Islands, Volcanoes, and Crabs

Our immediate future figured out (ha!), we got back to playing.  Labor Day weekend was a wash due to my having to work, and that had always been a huge get-out-and-do-things time for us when we were Pacific Northwest residents, so we pushed it to Labor Day midweek instead.

First on tap was inflation of our kayak flotilla, which hadn’t seen nearly enough action over the past year. We boarded them to venture out to Hope Island. Like the vast majority of the San Juan islands, it is uninhabited and inaccessible by road or ferry, but this one also happens to be a Washington State Park.

This is the type of water exploring we missed in Maryland, even though Annapolis is by all accounts a boating mecca.  Secluded beaches on isolated islands, clear water, sea life… they’re everywhere in Washington’s waters.  In Annapolis we found it more to be about the boating itself than the destinations.  Sailing reigns, and we had a motorboat.  Our Maryland boating career had ended abruptly one warm afternoon well over a year after we had spent far (FAR!) more money than the boat had initially cost us getting it towed across the country, stored someplace suitable (much more difficult/expensive than it sounds, or ought to be in a self-proclaimed boating town), and in good enough working order to run for 15 minutes without overheating.  Within a few minutes of our victorious departure from the marina into Chesapeake Bay, standing tall at the helm and puffing out my chest, Keeper turned to me and asked “so…uhhh… what do we do?”  “Well…” I had to think about it for a moment. I wasn’t entirely sure. This part of the evolution had been theoretical up to now. “I guess we cruise around here, maybe look at some of these houses from the water, and then find someplace to dock for lunch?”  His deflated answer: “That’s it, huh?  No islands, no beaches? In that case, do you mind if Firebolt and I just go down below and take a nap?”  A split-second calculation involving future gas, maintenance, and storage money, compounded by time and stress involved in boat ownership, flitted across my transom before I turned the boat around and headed directly back to the marina, to no objections from the kids.  It was up for sale the next day. 

Back to Washington, though.  It’s a sea kayaker’s wonderland, and even has established “water trails” as well as the more well-known hiking trails.  Hope Island is a stop on one of the more popular ones. It was a short journey and easy paddle from our campground, but the currents in the San Juans can be brutal.  On the way back the tide was coming in, and we had to aim about 45 degrees to the left of the point to which we wanted to land.  That’s quite a crab.  (aviation-speak again).

The following day we opted for a hike up at Mt. Baker, or “Mountain Baker,” as Keeper used to call it.  Baker is the furthest north in the chain of volcanoes that dot the Cascades mountain range, and is just a few miles south of the Canadian border.  In the winter snowboarding is king there, and I believe it holds the record for the most single season snowfall at a ski area ever.  I remember that year – they actually had to dig out the lifts.  But in the summer, it’s all about hiking.  You can drive to Artist Point near the top of the ski area, which gives you access to some absolutely spectacular hiking trails.  Hiking in the Cascades is different than hiking in most US mountains in that they are so jagged, are glacier-topped year round, and rise up from near-sea-level river valleys.  Most hikes involve initial steep switchbacks to get up to near the tree line, but thereafter you’re rewarded with views of glaciers, ice-fed lakes, and knife-edge ridges.  Artist Point is one of the few Cascade trailheads which starts at a relatively high elevation (avoiding the switchbacks), and has several trail options.  We opted for the Chain Lakes loop, which we had done once pre-kids but with two puppies. 

Though there was still lingering smoke from the various Pacific Northwest forest fires, the views were still awe-inspiring.  We traversed a steep ridge to a saddle, where there was a snow field on which to run around and toss snowballs.  Not bad for September.  The kids got a kick out of the stories of our puppies running around on this same snowfield and ending up at the bottom after not being able to get any purchase. 

We then descended into a valley with several lakes & stopped for awhile. 

Our kids have never shied away from cold water, and ribbing from their siblings tends to push the “I dare you to…” game deep into polar bear zone. 

Tacco and I sat back and watched from the comfort of our sunny rock while the kids happily froze themselves in the clear water. 

I wish we could have stayed longer, but as often happens on these day trips, our leave-home time had been delayed by family inertia, and we found ourselves in a bit of a race against the lengthening shadows.  Wouldn’t want to get caught up here at night without the proper gear. 

Rather than complete the loop, which would’ve taken longer than we had daylight, we turned around and retraced our steps.  Impossibly, the ridge traverse appeared even more dramatic in the late afternoon / early evening, and we managed to catch sight of a white mountain goat clinging to the rocks well above us.

We rounded off the day with a few group pictures and then headed back to camp to prep for tomorrow’s departure. 

So here we are… a year in but about to do another year, a month of playing in the mountains and on the beach ahead of us, and hopefully a full ski season after that.  Shoot, maybe at some point we’ll even find a house to live in.  Though the overarching unease still lingers, it’s hard to summon up any angst when I look at the upcoming few months the way I just described them; we truly are fortunate to be doing this.  It’s a good thing to remind yourself.   

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