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Nature on Trail: Snowy Owl, Elk, Western Redcedar

Posted by Anna Roth at Jan 29, 2014 03:55 PM |
Nature on Trail: Snowy Owl, Elk, Western Redcedar

Snowy Owl. Photo by Tami Asars.

by Tami Asars

Bird: Snowy Owl

The first time you glimpse these magnificent and sporadic winter visitors you’ll be filled with questions. The first might be, why are they here? Though theories abound, the most common answer is that their food source, lemmings, has been less abundant in the Arctic, so they travel south to hunt.

Snowy owls are the heaviest of all bird species, possessing thick insulating feathers that protect them from the arctic cold. They are diurnal birds, meaning that they hunt both day and night. Adult females have darker markings, or a salt-and-pepper coloration, while adult males are mostly pure white.

The best viewing opportunities are from December through February at Boundary Bay Regional Park, just over the Canadian border from Blaine, or at Damon Point near Ocean Shores.

Beast: Elk

If you have spent any time on trails near meadows in the Northwest, odds are good you’ve heard the loud bugles of bull elk looking for mates during rut. Two subspecies of elk live here in Washington state: Roosevelt elk and Rocky Mountain elk.

Roosevelt elk live primarily near the coast and in the Olympic Mountains and have the largest body size of all subspecies, with bulls weighing upward of 900 to 1,000 pounds.

The Rocky Mountain elk, found in the foothills and on the eastern side of the Cascade Crest, are smaller, have less fingerlike antlers and lighter coloration than the Roosevelt. To add a confusing twist, hybrid mixes of both species are also common to see in the Cascades. One of the best places to observe Roosevelt elk is in Olympic’s Hoh Rainforest.

Bloom: Western Redcedar

All winter long, the western redcedar (Thuja plicata) provides an interesting draping texture and dark green coniferous color to the shady, moist habitats of the Cascades and Olympics. Arguably one of the most magnificent evergreens in the forest, this beauty exhibits a reddish brown bark and wood, and scale-like sharply pointed leaves that produce a strong, woody fragrance when crushed.

If given the right environment, these trees get huge! In fact, the largest western redcedar in our state, a whopping 174 feet high and 19.5 feet in diameter, is found near Lake Quinault, not far from the resort.


This article originally appeared in the Jan+Feb 2014 issue of Washington Trails magazine. Join WTA to get your one-year subscription.

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Hiker + Scrambler: Stronger Skills Over Rock and Snow

Posted by Loren Drummond at Jan 28, 2014 02:45 PM |
Hiker + Scrambler: Stronger Skills Over Rock and Snow

An always smiling scrambler on the summit of Rampart Mountain. Photo by Dave Butler, courtesty of The Mountaineers.

Hikers are a lot of things: urban ramblers, naturalists, photographers, trail runners, parents, birders, alpinists, historians, educators, geocachers, scientists. This year, Signpost Blog will take a look into the other passions driving hikers to get out and explore Washington's trails and wild places.

Seeking out skills to explore the high country year-round

When WTA member Jared Pearce first moved to Washington from California, he was already a hiker and backpacker. He found WTA's website and began exploring the trails in his new backyard, finding some glorious spots among the peaks and valleys of the Cascades.

What he didn't expect to find, however, was so much snow. Used to the mountain seasons in California, he found himself frustrated by the shorter backpacking season in Washington's high country. He also noticed that a lot of the trip reports he followed into the shoulder seasons mentioned the use of ice axes.

Pearce realized he needed new skills to stay in the backcountry more months of the year, to explore responsibly off-trail, and to move more safely over snow and rock.

"I wanted to learn how to use an ice axe," Pearce says. And that's when he decided to take a scrambling class with one of WTA's partners, The Mountaineers.

What is alpine scrambling?

Alpine scrambling sits somewhere between hiking and technical mountain climbing. A day of scrambling could include traveling from a trail to a summit, making your way off-trail and up a steep snow slope or rocky knifes-edge ridge.

It doesn't require quite the extensive (and heavy) set of ropes and anchors that climbing does, but it does use a bit of specialized equipment that a traditional backpacker might not have in their gear closet, including a helmet, ice axe, and mountaineering boots (stiffer and stouter than backpacking for stability over loose rock and for kicking steps in snow). Most of the equipment can be rented.

A safer scamper: what can you learn in a scrambling class?

Depending on where you live, you may need to take several classes to build (and practice) your alpine scrambling skills. If, like Pearce, you decide to take a class through the Seattle, Everett, Olympia, Kitsap or Tacoma branches of the Mountaineers, then you'll work your way through a series of lectures, workshops and field trips. The skills you'll cover include:

  • Navigation using a map and compass
  • First aid
  • Instruction on how to move safely over ice and loose rock
  • Leave No Trace skills, like how to travel responsibly off-trail and over sensitive alpine vegetation
  • Risk assessment, decision-making and decision-making in a group

      Who is a scrambling class right for?

      You'll find men and women, from college students to retirees, all with incredibly diverse backgrounds in the scrambling community. Karen Daubert, WTA's Executive Director, has long been an alpine scrambler. She often combines her hikes with a peak scramble. Last weekend she hiked to Annette Lake and then scrambled up to Abiel Peak's west ridge.

      If you've ever wanted or needed to head off trail and cross a scree field or up to a summit, but felt out of your depth, a class might be a logical next step.

      "A lot of backpackers spot a saddle and want to head up it," says Pearce. "The Mountaineers scrambling course helps you read the terrain and know when you might be getting in over your head."

      Any hiker who wants a structured environment to dip their toe into beginner technical skills—like navigating over ice and snow—might find a scrambling class a good place to start. Plus, it's never a bad idea to practice to navigation and first aid skills.

      "These are perishable skills," Pearce says. "The more you do any of these skills, the better off you'll do in the backcountry."

      Backpackers who want to seek out more solitude or put together their own traverses and loop routes involving a section of off-trail travel might also be interested in the class. Anyone considering thru-hiking a long trail (like the Pacific Crest Trail) when you might need to use an ice axe might benefit as well.

      Pearce says he's also found a great community and camaraderie through his class and the club. He's met people young and old to share adventures with who also share his passion for giving back to Washington's wild places. He now volunteers his time with the Mountaineers scrambling committee and says that helping others learn has reinforced his own skills.

      Sign up for a scrambling class

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        Hack your Volunteer Vacation

        Posted by Anna Roth at Jan 28, 2014 12:25 PM |
        Hack your Volunteer Vacation

        A group of happy volunteers on the 2013 Bird Lake Volunteer Vacation. Photo by Hal Pelton.

        Almost everyone who turns out for Volunteer Vacations has some camping and backpacking experience, as well as tricks to make their time in the backcountry comfortable. We asked longtime volunteer vacationer Hal Pelton how he makes his week working with WTA even more cozy.

        Your home away from home

        Especially on a frontcountry vacation where you can drive most of your gear in, bigger is better. Everything you need for a week of trail work can take up a lot of room, particularly if the weather calls for rain gear. Plus, having room to spread out at the end of a day will be a welcome luxury. And it's a lot easier to find things and get dressed in a tent you can stand up in.

        • A thin, cheap door mat helps keep dirt and leaves out of your tent.
        • A light-weight tarp stretched over the entrance keeps rain out of the tent and off your bag.
        • Bring a good mattress. A week of hard work calls for lots of rest.
        • You can stretch the temperature rating of your sleeping bag by layering heavy socks, long johns and a cap.

        Stay dry out there

        Washington doesn't get its verdant green forests without lots of rain. If you're expecting a little dampness while you're working a trail, be prepared! Take extra rain gear and gloves, and keep in mind that leather isn't the best material when wet. You might even benefit from an umbrella for when hanging out in camp.

        Keeping camp cozy and clean

        • A clock with a loud alarm will save you from missing breakfast.
        • An insulated cup keeps coffee or tea warm.
        • Body wipes help with personal sanitation, especially if the Sun Showers don't get warm enough.
        • A head lamp gets you around camp, and to the outhouse or toilet trench.

        Work-a-day (or five)

        • On the trail, hydration bladders that fit in your day pack are handy, but good old water bottles are easier to have close at hand as you move along with your work.
        • A drawstring bag lunch bag can be useful for keeping your goodies separate from your gear.
        • Knee pads let you get close to the job with more comfort. Strap-on pads are OK, but the kind inserted into pockets in your Carhartts will always be with you.

        An urgent issue: bathroom breaks

        There is a story told by Tom Hornbein of when he and Willi Unsoeld were stormbound in their tent, high on the West Ridge of Mount Everest. He felt smug about his "pee bottle" saving him from the need to take trips out into the storm -- until he over-filled it. If you want to save yourself a chilly trip to the loo at night, consider taking a pee bottle or two. And do take a small towel.

        Nalgene Cantenes work well for these. They roll up for transport and are easy to clean out with mild bleach water.

        WTA Note: Ladies -- we know there are bathroom options out there, but we haven't isolated an optimal one. Do you have any suggestions for the best way to handle nature's midnight calls? What about other ways you've found to bring comfort into the backcountry? Let us know in the comments!

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        Preview These Awesome Backcountry Trips Now!

        Posted by Anna Roth at Jan 24, 2014 04:10 PM |
        Preview These Awesome Backcountry Trips Now!

        Don't forget a comfy chair when you head into the backcountry. Photo by Kathy Bogaards.

        Get out your calendars -- WTA's backcountry trail maintenance trips are on the schedule and ready for your review. This season we're heading to incredible destinations all over the state, including several areas we've never visited before, like Horseshoe Basin and the Entiat, as well as some old favorites.

        So take a few minutes and plan your summer of volunteering -- registration starts Feb. 3 at 10:00 a.m. sharp!

        Volunteer Vacations

        Take a weeklong vacation into the wild, enjoying the company of your fellow crew members, extraordinary views, and delectable cuisine, all while working to maintain trails we love all over our beautiful state.

        >> Read up on our 2014 Volunteer Vacation opportunities.

        Backcountry Response Teams (BCRTs)

        Ready to step it up? Head out into the backcountry for three to eight days with a seasoned team of hikers and trail workers. You'll be responsible for packing in your own food and gear; we'll provide the camaraderie and great memories.

        >> Read up on our 2014 BCRT opportunities.

        Youth Volunteer Vacations - Scholarships Available

        Are you eager to experience new challenges, learn new skills and meet new people? Join WTA's youth program to learn all about the world of building and maintaining hiking trails, experienced in a safe, teamwork-oriented environment in various locations across the state.

        >> Read up on our 2014 Youth Volunteer Vacation opportunities.

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        GORP is Good for You

        Posted by Anna Roth at Jan 22, 2014 12:10 PM |
        GORP is Good for You

        Add plenty of nuts into your trail mix. (They're good for you!) Photo by Anna Roth.

        The standby energy mix of 'good old raisins and peanuts' is well-known and appreciated among the hiking community for its merits on trail. A handful of this stuff gives you energy for that final assault to the summit, or helps you recharge while admiring the view from your lunch spot.

        But two recent studies published in The New England Journal of Medicine suggest that adding other nuts to the mix and snacking on them throughout the day (even off-trail) can lead to a longer, healthier life.

        The science behind nuts

        Nuts are classified as fruits, and most of the nuts that humans consume are the seeds of the nut fruit. Because seeds must contain all the necessary ingredients to support life, the nutrients found in nuts promote growth and help healthy tissues develop. In other words, nuts are chock-full of biologically active materials which are known contributors to a healthy lifestyle. The following are just some of the benefits that can be gained by adding nuts to your diet.

        • Nuts contain dietary fiber, which can reduce cholesterol levels, and as a rule, 62 percent of the fat found in nuts is monounsaturated, meaning it supports the healthy cholesterol HDL, rather than the harmful LDL cholesterol.
        • There is less saturated fat in nuts than in olive oil, long renowned for its health benefits.
        • Nuts are full of omega-3 fatty acids, which lower triglycerides and blood pressure.
        • Many nuts, almonds especially, contain high levels of vitamin E, an antioxidant, as well as other compounds known to have anti-inflammatory qualities.

        These benefits aren't limited to just one or two types of nut. They can be reaped from pisatchios, almonds, walnuts, pine nuts, macadamia nuts, Brazil nuts, pecans, cashews, hazelnuts, and peanuts. Just be sure that you spring for the raw or the unsalted variety. Too much salt in your diet can raise blood pressure, zeroing out the effects of the omega-3 fatty acids.

        Share your GORP tips below. Have you worked out the perfect ratio of different nuts in your GORP? Tell us about it in the comments below.


        Learn more about the studies behind these findings in this New York Times article. Happy snacking!

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        Fee-Free Days for 2014

        Posted by Susan Elderkin at Jan 16, 2014 12:05 PM |
        Fee-Free Days for 2014

        Comet Falls in Mount Rainier National Park is a great summer destination for 1 of the 11 National Park Service fee-free days in 2014. Photo by Rob Mapes.

        Federal and state public lands agencies have recently announced their fee-free days for 2014. These are dates where you can park at trailheads or recreation facilities without hanging a Northwest Forest Pass or Discover Pass or paying a park or refuge entrance fee.

        Plan to explore a new area on a fee free day

        WTA has compiled all of the 2014 dates below—18 in total—along with which agencies are recognizing each date. Some dates, say National Public Lands Day, are fee-free across all federal and state agencies. Others, such as Earth Day, are recognized only by one agency (Washington State Parks).

        Also note that Washington State Parks is the only state public lands agency that has fee free days. The Department of Natural Resources and Washington Fish & Wildlife have none. There are no fee free days at places like Mount Si or Ancient Lakes.

        Balancing funding for public lands with access for all

        WTA encourages hikers to purchase the Northwest Forest Pass and Discover Pass. Revenue from these passes helps fund vital services at trailheads, recreational facilities and parks across the state.

        Fee-free days, however, are a great way to introduce new people to public lands and trails and provides opportunities for those who cannot afford to purchase a pass. \

        Please refer to WTA's Recreation Pass Info page for a comprehensive run-down on all passes for public lands in Washington State.

        Federal and State Fee Free Days for 2014



        Participating Agencies

        January 19-20


        Martin Luther King Jr. Day weekend

        Washington State Parks


        January 20


        Martin Luther King Jr. Day weekend

        National Park Service
        US Forest Service
        US Fish & Wildlife Service
        Bureau of Land Management


        February 15-17


        Presidents Day Weekend

        National Park Service
        US Forest Service
        US Fish & Wildlife Service
        Bureau of Land Management
        March 19 Washington State Parks Birthday Washington State Parks
        April 19 Spring Saturday free day Washington State Parks

        April 19-20

        National Parks opening weekend

        National Park Service
        US Fish & Wildlife Service
        Bureau of Land Management
        April 22 Earth Day Washington State Parks
        June 7 National Trails Day US Forest Service
        June 7-8 Free Fishing Weekend Washington State Parks
        June 14 National Get Outdoors Day US Forest Service
        Washington State Parks

        August 25

        National Park Service Birthday
        National Park Service
        US Fish & Wildlife Service
        Bureau of Land Management
        Washington State Parks


        September 27


        National Public Lands Day

        National Park Service
        US Forest Service
        US Fish & Wildlife Service
        Bureau of Land Management
        Washington State Parks
        November 8-11
        Veterans Day weekend
        US Forest Service


        November 11


        Veterans Day

        National Park Service
        US Fish & Wildlife Service
        Bureau of Land Management
        Washington State Parks

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        Register for an Outdoor Leadership Training Workshop

        Posted by Andrew Pringle at Jan 16, 2014 09:15 AM |
        Register for an Outdoor Leadership Training Workshop

        Krista Dooley, WTA’s Youth Program Manager, co-facilitates a Day Hike Workshop in 2013. Photo by Greg Moring

        Access to free gear, trip funding and training workshops are now available for teachers and youth organizations who want to get youth, age 10-18, out on the trail.

        Outdoor experiences are a powerful tool for positive youth development and Washington Trails Association wants to increase access to these experiences so that the next generation of public land stewards can benefit from fun and safe outdoor adventures.

        Who should attend an OLT workshop? If you work with youth, ages 10-18, (or are in training to work with youth) then these skills workshops are for you! Teachers, youth workers from community organizations, program managers and youth ministers have all attended OLT workshops.

        Community information sessions

        Want to learn more or chat with our program staff? Come to a free community information and networking session.

        Skills-building workshops to safely take youth hiking or camping

        Adult trip leaders (or aspiring leaders) can sign up to attend experiential training workshops that cover how to plan and safely lead a memorable outdoor trip for youth who have limited or no experience with hiking or camping.


          Andrew Teaching 2013 600p x 340p

          Free gear lending library

          Workshop graduates get access to a free gear lending library which allows them to outfit their group and chaperones with appropriate rain gear, layers, boots, backpacks and more.

          Mini-grants to make your outdoor trips possible

          For many schools or youth groups, the simple act of getting to the trailhead may pose a barrier to a great outdoor educational experience. That's where our mini-grants come in.

          Workshop graduates can also apply for mini-grants of up to $250 to help mitigate the cost of transportation, fuel, food or other trip costs. Applying is quick and reporting back is easy.

          Optional trail work parties

          WTA-led trail work is a great way to get a youth group outside and engaged in public land stewardship. Schools and organizations can use the free gear lending library and apply for mini-grants to make these outings possible.

          Want to get involved? Contact Andrew Pringle, Outdoor Leadership Training Coordinator, at 206-971-9968 or

          > Learn more about the program offerings
          > Sign up for an upcoming workshop or event
          > Join the OLT Facebook group to stay connected

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          How 16 Photographers Captured the Winning Shots

          Posted by Loren Drummond at Jan 15, 2014 10:45 AM |
          Filed under:

          Photographers submitted more than 2,100 stunning images from Washington trails to our annual Northwest Exposure Photo Contest last fall. We were blown away by the submissions and the rich stories behind each one. It was tough to choose, but we are so excited to share the winners with you.

          Photography is one of the best ways we can share the stories and experiences of Washington's trails. Great photos inspire us to get outside and to protect the places and trails we love the most.

          We asked the photographers what inspired them and how they captured their winning shots. Here's what they said:

          Grand Prize: Kristin Elwell


          "My husband and I had just climbed Dragontail Peak after being thwarted by weather for a couple of days, and a little goat family was waiting at Aasgard Pass to congratulate us upon our return. I tried to snap a few pictures of them showing off their scrambling skills, and I happened to capture this fascinating moment."

          Technique: "I love great lighting, I love my special lenses, and I love having time to capture just the right shot. However, I had none of these things when I took this picture. I simply grabbed my point and shoot, the only camera I had with me, and snapped away, hoping to capture even a snippet of what I was seeing."

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          What Kind of Trails Do You Want in Larrabee State Park?

          Posted by Kindra at Jan 14, 2014 11:08 AM |
          What Kind of Trails Do You Want  in Larrabee State Park?

          Hikers in Larrabee State Park. Photo by j brink

          How do you want to play in Larrabee State Park in the years to come? Now is your time to weigh in on the future of trails, stewardship and recreation in one of the oldest and most beloved state parks.

          Washington State Parks is just starting the process of planning for the future of Larrabee State Park. Their first step is to listen to the community, learning what kind of experiences and trails visitors value most.

          In short, the planners want your input on what to change or what to save in the state park.

          Two ways to help create a Larrabee you love

          1. Attend the first planning meeting on Thursday, Jan. 16

          Attend and speak up at the first planning meeting, scheduled for 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 16, in the Fairhaven Public Library, 1117 12th St., Bellingham.

          2. Comment in an email or by phone

          Can't make the meeting? Live across the state but love visiting Larrabee? You can also provide a public comment by emailing it to or by calling Park Planner Randy Kline at (360) 902-8632.


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          Four Trails That Need Your Help in January

          Posted by Anna Roth at Jan 10, 2014 11:55 AM |
          Filed under:
          Four Trails That Need Your Help in January

          The view from the Cape Horn trail is the perfect reward after a day of trail work. Photo by WTA staff.

          This month we're working in several locations that need some special attention and we'd love to have your help! Join us for a day full of safety, fun, and work, and make your mark on the trails you love.

          Southwest Washington - Cape Horn Trail

          January 18

          By this date, the official Cape Horn Trail will be open to the public, but there is still work to do decomissioning sections of the old trail. On your way to the worksite, you'll hike along a mostly flat trail that showcases the beautiful scenery in the Columbia Gorge.

          You'll be working at one of two ends of the new "western reroute", and we'll be going about a mile in to access the lower end, so you'll get a nice warmup before you get to the site.

          >> Sign up now for the January 18 work party at Cape Horn.

          Northwest Washington - Two Dollar Trail

          January 26

          Washington's oldest state park is a beautiful weekend destination, complete with camping, ample shoreline for beach walks, and miles of hiking through old-growth pine forest.

          Join us as we work on a project to improve the Two Dollar Trail in Larrabee State Park. You'll learn various trail-building skills, like how to build a supporting crib wall. And there will be plenty of other opportunities to get more familiar with what it takes to create a trail, all with the backdrop of a beautiful state park.

          Take a short hike down to the shoreline after the work party -- sunsets at Larrabee are not to be missed!

          >> Sign up now for the January 26 work party at the Two Dollar Trail.

          Puget Sound - Moss Lake

          January 22, 23, 24, 25, 26

          WTA is building a new trail in in the Moss Lake Natural Area of King County. Join us in the secluded Duvall / Carnation area as we work in a lesser-known King County park brimming with wetlands, beaver dams, and open water.

          Home to a former peat bog, this area plays host to high-quality wetland and forest upland habitats -- extremely valuable ecologically speaking because this combination is a rare habitat in King County.

          Come learn the ins and outs about new trail construction, specifically multi-use trails. Hikers, bikers, and horsemen all use this area to recreate and we want to make it fun for them!

          >> Sign up now for one of the work parties at Moss Lake this month.

          Puget Sound - Big Finn Hill

          January 28, 29, 30, 31

          Big Finn Hill and Saint Edward State Park provide a backcountry experience right in the suburban setting of Kirkland. Nearly 10 miles of hiking and biking trails wind through a lush forest setting near Lake Washington, and WTA is working to improve the trail system here.

          The Big Finn Hill area has a new trail plan in place and WTA is helping develop and improve the trails here.

          By joining us, you'll get a chance to deconstruct some existing structures, help restore the area, or you'll be reestablishing a couple of trails to accommodate various users that flock to Big Finn Hill. You may even get a chance to work on the construction of some boardwalk!

          >> Sign up now for one of the work parties at Big Finn Hill this month.

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