Reserve Eploration

You’d think with the extended 4th of July weekend we’d be travelling somewhere far away for our weekend adventure, but sometimes you just need a relaxing break with no big plans.  We still wanted to enjoy the excellent weather though, so I was given a tour of the nearby Washington Park Arboretum, just south of the University of Washington.


Ducks enjoying the weather

The park is a nature preserve known for its wildlife and urban trail network.  Many people rent canoes and kayaks to float through the wetlands.


Boardwalks and lilypads

It was a perfect summer day for around along the waterfront in the heat.  Turtles, ducks, and flowering marsh plants greeted us at every turn.


Flowering waters

Some of the more stagnant pools were completely covered with tiny algae leaves, which created some neat patterns with the dancing shadows.


Natural pond scum

My favourite picture from the day comes with a bit of a history lesson from the area.  During the highway boom there were extensive plans to build freeways throughout the Seattle Metro area, the most infamous of which was named the R.H. Thompson Expressway and would have cut through part of the reserve.


Passing over serenity

The proposed route would have connected to the existing highway (SR-520) at this location with a huge interchange over the wetlands.  The plan sparked protests and was eventually defeated by a special election in 1972.  Despite its defeat some of the connector ramps had already been built above the reserve and these still exist today as a reminder of what might have been.  A recent art installation entitled the “Gate to Nowhere” coated one set of columns under one of these ghost ramps in metal, creating an eerie portal you can float through.


The Gate to Nowhere

We didn’t jump in a boat on this trip, but I’m sure we’ll be back before the summer ends to cool off again.  Plus I need to enter the gate before the ghost ramps are removed as part of the floating bridge replacement project in the coming few years.

Photos taken 6 July 2014 with a Nikon D7100

Photo of the Month: June 2014

Last month didn’t involve nearly as many pictures as last month, so in that respect it was a lot easier to choose my favourites.  There were a number of gems, and I really wanted to choose a picture from our trip to Montana, but the composition of one shot from early in the month just spoke to me.
Here are my top three from June:

3. Drifting – Bandera Mountain – 29 June 2014


2. Morning LightBitterroot Range – 22 June 2014


1. StackedMount Bessemer – 7 June 2014


A Bitterroot Backpack

As I alluded to previously, last weekend we took Friday off and headed east to Montana.  The main reason for the visit was the wedding reception for my best friend from Reno and his new wife.  She is originally from the Bitterroot Valley, so what better excuse to get out, visit, and do some hiking and camping in a new area.


Pitstop in Spokane

The drive from Seattle to our destination was about 8 hours, with Spokane the logical midpoint.  We stopped to stretch our legs and grab brunch at the delicious Madeleine’s Cafe by Riverfront Park before continuing onward.


Rapids on the Spokane River

After the reception ended we spent the night nearby at the Blodgett Campground outside Hamilton the first night, heading out early the next morning to backpack up into the mountains.


Towering rock peaks

The trail follows Blodgett Creek up the valley and ends at Blodgett Lake.  We planned to go swimming at some point on the hike, but after feeling how cold the water was in the river we thought better of it.


Blodgett Creek Cascades

As we needed to hike out and drive back to Seattle on Sunday we decided to not go the entire 12 miles to the lake.  Instead we went hiked about 6 miles in, set up a hammock and relaxed for a while, then turned around and did 3 more miles back down the trail to make the next morning easier.


Nothing beats camping in the wilderness

That night we stayed by a beaver pond and footbridge over the creek, basking in the glory of the rocky peaks and stars all around us.


Star tails and night lights

Just as the sun was setting I realised a giant natural arch had been hiding above us, but had to wait for morning to take an adequate picture.


Hidden wonders

All these exposed rock faces are a huge draw for rock climbers.  In fact it was a work friend who climbs that suggested this valley for us to explore, and the campground host told us a tonne of people visit this location specifically for the sport.  It’s easy to see why…


Climbers paradise

I’d been wanting to go hiking in a more exposed location for a while, similar to the Sierra Peaks I talked about last year, so this was exactly what I was hoping to find.  The landscape was amazing, especially when reflected in the many pools in the creek.


Wondrous refections

Hiking out in the morning made for some great pictures as the soft light created a number of neat shadows.  It streamed over the peaks, filtered through the greenery, and danced around inside my lenses.  It was a great weekend, and I can’t wait to go explore more of the wild expanses of Montana!


Shifting beams and shadows

Photos taken 20-22 June, 2014 with a Nikon D7100

Missing Mount Bessemer

After getting my first glimpse of the Middle Fork Valley from Mount Teneriffe last week I decided we had to explore deeper this weekend.  We also wanted another 10+ mile hike fairly close to home, so we chose the 13 mile Mount Bessemer Road trail.


Budding trees near the top

The weather wasn’t looking great, but we decided to head out anyway and hope for the best.  Our gamble didn’t really pay off as we were in the clouds for the last third of the trail, with no views available from the overlooks.


Lots and lots of cloud

That being said, at no time did we feel we had wasted the day.  The fog was amazingly pretty sifting through the trees, making them seem leagues away when they were really right in front of us.


Waves of melting snow

We didn’t really read the WTA description this time, just heading off to the trailhead on a whim.  This partly backfired as we were unaware the trail followed a logging road the entire way, eventually turning right to make it up the ridge.  Luckily we decided to just stay on the road and only missed that last turn, ending up on a nearby talus slope unsure of where to go next.


A work of art

The road terminated and we scrambled up a short distance, eventually coming upon another old road hidden above.  The rocks were wet due to the moisture in the air so we thought it best to not take our chances on the talus anymore.  Trying to get home with a broken leg is not something we wanted to deal with.  To commemorate the point where we turned around we built a small monument out of surrounding materials on the ground.


Turn around point

The swirling mists made the artwork even more epic as we walked away.  On the way down the skies began to clear slightly, revealing the peaks that had been hiding all day.


Misty peaks jutting skyward

Much of the hike had been under blank white sky, which gave us more reason to look at what was under our feet and along the sides of the road.


One of many neat rocks we found

Slightly metamorphosed rocks with bands of various colours greeted us, and a few ended up tagging along back to the car.  We also saw flowers and trees beginning to bloom as well as the evidence of bears in the area (including fresh tracks and scat).


A roadside attraction

Despite the less than idea conditions it was a fun filled day and a great warmup for our trip to Montana (starting tomorrow).  Our next hike will be in the Bitterroot Valley so until then!

Photos taken 14 June, 2014 with a Nikon D7100


Day 5: Historic Shetland

It’s been awhile since my Scotland posts due to work, but we are finally back in the islands again. Our second day on the mainland unintentionally focused on the long the history of settlement in the area. Once again we mainly stayed on the western peninsula, with a slight venture into the central section (map of points visited).


Huxter watermills

The first stop was the old Norse Watermills at Huxter near Sandness and is the farthest west you can drive on the mainland.  It was clear walking around the mills that these people were very industrious, and also very short.  My sister provides scale at 5ft 7in tall.  The stream wound through/past three of these mills in a small gorge, eventually tumbling over a ledge into the ocean.


A small people


Our next stop went back in time to Stanydale Temple, a short drive to the southeast.  This site is thought to have been constructed around 3,500 years ago for some communal purpose.  The exact reason is unknown, but it may have been religious in nature.


Stanydale gate

The overall footprint of the structure is surprisingly large, especially when taking into account how long ago it was built.  Just imagine these walls built up slightly higher with a roof overhead, a few other small farm houses nearby, and fields surrounding the entire grouping.  All built and worked with crude implements in these harsh windswept conditions.  It’s amazing to think how far we have come as a species in such a short period of time.




Stanydale Temple sits in the middle of the countryside with houses dotting the hills.  Some very old rock fences have all but returned to the peat from where they came, leaving only trace lines of stone and raised earth where they once stood.  Newer rock walls also designate previous property lines, while the most recent designations are made with wood and wire.  Rocky knobs pop out from the peat ever so often, making for a much more dynamic landscape than at first notice.


Stanydale Temple countryside

Once back in the car it was off to the second largest town of Scalloway to see the castle and surrounding islands.  Scalloway is the second largest settlement on the islands, and has a very Scandinavian feel due to its architecture and colours.


Shetland Ponies in Scalloway


The town centre seen from the west

Our main reason for stopping in Scalloway was to visit the castle.  We arrived to late to explore the visitor centre, but the castle and grounds were still accessible so we wandered around for some time learning about the history of rule on the islands.  The Wikipedia page has a lot of history for those interested, but some key points are the Shetlands were Norwegian territory until 1472 when they were ceded to Scotland, and Scalloway was the main seat of power on the islands until Lerwick became the capital in 1708.


Interior ruins

Eventually the curator found us in the main chamber and told us it was time to lock up, unless we wanted to let ourselves out when we were done.  We still wanted to explore, so he gave us the key to the castle and told us to drop it by the side door after locking the castle.  It’s not every day you get to lock a castle so we each had a turn, just to make sure it was truly locked.


Locking up

Before heading home for the evening we took a drive around the small islands connected by bridges to the mainland south of Scalloway.  Trondra, West Burra, and East Burra were mostly rural with a few small settlements.  The main highlight here came in the form of a white sand beach with some neat rocks and faults near the north end of West Burra.  It turned out to be much MUCH colder than it looked from above.


Enticing Shetland beaches

Photos taken 23 May with a Nikon D7100

Look forward to a Scotland post each week for the next month or so!

Up Mount Teneriffe

My first hike back in the Pacific Northwest since holiday was a doozy.  One of my friends and I chose Mount Teneriffe, thinking it was between 10 and 12 miles long.  However, neither of us bothered to read the WTA page for the hike beforehand, and it turned out to be 14 miles with almost 3000 feet of elevation gain, including an extremely steep last half mile to reach the peak.  After being at near sea level for two weeks straight with no hikes over 8 miles (and those hikes not on completely solid ground) I was definitely feeling the burn.


Flowers on a hot day

The trail is rather straight forward for most of the distance.  After about a mile up the trail there is a turn off for Teneriffe/Kamikaze Falls, which I hiked back in March.  Stay left on the main logging road, and four miles later there will be another turnoff to the left, this one leading to Mount Si.  Another half mile and you reach the saddle and get some great views to the north.  Someone had built rock arrows on the ground, which directed us up a rubble slope.  We decided these had to be correct, which turned out to be true.


Coming and going

This VERY STEEP logging road ended abruptly, which we felt was extremely odd.  There was no indication of where to go, but after a brief period of exploring the surrounding forest we stumbled on the footpath.  It turns out there was a large branch pointing the way, but we hardly noticed it until the return trip.


The footpath cuts into the forest just behind the larger snow patch

The next section of the trail dodges through trees, slowly gaining in elevation before quickly loosing it, just to rocket back up an incline to the summit.


Felled pathway

I took it slow on the last section, but as soon as I hit granite I gained a burst of energy and bounded to the top.  Mount Si and its surrounding peaks were there waiting to meet me.


High point

The views were spectacular!  360° of clear skies with light fluffy clouds and a slight breeze were all the incentive we needed to relax for two hours and contemplate life among the wildflowers.


Above Mount Si (the peak at the centre of the photo)


No better spot to relax

To the west were the higher peaks of the Cascade Range, including the Middle Fork Valley.  Currently the road into the valley is being paved, but come next year a whole new trove of trails will be open.  I can’t wait for that day after seeing what landscapes lie out there.


Looking east into the Middle Fork Valley

I already mentioned the flowers, but there were also loads of insects transporting pollen around as well as birds swooping above collecting any stragglers pushed to high by the winds.  After animals get used to your presence it’s amazing what you can see.


Life at the peak

One of the last things I noticed before heading back down the mountain was the towers of downtown Seattle and Bellevue rising just above one of the easterly knolls.  The space needle is barely visible at the centre of the picture, above the highest point of the hill.


The urban zone

It was a perfect day for a long hike just outside of the metro area, but I’m looking forward to a true alpine hike next weekend.

Photos taken 7 June, 2014 with a Nikon D7100

Photo of the Month: May 2014

Sorry for the delay this month, getting back from vacation cause a huge backup of things to do, so I won’t waste any more time.
There are many pictures to choose from in May it’s not even funny. I have almost exactly 1000 pictures from my two weeks in Europe, with about 100 more from the rest of the month. Taking the pictures, attempting to learn Polish (and Scottish English at times), and figuring out various travel networks was the easy part. Finding one picture that really captures my month of photos, THAT is the hard part. This is what I’ve settled on after a plane flight worth of debate…

Number 5: Broch Fence, 25 May
Number 4: End of the Line, 29 May
Number 3: Wedged Boat, 25 May
Number 2: Halt/Stoj, 29 May
Number 1: Flowers and Towers, 30 May

Day 4: Shetland Welcome

After sleeping surprisingly well on a rolling ship the third day, we arrived to port in Lerwick at 8:00am.  Our first views of the island from the ship included rolling hillsides dotted with small stone houses, but before we could get there we had to navigate out of the city (small town really).


Our link to the North

While it was still early we figured we might as well check downtown for a breakfast place, but everything still appeared to be closed.  After asking around we stumbled upon a small cafe serving traditional Scottish breakfasts.


First look at Lerwick

Now it was my turn to play navigator in order to find the cottage we had rented to the west for the week.  Because the mainland is relatively small, about 50 miles north/south by 30 miles east/west (with many voes between), finding our new home was fairly straight forward.


What a view to wake up to…

The croft house looked out over a secluded bay in the “town” of Raewick, which is really just a random collection of about 10 houses spread over the hillside.  After settling in we thought it best to get out into that very countryside we could see out the window, so we drive a short distance west to do the Silwick and Westerwick Circle.


Sea spires

The jagged rock spires were among the first things we saw on the hike, which starts at farm at the end of a one-track road.  Nearly all Shetland Islands walks are though farm/grazing land, but it is all (that we encountered that is) publicly accessible.


Gold-sided steam with farmhouses old and new

From a distance the hills looked a greenish tan, which was mostly the peat, but upon closer inspection there were purple, red, pink, and yellow flowers coating the ground.


Pink shoots springing up from the moss

Massive cliffs composed the majority of the coastal landscape we encountered, including numerous sea stacks (more like spikes) like those we found at the onset of our trek.  Some sections were more spectacular than others, but that does not mean it wasn’t just as amazingly beautiful.


An extremely rugged coastline…


of inlets, islands, arches, and cliffs

One of my favourite moments from the hike occurred while I was trying to take my sister’s picture (unbeknownst by her).  I had positioned her looking over a bay with multiple sea stacks, but after taking a few non so great shots a fishing trawler stormed into the picture.  It dodged and weaved between the rocks, then sped toward the shore.  I thought it was going to run aground, but at the last instant it spun on a dime and powered back out to sea, which is when I snapped this shot.  I would presume this was done to heard the fish into an area where it could trap them easily, but it seemed rather risky to me.


Risky fishing in the voes

After walking along the cliff edge on the way out the route has you turn around and head straight back to the starting point, sending you right through the heart of the peat bogs.



I mentioned a bad bog experience that was seared into my mind on the Isle of Skye 6 years ago, and I was not about to let that happen to me again.  This trip I came prepared with freshly broken-in waterproof hiking boots, and boy was I glad!  I felt like I could walk through anything (and found out a few days later this was pretty much true, but more on that later).  Peat is mostly just water, so every step has the potential to inundate your footwear if you don’t pay close attention to your footfalls.


Getting a sinking feeling

Even so, this hike was a so much fun we decided we had to do some sort of hike every day we were on the island group.  This had been the plan from the start, but it is always best to have a good experience before repeating the activity every day for a week.  After returning to the car we headed home for the evening, first stopping to pick up some fresh eggs for breakfast from a neighbour’s house.


Nothing quite like fresh free range eggs

No to shabby of a start to a week of island life, this is if you enjoy hiking, new landscapes, wind (lots of wind), and bogs.  Bring on the next day!

Photos taken 22 May with a Nikon D7100

Day 3: Town and Ferry

My dad arrived in Saint Andrews in the morning on the third day. As it had also been two years since he was last here we decided to hit the main sites; the cathedral, castle, and beach.


Castle Sands

We didn’t bother going inside the castle grounds due to cost, and my sister said it really wasn’t worth the time because it is so small. Plus, Saint Andrews is known as the birthplace of golf, not for its castle.


Saint Andrews Castle

The ruins of a massive cathedral were also on our brief walking tour. Stone outlines mark where the exterior walls used to stand. What sections are still visible probably only account for about a third of the old structure’s floor plan.


Saint Andrews Cathedral ruins

Surrounding the ruins lie hundreds of gravestones, some of the oldest are probably from the 15th Century.



We also ended up getting some delicious ice cream at Janetta’s, which is apparently world famous, not that I’d heard of it before.


Street scene

After a few hours in town we needed to start our journey to the north to catch the ferry in Aberdeen. My dad was still in the Pacific Coast Timezone, so I got to drive much of the way. Back in 2011 I lived in Wellington, New Zealand, and ever since then I’ve been longing to drive on the left side of the road again. However, I never drove a manual while there, and retail cars always take some time to get used to, so a few stalls in the middle of roundabouts might have occurred.


Towers in Aberdeen

Arriving a bit early in Aberdeen gave us the opportunity to explore the city’s coastal walkway. Built on a large seawall, the paved path goes on for miles alongside the beach.


Beach walk

Then it was off to the ferry, where we would be spending the night in a birth. About half of the route travels parallel to the east coast of Scotland, then we moved to open waters for the remaining journey to the Shetlands.


Goodbye mainland

We had no idea what was awaiting us upon our arrival on the fourth day.

Photos taken 21 May with a Nikon D7100

Day 2: About the town

Day two has come and gone already.  My sister had a lot of packing to do as she needs to move out of her flat upon returning from Poland, so this day was more low-key (and relaxing) than the first day.  We started with a Scottish brunch at Mitchell’s Deli near the centre of town, which had a great atmosphere and “country sheik” decor according to my sister.  It was one of those general store/restaurant/deli type places, and I would highly recommend it if you ever stop by Saint Andrews.


Mitchell’s Deli

On the way home we wandered around some of the university buildings, including one housing a small natural history museum.  The University was founded in 1413 and the buildings around this quad were among its first, so it was pretty neat viewing specimens inside structures around 600 years old.


Ancient quad

Then it was back home for packing and getting caught up on Game of Thrones for a few hours until my sister’s friends began to assemble at the beach for a goodbye fire, made ever difficult by the blustery conditions.


East Sands

Eventually I got the fire started and we enjoyed the flames until the fog and rains started moving in, completely obscuring the nearby church towers and sending whitecaps at the pier.


Rolling in

The photos aren’t as exciting from the second day, and the sky never changed from the monotone grey from the day before, but things are looking up today as we have already seen quite a bit of blue above us.

Until the next time I have internet,

Photos taken 20 May, 2014

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