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Olympic Winter

The View from Here! Olympic Peninsula, Washington State.

Each year at this time, I get the urge to get out. Maybe it’s the end of the holidays, maybe just a longing for fresh air and wild places? A desire to see new horizons, or at least natural areas that remain in my memory as outstanding. This urge builds and builds until I must go.

Hoh River Viewpoint. Washington State.

Problem is, this usually hits me around now, mid-winter in the Pacific Northwest. Finding a place to go is not easy. This time, I didn’t need to go on a long trip, just a few days to clear my head and reinvigorate my soul. But drawing a ten-to-fourteen-hour driving radius around Bellingham showed no options except grey skies and rain, or ice and snow and the need to cross the mountain passes. I like the grey, the rain, and the snow, but I do need to find some small ray of promise to get excited with the planning and logistics.

Hoh River Majesty! Washington State.

A few years ago, around this time, I traveled to British Columbia’s Port Renfrew, southern terminus of the Wild West Coast Trail and a perennial favorite place to visit. It dumped! I mean it rained hard every day and night, and I spent all of my time driving muddy, slippery logging roads, huddled in the back of a Subaru, or drying out gear after infrequent hikes. I managed to find an excellent restaurant and spent every dinner there. It might have been the only dry and warm location on that entire coast at that time.

Surf, Wind & Rock! Washington State.

Last year, same timeframe, my plan to escape was to the Mt. Rainier area. The park was closed due to snow and all the areas near the park were ice choked and nearly impassible, at least for me. I found myself on a backroad forest road at about four thousand feet – sliding on ice. Way too late, I realized I didn’t want to be there and turned around.

“It’s not an adventure until something goes wrong.”

Yvon Chouinard

Male, Hooded Merganzer. Washington State.

This time, I figured that if I couldn’t escape the rain I should go somewhere where rain would be a plus. I found my finger hovering over the map of Washington State’s Olympic Peninsula. What better than rain to achieve maximum flow on the more than two dozen waterfalls just in the park and bring out the true beauty of the rain forest. Also, the grey, storm-laced winter skies above the beaches can be beautiful beyond words.

This was to be a quick, impromptu trip but I did my homework before going. Sadly, not enough. I drove to the Elwha River where I played a small part in removing the Elwha and Glines River dams in 2011. The road was closed due to a washout. Arrrgh! Ok, well, it’s been years since I photographed Sol Duc Falls, and that should really be pumping now. Turns out, too much pump, that road was washed out as well. Then off to Hurricane Ridge to get that mountain perspective. I knew the ridge was only open on the weekend in winter, so I showed up early Saturday morning – closed (to be fair, the road was pure ice and I was sliding even at low elevations. So, closing the road was a prudent decision, but didn’t help with my current trip karma).

Coastal Surf! Washington State.

Off to the coast. I showed up in time for sunset, only to find the usual high winds of winter. Winds that made setting up a tripod impossible, and even handholding the camera that wind was blowing me over. But while taking photos was difficult, the winds brought crashing waves, high tides, and a wild ride just walking the beach. This was what I came for! Far too soon the sun set leaving me in darkness but contemplating the experience and getting me stoked to see what tomorrow would bring. I was a long way from home and in the wild landscape where I am at my happiest.

I was back and set up among the beach logs before the morning sunrise. Today, no wind, no rain, and with sunlight setting up a dazzling display on the sea stacks, the waves, driftwood, and the glistening sand. Pale yellow and pink offset the sky and clouds turned to deeper yellow and red as the sun came up over the horizon behind me. Early morning brought more waves and even higher tides. High enough to threaten to crash in over the barricade of logs and eliminate even the thought of getting closer and on the beach. There is absolutely nothing better than first light on the beach when everything is going wild and you realize you are just a spectator of nature at its best. That evening, the winds died and the waves calmed, sunset just slipped away with grey clouds. A beautiful end to my trip as I contemplated a drive home in the rain and the dark, fueled with permanent visions from the past few days and all that I had experienced. Thankful to be able to spend time away on the coast.

Morning Glow! Washington State.

While the earlier part of this blog might sound daunting, the point is that I got away. I was out, on my own, finding my way, directed by weather (and closures), and doing what I love the most. You get what you get with nature, and it is up to you to make the most of your time and to enjoy the experience for what it gives you.

Having returned from the Olympics just yesterday, I find myself this morning writing and looking out the window as the sun just starts to light up the courtyard and the rain continues undiminished. But my thoughts and my soul are still on the coast, drinking in the sound of waves, the smell of salt in the air, and the scudding clouds and hews of sunset and sunrise. Where to next? The planning has begun!

Wild Playground! USCG Surf Training. Washington State.


·       Since I am channeling Yvon Chouinard in my quote above, I want to give a shout out to Patagonia and this amazing company and its history of supporting the environment and so many involved in that work. Patagonia began donating to environmental causes in the 1970’s and in 1985 the company pledged to give 1% of its sales (over $140 million in cash and in-kind services) to “the preservation and restoration of the natural environment.” As Yvon said “…I don’t look at it as charity. It’s our cost of doing business.” Patagonia supported the work of American Whitewater and the Hydropower Reform Coalition for whom I worked for decades (still does). Safe to say our success in protecting rivers and removing unwanted dams would never have happened without their support. Thank you!

·       I have long supported the efforts of the Raincoast Conservation Foundation and their work to safeguard coastal carnivores (grizzly, black bear, wolves and more) along British Columbia’s coastline and the Great Bear Rainforest (so does Patagonia).  Last week, the conservancy successfully completed their campaign to raise $1.92 million to purchase the hunting rights on some 18, ooo kilometers (more than six hundred and ninety square miles) and nearly a quarter of the Great Bear. Congratulations!

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