Mount St. Helens

Mount St. Helens reflected in Spirit Lake
Mount St. Helens reflected in Spirit Lake

Mount St. Helens remains a stark, startling landscape in the midst of the usually green and heavily timbered Cascades with the clear blue sky reflected in Spirit Lake, the silvered downed trees, the gray behemoth rising above, and a lingering sense of human tragedy haunting the terrain.  Yet, it’s coming back.  Resilience wins.

When I wrote the chapter in Hiking Washington’s History on Mount St. Helens, I included three trails from the east side since the approach to the west side of the mountain was still blocked by the devastation of the 1980 explosion.  In August, 2016, I returned with my hiking group of intrepid women.  Much remained the same–the mountain is still gray and fractured, the trees are still down, Spirit Lake is still half-filled with logs–but life is returning.

Boundary Trail
Boundary Trail

On the first day we hiked the Boundary Trail on the west side in a perfect storm of unfavorable conditions–a long drive from Seattle, the hottest day of the week (in the 90s), and starting over the exposed landscape at mid-day.  Our goal was Harry’s Ridge; we reached the base of the ridge and decided that was enough.

Truman Trail
Truman Trail

The next day we split up; four of us explored the Truman Trail, which leaves from the Windy Ridge viewpoint and travels south on a gated dirt road, then cuts across the pumice plain at the base of the mountain.  The trail is ashy and sandy but broken by creeks and an oasis, providing enough alder shrubbery for a shady lunch.  We headed toward Loowit Falls but turned back as clouds came over the ridges and the air turned cooler.

Others in our group took the Harmony Falls trail down to the banks of Spirit Lake, which no longer has signs limiting access.

Spirit Lake
Spirit Lake

Then they climbed up to Norway Pass for the most expansive views of the mountain and for close-ups of the wildflowers.  At the top of the pass, clouds had obscured the mountain.

Norway Pass
Norway Pass

The third day some of us went underground, to Ape Cave, then to the dramatic Lava Canyon.

Lava Canyon
Lava Canyon

Our fourth day was a cool-down along Siouxon Creek.  Wonderful hiking with resilient friends. Lava Canyon


Cascade Pass to Stehekin

This summer I returned to Cascade Pass and a backpack to Stehekin, retracing the hike I described in Hiking Washington’s History.   My companions were my daughter–Anne Bentley–a hiking friend Marlee Richard–and her daughter Carrie Richard.  When I hiked this route in the 1990s a shuttle picked up three miles east of Cottonwood Camp, cutting out nine miles of hiking, but the meandering force of the Stehekin River has washed out parts of the old road the trail follows.  We needed to parse our 21 miles into three manageable parts.

Like every backcountry hiker, we had to take our chances at getting camping permits, leaving Seattle as early in the morning as we could stand it to drive to the North Cascades Wilderness Information Center in Marblemount.  It opens at 7 a.m. in the summers and issues permits first-come, first-served for the next night.  We were lucky enough to get into Pelton Basin Camp, which is just over the pass.  The night before the hike began, we camped at the trailhead, plenty of spaces available at Johannesburg Camp, and threw ropes over slim branches to cache our food from bears.

Stehekin RIver ValleyI’ve hiked to Cascade Pass three times now, and only the first time was the weather clear enough to take in the spectacular views.  This time it was rainy and cool, so we didn’t linger.  By early afternoon, we were standing under cedar trees at Pelton Basin to keep dry, then playing hearts in one tent, and hoping for the skies to clear.Pelton Basin

Gradually, they did, the next day, teasing us with appearing and disappearing views of the mountains and the creeks cascading down to form the Stehekin River.  This was the long middle day hike to Bridge Creek.

We lunched at Doubtful Creek, and my companions hiked up to Horseshoe Basin while I tended the packs.  After a foreshadowing of scat, we did see a bear heading up a hillside of huckleberries, causing only a brief pause in our travel.  We rested on the benches of the aged picnic table at Cottonwood Camp, then plodded on to Bridge Creek, where we had the luxury of sheltering cedar trees, a babbling creek, and two picnic tables, enough to dry out the tents and pack covers.

The next day we chose the Pacific Crest Trail route to High Bridge where hikers converge to greet the shuttle.  After a half-day hike, we rode to our reward–a night at the Stehekin Valley Ranch and the comforts of showers, flush toilets, and full-course dinners.  The fourth day’s ride to the Stehekin Landing took us to the bakery, organic farm, Rainbow Falls, and a history stop at the old schoolhouse, followed by a sunny, sleepy boat ride down Lake.  The Stehekin Valley is magical, no matter the weather.

Everett’s Weyerhaeuser Building

A hiking and walking friend, Linda Paros, alerted me a few weeks ago that the ornate Weyerhaeuser building in Everett was up on moving blocks.  What’s up? she asked.  The Seattle Times and the Everett Herald had the answer in mid-July.  It’s moving–again.

Weyerhaeuser buildingThe 93-year-old structure first sat at the foot of Pacific Avenue near Weyerhaeuser’s Mill A, the largest lumber mill in the world when it was built in 1912.  Although Weyerhaeuser headquarters was in Tacoma, near the Northern Pacific Railroad, from which Frederick Weyerhaeuser had bought timberland, the company’s largest mills were in Everett.  The local office building was designed by architect Carl Gould in a Gothic style to showcase local wood products from fir, cedar, and hemlock.  Fifteen years later it was barged to sit near Mill B on the Snohomish River.   After Mill B closed in 1979, the office moved again in 1984 to Marina Village to house the Everett Chamber of Commerce near the city’s newer economic enterprise, the U.S. Navy’s Homeport.

It will move this year to a development in the Port of Everett’s Central Marina, retaining its historic claim to the waterfront.  If nothing else, the building has showcased the strength of its structure.   The building is included in the Everett chapter of Walking Washington’s History: Ten Cities.IMG_1960


Duwamish River

Duwamish River

North Wind's Fish WeirDuwamish Waterway

Hiking Washington’s History featured two urban hikes–on the Spokane Centennial Trail and on the Duwamish River–both of them essentially bike trails that are also good for walking.  Here’s the blog post I wrote for the University of Washington Press about the hike along the Duwamish, the only river that flows through Seattle, a much altered river still rich in history.

Ebey’s Landing and Prairie

Ebey's Landing Like Cascade Pass, Ebey’s Landing was one of the first hikes recommended to me when we moved to Seattle in the 1980s.  Since then, I have been to Whidbey Island many times–hiking, biking, and writing at Hedgebrook, a retreat for women writers. The landscape of prairies and bluffs above Ebey’s Landing on Admiralty Inlet has not changed, thanks to the creation of a National Historical Reserve,

But since I wrote Hiking Washington’s History, the trail has changed.  The map in the book shows two legs of a walk from Perego’s Bluff to Sunnyside Cemetery.  The westernmost leg is now the main route.  It goes past a blockhouse and the carefully reconstructed house of Jacob and Sarah Ebey who named the place Sunnyside. The Ebeys were the parents of Isaac Ebey who made the first land claim here in 1850 on  what he described as “almost a paradise of nature.”

The house opens for Summer 2016 on May 28th and will be open Thursdays-Sundays, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., a good destination for a hike.Ebey Blockhouse

Ebey House

Lime Kiln Trail

As I was finishing Hiking Washington’s History, I learned about the Lime Kiln Trail, a relatively new trail that follows portions of the old Everett and Monte Cristo Railway grade. The Old Robe Canyon hike in the book follows the South Fork Stillaguamish River on the north bank as the river flows west.  The Lime Kiln Trail starts south of the river and joins it after a mile and a half, going east along the south bank of the river to the concrete remains of a bridge that once crossed the river.   Engineers warned early on that the force of the river would wash out man-made structures.

Yes, there is a lime kiln on this trail–quite impressive on site.

Lime kiln on the Lime Kiln Trail
Lime kiln

During the 1800s, the kiln converted limestone into lime (calcium oxide) to make mortar and plaster for construction, including parts of the Everett & Monte Cristo Railway. Limestone from a nearby quarry was carried to the top of the kiln by small cable cars and burned in the kiln to change the rock to powder. Interpretive panels at the trailhead give the history of the railway and the lime kiln.  Artifacts along the way (pieces of rotary saw blades, bricks, a bucket) tell a visual story.

This is a 3.5 mile trail, one-way, fairly level (600 some feet of elevation gain, gained in several places) and hikable year-round. (In mid-May 2016 the salmonberries were already ripe.)  The first part follows a logging road through regrowing clear cuts but then reaches the old railroad grade and canyon.

Directions: Take State Route 92 east to Granite Falls. In town, turn right on South Granite Avenue. In three blocks, go left on Pioneer Street, which becomes Menzel Lake Road. In a few miles, go left on Waite Mill Road to the signed trailhead on the left.



Bellingham History Walk

As I researched and wrote Walking Washington’s History: Ten Cities, I knew that local historians would know much more about their cities.  I relied on their written work, talked and walked with many of them, visited local libraries and historical societies and hoped for the best.  As Dean Kahn of The Bellingham Herald wrote with insight, “summarizing local history goes quickly while researchers’ work clarifying and correcting history is a much slower process.”  An error can easily become part of the historical record, repeated without further research by historians and writers down the line.

IMG_2839Such an error is the source of the bricks that built the Richards and Company Building in Bellingham.  These aren’t ordinary bricks but the longest lasting bricks in a building in the state.  Constructed in 1858, the warehouse and store catered to several thousand miners who were camped in Bellingham waiting for construction of a trail to the Fraser River gold rush.  I wrote that the bricks were “shipped as ballast in ships from Philadelphia around Cape Horn through San Francisco.”  Search the Internet and you will find this “fact” stated many places:  the Legacy Washington project on the Secretary of State’s page, in HistoryLink, on the City of Bellingham website, and on the Whatcom County Historical Society website.  I’m in good company here.

The permanence of this very brick, however, has provided time for more research.  A study of the bricks made during a Save Our History project discovered that the bricks were manufactured in San Francisco and shipped to Bellingham on the bark Ann Parry.  The evidence?  In the spring of 2012 the bricks were matched to a fragment of Nagel brick, made by a brick maker of that name in San Francisco.  A good description of this discovery  is on the website of the Whatcom County Historical Society.

One piece of history has been clarified by good research, and the updating begins.


historic murals

Main Street Moments

In writing Walking Washington’s History: Ten Cities, I chose a moment of significance for each city.  See Main Street Moments, a photo essay on the University of Washington Press Blog.

Each city had at least one moment when it was significant in the history of Washington Territory or the state.

Vancouver started as a fur-trading post in 1825, commanding a vast empire from Alaska to California.

Olympia, at the Washington end of the Oregon Trail, became the territorial capital in 1854 and fought off rival cities until statehood in 1889.

Walla Walla boomed on mining rushes to claim the title as largest city in the territory in the 1860s and a rival to Olympia for the capital.

Tacoma won the terminus of the Northern Pacific Railroad and boomed for two decades in the 1880s and 1890s.

Seattle boomed as a jumping off point for the gold rush in the Yukon.

Everett’s corporate titans and labor unions clashed in the early 1900s.

BellinghamBellingham’s four-towns city emerged from logging, mining, railroads, canneries and a university.

Yakima marketed the riches of the Yakima Valley.

Spokane reclaimed downtown and the river running through it with Expo ’74.

Bellevue changed from a suburb to an edge city.

Elwha River

Elwha River

Goblin Gates on the Elwha River, named by Charles Barnes of the Press Expedition
Goblin Gates on the Elwha River, named by Charles Barnes of the Press Expedition

When the Press Expedition men hauled their gear up the Elwha River in the winter of 1889 and 1890, the river was wild.  When I hiked it and wrote about it more than 100 years later, the river was dammed and contained, the Altaire campground was good for a pre-hike wiener roast, and the Whiskey Bend trailhead was an easy drive.  No more.  The river has been un-dammed and unleashed to choose its own path, which has included flooding the road to the trailhead and the Altaire campground.  You may now have more sympathy for the six men, four dogs, and two mules who spent two and a half months just getting to Whiskey Bend from Port Angeles.  (This hike is described in Hiking Washington’s History.) 

Linda Mapes describes “A river gone wild” and its effects on hikers in The Seattle Times, March 13, 2016.

Yakima Pass

HIkers on a Pacific Northwest Historians Guild hike in July, 2016
HIkers on a Pacific Northwest Historians Guild hike in July, 2016

Yakima Pass has become one of my favorite historical hikes.  The first part is delightful–to Cottonwood Lake and Mirror Lake and then south on the Pacific Crest Trail to Yakima Pass.  It is rich in Native American and railroad exploration history, narrated by George McClellan’s journals.

In late July, on a sunny day, you’ll find bear grass, columbine, glacier lily, trillium, lupine, blue skies, and sparkling lakes. Frogs claim rocks in the creek that cascades down from Mirror Lake. Mirror LakeEven as trees grow again in the clearcut areas, the lay of the land and the pass visible from the lakes remain the same.  You’ll know you’ve reached the pass by the feel of the land and the weathered sign that marks it.

If you don’t want to climb back up to Mirror Lake, on the PCT, there is a short-cut back to Road 5480 (and your parked car) on two gullied old logging roads, which are easy enough to follow, but be forewarned that the footing can be tricky–rocky, slippery and overgrown.  When I first used this loop I could catch a glimpse of my car from this route, but now vegetation has grown obscuring that view–but not the lovely view of Lost Lake.

Lila Becker points to the Mirror Lake trailhead.
Lila Becker points to the Mirror Lake trailhead.

The hike has not changed greatly since I recounted it in Hiking Washington’s History, but here are a few clarifications: when driving to the trailhead, at the unmarked four-way intersection, veer right along the north side of Lost Lake (don’t take the sharp right). The last half-mile up to the trailhead is completely un-drivable, and parking spots on Road 5480 can be competitive on the weekend.  Although a sign points uphill to the Mirror Lake trailhead, the beginning of the trail itself is not marked by a sign but by a cairn or row of rocks, thoughtfully placed.YP sign


Twilight Lake at Yakima Pass
Twilight Lake at Yakima Pass