Hiking Mount Si in the Time of COVID-19

Washington State parks reopened for hiking on May 5, 2020. Two days later I grabbed my trusty Discover Pass and headed for Mount Si in North Bend, Washington. 

I kick off every hiking season with a trek up Mount Si and have had many memorable climbs there, including the time I saw a guy carry a tuba all the way to the top. This year’s trip was unique, though, and I suspect I’ll never forget it. It came in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic and was the first time I’d gotten out of house (other to walk down the street or grocery shop) in months.

Mount Rainier seen from top of Mount Si.
Mount Rainier as seen from atop Mount Si.

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.

Looking out from top of Mount Si
View from atop Mount Si.

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.

Northwest Nomad climbing up Mount Si's Haystack.
The Northwest Nomad climbs up the Haystack of Mount Si.

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.

Yes, the Quinault Lake Loop (also Known as the North and South Shore Roads) Runs Both Ways



Here’s a post unlike any I’ve ever written before. I noticed that a popular search term leading people to my site is the question, “Does the Quinault Lake Loop run one way?”

Well, the answer is simple: no, the loop is not a one-way road. It is a two-way road that you can start from either end.

There are some sections where the road narrows enough that only one car can pass at a time. In those cases, you simply pull over to the side and let them pass (or vice versa).

The road can get rough, especially in winter, but I’ve driven it in a Hyundai Sonata with little trouble. Parts of the road are paved and some are not.

In any case, the road is a two-way road and there’s no “right” way to drive it.

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Maple Glade Nature Loop Trail near Lake Quinault

Busy Reader Highlights

  • 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.

Kestner Homestead Trail: Short, Easy Hike near Lake Quinault

Busy Reader Highlights

  • Easy.
    At only 1.1 miles long, the Kestner Homestead Trail is also very flat, making this a great selection for those looking for a relatively easy walk.
  • Great for lovers of nature and lovers of history alike.
    The main attraction of the trail is the Kestner Homestead historical site, but getting there also takes you through a beautiful stretch of temperate rain forest.
  • Low-stress for those unused to the wilderness.
    Though hikers should always be mindful of wildlife (mandatory legal disclaimer), this trail starts near a well-visited ranger station and ends close to a road with a small house beside it. The trails around Lake Quinault tend to be rugged and to take you far away from civilization, but the Kestner Homestead Trail is about as safe as it gets.
  • It’s literally right next to another short, easy trail.
    A few yards from the Kestner Homestead trailhead is the trailhead for the Maple Glade Nature Loop Trail.
  • You can do this trail guided or unguided.
    The park rangers lead tours along the Kestner Trail, stopping at spots along the way to share educational talks on important points. You can also hike it alone on your own time (this is how I did the trails).

Leisurely Reader Discussion

Getting to this trail is easy. Simply park at the ranger station (location embedded below) and you’ll see the clearly marked trailhead. There’s a restroom in the parking lot as well. The rangers at this site have always seemed particularly friendly and relaxed. It’s such a quiet location on the sparsely-populated North Shore Road of the Lake Quinault loop, and an easy-going vibe resonates there.

At the trailhead a bridge crosses Kestner Creek (which was almost completely dried up when I was there in July 2019) and takes you into a hall of gigantic hemlocks, maples, and spruces, most of them covered in thick, shaggy coats of moss. There are also impressive sword ferns and skunk cabbage. It feels like stepping back into the age of the dinosaurs.

You follow this flat, well-maintained trail until it reaches a wide open area with the remnants of the Kestner Homestead. A crab apple tree stands out front with some rusting farm machinery. The primary attraction of course is the old house, barn, and work buildings. The front door of the house is locked but other than that the stuff is there to be explored freely.

This is apparently a good spot to view the Roosevelt elk (the area I’ve had most luck in finding them is shown here), but I didn’t see any while there.

From the homestead, the trail loops back towards where you started. Before you get to the end of your circuit, you can switch over onto the Maple Glade Rain Forest Trail where they intersect, or you can continue on your way back to the parking lot.

Either way, have fun and enjoy the Kestner Homestead Trail.

Happy nomadding, friends.

Frog Invasion at Irely Lake

I long ago lost count of how many times I’ve hiked the Irely Lake trail just outside Lake Quinault, Washington, but during my latest visit I witnessed a something I’ve never seen there before. Swarming along every step of the path was a great, hopping, flopping multitude of frogs. Baby frogs, to be exact.

Yes, baby frogs as far as the eye could see, my friends.

I’m sure this must be an annual occurrence, but when I told a ranger about it the next day he was as unaware of the phenomenon and as fascinated at hearing the news as I was in experiencing it. He was also unaware that Irely Lake was almost completely dried up. This is one more thing I’ve never witnessed before in all my excursions up that path.

Dried up Irely Lake
This entire flat area is usually filled up with Irely Lake.

To my memory, the lake’s always been filled up to the woodline, giving little shore-space. On this day, however (July 12, 2019), the lake had shriveled down to a little pool in the middle of a muddy flat—a muddy flat also swarming with baby frogs.

The little buggers made the hike very slow-going. I had to tiptoe along the entirety of the trail and pause several times to let a particularly big cluster of baby frogs leap off into the sword ferns growing alongside the trail.

When I reached the dry lakebed, another hiker (the only other hiker I encountered that day) said he’d encountered a mountain lion on the trail. He seemed an experienced outdoorsman. I don’t doubt his account. For me, though, there was no mountain lion (though I did encounter one a few years ago in that same area)—there were only the baby frogs.

One of my favorite things about nature is how nothing is ever the same from one day to the next. You can hike the identical stretch of woods every morning for a year, and every morning you’ll see something slightly different. Sometimes, you’ll see something spectacularly different. In this particular case, I’ve hiked the Irely Lake Trail dozens of times and this was the first I ever saw the swarm of baby frogs.

Though they slowed my progress, the frogs made every foot of the trail a pleasure. It was a privilege to witness that spectacle of nature, and the frogs made for a hike I’ll never forget.

The Irely Lake Trail has a funny way of surprising me. For a modest mile of hiking trail, it’s sure given me plenty to write about.

http://nwestnomad.com/travels/washington-places/strange-conversation-at-irely-lake-olympic-national-park/

It’s the same reason why I maintain that Lake Quinault and the surrounding rain forest are the best spots in Washington. A part of me wants to keep quiet on that and keep Quinault under-visited, but another part of me wants to share that amazing place. There’s no place I’d rather spend a long weekend or a vacation than in the Lake Quinault area. I made that conclusion long ago, but the place never stops strengthening its case.

Frogs, my friends. Baby frogs. A whole multitude of them. I’m grateful I decided to do Irely again that day. Dang near missed it.

Keep nomadding, friends.