Studio711.com – Ben Martens

Outdoors

Dege Peak Hike

We signed our fourth grader up for his free National Park Pass as soon as he was eligible, and we’ve already put it to use! Last weekend we headed to Mt. Rainier for a hike up Dege Peak.

The trip almost didn’t happen though. There was a lot of smoke in the area from wildfires burning east of the Cascades, but based on the webcams at Rainier and Crystal, I thought we’d be mostly above the smoke. Then there was the wind. I was not expecting it to be so windy down there, but when we hit Enumclaw, we were greeted by ~30mph winds. And finally, anytime I visit Rainier on a weekend, I wonder what the crowds will be like. We hit the tool booth on the way up to Sunrise at 9:21 and only waited 7 minutes to get through.

As I had hoped, the smoke was thinning as we pulled into a parking spot at the visitor center. We hit the bathrooms, applied sunscreen (which was very eager to come out of the bottle with the elevation pressure change!), and set out on the hike to Dege Peak.

The trail itself isn’t anything to write home about. There’s a bit of elevation gain at the beginning and the end, but otherwise it’s a straight dusty trail along a ridge. The incredible views are what make it a winner. Heading to the peak, Rainier is at your back, but there are still magnificent views to both sides, and it would have been even better without the smoke. Coming back, Rainier is always in your face. I had to consciously pay attention to the trail because walking while staring at the mountain is a combo built for tripping.

We didn’t stay on the peak very long because the wind was so intense. Elijah was nervous he was going to get blown off, and while that’s an exaggeration, we were all holding onto our hats, and we had our snack somewhere else. There’s not a lot of room up there, but the high winds kept people from loitering too long and we got our fill of the unobstructed view.

There are so many other hikes that I’d love to do down at Rainier. It’s a wonderful gift to have that national park within a two-hour drive of our house!

Free National Park Pass For Fourth Graders

If you have a fourth grader, they are entitled to a one-year free national park pass which is an $80 value. (“Free” as in pre-paid with your federal taxes whether you use it or now.) Head over to https://everykidoutdoors.gov and fill out a quick form with them. You’ll print off a pass that you can use for free entry not just for the kid but for everyone in the car. There are of course some limits on the number of people it covers, etc but for our family, it will cover pretty much all situations that we’ll encounter. These passes are valid every year from Sept 1 through Aug 31 so now is the time to jump on this if you have a fourth grader in the house or set a reminder on your calendar if you have a younger child.

Leaping Lamb Farm Stay

Leading up to our 40th birthdays, we decided to do something a little bigger than we normally do. Mine happened in 2020 right after COVID hit so my list of ideas got wiped out, but I’m happy with my lifetime membership to an area taproom. Tyla’s birthday was this year, so she had a few more options and ended up deciding on a few nights at Leaping Lamb Farm in Alsea, OR.

I feel like you never really know what you’re getting with these kinds of places. How much do you get to interact with the animals? How much freedom do you have to roam? Are the people that work there nice or just busy to move on to their next task? We hit the jackpot with this place.

There are two rental houses on the property. One is a giant farmhouse (over 4000 square feet) built in the 1895 that sleeps 14. We rented the newer, smaller cottage that sleeps 6, and we were happy to see that it had recently been outfitted with a mini-split so we had air conditioning during the 90-degree days. As a bonus for us, the farmhouse reservation was canceled so we had the whole property to ourselves!

Greg and Scottie are the owners but Greg was busy with projects and Scottie was away, so we spent the whole time with farm manager Denny, and we also got to chat a bit with his wife Kate. Denny and Kate were both wonderful, and I marveled at Denny’s patience for answering our endless questions.

Denny met us at the house when we pulled up. It was around 5pm so we headed out on a tour and started our first round of “chores”. When they say chores, what they really mean is letting us participate in the best parts of the farm. Every morning at 9 and every evening at 5, we’d meet up with Denny and either let all the animals out of the barn or collect them back in the barn. We’d get hay down from the loft, feed them all, etc. We helped muck the stalls too. Denny also showed us how he moves irrigation around the farm, how to prime the pump from the natural spring after the power goes out for a while, and how to run the pump from the creek on the property.

When we weren’t with Denny, we had free reign of the property to hang out with the chickens, turkey, peacock, sheep, goats, cats, donkey, and horse. Tyla loved roaming the property to find Chip (donkey) and Tater (horse). It’s good that all the animals were so friendly because Tyla spent a lot of time petting them all. We all enjoyed hanging out by the creek and walking on the trails too. Elijah loved having free roam of the property and once he knew the rules, we cut him loose to explore on his own.

It was a tough week on the farm, and we tried to stay out of the way while Denny dealt with some animal issues, but we also appreciated him sharing his thought process on how to handle the various situations. I heard someone say that “interested people are interesting” and I loved hearing Denny talk about the farm. He clearly loves it, knows a lot, and enjoys the continued learning process.

Most of the time when we go on vacation, Tyla and Elijah both ask, “Can we come back here sometime?” That happened here too, but there were more tears shed than normal when we left this place, and Tyla is already trying to book a return visit.

Thank you to Denny, Kate, and the whole crew at Leaping Lamb farm for a vacation that we won’t forget!

San Juan Campground

Last year Elijah said he wanted to go camping without anyone else around. We didn’t get to it last year, but this year we set out to make it happen! Tim knew just the place: San Juan Campground. It’s out the boonies north of Skykomish, and because of a washout on one end of the road, it involves about fifteen miles of dirt roads that are rough in some spots. While you don’t need a truck and four wheel drive, both did come in handy.

There are no reservations at the campground so we arrived around lunchtime on Friday and had our pick of the nine spots. We snagged sites 2 and 3 which had their own driveway and one of the pit toilets. By Thursday evening, all the sites were full. I suppose we didn’t meet Elijah’s wish because we could see some other campers through the woods, especially at night with the fires, but he didn’t call us out on the technicality.

The days were spent playing cornhole, eating food, having good conversations, and enjoying the river which was right next to the campsites. We built dams, threw rocks, and enjoyed the beauty. It was a fantastic spot! We had to pack in all our own water, but we were able to use the river water for our dishes.

On the way out of the campsites, we checked out a nice swimming spot on the river but we didn’t venture in. Then we did a quick hike around Troublesome Creek. It was such a short/easy hike at the end of a very long drive that we would never have done it on its own, so I wanted to get it done and cross it off the list. It was short but beautiful.

The drive home took an exceptionally long time due to the ever-present backup into Sultan. It was effectively about a 7 mile stop and go backup from the Sultan stoplight. That’s a hard way to finish the weekend, but the camping was so fun that there wasn’t much complaining.

It will be different next year since they are planning to reopen the washed-out portion of the road. That will make the campground much easier to access and it won’t require any dirt roads. It might be harder to find a site so I’m glad we got this trip in!

I posted a photo sphere to Google Maps and some additional photos are included below.

The water in this photo is 8-10 feet deep, but it’s so clear that it’s hard to tell.

Seaquest State Park Camping

In the summer of 2020, we had planned to camp with Tyla’s family at Seaquest State Park. Don had gotten stuck out of state during COVID and was still quarantining, but we did make the trip with Logan and Megan. This year we decided to try again and thankfully we were all able to make it.

We could not have asked for better weather! It was in the mid 70s during the day and mid 50s at night. There were scattered clouds both days, and on the first day, there were just enough clouds obscuring the mountain that we didn’t make the drive up to the visitor center. (We were watching the webcam.) Instead, we went to Harry Gardner Park and sat along the river for a while. I took my drone and managed to photo some kind of big hawk in flight! (It’s on the left side if the river in the center of the photo.) At the time I thought it was a bald eagle but the tail isn’t white so I guess it was something else.

On Saturday, the web cam looked great when we woke up so we ate breakfast and made the 1 hour drive up to the observatory. Getting there early was really nice as we didn’t follow a line of campers up the mountain. There were more clouds by then but we still had a great view. I’ve been there twice in 2007 and once each in 2011, 2012 (when we climbed it!), and 2020. It’s fun to see how much it has changed over the years. The dome was rebuilding for a while and the area around the mountain is slowly coming back to life. Check out these pictures comparing my view from 2007 with the view from 2022. There’s a lot more green and the dome inside the crater has grown.

Mt. St. Helens 2007
Mt. St. Helens 2022

All in all, it was a fun trip. I pitched in a couple meals but thanks to Don for taking the bulk of the work! It also makes tent camping a lot easier when your camping buddies have a camper!

DIY Tent Stake Puller

After one particularly challenging camp site where I ended up leaving a tent stake or two, I searched around on the web and found a better solution. I didn’t come up with this but I’ve used it for the past few camping trips, and it has worked wonderfully! Take a small diameter PVC pipe and cut a length about as wide as your palm. Run some paracord through it and tie it into a loop. Voila! Pull as hard as you want on that PVC pipe without hurting your hand and direct all the force right where it needs to go.

Red Top Lookout

At a risk of doing too many hikes in a row and burning out Elijah, I decided that Labor Day would be a good day to tackle Red Top Lookout.

We left the house around 7:30 and got to the trailhead around 9:30. Once turning off of Highway 97, the dirt road isn’t too bad, but about halfway, the route turns onto a second dirt road that was rough. I was happy to have four wheel drive and a lot of ground clearance. It took us about 25 minutes to go the six miles on that road, and I posted a video from the dash cam because when I’ve done that in the past, random people have seemed very appreciative as they stumble across it.

The hike was short. Really short. I knew it was short, but it seriously only took us 20 minutes to get from the parking lot to the top. So 2 hours in the car for a 20 minute hike, but still, the view was uh-mazing. The lookout was locked so we couldn’t go up but we still had an incredible 360 degree view, and best of all, there were zero other people on the trail for the entire trip. We had the place to ourselves! There were a few other cars in the parking lot but they were all taking a slightly different trail to look for agates.

Photos don’t do a scene like that justice, but I’ll post some below. This Google Street View photo (I didn’t make it) does a better job of recreating the view, but it still doesn’t capture the pucker you feel standing up there with cliffs all around!

The hike down was easy, the drive down was slow and bumpy, and then we hit some Labor Day traffic in Cle Elum, but we made it home around 2pm. It was too much driving for the short hike, but I think we were all happy to have the memory of that view. The weather was just too perfect to pass up! I will need to make sure I pick a closer hike next time to keep Elijah interested though.

I was really bummed when I got home because I realized that it would have been perfectly legal to fly my drone up around that lookout. It would have been amazing! It will be hard to justify going back just for that, but maybe if we’re already in that part of the state doing something else, we can head back. I need to start thinking about taking my drone on more hikes, but it’s just so unlikely that I’ll be in a place that allows it AND there won’t be many people around so I won’t feel annoying.

High Rock Lookout

At the beginning of summer, I handed Elijah a kids hiking book and asked him to pick out a few ideas. He came up with four. The first one we did was Coal Creek, but this past weekend, we tackled the toughest one: High Rock.

We left the house before 7am on Saturday since there is only space for about a dozen cars at the trailhead. It’s on the south side of Rainier just outside the park. It’s about an hour and 45 minutes to the start of a 10 mile dirt road. Thankfully the dirt road was very smooth and we were able to get down it pretty quickly in the truck. There were quite a few cars there already but we had no trouble parking.

The hike is about 1.6 miles and 1300ft to the top so it’s pretty steep the whole way. The kids hiking book lists it as “moderate for kids” and I think that’s because the bulk of the trail is pretty smooth. There aren’t a lot of rocks and roots to climb over.

The last ~100 feet of elevation is pretty intense for a little kid though. You have to pick your way up a rock face and walk up to the edge of a cliff that falls off hundreds of feet. Up until about a month ago, there was a fire lookout perched up there but they recently had to remove it because of vandalism. (AUGH.) Thankfully they left the wood platform and that made a relatively safe place to hang out to enjoy our snacks and snap photos.

The photos are disappointing though. The enormity of the view can’t be communicated in a photo. There’s just SO MUCH of everything. You can see to the horizon in every direction. You can see straight down the cliff face. You can see Mt. Rainier front and center. It’s incredible!

We had planned to attempt this hike a few weeks ago but canceled because of smoke that was rolling in. I’m glad we did because it sounds like the bugs on the trail have died down since then and we had pretty clear skies and perfect temps.

We didn’t get back home until 3pm and the day took a lot out of us but we were all glad that we did it. It’s one that we’ll remember for a long time!

As I mentioned, the lookout building has been removed. It is being restored by a museum and will hopefully be reinstalled in 2023. That site has some good photos of the lookout and some really interesting history of the lookout too.

I’ll include some photos below but this link should also take you to a quick panorama that I took from the top. If you click all the way into the photo, you can swipe left and right to move around the circle.

The last bit of the hike was a rock face up to the platform.
We could see the parking lot from the top.
On our way out, we spotted the platform from the parking lot.

Ipsut Falls Bike Hike

We get a couple local newspapers and every once in a while I flip through them. A recent article called “Where’s Sara? Bike & Hike Carbon River Road” in Northshore News caught me eye. You can read the article for the full description but basically there’s a road into Mt. Rainier National Park on the northwest side that was washed out in 2006. There was a campground at the end of the road so it’s still popular with bikers and hikers.

There are a lot of things to explore off of the road, but I thought that just making it to the end and back (12 miles roundtrip) would be a big challenge for Elijah. So a couple weekends ago, all three of us set off on the adventure to give it a shot!

The road gets progressively less road-like over the length and there are a few spots where the river has totally washed the road away but it’s never difficult to see where the trail picks up on the other side. The ride out to the campground ended up being pretty tough but we all made it. We locked our bikes up and took a short hike to Ipsut Falls. It was a gorgeous place for lunch and we had the whole place to ourselves aside from about 5 minutes of overlap with another family.

The ride back was significantly easier! Since we were following the river downstream, the road had a slight downward slope that let us coast a large portion of the way.

I was really proud of Tyla and Elijah for powering through and getting all the way to the payoff at the end! Hopefully we can go back some day and explore some more of the sights off of the road.

Bay View State Park Camping

As Tyla and I struggled with what to get Elijah for his birthday, he was regularly asking us if we could go camping. We have a couple trips planned this summer, but then we had the idea to go camping for his birthday. Mid-June can be cold and wet but then we hit on the idea of renting a cabin at a state park. There are quite a few options but we ended up at Bay View State Park. You can check my Instagram account for more photos, but I wanted to share a little more about the trip here.

When we pulled into the park, I said, “UH OH! Elijah! I didn’t pack the tent!” Then we turned the corner and saw the cabins. He got a kick out of that, and the cabin was fantastic! It’s about a 12×12 room plus a covered front porch with a swing. It rained a lot for the first evening, night and and most of the next day. We were very thankful for the dry area! It was just the right size for the three of us (one more kid would have been fine too.) The cabin had power, lights, and a heater. We didn’t see it listed before went, but it also had a fridge/freezer and microwave. We didn’t make use of those since we hadn’t planned to have them available. We ate our meals on the front porch when it was rainy and we were able to play some card games there too.

The park itself isn’t huge but it wasn’t very full and we generally had the shore area to ourselves. We spent a lot of time throwing rocks into the water and exploring at low tide.

We drove a mile or two down the road to Padilla Bay Shoreline Trail. As I parked at the south end of the trail, I noticed fresh glass by our spot… and the spot where the next car would be, and the spot after that… and all ~5 spots in the parking area. We got back in the truck and parked on the north end of the trail which was in a more populated area. Elijah was able to ride his bike and we walked the ~2 miles down to the barn along the trail. If you’ve been in our house, you may remember the barn photo that’s above the half-wall in our living room. I took that photo about 8.5 years ago when Tyla and I visited her family who was camping at the park. Tyla was pregnant at the time so it was fun to go back with Elijah and take a family picture in front of it.

I kept thinking about how perfect the cabin rental was this weekend. We might have canceled the trip due to weather if we had planned to use a tent. It didn’t take us long to start searching to see what other parks have cabins and yurts available for rental. I think this might be something we explore more in the future.