Sunday, May 15, 2016

Steamboat Rock, Sun Lakes Dry Falls, & Whitmore Lookout

Columbia River
The twenty-first week of two-thousand-sixteen was much like the preceding weeks, five days of  relative monotony followed by a weekend of adventure. However, I did focus my week on hitting as many trails in Shoreline as possible. A run at Boeing Creek Park was bookended by some hill repeats at Innis Arden Reserve. I watched my pace crumble from a spry 6:30 mile to a 9 or 10 minute mile on the hilly trails, but I was happy to log some vertical feet. Overall, I was pleased with my week and met the majority of my objectives.

Bullock's Oriole
I punched my time card shortly after three in the afternoon, strapped on my backpack and made the quick jog home. No sooner did I walk in the door, I had my weekend gear in hand and was behind the wheel of the Versa. The only thing standing between me and Apryle and a weekend of adventure in the better half of the state was an hour and half of rush hour traffic, followed by about two-hundred forty miles to Nespelem.

Moose near Nespelem
I was ecstatic to be out of the miserably congested city of Seattle and on my way to Apryle who was waiting somewhere among the isolated landscape of the Columbia River Basin. Upon arriving we went for an peaceful evening stroll discussing our weeks and a plan for the weekend. Unfortunately, the week had caught up to me when I awoke Friday morning and I was unable to make the early start for vegetation surveys, but after a short delay I hit the road for a quick morning ten miler along the Columbia River.

Rock Outcropping behind the Bunkhouse
After a little over an hour of gazing off at the impressive River Oregon and trying to identify various bird species I encountered on the road, I did on a few chores around the bunk house. A few hours later I was back out on the trail (or lack there of) when I bushwhacked my way to some rock out croppings just beyond the house. The vertical feet mounted quickly, but the thing that limited my running was fear of snakes in the high grass and sage bush, not the steep slope. At any rate the views of the expansive landscape were exactly what I anticipated and I was able to catch a glimpse of the winding trail to the Whitmore Overlook, which Apryle and I would be visible on shortly.

Western Kingbird
The rest of the afternoon consisted of core work and reading from Edward Abbey’s Desert Solitaire on a sun-faded picnic table. As I excitedly awaited Apryle’s return from the field, I thought about how fortunate I was to be spending my days in such an a starkly beautiful place. Apryle appeared in the early evening quite weary from her long day of fieldwork, but I still convinced her to accompany me to the Whitmore Lookout. Since failing to reach the tower two weeks ago, it had been in the back of my mind constantly. Because of Apryle’s fatigue, we made a compromise to drive a little over half the way to the tower before running.

Whitmore Lookout Tower
We parked not far from where we turned back the first time and started up the trail, which I estimated would be about two and three quarter miles to the summit. Our surroundings shifted from sage brush and grass near the base to pine forest and upland meadow at the apex. We ran across two wild horses that were reluctant to relinquish there spot on the trail which increased our alertness for potential dangers. After about eight hundred vertical feet we reached the lookout, and began the final ascent up an exposed metal staircase. 

Apryle en route from the Tower
It was unsettling to feel the tower swaying slightly in the wind, but the views from the top were well worth it. The sun escaping the western horizon provided an intriguing lighting with which to view our surroundings. Satisfied with the panoramas we sprinted back down the hill to the car and arrived just as it became too dark to see.

Apryle setting up trail camera
The next day I joined Apryle in her vegetation measurement, and I was incredibly impressed with her streamlined system. Not only was she quick setting up the quadrants but her plant identification skills were second to none and the accuracy with which she performed stem counts and measurements was outstanding. 

View from the Tower

Unfortunately time-constraints dictated that I make my way back toward civilization. But not before one last run up and down the scenic driveway, a quick stop at Steamboat Rock State Park and another circumnavigation of Sun Lakes Drive Falls State Park.

Steamboat Rock

After driving by Steamboat Rock several times, I decided today was the day to make drop in and check it out. In typical fashion, I had no idea what to expect and no idea if a trail existed. Fortunately for me, the park far exceeded expectation and so did the trails. Steamboat Rock is a six hundred acre basalt butte which protrudes eight hundred vertical feet from the scabland below. The butte also provides a picturesque backdrop for the twenty-seven mile Banks Lake which engulfs the formerly dry coulee as a result of both the Dry Falls Dam and North Dam.

View from the Butte
The trail was very sandy for about the first half mile, which was followed by a steep scree-filled scramble for a few hundred meters. This gave way to a grassy saddle just before the final push to the flat summit. 

Atop the Steamboat Rock
I had a difficult time distinguishing the actual trail from game trail, but I circled around the rock and made my way from the southeast point of prominence to the northwest point prominence, enjoying the views from both vantage points. I soaked in the scenery, but knew I had another goal of retracing my steps at Sun Lakes Dry Falls for a seven mile full circumnavigation, so I made a fast descent. I took one last moment to enjoy the blooming lupine dotted between the sage brush and obnoxiously invasive cheat grass, and was back on the road.

Scree Slope (Steamboat)
I arrived in Sun Lakes Dry Falls right after a light rain, just enough to wet the plants, and subsequently just enough to soak my clothes while running by on the trail. Although it was a mild nuisance, I did not let it detract from the interest the water droplets provided to the willow leaves or the way it heightened the fragrance given off by the sage brush.  I continued down the same path Apryle and I had a month earlier, except I was determined to locate the trail around the rock outcropping in the center of the park. This led me to a scramble up to a small saddle near the top of the narrow cliff. 

Another one from Steamboat
I assumed this was the intended route for the circumnavigation, but I did not trust my running shoes on the slippery rock to make the descent. But this just prompted me to take a series of game trails around the prominence allowing me to meet back up with the official trail. I considered the objective met and enjoyed the final miles in the fascinating place that was once the largest falls in the world.

Caspian Tern at Sun Lakes Dry Falls
In my route finding efforts and focus on pace, I was letting my birding slip and I am certain that I missed out on adding several species to my life list. But I suppose becoming a skilled birder, like becoming a skilled runner, takes lots of trial and error as well as repetition. However, at the end of the run I was elated to find a relative of my power animal flying overhead. I spent several mosquito infested minutes watching a pair of Caspian Terns fishing a little pond. The birds were hovering (scouting for actinopterygii of some kind), then after letting out a harsh scream diving down to the water to catch their prey. I ended the weekend on a high-note despite the sadness of leaving Apryle for the city once again.

Wild Horse

Also I have to wish my most avid blog readers happy 29th Anniversary!

Monday, May 9, 2016

Mount Erie, Anacortes Circuit, Kruckeberg Garden, and Edmonds Marsh Birding

Apryle Climbing Mount Erie (April 2015)
Due to the feeling of invigoration after completing the final steps on the long road to becoming a Physical Therapist, I have decided to increase the volume of posts on my blog. Additionally, I hope to change up the format to reflect more of a small trip/hiking/running guide. This post highlights the activities of our weekend (May 6th/7th)

View From Mount Erie
Luckily Apryle managed to take a small break in her field work last weekend and we were able to have a few miniature adventures within a reasonably short distance of home. We started with a drive to Mount Erie, which is a 1273 foot peak in Skagit county and is fully encompassed in the Anacortes Community Forest Lands. We did a bit of climbing on the summit rock and while I struggled to desensitize myself to my fear of heights, Apryle was running laps up the rock. It did not seem like she was rusty in the least, impressive considering the last time we climbed was on Mount Erie last April.

Strava Map of Incomplete Anacortes Circuit
The views from the summit are impressive, Several mountains and ranges are visible including: Mount Baker to the Northeast, Mount Rainier to the Southeast, the Cascades to the East and the Olympics to the West. Not to mention the green and blue collage to the south consisting of islands, lakes and Deception Pass. Probably not the most interesting climbs in the Pacific Northwest but still worth the trip!

Apryle at the Botanic Gardens
After climbing I convinced Apryle to go for a run around what we affectionately referred to as the Anacortes Circuit. This run consisted of a series of convoluted twists and turns over rocky single track in the Anacortes Community Forest Lands. We snapped a photograph of the trail map before we hit the trail and this was key to minimizing confusion. There are four small named peaks in this section of Fidalgo Island, Mount Erie, Sugarloaf, Little Round Top and Sugar Cube. Our goal was to link each of these in a circuitous fashion, but a wrong turn and time constraints dictated that we only visit three of the peaks.

Apryle Birding at Edmonds Marsh
The views from Sugarloaf and Mount Erie were spectacular, with little Round Top being quite anticlimactic. However, the trails were perfect and carved through the forest in a tortuous fashion. Compared with other similar sized parks in the area, Anacortes Community Forest Land is one of the best. Dense forest, spectacular views, immense vertical gain/loss and little competing traffic. Add the fact that it is close in proximity to the ferry system, has rock climbing access and is free of the city and it has become my new favorite place (east of Cascades) to run.

Kruckeberg Botanic Garden
The second day of the weekend we decided to explore some Shoreline/Woodway/Edmonds local attractions. The first stop on our trip was Kruckeberg Botanic Garden, which I had run by numerous times, but never took the time to explore. The garden consists of both native and exotic plants that blanket the four acre landscape. A trail meanders through the property allowing easy access for viewing and identifying plants. Apryle and I enjoyed quizzing each other on various botanical names as we wondered.

San Antonio Tower at LBJ
Wildflower Cente

Although the garden may not be as flashy and expansive as the Arboretum, it certainly captures the essence of a Pacific Northwest garden. Because I am only five months removed from Austin, Texas and because Lady Bird Wildflower Center was essentially my backyard, I cannot help but draw parallels between the two gardens. Lady Bird Johnson once said “…Wherever I go in America, I like it when the land speaks its own language in its own regional accent." I believe that Krukeberg accomplishes this for Shoreline, just as Lady Bird Wildflower center does for Austin. 

Birding Edmonds Marsh

Moving forward, Apryle and I decided go for a big evening of birding in the Edmonds Marsh. At first glance the marsh may appear to be a dull expanse of cattails and murky shallow water, but upon further observation it is full of life and delicious Salmonberry. Edmonds Marsh is an extremely important area from an ecological standpoint, because it is one of the only remaining urban saltwater estuaries in the Puget Sound area. It occupies 22.5 acres and is home to over ninety different bird species.

Crow Perched in Edmonds Marsh
When looking for a place along the coast that speaks its own language, look no further than Edmonds Marsh. There is nothing more relaxing than an evening stroll along the boardwalk, binoculars in hand, searching the foliage for a singing bird in the restored estuary. There are plenty of places I can recommend for running, climbing, paddling, and finding amazing views, but I often struggle to locate a more low key simple activity. The botanic gardens and marsh capture the essence of this area and offer a undemanding adventure option.

Red-Wing Blackbird (Edmonds Marsh)

Song Sparrow (Edmonds Marsh)

Friday, May 6, 2016

April Runs, Research, and Ramblings

Running in East Washington
The month of April was refreshing and reenergizing physically but draining and taxing mentally. I made a conscious effort to take a rest after Gorge Waterfalls, and succeeded in this quest. I also made a conscious effort to buckle down study even more vigorously for the NPTE, the National Physical Therapy Exam, and succeeded in this quest as well. I still ran and hiked but this was in order to explore new places, accomplish tasks or to meet ACSM’s guidelines for a healthy lifestyle. I felt liberated because I was no longer attempting to hit a mileage goal or time goal each week. I was free to run for the sake of enjoyment not obligation, which I believe is essential when striving for longevity in a running career.

April 8th & 9th

Pygmy Short-horned Lizard

The second weekend in April, I assisted Apryle on her lab's research by making a trip to eastern Washington. Apryle and I were on a mission to retrieve deer collars that had been separated from the deer for some reason or another. The deer collars are programmed to send the deer's coordinates in an email to the researcher so the researchers can analyze deer movement patterns with respect to habitat, terrain, human development or roads, predators, seasons, competitors such as cattle, and other biological and physical attributes. A portion of the collared deer will be predated on by mountain lions, wolves, or hunters, or hit by cars. For those deer that survive, the collars fall of over time. 

Locating a Collar
Each collar has a cotton spacer, which wears away with weather and abrasion and the collar will fall off the deer. When the collar lays still for a pre-programmed number of hours, either because the deer died or the collar fell off over time, it sends a "retrieval email", to the biologist with the coordinates of the collar location. The biologist then hikes to the location and performs a CSI-style site investigation to determine if the collar wore away naturally or if it was a depredation event. 

Looking Toward the Cascades
The collars are strewn about the countryside and typically in the most inconvenient of places, which made for a memorable adventure. Despite a two-hour long search, we were unable to uncover the first collar located in the burned sage brush country on the flanks of Tunk Mountain. Although we found the carcass and determined this event was likely a mountain lion depredation, the collar alluded us. However, we tracked down the second collar after an arduous 1.25 mile (1400 vertical feet) bushwhack near Beaver Lake in Bonaparte wilderness. 

Dry Falls State Park Overlook
The landscape of eastern Washington has always appealed to me and I far prefer it to the greater Seattle area. It is difficult to match the secluded and isolated wilderness. The stark beauty of the treeless hillsides that offer unmatched views of the Cascades to the east are my favorite landscapes in the region. However, I also appreciate the dense canopy forest provided by the Spruce, Pines, Firs, Hemlocks and Larches. Even the fire scarred sections offer an eerily aesthetic backdrop.

Sun Lakes Dry Falls Basin
After finishing up our task, we made our way back to the bustling metropolis, but not before stopping in another one of my favorite spots, Sun Lakes Dry Falls State Park. Prior to this stop I had only spent a few minutes at the overlook, however, on this occasion we went to the camp area to check out the trails. We intended on running a few miles because we assumed that the trail network was not very extensive. We were almost proved correct in this assumption until we took a left at the fork in the trail. From here we journeyed into a sagebrush strewn canyon, full of unique rock formations and lakes.

Apryle Running in Sun Lakes Dry Falls
For some reason, Apryle and I both got the impression that this place looked almost prehistoric, and half expected to see a Brontosaurus around each bend. The trail meandered around much of the basin and we were impressed by the amount of miles we were able to eek out on the trail. We were also intrigued by the diversity of ecosystem within the 4000 acre park, and enjoyed the final riparian miles that skirted along a creek.

Sun Lakes Dry Falls SP
I find geology fascinating but its concepts are lost somewhere in the gray matter, therefore I will defer to the sign that describes the origins of this amazing place. The astute observer might notice the sign opposite the canyon entitled “Story of Dry Falls”, which states that it was once the world’s largest waterfall. Furthermore, that the falls actually originated 20 miles to the south, and receded due to erosion, creating the canyon. This was all due to the Missoula Flood which occurred during the last ice age.


Apryle at Lenore Lake Caves
After we got our fill of running and geological history we made our way to the next roadside attraction… Lenore Lake Caves, which had been on Apryle’s list for a while. These caves were formed by the same flood as the canyon, but by different mechanisms. Essentially basalt was washed away from the walls creating shallow caverns that were later used as shelters. Although not a cave for spelunking, it was still a worthwhile stop offering great views of Lenore Lake.

April 15th & 16th

Banana Slug at Japanese Gulch
The third weekend in April was another interesting series of events. My grade school/high school classmates and friends Craig and Emily Genet came to Seattle for the week and we spent some time with them at Deception Pass. We also made an attempt to see the tulip fields in Skagit county, but seemed to be a few days late. At any rate, Apryle and I ran around Japanese Gulch and then we all went for a walk along the beach at Deception Pass. 

Craig, Emily, Apryle, Zach at Deception Pass
Craig and I even jumped in the water, reliving old memories of Polar Bear jumps back in Tiffin. We enjoyed some great dinners together and played a game of mini-golf, which Apryle has been wanting to do for years. The weekend was overshadowed with the NPTE looming large in the near future and constant need to study. 

Running at Mount Rainer
One of the highlights of the weekend was short snowy hike around the base of Mount Rainer. Although I see the mountain most clear days from our apartment rooftop in Shoreline, I had yet to see the peak up close. As expected, the mountain was intimidating and magnificent. One of Apryle and I’s summer goals is to summit Mount Rainer, so it will likely not be our last visit. 

Apryle and I at Mount Rainer
In addition to a summit goal, I also have a goal of completing the Wonderland Trail as quickly as I can summon my type I and type IIa fibers to take me. Therefore Apryle and I also hiked/ran the Wonderland trail for a while as well. We picked out a random section and it included quite a lot of vertical but not a lot of mountain scenery. Although, the short trip was nothing flashy, it was another National Park off of my list and another nature-filled exploration with Apryle.

April 22nd & 23rd

Wallace Falls
The fourth weekend in April was a superficially fun and laidback weekend, but inside I was overcome with stress. I was a half week away from the biggest exam of my life and I questioned my preparedness. I kept to a strict study regimen, but there is always room for doubt to creep in. However, I have always been a believer that it is important to continue to live life and adventure even in the wake of pending challenges.

Upper Wallace Falls
Therefore, we decided to check out a new state park, Wallace Falls. From all accounts this is busy park on the weekends, but on Friday it was relatively empty. This was even more surprising given that it was also Earth Day. It was a pleasant hike/run with an impressive amount of vertical gain. Additionally, it is great park in terms of return on investment, which is probably why it is so popular. In just 2.75 short miles there are three different viewpoints for the Upper, Middle and Lower Falls.

Al Borland Park
This was a great way to start off the morning but we still needed to get in a few more miles, so we stopped at a small city park in Monroe. We were immediately drawn to Al Borlin Park because we had jokingly referred to it as Al Borland (From Home Improvement) park. Not only did it provide hours of entertainment in the form of corny sitcom jokes, it was also an interesting park complete with a river front view and old abandon railroad.

Abandoned Railroad
Saturday was the planned day for Apryle’s 20 miler in preparation for the White River 50 Miler in July. White River will be Apryle’s third ultra-marathon, the first being Nueces 50 in Texas and the second being the Dirty 30 in Colorado, both in 2014. Interestingly enough, despite all the long runs we have done, this was the first long run together since May 3rd 2014. Which I’m sure everyone remembers was a twenty miler at Horsetooth Ridge in Fort Collins, Colorado. A run which Apryle and I finished up in4:19:07.

Apryle Post 20 Miler
We chose to run at another new state park, Lord Hill. Lord Hill is a small park that is flanked to the southwest by the Snohomish River and to the northeast by private lands. It is just a great place for a long run, just enough vertical so that it is not a track practice but yet not so much that it takes six hours to run twenty miles. 

Apryle at Horsetooth in May 2014
There are no notable viewpoints, but is a nicely canopied forest with soft runnable trail. We used the Versa as a mini aid station and dropped in for some food and water at mile 8.9 and 14.7. Apryle ran awesome and put in an impressive kick in the last 3 miles for a time of 3:58:30! I believe that this is a great step toward a successful 50 miler in July.

29th & 30th

Apryle Vegetation Monitoring
The fifth and final week of April was one of the most psychologically taxing of my life. I took the NPTE on Wednesday and tried not to think about it for the rest of the week. Fortunately I had weekend plans to help Apryle in the field with her vegetation surveys. The excitement of seeing Apryle again and the focus required by the project helped divert my attention from the unknown outcome of the test.

Nespelem River
On Friday we surveyed a plot on the Colville Reservation and went for a six mile run around the area. The forest was charred but the Larches were sprouting vibrant lime green needles leading to a beautiful color contrast. As we made our way back to the ranch house we stopped and went for a another four mile run along the Lower Columbia River Road, which followed the meandering Nespelem River. 

Apryle and I in the Countryside
We stumbled upon a roadside trail which led to Spray Falls and another unnamed falls. In my opinion, views do not get much better than traveling down this road along the Nespelem River. This is easily one of my favorite spots in Washington, but then again, my taste in landscape aesthetics is somewhat different than most. The experience was further enhanced by the wonderful scent of Artemisia tridentata in the air and prolific yellow blooms of Purshia tridentata in the foreground.

Falls of Nespelem River
Saturday came too soon and I knew that I had to make my way back to the city and face another week without my other half. But that did not stop us from one last run across the vast Columbia River Basin. We ran along Old Omak Lake Road until we hit BIA 67 to travel toward the Whitmore Lookout. We knew we did not have enough time to make it to the lookout but it was still a worthwhile trip none the less.

Spray Falls
In addition to the runnable grade comfortable dirt road, there was also impressive views of the Columbia River. Still one of the best parts of the run was catching a glimpse of three wild horses galloping away on the trail. The seemingly empty landscape and feeling of isolation in conjunction with freedom of the horses made me long for the day when I would no longer have to drive back to the nightmarish city life.

Wild Horses
I questioned why I was even returning to Seattle at all, everything I needed was right there on that trail, Apryle by my side and limitless wilderness as far as I could see. I felt like that is where I belonged, no stop lights, no commute, no computers or test results a waiting me if I stayed. But life is full of challenges and realizing I still have many things to accomplish before I can realize my dream of living on a secluded parcel of land in the middle no where, got me back on the road to Seattle.

View of Columbia River
Upon returning back to the University, I had to make the ten mile journey back home on foot. This would lead to an accumulation of twenty miles on the day. It seemed as though the city was taunting me on my run home, seeing buildings stacked upon buildings, car after car, stopping at each traffic light, the hard concrete underfoot made for a miserable journey home. However, without the city, I do not think I could fully appreciate the isolation of the Eastern Washington countryside.

Wolf Print
Apryle Descending BIA 67

Running at Sun Lakes Dry Falls

Sun Lakes Dry Falls SP

Near Nespelem River