AdventuresNW Tue, 12 Mar 2019 22:48:43 +0000 en-US hourly 1 An Ocean Hymn: The Seductive Pleasures of Shi-Shi Beach Tue, 12 Mar 2019 22:48:43 +0000 Some sophisticated folks that I know visit Paris every year.

Some enjoy a yearly trek in Nepal. I find myself returning to a much-loved locale over and over too.  The lingua franca of my favored destination is the rhythmic unspooling of the ceaseless surf. I return to Shi-Shi Beach.

How many times? I’ve lost count. Will I go again? Absolutely. I love surf music.

Over the years, I’ve hiked pretty much the entire Olympic wilderness coast and have come to the conclusion that Shi-Shi is the absolute apex. If the Olympic coast was fireworks, Shi-Shi would be the grand finale.

Sunset on Shi-Shi Beach


And so it is that I find myself on the ferry, chasing a predicted high-pressure system, bound for the Olympic Peninsula, hoping for a weekend of blue skies and sunshine. Is that too much to ask?

It feels like going home.

We disembark at Port Townsend and drive west across the Olympic Peninsula, past the strip malls of Port Angeles and out into the rainforest. We make camp beside Bear Creek, west of Lake Crescent and enjoy a sorrel salad, good for the digestion.

True to the predictions, the morning is dazzling, the sun brilliant, and the air full of promise. We drive to Neah Bay through a thousand shades of vibrant green and then beyond this last outpost out onto the broad delta of the Hoebuck River. I enjoy the sense of being out here beyond the world of clamor and advertising, approaching the end of the line. We unload our backpacks at the Makah trail head, park in the backyard of the last house on the road (a Makah tradition) and set off upon the delightful trail through a kaleidoscope of green.

The Sentinel

Back in days of yore, one had to slog up the remains of an old road through ankle-deep mud to reach Shi-Shi Beach. But in 2003, the Makah Tribe opened a new trail with boardwalks and fancy cantilevered bridges, an epic bit of trail-making. Unfortunately this new and vastly improved trail ends rather unceremoniously after a mile and deposits the eager supplicant into the same mud as yesteryear. But this, my friends, is a small price to pay for the wonders that lie ahead.

One must not oppose the mud, but rather become one with it. This is why God created gaiters.

As we approach the sea, the hush of the forest is gradually supplanted by the melodious and captivating roar of the surf. Music to my ears.

We encounter the Olympic National Park boundary and descend a cliff face on a brand new section of trail (including several deluxe staircases). Prior to this welcome development, one was compelled to slither and slide down the muddy slope with the aid of fixed ropes. At the base of the cliff, we step out of the trees and onto the sun-dazzled beach.

Negative ions and warm sun. The breakfast of champions.

Quiet Evening


It is two miles south on the beach to our destination – the Point of Arches. The tide is down and the compacted sand makes for smooth sailing in the sunshine. Eagles circle overhead and gulls gather at the mouth of unfortunately-named Petroleum Creek. Driftwood is piled in great tangles. Bull kelp floats on the tide like muscular eels.

We drop our packs near tiny Willoughby Creek with a front row seat for the spectacle that is the Point of Arches and set about the business of establishing camp: pumping drinking water the color of ice tea from the creek (tannins in the water give it a the look of a seriously botched mixed drink) and gathering driftwood for the evening fire.

Sea Anemone

The late afternoon sun is warm, prompting several knee-deep forays into the lapping surf to cool off. Ooh la la.

The Point of Arches has been described as possessing the appearance of a submerged stegosaurus, and this seems apt. A line of sea stacks juts nearly a mile out into the tumultuous Pacific, each one a complicated sculpture of sea-worn rock and luminous green plants, opportunistically clinging to the continent’s edge.

Ashore, the unlikely symmetry of grooved bedrock tinged with lime green seaweed is revealed at low tide, leading the eye out to sea.

High drama? You bet.

We wander out the point, picking our way along polished rock, newly-revealed by the retreating tide. As the sun begins its descent into the wave-splashed Pacific, rays of golden light stream between the sea stacks. Shimmering pools reflect the sky in pastel pinks and purples. Can Paris compete with this joy?

Tide pool

Farther out on the Point, I find myself in the lurid mardi gras realm of starfish and anemones, gleaming like extraterrestrials among translucent orange kelp in the last light of the sun as it drops below the horizon. The sea itself is an impossibly deep magenta, the color of octopus ink.

Back at camp in the darkness, a fire is kindled and stories are told before the surf lullaby eventually calls us, one by one to our sleeping bags.

In the morning we explore tide pools in the intimacy of a thick mist, our visibility limited to the wonders close at hand: purple, red and orange starfish (sadly now a rarity), a pair of octopi, clusters of mussels. An imposing rock looks exactly like long-ago Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill. We’re obviously in some kind of alternate reality.

Just in time, the fog lifts and we head around the point, rock-hopping across pools filling with the incoming tide. No return to camp now until the tide changes.

Moon and Sea

Crescent Beach is a beautiful arc of fine polished stones that hiss when the waves recede. We round the curve,  passing great smoothly-carved rocks the size of Volkswagen vans and clamber over slippery rocks to the Slot, a briny stone passageway that affords passage to the south.

The Totem, an angular rock spire marks the place where our route takes us up the cliff. Ropes are provided (and necessary) here but with their aid, the top of the headland is quickly achieved.

From the rim we tiptoe across the thin ridge that leads to the Aerie, a high perch from which we can gaze straight down to the swirling surf, sweeping around the rocks in mandala-like patterns. A blow hole far below emits a foghorn-like bellow. We linger here, in no hurry. It will be a few hours before the tide retreats enough for us to round the point back to camp. We settle back among the salal and listen to the music of the waves.

Point of Arches

You’ll need both a National Parks Hiking Permit and a Makah Recreation Pass (the trail passes through Makah lands) to overnight on Shi-Shi Beach. Makah Passes are available at Washburn’s Store in Neah Bay.

Trailhead: Hobuck Road on the Makah Reservation, southwest of Neah Bay. Paid overnight parking available at private residences about a half mile before the trailhead (bring cash!).

Ten Reasons to Go to Shi-Shi Beach At Once

Here are ten reasons why Shi-Shi is the best beach on the Olympic coast (and hence, the best beach in the lower 48):

  1. Point of Arches – the chorus line of sea stacks, many of them arches, is unquestionably the scenic highlight of the coast. Visible from anywhere on Shi-Shi, it provides a super-dramatic backdrop, the best this coast has to offer.
  2. Eagles – Sure, eagles are common on the Olympic coast, but at Shi-Shi, they seem to be just everywhere. In the trees. On the beach. Flying overhead. Too many to count.
  3. Length – Shi-Shi stretches for more than two miles, an unusually long strip of sand on this rock-tortured coast. Lots of easy walking.
  4. Camping – Wonderful places to pitch your tent abound; protected enclaves back in the greenery above the beach (for when the weather is questionable) and countless sandy spots amidst the prodigious driftwood (for those clear, star-spangled nights).
  5. Water – Two major creeks (Petroleum and Willoughby) provide fresh (if ice-tea colored) drinking water for overnight visitation, a sometimes rare commodity on the coast. It’s important to note that a water filter is required – purification tablets or drops won’t work here.
  6. Portage Head – the area north of Shi-Shi, on the Makah Reservation is a wonderland of surf and rock pinnacles. Access is from the beach (at low tide) or overland from the Makah trail.
  7. Tide Pools – Truly the best tide pools that the Olympic coast has to offer (and that’s saying a lot!), the Point of Arches and the area below Portage Head are bristling with starfish, anemones, and countless other tidal denizens. Come during a minus tide and discover a new world.
  8. Access – The trail to Shi-Shi from the Makah trailhead is short, easy and straight-forward. No ropes to climb, no boulders to navigate. Luckily, it’s ridiculously muddy and invariably brushy, keeping the riff-raff out. Or perhaps, letting them in.
  9. Proximity to Further Wonders – A short, easy day-hike from a camp on Shi-Shi will take you south around the Point of Arches and on to the wonders beyond. Behold The Totem. Slip through a sea arch. Climb a fixed rope to the Aerie. Just watch the tides.
  10. Sunsets – The end of the day on Shi-Shi can be a religious experience. With the right combination of clear skies and clouds, the scene is transcendent. If you’re camping, enjoy every moment. If you’re day-hiking, enjoy every moment. Then hike back in the dark.
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Paddling with Ghosts: A Long Strange Journey Down the Spokane River Thu, 07 Mar 2019 18:44:17 +0000 Rivers teach us, and I wanted the Spokane River to teach me.

When I began working for the Spokane Riverkeeper, newly arrived in eastern Washington, I knew I had to see the whole river for myself. My Riverkeeper colleagues had long lived along its banks and they do an impressive job of protecting their river, but they hadn’t paddled the river in its entirety. I would be the first among us to do so.

I had begun embarking on month-long canoe expeditions when I was 13 and since then have logged uncountable miles on streams, rivers, sloughs, lakes and bays. Traveling on “river time” gives me a chance to reflect, to find meaning in minutiae, to see things in new ways, to speculate and to be astonished.

On this trip, I hoped to learn more about who lived along this river and view evidence of huge prehistoric floods. I wanted to be buffeted by winds and pummeled by rapids, to paddle hard and to be overcome by wonder.

Going with the Flow


The Spokane River is 111 miles long, flowing from its headwaters in the Selkirk Mountains of Idaho to its union with the mighty Columbia at Fort Spokane. The river has been home to native people for more than 11,000 years, its huge runs of Chinook and Coho Salmon once so epic that the Spokane Tribe would trade excess fish for bison meat with tribes of the Great Plains.

Fishing platforms beside Spokane Falls had been an important gathering place for natives from the Coeur d’Alene, Nez Perce and Palouse country. It is estimated that a half million salmon and steelhead returned each spring.

English explorer David Thompson arrived in 1807 and established a trading post near the Little Spokane River and in a sequence of events repeated throughout the Pacific Northwest, things began to change. In 1882 the Northern Pacific Railroad made Spokane the center of their burgeoning empire and in 1885 electricity was generated by the first of the dams.

Currently there are seven dams on the Spokane and the salmon runs are gone, thanks largely to dams like the Grand Coulee and Chief Joseph Dams on the Columbia, both built without fish ladders. Pollution and industrial agriculture also contribute to the ill-health of the river. Efforts are now underway—spearheaded by the Upper Columbia United Tribes (Coeur d’Alene Tribe of Idaho, Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation, Kalispel Tribe, Kootenai Tribe of Idaho and the Spokane Tribe of Indians) —to reintroduce salmon to the river.

I paddled most of the river in a canoe, using a kayak and raft for short sections only. The biggest challenge overall was the river’s seven dams. The water varies from challenging Class 3-4 rapids (Bowl and Pitcher, Devil’s Toenail) to sluggish weed-infested puddles between the dams.

Coeur d’Alene Lake to Post Falls Dam

The Spokane River’s headwaters are found at Lake Coeur d’Alene in Idaho, a motorboat Mecca. It was here on an early summer day, that my journey begins, with close-up views of jet skis, water ski boats, parasailers, wake boats, and pontoon boats. I am the only non-motorized vessel on the water.

The Coeur d’Alene Basin contains extremely high levels of heavy metals, largely due to pollution coming from Bunker Hill Mine and Smelting Complex (a Superfund Site in Kellogg, Idaho). More silver was mined at Bunker Hill than anywhere on the planet. Beginning in the 1880’s (about 90 years before the Clean Water Act) mine tailings containing lead and other metals were dumped directly into the lake’s headwaters. So much lead was emitted from the largely-unregulated smelter that children living nearby had the highest blood lead levels ever recorded in the U.S. Today, lake sediments contain over 75 million tons of lead, cadmium, arsenic, and zinc, with more arriving each year during major floods.

This is a Waterkeeper’s nightmare. Why? Nothing stops phosphorus, nitrogen and sediment from getting into the water when shoreline vegetation is all removed.

The scenery along this first section of the river is, well, noteworthy. If you go, prepare for astonishingly huge mansions. The 30,000 square-foot “house” built by Amway millionaire Ron Puryear is one such example. Need a place with 13 bedrooms, 13 bathrooms, three docks, a salt water pool, putting green, tennis courts and much, much more?  Once, it commanded $20 million. Today it can be yours for a mere $9 million.

There is so much motorboat activity on this section that it is difficult to reflect on the river itself at all.

Post Falls Idaho to Spokane Valley

This next section starts in Idaho, just below Post Falls Dam. Immediately below the dam is the “Trailer Park Wave”—surfing heaven for kayakers in high spring flows. In the summer, this area has much, much less water, which contributes to challenging water-quality conditions (high temperature and low dissolved oxygen) for the river’s special fish, Redband Trout.

Big round boulders are a signature of the middle section of the Spokane River. Between 10,000 and 13,000 years ago, the Cordilleran Ice Sheet blocked the Clark Fork River, which alternatively filled and emptied glacial Lake Missoula. When huge ice dams broke, over 100 floods created Coeur d’Alene Lake and filled the Rathdrum Prairie area with deep layers of sand, gravel, and boulders. The floods forced so much water and boulders downstream that the enormous Spokane-Rathdrum Valley Aquifer was formed, with the river perched above it. To the west, those floods sculpted the entire Columbia Basin and Plateau.

Due to low flows over the Post Falls Dam during much of the late summer, this portion of the river is typically very warm in the summer. These temperatures preclude native trout, which once thrived in these waters, from occupying their native habitat for much of the summer.

Spokane Valley to Downtown Spokane

Between Spokane Valley and Upriver dam are the first views of huge chunks of basalt, and deep holes cherished by trout fishermen. But beware of the beaches and the fish! There is lead in the sediment, and some fish species are also unsafe to eat due to heavy concentrations of

Petrochemicals pass over the River.

polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs). The PCBs, bioaccumulative toxins, come from a combination of industrial discharges, wastewater treatment plants, storm water, and effluent from consumer items such as soaps, detergents, and dyes.

The rapids in this section pack some punches, but as the river approaches the Upriver Dam, the river’s flow calms to a standstill. A dizzying number of coal, oil, grain, chemical, and other products cross the river and head through downtown Spokane every day by rail. Several of these bridges are old and decrepit. The river seems painfully vulnerable. Past Upriver Dam, the water continues to slow until coming to a near stop at Monroe Street, in the heart of downtown Spokane.

Peaceful Valley to Nine Mile Falls Dam

Immediately downstream of Monroe Street Dam is Peaceful Valley. During the spring, when river flow approaches 30,000 cubic feet per second (CFS), this place is busy with rafters and whitewater kayakers seeking thrills in the Bowl and Pitcher and Devil’s Toenail rapids. But by late summer, flows don’t support safe boating in the vicinity of these big waters.

These are the rapids that make this river a destination for many. Powerful drops and waves unleash impressive power. The water is alive with oxygen as it rushes by huge towers of basalt and crashes down into giant holes.

Hangman Creek, a major tributary, joins the Spokane River in this section. With headwaters in Idaho, it flows almost 70 miles through Palouse farmland before this confluence. Most of this stretch has absolutely no riparian vegetation and is farmed right to the water’s edge. Sediment loads and pollution from Hangman Creek degrade fish habitat for a long distance downstream.

Just above Riverside State Park, treated discharge from Spokane’s Wastewater Treatment Plant enters the river. Like many cities along rivers, Spokane dumped trash and sewage directly into the river until forced to change its ways in 1952. In 1970, the Washington State Department of Ecology required the City to upgrade the plant. Today, the City is investing $126 million in treatment technology that will significantly reduce levels of phosphorus, metals, PCBs, and other pollutants from the discharge.

A few miles downstream from Plese Flats is Nine Mile Dam. As in previous sections, the current slows as it fills the pool above the dam.

Nine Mile Dam to Long Lake Dam

Nymphoides peltata – fringed water lilies, a highly invasive noxious weed chokes the river

This section is downright depressing. There’s miniscule flow immediately downstream of Nine Mile Dam, and this area is known as Long Lake for a reason. Water quality suffers from low dissolved oxygen and frequent algae blooms, which are terrible for fish and aquatic life. This big puddle is so stagnant it hosts an enormous infestation of the highly invasive noxious weed, fringed water lilies (Nymphoides peltata. It’s not listed as a noxious weed in Spokane County, so nobody does anything about it. Not only is it terrible for water quality and critters that want to live here, it makes for unpleasant paddling.

Another major tributary, the Little Spokane, joins the river just below Nine Mile Dam. Although a pretty little river, it too has problems. In the upper section, cattle trample the banks and defecate in the water. But the downstream section is lovely and worth exploring. Moose, beavers, otters, and all manner of birds and fish thrive here in the cold, clear water dispersed into the mess of weeds in the stagnant waters of Long Lake.

Long Lake Dam to Little Falls Dam

The Imprisoned River


Staring at what must have been a gorgeous, free-flowing section of water, I lose myself in a wistful reverie. I think of Long Lake Dam as a “River Prison.” Below here are steep-sided granite cliffs and a welcome absence of homes or people.

Two stunningly beautiful tributaries enter in this section: Chamokane and Little Chamokane Creek. We discover fresh beaver activity. Looks can be deceiving, though: a closed uranium ore processing plant operated by Dawn Mining Company drains to Chamokane Creek. Although uranium activity concentrations in this creek do not currently exceed the Washington State surface water and drinking water standards, they do exceed the Spokane Tribe’s surface water standard for uranium.

The lowest dam on the Spokane River is Little Falls. I paddle as far up to it as I can, until I reach the ‘No Trespassing’ signs. This dam just breaks my heart. Before the dam was built in 1911, its falls comprised one of the most important salmon fishing areas on the river. Although several dams were already built in the downtown Spokane area at that time, this dam stopped all fish passage to Spokane Falls and deprived Spokane tribal members of their primary food source.

Imagine salmon leaping up falls here. Before this dam, the huge, now-extinct Spokane River Chinook traveled from the Pacific Ocean, up the Columbia, and all the way up Hangman Creek into Idaho.

Little Falls to the Columbia River

This final section, commonly known as the Spokane Arm of Lake Roosevelt, is quiet. There are almost no motor boats or people. All the land on the north side of the river is part of the Spokane Indian Reservation.

The last major tributary, Blue Creek, enters here. Blue Creek drains the Midnite uranium mine, another Superfund site. Warning signs abound. The water and sediments are not safe due to uranium and metal pollution.

I end this long, strange journey at the Columbia River, where there is an enormous boat ramp with a sign reading “The water that backed up behind Grand Coulee Dam in 1942 created an opportunity— for fun. The dam created Franklin D. Roosevelt Lake, 154 miles long with a 660-mile shoreline, ideal for boating, fishing, sailing, and more.”  Appalled, I wipe the smudges off my glasses to make sure I’m reading the sign correctly.

If you have a chance, paddle this river and learn the lessons it has to teach. Downstream of Peaceful Valley, the scenery and water are so wild that you’ll forget that you’re floating though Washington’s second biggest city. This trip left me feeling amazed, humbled, and very sad. It was impossible to stop thinking about what the river had been like before the dams and the problems they cause. Seeing the river’s geology, wildlife, dams, fish, and human pressures first-hand intensified my desire to protect this river, and I hope it inspires you to do the same.

Reflecting: A quiet moment on the River

Lee First has been a water quality advocate for 30 years. An avid paddler, she’s found her ideal vocation working as a Waterkeeper. She is starting a brand new Waterkeeper organization in Southwest Washington, where you’ll find her protecting and patrolling the waters of Grays Harbor, the Chehalis River, and Willapa Bays.

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San Josef Bay: Vancouver Island’s Most Beautiful Beach Wed, 06 Mar 2019 16:36:50 +0000 When the guidebook described San Josef Bay as “the most beautiful beach on the Island” I knew we had to include it in our explorations of the north end of Vancouver Island.

Tucked into the west coast of Vancouver Island just south of Cape Scott the beach at San Josef Bay is as remote as it is beautiful. We depart from Port Hardy, the northern-most town on Vancouver Island. The road to Holberg and Cape Scott Provincial Park is reasonable-to-rough gravel with active logging trucks. It takes us about two hours to drive the forty miles.

We are surprised to arrive at a busy parking lot at road end in Cape Scott Provincial Park. In addition to San Josef Bay this is also the trail-head for two more ambitious trips:  multi-day backpacks to Cape Scott and the more challenging North Coast Trail.

The trail to San Josef Bay is less than two miles long. It’s a wide, mostly flat, gravel-surfaced path and can be navigated with a child’s stroller. The easy trail compensates for having to haul our water since none is available at the beach. We saw one family pile their gear in a child’s wagon, others pulled wheeled coolers.

The trail through the lush west coast rainforest has its own beauty. We pass through garden-like coastal bog vegetation and amazing convoluted formations of old-growth spruce and hemlock.

The beach does not disappoint! Green forested hills hug the relatively sheltered bay with its vast expanse of white sand and clear water. We marvel that such a beautiful beach is still so pristine! More than a mile long, the beach is split by a rocky headland that is impassible at high-tide. A rough trail provides an alternative return.

The headland dividing the beach lends mystery and complexity. The second beach cannot be seen until we pass a small islet and round the corner.  In the gap between the islet and the rocky shore stand amazing sea stacks topped with stunted trees. Seeing them in the morning mist we feel like we are in a Chinese landscape painting. Shallow sea-caves are carved into the rocky bluff, their overhanging arches festooned with maidenhair ferns waving gently in the faint breeze.

There are a few other campers at the beach and most, like us, tuck their tents into the forest edge for protection from wind. Back in the trees are two outhouses and food lockers, as the area is known to be visited by both wolves and bears. However we don’t even see footprints.

We timed our trip for low-tides, and hit the jackpot with two days of glorious sunshine and a full-moon too! My husband explores the flora and fauna of the inter-tidal zone while I roam the beach reveling in such unspoiled beauty. Sometimes I just stare and think about other beaches that might have once looked like this. Birch Bay in Whatcom County, and Qualicum Beach on the east side of Vancouver Island, come to mind. Will the beach stay so untouched? Will the wolves survive? I need to treasure the memory of this fabulous beach and bay.

From the north end of the beach a trail leads up Mt. St. Patrick. It is described as a three and a half mile return trip and, like most Vancouver Island coastal trails, is muddy with twisted roots.

The slow meandering San Josef River flows into the south end of the bay. It can be accessed near the trailhead parking lot and is used by hard-core kayakers to get to the bay and the open west coast.  I meet a man on the beach with a paddleboard who is about to return to the trailhead via the river. We too pack up and leave. There are no tourist mementos to buy. All we take home are photos and beautiful memories.

Visiting San Josef Bay

From the U.S. take the B.C. ferry from Tsawwassen to Duke Point near Nanaimo. From there, with a lunch stop, it is about a five hour drive to Port Hardy on Highway 19. The trailhead in Cape Scott Provincial Park is approximately 64 kilometers west of Port Hardy on a combination of public highways and private, active logging roads. Follow Holberg Rd, NE 60 Rd and San Josef Main/San Joseph Rd to the trailhead parking lot on Cape Scott Park Rd. The guide book: Seaside Walks on Vancouver Island by Theo Dombrowski (Rocky Mountain Books)

Annie Prevost has used her writing and photography skills in the corporate world and as a freelancer. Locally her photos have appeared in WECU and Washington Native Plant Society calendars and she has exhibited at Allied Arts in Bellingham. She delights in exploring the remote corners of Vancouver Island, her birthplace.


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In Praise of Gravity: Freeriding the Okanogan Mon, 04 Mar 2019 22:27:47 +0000 Twenty-some years ago, a small cohort of crazed cyclists skidded their way down the white silt cliffs outside Kamloops, in the Thompson-Okanogan region of south-central British Columbia. Mountain biking had just entered the Olympics; racing was ascendant. But this was something altogether different.

Not since Marin County hippies bombed cruiser bikes down dirt roads some twenty years earlier had the sport of mountain biking changed so fundamentally. It is here, along with  similar enclaves in the Kootenays and the North Shore of Vancouver, that freeriding was born.

Today the Thompson-Okanogan region remains at the forefront of gravity-based biking. This year’s winner of Redbull Rampage, the Super Bowl of freeriding, Brett Rheeder, calls SilverStar Bike Park, near Vernon, his home hill. Several of his competitors in the invite-only competition also hail from the Okanogan. It’s little coincidence that the sport’s marquee event, although based in Utah, is held on a landscape remarkably similar to that Kamloops dirt.

Visit the region’s lift-served bike parks and it’s not hard to see why it produces world-class riders. Here is the future of bike park design. Gone is hand-hacked singletrack; in its place we find machine-built trails with big, bike-dwarfing berms and manicured, precisely sculpted jumps.


Despite its proximity to the birthplace of freeriding, Big White Ski Resort, near Kelowna, didn’t have a bike park until the summer of 2017. But Big White Bike Park has made up for lost time, applying decades of dirt-moving knowledge to the construction of its trails. The crew from LOFT Pike Parks, a build crew on the cutting edge of trail design, has shown what’s possible with a blank slate on which to work.

And it shows: even green runs such as Pry Bar boast big, beginner-friendly berms and low-consequence doubles. What started off as a handful of trails in the abbreviated season of 2017 continues to grow, with black flow trail Dark Roast whipping riders down the lower half of the mountain on a series of massive step-up and tabletop jumps. Meanwhile, Bermslang coils big turns one on top of the other—it’s stunning purely on an aesthetic level.

Big White is unique in the region in that it extends into true alpine. From the 7057-foot top of the Bullet Express, double-blacks Rock Hammer and Catapult Ranch lead with granite slabs into immaculate dirt with sight lines all the way to the base area and to the Monashee Mountains in the east—should you take your eyes off the trail.

Down below, the LOFT crew has carved out a pro-level slopestyle park of monolithic jumps. Mere mortals can test their skills on a slimmed-down version of the pro line, which is only open for competitions. Make no mistake: even the “amateur” line is jaw-droppingly intense. 


If you’ve watched a mountain bike film in the last ten years, you’ve seen SilverStar Bike Park. This park, near Vernon, about ninety minutes north of Big White, goes big: the resort’s Comet Six Pack Express—Canada’s longest mountain bike chairlift—climbs 1600 vertical feet and accesses over six hundred berms and more than three hundred jumps on thirty miles of downhill trails. The cross-country crowd needn’t feel left out, though—the park features roughly the same mileage in pedal-friendly trails. Oh, and the wildflowers are legendary. Not that you’ll notice.

As opposed to Big White’s slabby summit, gently-rounded SilverStar makes the most of its elevation and the “magic dirt” of its open meadows and loamy forest. The terrain allows SilverStar’s builders to finesse the trails rather than simply fighting the fall line. Crystal Townsend, a SilverStar team downhill rider and bike instructor here, says that SilverStar is the best place she’s coached because there’s a natural progression of trail difficulty. It culminates in Walk the Line and its wall rides, 15-foot gaps and mandatory doubles. Like its neighbors, the mountain offers instruction ranging from half-day sessions to weeklong skills camps, so flatlanders and freeriding first-timers need not be intimidated.


British Columbia’s second-largest ski resort, Sun Peaks Resort hosts the province’s second-oldest lift-served bike park, just behind Whistler—this year marks its 20th anniversary. In many ways, this bike park just north of Kamloops retains the feel of an elder statesman, with steep, rowdy and rocky hand-hewn singletrack reminiscent of downhill racing’s late-90s style.

But the builders at Sun Peaks have begun adding some machine-built trail for modern riding. The showpiece Steam Shovel speeds off the Sunburst chair into a corkscrewing progression of berms and jumps. With no mandatory drops or big gaps, though, intermediate riders can safely roll through any features. An as-yet unnamed green trail provides a solid thirty minutes of smooth, sinuous descending machine-built tread from Sunburst down to the lodge.

Just as at SilverStar, the subalpine wildflowers deserve special mention; they are popular enough that they have their own festival, at the end of July. It’s worth the short hike from the Sunburst Express to the top of Tod Mountain after a day of riding. On a clear day—of which there are many—scissor-shaped Shuswap Lake is visible to the east. And to the south, so is the birthplace of freeriding.

Despite the rowdy nature of the trails, the Okanogan bike parks give off a laid-back, low-key vibe. Absent is the aggro attitude that has occasionally plagued the downhill scene. Here, there’s a home-hill bonhomie where all are welcome—the patrollers, the park rats, the first-timers and the old-timers.

For anyone with a taste for gravity, the Okanogan is calling.

Aaron Theisen is a Spokane-based writer. He is the author of Day Hiking Glacier National Park and Western Montana (Mountaineers Books).

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Where to Ski (and Eat) in the Methow Valley Thu, 28 Feb 2019 18:26:12 +0000 You’re driving into the Methow Valley. The snow is perfect. Small mountain towns greet you, lined with alluring restaurants, tempting bakeries and thirst-quenching pubs. All good….. but where should you ski in the largest groomed Nordic ski network in North America? Hmmm, you only have two days, a long weekend, maybe a week. Difficult choices need to be made. The options are profuse. It takes locals a full season to work through this incredibly large and varied trail system.

As someone who has spent the better part of the last 25 years exploring the trails of the Methow on skis, here’s my advice: Talk with the local professionals at any of the plentiful outdoors shops. Find out which trails have been groomed overnight. Conditions and grooming activities can make all the difference between a euphoric memory…or a slog. Like so much in life, timing is everything.

There are three distinct areas from which to choose: Mazama, Sun Mountain and Rendezvous. The Methow Community Trail connects all three. Lots of options? No kidding.

For locals, another vital consideration is the culinary opportunities available hither and yon. We take our skiing seriously. And, yep, we like to eat.

Photo courtesy of Methow Trails

Mazama Trails

Mazama is the flattest section of the valley. The trails here are great for beginners, families, new skate skiers, veteran skiers desiring long open meadows, and those who want to experience the diverse and tasty snacking options available at the nearby Mazama store.

The main corral parking in Mazama offers a few loops that range from a half-mile to two miles long (the perfect length for a hot chocolate or cold beer afterwards). One common larger loop from Mazama is the “10 K” that can be skied either through the meadows (Goat Wall, Coyote Run, Flagg Mountain), up the Goat Creek section (blue/intermediate), down the short black diamond Goat Creek cut-off and then back on the Founders Trail (or in reverse). A short side trip takes you to a suspension bridge over the picturesque Methow River. This loop starts and ends within walking distance of the Mazama store (a salty baguette from the store might be in order).

The other loop is the “latte loop.”  This can be skied up the Basecamp trail, across the road at the Bush School and back via the Lower River Run and Community Trails. Culinary layovers beckon at Jack’s Hut (great pizza and refreshments) or Freestone Inn (classic scratch cooking).

For the adventurous, Mazama’s upper trails (Jack’s, River Run and the Cow Beach Hut) offer a more remote experience. Accessed via the North Cascades Trailhead on Hwy 20 (just west of the Freestone Trailhead), these trails are spectacular on a sunny day, passing beneath Goat Wall, a 3,000-foot high wall of rock.

Sun Mountain Trails

The trails at Sun Mountain emanate from two main trailheads: Chickadee and the well-known Sun Mountain Lodge (great top quality food and beverage options). These trails are favorites among those seeking variety of terrain. The green/beginner trails include gentle hills and there are plenty of blue and black options as well.

A great loop can be skied—accessed either from Chickadee (2630 feet) or the Lodge (2860 feet)— that includes Little Wolf, Aqualoop, Sunnyside and Beaver Pond. Starting and ending at Sun Mountain will give you a descent at the beginning and a climb at the end, while starting at Chickadee is generally a more level undertaking.

More rolling trails like Yellow Jacket and Rodeo are easily added to this loop. There are many variations to this option; generally skied in under two hours.

Another well-known loop, popular with intermediate skiers, is up Thompson Ridge, around Meadow Lark and down the Inside Passage (1000 foot elevation gain). Some folks like to ski this one in reverse, which breaks up the constant three-mile climb up Thompson by veering off on Meadow Lark, about half-way up. Skiing up Thompson Ridge and around the loop is a 2-3 hour endeavor for most people. Choice digressions include the short (but entertaining) Criss Cross and Overland trails, both suitable for intermediate skiers.

Patterson Lake near Sun Mountain. Photo by John D’Onofrio

Rendezvous Trails

The most remote and challenging section of the Methow Valley is the Rendezvous system, with about 1,500 feet of elevation gain to the top. There are three trailheads to access the Rendezvous. The Cub Creek trailhead is a great place to start, affording an excellent out-and-back or up-and-over, ending at Mazama or Gunn Ranch (you’ll need a car shuttle for this). To make a loop, many skiers of all levels enjoy skiing up Cougar Bait, sampling the Cedar Creek Loop or Cow Creek Trail and then descending Cub Creek.

The Gunn Ranch Trailhead is a personal favorite. On a sunny day, starting or ending at Gunn Ranch is simply glorious—a classic Methow beauty!

Most skiers don’t ski up to Rendezvous from the steeper Mazama side via Fawn Creek due to the almost 2000 feet of elevation gained along the way.

The Rendezvous Huts are justifiably famous. Staying overnight in one of them (while all your gear—including, of course, copious amounts of food and beverages—is hauled up for you!), is a wonderful way to enjoy a weekend and provides a quintessential Methow experience. Day skiers may enjoy the huts if they are empty. Generally speaking, the Rendezvous area is best enjoyed with a half- or full day (or several days!) to devote to the adventure.

Rendezvous Hut. Photo by James Harnois

Methow Community Trail

The Community Trail, connecting Winthrop and Mazama, is generally flat (with a bump in the middle) and offers more than 20 miles of skiing along the way. You can break up the experience into three parts; Winthrop to Wolf Ridge; Wolf Ridge to Brown’s Farm; Brown’s Farm to Mazama (with a couple of other trailheads in this last section). The Wolf Ridge to Brown’s Farm section has some ups and downs (steeper climbs and more gentle descents when skied from Wolf Ridge to Brown’s Farm). Both the Wolf Ridge and Brown’s Farm Trailheads have day shelters and bathrooms.

Thanks to the nearby amenities (food and drink again!), the Community Trail offers myriad options for a group with different abilities and speeds to re-gather without someone having to wait in a chilly parking lot.  Each of these sections is about an hour (one-way) for most skiers. Plan on a vigorous half-day to ski the whole thing from Mazama to Winthrop or visa-versa.

By utilizing parts of the Community Trail or the connective trails down from Sun Mountain, great short loops out of Winthrop beckon those short on time, ideal for arrival or departure days.

Many locals enjoy parking at the Winthrop Trailhead and heading up-valley on the easy and flat Community Trail until they feel half-spent, then turn around and head back to the car (not far from a bakery or restaurant of course). This part of the community trail meanders along the river and across wide-open fields, offering great views of the valley and surrounding mountains.

Possible side trips include the Barnsley Lake and Bitterbrush loops, both short-but-sweet loops with rolling terrain (and a few steeper hills). Locals refer to the larger loop as the Town Triangle, consisting of the Community Trail, the Winthrop Trail and Powers Plunge. This latter trail is for advanced skiers and features some stimulating steep sections.

If your party includes snowshoers, excellent options can be found at Sun Mountain, which has a plethora of snowshoe trails, many with great views. Mazama and Rendezvous also have some sweet—and underutilized—snowshoe trails. Dogs favor the Big Valley Loops beside the river and the designated dog trails at Rendezvous.

Again, I highly recommend spending a little time visiting with one of the many ski professionals in one of the many ski shops, bakeries or bars in the valley. Check to see if the grooming activities and snow conditions bode well for your chosen routes.

After that, simply go with the flow.

Kevin van Bueren grew up Nordic Skiing on un-groomed Northwest trails. He started skiing in the Methow Valley in 1990 and worked as a Nordic instructor for the legendary Don Portman and his ski shops for over 20 years. Today, Kevin is living the dream as owner/operator of Methow Valley Ski School & Rentals.

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Fat Bike the Methow! Thu, 28 Feb 2019 17:38:39 +0000 Fat Biking is perhaps the fastest growing winter sport in North America. The Methow Valley, with a growing network of groomed fat bike trails, has quickly become a regional destination for folks who want to expand their recreation options to include winter fun on two wheels.

When it comes to fat biking, the Methow has it all: ideal two-wheel terrain, state-of-the-art trail maintenance and grooming expertise, sunny winter weather, reliable snow and a robust infrastructure for visitors.

While fat biking quickly took hold in Alaska and the Midwest, the Methow Valley was one of the first areas in the western United States to recognize the potential of the fledgling sport. A partnership between Methow Trails (the non-profit trail organization that traces its roots back to the Methow Valley Family Sports Club in 1977) and Winthrop-based bike shop Methow Cycle & Sport evolved organically, with a shared vision to develop that potential.

Riding at Lloyd Ranch. Photo by Steve Mitchell Images


Originally the two partnered to create an area near the Winthrop Town Trailhead, where a selection of cross country ski trails could be shared with fat bike users. While successful, it quickly became clear that dedicated single-track fat bike trails were needed. It was also clear that winter single-track trails ought to be co-located with ski and other multi-use trails, both to allow mixed groups of skiers and cyclists to recreate in the same general area and also for the uninitiated to see how much fun the fat bikers were having!

Currently there are several areas with trails open to fat biking in the Methow Valley: Pearrygin Lake Sno-Park/Lloyd Ranch, Winthrop Town Trailhead, Gunn Ranch and Mazama.

Fat Biking at Pearrygin Lake. Photo by Steve Mitchell Images

Pearrygin Lake State Park, which operates as a Sno-Park during winter, is located three miles northeast of Winthrop, and has over fifteen miles of multi-use groomed single-track trails. Access is via three trailheads, including the recent addition of Lake Creek, which follows the west side of the lake.

While the system is categorized as “multi-use,” trails are prepared and signed for each user category, including pedestrians. A Washington State Sno-Park Permit is required for parking at Pearrygin.

Lloyd Ranch is located adjacent to Pearrygin on the north side of Bear Creek Road on Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife land. While not typically accessed for recreational use in the summer, it is a winter paradise.  With more varied and challenging terrain then Pearrygin, it rewards those that climb to the upper portions with arguably the best views of the North Cascades and Pasayten Wilderness. Lloyd Ranch has approximately ten miles of groomed trails, including a separate designated pedestrian pathway. A Washington State Discover Pass is required to park at the Lloyd Ranch trailhead.

Both the Pearrygin Lake and Lloyd Ranch trails include a wide variety of terrain and trail designs to appeal to any fat biker, from beginner to advanced and are developed and maintained by Methow Fatbike, using specially-made grooming equipment. The trails are twenty-four inches wide and require a careful and consistent grooming procedure to ensure that the surface is firm and cambered correctly. The result is that they resemble summer single-track trails.

The following fat bike options are managed by Methow Trails and offer up an assortment of terrain and difficulty. To ride these, a fat bike day pass is required (this will set you back $10) and can be purchased at any of the organization’s vendors located throughout the Methow Valley.

Winthrop Town Trailhead is a hub and is accessed through the Winthrop Fish Hatchery or the Town Trailhead adjacent to the Winthrop Ice Rink. Co-located with cross-country ski trails, the multi-use trails offer a great opportunity for groups and families to participate in different activities all within the same general vicinity and trailhead. Combined, there are seven miles of fat bike/snowshoe trails accessible from Winthrop for a variety of skill and fitness levels.

Photo by Kirsten Smith/Methow Valley Photography


Big Valley, located off Highway 20 between Winthrop and Mazama, offers free access to approximately five miles of multi-use trails. Almost entirely flat with wide trail grooming, Big Valley is a great area for beginners and/or groups. In addition, dogs are welcome at Big Valley.

Gunn Ranch, also located between Winthrop and Mazama, offers multi-use access into the Rendezvous area. The trailhead is located at the end of the plowed portion of Gunn Ranch Road. With a lower lollipop loop and an out-and-back option up to Rendezvous Basin (and ultimately to Grizzly Hut), fat bikers can enjoy the same five-plus miles of trails as skiers. The lower portions provide stunning views of the valley floor and Sun Mountain. On a sunny day, the southern exposure combined with the stellar views make for an unforgettable experience.

Fat bikers can also access a small selection of trails in the Mazama area. Combined, John’s Way and Lunachick offer approximately four miles of easy riding. Featuring sweet views and flat terrain, these trails provide a perfect setting to try fat biking for the first time.

Joseph Brown is a longtime resident of the Methow Valley and lover of the outdoors. When not out adventuring, he serves on the boards of the Evergreen Mountain Bike Alliance and Methow Valley Nordic Ski Educational Foundation (MVNSEF). He is co-owner of Methow Cycle & Sport and co-founder of Methow Fatbike.

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Light on the Palouse Mon, 11 Feb 2019 17:11:28 +0000 The Palouse, located just south of Spokane is a rich farming area of some 3,000 square miles. After I retired, I had a list of places I wanted to photograph. The Palouse was at the top of the list. Since 2008, I have been to the Palouse at least five times. I am attracted to the rolling, asymmetrical hills, and the ever-changing colors from season to season. I also love the smoothly-flowing wheat fields, and the way the light changes, creating very unusual shadows. It is truly one of the most beautiful places in Washington.

Tommy Gibson has recently returned to Whatcom County where he graduated from Nooksack Valley High School. He is a retired photography instructor at West Valley College in Saratoga, CA. Tommy’s background includes 13 years as an industrial photographer for FMC Corporation.  He is also an accomplished illustrative and architectural photographer.



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Field Trip: Badwater Sun, 06 Jan 2019 17:52:52 +0000 We ride into Death Valley in late afternoon, careening down the winding road through the Panamint Range. Down again past the graceful sand dunes of Mesquite Flat, and then down even more towards Badwater, elevation: 282.2 feet below sea level, the bottom of North America. The last golden light bathes the undulating desert hills before slowly giving way to the spangled night sky. Sparks from our campfire rise to join the glittering stars.

In the pre-dawn chill we crawl from our sleeping bags and hike out onto the vast salt pan in the dark to wait for the sunrise. Coyotes, somewhere off in the indiscernible distance, harmonize on a free-jazz motif, heralding the first light which finally appears, spreading across the bare mountains like syrup. Like a lightshow at the Fillmore, the hills shift from blue to purple to magenta to pink. The coyotes stop on a dime.

The silence cannot be described.

Badwater Basin is the lowest point in North America, only 85 miles from Mt. Whitney, the highest point in the contiguous United States. As its name suggests, the water that pools here is undrinkable due to a high concentration of salt. During endless freeze-thaw and evaporation cycles, the salt crust is formed into hexagonal shapes, creating the surreal landscape for which the area is famous.

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Sarah Finger: A Deeply Etched Love for Local Landscapes Sun, 06 Jan 2019 17:23:16 +0000 After a quick burn on Galbraith or hike up in the North Cascades, Sarah Finger is likely to be the one across the bar from you slinging your après trail beer. But she also has a strong connection to that magnificent landscape you can’t stop staring at on the can of IPA you’re slugging down. She’s the artist who created it.

“Winchester” by Sarah Finger. Photo by Alan Sanders

Finger is the one-woman artist of Skyline Printworks, as well as the mind behind the artwork adorning the cans of five, soon to be six, different flavors of Kulshan Brewing beers, all part of a recent rebranding. The scenes depict the jagged mountainscapes of the Cascades, the sinuous rivers of the lowlands and the sandstone hideaways of the coast, and all are done in the impressively labor-intensive style of block printing.

“There are people out there who would never want to buy a piece of art for their walls, but they have a six-pack of Bastard Kat in their fridge,” Finger says. “It’s art appealing to a wider audience.”

Sarah Finger’s artwork adorns the cans of Bellingham’s Kulshan Brewing. Photo by Nick Belcaster

Finger was raised on the sediments and colors and textures of the Nooksack River Valley. Her family owns an organic farm along the curves of the river, and her upbringing was a simple one. Homeschooled with no television in her childhood home, Finger and her siblings would light out for the river or romp about in the woods after their lessons were done.

“When you spend a lot of time in beautiful places, it’s impossible not to be inspired by them,” Finger says. “For me, that inspiration comes in the form of capturing that feeling when you don’t have words.”

Those childhood outings cemented her deep love for this place, and serve as an inspiring well to draw from when she is working on a new block print. The unique printing style is one she learned while attending Whitman College in Walla Walla, WA. When Finger tells folks that she’s a printmaker, they often look at her with the same look you might imagine giving someone who tells you they are a blacksmith.

“I tell them it’s like a big, detailed stamp, and then generally people understand it a bit more.”

Block printing goes a little like this: The process begins with a sketch, which needs to be reversed on carbon paper for the ‘flip’ of the printmaking to work. This is transferred onto a block of linoleum or wood, and then meticulously carved for hours on end.

Sarah and Artwork. Photo by Nick Belcaster

On the day that I spoke with Finger a slab of linoleum destined to become a print is laid out on her glass-top workbench, where she anticipated spending upwards of 40 to 50 hours working on relief carving the image. Exceedingly sharp tools called gouges are scattered about, along with little pots of oil-based inks and metal scrapers.

“There’s a delayed gratification,” Finger says. “With a painting you know what it looks like as you’re working on it, whereas with print making, you have a sense if it’s going well, but you really don’t know until you ink it up and pull the first print.”

Work in process. Photo by Nick Belcaster

Finger gives me a demonstration, rolling a heavy brayer roller across a pool of black ink and onto a block that she’s already carved. Winding the huge arm of an etching press that is easily the largest piece of furniture in her Bellingham apartment, the block and paper are brought together. What emerges is a perfect scene from atop Winchester mountain, looking out past the lookout and over Goat Mountain toward the serrated blade of Mt. Shuksan.

It’s inherently a medium of multiples, Finger tells me about block printing, and that’s a big part of the reason that she likes it. When 50 or more hours are invested into carving a really detailed design, the process yields multiple pieces of art, depending on how many times she inks up the block.

And like the proverbial snowflakes that fall on her beloved mountain peaks, no two are exactly the same.

Nick Belcaster is an adventure journalist who cut his teeth for the big three—hiking, climbing and splitboarding—on the jagged wave of rock that is the North Cascades. Residing in Bellingham, WA, he contributes to local and national publications and tries to stay out of trouble in the mountains.

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The Problem With Drones Sun, 06 Jan 2019 15:57:02 +0000 Imagine, if you will, a pleasant afternoon of tranquil rambling in the green meadows of the North Cascades. But then you begin to be aware of a high-pitched buzz above you.

Not a mosquito. A drone, hovering just overhead. Approximately the size of a toaster, with four rotors spinning rapidly and a high-definition camera slung beneath it. The spell is broken. And is that… “The Ride of the Valkyries”?

Drones in the wilderness have become commonplace in recent years, flown by eager enthusiasts seeking a birds-eye view of the public lands we all enjoy. Many appreciate the images they pull from the sky, while just as many wish a sizeable hawk would do as nature intended and remove the annoyance.

Evan Skoczenski and friend. Photo by Nick Belcaster

My own experience with drones has been limited, though I do know folks who use them often. I’ve seen the stunning photos, made possible by drones’ pinpoint-able aerial perspective and often marveled at the National Geographic-quality video that is now being turned out by amateurs. And then there’s Evan Skoczenski, a local photographer and my closest tie to the world of drones. I joined him recently for a beer at a local brewpub to ask him about the allure of the winged contrivances.

Skoczenski is a young guy, certainly no luddite and more surely planted in the “drones are neat” camp than anything else. He’s quick to draw contrast between the lowly hobbyists buzzing the viewpoint at your local National Park and those who use drones as part of their photography kit; a higher class of operator with a purer calling. He places himself squarely in the latter group.

Photo by Peter Fazekas

“There’s a super-artistic photography niche, and then there’s the hobbyist remote-control niche. They don’t say they want to get this 4K photo, they just want to fly through some hoops,” Evan tells me. I press him a bit, saying that surely the general public couldn’t give a damn either way, and wonder what it is he does to ensure he doesn’t encroach on other people’s space.

I can hear the wavering in his voice as he nurses his ale. “I want to respect people,” he says. “I just feel like I’m never out in a place where there are crowds to bother.” Looking at his photos, I’d wager he’s telling the truth. They capture a desolation that many seek out in the woods.

I ask Evan what he thinks of the drone ban in the national parks, something that directly impacts what it is he does. He pauses and mulls it over for a bit. “I think that’s fair. So many people are affected, and the odds are too high that someone might get hurt,” he says. “There’s enough people doing stupid things outside of national parks.” Never mind putting a drone controller in their hands, I would add. That, I can raise a glass to.

The Leave No Trace Ethic truly is a wonderful thing, a succinct ideology on how one should conduct oneself out in the woods. But a new question has emerged: what exactly is ‘a trace’? Obviously, it’s garbage left beside the trail and the scar of an illegal campfire. But could it also be something more ephemeral, an intrusion that diminishes the freedom of others to experience the natural world and the soft sounds of the wind in the trees? Are drones just another manifestation of a new ethos borne of our technological bubbles where we no longer seem to be aware of—or care—how what we do affects others?

We ought to advocate for responsible drone use on our public lands, and seek to minimize their intrusion on others. It truly comes down to the person behind the joystick. Consider your impact when you feel the urge to launch the thing. Are there people around? Animals? Might you infringe on someone’s solitude? If so, it may be best to leave the drone at home. You’d be surprised just how much beauty you can see from the ground…

Nick Belcaster is an adventure journalist who cut his teeth for the big three—hiking, climbing and splitboarding—on the jagged wave of rock that is the North Cascades. Residing in Bellingham, WA, he contributes to local and national publications and tries to stay out of trouble in the mountains.

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