Thursday, March 30, 2017

Where are we? Hike of the week : Otter Falls? Taylor River? Quartz Creek?

I'll just start off by saying that this wasn't the most satisfying weekend for hiking. On Saturday we only managed a short hike after backing out of both our first AND our second choice hikes. And on Sunday, well, we got a little lost.

We headed out early to get out past North Bend and into the Snoqualmie National Forest. It's a huge area, and we're looking forward to spending more time exploring some of the 1500 miles of hiking trails over the next few months.

We were aiming for the trail variously named Otter Falls / Big Creek Falls / Taylor River Trail, but even getting there was challenging. The last 12 miles is along Middle Fork Road.

Much of Middle Fork Road is amazing -- the USDOT has spent the last 3 summers working extensively to repair and improve the road. But some of it is as yet unimproved, or has been damaged by landslides and storms. And that part of the road is pretty hairy. Nothing life-threatening, just axle-shaking potholes that go on in stretches of 50 feet at a time.

Middle Fork Road potholes, posted on by strideon
We went past the Middle Fork Trailhead (large, beautiful, and a definite future hike for us!) and continued bumping along the road to the Taylor River trailhead. 

Until we got here and decided that this was more than a pothole ...

For scale, here's Wil standing by one of the two washouts:

Somehow that doesn't look intimidating... but after we parked and decided we could just walk the last 0.4 miles to the trailhead, we watched a guy in a high-clearance roughy-toughy Ford pickup make the same decision. "I'm not that intrepid!" he said when we said hello.

The road to the trailhead had a bit of snow, which made us giggle a bit about how we brought our microspikes. Note that some people CLEARLY had driven through those washouts.

We made it to the trailhead and dutifully took a picture of the trail map.

We soon crossed a large bridge -- a remnant of logging days, apparently -- over the rushing Taylor River.

And then there was more snow...

... and some glimpses of the river.

But we followed the trail and kept going. The trail started to head uphill, so we put on our microspikes for some added traction -- even though the real problem was that we kept breaking through the crust on the snow.

And then, oddly enough, as we climbed, the path cleared of snow, and we were deep in a silent forest.

SASQUATCH! Oh, no, just Wil again.

Until it filled up with snow again...

Seriously, these two photos were taken only 4 minutes apart.

This snow was deeper, and more than a few times we found ourselves "post-holing" to our knees. We had been hiking for over an hour, and decided that we'd had enough and just wanted to turn back.

So we marked our farthest point with the obligatory hike photo:

Then we headed down the trail, admiring some lovely, mossy rocks:

... and a pretty little waterfall:

... and then discovering that, actually, we had taken a wrong turn by going up the wide path, 0.3 miles past the trailhead and that we should have taken a small path off to our right that would follow the Taylor River (hence the name...). However, even looking at it made us think it might not have been a great experience for us; the trail was super narrow and very snowy. In fact, when we got home I read a trip report from the previous day where the phrase "I sank crotch-deep in snow on a few occasions" was used, and felt glad we had accidentally followed the wrong trail and only sank to our knees.

For what it's worth, the Department of Natural Resources lists the trail we went up as a bike trail, and describes it as "steep and rocky so be prepared for a workout."

Eventually we got back to our car and steeled ourselves for the trek back across the potholes.

While we enjoyed our hike, and were out on a trail for about 2 hours, it wasn't really successful. (Given that we took the wrong trail...). But we got some fresh air, used our microspikes for the first time, and still got some hiking in.

Quartz Creek Trail, sorta

4.8 miles
300 feet elevation gain

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Third Time's the Charm - Hike of the Week : Mima Mounds

Today's hike was ... underwhelming, and slightly unsatisfying. Here's why.

We set off bright and early to drive south to the Capitol State Forest, just south of Olympia. Our aim? Mima Falls Trail. As we got closer we saw signs for the 12th Annual Great Gravel Pack-In. Ohhhh. For a moment I thought, well, okay, they'll ask us to carry in a bag of gravel and we can drop it in a puddle to help maintain the trail.


We arrived in a very full parking lot just as a big group of people were posing for a photo. The lot was rammed with horse trailers, horses, pickups, and a whole lotta quad bikes. And gravel. So much gravel. Realizing that the trail would be filled with horses and quad bikes and dozens of people, we waited until some space cleared out, and then inched out of the parking lot. [Quick aside: this is a great program, and enables the Department of Natural Resources to maintain the trails -- it was just bad timing for us.]

Now what?

We then considered Capitol Peak, which seemed like it was quite close but was actually a long, slow drive away. We drove around to the road up to the trailhead... which was marked as closed for snow (as of December), and just narrow, pot-holed, and windy enough that we got about 4 miles up it before deciding that we didn't really want to keep going.

It must have been destiny ... giant gopher destiny ... because we were drawn, inexplicably, to ...


Growing up in Washington state, we must have all been exposed to the phrase "Mysterious Mima Mounds" during some childhood local geology lesson. Wil, of course, was immune to this, but I was driving, so into the Mima Mounds Natural Area Preserve we went.

Until Saturday I had never seen the mysterious mounds... so I squealed, just a little, when I saw them. And I couldn't resist saying, "Oooh, mySTERious!" over and over again. Wil probably just thought I had finally lost my mind.

Ideally we would have hiked for 2 or 3 hours on Saturday ... but we only had 2.7 miles on which to wander. But what fun!

There's a short, paved loop trail from the parking lot that leads to an interpretive shelter.

The shelter is shaped like a large mound, with informational signs inside, and a stairway up to a viewing platform.

photo by Winter Photo Project blog
And there's a nice panorama from the top.

We left the paved loop and joined an unpaved trail that wound around the mounds. (See what I did there?)

This area was designated as a National Natural Landmark in 1966 to protect its unique topography. 

And, later in the spring, the preserve will be full of wildflowers. We were a bit too early, so all we got was reindeer lichen.

And mounds, lots of mounds.

Now, I know what you're wondering. What causes these mounds to form? Well, see, that's the mystery. There are lots of theories, from aliens to receding glaciers to gophers (!!!) to vegetation.

We had the reserve pretty much to ourselves ... only a handful of other people out walking. The route was essentially flat, though the trail did take us up over the top of a mound a few time... which was the tiniest of thrills.

However, the constant gunshots from a nearby rifle range -- no danger, just annoying noise -- and the too-short distance made this a less than perfect hike. We'd have to do better the next day.

Mima Mounds 

2.7 miles
29 feet elevation

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Tanzania Tuesday #28 : Eva Stuart-Watt

"Afterglow on Kibo" by Eva Stuart-Watt
This week's heroine is Eva Stuart-Watt, who climbed to the crater rim in 1926. Eva was born in Australia in 1891, spent her childhood in Africa with her missionary parents, and then went to Ireland to school when she was ten. In 1913, she returned to Africa to serve as a missionary with her parents; her father and brother died of a fever in 1914, leaving Eva, her mother, and her sister to continue the work on their own.

Eva Stuart-Watt (center), her sister (left), and mother (right)
In Africa's Dome of Mystery, Eva recounted her experiences in Africa, notably her Kilimanjaro climb. All images in this post are taken from her book.

Eva Stuart-Watt "on the Kibo track", probably on her trip in 1925 with Professor Charles Hedley

She had already been on the upper slopes of the mountain, twice ascending as high as Bismark's Hut (8500 feet). But on this attempt, she resolved to reach the snows of Kibo.
No trouble was spared in provisioning the expedition, for a little extra attention to their comfort is appreciated more than cash by these men, who endure real hardships in the ruthless cold of the unsheltered heights. The usual rations of maize, beef and corn-meal were supplemented by home-made bread and Chagga butter, tea and coffee, sugar and cocoa, dried bananas and a little brandy.
She paid her porters the going rate of one shilling a day, and the loan of a blanket or an extra shilling to hire one. The headman earned three shillings a day, as did the guide – or more "according to his success in reaching the goal set by the tourist".

Her comforts were also considered, of course:
My simple outfit consisted of warm woollen clothing, fur gloves, alpine footwear, dark glasses, a helmet and tam-o'-shanter, a spiked walking stick and a couple of cameras. 
 I especially loved her description of her gear:
The flannel cover of the piano with some bamboo poles served as a tent, and a light camp mattress, over which were sewn two camel-hair rugs and two eider-downs, made an excellent sleeping bag.
 (Never forget that Mallory climbed Everest in woolen clothes, a Burberry raincoat, and hob-nailed boots!) 

Some climbers – including Professor Charles Hedley, with whom she ascended as far as Peter's Hut in 1925 – chose to ride mules partway up the mountain, but Eva resolved to go on foot:
… not only to avoid the inconvenience of feeding and housing a mule at night, but as a practical means of becoming accustomed to the altitude. A mount in any case cannot be employed for the last and most strenuous part of the climb; and to ride for three successive days to the base of Kibo, and then dismount with stiff limbs and a dizzy head for the final ascent, is a positive disadvantage to the mountaineer. 
On September 9 Eva, her guide Jonathan – chosen despite being less experienced than "Oforo of Moshi" for the Kibo summit, but better known to her – and six porters set off through the forest. As they pushed through the wet undergrowth, they heard wild boar, hornbills, orioles, monkeys, and tree frogs. They spotted a herd of eland just before arriving at Bismarck's Hut (8500 feet), their stop for the night.

On their second day they climbed out of the forest and onto moorland, glimpsing Mawenzi through the mist to their right, while Kibo remained hidden by clouds.
But the scenery grew wilder and more weird was we left the forest and the grassland far, far below, and, following our undulating path in single file, trudged over gravelly ridges and into rocky ravines. The whole landscape as far as the eye could reach was a medley of dull grey lava slabs, dotted with red-leaved protea shrub and stunted heaths, which became smaller and smaller as we rose higher. 
She described these senecios – one of the most typical Kilimanjaro plants – with "their black stems and greyish-yellow crowns stood spreading out their arms in the deep moist gullies, like ghostly sentinels of the untrodden wilds.

PETER'S HUT, 11,500 FT
After five hours of hiking they reached Peter's Hut (11,500 feet); as the sun set they got a clear view of Kibo:
As the rising night wind drove away in a long white column the clouds that had curtained her during the mid-day hours, she stood wonderful, dignified and pure in her freezing whiteness. Every Chagga heart echoed silently 'God Amighty!'" 
As she rested in the hut, Eva was excited for the next day: "Only one more day—and then, should He permit us, we were to stand within the very gates of His lofty temple."

(Personal aside -- I'm now convinced that this hut, visited by both Eva Stuart-Watt and Estella Latham, is the same hut visible at Horombo Huts in 2013. I hope to see it on our climb!)

On the third day she rose before dawn, struggling to get the porters to move out of camp. They reached the saddle by 9 a.m., where a strong north wind slowed them down, much to the dismay of the porters, who complained until Eva "dealt out to each a little brandy and water." Later, as they crossed the sandy saddle, the porters "threw down their loads in despair half-way and were moaning on account of the cold and shortness of breath". Eva roused them by taking a photograph of them, saying, "Now, men, smile like heroes of the mountain and we can show your comrades this picture." 

At 2 p.m. they reached the caves at 15,000 feet and had tea and bread and butter around a campfire – the wood and water having been carried with them up from Peter's Hut. That night Eva sat alone with her thoughts:
I did not sleep; I could hear too well the beating of my own heart, and the high altitude had brought on mountain sickness. As the icy gale tore down from the dizzy heights above and whistled among the crags and crannies, I listened to its sighing and waited for the morning. In the clear, highly-rarefied atmosphere distances were misleading, and Mawenzi looked deceptively near, while the vault of heaven itself seemed to have come closer to earth. Myriads of stars shone in the deep indigo sky with a luster unknown to the inhabitants of the lower world. 
At 3 a.m. on September 12, 1926 Eva roused the porters by making them tea ("I broke bounds") and calling to them: "Haya watu, knoo! Chai tayari! Tufunge safari!" (Come along men! Tea is ready! Let us be off on the march!) She set off at 4am by the light of a hurricane lamp, wrapped in all of her clothes and blankets, with her headman Malawa and guide Jonathan.

Though their ascent was slow – "we could barely drag ourselves along and had to sit down every few yards to recover breath" – Eva noted there was no real obstacle apart from the extreme altitude and the loose shingle, "which mockingly carried us backwards at every footstep almost the whole distance of our tread." They revived themselves by resting, dropping items they deemed unnecessary (field glasses, a sunshade, a second camera), and nibbling Cadbury's Milk Chocolate.

One of the younger porters, Mikani, watched their slow progress from the shelter of the caves, and was inspired to join them and, "without even sandals to protect his feet, soon overtook us and accompanied the party for pure adventure." His energy raised the team's flagging spirits, and they continued climbing.

Near the top they spotted the famous leopard carcass, found earlier that year by Dr. Donald Latham. (Fun fact: Donald Latham is Estella Latham's brother-in-law and was saddened not to be able to join Kingsley and Estella on their climb in 1924.)

They reached the crater rim at 1 p.m., "where we were ushered abruptly from the heated rock into the cool, silent sanctuary of myriad snow crystals". Mikani jumped onto the snow, leaping back as his bare feet felt the cold.

Through a gap in the ice they could see the caldera, and stood in silence. Mawala suddenly said, "This is indeed the HOUSE OF GOD: there is no house in all the world clean except this one." Eva was "thrilled by these spontaneous words from native lips. We had, at last, reached the goal of the Fathers of the Chagga race!"

Shortly thereafter they began their descent, and within 24 hours were back in the lowlands. Eva Stuart-Watt was the fourth woman to reach the crater rim, most likely going as far as Gillman's Point.

Two years after her Kilimanjaro climb, Eva Stuart-Watt returned to Ireland, having spent 14 years in Africa. She founded the Young Ireland for Christ mission in Dublin, painted, and wrote many books. Eva died in 1959.


Eva Stuart Watt. Retrieved March 24, 2017 from

Eva Stuart Watt. Retrieved March 24, 2017 from

Flynn, John. "Looking for a literary leopard on the rooftop of Africa". SF Gate, 31 March 2002. Retrieved from

Nicholls, Christine. "Stuart Watt, Eccentric Missionary at Machakos." Old Africa Magazine, 17 April 2014.

Nicholls, Christine. "Stuart Watt, Part II." Old Africa Magazine, 19 May 2014.

Stuart-Watt, Eva. Africa's Dome of Mystery. Marshall, Morgan & Scott, Ltd. 1930.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Tanzania Tuesday #27 : Estella Latham

Stella Point 2010 image from Mount Kilimanjaro Wiki

Today's heroine is Estella Latham, a woman who has made a unique impact on Kilimanjaro history, though I have been unable to locate much information about her – not even a photograph.

Estella and her husband Kingsley Latham climbed Kilimanjaro in July 1925. In her journal she recorded that they were warned repeatedly about the dangers of attempting such a thing, and the days before the climb she had nightmares of "cold and cruel glaciers, of tumbling down awful precipices into bottomless abysses, or climbing up impossible ice walls by tooth and nail!"

Due to an outbreak of smallpox along the route via Bismark's Hut (the present-day Marangu or "Coca Cola" Route), they needed to climb via the harder and steeper route to Johannes Hut. This hut no longer exists, but scholars have estimated its location as being along the rarely traveled Maua route: a direct servicing route for the Horombo Huts. I did find one description of an available Kilimanjaro climb via this route which has the summit attempt on day 3… not very appealing!

Maua route, "fastest way to the top". Image from
With the warnings and the bad news about their route, Estella made a decision:
 "I deemed it wiser to say nothing of my trying for the top! I led people to believe that I was merely going as far as the last hut – Pieter's [sic]. I could foresee the storm of protest and warnings that would surely have descended on my head had I suggested that I too had dreams of ascending Kibo." 
They left Moshi on July 6 with a guide, Mfore, a cook, Hamisi, and several porters. Hamisi told Estella that he was convinced that there must be money at the summit "—nothing else could induce us to be so mad as to climb it."

They climbed through the forest in a thick mist which turned to rain before they reached the Johannes Hut at 2900 meters. The hut was already in decline when the Lathams visited. Estella wrote, "This hut must have been very comfortable once but vandals have torn out the woodwork, ceiling and floor boards and now only the corrugated iron room and four walls remain." As uncomfortable as they were, the group stayed there another day waiting for brighter weather.

They arrived at Peter's Hut (3720m) on July 9, relaxing there for an extra day to acclimatize. Estella wrote: "From the ridge Kibo looks a very long way off," and noted that she was "looking forward anxiously to tomorrow, as to my mind it will be the real test of what I can stand. I think that if I can get to the cave I can get to the crater rim (one dare not write top)."

Tiny thrill here: the Peter's Hut area has developed into Horombo huts, where we will spend the night on our last night on the Kilimanjaro, during our descent. The earliest photo I could find of Peter's Hut is from 1940:
Peter's Hut, 1940. Image from Mount Kilimanjaro Wiki
This photo is from 2013:
Horombo Huts, 2013. Image from Kilimanjaro Rongai 2013
I'm 99.9% sure that the light-colored building is the original Peter's Hut. Hey, it's the little things.

On July 11 they crossed the saddle ("a desolate stony desert") and stayed in a cave Stella called "Nyumba ya Muungu", "The House of God". The group was starting to weaken; her husband Kingsley was "feeling puffed and tired" and both Mfore and Hamisi were ill. They stayed an extra day there to regain their strength before making their summit attempt.

On July 12 Mfore (their guide), Hamisi, and several porters headed down the mountain, leaving Estella and Kingsley with 6 porters: 4 to climb with them, and 2 to remain in camp. That night Estella wrote in her journal:
 "What tomorrow will bring forth is the burning question. We dare not even imagine the humblest of victories. The climb from here does not look big, but in our puffed condition it will take us all our time." 
They left the cave at 4:30am on July 13 in bitter cold. They attempted an unsuccessful route around a rock buttress that tired them out, but they lit a fire, had some breakfast, and rested before continuing up. "The climbing was very tiring, heavy shale into which we sank up to our ankles, had to be contended with in addition to the altitude." Things were made easier by reaching the snow line next to the Ratzel Glacier, "green-white and dazzling".

Reaching Hans Meyer's Notch [now Gilman's Point] was a thrill, "and tired as we all were it put fresh life into us." They opened the record box, examined the flags and notes left by Gilman and other previous climbers, snacked on chocolate, and then continued along the crater rim toward Kaiser Wilhelm Spitz [now Uhuru Point, the true summit].

They first hiked along the ice rim on the crater, but then felt unsafe so walked on the rocks. They were about halfway to the summit when Kingsley had to turn back. "We were at this time at the base of the highest rock pinnacle in the crater rim. We climbed this pinnacle, leaving our record in a glass jar. On our recording card we named the pinnacle "Point Stella", provided it had not been previously named."

Stella Point as seen from Gilman's Point, 1945. Image from Mount Kilimanjaro Wiki.

This is the record the Lathams left at the point:
Estella M Latham
Kingsley Latham (Mountain Club of South Africa.)
Reached this point at 12.10 p.m. on Monday 13th July 1925 .accompanied by natives Filipos and Sambuananga. We then attempted to reach KW Spitz but were unable to reach it due to partial snow blindness, mountain sickness and exhaustion on my part. My wife was fit to reach the Spitz and she led on the return trip here as I was unfit to lead. In her honour I have named the point we reached “POINT STELLA”. It bears 290 degrees E of North i.e. 70 degrees West.
Kingsley Latham 13.7.25.
They headed back around the crater rim to Gilman's Point, rested briefly, and then descended to the cave. Being too tired to go farther that night, they overnighted there, descending to Peter's Hut on the 14th, and returning to Moshi on July 15. In her journal Estella praised "tireless Filipos", the porter who carried a rucksack to the crater rim, "and went sockless and in native sandals".

Estella didn't make another summit attempt on Kili; however, in 1937 Kingsley did. During this attempt Kingsley collapsed, lost consciousness, and had to be carried down the mountain. When he woke up in the hospital, he had almost complete amnesia. He returned to London for treatment, but took years to recover. His nephew wrote that Kingsley "had, like a child, to learn once again how to read and write; for a long time he had difficulty choosing the appropriate word for items he knew well. He gradually recovered most of his faculties and survived to become a successful coffee farmer; he died in his sixties on his farm in eastern Zimbabwe many years later."

Estella Latham is the only woman to have a geographic location on Mount Kilimanjaro named after her. I can only hope that I get to see it in person when we climb later this year!

Stella Point (well, the foot of the pinnacle there), 2014. Image from Mount Kilimanjaro Wiki


"5 day Maua route." Web. Retrieved March 17, 2017 from 

Estella Latham. Retrieved March 15, 2017 from

KILIMANJARO5895. (2013 July 4). Kili team safely back at Protea Hotel [Web log post]. Retrieved from  

Latham, Jim and Jill. (2011 August 3). Kilimanjaro 1925 climb by Kingsley and Stella Latham [Web log post]. Retrieved from

Latham, Michael and Gwynneth. Kilimanjaro Tales: The Saga of a Medical Family in Africa. London: The Radcliffe Press, 1995.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Hike of the Week, part 2 : Forbidden Forest Loop

What a difference a day makes ... well, that and getting away from the prevailing winds at the Dungeness Spit. On Sunday we did our second hike of the weekend, rambling through the Port Gamble Forest on the Forbidden Forest Loop.

Now, I know what you're thinking. If the weather was better, why not try to hike the Dungeness Spit again? Well, it's all about the tides. The low tide on the 19th wasn't going to be until 3:30 in the afternoon -- by which time I had hoped to be on a ferry back home. 

But the Port Gamble Forest beckoned -- a big chunk of still-logged land, with lots of shared-use trails and some logging roads winding through it. 

And did I mention that this loop would include stretches on trails named Fun Forest, ET, and Ewok? Well okay then.

We arrived at the trailhead parking lot and nabbed one of two remaining spaces. (There's additional parking across the street, if needed, along with a trail down to a beach where you can collect oysters at low tide.)

We set off with a detailed trail description from, and a crappy photo I took of the map posted at the trailhead. Luckily, the WTA site had great descriptions, and we had no problems getting around the loop. 

The sun filtered through the trees, the air was reasonably warm, and the trail was lovely in that otherworldly, I expect to see a unicorn trotting toward me, magical forest sort of way.

No unicorns, but we did spot Bigfoot.

No, wait, that was just Wil.

Path meandered up and down, around bends, on the edges of gullies, all the while in forest. We saw very few people out on the trails -- only 2 or 3 other hikers the entire time we were out there.

We did, however see a few mountain bikers ... or, at least, people wearing helmets, standing next to their mountain bikes. I started to wonder if this was some new "meet up" or "flash mob" sort of thing...  but it turns out that there was some sort of junior mountain bike race, and the loitering bikers were course marshals. Even with the event going on, we saw fewer than 10 people on bikes all day.

The rest of the time we were just happily alone in the forest.

As I said earlier, the description on was great, even if the trail signage wasn't. Here's an example:
The trail winds through the ravine and up the opposite side, crossing Road 1400 at a big moss-covered rock. 
Well, hello rock.

Given the rain the day before ... and a bit of churning from the mountain bikes ... there were some muddy patches.

And some very wet patches.

But it was a great chance to test out our Gore-tex boots ... and for Wil to test out his DIY "Dirty Guy" gaiters. (For the record, we're big fans of Dirty Girl Gaiters and used them with our trail runners when we hiked the Grand Canyon... but they don't really fit high enough to cover the tops of Wil's boots, so he jury-rigged a pair by cutting the toes off some cheap socks he picked up at the Wal-Mart... #stayclassybro)

We wandered around the forest for about 2½ hours, every so often coming to a clearing in the sun....

but mostly in dappled shade.

Eventually we made it back around to the final stretch -- heading back along the Stumps trail to the parking lot. We thought it was interesting how well this trail was marked compared to the others, but hopefully with time the others will get more signage as well.

Then the short drive to Kingston, a bit of a wait at the terminal, and then the boat home in the bright sunshine.

We both really liked this hike; it had lots of ups and downs and a whole lotta pretty, mossy tree action. The mountain bikers we encountered were polite, but it did make me think I should have something bright on the back of my pack if I'm on a mixed-use trail in the future.

This was a "two-hike weekend"; next weekend will be mellower with just one. We're both really enjoying the act of getting out and going on hikes; I just hope we can keep our enthusiasm up as the hikes get longer!

Forbidden Forest Loop, Port Gamble Forest

8.5 miles
370 feet elevation