Hiking the Diablo Lake Trail at North Cascades National Park

You’d be hard pressed to find any place in Washington state more rugged than North Cascades National Park and its surrounding area. The mountains jut straight up out of the earth, no foothills or gradual incline to speak of. The dramatic landscape makes many of the area’s trails among the most challenging you’ll find. Luckily for those not looking to set their thighs on fire or to take a mallet to their feet, the 7.5-mile-long Diablo Lake Trail is an easier option that nevertheless leads to some beautiful views.

Note that I said “easier” here, not “easy,” which is what some other sites designate the Diablo Lake Trail as. I disagree with that designation, and I base that disagreement on the fact that most of the people I came across on the trail were sweating heavily and asking how much farther they had to go.

Diablo Lake as seen from Diablo Lake Trail.
Diablo Lake as seen from Diablo Lake Trail. You come across this view within the first couple of miles of the trail.

I’m just getting back into hiking shape myself, but I’m not THAT far out of shape, and the trail certainly didn’t feel “easy” for me, just “easier” than the other trails I’ve done in the North Cascades. It’s no Storm King, but it’s no Box Canyon Loop, either.

I’m more apt to lean towards a classification of “moderately difficult” in terms of strenuousness. The Diablo Lake Trail is straightforward, though, and doesn’t have any river crossings or climbs or anything that will test one’s outdoors skills in any serious way (assuming that you don’t sustain some kind of injury, of course).

The trail takes you up the mountain and then down the other side to the shore of Diablo Lake. The lake is artificial, created by Ross Dam, which you can also see while being down by the lake. So, if you’re looking for a feeling of escaping civilization, this trail might not be for you.

Ross Dam as seen from the Diablo Lake Trail. A crane is working on top of the dam.
Ross Dam as seen from the Diablo Lake Trail. It’s somewhat intrusive and maybe an unwelcome reminder of human civilization, but the dam is actually kind of cool looking in and of itself. Quite a feat of engineering.

If you’re just interested in a nice, easier hike with some pretty views, the Diablo Lake Trail is a good choice. It’s not as as easy (and not nearly as short) as something like the Skagit River Trail, however, so there may be better options if you’re looking for something extremely quick and easy.

The trail leads through the base of  a boulder field that offers some interesting views. Another section of the trail leads over an extremely steep slope that drops off and leads a long, long ways down to the water at the bottom of the mountain. The trail is plenty wide at this spot, but people who don’t like heights might find it frightening.

North Cascades National Park is one of the lesser-visited parks in the Pacific Northwest, but its spectacular, rugged scenery shouldn’t be missed. The Diablo Lake Trail is a good starter hike to get to know the area and to get a feel for what it has to offer.

On the Eve of Twin Peaks’ Return, Year’s First Trek up Mount Si

Sun is Out and the Time is Right for Hiking Mount Si

I rarely have a hard time finding an excuse to hike Mount Si, but this year I have a particularly good one. Tomorrow, Twin Peaks will run again. That’s all I needed to know.

Mount Si, for those who are unaware, is the actual name of the Twin Peaks mountain, and town of North Bend is the real town in which the series was largely filmed.

Mount Si Gets a Lot of Love

Mount Si is one of the most hiked mountains in Washington State, and with good reason. The views are absolutely stunning, and it’s not a far drive from Seattle (about 40 minutes depending on where you start from in the city).

Don’t let the number of visitors fool you, however. Mount Si is NOT an easy hike. This is a bone of contention for me, to be honest, and I want to address it now. Far too many people I’ve seen online talk about Si from the perspective of experienced, in-shape hikers, but Si attracts people of all fitness levels. I’ve seen them, gasping and looking defeated on the trail, having no idea what the hell they got themselves into.

I encourage everyone to do this trail, but be aware of what you’re in store for. Si is not easy. It starts out tough and gets tougher. You get almost no warm up before the ascent begins. A couple miles up the trail it slightly levels out for a while, but then that last mile or so is brutal.

Again, I’m not talking anyone out of this! Do it! But prepare adequately. Bring a GOOD amount of water and trail snacks. Most of all, psychologically prepare yourself, especially in the heat.

With Si, like all mountains, heat is the main enemy. Try to get to Si as early as possible and beat the heat. Take your time. Take breaks when you need. Remember to drink your water. As long as you understand you’re going to put up with some suck, it will be a great experience. Things go bad when people go skipping up there assuming it’s got to be easy because so many people are doing it, bring inadequate water, and then give up before getting to the top….or worse, get their butts medevaced off.

Si is pretty tough, which of course is what makes the summit so fulfilling and satisfying. So, do it…just be forewarned and be smart about it.

On to better things: the flowers are blooming.

The Views

There’s little mystery here. The reward for the climb up Mount Si is the slate of views you get. They are truly awe inspiring.

The beauty is all the sweeter as you sit up top after your long climb and enjoy a well-earned meal and rest. This is the stuff of spiritual epiphanies…and selfies.

The Haystack

When you get to the end of the trail, you have a rocky spot full of incredible views. You can go further, though, fellow adventurer. You can go further.

A ways further up the trail, you come to a stark protrusion of metamorphic rock known as “the Haystack.” It looks somewhat like this (actually exactly like this because this is a photo of it as seen from below):

You have to climb the Haystack. It’s not something you can hike. I’m talking actual, hand-over-foot climbing. The slope is relatively mild for the most part and there are plenty of good handholds. Anyone feeling up for it should definitely give it a try as it’s a fun climb with the best views in town. Going down can be a bit sketchy for people unaccustomed to climbing.

These birds are all over the Haystack, and they are eager for your food. I’ve watched them eat food from people’s hands many times. This behavior of course is frowned upon, of course, but there’s no denying it’s fun to watch…and possibly do yourself.

It’s a Long Way to the Bottom if You Want to Eat at Twede’s

 There are many fine restaurants in the town of North Bend, but my personal ritual is to eat at Twede’s Cafe after the climb. I discovered the place on my first trip to the town because is the cafe called the Double R Diner on Twin Peaks.

I love Twede’s burgers, and I still get a kick out of eating inside a part of Twin Peaks lore.

This is a ritual I perform every year, at least twice. I can’t recommend it highly enough.

Mount Si is popular for a reason…and so is Twede’s.

Enjoy!

 

Strange Conversation at Irely Lake, Olympic National Park

So it was I found myself on the shore of Irely Lake, talking out loud to a tree…and I’ll be damned if the tree didn’t talk back.

It was one of those days of common desperation. Common for me, anyway, the man who never outgrows his existential angst. No matter how old I get, the nagging doubt remains. What am I supposed to be doing here? Why do the answers fade as fast as they arrive? Is there a reason or isn’t there a reason for anything and everything, and what am I supposed to do with either of those possibilities?

Christ, man, I’m tired of this shit.

Just like every other time my head gets too loud, I felt the need to get away from the commotion of modernity and into the woods, so I hopped in my car and drove three hours to the Irely Lake trail.

The trail head is a few miles outside Lake Quinault, down a couple dirt roads rough enough to turn most the city cars away. Quinault’s one of my favorite places in Washington state. It’s got elk and cougar and bear, rain forest, mountains, miles and miles of trails…and silence. The people there pretty much leave you well enough alone, unless you’re up for a brief and friendly chat.

It’s a short walk along the trail to the lake. Only a little over a mile, I believe. But this was still the winter season. Winds had blown two enormous trees over the trail and water flooded some other parts. This made for some fun obstacles, and even better it meant the trail was mine, so that only a mile from the road I felt completely alone in the rain forest.

Reaching the shore of the lake, which has trees and brush encroaching all along its bank, I saw a duck and its ducklings fly down and splash into the water. A moment later a pair of grown ducks flew side by side over the surface of the lake and away. Right after them, like a glitch in the matrix, two more identical ones followed in seemingly the exact same flight path.

I sat down next to a big old spruce and found myself thinking in the rain. My mind felt like a rabbit getting chewed up by a rabid dog…ugly and haggard.

So I turned aside and look at this big old spruce tree beside me and I said, “Hey, old man, I know this is kind of crazy, but there’s no one around other than you and me and I’m wondering if you can tell me what I’m supposed to do with my life.”

I sat there looking at the tree, not really expecting an answer. Hell, I’m crazy enough to talk to a tree, but not crazy enough to expect it to talk back.

But, as I sat there staring at this thing, I began to notice some details I’d previously glossed over. Multiple species of moss grew on its bark. The bark itself was incredibly thick and the cracks in it were deep; it undoubtedly gave home to all kinds of insects and worms. Up in the branches, birds and squirrels might have nested. If not, they at least certainly stopped there for some time now and then. In the warmer season, I bet that tree was crawling with life.

That’s when it hit me, so clear that it was like the tree was talking directly to me.

What I realized was that that tree had never done anything with its life other than stay rooted on that lake shore, yet in doing so it had given home to a multitude of living things. In staying motionlessly true to itself, it had became a home for life. Zen moment. Bam.

“Thanks old man,” I said.

I stood up, patted the tree’s side, and headed back, feeling lighter as I went.

What’s my purpose? It is to give my absolute best at the things that come most naturally to me. It’s to write and think deeply and create, and to laugh at the absurd things that strike me funny and to read obscure history and study things I’ll never actually use. It’s to explore and to give and to find magic in the world so I can write about it for others. It’s to be selfless and fearless. It’s to be my true self.

At least, that’s the answer I’m toying with now. Here’s to hoping it lasts, because this one feels good and right.

(In “Wandering Around With a Notebook” entries I share the poetic or philosophical side of my travels. A more utilitarian entry will be made for this location.)