(2006) Lena Lake

The Search for Fall Foliage

I found out late on Friday that work would be closed on Monday for Columbus Day. What better way to honor the man credited for discovering the continent than by going out and discovering some dirt roads – and a little bit of myself while I was at it?

October 9, 2006
Total Miles: 240 miles
Seattle, WA to Hoodsport, WA

When I’m given an “extra” day off of work I hate to waste it, doing mundane things like cutting the grass or painting the house. So I figured that I owed it to myself to get out of the city and seem some great fall colors. I realize that the Pacific Northwest doesn’t have the palette of colors that other areas of the country do, but I know that certain areas have some beautiful colors to offer and I wanted to see them. But where to go?? I decided to go west, thereby avoiding the “workday” traffic of I-5 while still having mountains (the Olympics) to play in. I started my grand adventure by sleeping in. I had put the down comforter back on the bed and it was just so comfortable to lay there with the kitties in the morning. Eventually I roused my bones and I caught the 11-something ferry out. The water was an intense blue and the mountains were clearer than I’ve ever seen them, despite how hazy they look in the photos. A fair wind was whipping across the sound but I stayed inside the cabin of the ferry where it was warm and quiet and read my latest BMW magazine.

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The Olympics were a lot clearer in person

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Sailboat moored near the ferry dock

The roads from the ferry dock aren’t spectacular other than the roller coaster effect they have. This part of the Olympic Peninsula was formed by the glaciers that raked their way across the earth during their retreat north. Measurable moraines were left in their wake, and today’s engineers merely put pavement over the rolling hillsides. After I rolled over the moraines I headed towards the south end of the Hood Canal and followed its watery edge for twenty-odd miles. Houses were stacked along the shore, leaving me with infrequent glimpses of my destination: the Olympic Mountains on the other side of the canal. Eventually I traded Hwy 106 for 101 and swung north to Hoodsport. From Hoodsport I left the water and went inland, following 119 into the hills and the shores of Lake Cushman. I didn’t have a plan today, and this road was fitting in perfectly. The pavement was good, the sun was out, it was brisk, there was minimal traffic and I had no idea where I was headed. I saw a sign for “Staircase” – a hiking trail I had heard about previously and thought that today would be a good day to explore it. I took the left turn and saw the signs proclaiming that the road was closed ahead. Hmmm – how closed was it? I kept on riding. A “Road Closed” sign was propped up on the side of the road. They couldn’t be very serious if they put the signs on the sides of the roads. I kept on riding. Then I saw the signs on the road, and the gate behind the signs. The gate was impassable (yes, I checked), so I turned around and went back to the most recent junction, this time heading north instead of south. The pavement ended and the trees crowded overhead. Still no brightly colored trees, but I was enjoying myself anyway. Finally good for something, the clearcuts offered a tinge of color, where the underbrush and ground cover were starting to turn.

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FS

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Fall foliage

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Dirt roads

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Peaceful river

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Old bridge support

I brought my GPS but had neglected to load any maps. However, its “cookie” feature helped me figure out where I was when I compared it to the map I had. I meandered some more on the logging roads, having passed only one vehicle when I gave up on the Staircase trail head. I stopped on a bridge and took my helmet off and listened to the rushing waters and the wind in the tree boughs. Still no fall colors, but I was pleased with what I did find.

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Lena River

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Fuzzy trees

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The closest I got to “fall colors”

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Dat’s ma bike

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Leopard tree leaves (just kidding!)

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Sunlight filtering through the trees

I was thinking of heading back towards Seattle when I saw a sign for Lena Lake Campground and Trail head. I still had time to kill so I thought I’d check it out. I rode past the trail head and the campground before turning around, determined that I ought to get off the bike and do some hiking. I was briefly diverted by a leafy side road, enticing me with its rugged good looks. I followed it for a short bit, going from hard packed dirt to a dried river bed before ending at some serious river rocks that I didn’t feel up to fighting. I did a u-turn and had the pleasure of retracing my route back to the main road.

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Olympic Mountains in the background

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Dense foliage

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Leaf-covered side road

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More Olympics

At the trail head I donned my hiking boots and backpack, stashing my moto gear into the cans or locking it down to the bike. I asked a gentleman in the parking lot how far Lower Lena Lake was and he said it was three miles, but it was a steady uphill climb. I could do it. I stepped out of the parking area and into the canopy of trees. The trail started out easy, lulling me into a false sense of security. Ha. Three miles – I’ll be there in no time! Then the switchbacks started. There were 14 of them (I counted on the way back). A few hikers were coming down the trail, none of them giving me any encouraging news of the distance or the climb. Oh well, I can do it. So I kept on climbing, using “stopping for pictures” as a frequent excuse to stop and catch my breath. I really need to get out more. I eventually reached the 2/3s mark: a nicely built wooden bridge surrounded by old growth trees, mossy rocks and open forest. It was beautiful. I kept on hiking. The east-facing slopes were getting darker, as it was well past 3pm, and I wondered how much further this lake was. A woman at the trail head said the lake was pretty, but her husband said that the hike was what this trail was all about. I was curious as to how pretty I thought the lake was. Not to mention that I couldn’t just turn around in the middle of a hike. I kept on going.

I crossed another bridge, wondering just how much further I could/would go. Then the trees starting to open up. Was that blue I saw? I quickened my pace, like a horse in the desert who smells water. Just around the next bend. Ok, maybe the next bend. One more bend? Finally I was there: Lower Lena Lake. What else can I say? It was “pretty”, but I hear that Upper Lena Lake is really nice. Maybe next time. I had a mountain to climb down and a bike to ride home, hopefully before it got too cold and dark. And I really do need to get out more.

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The trail to Lower Lena Lake

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Trail on the dark side of the mountain

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Big rocks and big trees

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Lower Lena Lake

Tell me what you think! I want to know!