Thursday, December 3, 2020

Camp Brown

 Camp Brown,overlooking the Middle Fork Snoqualmie 
and Garfield Mountain

Things change.

20 years ago, I was in an airplane, embarking upon a year-long trip around the world. Now, we talk about "staycations" and plan road trips near to home. Things change.

20 years ago, I was walking with my own two legs, using hiking poles only to hike. Now, I am unable to take even one step, and I am only able to hike by using my wheelchair. Things change.

Several years ago, we drove down a pothole-filled, dirt road past Mailbox Peak, to hike along the Middle Fork Snoqualmie River -- only to have to turn around very quickly, as the trail soon became impassable to my wheelchair. Today, we drove 11 miles down a smooth, paved road --this same one -- to a fantastic ADA trail a little down-river from where we'd hiked previously. Things change.

Camp Brown was historically a logging camp, boys' camp and US Forest Service Guards' station, and it is now -- thanks in large part to the Mountains to Sound Greenway Trust -- a beautiful day use area.  Framed by mountains (especially Garfield Mountain), the Camp sits next to the Middle Fork Snoqualmie River, in a forest filled with a variety of conifers and deciduous trees, covered by moss and lichen.  11 picnic spots with picnic tables, charcoal grills, and views are nested within the trees alongside the congressionally-designated Wild and Scenic river.  The parking lot offers disabled parking spots and accessible outhouses (temporarily closed), while each of the picnic tables has a place for a wheelchair and its inhabitant.  Visitors must display a Discover Pass; according to the Discover Pass website, however, visitors with disabled placards/plates are exempt.

The main attraction, in my mind, is a .45 mile gravel-lined, hard-packed dirt accessible trail,
which is always wide, usually level, and mostly flat.   There are s
mall ups and downs, especially at beginning and end of the loop, but I made it without help around trail (disclaimer: my Freedom Chair wheelchair is propelled by levers and fairly strong upper-body muscles).  A friend completed this trail in a power wheelchair with no problem.  There is one bridge, but the edges are level with the ground.  
There is one area that looks as though it had already been washed out and rebuilt.  Since the trail is positioned next to a river, I'm curious to see if the path and accessible features will remain intact after the winter and spring rains.

The trail and the picnic areas are accessed from the parking lot.  After a brief straight path, the trail loops to the right.  The hiker can travel around the loop in either direction, taking either the first or second turn-off.  Continuing straight leads to stairs down to the river.  Those who can not (or prefer not to) do steps can reach the river via an accessible path jogging out from the ADA loop back to the bottom of the steps.  The loop circles through trees and ferns, showcasing displays of moss and lichen, interspersed with educational placards.

Camp Brown is a wonderful place for a picnic or a short hike or both.  Things change . . . but hopefully this is one that won't change much!

Monday, November 30, 2020

North Cascades


Rainy Lake, North Cascades National Park, WA

For the past four years we've taken an autumn trip north.  Way north. The first road trip was the most dramatic  -- to and beyond the Canadian Arctic Circle.  The next two years, we completed ferry-automobile loops in northern British Columbia.  This year, with the Canadian border closed due to Covid19, the far north was not a possibility.  To complicate destination decisions even more, fires in the east and the south (not to mention that large body of water to the west), hemmed us in further.  Nonetheless, we went north to Washington's North Cascades. 

We were able to continue our annual search for gold, since the timing was perfect for autumn colors (the beginning of October); in addition, we happened to time our travels just as the larches were turning golden, and we caught glimpses of them high up near the tops of peaks on the eastern side of the Cascades.  

Our intention was to spend the first day in the Marblemount area.  Of course, that was based on the intention -- also one of ours -- to leave before noon that day.  In the end, due to nothing but our own tendency to start everything late and take longer than expected, we ended up leaving at about 4:00pm, which meant that we didn't even get up to the North Cascades until after sunset.  We didn't enjoy any of the accessible offerings I had discovered in books, and we didn't find any available campsites at either Goodell or Colonial Creek Campgrounds.  

We decided to drive back towards town and hope for some place to stay, when we happened to see Alpine RV Park near Marblemount on the side of the highway.  It was geared toward RVs, with just a few sites designated for tents, and with very few trees or site separation.  While I put together the tent poles, I heard what sounded like chickens behind me in the dark.  Turning around, I was surprised to see instead two deer chewing and "clucking."  Luckily for us, there were no other tents there, so we had a lot of space.  Also lucky for us, the campfires ended soon, and the people went inside their RVs, so it was quiet.  To top it off, the full moon shown brightly through the tent window.  Really, it was perfect for what we needed. 

We will, however, have to return and explore the accessible activities we missed this time.  Besides the magnificent drive on Highway 20, the numerous accessible options include:

Shadow of the Sentinels Trail - .5 mile boardwalk through old-growth forest near Baker Lake

West Loop Interpretive Trail - .5 mile trail through old-growth forest in Rockport State Park

North Cascades Visitor Center - the center and its restroom are wheelchair accessible

Sterling Munro Boardwalk - 300 ft boardwalk starting at northwest corner of Visitor Center

River Loop Trail - 1 mile of the 1.8 mile packed dirt trail is accessible, by starting between campsites 37 and 38 at Newhalem Creek Campground (rather than at the Visitor Center), and then traveling along the river through the forest and the campground 

"To Know a Tree" Nature Trail - .5 mile packed-gravel trail with interpretive plaques through forest, along river, accessed from Newhalem Creek Campground entrance station and amphitheater

Linking Trail - hard-packed dirt trail in the forest between trails, starting at the ranger station near Newhalem Creek Campground.  .1 mile to Newhalem Creek picnic area. (one accessible table), then .3 mile to Newhalem Creek Rockshelter trail, then .25 mile to Newhalem Powerhouse and Trail of Cedars

Newhalem Creek Rockshelter Trail - between .1 and .7 miles, depending on which webpage you believe, this hard-packed dirt trail passes an ancient hunting camp and and old-growth cedar grove.  The trail starts past the steel-grated Newhalem Creek Bridge (service Road in Loop C for Newhalem Creek Campground) 

Trail of the Cedars - .3 mile gravel loop along banks of the Skagit River through stands of old-growth forest, which begins at Newhalem Creek Powerhouse or at suspension bridge in Newhalem

Gorge Overlook Trail - .5 mile (.2 m is paved) trail to the overlook of Gorge Lake and Dam, east of Newhalem, at the start of Diablo and Ross Lakes 

Happy Creek Nature Trail - 1/3 mile loop through old-growth forest on boardwalk and gravel (trail to falls is not accessible) at Milepost 135

The next morning, we got up and left at a reasonable hour, giving us time to do about 50% of our planned activities for the day.  The first stop was at Rainy Pass (Milepost 158).  Rainy Pass is on the part of the highway between Lake Diablo and Mazama which closes due to winter weather and snow,  so it is only open in the summer and fall. The parking lot includes a few picnic tables and accessible outhouses, as well as the trailhead to Rainy Lake and to Maple Pass.

Rainy Lake Trail  

The accessible, paved Rainy Lake Trail is 1 mile each way.  It is not very wide, with little opportunity to step to the side (this matters during the time of Covid19), but most of the crowds turn off at the path up to Maple Pass.  The trail to Rainy Lake traverses the hills, so it is very steep and hilly, with a significant side slope. In addition, it is in the forest, so the path may be blocked by fallen trees.

Rainy Lake

However, it is one of my favorite trails, since it winds through the forest to Rainy Lake, with a view showing colorful mountains on the other side. This first week of October included the added bonus view of colorful vine maples on the slopes across the lake and golden larches near the distant peaks.

Liberty Bell at Washington Pass

After a picnic at Rainy Pass and the hike to Rainy Lake, we drove eastward to Washington Pass, pulling off at the Washington Pass Overlook.  In the parking lot, there is an accessible outhouse, and there is a short paved trail to overlook Liberty Bell and the pass.

  • Due to time constraints, we had to miss the creekside Lone Fir Trail at Lone Fir Campground, off of Highway 20.  Supposedly, the first 0.4-1.0 mile of this trail is paved and accessible.

  • Blackpine Lake

    Instead, we drove to and set up camp at Blackpine Lake Campground outside of Twisp.  We had discovered the existence of the accessible Black Pine Lake Trailand thus the Blackpine Lake Campground, on the US Forest Service's Interactive Visitor Map that allows users to filter searches by accessibility.  The campground was a jewel of a find -- so magical that I considered not sharing the information about it in order to keep it secret.  It is only the difficulty and distance of getting there that makes me feel comfortable about sharing this selfish secret!

The campground is 
Fishing pier at Blackpine Lake
30 minutes outside of Twisp, WA, on a partially paved road. The campground can be accessed from two directions, giving the visitor a choice of a shorter but more unpaved road (with potholes) or a longer but more paved road.  We tried both, finding that the shorter way would have been better in a high clearance vehicle, because the unpaved section included some rocks and potholes. In general, it seemed that most traffic reached the campground via the longer, more paved road.

  • Blackpine Lake is full of fish.  I know that, because I saw the fish jumping and the people in canoes and kayaks with fishing rods.  There is a dock and an accessible fishing pier.  Running along the lake for a while is an accessible, paved path, bordered by rose hips.  The parking lot for the day-use area next to the lake includes a few picnic tables and an accessible outhouse.  Across the lake are mountains, with larches near the peaks

  • Most of the campground is perched above the lake, with space between campsites scattered through the pines.   In the winter months (Sep 21 - May 21), there is no water (the pumps are dry), and the camping is free, but the campground is still open, as are the accessible outhouses.

Walk-in campsite #10 near Blackpine Lake

Near the day-use area and along the lake are three walk-in campsites.  The farthest away (#10) is down a straight, firm-surfaced, wide path, not too far from the parking lot.  This means that the site is completely wheelchair accessible, as long as you're willing and able to carry all of your camping gear (or have a companion who is).  This lakeside site is spacious, with its own fire pit, grill, and picnic table.  

  • The lake was visited by swimmers, paddlers, and fisher-people during the days, but the campground was quiet at night.  In fact, the first night, we may have been the only ones there -- and thus the only ones for miles and miles around.  The silence was beautiful, peaceful, and eerie all simultaneously, as we are so used to some ambient noise at all times.  We could even hear the beating of the ravens' wings as they flew above us.  Like some cartoonish "whoosh whoosh whoosh," at first it startled me, but then it became part of the background.  

During the day, we explored the campground, read by the lake, and hiked the accessible trail along the lake and through the pines.  There were lots of small critters -- a little too brazen to leave unwatched for long. At night we were treated to a full orange moon.

I was pleasantly surprised to find that all of my discoveries were already documented in one of the Forest Service videos on accessible adventures People interested in visiting the North Cascades with a wheelchair should also take a look at Barrier-Free Travel: WA National Parks for Wheelers and Slow Walkers  in Candy Harrington's Emerging Horizons series.

We drove back to Seattle via Highways 153 and 97.  On the north side of Wenatchee, we stopped at several fruit stands to buy fresh fall fruit.  Conscious of a needy cat impatiently waiting at home, we decided to head directly back to Seattle on I-90, saving the accessible trails (Iron Goat and Erinswood) on scenic Highway 2 for another day and another blog.

Monday, September 7, 2020

Suggestions for Accessible Hikes in WA from Facebook's WA Hikers and Climbers

In addition to  the usual suspects (Gold Creek Pond, the Iron Goat Trail, and Rainy Lake), there were lots of good, fresh ideas, including the following (no order, no or minimal editing, no endorsement, probably not comprehensive -- I think more comments have already appeared!):

Hurricane hill in Olympic National Park‚ (they just paved the whole trail a few weeks ago)


Big Meadow Loop at Hurricane Ridge

Trails at Hurricane Ridge in Olympic national Park (paved, but some steep) 

Madison falls

Olympic Discovery Trail


Quinault Forest Nature trail


Picture Lake near Mt. Baker! (ADA, paved)


There's about 150 yards of paved trail at artist point by Mt. Baker ski area. Not much but excellent views with lots of other little places nearby in the same area.


Shadow of the Sentinels by Mt. Baker (boardwalk) through old growth forests with several view points and picnic spots. All ADA accessible.


If you do head up to Mt Baker make sure you swing at through boulevard Park is completely paved and or wheelchair accessible and a gorgeous walk on the waterfront!


Paradise, at Mt. Rainier, has some paved, but steep trails, such as the Skyline Trail to Myrtle Falls


Carbon river on Mt Rainier (first 5ish miles, make sure the chair has big wheels for this one)


Chambers Bay Beach Access, University Place, WA 98467

411 S 348th St, Federal Way, WA 98003

(Chambers bay has a pair of Osprey that have a nest)


Deception Falls. Off of Highway 2 (may have closed gate, so no access)


The Foothills Trail that runs from Puyallup through Orting and on to Buckley (paved)


Cedar river trail


Soos creek trail


Magnuson park waterfront trail are all wheelchair friendly.


Greenwater lakes trail


Sammamish River Trail i(paved)


Centennial Trail from Snohomish north to Arlington is paved.


Rhododendron Trailhead just north of SR 92 at Lake Stevens and heading north.


Nisqually wildlife refuge (wooden boardwalk)


Old Sauk River trail (ADA, gravel loop) on Mt Loop Highway


The Ho River trail, on the Olympic Peninsula (paved for the first couple of miles, flat)


Anacortes, Fidalgo island : 3 different paved trails with water views, Tommy Thompson trail that goes over Fidalgo bay ,the Guemes  Channel trail  by the ferry terminal, and the loop at Wa park


Padilla bay trail in Bow (paved)


Part of Rockport State Park.


Tradition Lake Loop (Around the Lake Trail) of Exit 20 (High Point) on I90 (wide gravel path)


Puget Power Trail  (not paved, but a hard-packed access road) at High Point, exit 20


Friends Landing, Montesano, Wa.


The Willapa National Wildlife Refuge (ADA, 0.3 mile round trip)


Franklin falls had a stroller/wagon trail that ends with a little sort of picnic area by the river.


Ebey waterfront trail


The Theler Wetlands trails in Belfair


Mima Mounds in Capitol Forest (1/2 mile ADA accessible path)  


The Big Four Ice Caves has a paved/boardwalk pathway and picnic area on the Mountain Loop Hwy. It is not accessible (steps) after the boardwalk.


Des Moines creek (paved all the way up along side the creek. And not too steep going up). There is the marina as well with the boardwalk out over the water.


Fucia falls


Miles of trails along the Skagit County sound are paved and quite flat.


Erinswood, the new ADA trail in Index at the bottom of Heybrook Ridge!



Snoqualmie Valley Trail ( hard-packed gravel)


John Wayne Trail / Iron Horse Trail  (grave), bring headlamps for tunnels


Coal miners trail in cle elum (road, hard packed gravel)  connects Roslyn, Cle elum, and Ronald


Chehalis Western Trail through Olympia and down past Tenino (paved and flat)


Stimpson Forest Preserve , Bellingham, is full of great access trails.


Bradley Lake in Puyallup is paved all around.


Nathan Chapman park on 144th in Puyallup ,


Cross Kirkland Corridor between Bellevue and Kirkland. (mostly flat and wide)


I-90 Trail. It follows along I-90 from Seattle to Bellevue (paved)


Whistle lake in Anacortes (Not paved but very flat and wide)


Snoqualmie falls


Point defiance has a beautiful park with a ton of accessibility


Bpa trail in federal way (paved)


Downtown Issaquah Rainier Trail.


Deschutes Falls


North Creek County Park, wetlands in Bothell


Bridal Trails State Park in Kirkland and Bellevue


Mt. Grant on San Juan Island



The Mount Baker Snoqualmie National Forest has videos of many of their accessible trails, narrated by a man using a wheelchair so you get a better idea of just how accessible they are.‚Ķ See More

Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest - Recreation







Sunday, September 6, 2020

WA Hikers and Climbers (Facebook Group): The Power of Numbers

For several months, my husband has been a member of the Facebook group, "Washington Hikers and Climbers."  For several months, he has been encouraging me to join this group, extolling the outstanding photography and positivity.  For several months, I have ignored his suggestion, because the large majority of the group's posts are not appropriate to the specific needs of wheelchair hikers. 

However, I am now a convert and, perhaps, an evangelist for the group.  For starters, the group proves the power of numbers.  The group is huge -- currently over 150,000 members.  This means that if even only a small fraction of the people have an answer, the number of answers will still be numerous.  In addition, by definition, these are the people who know Washington's trails.  They are the ones using the trail systems, checking the online trail resources, and building/maintaining the state's trails.  Although they may not note all of the details necessary for a successful wheelchair hike, they have the exposure to trails that allows them to notice and take note of accessible trails.  Also, even though the vast majority of group members do not hike with wheelchairs,  they may know people who do, or they themselves may be temporarily in need of an accessible trail for some reason.  Finally, the pictures are amazing!

The problem with numbers is, of course, a problem of too much information -- in this case, an overabundance of posts with pretty pictures.  That is not a bad problem to have, and it is one that can be easily solved.  Access the group from your Facebook account, and click on the ellipsis (...) in the top right corner.  Click on "Unfollow Group," and you will stop receiving posts from this group in your feed (don't worry;  you still belong to the group).

The group has built an amazing set of topic filters, so you can search for the posts that are applicable to you.  Simply click on "Accessible Hike" on the right of the page (you'll need to scroll down a bit or do a "find" to get there)), and you'll be shown the posts that match this topic.   There are currently over 50 posts in the "Accessible Hike" category.  As with the WTA keyword filter, this filter may show all posts mentioning the accessibility of a hike (good or bad), rather than definite accessible hikes, but it is an excellent starting point. 

A brief search show that 2-3 times each year, someone asks about accessible trails.  A couple of weeks ago, one of the group's members posted a query as to wheelchair-accessible trails.  That post generated nearly 300 comments.  Although the comments don't always address the specific needs of a wheelchair hiker, they are one more source from which to garner ideas for accessible trails.  

A huge shout-out to the group's administrators and moderators for the inclusion of accessible hikes as a category in their topics.  A huge shout-out to the group's members for their notes and comments about accessible hikes.  My plan is to compile the recent suggestions for wheelchair-accessible hikes in an anonymous and de-personalized format, and then to post the list here.  I encourage WA wheelchair hikers to join this group (and maybe there are similar groups for other areas?).  Stay tuned ...

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Wheelchair Hiking in the Time of Covid-19

Social-distancing on Azalea Way at the Washington Park Arboretum in Seattle

I often think that residents of Washington state have a special relationship with nature.  I live in the middle of a dense and thriving metropolis, yet I am fortunate to be surrounded by forests, rivers, lakes, mountains, and ocean.

Peaceful respite on Lake Washington in Seattle
When Washington state governor, Jay Inslee, issued the state's "Stay Home, Stay Healthy" order on March 23, he made a special exception for getting outside, recognizing the psychological as well as the physical benefits.  This recognition was echoed by the mayor of Seattle.  As it became obvious that social distancing was working and the infection rate was declining (the curve was flattening), the multi-phase WA state plan for re-opening  businesses and activities placed outdoor recreation prominently in the first phase. 

Free chalk and encouragement to draw
While debate as to the ultimate intent of the outdoor component raged in the more established backcountry communities, most outdoor enthusiasts based their activities on the practicalities of the closure and then opening of public lands and facilities.  Beginning May 5, the opening of outdoor recreation under Phase 1 has already seen the re-opening of most state and county parks, most DNR, DFW, and BLM lands, and many national forest trailheads.  The WTA website documents the continuous opening of more outdoor possibilities.

Closed road in greenway in central Seattle

It is likely that most of us using wheelchairs have underlying concerns that necessitate extra caution during this pandemic.  I am guessing that we will have to live with this caution for at least another year.  Given the unknowns and extremes of Covid-19, many able-bodied people will also be living with this caution as the New Normal sinks in and new social norms develop, even in the outdoors.   In my experience, most people are aware of the need for social distancing and follow proper etiquette, such as maintaining distance, giving way, wearing masks, and being extra-considerate.  Of course, there are a few renegades on the trail, so one must prepare for them; but don't focus on them! 

There are really good suggestions in several mainstream publications:

Closed road in greenway in central Seattle
However, there are special concerns for wheelchair hikers. Primarily, it is difficult to move aside, and often it is impossible to move off of the trail.   It is always tricky to find accessible trails, but now you must also find hikes with wider paths and/or fewer people -- all during a time when more people are at home and using the outdoors as an escape for themselves and their children.  You can look for less popular hikes or less developed trails.  It is also important to go at odd hours that avoid morning and evening runners and afternoon walkers and kids.  At the same time, you might focus on finding a wide path, such as a closed-off road.  In addition, for those with impaired hands and arms, it is difficult to put on and take off a mask as other people come and go, so you may need to hike with a safe companion or simply keep your mask on at all times.  Finally, even when land and trails are open, facilities such as restrooms and parking lots are often closed. This means you may want to stay close to home. We have discovered some neighborhood hide-aways that we never would have found otherwise. As always, recommendations from other wheelchair hikers are gold.

As my neurologist said, Covid-19 is a "preventable" disease.  But steps must be taken and procedures followed.  It's probably going to be like this for a long time, so we all have to get used to the new normal and develop a practice that feels safe, while allowing us to get out of the house and live life.