Wilderness Ethics Trip #1: The Pacific Northwest

Itinerary: June 16-June 29, 2010

Space Needle in Seattle

June 16-17: Train departs LaCrosse, WI

June 18: 46 Hours Later, Arrive in Seattle

June 19-21: Backpack North Cascades NP

June 22-23: Visit the San Juan Islands

July 24: Visit Olympic National Park

July 25: Camp at the base of Mt. Saint Helens

July 26: Climb Mt. Saint Helens

July 27: Visit Seattle

July 28-29: Train Ride Home

This was my first visit to the Pacific Northwest. As a kid I had been as far as Arizona a few times, but never farther West of there. This trip was arranged through the University of Dubuque, the college that I began attending in the Fall of 2009. My professor, Dale Easley, was the mastermind behind it and it took very little persuasion to get me to come along. Our group consisted of Dale, two other professors, and about 8 students. To get from little Dubuque, Iowa all the way out to Washington State, we took an Amtrak train. We literally spent several days riding this train there and back (it was about 42 hours each way). This was a unique way to see a part of the country that I had never really seen before.

48 Hours on the Train

As our train rumbled through Minnesota, North Dakota, onto Montana, Idaho, and finally Washington, we watched the landscape vastly change before us. The viewing car was completely surrounded with glass windows and was the perfect place to hang out. The train is something I strongly urge everyone to try at least once, though maybe not for so far of a ride as we went on. Oh, and get a sleeping car if you can afford it. Sleeping upright in those seats is one of the most uncomfortable things in the world. So after our two day long train adventure, we pulled into Union Station in Seattle, Washington. We didn’t stay for long though, Dale was quick to rent a van and set off once again. We would be back to the “Emerald City”. We spent our first night at Rasar State Park, just outside of North Cascades National Park. The campground was wonderful and was a short hike away from the Skagit River, a beautiful mountain spring. We slept light, anxious for our upcoming hike.

North Cascades National Park


Our first big adventure of the trip got underway the following day. We began our three day out-and-back hike into the Cascade wilderness. We took the East Bank Trail along Ross Lake in the Northern section of the park. A 6-8 mile hike on the first day brought us to a campsite just past Roland’s Point. We cooled off in the freezing melted-snow waters of the lake and enjoyed the views that it provided. Other than the nosy deer that literally poked their heads into our tents, we had a peaceful nights sleep. The second day’s hike took us further up Ross Lake, just past Devil’s Creek. This was a great hike as we had a clear view of the lake the entire time and much of the time the trail ran right alongside it. From this campground, me and another guy had the chance to go on a side hike that took us up into the mountains. This was totally worth the effort, mountains could be seen on all sides. It was pretty surreal for a Midwestern boy like me! The third day we hiked back to our 1st campsite, while the morning of the fourth took us back to the van. All in all it was a great backpack trip.

Cascades National Park

San Juan Islands

From here we headed to Anacortes, a sleepy port town on the Pugit Sound. A fellow professor at UD had a home on one of the smaller San Juan Islands, Sinclair, and he brought us by boat to his beachfront property. We welcomed the relaxation after three days out in the wilderness.

The following morning we were surprised by how far the tide had went out. What used to be a shore of 5 or so feet of sand was now at least tripled. The portion that used to be underwater revealed large boulders covered in seaweed and brightly colored starfish!!! A long walk along the shore was a necessity. Later that day our host took us to another one of the islands for a hike to the top of a large bluff. This gave us a much better appreciation for the archipelago.


The Olympic Peninsula

Olympic National Park Hoh RainforestAfter our wonderful stay along “Pungent Sound” (it really wasn’t that stinky), we took a car ferry across it from Edmonds to save some driving time. We then headed West along the Olympic Peninsula. We made a pit-stop in Forks to get our vampire fix (the Twilight series takes place here and there are lots of souvenir shops), before continuing on into the Hoh Rainforest of Olympic National Park. The Pacific Coast of North America contains the largest temperate rain forest on Earth, and Washington has a prime example of this beautiful eco-region. It was a strange, eerie, place, especially at night. The trees are covered in a thick moss that hangs from their branches and are much larger than ones back at home. We saw a group of elk during our night hike in the forest as well, they actually separated our group at one point when they crossed the trail. Needless to say, it was a creepy night in the rain forest.

Climbing Mt. Saint Helens

Mt Saint Helens

Mt. St HelensThe next day it was off to Mt. Saint Helens. We made camp at the base of the volcano, waiting until morning to actually summit it. Waking up at 4AM under normal circumstances would have been tough, but to climb a mountain it was no problem.

Mt. Saint Helen's Trail Map

The hike was long and extremely strenuous. It took a good 4 or 5 hours to reach the top. Our whole group did succeed though!!!Since the volcano had erupted in 1980, the summit was actually the rim of a good-sized crater. The views were spectacular; a great place for lunch! The way down was much easier too; we just slid down the glacier that ran almost the entire length of the volcano. Yes, there was still a lot of snow, even in late July. What an experience it was to scale a volcano!

Summit of Mt Saint Helens

A Quick Visit to Seattle

Our final day in Washington was spent wandering the streets of Seattle. It was a neat city with a great seaside atmosphere. We didn’t have enough time to really do a whole lot,but when I go back I definitely want to go up the Space Needle and into the city’s world-class aquarium. Oh, and see a Seattle Sounders game!!! So we boarded the train once again and headed home… it was an awesome trip with some really great people. Can’t wait to do it again!!!

Pikes Place Market

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Written by Jake G

I’m a 26 year old who loves to hike, bike, backpack, and explore the outdoors. I’m a Midwesterner who currently resides in sunny Arizona. I hope to inspire others with my adventures and maybe give some advice for your future vacations. Follow me as I travel around the country and...
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