Hey Mountain Chicks! Today's ambassador blog is brought to you by Washington Mtn Chick Jessica. She tells the story of her getting acclimated to the PNW. Exploring new places is something we can all relate to. Read her story on this blog and make sure you become an official member afterwards!
Being new to the Pacific Northwest, I recently have been going on the advice of my fellow Mountain Chicks ambassadors, Sulee and Madi, as to which hikes I need to hit up in the area. Both are life-long Washingtonians. A few weeks ago, Sulee had suggested the Boulder River Trail as a possible group hike location. I checked it out on the Washington Trails Association website (which is an awesome resource that Sulee introduced me to) and saw that it was an 8.6 mile roundtrip with only a 700 ft. elevation gain. This seemed fairly do-able for most ability levels, which is what I planned on aiming for with my first Mountain Chicks group hike. The photos that I found on WTA and Instagram looked beautiful as well, so I decided to plan a “scouting” day. I felt like it was important for me to be familiar with the trail that I would be leading a hike on.
The Saturday that I did my scouting mission with my boyfriend, Adam, was beautiful. The hike was gradual in elevation gain and wandered through a mysterious forest. The trail would intermittently run alongside what was, at the time, a raging river. We passed three waterfalls with the largest being towards the end of our hike. I couldn’t wait to share this enchanting place with everyone else on the group hike.
Fast forward to Saturday, April 8th, and we were expecting to be rained on for most of the hike-which I had come to accept as a reality of hiking in Washington in the Spring. I had my water proof gear packed. As I was getting ready to walk out the door I received a text message from Sulee that the highway that we needed to take to get to the trailhead was being reported as closed on the WSDOT website. My first thought was, “does this girl check the department of transportation’s website before every hike???” I was slightly concerned but assumed there was no way that such a major highway was just closed…the last update had been at midnight. Surely, they’ve cleared up whatever accident happened overnight.
Clearly I am not familiar with the ever-shifting landscape of Washington.
We got about 10 miles away from the trailhead on highway 530 before we saw the barricaded road. As all of us hikers gathered at a pull-off in front of the barricade, I checked in with my fellow ambassadors while Adam went to check with the barricade-enforcers (I’m assuming they work for the highway department). Come to find out, the road was closed because of a possible landslide due to soaking wet conditions. Upon hearing this information, Madi and Sulee informed me of the 2014 Oso mudslide that happened right up the highway beyond the barricade. Forty-three people died when a large portion of a hillside collapsed at around 10:30 AM of March 22nd, covering an area of one square mile and destroying 49 homes. I had seen the area as we drove to the Boulder River Trailhead weeks before, and wondered if it was some sort of huge excavation site. Something about it felt a bit eerie to both Adam and I as we drove through it, though. We just didn’t know what at the time.
So, with the route to our trail blocked, we had to come up with another plan. We had a pretty good turnout, considering it was only our second Mountain Chicks group hike in Washington so far. The ten of us whipped out our smart phones and started searching. Finally, Samantha, who I was meeting for the first time on this hike, suggested the Old Robe Canyon Trail. I had never heard of it-and it didn’t seem like anyone else was familiar with it either, but we all got into our vehicles and followed Samantha to the trailhead, which was about an hour away. I was so excited to see that everyone that showed up was committed enough to make the trek to an entirely different destination!
The Old Robe Canyon Trail was quite a bit different than any of the hikes I have done in Washington so far. It follows an old railroad along a powerful river. It is amazing to see how much nature has overtaken what used to be a completely functional railroad system. The earth is falling into the river in many sections, with gravelly hillside making up a good portion of the trail. A few of us nearly slid down to the river due to loose rocks along the trail. I felt concerned in a few instances about everyone’s safety, which is normal for me, but had to accept the fact that I couldn’t know exactly what that trail would be like. I had to release control and know that as a group, we would be able to determine when to keep going and when to turn back. The hike also featured a few caves/tunnels that had been blasted into the hillside for the railroad, which made for great spots to have a seat on some boulders and spend time getting to know each other. It was also a really interesting spot to take some photos.
Before that day, I felt like it was so important for me to be able to know the trail to do a good job leading a group hike. I thought that I needed to have scouted out the area and know exactly what to expect. I’m not sure why my brain still tells me I must control things, because if I know anything about life, it is that it is not predictable. The earth can shift and swallow up an entire square mile of developed land with zero notice. Nature was powerful enough to cause the railroad system on the Old Robe Canyon Trail to become overgrown and completely unusable in under 100 years. It made me picture the images from I Am Legend where Will Smith’s character is living in a post-apocalyptic New York City that is basically a giant jungle. How little time it takes for nature to reclaim the areas that we spend so much time building. Nature is both awe-inspiring and incredibly humbling in so many ways.
The more time I spend in the outdoors, the more I come to respect the power of nature, and just how small we are as human beings when you look at the bigger picture. I think it is beautiful. Despite nature’s unpredictability, I was reminded of the importance of preparation before going on outdoor excursions. There are lots of measures that we can take to minimize risks to our safety when venturing outside. Sulee was on top of checking trail conditions and road conditions because she knows how much things can change in a matter of hours in this area. I am so grateful that nature (and Sulee) taught me this lesson. I look forward to learning many more lessons on future endeavors into the wild with my fellow Mountain Chicks, dudes, and pups! Join us on our next journey by becoming a member below!