What an incredible day! We woke up, got breakfast at the local grocery store, and worked our way south toward Lake Quinault. We decided that we would try to keep this day as open and unplanned as possible, and this turned out to be a really good idea. Our first stop was at the “Beach 4” along the Pacific ocean and a part of Olympic NP that borders the water. This was such a cool spot!
The coastal fog blanketed the beach and the trees; the rocks along the beach were all round and smooth. The entire forest was moody and both literally and figuratively cool.
Oh yeah, and the bald eagles! As we hiked along the beach toward some of the tidal pools, I looked up and saw one bald eagle already perched in a tree. Shortly thereafter, his buddy joined him. They chatted for a little bit, which was so fascinating and funny to hear. Andrea took some great photos of both of them perched in the tree and we watched them for a long time.
It was a tranquil and quiet place, with beauty all around, and a perfect first location to visit within the Park.
From Beach 4, we got back in the car to venture further south along the Peninsula. Interestingly, as soon as we left the coastal area, the fog disappeared the sun came back out, and the temperature quickly went up 10 or 15 degrees.
I wanted to make it to Quinault, as my dad reminded me that we had visited there 1993, and I sat in the same chair as FDR! I’m so glad we were able to make that happen, for more reasons than one. Indeed. we were able to see the Lake Quinault Lodge, and take a look inside the Roosevelt Room restaurant, and I had forgotten how beautiful that Lodge was and still is, designed by the same architect who built the Old Faithful Inn in Yellowstone, Robert Reamer.
We were also able to get in a really cool hike, that started along the lake, and then worked its way up into a rain forest. Amazingly tall trees, like the cedar and the western Hemlock and the Sitka Spruce. A good hike for two or three miles through some incredible scenery, this was a loop trail and brought us back to the lake. We changed into our suits, and jumped in the water, which was cool but not cold and incredibly refreshing! Obviously, a terrific way to cool off on a warm summer day.
We ended the day with a trip out to La Push to view the sunset along the Pacific. Dinner on the beach (pizza and a panini) and watching the sun work its way below the coastal fog and slowly to the horizon. We saw several people getting ready to camp on the beach before we trudged back to the car to get back to the hotel and crash. A long but incredible day with two trips to the beach along the Pacific and a walk down memory lane sandwiched in between!
We left Paradise, and were sad to go. An unbelievably beautiful hotel and a gorgeous National Park with amazing views of Mount Rainier.
We weren’t quite done with the park though, as we decided to honor Andrea‘s grandfather and a trip that he made into the park a long time ago. From Paradise, we drove south and then east, descending as we went. Near the southeast corner of the park, we made a left and headed north in order to make it to Chinook Pass. It was there, in 1943, that Andrea‘s grandfather, Robert, stopped and took a photo with a camera that Andrea now owns herself: a Kodak Volenda 160, manufactured in 1938.
We found the spot where he took that photo, or at least, we were very close to it. And to honor his legacy, Andrea took some photos with the very same camera! I took pictures of Andrea taking the pictures, although of course I took mine with my phone. I have no doubt that my phone won’t last nearly as long as Andrea‘s grandfather‘s camera has!
Before leaving the park, we wanted to visit Sunrise and the Visitor Center at the highest point in the park accessible by car. It was a long drive up, with lots of switchbacks, but you were rewarded with cool views of the mountain that you couldn’t see elsewhere. Lots more snow, with more glaciers visible. It was crowded near the top, and we knew we had a long drive ahead of us, so we didn’t stay for too long, but I’m glad we made it to that park as well.
From Sunrise, we knew that we had to drive for about for five hours, to get out to the Olympic National Park and the Olympic Peninsula. For most of the drive, Andrea took the wheel, while I took a decent nap, waking up as we crossed Puget Sound north and west of Tacoma. We worked our way around the Olympic Peninsula, as we were trying to get to Forks. We stopped at Lake Crescent, which is technically inside Olympic NP, to stretch our legs and get views of this beautiful glacial lake. From there, we continued west and south until we made it to Forks. Staying at the Forks Motel was fine, although certainly not extravagant. Regardless, it was clean and convenient, and gave us access to the western section of Olympic NP.
Writing these out of order for the moment. But will get back to Tuesday and Wednesday and Thursday at some point soon. Today we woke up in Port Angeles, at the Olympic Lodge. Very nice and clean and quiet hotel. Easy access to Olympic National Park, and the Olympic National Park Visitor Center, which is just outside of town.
Had breakfast in the hotel and got cleaned and organized and figured out what we were doing this morning. Took our time this morning after a few long days in a row, yesterday especially. At around noon, we drove from Port Angeles up past the Visitor Center and up Hurricane Ridge Road.
A beautiful and relatively quick drive took us up to the Hurricane Ridge Visitor Center. We stopped and got out and had a cooler lunch (tortillas and cheese and turkey and jerky) and explored the area around the parking lot and in the Visitor Center itself. From there, we drove to the trailhead for Hurricane Ridge up to Hurricane Hill. It’s a paved trail, but certainly steep in parts. We worked our way up to the top, pausing a few times to catch our breath, but views from the top are incredible. We were able to see down to Port Angeles and the Juan De Fuca Strait, all the way across to Victoria and Vancouver Island. On a really clear day, you can even see Mt. Baker, north of Seattle and close to the Canadian border, but it was just a LITTLE too cloudy today. Still, great weather at the top, with a few high clouds mixed with a decent amount of sunshine.
Spent a lot of time at the top of Hurricane Hill, which sits at 5757 feet. Saw a few black tail deer, including two bucks, and hiked a but of the trail to Elwha and the Elwha River (not paved). When it started to get too steep and too much of a descent, we decided to turn around to head back to Hurricane Hill Trail. Andrea took a time lapse video, so I am writing this post as the time lapses. Time, of course, always lapses, but as I write this, there’s a video of the clouds and the Olympic Mountains being recorded too.
(Insert time lapse video.)
Bonus: after coming back down the mountain and into Port Angeles, we picked up dinner at the same Pho restaurant we ate at on Thursday night and headed BACK up Hurricane Ridge Road so that Andrea could attempt to get a few photos of the sunset from the mountains. The sky didn’t exactly cooperate, but it was still an amazing place to watch the sun go down and to see darkness creep across the park and the city down below us.
Today we went on a hike that we originally planned on doing yesterday. The hike from Reflection lakes up to Pinnacle Peak. It’s just a short drive from Paradise Inn, so we left around 11 after getting some ice for the cooler, (thank you kind workers in the café!)
We both got some nice photos by Reflection lake looking back at Rainier. It truly does live up to its name!
From the lakes, we started the ascent up to Pinnacle Peak.
It might’ve been a little more steep than the climb to Bench lake and Snow lake, but it was certainly less buggy. We took our time going up, stopping for a lot of photos looking back south at Rainier. We crossed over two or three mountain streams as we climbed higher and higher.
Upon reaching the pass, at about 6200 feet, we encountered amazing views looking south, toward the Tatoosh Wilderness. If not for the haze and smoky skies, we could have seen Mt. Adams and Mt. St. Helens. As it was, we still enjoyed incredible vistas of the southern end of the Park.
From the pass, there were a few options. You could hike along the ridge toward Unicorn Peak, if you were to go to the east. You could climb Plummer Peak, which was to the west. Or you could attempt to scramble to get up near the top of pinnacle Peak. We chose the latter, but quickly realized we wouldn’t make it to the summit. It was just a little too far and a little too difficult. Still, it was a fun, if harrowing, climb and took us right up to an edge.
From this vantage point, we actually had cell reception. So Andrea was able to FaceTime with her parents, and I with mine. We shared with them the views, as best we could.
We scrambled back down to the pass, over some loose rock, going low and going slow. And then from there, even though we were tired and hot and running low on water, we decided to hike up a little bit of Plummer Peak. It was an easier and more gradual hike, and much less of a climb. We reached a beautiful Alpine Meadow with flowing water and a small pond and amazing views back across the valley towards Paradise. And because we had our filter, we were even able to replenish our water supply (and cool off with the water from the high mountain snow and stream.)
At this point, it was time to start walking back down towards the trailhead. We were both pretty tired and hot and sweaty. But we felt pretty damn good!
We made it back down by about 5pm, with two cold drinks waiting for us in the cooler. Headed back up to Paradise Inn, where we’ll have dinner again tonight.
Once again writing this post from the tranquility of our sitting room. A beautiful corner suite (number 302) before we head into the dining room for our last dinner on the mountain!
After leaving Snow and Bench, we paused at Reflection Lakes for a photo but I stayed in the car to enjoy the AC and listen to the Beatles.
We attempted to check in to Paradise Inn but were about two hours too early, so we decided to go for a quick stroll above the Inn. That stroll turned into our second real hike of the day. A walk to Myrtle Falls turned into a “let’s go see those switchbacks” became “Panorama Point” and views of McClure Rock and the Nisqually Glacier. We only climbed about 2000 feet, and didn’t bring enough water; I didn’t even carry a backpack. But it was a great hike with incredible views of the summit of Rainier above us and to the north and the Tatoosh Range to the south!
We saw several bald eagles and even a mountain rescue as a helicopter had to be flown in to Medevac someone off of Panorama Point. We heard conflicting reports, from a broken back or leg to an overweight man experiencing cardiac arrest, but still don’t know exactly what happened. I feel bad for the person involved and for the Park Rangers and medical personnel who had to care for him, but I’m also glad it wasn’t me!
The views above Paradise were incredible, of course, and even though the hike itself wasn’t exactly planned, it ended up being a perfect way to spend the second half of our day!
All in all, two great hikes in one great day! And we even made it back down the mountain in time for our 7 PM dinner reservation at the Paradise Inn (I had the bison bolognese and two glasses of Chardonnay). A delicious meal and a terrific way to end our first day in the park.
Writing this from the sitting room in our hotel at Paradise Inn. That’s right: we have a sitting room.
First full day in Rainier National Park! After having breakfast at the Bunkhouse (and meeting Ollie the dog), we loaded up the outback and drove into the park. It was only a few miles from the bunkhouse to the park boundary, and as soon as we passed the Nisqually Entrance, Andrea couldn’t stop exclaiming how excited she was to see the trees and the moss and the green and the dense forest! We drove along in the Nisqually River, and worked our way to higher elevations.
Before too long, we started to get glimpses of Rainier herself. I had forgotten how massive she is. We were able to turn off along a one-way loop near Ricksecker Point, and get out to start getting photos of the peak. There was definitely some haze, and perhaps some smoke, so we couldn’t always see the summit. We drove along the main road past Reflection Lakes and Pinnacle Peak, and parked at the trailhead for Bench and Snow lakes.
This was a great first hike for our trip! It wasn’t too easy, but it wasn’t too overtly challenging either. The only real issue: a LOT of bugs! Fortunately, Andrea had read some reviews on Alltrails ahead of time, so even though it was really buggy, we had long sleeves and pants on.
There was an incredible array of wildflowers, everywhere you looked, and often behind us, great views of the peak. Fortunately, the trails themselves weren’t very crowded. After a few stops for photos, and one quick pee break, we made our way to Bench Lake. At one point, we made a left when we should’ve made a right, but that ended up being just fine. We worked our way down to the lake on the correct path and got views of a perfect reflection in a still lake with Mt Rainier hovering above!
From Bench Lake, we worked our way to Snow, with a small bit of strenuous climbing and a large bit of flies and mosquitoes. Again, the pants and long sleeve shirt were definitely the right call!
Snow Lake itself was absolutely beautiful! Nestled in a bowl beneath Unicorn Peak in the Tatoosh Range, the lake was serene and, if we had to do it over again, worth jumping into! As it was, we hiked beyond the end of the “maintained” trail and past a beautiful and cold mountain stream: the perfect place to cool off by splashing my face and drenching my buff.
From there, we hiked above the stream, across some glacial rocks and till. Getting views up above Snow Lake were certainly worth the climb, and the higher we got, and the more away from the water, the less buggy too. We hiked along the notion of where a trail might be and worked our way back through some trees to get views of Snow Lake.
From there, we worked our way back down, passing the stream again and catching a glimpse of an osprey that had just caught a fish!
We explored the other side of the lake and saw where the designated / official camping areas were, as well as a PERFECT spot for a swim. We decided against it, however, and recognized we should probably begin to work our way back down to the trailhead.
Heading back down the hill is always a little quicker than the ascent, of course, but we did stop for a few glimpses of Rainier on our way to the car. This really was the perfect hike to start our experience inside this national Park. Little did we know, it wasn’t going to be our only hike of the day!
Woke up at the Moxy Hotel and walked around Lake Union to get to the Subaru dealer for the rental. Sea Plane! Lots and lots of sea planes. Very pretty walk, from downtown Seattle near the Space Needle, across the Fremont Bridge, through Fremont and to the dealer.
After getting the Outback, we returned to the hotel to get our bags and check out. Such friendly people working at the hotel!
Cruised over to Pike Place and the Public Market to do a little touristy sightseeing. The line for the original Starbucks was LONG! Sorry Hazel. Crowds were a little iffy so we didn’t stay long.
Walked down to the water and Elliott Bay with our first glimpses of the Olympic Peninsula! There was a GIANT cruise shop docked near the Seattle Aquarium. Walked back to the car and got some lunch at a nice pizza place, sitting outside. Hopped in the car for the drive south on I-5 toward Ashford and Mt Rainier. Writing this post from the Whittaker bunkhouse, where I stayed 5 years ago with Lauren and Tim and Carl.
Walked a lot today; experiencing some lovely chafing on my inner thighs. Other than that, a nice first day in Washington State! Tomorrow morning we head into Mt Rainier National Park and up to Paradise.
July 30, 2021. It’s been two years since Andrea and I have gone away on a vacation together. And here we sit, waiting at the Philadelphia airport, getting ready to get on a plane together for the first time since our trip to California in the summer of 2019. It’s been a long time, but hopefully the wait will be worth it. We land in Seattle tonight. Then tomorrow, head up to the area outside of Mt. Rainier where I stayed in 2016 with Carl and Tim and Lauren. Then from there, into the park itself. A return to the American west.For me, it’s a return to a part of the country I first visited with my family in 1993, then again to see Pearl Jam and the Eagles in 2002, followed by an attempt to summit Rainier in 2016. For Andrea, this marks her first time to the Pacific Northwest and we’ll add three National Parks to our collective tally: Rainier, Olympic NP and North Cascades. Another adventure in a beautiful place!
As this weird, often awful, sometimes wonderful year comes to a close, I had a few thoughts. The first is that I haven’t missed live events too often, but today found myself missing the roar of the crowd, the anticipation of a live show, the collective swell and rise to our feet when a playoff goal happens in hockey. A walk-off homerun. Singalongs at concerts. High fives with strangers.
We’ll get back to these things, of course. Maybe not ALL the way back in 2021, but slowly and surely. It’s human nature to want to connect with others, to share visceral experiences. There will likely be more caution and perhaps a decent amount of hesitation, especially in the short term. The vaccines will help, but not everyone will line up and the roll-out will be slow. I expect the American summer to be similar to last year’s, with more people venturing out, more collective toes dipping into the waters. This is presuming that things don’t get worse, which they very well could. However, I’m not sure why, but I expect attitudes to improve, with perhaps a slight uptick in appreciation for science and medicine and reason. This may be naively optimistic, but I don’t believe it to be unrealistic either.
It probably doesn’t do much good to dwell on what went wrong in 2020. They’ve all been well documented, anyway. So instead, let’s focus on the positives and what is still to come. First and foremost, my nephew, Luke, has kicked cancer to the curb. The kid, who is only 7, has gone through and beaten leukemia.
To a large extent, I’ve been removed from all of this. I live four hours away, so I haven’t been exposed to the day-to-day. I haven’t dealt with what my sister-in-law, Jenny, has had to on the hourly, daily, weekly, monthly, yearly basis. I can’t imagine how exhausting that must have been for her; the toll it’s taken. 3+ years of hospital visits and lengthy stays, the multitude of doctors, the poking and prodding and ports. Moreover, there has been more than one move, uplifting the family from Falls Church to Staunton, VA, to be closer to her family. So my hat goes off to Jenny, and to my brother, Adam, and to my other nephew, Tommy, who has had to live in the shadow of his older brother’s illness. Somehow, they’ve all gotten through it and in the process, they added another member to the family! Janie, my only niece, was born on 8/14/20, the same day as my parents’ 49th wedding anniversary.
She is the first McIlwain girl born since my grandfather Ed’s sister, Janet, and if my math is correct, not only the first female McIlwain of her generation, but the first in NINE generations. I am so proud of all of them and send so much love to Adam and Jenny and Luke and Tommy and Janie and I can’t wait to see them and spend time with them in the new year.
In Adam’s words, “In total, this was one of the best years for me personally. Janie, Luke’s end of treatment, major upgrade in my home and my budget, and the worst President* of my life died. Well, lost anyway. Plus I still have a great job for a great employer.”
My brother Josh continued to impress, as well. Winter, spring, summer and fall, he climbed 13ers and 14ers in Colorado, traveled to Devil’s Tower and Utah and visited parts of the American west, filled with glorious splendor. Regarding the mountain climbing, Josh writes, “10 new/unique 14ers this year, some requiring multiple attempts. 13ers are harder to track because they don’t all have peak names and sometimes, like when summiting Huron, a 14er, you can do three 13ers on the way. They also make rules about what qualifies as a “peak” because the prominence has to be like 450’ higher from the saddle than the nearest peak. So it gets a little lame in my opinion when the spirit of the hike is to push oneself and one’s limitations, inside and out, and becomes less about keeping score on the 13ers. Plus the 14ers are just easier to remember. Ballpark guess on 13ers this year, 5-7.” No matter how you slice it, one truth remains: Josh’s accomplishments are remarkable. Professionally, he worked as hard as he always does, he battled and beat COVID-19, he found new ways to connect with his father while being a great role model to his son, Matthew.
And oh yeah, he fought the Cameron Peak Forest Fire:
In a year FILLED with trials and tribulations and lots of difficulties and death, why not throw the largest forest fire in Colorado state history on to the pile? In the efforts to protect our family’s home in Masonville, Josh rose to the challenge. Of course, he could only do so much and luck had to play a role. It turns out, the house and its surrounding land was a good spot to be a staging area for the heroic firefighters, so they dug in their collective heels and protected what they could. In the more forested foothills above my parents’ home, everything was lost and homes were destroyed. In the more grassy areas below them and closer to Masonville and civilization, most properties were spared. Their house was squarely on the line between destruction and salvation and their home survived.
Thanks to Josh, the home will be better prepared for future fires and our family will be better equipped to keep the home around for future generations.
My parents had to deal with all of these things, worrying about their own health and safety, while driving across the country to and from Colorado. They left Masonville before the fires got close to the house, so they were in relative safety back in Pennsylvania when Cameron Peak was at its worst and closest to the home. In a trying year for everyone, I think the pandemic took its toll on them the most; not necessarily in a physical way, but certainly from a mental health aspect and an emotional perspective. Our summer vacation plans (with Tom, Betsy, Josh, Matthew, Ben, Andrea and me) in Glacier National Park had to be scrapped. Time with friends and family had to be suspended. Visits to Big Bear had to be severely limited and were mostly only from Josh and Matthew. On the plus side, Ben and Andrea and I were able to have my parents over to our house for Thanksgiving, eating outside on our front patio, and during this Christmas break, we’ve been able to see them twice, exchanging presents and keeping our socially distanced and masked visits brief but enjoyable. We’re all glad to see 2020 come to an end, but I think my parents are the most relieved.
With relief comes optimism. I asked my mom to share her thoughts on 2020 and this is what she wrote: “When your father and I were married almost 50 years ago, the song that we danced to at our wedding reception was ‘As Time Goes By’ from Casablanca. A line from that song goes, ‘the fundamental things apply as time goes by.’ That is true. Fundamental things like love for family, closeness of friends, work that gives you joy, fine music, and art, and literature are all fundamentals. They have more application today is this time of confusion, this time of uncertainty. Remembering what is really important helps me stay centered.”
Life lessons from Rick, Ilsa, Sam, Louis and even Victor Laszlo.
So what will the future bring? If this year is any indication, Andrea’s business will continue to grow and prosper. To leave any job is a risk. To leave a job to become a full-time and independent artist? You gotta have balls. Courage alone only gets you so far. Mix in talent and drive and creativity and passion and sheer ability and a steady hand and maybe, just maybe, you’ll find success. She is her own CEO, CFO, marketing team, social media team, mail room, boss, employee and intern (although Mabel sometimes helps). And even if you’re a REALLY good artist, you still have to find ways to get your product in front of the right eyes and on top of that, you have to do it in a pandemic which has crunched the economy and taken its toll on our collective psyches. And yet, somehow, she continues to BE an artist, to surprise me, to be creative, and to use her talents to produce incredible art and yes, sell that art to the masses. I’m so impressed by her and so proud of her. I’m lucky to be in love with someone like that who loves me back. How could you not love this?!
Andrea and I missed out on traveling together this year, but are hopefully we can find ways to hit the road in 2021. When it’s safe and we feel ok to do so, we’ll get back on a plane, but if that doesn’t happen, the road trip itself is always an option. In 2020, I took my first long road trip in an RV since 1991 (long live the Minnie Winnie) as Ben and I set out for Maine and Acadia National Park. Though we missed having Andrea as our companion, the trip was an unqualified success. We rented the perfect size RV, drove from PA up through New Jersey and New York, through Connecticut (BOO!) and on to Massachusetts, where we visited with my friend, Chris Edwards and his wonderful family. From there, we headed north through New Hampshire and into Maine and up to Acadia, which is my 23rd National Park. There are 62, including the Gateway Arch, and before I die, I’d like to make it to all of them.
Ben has always been a great travel partner, never complaining, always willing to try something new, or go some place different. He makes it all incredibly easy. And this father-son road trip couldn’t have gone much more smoothly. He even tolerated our side trip to go see Buxton (lotta hayfields up in Buxton). I thoroughly enjoyed being in the RV with him and LOVED getting back to Maine and letting him experience it for the first time. Throughout Maine and New Hampshire, people were respectful and kind and courteous and visiting the National Park only whetted my appetite to explore Maine and get to more parks.
The kid is good at hiking, too!
There’s more, of course, but I’ve already prattled on too much. There were other short trips here and there, and some good times camping with Ben and Andrea and just Andrea and me, too. I look forward to more hiking, more time outdoors, more exploring in 2021. Hopefully, we’ll be able to get back out west, but even if we don’t, there’s plenty to see and do within driving distance!
I hope that despite all the difficulties, 2020 was ok for you. I was lucky. I kept working, my family and friends were all safe and relatively healthy, and I’m grateful to have made it through this year unscathed. I know it’s been so hard for so many, and if you’re reading this and it was a tough year for you, please know that I genuinely hope 2021 is a VAST improvement. I continue to be hopeful and be optimistic.
To borrow a line from my favorite movie (and the reason to go to Buxton, Maine), “Hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things. And no good thing ever dies.”