September 2013

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Day 27-29: Seattle, WA (8/30-9/1)

While in Washington we also visited Nathan’s grandparents and his parents, who flew up from San Diego.  We met up with everyone at the Space Needle for lunch with a unique view of the city.  We celebrated Nathan (30 yrs), his dad (60 yrs) and his grandpa’s (80 yrs) birthdays this year. The ice cream dessert was in a dry ice bowl, which caught a lot of attention.



The skies were clear and the dinning area rotated several times during the lunch giving us a 360 view of the city.  After lunch we headed to the sky deck to take some photos.  We recommend the package deal of the lunch and sky deck tickets – it was well worth it.



The next day we visited the Pike’s Place Market, where we watched the famous fish throw.


We also had fish and chips at Ivar’s seafood bar, which in our opinion has the most unorganized ordering system in which you just yell out your order from the crowd and some how it all works out.  It’s not our style, but we got our food without any issue so we can’t complain too much.  We ate outside and watched kids feed the seagulls and when we say kids we are also including Nathan’s parents.



Nathan’s mom wasn’t so keen on the idea after the seagull took the french fry.

We also visited the first Starbucks, various craft booths, and the gum wall.


It is more of a gum alley than just a wall

The next morning we got up early to go salmon fishing in the Puget Sound.

Photo taken by Nathan’s Mom (family of artists)

When we got there the first impression of the boat was a little worrisome, but after a couple of hours we were anchored and casting our fishing lines over the rail.


Nathan was the only one to catch a salmon…but it was a little too small to keep.


Katharine caught the biggest fish, a rockfish, but we couldn’t keep it either.


We did catch a ton of flounder though, which the deckhand filleted and grilled with cheese while we motored back.  It was surprisingly pretty good, but then again what isn’t with cheese on top!


Although we didn’t catch any salmon it was fun spending time with Nathan’s family and listening to the endless jokes, banter, and stories.

That night, we had a nice dinner with Nathan’s grandma and got to share some photos of our epic trip so far.  It was fun to re-live the trip memories and realize all the places we’ve been so far.

It was a great visit with family and fun to see the city, but we were also eager to get back to the national parks and camping.

Epic Trip Stats:

  • Days: 29
  • Nights in a tent: 19
  • Miles driven: 3826
  • Seagulls fed: 2
  • Salmon caught: 1
  • Flounder caught: 10+

We are currently preparing to start the Teton Crest trail (4 day backpacking trip) tomorrow! Here’s a look back at the last NP we visited in Washington.

Epic Trip Days 25-26: North Cascades National Park (8/28 – 8/29)

North Cascades National Park is the most remote national park in Washington near the Canadian border and we definitely noticed that it was less crowded. We enjoyed the beautiful drive out to the park, even stopping at a roadside farm stand for fresh berries and ice cream. Once we got to the park, the weather was pretty overcast but luckily not raining too much. We stopped at the visitor center, which was perhaps the best we’ve seen so far. The exhibits were great and the rangers were particularly helpful.

After the visitor center, we drove the scenic drive through the park on Rt 20. The mountains were definitely impressive despite the cloud cover, and the glacial lakes were a beautiful teal blue-green.


By the time we made it all the way to the Washington Pass at the far eastern end of the park, it was late afternoon. But we decided we still had time for a 4.2 mile hike to Blue Lake, which the rangers said often has mountain goats in the area. For the majority of the hike we were sheltered from the rain sprinkles by the lush forest, which also created great habitat for some unique mushrooms.


As the clouds parted, we reached the lake, which was really beautiful. Katharine took photos of the scenery while Nathan tried to capture the small fish rising (rather unsuccessfully unfortunately).


By the time we finished the hike, it was almost dark so we drove directly to our campsite on the western side of the park. We arrived after dark (as usual) and set up camp and ate a quick dinner before the rain really started. We had selected the campground (Fishcreek) because it is close to the trailhead for the hike to Sahale Arm glacier, which we intended to do as a long day hike the next day. However, around 2 am it started raining very steadily and when we awoke early in the morning, it was still pouring. We decided to go back to sleep and try to wait it out, but by 7 or 8 it was still raining. We packed up camp and drove to the trailhead to see if the weather was any better there, but no luck. We watched a few couples and groups start the hike (with varying degrees of preparedness and rain gear) but the clouds were dense and the hike would have been a long one (12 miles) so we decided instead to head back to Seattle and use the day to take care of laundry, errands, and other chores.  We later found out the immense amount of rain had cause a mudslide shutting down route 20, which we had driven the day before.  This summer the highway has been closed a few times to clear mudslides.

We definitely want to return to this park sometime in the future. Something about the mountains and lakes really intrigued us, and despite the gray weather, this might have been our favorite park in Washington.


Epic Trip Stats:

  • Days: 26
  • Nights in a tent: 19
  • Night camping in the rain: 3
  • Miles driven: 3513
  • Miles hiked: 110
  • National Parks: 8
  • Mountain Goats: 0

We’re back in Jackson Hole spending sometime exploring the valley with Katharine’s family.


Epic Trip Day 22-24: Olympic National Park (8/25-8/27)


After our 3 days in Rainier, we stayed in a hotel in Hoquiam, WA near the southwestern entrance of Olympic National Park. We were glad to have a shower and chance to reorganize our gear and packs for backpacking. Olympic National Park is pretty large spanning several different climate zones so we planned to visit the Hoh rainforest as a day hike, then backpack Shi Shi Beach in the far NW corner, then head into the mountains (Grand Valley) near Hurricane Ridge.

The rainforest was mossy and incredibly lush as expected.  The moss and other air plants covered the trees and ground.


There were many rows of trees with exposed roots due to a fallen tree which then became a nurse tree providing nutrients for the next generation of trees.


After our day hike we drove to Shi Shi beach trailhead.  The trailhead is located in the Makah Reservation and there isn’t any official overnight parking provided by the park service so you have to pay a family to park in their front yard.  The hike into Shi Shi beach is a muddy 2 mile long trail weaving through a dense forest.


The hike through the mud is slow and dirty, but once you emerge from the forest and onto the sandy beach the view is well worth the hike.


We took off our boots and cooled our feet off in the surf.



We enjoyed our last unimpeded sunset over the pacific ocean.

Once the stars came out we took some awesome star/sunset photos with our tent on the beach.  It was a coordinated effort with Katharine painting the inside of the tent with a headlamp while Nathan adjusted the camera settings.

24mm, f/4, ISO 400, 30 seconds [Click to enlarge and see the stars]

The next morning we hiked a mile down the beach to Point of Arches.  It was a long walk down the beach, and we started to doubt our secluded camping location but as we approached the Point and saw how many people were camping in the area, we decided the solitude was worth the long walk.  We spent an hour exploring the rocks and tide pools.


We then packed up camp, hiked 2 miles back through the mud and then drove inland to the Grand Valley trailhead to start our next backpack.  As we opened the doors to get our packs, it was quickly apparent that we were not at the beach anymore.  It was raining, windy and in the low 40’s. We had gotten a later start from Shi Shi and the drive took longer than we expected, so it was late in the afternoon and we still had about 5 miles of hiking to reach our campsite.  It started raining harder as we finalized organizing our packs and we realized that we were not really all that prepared for backpacking in the rain (mentally or gear-wise). Given that it was 42 degrees and quite late in the day, we decided it wasn’t the right situation to try rainy backpacking for the first time, so we instead drove down the mountain to a warmer and dryer car camping site.

The next day we did our intended backpacking trip as a 10 mile day hike.  When we started the hike the weather was still miserable and the treeless ridge line left us exposed in the cold wind.


After a couple miles we felt confident about our decision to forgo the backpack.  The gray clouds hiding the Olympic Mts and the lack of marmots and other animals made the valley seem a bit desolate and unfriendly even when we reached the lakes at the bottom.


We saw hundreds of marmot holes, many in the middle of the trail, but not one marmot! We did see a couple deer and this intriguing looking frog.


As we headed back up out of the valley, it had warmed up quite a bit, even allowing us to wear t-shirts. The hike back up felt tougher than we expected, but gave us a sense of accomplishment. As we reached the top and looked down at Badger Valley, we definitely saw the potential of the area and hoped we’d have another chance to see it in better weather conditions.





Epic Trip Stats:

  • Days: 24
  • Nights in a tent: 18
  • Miles driven: 3357
  • Miles hiked: 106
  • National Parks: 7
  • Nights camping in the rain: 2


We are currently in the Chicago O’Hare airport on our way back to Jackson Hole, WY after spending the weekend here to celebrate Katharine’s friends’ wedding. We had a great time in Chicago, but we are excited to get back to the mountains!


Epic Trip Day 19-21: Mt. Rainier National Park (8/22-8/24)

We spent about a week in the Seattle/Washington area using Katharine’s cousins Tom and Amy as a home base to explore the three national parks. Our first mini trip was to Mt. Rainier, and Tom and Amy joined us for a few days of day hiking and camping in the park. After almost a month of hiking on our own, it was fun to have some new hiking buddies and people to chat with along the way.


Mt. Rainier – Sunrise Area

We started in the northern Sunrise area of the park and Tom and Amy helped us pick a really nice loop trail to do. We had somewhat cloudy weather but were lucky enough to see the mountain for a decent portion of the hike.



We were also lucky enough to avoid getting rained on despite the ‘doomsday’ clouds rolling in.



We were often distracted and slowed down along the trail by marmots and pika… Nathan and Tom both had their telephoto lenses and creeped up on the mountain rodents to capture their cute faces.  The marmots were lazy and seemed to enjoy being photographed while pika were very timid and were hard to see amongst the rocks (but easy to hear).


Hoary Marmot



After the 7 mile hike, we realized we needed gas so we headed to the nearest town to fill up and had dinner at a dive bar. While we were gassing up, we saw our first elk of the trip… after spending days in Redwoods trying to see them, we got to see elk on the lawn of a motel across the street… not exactly the most wild experience, but it’s still always fun.



The next day we drove to the Paradise area of the park, which is the most popular for good reason. We did another loop hike and saw an amazing display of wildflowers.


The meadows were filled with marmots, including some babies, eating as many flowers as they could while others napped on rocks.




As we climbed a bit higher to Panorama point, the weather got very cloudy and foggy, so we didn’t actually see Mt. Rainier at all that day. But the marmot-palooza definitely kept us entertained!

On our third day we did a hike along a stream with several very impressive waterfalls. The trail description hadn’t really emphasized them, so it was a pleasant surprise.




Just as we reached the top of the climb and came out into the open in the meadow, Mt. Rainier was peaking through the clouds with a brief spot of blue sky. Within five minutes though, a new batch of clouds rolled in and completely covered it for the rest of the afternoon.



It turned out to be a great hike with enough of a climb that we felt like we really earned our view of the mountain. When we got back to the trailhead Tom and Amy headed back to Seattle and started driving towards Olympic NP.


Mt. Rainier NP is understandably centered around and focused on the mountain, but since the weather didn’t fully cooperate, we were more impressed by the flowers and wildlife. John Muir also visited Rainier, and his most famous quotation was actually about the flowers, not the mountain itself. So we’d definitely love to return and get a chance to hike (or snowshoe) around when the mountain is backed by blue skies.

Epic Trip Stats:

  • Days: 21
  • Nights in a tent: 16
  • Miles driven: 2630
  • Miles hiked: 91
  • National Parks: 6

Day 17-18: Portland, OR (8/20-8/21)

After seeing the sunrise in Crater Lake, we started the drive back to civilization. Our first stop was in Eugene to visit a friend of Katharine’s from her study abroad semester and Fulbright year in Germany. It was great to catch up with Eleanor and meet her fiancé… sadly we completely failed to get a photo!

We continued on to Portland to see Katharine’s cousin Nancy. Nancy and Bill welcomed us into their beautiful home overlooking Portland and Mt. Hood with a delicious dinner and great conversation. They had just finished a remodel of their deck, which turned out beautifully and was a perfect place to relax in the evening.

View from the deck


That night we very gladly slept in a comfortable bed and managed to catch up on some sleep from the night before. In the morning we were again treated to a breakfast feast and then headed out for an adventure in Portland called the 4-T’s trail. The trail is actually a combination of Trail, Tram, Train, and Trolley and makes for an interesting way to explore the city. We started by hiking in the woods for a couple miles, then took a short tram ride down from the top of a hill, then took a trolley (street car) to downtown.


Once we got downtown, we checked out Powell’s books and did some people watching. Then we walked to Voodoo Donuts, a classic stop in Portland. We met up with Nancy there and got a couple crazy donuts for the road. The maple bacon was delicious and the traditional voodoo was surprisingly good despite the rather gruesome shape.

We had a great short visit in Portland, we definitely wish we had more time to explore the city and the great hiking around it.


Epic Trip Stats:

  • Days: 18
  • Nights in a tent: 14
  • Miles driven: 2380
  • Miles hiked: 73
  • Square Footage of Powell’s City of Books: 68,000+

We are currently driving from the Seattle area to Glacier National Park in Montana after over a week in Washington. It’s our first time we will be driving more than 8 hours in one day for the whole trip so far!

Day 16-17: Crater Lake National Park (8/19-8/20)

After 15 days in California, we finally crossed into Oregon! We noticed the first major difference when we had to stop to get gas… Oregon is one of the 2 states that does not allow you to pump your own gas, an attendant must do it for you (NJ is the other state). When we first pulled up Nathan realized he was at a full service pump and almost started to move the car to a different one when we kind of realized they were all full service. It was a bit awkward and clumsy the first time… we forgot to open the gas tank door, we almost forgot to tell him premium fuel for the Subaru, and we had to stay focused so as not to drive away before completing the transaction. But by the end of our time in Oregon, we kinda got used to it, and one guy cleaned our windshield better than at the car wash so that was nice.

Our first real stop in Oregon was Crater Lake. We managed to make it to Mazama campground before dark (barely) which was good because the campsites were really tightly packed and the last bit of light helped us select our tent position. We would have had a very comfortable night for sleeping, but the couple next to us had a baby that cried through the night and kept Nathan up… Ever since then we feel like several of our campgrounds have had crying babies, so we are hoping this does not turn into a pattern!

We really only had one full day to spend in Crater Lake, so we decided to drive the loop around the lake and make stops at the viewpoints, ending at Watchman Peak, a nice location for sunset.

Our first stop on the loop was Vidae Falls before we even saw the lake itself. It’s a quite impressive little waterfall right by the road, and the flowers were blooming all around.

As we wound our way up to the edge of the lake, the mountains on the other side of the road caught our eye, with a really nice layering effect in the morning light.

Finally we saw the lake and its amazingly blue water. All of our photos show the blue as it really was, not enhanced to saturate the blue color. The lake is incredibly deep (approximately 2000 feet deep, the deepest in the US) and the water is also the cleanest. Since the lake is in a collapsed volcano, the rim of the lake is elevated above the surrounding terrain and so no rivers flow into it. The only source of water is rain and snow falling directly into the lake. The depth and clarity make the water look so blue.

First view of the lake with Phantom Ship island – some say it looks like ship sailing away from the shore

From there the Rim Drive veers away from the lake and we took an offshoot to visit the Pinnacles, more remnants of volcanic activity.

We continued driving counter-clockwise around the lake stopping at view points along the way for different angles of the lake.

By afternoon we made it to Cleetwood Cove, the only access to the surface of the lake. We hiked down the steep slope (~1.1 miles, 700 ft) and walked past the boating area to a cropping of rocks that wasn’t too crowded. Some people were swimming and we were determined to do so as well even if the water was freezing. The water was definitely very cold (the deeper areas are 48 degrees year round), but the surface layer was warmed by the sun and it actually felt quite a bit warmer than the pools in Yosemite. So we each did a quick swim… although it took Katharine about 30 minutes of wading before she worked up the courage to take the plunge.

Katharine ‘enjoying’ the cold water

After we finished swimming and were mostly dry, a wind started to pick up, making it feel much colder… we were glad we swam when we did! We explored the area a little more and found a pretty high rock that people were jumping off of… people braver than us, that’s for sure. We watched an entire family do it one at a time… first the father, then three kids ranging in age from 10 to 16. We were impressed, but a little nervous that they were only barely jumping far enough to clear the rocks below.

We prepared ourselves for a slow hike back up to the top, but we actually made it back up in less than 30 minutes, which gave us plenty of time to make our way to our next stop. We had decided that we wanted to climb to Watchman Peak to get a nice view of the whole lake for sunset. The sky gave us a pretty nice show and the vantage point definitely seemed to be best, giving a sense of the shape of the lake and including Wizard’s Island.

Since we had been living in the outdoors for the last couple weeks, we knew the moon was going to be nearly full.  As for all sunrise and sunset photography sessions, we packed our warm clothes and headlamps and arrived early to get a good tripod location. Soon after we arrived at the top, others started trickling in until the overlook area was quite crowded. After the sun set, the moon quickly rose over the horizon.  The audience was captivated by the bright moon, oohing and ahhing, but they soon realized it was getting cold and dark fast.  We were glad to have our jackets and headlamps for the hike down.  On the way down we listened to a traveler from Alabama who takes a 3 week long vacation each year to visit various regions of the US.  It is always interesting how the National Parks can intrigue people (including ourselves) so much that they dedicate a decade of vacations exploring the US.

We drove to a picnic area to make a quick dinner while we waited for the sky to get dark enough for some night photos. The moon was nearly full, so we couldn’t capture the stars very well, but the moonlight gives a different feel to the lake.

By the time we got back to our campsite it was nearly midnight (and the baby was still awake). Even so, we planned to get up for sunrise the next morning. We succeeded and were the first people at the lookout point. This is proof that given the right conditions and encouragement (and promise of hot breakfast at the local restaurant), Katharine really can get up early if she puts her mind to it!

Time Lapse Photographed by Katharine

It was a beautiful sunrise and a great way to end our stay in Crater Lake. We enjoyed a great breakfast at Annie Creek Restaurant, then packed up our stuff and headed on to Eugene and Portland.


Epic Trip Stats:

  • Days: 17
  • Nights in a tent: 14
  • Miles driven: 1982
  • Miles hiked: 71
  • National Parks: 5