Northwestern Exposure

May 2, 2004
Outside Magazine
Outside magazine, September 1994

Northwestern Exposure

In Washington, Oregon, Idaho, and B.C., our favorite season arrives just as the throngs head home. What a pity.
By Byron Ricks

In the Pacific Northwest, September brings relief. For three months now you've been duking it out with powerboaters, poky RVs, and packs of survival school students, but when fall settles into this piece of the continent, the land quiets. The slopes and shorelines empty, yet the Pacific tethers the climate within a comfortable range. Days are long, snowflakes steer clear, and clouds of migrating birds descend and bed among the islands and estuaries. Here are ten options for enjoying the solitude--places to hike, bike, climb, fish, kayak, canoe--that you'd be well advised to hit right away, before the Winnebagos return.

Gulf Islands, British Columbia

Paddlers tired of Puget Sound's misty grayness and heavy boat traffic migrate north to the Gulf Islands, off Vancouver Island's southeastern coast, where the skies and waters are often clearer. Of the archipelago's nearly 200 islands and islets, only seven have a population over 250--ideal for kayakers seeking solitude and island life as it used to be.

Within these protected channels, a great three-day, 22-mile loop wraps around the parklands of D'Arcy and Portland Islands. To get to Sidney, your starting-off point on Vancouver Island, catch the Washington State Ferry from Anacortes, about 85 miles north of Seattle. Put in at Tulista Park, adjacent to the Sidney ferry terminal, and wave good-bye to civilization. Head southeast three miles to Sidney Spit Marine Park; from there the deserted shores of D'Arcy Island Marine Park are five miles due south.

The remains of a leper colony that operated from 1890 to 1924 can be seen on D'Arcy's western side. Camping is limited here, but on the island's eastern shore, where gravel beaches front woods and meadows, you'll find half a dozen secluded campsites. (Camping is free, on a first-come-first-served basis, at all marine parks except Sidney Spit.) In the morning, skirt the north side of Sidney Island past harbor seals sunning on rocks and weave your way through islets to Portland Island--aka Princess Margaret Marine Park--about ten miles northwest. Ringed with sandstone beaches and grassy headlands, Portland has more than 450 acres of overgrown orchards and woodlands of Douglas fir and brick-red madrona.

First stop should be Tortoise Bay, on the south coast, where you can check out a posted trail map and stretch your legs on a shoreline hike. The best camping, however, is north at Arbutus Point, a crushed-shell beach with a view east all the way to Mount Baker's glacial cap. The next morning it's a mere 4.5-mile paddle back to Sidney.

For Washington State Ferry information, call 206-464-6400. Sea kayaks can be rented from Ocean River Sports in Sidney; call 604-655-2036. Weekend rates are $50 for a single, $75 for a double. Mary Snowden's Island Paddling: A Paddler's Guide to the Gulf Islands and Barkley Sound (Orca, $11) has detailed maps and trip descriptions. Several outfitters, including Ocean River Sports, Ecosummer Expeditions (800-688-8605), and Adventure Spirit Travel Co. (800-667-7799), run two- to five-day trips to other Gulf Islands ($160-$580).

Mount Adams, Washington

Anywhere else, Mount Adams would be declared a national park. But in Washington, where Mount Rainier gets all the glory, the state's second-highest peak (12,276 feet) remains the glaciated sentinel of the often overlooked 47,280-acre Mount Adams Wilderness.

Adams's South Climb, the coveted nontechnical ascent for altitude seekers, follows the old mule and horse route used by the Glacier Mining Company in the 1930s to excavate sulfur from the summit. It's a 6,776-foot, seven-hour haul that begins at Cold Springs Campground and rewards the hardy with astounding views of Mount Hood and the blast zone of Mount St. Helens. From Timberline Camp you'll pass to the left of Crescent Glacier en route to Lunch Counter, a flat snowfield at 9,300 feet that makes for a perfect noontime pit stop. Once you've refueled, climb Suksdorf Ridge to the 11,657-foot false summit. From there it's just a 619-foot push to the top, where timbers from the old lookout may be poking through the snow and the ghostly cone of Rainier, 2,135 feet higher, punctuates the northern sky. The way down offers a gleeful slide--one of the longest glissades in the Northwest.

Crampons and ice axes are recommended year-round, and as weather on Mount Adams can be capricious, be prepared for sudden storms. Mount Adams Ranger District (509-395-2501) in Trout Lake, off Washington 141, issues wilderness permits and proffers climbing information and weather reports.

City of Rocks, Idaho

In high desert wilderness on the edge of the Snake River Plain is some of the West's most ancient stone--300-foot granite spires as old as 2.8 billion years. On this rock, climbers have etched out more than 600 routes, rated from 5.4 to 5.14a, in the 14,300-acre City of Rocks National Reserve. Upper City and Parking Lot make up the City's scenic downtown--a maze of batholiths with hundreds of one-pitch routes and occasional short second pitches to the summits. Scream Cheese (5.9), a six-bolt sport climb, is a classic route at Parking Lot. In Upper City, afternoon shade is an added bonus of the Upper Breadloaves East area; check out Urban Renewall, a one-pitch crack climb (5.11a).

Daytime fall temperatures hover in the seventies, but be prepared for nighttime lows in the thirties. City of Rocks is 75 miles southeast of Twin Falls; take Idaho 77 south outside Burley. Roadside campsites ($6 per night) are plentiful on the dirt road between Bath Rock and Elephant Rock, but can fill up quickly, especially on fall weekends. Call City of Rocks National Reserve at 208-824-5519 for camping information, and pick up <I>City of Rocks: A Climber's Guide,</I> by Dave Bingham, for route particulars. Pinetree Sports in Burley (208-678-5869) carries a full selection of climbing gear, and Tracy's Mercantile in nearby Almo (208-824-5570) stocks groceries and chalk and even has showers. For climbing instruction ($190 for a two-day course), contact Exum Mountain Adventures at 807-273-1850.

Quinault River, Washington

On the trail along the Olympic Peninsula's Quinault River to its headwaters in the Enchanted Valley, temperate jungle meets Ice Age grandeur in an alpine cirque of 3,000-foot cliffs. From Graves Creek Campground, 18.5 miles east of U.S. 101 on Lake Quinault Road, the 13-mile trail to the valley gains only 1,050 feet, alternating between flat riverbeds bordered by alders and big-leaf maples and higher terraces of fir and cedar. A few miles up the trail at Pony Bridge, where the river shoots through a narrow gorge walled by slate and sandstone, look for the first of more than half a dozen riverside campsites.

Dig out your sunglasses at the entrance to the Enchanted Valley. Here, at a suspension bridge, dark and spongy forest opens suddenly into a blinding landscape of glaciated peaks. In the alpine meadows beneath 6,911-foot Chimney Peak is the Enchanted Valley Chalet, built more than 60 years ago as a hotel and now operated by the Park Service as a shelter. Only part of the lower floor is open to campers, however, so bring your tent in case it's full. Beyond the chalet, you can hike five miles to 4,500-foot Anderson Pass, where the largest known western hemlock (nine feet in diameter) stands a couple miles up the trail. Call Olympic National Park at 206-452-0330 for topo maps, free backcountry permits, and route information. Olympic Mountains Trail Guide, by Robert L. Wood (The Mountaineers, $14.95) gives trail descriptions as well as a detailed natural history.

Three Sisters Wilderness, Oregon

There's no denying the power of volcanism in central Oregon's Three Sisters Wilderness, a cluster of glacier-clad volcanoes 25 miles west of Bend. Amid 10,000-foot-plus North Sister, Middle Sister, and South Sister, and the shattered crown of Broken Top (9,175 feet), every step lands on something igneous.

A dozen campgrounds and trailheads line the 20-mile stretch of Century Drive (Oregon 46) between Mount Bachelor Ski Area and Deschutes Bridge Campground, so just point and hike. A particularly inspired four-mile route follows Fall Creek from Sparks Lake to Green Lakes Basin, at the foot of South Sister via the Newberry Lava Flow--a colossal jumble of glassy, black obsidian boulders. From Green Lakes the nontechnical ascent of South Sister, Oregon's third-tallest peak, is a straight shot (stay west of Lewis Glacier on the way up). For a technical challenge, climb North Sister, skirting the steep scree and snow slopes at the western base of the summit pinnacle before scrambling up the chute to the top. Hard-core types have scaled all four peaks in a day.

If you're addicted to long hauls, the Pacific Crest Trail spans the length of the wilderness--52 miles from McKenzie Pass to Taylor Burn Road 600. Or hike the 44-mile loop around the Three Sisters, which follows 19 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail's most scenic section. Mountain Supply in Bend (503-388-0688) has knowledgeable employees and top-quality gear. For maps call the Deschutes National Forest's Bend Ranger District at 503-388-5664.

Strawberry Lakes, Oregon

It doesn't take much fish-stalking evangelism to lure anglers to eastern Oregon's Strawberry Lakes--limpid pools of high-mountain snowmelt ringed by alpine crags. Protected within the Strawberry Mountain Wilderness, a swath of federal preserve six hours east of Portland, these are some of Oregon's most remote high lakes.

Leave your car at Strawberry Camp, a rustic campground at 5,700 feet, 11 miles south of Prairie City via County Road 60. Bypass the fisherfolk at Strawberry Lake, a 1.5-mile hike up Forest Service Trail 375, and continue on to Little Strawberry Lake, 1.5 miles farther. The trail climbs Strawberry Falls toward the base of Rabbit Ears, a rock formation that thrusts 1,000 feet above the south end of the lake and the surrounding meadows of juniper and wild onion. The payoff is casting from this 7,400-foot-high shelf into the area's best--and least visited--fishing pool, infested (but not stocked) with countless feisty brook trout.

Pitch your tent anywhere around Little Strawberry (no permit is required), and just log time with the rod and reel. The fishing is catch-and-eat, but there's a limit of ten fish per day. If you must sleep indoors, bunk at Bed & Breakfast by the River ($50 for a double; 503-820-4470), a 3,300-acre working ranch two miles east of Prairie City, where Mike and Helen Emmel rent out three guest rooms. You can fish the John Day River practically from the front porch. For Strawberry Lakes maps and information, call Malheur National Forest's Prairie City Ranger District at 503-820-3311.

McCall, Idaho

Bring spares when you mountain bike around McCall: Idaho's rock-hopping haven 100 miles north of Boise may just bring your knobbies to their knees.

Start with the Hazard Lake- Hard Creek loop, a rocky, eight-mile, mostly single-track ride among alpine lakes and cirques. From McCall, drive 25 miles west to Hazard Lake Campground via Brundage Mountain Road. Park there, point your bike toward the Upper Hazard Lake Trail, and let your legs do the rest until you reach Lloyd's Lake Overlook at 7,190 feet. From here you can practically free-fall back to camp.

But that's just a warm-up for the Burgdorf Hot Springs Loop-- a 27-mile quad-burner through the Salmon River Mountains with narrow rocky canyons and numerous streams to ford. From McCall, drive 32 miles northeast to Burgdorf Campground, off Warren Wagon Road at 6,100 feet. After a morning of cranking up ridges and screaming downhill on technically demanding dirt tracks, you'll deserve a rest at sparkling California Lake. Some ten bone-jarring miles later the northern route mercifully terminates at historic Burgdorf Hot Springs, where restorative waters await. Better yet, caretakers Richard and Elizabeth Tidmarsh can ease you into one of 11 rustic cabins with wood stoves and kerosene lamps (there's no electricity). Rates are $15 per person; bring your own bedding, cookware, and food. For reservations, write to Burgdorf Hot Springs Resort, General Delivery, McCall, ID 83638; there's no phone.

For maps, trail information, and the latest road conditions, phone the McCall Ranger District at 208-634-0400. The folks at Gravity Sports in McCall know most routes by heart and can provide equipment (mountain bikes rent for $18 per day; call 208-634-8530).

Bowron Lake Provincial Park, British Columbia

Nature and a geometry teacher may have teamed up to create Bowron Lake Provincial Park, a parallelogram of interconnected lakes and rivers that form a 72-mile, eight- to ten-day canoe circuit with just six portages. Everyone paddles it clockwise, starting from Kibbee Lake in the shadow of the snow-capped Cariboo Mountains, about 525 miles north of Vancouver. Register first at Bowron Lake Campground, 75 miles east of Quesnel, off Highway 26. Three portages later, you reach skinny, 23.6-mile-long Isaac Lake. Stay close to shore to avoid wind and rough water, and stop at Wolverine Bay, where there's a ranger's cabin, several campgrounds, and an opportunity to scramble up 6,784-foot Wolverine Mountain.

Two particularly challenging stretches of river between Isaac Lake and Lanezi Lake hone whitewater skills between flatwater paddling. At Unna Lake, make time for the hike to Cariboo Falls. The final leg of the canoe circuit is a cinch, but keep to the center of Spectacle Lakes to avoid shallows. Take out at the northeast end of Bowron Lake.

If you have only a few days, base yourself in one of Bowron Lake Lodge's 20 beachfront cabins ($37 for a double, $59 for four; 604-992-2733) and explore the lake by day. Or just canoe the west side of the circuit south to Unna Lake and back. (You can rent a canoe from the lodge for $23 per day.)

All parties canoeing the entire circuit must reserve a departure date through D.J. Park Contractors at 604-992-3111 and pay a fee of $44 per canoe ($36 per kayak or solo canoe). For route descriptions and maps, call British Columbia Parks, Cariboo District, at 604-398-4414. Great Escape Wilderness Canoeing (604-372-8151) runs guided eight-day trips on the circuit for $775 per person.

Yakima River, Washington

When the summer's heat finally loosens its grip, the sage-and-canyon country of central Washington becomes superb road-cycling territory. Base out- and- back day rides in Ellensburg, a historic college and cowboy town in a broad, flat valley surrounded by the foothills of the Cascades.

Old Canyon Road (Washington 821) snakes south 34 miles through the steep-walled Yakima River Canyon toward Yakima, the heart of Washington's apple country. Stock up at one of the roadside apple and cider stands, and picnic at the Umtanum Creek Recreation Area, 15 miles from Ellensburg. Then take a hike up the five-mile round-trip Umtanum Canyon Trail, which starts at the footbridge, before blasting on to Yakima.

A slightly longer day ride (80 miles round-trip) follows Washington 10 north along the Yakima River, veering west toward the Cascades near Mount Stuart, one of the largest chunks of exposed granite in the world. The riding is fast and easy among pine forests and sagebrush foothills. About 26 miles from Ellensburg, turn north on Washington 903. If the townscape of Roslyn evokes a sense of déjà vu, don't be surprised--it's where Northern Exposure is filmed. About ten miles farther, you can lunch and soak the feet at Cle Elum Lake, the ride's halfway point, before heading back.

Between rides, bunk down at the Circle H Holiday Ranch ($70 per person, including meals; 509-964-2000), nine miles west of Ellensburg. There are five rustic but finely appointed cabins, and owner Betsy Ogden serves three hearty meals to keep your legs from running on empty. For maps and information, call Valley Cycling and Fitness in Ellensburg at 509-925-5993.

Ts'yl-os Provincial Park, British Columbia

Created last year, British Columbia's newest provincial park holds crags and ice fields circling Chilko Lake--at 4,290 feet high and 52 miles long, the largest natural high-elevation freshwater lake in North America. The park is nine hours north of Vancouver via the town of Williams Lake and Highway 20.

If you want a secluded campsite, tap Chilko's midlake region by exiting Highway 20 at Hanceville, a hamlet about 50 miles west of Williams Lake. Bring a four-wheel-drive--from Hanceville the road to Chilko Lake is rough gravel. At road's end (about 50 miles) you'll come upon Movie Site, a blustery lakeside camping area with pit toilets and a panorama of the Coast Mountains. A four-day, 40-mile hike starts at the campground and loops through Yohetta Valley, Spectrum Pass, and the Tchaikazan Valley.

To get to Chilko's more civilized north end, exit Highway 20 at Tatla Lake and follow the gravel road for about an hour. The four-mile Mount Tullin Trail starts at the campground and gives the best views of Chilko's turquoise waters and surrounding peaks. Four lodges near Chilko's north shore can set up fishing and horseback riding excursions. Chilko Lake Resort ($144 per person per day; 604-481-1135) offers float trips and hikes with a wildlife specialist who'll point out bald eagles, moose, and black bears along the way. For maps and more information about Ts'yl-os, call B.C. Parks, Cariboo District, at 604-398-4414 or Cariboo Tourism Association at 800-663-5885 .

Byron Ricks, a writer based in Seattle, has cycled and climbed throughout the Northwest.

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