Category Archives: Travel

Ingalls Lake Larches

Long distance bites, but it means that every time I get to see Andrea it’s like a mini vacation. Fortunately, the timing of her September visit couldn’t have been better since it corresponded to the “turning” of the larches – Washington’s deciduous conifer – into their characteristic bright yellow in the autumn. But first, some photos from a quick day trip to Whidbey Island, including Ebey’s Landing and Fort Casey:

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Right then, onto the beautiful scenery:

Ingalls Lake Larches

This hike starts from the trailhead at the end of the Teanaway Road, accessed through Cle Elum on the east slopes of the Cascades. This is one of my absolute favorite areas (see this trip in the early spring on skis), but I haven’t yet been up in the autumn to see the larches. The trail is pretty straightforward with some moderate elevation gain and there are plenty of trail guides out there, so I won’t go into much detail.

The trail ascends to Ingalls Pass by traversing along some steep hills but the trail has good tread (sketchy in snowy conditions sometimes though). There are good views of Esmeralda Peak from here but no larches yet.

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Esmeralda Peak before reaching Ingalls Pass

Once we reached Ingalls Pass, the larches were ablaze on the other side of the ridge on the cooler, north facing slopes.

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First glimpse of larches

The grove of larches extends all the way to the slopes of the Ingalls Peaks. We ambled through this section taking lots of photos. They don’t really capture the “Dr. Seuss” effect of the oddly shaped trees in the grove.

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Love the autumn sky


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As we neared Lake Ingalls, the weather started to move in a little bit and the light didn’t capture the color of the trees as well. They definitely contrast better against blue sky.

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Mt. Stuart reflecting pool

However, the low hanging clouds interacted with the terrain in interesting ways. I’m pretty happy with this next shot for some reason.

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Weather coming in over the Stuart range – from the shores of Lake Ingalls

It started to drizzle on us at the lake. We ate our lunch, called it a day, and headed back for the car.

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Clouds rolling in

 

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Lake District National Park

After one full day on the Isle of Man, we departed Douglas via the ferry to Heysham on the mainland. We used the 3 hour ferry ride to relax in the lounge area, since there wasn’t a ton to see in the empty Irish Sea – except for a huge wind farm.

Upon landing in Heysham, we attempted to catch a bus to Windermere. Unfortunately, the money we had gathered in change on the Isle of Man was Manx money, not widely accepted on the mainland. But of course they will take Sterling on the island… traveler beware! We were able to scrape together enough to get to Lancaster nearby. It seems like a town worth visiting, based on our brief glance as we sat down to lunch prior to catching a train the rest of the way to the Lake District.

The Lake District has lakes, it is true, but also England’s largest mountains. Windermere, the entry point to the central Lakes, is a small town with a resort feel. There are a variety of outdoor shops, our clue that this is a walker’s paradise. “Walking”, the British term for hiking, is how the locals connect with the “fells” (hills/peaks).

After our arrival we walked a short distance from the train station to a viewpoint called Orrest Head. Most of the trails in the National Park are actually on privately owned sheep rangeland, and a variety of creatively engineered self-closing gates keep the sheep where they’re supposed to stay.

Lake Windermere from Orrest Head

Continue reading Lake District National Park

Isle of Man

After 4 days over Easter weekend in London, Andrea and I hopped on a flight to the Isle of Man for the first of our two side trips. I honestly hadn’t done much background research on the island before my visit, so here’s what I figured out:

The Isle of Man is a “crown dependency” of the UK although it is not officially part of the United Kingdom. With the oldest continuous parliament in the world, IoM has a historic independent streak. The Manx language can still be found in pockets on the island. Now, the island is best known as a tax shelter for offshore financial businesses as well as the death-defying Isle of Man “TT” motorcycle races. As the locals viewed it “only 1 person died last year, we were pretty happy.”

Getting to the island turned into a huge ordeal. We flew out of London Stansted for a projected flight of just over an hour. We ended up circling over the island, waiting for a sea fog to clear from the runway. It never did before we ran out of fuel, so we diverted to Birmingham airport. Naturally, the airline’s course of action was to stick us on a bus back to London. We were unsatisfied with that answer, so we switched our flight to Manchester, got a ride with a friendly fellow passenger, and got to check out two additional British cities before our successful flight that night.

Manchester cathedral

Downtown “observation wheel”

The next morning brought a perfectly clear day. We walked along the promenade and checked out the little shopping area in Douglas, the largest town on the island. Andrea decided to brave the traditional Manx breakfast: smoked fish called Kippers. With so many little bones, eating it resembled doing surgery but she said it was tasty. Continue reading Isle of Man

Whistler/Blackcomb

Sick of the awful snow conditions in the WA Cascades, a group of my friends took a long weekend trip up to Whistler, BC. After loading up on our legal allotment of beverages on the US side of the border, we crossed into Canada and fought Vancouver traffic until we rolled into the ski town.

I bought a three day “Edge card” which is a discount for Canadians and WA residents. It ended up being a pretty good value considering the variety of terrain and quantity of high speed lifts.

Whistler/Blackcomb is a huge complex consisting of two large peaks, each with 5,000’+ feet of vertical rise from the base. In terms of acreage, Whistler is the largest in North America. Breckenridge, which I skied and thought was pretty huge, looks tiny by comparison. The highlights of the resort for me were the variety and quantity of off-piste terrain, including giant bowls, chutes, and steeps; the Peak-2-Peak gondola from Whistler to Blackcomb, a real technological marvel; and the incredible views of the surrounding Coast Range and Garibaldi Provincial Park.

Our weather was pretty much sunny with moderate wind – no new snow fell, but the hardpack conditions weren’t too icy and tended to soften up in the ample sun. The groomers were in great shape although the snowpack is pretty much just man made ribbons until 1,000+’ above the base.

Blackcomb Glacier pano (click to expand)
Acreage comparison/trail map

 

 

Harmony Ridge views
Steep entrance to Whistler Bowl

I was impressed with Whistler – for a resort town right on the slopes, there is something for people of all price ranges. Restaurants range from four-star French cuisine to cheap taco joints and Subway. Our condo rental was a pretty good deal (and came with an included rooftop hot tub…)

 

Olympic Peninsula circuit

I took time off this beautiful September week to get out from my Seattle base and explore the strange, wonderful Olympic Peninsula with my girlfriend, in town for a visit before embarking on an adventure of her own in the UK. I can’t believe that in the cumulative 6 months I’ve spent here that I never once ventured to the other side of the pond – Puget Sound that is.

Itinerary

The trip started off with a quick hop across the sound on one of Washington’s state-run ferries, which ply the Edmonds-Kingston route more than once an hour (~$25 one way for two people and a car). Why on earth would one drive south along Puget Sound when the scenic ferry ride is available? There are unparalleled Mt. Rainier and Mt. Baker views looking out over the land.

Perfect day for a boat ride

From there, we made a sort of detour to Port Townsend, a beautiful little nautical town with a Wooden Boat Festival, some offbeat book shops, and a wonderful place to buy a shake and look out over the water.

The road then lead us to Port Angeles, the commercial hub of the northern peninsula. But we did not stay long: our lingering in Port Townsend burned up quite a bit of daylight so we picked up some free maps and continued along the highway to Sol Doc. Along the way, take a break and stretch your legs along beautiful Lake Crescent, bounded by mountains on all sides.

Lake Crescent from a gap in the trees along the highway

The Sol Duc road climbs into the hills above the lake, passing a salmon run which would be spectacular at the right time of year. The resort at the end offers accommodations, but more importantly, the famous Sol Duc Hot Springs. For a fee, even if you aren’t staying at the resort you can take a dip in the sulfurous, 101F water. I am not one for spa treatments, but I have to say my skin did feel extra soft after soaking in the mineral-rich water.

We also hiked to Sol Duc Falls. They’re  not huge but the lush green surroundings enhance their beauty.

Next stop: the famous Pacific beaches with towers of rock known as sea stacks. We chose one called Second Beach, located near the tribal area of La Push. Soft sand and salty spray combined for a wonderful walk.

Second Beach sea stacks
Natural arch

Our last stop before bolting for Seattle was at the most famous Olympic attraction of all: the Hoh rainforest. It was not quite the ambiance I expected (visiting during the rainy season would give it a more authentic feel). It was still spectacularly green, and the old growth trees were a sight to see.

The Hoh River at its lowest

What makes the Olympic Peninsula well preserved with greenery and weird character also makes it sort of a pain to access from the rest of the state: the drive home via Olympia is sort of a drag at 4.5 hours but we made it back without driving in the dark too long.

When I return, I’ll hit two places that we passed up on this trip: Hurricane Ridge, and Neah Bay (a tribal interpretive center located at the very northwestern tip of the peninsula).