Category Archives: Hiking

Lake Angeles – Klahhane Ridge – Heather Park Loop

Lake Angeles MapOn Sunday of last week we were staying out in Port Angeles so I decided to do the Lake Angeles-Heather Park loop trail. I’d done this once before, maybe two years ago, and the weather was spectacular – especially for so late in September. This was partial consolation to the cancelling of our Constance trip, which still remains unclimbed…by me.

I decided to bring along my new Garmin 910xt along with the heart rate monitor. I wasn’t expecting to feel particularly energetic, given it was my fifth consecutive day of exercise, and that I’d done a swim-bike brick the day before. But I was curious as to how hiking compared to other forms of more intense but shorter duration exercise on the device.

The trail leaves from (and returns to) the Heart O’ The Hills trailhead. With my trusty Garmin watch functioning, I was able to get precise information on position, distance, heart rate, elevation, etc. The sign at the trailhead indicates that Lake Angeles is 2.7 miles, which is not correct. Both my topo map and my watch pin it rather at 3.3 miles. I had forgotten to set the barometric altimeter on the watch, so the elevation data I believe was all off by about 200 feet or so.

Lake AngelesThe trail ascends somewhat steeply to Lake Angeles, which was gorgeous with the sun just coming up. From there, you follow an unsigned trail even more steeply up to Klahhane Ridge. I felt strong and energetic up to the lake, but after that started to tire a bit. Interestingly, it looks as if my heart rate kept slowly increasing to the point where I took a break, and then this cycle repeated. My pack was 18 pounds (a bit heavy for a day hike, but I wanted the training and, especially since I was by myself, I wanted to ensure I could easily spend the night out there if necessary), and I was wondering if perhaps there’s no way I can move sustainably up a steep trail without having to rest. Maybe it’s a consequence of my SUV-like metabolism (lots of power, but not great on the fuel efficiency).

Klahhane RidgeFrom the top of the ridge, you get spectacular views of the Strait of Juan de Fuca (which incidentally was swam last week by several friends), Ediz Hook, Dungeness Spit, Orcas Island, Mount Baker, and even up into the Coastal Range of BC. On the other side, Olympus stood majestically among many hundreds of miles of wilderness. It’s rare you can see it so clearly – not a single cloud in the sky! One day I’ll climb it – along with Constance, it’s at the top of my list.

The entire trail was essentially deserted. I saw one other couple (interestingly, friends of the family) doing the same thing, and a couple of people where the trail intersects with the switchbacks coming up from the road.

Klahhane RidgeI was wearing my leather hiking boots instead of my mountaineering boots (Scarpa Trangos) and I think my feet were happy for it. I started developing hot spots on my heels (typical for me going uphill with a burden) and I applied my new remedy – a grease-like goo that’s supposed to prevent blisters. It seemed to work, though I still had a bit of residual pain.

The trail goes right under the shadow of Mount Angeles (when I climbed it earlier this summer, it was raining and wet, with 360 degree views…of clouds). There’s quite a bit of up and down as you cross a narrow pass north of the mountain and contour around the other side. There’s one additional steep-ish section leading to Heather Park and then it’s all downhill back to the trailhead.

IMG_20140928_134017The total milage according to the Garmin was 12.5. Although the elevation gain from the trailhead to the highest point is about 4,200 feet, with all the up and down my watch thinks the total vertical was 6,800 feet. That seems like a lot of up and down to me, but maybe it’s correct. I think the relative elevation data should be accurate, so if that’s the case it’s on par with one of the more arduous climbs (like Whitehorse) and thus a great conditioner.

Without my mountaineering boots, everything actually felt pretty good during the several last miles. But one thing the Garmin does allow you to do, and I’m not sure how I feel about this, is tick off the remaining milage bit…by…bit. It’s like watching the last few tenths of a mile click by on a treadmill. I think it’s marginally better than not knowing at all, since you feel a psychological satisfaction with every 1/10 mile…but I just couldn’t help glancing at the watch every two minutes or so.

ProfileDespite many years of mountaineering, I still don’t have some things totally dialed-in. I ran out of water about 2 miles short of the finish. Not a big deal, and I could always have refilled at a stream (using my iodine tablets) if I started to feel dehydrated, but for whatever reason I just can’t seem to predict my fluid consumption well. Throughout most of the trip, I managed to stay well hydrated and well fed, but I wished I had started with 3 liters instead of 2.5. Carrying water is painful when it essentially doubles the weight on your back (especially since your pack is heaviest right at the beginning of the trip…often steeply uphill), but unless you have access to streams and have a way of purifying it, it’s just a cost of the trip.

TrailHere’s the interesting part – the trip took me almost 7 hours, with plenty of stops for rest, eating, and photos, and burned over 3000 calories (according to the watch), yet none of it really felt like “working out”. My brick the day before, by comparison only burned 1,600 (again, assuming the Garmin is accurate here). The lesson is that long, aerobic, fun activities like hiking in some ways get you more bang for your psychological buck. It doesn’t feel like a chore, as running sometimes (OK, most of the time) does. And if you don’t worry about pace and maintain good nutrition and hydration, you can go many, many hours without it feeling like an ordeal that must be gotten through. So rather than hitting the gym on the weekend for an hour or two, you can hike for 7 and get more (aerobic) benefit, and have way more fun.

    Upper Royal Lake Basin Take 2 (The Snow Edition)

    Mt. DeceptionThis was my second trip to the Royal Basin area, this one much earlier season then the first. The ground up there was covered in snow and there were almost no people. The marmots were just waking up and frolicking – marmots have a way of galloping that really must be seen to be understood.

    We had plans to climb Mt. Deception but canned it after…well, getting lazy. Deception is the second tallest peak in the Olympics and an impressive sight. You can’t even really see it until you turn a corner in the Royal Creek valley. There looked to be a snow covered scramble route that would have been fine, but of course I can’t say for certain without actually having gone up.

    This trip was quite different than the first: no bugs, no Park Ranger telling us to move our tent, and no crowds. Of course we couldn’t swim in the lake given its snow-covered condition…


    Camp PhotoLookingAtDeceptionLookingAtTheBasinTheNeedles1TheNeedles2TheNeedles3

      Upper Royal Lake Basin

      Upper Royal Lake Basin is one of the most picturesque areas of the Olympics. We did it as an overnight backpack, starting from the Dungeness Trail parking lot. The trip is about 2500′ elevation gain (if I’m remembering right) and 8 miles or so each way along a well-maintained trail.

      Probably the most challenging part of this trip is simply finding the trailhead. You exit 101 via Palo Alto road and travel on several Forest Service roads to get there. Unfortunately, the roads are very poorly marked and the instructions that the Forest Service hands out when you get your permit (also accessible online) are wrong and confusing. We just followed the most well-used of the roads, and followed what signs there were to the Dungeness Trails. A GPS with a background map of the area would solve the problem. It’s funny since I had all sorts of detailed maps of our route printed out – I never thought just finding the damn trailhead would be so hard!
      The route starts on the Dungeness Trail and then follows the Royal Creek up the valley. By the time we reached Royal Lake, we were absolutely swarmed by mosquitoes and horse flies. It was some of the worst I’ve ever seen – we jumped into the lake to get away from them for a bit, which was a huge relief.

      The Park Service makes you carry a bear can. Since we had four people in our party, I opted for the larger container, which is essentially like carrying a water cooler tank in your pack. Hope you have room… Anyway, the damn thing weighs a ton! In the olden days in the Sierras, we’d just string our food in a tree. This of course has its own drawbacks (we once saw a mother bear send her light-weight cub up the tree to retrieve the food), but it would enable you to dispense with the can that’s just painful to carry.

      From Royal Lake, we pumped water and ascended another mile or so to the Upper Basin. There is a little glacial lake there along with lots of moraine, meadows, and marmots. The bugs were relentless, so we set up our tent as soon as we arrived and I put on my head net, rain jacket and pants, and tried to make do. I don’t use repellent since I hate the idea of having that stuff on my skin and clothes, and I think the other people who did use it got bitten just as badly. As soon as bare skin is exposed for more than about five seconds, it becomes covered with bugs. They let up a tiny bit at night, when the all perched on top of the mesh of our tent, eyeing us hungrily with their little probosces just waiting for the chance…

      The Park gave us a crude map of the Upper Basin indicating where to camp. We thought were were doing exactly what we were supposed to (camping on bare ground, not in the “No Camping” areas on the map), but about 8 PM at night the backcountry ranger came and told us we needed to move! Wow – that’s never happened to me before. We were already in our tents and I was pretty pissed that he hadn’t told us way earlier. Besides, elsewhere there were signs indicating no camping and we were camped in an obvious spot that appeared to follow all the directions of the map. Oh well… Fortunately, he said after a bit of scouting that we wouldn’t need to move after all. That’s not much of a backcountry experience…we might as well be car camping! The Park has gone overboard with these sorts of rules – they should control environmental impact in the wilderness (which we are always scrupulous in minimizing) by the number of wilderness permits they issue, not by dictating precisely where a party should camp! 

      But apart from this, the area is magnificently beautiful, with Mt. Deception and the Needles just overhead. I’d love to go back sometime when the bugs aren’t as bad to use the Upper Basin as a base camp for climbing the nearby peaks. There are also some off-trail routes that sound pretty interesting – the Dungeness Trail area can get pretty crowded in summer time and getting just a bit off the beaten track is a great way to escape the crowds. Mostly, the climbs of Mt. Deception and some of the Needles (including the aptly-named Incisor) are definitely on my list for a future trip.

      Photos courtesy of Tyler Albert.

      Upper Royal Lake Basin

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        Mt. Constitution

        Orcas Island is surely one of the most magically picturesque places in the world. Here are some photos from a one-day hike we did there.

        Mt. Constitution Trip

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          Mailbox Peak

          The infamous Mailbox Peak is one of the Seattle area’s best conditioning hikes. Used as preparation for Rainier or other big mountains, Mailbox has several thousand feet of elevation gain in a very short horizontal distance. It is listed in the Snoqualmie Region hiking guide as the hardest hike in the book.

          I’ve known people to go up it in about 1:35, but we went slower than that. I’ve again been convinced of the usefulness of the Clif DoubleShot Espresso gels – one of these every two hours or so really makes a difference! Photos are courtesy of Angus Speirs.

            Mt. Si Conditioner

            Enjoyable conditioner just before Mt. Si was closed due to a plane crash.  It was clear at the top but very gusty – a strong gust would just blow you over.  It was a bit icy at the top, so we put on crampons.  I was sore for 5 days after this trip!