Mount Rainier National Park's Ohanapecosh Visitor Center will not open this year due to budget constraints brought on by sequestration. Photo courtesy of MRNP.
As hikers, we like to be sequestered—high in a mountain pass, deep in a grove of cedars, in a flower-studded cirque, snug in our sleeping bags. Sadly, the verb sequester has taken on an altogether different meaning in the past year.
The threat of broad cuts to all federal programs was supposed to force Congress to the negotiating table to come up with a bipartisan mix of strategic cuts, policy changes and potential revenue. That didn’t happen, and the across-the-board cuts are the result.
Learn how the impacts of those cuts will impact visitors to Washington's national parks and national forests in 2013.
Tough decisions in Washington's national parks
Washington's national parks have had to make some difficult decisions this summer - and as the season progresses visitors will feel the impacts. A recent report by the Senate Natural Resources Committee found that the cuts have already or will:
- Close facilities or delay openings. At Mount Rainisher National Park, the Ohanapecosh Visitor Center will not open this summer and the campground season will be two weeks shorter. Cougar Rock campground will be cut by six weeks (closing Sept. 29th).
- Reduce facility maintenance and garbage pick-up. Olympic National Park will not open all flush-toilet facilities this year and will not service restrooms and pick up trash as frequently. The Mora, Ozette, Graves Creek and Elwha Campgrounds will all see reduced maintenance.
- Host fewer educational programs. This has been specifically mentioned in conjunction with North Cascades National Park, but will likely be felt at all national parks.
- Reduce capacity to handle emergency or law enforcement issues. The report identified that Olympic National Park would have fewer resources to handle fires.
- Delay or defer park repairs or maintenance projects. Several roads are not being maintained to previous standards. The Deer Park Road in the Olympics will not be plowed this summer, delaying access to this area of the park. The road to Hurricane Ridge opened later, and will need to be closed at intervals for routine maintenance due to a lack of personnel.
Reduced staffing. This is on top of a mandatory hiring freeze across the agency, though seasonal staffing has been allowed to move forward. North Cascades National Park has announced it will have fewer rangers to provide information and programs, which could include backcountry rangers. At Mount Rainier, there is a reduction in staff at the Carbon River Ranger Station.
Also worth noting: Mount Rainier National Park's shuttle system between Ashford and Paradise will not be operating in 2013. This will put a big strain on parking at Paradise, especially on weekends.
National Forests will be hit too
The effects of the cuts are not limited to national parks. Our region's national forests also have to reduce budgets by 5 percent, though the specifics have yet to be handed down to the individual forests. We do have an inkling, however. Forest Service Region 6, which is comprised of Oregon and Washington, reports that:
- Funding for Facilities Maintenance will be cut by 17%, going from $7.3 million to $4.8 million.
- Trails Funding will receive a 5% cut, which will reduce it to $5.1 million.
- Recreation, Heritage and Wilderness will be slashed by 5% to $18.6 million
Together, these programs fund the vast majority of Forest Service recreation and trail maintenance efforts--the kind of efforts that clear hiking trails and maintain trailheads. Moreover, the sequestered dollars come on top of years of cuts and consolidations that have razed the Forest Service’s budget.
The effects of sequestration may be delayed on many national forests, since the Federal budget cycle typically sees them spending down user fees carried over from the previous year, but as this fiscal year progresses and moves into the next, we could be facing a significant acceleration of the slow-motion crisis playing out on National Forests.
What can we do?
Call your member of Congress and your senators. Let them know how important our National Forests and Parks are to your family, to Washington’s economy and to our quality of life. Thank them for their past work on behalf of our federal public lands and let them know that you expect them to protect our public lands from Congressional inertia.
Contact our Senators
Contact your Representatives
Share your experience
As you hike this year, tell if you come face-to-face with the squeeze on rangers and services on parks and forests.
On May 31, an enormous debris flow—a slurry of mud, boulders, trees and anything caught along the way—slumped into the upper Middle Fork Nooksack Valley at the receding toe of Deming Glacier on the southwest side of Mt. Baker. Two smaller debris flows occurred on June 1 and 6, and scientists and agencies monitoring the area say that more flows are possible.
Avoid Elbow Lake, Ridley Creek trails
“If you feel ground shaking and hear rumbling like an approaching freight train, get off the valley floor as quickly as possible, a debris flow can travel a lot faster than you can run,” says Carolyn Driedger, hydrologist and public information officer at the USGS Cascades Volcano Observatory in Vancouver, Wash.
Need an alternative in the North Cascades? Head up the North Cascades Hwy, and check out Thunder Knob instead.
Mud flows common in glaciated volcano valleys
Debris flows—fast-moving slurries of boulders and mud—are sporadic events in the valleys of glaciated volcanoes due to the abundance of loose volcanic rock, excess water, steep slopes, and confining valley walls. These kinds of events are not uncommon at Mount Rainier and at Mount Hood, for example, and have happened before on Mount Baker and nearby Glacier Peak.
>> Mount Baker Volcano Research Center blog
>> Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest
Video from the valley
While we do not recommend visiting the area or hiking the valley floor until the flows have ceased, you can see a video of the area after the most recent flow:
The Boundary Trail in Mount Rainier National Park needs your help and is lovely in spring. Photo by Hikingqueen.
We need your help on trails in one of Washington's most beloved National Parks this weekend. Consider spending one, two or three days on trail with us near the Carbon River entrance of Mount Rainier.
Join a work party: safety, fun and giving back to The Mountain
Help us maintain the West Boundary Trail on Mount Rainier near the Carbon River entrance. We'll help to get this trail back into shape, from removing downed logs to repairing any damaged tread.
With your entrance fee waived for the day, volunteering with WTA this weekend is a great way to get a feel for the Carbon River Road area of Mount Rainier. Besides giving back to trails and meeting some great people, you'll visit one of the earliest areas of the park to be snow-free in the vicinity of some lovely day hikes and overnight destinations.
Make the most of your visit
With long days, you might be able to squeeze in a hike after your volunteer day ends, or consider staying in the area an extra day to explore along this former road-turned-pedestrian path in the northwest corner of the park.
Hike to a waterfall. If you stay in the area and want to hike the day before or after your volunteering day at Mount Rainier, we recommend a hike to Ranger Falls, found on the Green Lake Trail off of the Carbon River Rd.
Overnight adventure. A wilderness walk-in campground is open (after a 5-mile hike or bike from the guard station) at Ipsut Creek, which provides ample opportunities to explore this lovely area.
A well-packed pack can help you stay on your feet in the backcountry. Photo: hiking in Sol Duc by BigPantsTrekker
There is no exact way to pack a backpack, but there are some general guidelines that will make it easier for you to access what you need, when you need it, and ease your load carried over a long day.
- Packing heavy items centered in your pack helps create a balanced, comfortable center of gravity. The goal is to have a load that rests on your hips and feels stable and predictable as you hike.
- Whether packing at home or at the trailhead, spread out your gear and visually confirm that you have everything that you need.
- Use a checklist. You may be tempted to simply throw everything into your pack, but packing it properly will improve your overall experience. A properly packed backpack can feel lighter than it actually is.
Main compartment packing
The bottom of your backpack is a good place to store items you won’t need until camp at the end of the day. Many backpacks have a separate sleeping bag compartment. If not, stuff your sleeping bag in the bottom of your pack.
The heaviest items should be placed on top of your sleeping bag, close to your spine. This includes your food, water supply, cooking kit and stove. Any liquid fuel should be packed upright and placed below your food in case of spillage.
The lightest items—tent pieces, insulating clothing, rain gear— should be packed farthest away from your body. Wrapping lighter items around heavier items prevents shifting and fills empty spaces.
Top lid packing
This is where you store frequently used items that need to be within easy reach. This is the ideal place to carry your Ten Essentials, plus snacks, pack cover and sanitation items. This is also where you want to keep any emergency medications. Additional external pockets can help organize these close-at-hand items as well.
Emergency contact info
Carry your identification, emergency contact information, and a medication and allergy list with you. If you carry any emergency medication (inhaler, bee sting kit, epipen), make sure your hiking partners know where it is located in your pack in case you need assistance using it.
- Pack your sleeping bag and clothing away from your food supply and toiletries, especially in bear country.
- If your pack has a hydration bladder sleeve, it’s easier to insert your reservoir while your pack is mostly empty.
- Minimize gear attached to your pack’s exterior, as these items can snag on brush or impair your stability.
- Fill up empty spaces with items that don’t require quick access; put small items inside your cooking pot.
- Carry a pack cover if one is not integrated onto your pack. Even if you have a waterproof pack, seams and zippers can leak in heavy rain.
For more advice, check out this video from the folks at REI.
This article originally appeared in the May+Jun 2013 issue of Washington Trails magazine. Join WTA to get your one-year subscription.
Don't be the target of thieves. Leave your valuables at home. Photo courtesy of Twanda Baker on flickr commons.
A few years ago, we published a blog post about protecting your car from thieves at the trailhead, and we thought it was time to refresh everyone on good trailhead practices as we start heading to the trails in greater numbers.
At the time of the blog post, one of our staff members had left her wallet "hidden" in the car while out hiking, and the car was broken into while she was out on the hike.
It's a costly wake-up call when this happens to you. "I was reminded of just how important it is to carry your wallet with you when you hike. Somehow I had failed to do that on this trip, and, as a result, thieves now have possession of my street address, my credit card and my house keys," she reflected afterward.
Of course you usually take your valuables with you. But there are probably times when you haven't - when you've stashed a wallet under the driver's seat or left a backpack visible. Usually, everything is fine. But sometimes a hiker isn't so lucky. Since locking your doors and windows won’t keep prowlers out if there are valuables visible in your car, park rangers recommend that you stash your valuables as part of your pre-trailhead routine. Here are some tips:
- Leave all valuables at home.
- Lock any bags, extra clothing or items that look like contain valuables inside the trunk or place them well out of sight before you arrive at the trailhead. Any place in your vehicle you think is a sneaky hiding spot, thieves know about.
- Take credit cards, driver’s license, phone and anything else of value with you in your pack. Consider a ziploc sandwich bag for these items.
- Put a sign in your car’s window that says, “No Valuables in Vehicle.” Sure, it’s laughable, but it might help any shady characters decide that their chances of “getting the goods” are slim.
- Do a lap around the parking lot before taking to the trail. Are there people just sitting in their cars, appearing to be waiting for something? Use your creep-ometer scale and avoid leaving your car if the scale starts sliding upward.
And in the unfortunate event of theft, be sure to report the crime, or any suspicious behavior, to park rangers immediately.
After spending a week replacing her stolen identification, keys and other items, our colleague vowed never to leave anything valuable at the trailhead again. "I haven't had any trouble in nine years of hiking, but the consequences of just one incident of trailhead theft will serve as a good reminder not to leave my personal effects in the car again."
The new Wild Sky Wilderness Trail Plan recommends developing the current fisherman's trail to Eagle Lake (below). Photo by Norm.
There is good news and bad news with the brand new Wild Sky Wilderness Area Trail Plan. The good news is that the plan has identified some amazing trail projects, analyzing and evaluating 50 existing and proposed trails in the Wilderness Area. The bad news is that the Skykomish District has few resources to develop these trails, which means this is much more than a vision than an executable plan.
The 106,000 acre Wild Sky Wilderness Area is Washington's newest wilderness. It was passed in 2008, after years of work and is the the first such designation in Washington State since 1984. The legislation required the Forest Service to conduct a trail plan for the area, since the newly-minted wilderness had only a few routes, and those are mostly on its periphery. The Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest kicked off its Wild Sky Wilderness trail planning process in the summer of 2011, and the recently released final plan is the result of extensive public involvement, field reconnaissance and evaluation. You'll want to click through to view the map of proposed trails.
The final plan is the product of both vision and practical awareness of just how broke the Forest Service really is. There are a lot of great potential trails in Wild Sky. Many of them are in appropriate potential locations. Some are not. But the world of trails that could be built is limited by the very severe budget shortfalls that the agency is facing. They're even worse than projected when they started planning in 2011 due to the impacts of sequestration and the long term inability of Congress to agree on a budget plan.
But we're cautiously optimistic that some of these trails -- particularly Iron Mountain-Conglomerate Point, Mineral Butte and Blanca Lake -- will be planned and built sooner, by using the unique combination of talent and grit that WTA and the Forest Service bring to these projects. We'll keep you posted as this plan marches forward!
You asked, and we heard you. With the help of some incredible volunteers, WTA's Trailblazer free mobile app is now available for your iPhones and Android devices. (WTA debuted the app on the Windows Phone early last year.)
Now, you can explore thousands of Washington's trails and the latest Trip Reports from your fellow hikers without being tethered to your computer.
Download the free app
Features of the Trailblazer app
From searching for hikes to scrolling through the latest Trip Reports, here are some of what you'll find when you connect with the WTA community on your phone.
- Search for trails by name, location or relative difficulty (measured by length of trail and elevation gain), and for family- and dog friendly hikes.
- Check the conditions on the trail with the latest trip reports from fellow hikers.
- View trail photos uploaded by fellow hikers.
- Bookmark your favorite hikes for quick access.
- Get driving directions to the trailhead.
- Link to NOAA's website to easily get current weather conditions and forecasts at the trailhead.
- Purchase the excellent Mountaineers Books Day Hiking guidebooks that have more details on these hikes right from the app.
You can't file your Trip Reports from the app just yet, but we'll be working on it. If there are other things that you think might improve the experience of WTA Trailblazer, we want to hear about it. Email your feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com. Be sure review or rate the app, too.
Meet your volunteer developers
When you think of WTA volunteers, pulaskis and green hats may come to mind. But as these volunteers prove, there are other ways to give back to the outdoor community and help hikers reach Washington's amazing wild places.
Putting in around 300 hours of work between them, Bipin George Mathew (mobile engineer, photographer, wannabe UX-er, traveler), Joe Kramer (software engineer passionate about leaving the world a better place), and Mike Knecht (UX designer at Zillow whose past clients include Amazon, Comcast, Nordstrom, Starbucks, and Target) built on the work of Windows developers Omeed Chandra and Jerry Wang to bring the app to hikers before summer.
We chatted with them about volunteering with WTA and their own love of Washington's outdoors. Here's some of what they had to say.
Why did you get involved as a volunteer on this project?
Bipin: My wife and I hike a lot and use the WTA website quite a lot to plan our hikes. I was trying to figure out a way to give back to the community. While I could help in trail work, I figured a good way to volunteer would be to use my existing skills.
Joe: I was looking to gain more experience on iOS and I liked the idea of volunteering for an organization that does great things for our community.
Mike: One of the reasons I love Washington State is our amazing access to outdoor spaces. Anything I can do to help others explore and enjoy these resources is a win in my book.
Do you hike or do any other outdoor activities? Why do you value Washington's wild places?
Bipin: Yep! And I run, snowshoe and snowboard. There is always something to do every season in Washington 's wild places.
Joe: I wish I was able to get out and hike more, but most of my outdoor time in WA is spent sailing and snowboarding. I value the wild places here because being in nature reminds me how beautiful our world is and can be.
Mike: I hike, snowboard and try to enjoy every speck of sun we get each year. Working indoors on computers all day I really value our wild places as a place to disconnect from technology and reconnect with nature.
A special thanks to developers Jesse Snyder and Lev Novik, who also contributed time, passion and hiking field experience to the project. And thanks to the amazing hikers who file Trip Reports every single day, helping out the hikers who follow in their footsteps.
Everyone starts their wilderness experience a different way—including WTA member and Triple Crown* hiker Brian Lewis. As this year’s backpacking season approaches, we talked with Brian to learn about his experiences, what motivates him over all those miles and his advice for those just starting out.
When did you first start backpacking, and what was your inspiration?
I suppose my “introduction” to backpacking was in the Army with a 60-pound pack, steel helmet and so forth. I started recreational backpacking in 2002. I find day hikes too short, too much time spent driving to and fro. Backpacking allows you to forget your normal life and become a different person, one that’s more a part of nature.
A good trip for me is one where I forget what day of the week it is.
As you became more experienced, what lessons were quickly learned?
Typical of most beginning backpackers, my first trip involved too much gear that was way too heavy, so that even low mileage was painful to attain. In lightening my load, I learned that some of the best gear choices can often be found from small “cottage industry” companies.
What prompted you to go for the ultimate goal: the Triple Crown?
Long-distance backpacking can become an addictive lifestyle. It gives you a sense of freedom, it gets you into excellent physical condition, you surmount challenges and truly live in nature. And you meet wonderful people along the way.
In hiking locally I had met a lot of Pacific Crest Trail thru-hikers, and the idea percolated for some years until a friend told me that he was planning a thru-hike. That got me going.
I really enjoyed hiking the PCT in 2008, and I heard a lot about the more challenging Continental Divide Trail from friends but couldn’t fit that in my schedule until 2011. So I hiked the Appalachian Trail in between, in 2010.
What advice would you offer for those who are new to backpacking?
First, if you have fears, combat them with statistics: with common sense and a little prep, you’re safer in the woods than driving on the highway.
Consider renting or borrowing some gear items before you buy, and factor in total gear weight when buying gear. Focus not just on the camping part, but work to make the hiking part of each trip a real pleasure.
Don’t assume there’s just one approach to things. Hiking styles vary—find your own favorite style.
And finally, don’t expect everything to be easy your first trip. Learn your lessons and then get out there and try again!
*The Triple Crown Award is presented by the American Long Distance Hiking Association to those who successfully complete America’s three National Scenic Trails: the Pacific Crest Trail, the Continental Divide Trail and the Appalachian Trail—a total of 7,610 miles. Brian Lewis received his completion award in 2012. For more information on the Triple Crown Award, visit aldhawest.org.
- Backpacking 101
- Pacific Crest Trail Association
- Appalachian Trail Conservancy
- Continental Divide Trail Coalition
This article originally appeared in the May+Jun 2013 issue of Washington Trails magazine. Join WTA to get your one-year subscription.
The Forest Road 2010 (French Creek Road) to the Boulder River Trail is open and in good shape. Photo by Fuxing Yang
Hitting the road and the trails for a holiday weekend adventure? Give yourself lots of extra time and use the resources below to check road and trail conditions before you head out.
Here are a few of today's updates on the I-5 reroute, the opening of the Mountain Loop Highway and resources for keeping up to date through your holiday travel plans.
I-5 bridge collapse and detour options
A portion of a bridge on Interstate 5 collapsed into the Skagit River near Mount Vernon Thursday, and WSDOT have a signed detour (map below) to guide drivers through the area. Expect long backups in the area and consider an alternative route if you can.
Hiking tip and alternative route: If you are heading to the North Cascades National Park, Baker Lake or another destination along Highway 20, consider taking the slower, scenic route along Highway 530 (exit 208 on I-5) through Darrington (see a map of the route). Go slow, stop at the Boulder River trail or Rockport State Park for a walk, and keep track of all the trailheads you may want to revisit later in the season.
WSDOT detour route as of 11:54 am 5.24.2013
For more information, use WSDOT’s travel tools:
- WSDOT’s online tools, call the 511 travel information hotline. For out-of-state callers, it’s 1-800-695-ROAD (7623).
- On Twitter, look for #I-5BridgeCollapse and #SkagitRiverBridge.
- Program your radio to highway advisory stations 530 AM or 1610 AM.
Mount Rainier mountain passes open: Cayuse and Chinook
- For updates on these passes and other roads around Mount Rainier National Park (including portions of Stevens Canyon Road, which remains closed), follow Mount Rainier National Park on Twitter or Facebook, or check the Road Status page before you head out.
North Cascades Highway and Mountain Loop Highway open
The North Cascades Highway (SR 20) has been open for a few weeks as well.
Mountain Loop Highway opened all the way around earlier this week. Some websites still have the road status as closed, but rangers at the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest in Verlot confirmed what Trip Reporter jdizzle reported yesterday: the loop is open.
Hiking tip: Many of the trails in the area will still have snow on them, so check trail conditions and Trip Reports before you go. Drop by one of the ranger stations on your way, and for safety, stick to the snow-free sections of trail if you don't have advanced snow skills.
Help report forest road conditions with a Trip Report
This time of year, many forest roads are just starting to open up, and spring weather can also mean washouts and damage for others, like the recent washout that closed Glacier Creek Road (Forest Service road 39) . Get the story about the washout, which cut off vehicle access to Heliotrope Ridge and climbing routes up Mount Baker.
Hiking tip: Before you head out for a hike, check in with National Forest rangers and Trip Reports for the latest information. When you return, file a Trip Report about the road conditions to trailheads.
We asked Joan Burton, guidebook author of Best Hikes with Kids: Western Washington and the Cascades!, what she recommends for getting kids out on trail this time of year. She suggested three great spring hikes along rivers featuring lots of family-friendly activities, from wildlife-spotting to stone-skipping.
Old Sauk River
Location: North Cascades - Mountain Loop Highway
Distance: 6 miles roundtrip
Elevation Gain: 150 ft
A lowland level walk along the Sauk River is easy enough for kids, yet exciting and beautiful for all ages in springtime. The old forest trail winds along the river bank with views of rushing white water just melted from snow banks and quiet backwater ponds.
The new trail has a gravel surface and is wheelchair accessible. It is possible to make any of several loop trips along this popular Wild & Scenic River. Old trees, Salmonberries, Thimbleberries, and ancient cedar stumps shade the trail, recently rebuilt by WTA crews.
Springtime flowers that children will enjoy include trillim, queen’s cup, violets, twinflowers, bleeding heart and ground dogwood. Have your kids watch for pollywogs and tadpoles in the ponds along the Sauk, but hold their hands alongside white water views.
Location: Olympics -- East
Distance: 10.6 miles
Elevation: Gain: 2300 ft
Another beautiful river walk, this one in the Olympics, is along the mostly level Duckabush River. Children will enjoy finding rusting relics of logging days, throwing stones, dipping feet, and playing by the river’s edge.
At 2 1/2 miles, climb to a ledge called the Little Hump where you may find such spring flowers as fawn lilies, chocolate lilies, Indian paintbrush and more. Some Eastern Olympic plants and animals, such as the Olympic marmot, were isolated by the last glacial age, and are unique and endemic here.
Continue up another mile to Big Hump, where you and the kids can savor views up valley toward the beautiful Eastern Olympics and down valley toward the Cascades.
Location: Chinook Pass - Enumclaw or Hwy 410 area
Distance: 14 miles roundtrip
Elevation Gain: 1600 ft
Here is a lowland trail through magnificent old growth forest. Walk past melting snow waterfalls along the Greenwater River up to two small woodland lakes, which may still be snow-covered.
Knobby cliffs on either side of the trail are lined with moss, trillims, ferns, and yellow violets. The cliffs are reminders of volcanic activity here millions of years ago.
The first Greenwater Lake has a river running through it, keeping its water fresh and the ducks busy. At 2 miles come to Upper Greenwater Lake, featuring a beaver lodge and possible campsites.