundred other hikers and at times have to wait to get through certain points or let other hikers pass).  I'm glad that I finally did this hike - Snow Lake is gorgeous!

The gorgeous Snow Lake

One of the reasons this hike is popular is because it isn't very long and the trail is only moderately difficult. I consider it to be on the easy side, but I've been hiking for a while. The trail doesn't gain a ton of elevation, but it is one of the rockiest trails I've ever been on! Several sections of the trail consist of rocks the size of a shoe or smaller. I felt like it would be easy to twist an ankle or step wrong, since you're literally walking on rocks for these sections. It's fun, but requires more care than when hiking on an even dirt path.

View from the trail

View into the valley where the trail begins

After walking on all of those rocks, Snow Lake is a welcome sight. It was more beautiful than I was expecting! From a distance, the water looked like glass.

Such smooth water from a distance

When I got down closer to the shore, I could see more ripples and small waves in the water. Some people were fishing, some were swimming, and some were choosing a spot to camp overnight. There were a few mosquitoes and I did get bit, so I recommend bug spray.

I'm happy that I finally hiked to Snow Lake instead of putting it off for another year (or years). If you don't mind crowds, going on the weekend will be fine, but if you prefer a less crowded hike, go on a weekday.

Tuesday, August 02, 2016

Trail Report: St. Mark's Summit (Canada)

Canada part two!

The second part of my trip to Vancouver was a hike up to St. Mark's Summit on the Howe Sound Crest Trail.

Round trip distance: 6.8 miles (11 km)
Highest point: 4,494 feet (1,370 meters)
Elevation gain: 1,509 feet (460 meters)
Pass: None - free parking at Cypress Mountain

Hike info page:

The hike left from the Cypress Mountain ski area in Cypress Provincial Park. It was easy to get to the ski area and there was plenty of parking. Several trails left from the corner of one of the parking lots. This is also the starting point for the Howe Sound Crest Trail, which spans over 18 miles (30 km). 

The beginning of the trail has a well maintained path, part of which is on a gravel road. It was a foggy morning and clouds were rolling into the forest. It made for some really neat pictures. I've always wanted to hike in the fog, and this was my first time being able to do so!

Giant along the trail

Root series! This is a good example of what I encountered along the trail. Click to make larger.

Eventually the trail began to gain elevation quickly. The path became rockier with more roots, and also, more mud. I think this is the muddiest trail I have ever been on. They were also doing maintenance on the trail, so at one point I had to pass by two workers operating heavy machinery. I can't imagine how long it took them to get that up the trail! 

Simply stunning. Probably one of my favorite pictures I've ever taken in a forest.

As I got closer to the top, there was more mud and standing water in places. The bugs were a bit annoying and I felt like I was constantly swatting them away. It was a little better at the top. I knew I was there when I saw a post designating the summit and the elevation. I saw people standing on an outcropping, so I found a path that led in that direction and joined them.

Panorama - click to make larger!

In the clouds

This is where there would be a view of Howe Sound on a clear day, but there were too many clouds to see much. At one point, the clouds did shift a little and I could see a bit of the sound.

I can see a bit of the water.

One of the most interesting things at the top was the animals. The chipmunks were quite familiar with humans and not at all afraid of us, and they would run around begging for food. They would not hesitate to climb up your leg or try to pull food out of your hands. One girl was having fun feeding them.

There were also a few birds looking for food as well, and they would land on people's outstretched arms. After a few people left, a rather large black bird showed up and began hopping from one rock to another. 

I'd like to come back here on a clear day so that I can get a good view of the sound. The trail was nice and there is the option to continue along it to other points of interest. 

On the way back down from Cypress Mountain, I was able to pull off at a viewpoint and get a couple pictures of Vancouver, since the sun had come out by then. 

Panorama - click to make larger!

Trip Report: Capilano Suspension Bridge Park (Canada)

Park website:

Ever since I heard of the Capilano suspension bridge in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, I wanted to visit. The only suspension bridge I had been on was in Tallulah Gorge State Park in Georgia. The Capilano Suspension Bridge Park is located along the Capilano River and has a cliff walk and 7 suspended footbridges throughout the forest.

While reading reviews for the park, many people loved it, but several also said it was a pricey tourist attraction and not worth the cost. Tips given by the reviewers said to go during the week or go early on the weekend, since the park can get very crowded with lines to get on the bridge and the cliff walk.

I planned a trip to Vancouver for my first weekend back in Seattle. I took Friday off of work so that I could visit the park on a weekday. My plan was to get to the park as soon as it opened at 8:30am, and then go hiking afterwards. I stayed in a hotel in Ferndale, Washington (near the US-Canada border) the night before so that I wouldn't have to wake up super early to drive to Vancouver from Seattle.

I arrived at the park shortly after 8:30am. There were already a few visitors near the entrance and just inside the park. Parking was easy and cost $5. Tickets for the park are $40, but it showed up as a few dollars less on my credit card statement due to the exchange rate.

The first thing I did was go onto the suspension bridge. It led from the park entrance over to the rest of the forest where the suspended footbridges are located. From the bridge, I could see the river below and the surrounding forest. At first, there were 10 or 12 other people on the bridge. Whenever someone walked, the bridge shook and swayed, so it was difficult to hold a camera steady to take pictures. Eventually, everyone else cleared off the bridge and I was able to get a few shots of the empty bridge.

Panorama - click to make larger!

Looking back to one end of the suspension bridge from another

After leaving the bridge, I headed into the forest part of the park. This is where the Treetop Adventure (the seven suspended footbridges) is located. I walked around the paths on the ground first, looking at all the trees and plants. It was a beautiful area and is representative of the general appearance of the Pacific Northwest. Once I walked around all the ground paths, I went up into the Treetop Adventure, which was fun and provided a different view of the park.

View of the suspension bridge from the forest

View from the Treetop Adventure

I then headed back down and crossed the suspension bridge back to the rest of the park. Other than gift shops and food, the only thing left was the Cliffwalk. This was fun to walk on as well, and I lucked out again because no one else was on it while I was there. After completing the Cliffwalk, the path led back to the park entrance area where the food and gift shops were. Along the way, there were interactive plaques with facts about water and trees. I learned quite a few new things. 


View from the Cliffwalk

I did not know this!

Would I recommend the park? I had a good time here and was glad that I visited and could cross it off my list, but since I live in the Pacific Northwest and see this same scenery all the time, it maybe wasn't worth the cost. If someone has never been in the Pacific Northwest before and isn't used to this type of scenery, I think this park would be a great choice. Same for anyone who has never been on a suspension bridge or on pathways up in the trees. It definitely is a tourist spot, so if you do go to the park, go during the week and get there as soon as it opens. I should also say that if you're afraid of heights, this is probably not the park for you!