I love Aberdeen, Washington. The place just has a gritty character that speaks to my soul and imagination. For most people it’s a gateway to the Olympic coast or the peninsula, but the city itself has a peculiar magic all its own.
I wrote a poem about Aberdeen titled “Not the Lying Down Kind.” I originally published it on Medium, but I want to include it here, as well.
Not the Lying Down Kind (for Aberdeen, Washington)
The city’s bridges sag over rivers like hunchbacked men carrying too-heavy loads for too long.
On the streets, tired, dim-eyed cars float into mist as a foreign country’s nighttime overtakes the city’s sleep.
Orange lights glow in pub windows, buildings thus resembling cooling embers from a scattered fire. They’re the secret hearts of this world carved out of fog, those pubs. Their walls thump with rock, pop, and hip hop.
A tortured, mewling voice echoes faintly through the alleyways. “Come as you are,” it says, “and then be gone with you.”
The whole of Aberdeen sleeps on the threshold of yesterday, dreaming of beds.
In the warm thump of the secret hearts the people laugh. Nothing said ever lasts. Every word fades into fog rolling down mountains.
Yet, for all their subtracted voices, the people stay, and in staying they honor a history of hard work and tough family. Their’s is not a surrendering sadness.
No, it’s not that kind.
Triumphant and proud, it laughs. It harvests life out of the hollow, it doesn’t give a damn for lying-down things.
Aberdeen is a mother nursing her baby after a double shift.
Aberdeen is a grim lumberjack, hands numb with callouses, laughing with abandon as his son tickles his stomach.
Sometimes hobbled, but never cowed, Aberdeen is the people of Aberdeen.
I saw some birds while hiking atop Mount Si in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. As usual, it was mostly Canada Jays (also known as Camp Robbers), which are a popular Si attraction because they will eat out of people’s hands without hesitation. I’m not endorsing the practice and don’t indulge in it myself, but the fact is that it’s a pretty regular thing up there for people to do.
This was the first time I ever saw a Blue Jay on top of Mount Si, which was a thrill. They’re beautiful, noble birds.
This hike will forever be burned into my psyche as the most life-affirming outdoor experience of my life. It was a reminder of everything I love about the Pacific Northwest, the outdoors, and just plain-old being alive.
I went from top to bottom of Si without stopping to rest one time. At one point I even broke out in a run. I’ve kept myself in pretty good shape during this winter season, but the fuel that sent me to top of Si was pure elation at being free and outside in the sun on a beautiful day.
Not Nearly as Many People On Mount Si as I Usually See on a Beautiful Day
I didn’t know how many people to expect coming across on the trail. I counted them for the first leg of the hike but quickly lost that effort to the simple joy of being outdoors again.
All I can say is that I’ve done Mount Si dozens of times, and the crowd I saw there this time seemed far smaller than ever before. The weather was perfect, yet the parking lot was at only about 1/4 capacity when I pulled in at 8 am and at maybe 1/2 capacity when I left at about 1 pm.
Smiling, Friendly People Hiking
Some folks on the mountain were understandably concerned about COVID-19 and wore face masks. They were the exception, but just about everyone was conscious of maintaining space.
Everyone kept at a distance from everyone else the best they could. It wasn’t like the usual Mount Si hike where I’d cross people on the trail and trade hearty “hellos” and jokes about how we don’t know why we subject ourselves to that ascent. People weren’t unfriendly. Just cautious.
The Haystack’s No Joke
This isn’t COVID-19 related, but I want to share something I was reminded of on this hike.
The spot that most hikers consider to be “the top” of Mount Si is not actually the top. If you climb up the boulders of that “false top,” you’ll link back onto a short trail that takes you to the bottom of a stony mound called the Haystack.
The Haystack is not a hike. It requires actual climbing. The rocks are porous and give good grips, but the fall is no joke.
I think people underestimate the Haystack because there are no warning signs and because so many people hike Mount Si. Don’t be fooled, though, the Haystack is enough of a climb that many people find themselves terrified and clinging to the rocks wondering why the hell they went up there.
I know this for a fact. I’ve seen it a few times in the past, and I saw it again on this trip.
I love the Haystack climb, but partway up I looked down and realized that it’s really not something to take lightly. There was never a point where I felt like I was going to fall, but in several sections I looked down and knew that if I did fall I would be seriously injured.
One fellow who I ended up making friends with (shout out to Deepak) told me repeatedly that he couldn’t believe how shady that climb is, considering the fact that there are warning signs or guidelines about using any gear.
I laughed, but Deepak was right. I saw with my own eyes how often the Haystack catches casual outdoors-people off-guard and scares the beejezus out of them.
I love the Haystack climb. It’s my favorite part of Mount Si. If you’ve got the physical conditioning, dexterity, and desire, I fully recommend you go for it.
Just know that it might be above your comfort level once you get up on those rocks. Be mindful of your own limits and all that jazz.
Already Planning Mount Si Hike #2
Early on in the COVID-19 lockdown, I vowed to myself to spend as much time as possible outdoors this year, to really embrace the beautiful world around me and my precious freedom. I intend to uphold that vow.
I have many plans, but a second time on Si is a certainty, and probably sooner than later.
One of the most accessible trails in the Lake Quinault area The trail is very short and is also wheelchair accessible.
Packs a punch At less than a half-mile long, the trail is very short. In that short space, though, it gives a great feel for the flora of the Quinault rain forest.
It’s literally right next to another fun, short trail The Maple Glade Nature Loop trail starts only a few yards from the Kestner Homestead Trail.
Leisurely Reader Discussion
The trail is easy to find. Just park at the ranger station embedded in the map below and you will see the trail-head right there. You can hike it on your own time or you can talk to the rangers and see when they’re doing a guided tour. I have not done the guided tour myself so can’t speak to that, but I have talked to the rangers around that station and have always found them to be friendly and knowledgeable.
I assume the guided tour is a good experience. As for going it unguided, the trail is short and wheelchair accessible, but by no means is it short on sights.
You get a good look at the giant sword ferns, maples, spruces, and other prehistoric-sized trees. You also get a good look at the thick coats of moss that cover the trees, which I personally find to be the most remarkable phenomenon there.
The trail intersects with the Kestner Homestead trail, which I’ve written about here. If you have the time and energy, the two trails together make a great pairing. Or just stick to the Maple Glade trail. It’s good fun and a way for everyone to enjoy the magnificent Quinault Rain Forest.