Scouting the Elwha River Road

Scouting the Elwha River Road

For this mission I scouted a closed section of road along the Elwha river and visited the Glines Canyon Overlook, site of a former dam. The dam was removed by 2014 to allow salmon to return to their spawning grounds and to restore an ancient ecosystem—the largest dam removal project in history. The road going to the dam has been closed to vehicles since early 2015, when the waters released by the dam removal washed out a section of the road, forcing the closure of campgrounds, a ranger station and other facilities.

From the trailhead it was a short ride to the road washout, where the awesome power of nature compared to the works of man is on full display:

The river washout that destroyed the road and closed this area to vehicles.

To get around the washout, there is a rough bypass trail which I was able to walk and ride my bike on without problems, passing a few of the massive old growth trees that the Olympic National Park is famous for along the way. Back on the road, I passed a few hikers and a guy with two pack llamas before arriving at the abandoned Elwha Ranger Station. The station and several other large buildings were all well-preserved but empty; there were even two trucks in a garage, stranded on this side of the washout with no way to get back to civilization. There was a young family of three there, including a little girl who had a magical presence. The whole scene was a little eerie, like something out of a post-Apocalyptic film where almost everyone has vanished and the survivors are wandering around on foot.

One of many unusual sights on the closed Hot Springs Road.

When the family left I decided to symbolically claim the site for the Shadow Empire by rolling out my “shadow sun” banner and briefly meditating on the transience of all human constructs before the power of the Shadow World:

Meditating at the closed Elwha ranger station.

I continued up the road, crossing a bridge over the Elwha river and admiring the crystal clear, turquoise water. An easy climb brought me to the Glines Canyon Spillway Overlook, site of the former dam. This was a spectacular place. From the top of what is left of the dam I could look straight down into the canyon at the blue-green river, now rushing freely through the chasm where the dam previously stood. On the other side there was a wide view of the former lake bed, now a rocky river plain where vegetation is growing back and bears are known to roam.

The remains of the Glines Canyon Dam.

I walked over to the edge of the dam, hoping to climb down onto the huge metal spillway and get a better view of the canyon. But the rock face above it was too high and vertical, so I settled for looking down from the top of the canyon wall. I unfurled the shadow sun banner at this spot and again meditated on the impermanence of all forms. Then I walked back to the top of the dam and carved my Scout Sign on a light post to mark my visit.

The view of the old lake bed from the Glines Canyon overlook.

The ride back was an easy cruise, mostly downhill and uneventful. I took a dip in the river to cool off, then had another encounter with the little girl and her family at the road washout. She had an interesting presence; I included our conversation at the end of this video I made about the trip, so you can hear for yourself:

Scouting WW II Coastal Defense Bunkers

Scouting WW II Coastal Defense Bunkers

Mission Summary

For this mission I decided to scout some abandoned northern Olympic Peninsula coastal defenses that were built during World War II. These are a series of artillery emplacements, bunkers and lookouts set on hills overlooking the Strait of Juan de Fuca west of Port Angeles, Washington.

From my online research I determined the approximate location of several of the bunkers. The most interesting resource was this page, which contained the original secret military maps and schematics of the facilities made in the early 1940s. Several of the bunkers are located in Salt Creek Recreation Area, part of the Camp Hayden artillery fortress:

The original map of the Camp Hayden harbor defenses from 1944 (click to enlarge).

A few miles west down the coast are the more obscure Agate Point and Agate Rock bunkers:

Map of the Agate Point bunkers (click to enlarge).

My plan was to scout these in stealth mode using my bike and see how many I could locate in an overnight trip.

Camp Hayden Recon

Starting from Port Angeles, I rode the Olympic Discovery Trail for about six miles until it joined highway 112, a dangerous road with little shoulder and giant trucks whizzing by. I turned onto a side road toward the Salt Creek Recreation Area to get off the highway and make a stealthier approach to the area. The road into the facility had a sign saying it was closed, which I was happy to see because it meant I was unlikely to encounter anyone else:

Closed roads are good news; it means you will probably have them all to yourself!

Sure enough, the road was empty, but it was also steep and rough and I ending up mostly walking my bike up to the top of Striped Peak. There were some fun trails and gravel roads to ride down, spectacular views of the Strait, and before long I found myself in the vicinity of the first bunker on my list. Looking off to my right, I caught a glimpse of it through the lush foliage, looking like a ruined Mayan temple in the jungle. This was Battery 249, which once contained two six inch anti-ship guns but now apparently houses a bat colony.

“You will all parish in flame” — spooky graffiti outside the Battery 249 bunker.

There were two chambers, both barred and covered in graffiti. There was also a hole in the ground with a ladder leading down to a rather spooky chamber that I explored. On top of the complex there was a pillbox structure and a nice flat area; as it was getting late, I decided to set up my stealth camp there, get up early and look for other bunkers nearby.

The only problem was that I didn’t have a lot of water and there were no streams around. My only choice was to ride down to the nearby campground and get some water from the bathroom. I bombed down the gravel road, which unfortunately came out right next to the home of the resident park ranger.  I casually pedaled past it into the campground, hoping that no one saw me and there was nothing overly suspicious about a mountain biker coming down this road from the direction of a closed road. I rolled my bike into the bathroom and filled up my water bottles using the tortuously slow timed water faucet, during which time three other people decided to use the facilities, which was less than ideal. Then I rolled out out of there and casually headed back up the road toward the bunker. The recreation area closed at dusk, so it was a bit suspicious to be heading up there with dusk approaching, but I didn’t have much choice. I got back to camp without event and made the report about my mission shown in this video:

Early the next morning I studied the Hayden Camp map and realized that a bunker labelled “BC12” should be only about a hundred yards east of my campsite. I packed up, left my bike hidden on top of Battery 249 and bushwhacked in the direction I thought it should be. Sure enough, there it was, naturally camouflaged and with a tree growing on top of it:

Bunker BC12 was well-camouflaged from the “bushwhack side”.

This bunker wasn’t barred off so I was able to walk in and admire the view through the gun slot. When I went on top of it I was disappointed to see a driveway right next to the main gravel road and realized I hadn’t made much of a discovery; the bunker was clearly visible from the road and I could have ridden right to it. I scratched it off my list of potential Scout lookouts and road-walked back to my bike. As I rolled my bike back up toward BC 12 to take some more pics, I spotted a guy just ahead of me walking right toward the bunker. I waited a few minutes until I saw him continuing up the hill, unsure if he spotted me. I returned to the site, took some video footage and thought about what to do next. There were two other sites in Camp Hayden that I could’ve looked for, but I decided that since I’d violated park rules by stealth-camping and had just seen some guy walking in my direction, it was time to get out of Dodge.

On my way out of the area, I rode through the campground to scout it out for future reference. There was a dramatic viewpoint where I walked out onto rocks with waves crashing over tide pools. As I returned to my bike, I looked up and saw a third bunker staring me in the face, this one also barred off, labelled “Tongue Point” on the old maps.

Agate Rock Recon

My next target was a more obscure site called “Agate Rock” a few miles down the coast. After a scenic ride around Crescent Bay I came to an abandoned forest road with a gate and a no trespassing sign, which a Shadow Scout always considers an invitation:

A very inviting sight: a gated, overgrown forest road with a no trespassing sign.

The road was overgrown but rideable for about a half mile before it turned north and disappeared into the bush. Not discouraged, I stashed my bike, put on my long pants, jacket and gloves and bushwhacked north, where faint signs of the original access road were still visible. After a while of this I intersected a newer, easily walkable road which took me up the hill to the very edge of the Peninsula. There was a small clearing and a sheer cliff that dropped hundreds of feet to the ocean. The views across the strait and down the coast were spectacular. I saw large ships in the distance and could imagine being a soldier manning a lookout on this spot, watching for enemy battleships.

Commanding views of the Strait from the top of Agate Rock.

But where was the bunker that should be nearby? After admiring the view for a while, I turned around and again, what do I see but the slot of another overgrown bunker staring me in the face!

I was so distracted by the view that I almost missed this well-camouflaged bunker.

I crawled through the slot into the vault. There were two concrete pedestals that once held six-inch guns; from this high ground it was easy to imagine them raining deadly fire on enemy ships miles away down in the Strait. Walking to the back of the vault, I came out the front entrance, which was wide open. There was graffiti everywhere, so despite the difficult route I had taken it was apparently not a problem for others. And I soon discovered the reason why: there was a nice gravel road nearby that apparently offered easy access by a different route. I was a bit disappointed to see this, but still carved some scout sign on the bunker wall and put it on my list of potential Scout lookouts for the spectacular vista and obscure location.

My Scout sign marks this bunker as a place of interest.

I ate some food at the cliff’s edge and contemplated my next move. It was midday and I still had a hike and a sizeable bike ride to get back to Port Angeles. There is another bunker in the area that is supposedly on private property and well-secured, and others further down the coast that are even more difficult to find. I decided that I would save these for another scouting mission and headed back the way I had come. The ride back was uneventful other than some close truck passes on Highway 112 and a buck eating leaves in someone’s yard right off the trail in Port Angeles. I was tired but buzzed, both by the things I had discovered on this mission and the prospect of returning for more scouting in the near future. This definitely belongs at the top of my list as one of my favorite missions to date.

Bicycle Bug-Out

Bicycle Bug-Out

The Bug-Out Scenario

A little extreme, but maybe the right idea. Don’t expect gasoline or nice roads to be available in a real Mad Max scenario!

The survivalist or Scout who wants to be prepared for the possibility of serious civilizational disruption should consider building a bug-out bike. What is that? It’s a bicycle outfitted to get out of Dodge quickly, travel long distances via any road or trail, and be self-contained for extended periods of time. In light of recent events such as the covid-19 “pandemic”, disruptions in gasoline supplies, infrastructure collapses, riots, forest fires and heat waves; the prospect of escalating crises as the effects of climate change, peak oil, ecological disruption and social unrest hit home; the ever-present possibility of natural catastrophes such as pandemics, hurricanes, earthquakes, fires, floods, Carrington events and volcanic eruptions; and man-made catastrophes like nuclear, EMP, biological and terrorist attacks, it seems wise to be prepared for anything. That includes being ready to evacuate your home for several days in an emergency, but it doesn’t just mean having a bug-out bag ready to throw in a vehicle and hitting the road. What if gasoline becomes unavailable or unaffordable? What if supply chains are disrupted and you can’t get parts to repair your car? What if roads are clogged with traffic, damaged, blocked or overrun with bandits? How will you get to your bug-out cabin, bunker or hideout? How will you get to another town for needed supplies? How will you visit far away family or friends who need your help? How will you escape martial law crackdowns, avoid FEMA camps and evade hordes of marauding zombies? The answer in all cases could be a properly equipped bicycle—the most versatile and resilient form of transportation ever invented (with the possible exception of a horse). While nothing beats your own two feet and a backpack for flexible travel, the distances involved and loads you may need to carry could be too great to be practical. Enter the bug-out bike…

The Bug-Out Bike

There are many types of bicycles available today that are optimized for different purposes: road bikes, touring bikes, mountain bikes, gravel bikes, etc. The best configuration for a bug-out bike is probably a mountain bike for its ruggedness and versatility (actually, the best bug-out bike is the one you already have and can start outfitting today). Here’s the bike configuration I currently use for scouting and bug-outs:

My bug-out/scout bike rig with pistol and machete options.

It’s a Trek Marlin mountain bike, with rear panniers containing food on one side, clothing on the other, cookwear and electronics in the top, a 30 liter dry bag/backpack strapped to the handlebars that contains my tent, sleeping bag and pad, and a small saddlebag containing bike tools and spare tubes (the machete and glock pistol strapped to the frame are optional accessories that could come in handy). I removed reflectors and lights for maximum stealth and minimum weight. I don’t normally ride at night, but in a bug-out scenario I will avoid busy roads and use a headlamp when necessary. The tires are 700 x 40mm Schwalbes, which are narrow for a mountain bike but have worked well on the dirt roads and trails in my area.

Bug-Out Gear

Many cyclists are moving to bikepacking setups that emphasize light weight and minimal gear over the traditional bicycle touring configuration of panniers (large bags hung from racks over your wheels) that can hold more supplies. Either setup can work in a bug-out situation. In a long distance bug-out, where supplies may be few and far between or conditions in cities dangerous, panniers allow you to carry larger amounts of food and water and be self-sufficient for up to two weeks at a time. If you need to carry heavier gear, weapons, ammo, etc., panniers are also preferable. But in a more local, short-term bug-out, or in a region where you may have to ride on steep mountain roads, rough trails and bushwhacks, a lighter, more rugged bikepacking setup may be preferable. I use a hybrid of the two.

Here are a few essential items to include in your bug-out bike gear:

  • water: filter; bottles and bladders for carrying a gallon or more of water
  • offline navigation: detailed paper maps of your area (e.g. USFS maps), compass
  • food: three days to two weeks supply
  • repair kit: extra tubes, pump, patches, bike multitool (I use this one), spare chain links

Some optional but useful gear for a bug-out bike include:

  • weapons: handgun, knife/machete/hatchet
  • hammock (allows you to stealth camp almost anywhere)
  • dynamo hub for charging electronic devices
  • shortwave emergency radio

Keep things simple and low tech. Modern touring cyclists rely on sophisticated smartphones, GPS devices and apps for navigation, as well as social network apps like warmshowers.com for finding lodging, but in a SHTF situation you can’t assume that any of those will work. Be prepared to navigate the old school way, with maps, compass and local knowledge, and to find stealth camps wherever you go.

The Bug-Out Route

Having a well equipped bug-out bike is only the first step in bicycle emergency preparedness. You also need to figure out where to go and how to get there. That means scouting the bike paths, bikeable trails and dirt/gravel roads in your area, finding any routes that will allow you to bypass traffic jams, checkpoints, road closures and zombies in a SHTF situation. From this information, put together one or more bug-out routes that will allow you to get out of town safely and stealthily. Mapping sites and apps like gaiagps, google maps, komoot.com and gravelmap.com are very helpful for finding routes via gravel roads, back roads, bike paths and trails.  Pay close attention to elevation profiles; steep roads and trails are killers on a bike and should be avoided if possible. But there is no substitute for scouting on-the-ground conditions, and this should be done regularly as part of your emergency preparation. This will also help you stay fit, which could literally be a matter of life and death when you have to actually bug-out on a bike.

Once you’ve devised and scouted your bug-out routes, memorize them and sketch them on your maps if you wish. You can also save them as GPX routes, which you can then load into a GPS device or a smartphone app like gaiagps or ridewithgps and follow precisely as you ride. But again, don’t rely only on electronic methods, as they might not work after TSHTF and they’re also potential security risks.

The Bug-Out Mission

Two days after a heat wave that brought record temperatures to my area, along with blackouts, deaths and disruptions, I decided it was time to put the bug-out bike concept to the test. I equipped my mountain bike with the bikepacking gear and provisions described above. I had a route figured out from previous scouting and study of maps, and had it memorized and loaded into my gaiagps app. The scenario was that due to some catastrophe (earthquake, virus outbreak, etc.), the main highway out of my town is clogged or closed, and I’ve decided to bug-out to another town via backroads and trails and stealth camp somewhere.

I rode via side roads through town to the Olympic Discovery Trail, proceeded to the town of Blyn, then cut south up a forest road into the foothills of the Olympics. This was a nice route; I was on gravel roads most of the time and passed very few cars. There were many possible camp sites and connecting roads I could spend days exploring. After a long uphill slog, I coasted down toward the town of Quilcene, target of my previous bicycle scouting, after about 30 miles, only this time I had arrived entirely via backroads and avoided the highways.

After some refreshments in the town convenience store I continued north toward Port Townsend and other targets of interest, sticking to backroads as much as possible. By late afternoon I was feeling fatigued and started looking for a place to camp, but I was running low on water and the creeks shown on my map were either non-existent or too difficult to access. So I continued toward the nearest place where I could buy water, a little town about eight miles north, and got to the store just before they closed. En route I passed a wooded park that looked like it had once been a campground; I rode back there and decided to make stealth camp, despite the two kids I’d seen biking there and the houses not far away through the trees. I laid low until around sunset, saw no one, then set up my camp and made this video:

Secondary Scouting

The next morning I got up early, got out of the park and proceeded north to some destinations I planned to scout as part of this mission. After fueling up on espresso and a breakfast sandwich at a coffee shop, I rode a few miles west to a place called the Tamanowas Rock Sanctuary, which I’ve been wanting to investigate for some time as a possible Scout lookout site. I made this video from the sanctuary:

I then headed north toward a place called Indian Island, which is owned by the U.S. Navy and used as a munitions handling facility and a place to service missile submarines. After a fun ride over a bridge to the island, I parked in a nearby park and did some video surveillance of the entrance to the naval base with my handlebar-mounted phone. It was guarded by a checkpoint, a fence topped by coiled barbed wire, and some prowling security vehicles:

A still image from my surveillance video of the entrance to the Indian Island naval facility.

Realizing that I wouldn’t be seeing any more of Indian Island on this trip, I rode down a little trail along the coast then proceeded back to the mainland. From there I connected to a nice 7.5 mile gravel path called the Larry Scott Trail which I rode into downtown Port Townsend. A bus was leaving in 30 minutes back to my home town so I decided to get on it—I’d ridden about 73 miles in 24 hours and decided that was enough. I chatted on the bus with two locals—an old guy who was an avid cyclist and gave me some biking tips, and a guy from Kansas who appeared to be homeless and a bit mentally off but had some interesting observations—then got off in Sequim and rode the few miles to my home.

This was another interesting bug-out and scouting mission by bike—which has become my preferred way to scout my region, get out of Dodge and have a little adventure.

More Information

For more information about bug-out bikes, see these links:
Bug Out Bike: What You Need To Know To Survive
Bugout Bikes and Trikes
Apocalypse Bicycle Instructable

Bicycle Scouting the ODT

Bicycle Scouting the ODT

I’ve recently started doing some scouting of my region by bicycle. While foot scouting is still my go-to method, bicycle scouting has a few advantages:

  • You don’t have to carry a pack on your shoulders.
  • You can cover much more ground in a given amount of time.
  • Cyclists aren’t as threatening as walkers; people tend to ignore you.
  • You can discreetly film places of interest with a handlebar-mounted phone.

A bicycle is a versatile form of transportation: you can ride it on regular roads, dirt/gravel roads, sidewalks, bike paths, some foot trails and short bushwhacks, take it on cars, buses, trains, planes and even packrafts. You can carry as much gear as you would backpacking, allowing you to take extended “bikepacking” excursions. You can also easily stash a bike in places where you could never park a car discreetly when you need to proceed on foot. To efficiently get an on-the-ground feel for the shadow routes and resources in your area, cycling may be the best option.

My latest bicycle scouting was an overnight trip to the town of Quilcene about 35 miles away. I am fortunate to live near the Olympic Discovery Trail, a popular paved bike trail/highway route which goes from Port Townsend at the north end of the Olympic Peninsula all the way to the Pacific Ocean, a distance of about 130 miles. I was able to take the paved trail or side roads for the majority of the trip, riding along two bays, through the Skallam reservation and along a lake.

A typical section of the ODT. Note how easy it is to discreetly film items of interest from a bike.

There were surprisingly few people on the trail for a sunny weekend, which was good. There was one 24 hour gas station/deli en route and a couple of creeks where I could filter water. I took some video of sections of interest with my handlebar-mounted phone, and left some Scout sign to mark my range:

Leaving Scout sign on the ODT

On a side road near Discovery Bay I passed a sign where the Pacific Northwest Trail used to head into the Olympic mountains before it was re-routed. The sign was at the end of a driveway; I started riding up it, saw a group of people, called out to ask if the trail was still in use, but when they didn’t answer I got spooked and rode away. On further research it looks like this is now an alternate PNT route that’s still used, so apparently they’re OK with people walking through here. I will be returning to scout this section at a later date.

A PNT sign marks a route into the Olympics that goes through someone’s driveway.

From there I headed south toward Quilcene, using the highway and a side road along Leland Lake. As it was getting late I started looking for a place to stealth camp. I considered camping at a turn-out near the highway where a boat had been left full of trash, but when I walked down a trail I encountered all kinds of old tents, clothes and junk everywhere. Not wanting to camp next to what looked like a homeless encampment, I got out of there and kept riding south.

When I arrived at Quilcene the sun was setting and I needed to quickly find a place to camp. Looking at my gaiagps maps, I noticed a power line corridor near town that was crossed by a road near a river, so I biked the half mile to check it out. The road ended before the corridor but there was an overgrown trail that led to it which I was able to push my bike through. This led to a clearing under the power lines, surrounded by tall grass with views of the nearby mountains. After clearing some rocks I was able to make a decent spot for my tent and set up my stealth camp. I was also able to find a game trail to the river where I could get water.

My stealth camp in a power line corridor near Quilcene.

I got up early the next morning and headed back the same way, scouting a few side roads as I went. On Highway 101 near Discovery Bay, I noticed that just below the highway was an abandoned road which had a “keep out” sign on it. Curious, I bushwhacked down to the road and rode on it for about a mile until it rejoined an active side road. This road doesn’t show up in any gaiagps map except the historic 1930 topo map; it looks like it was a section of a road that once ran along the railroad that used to go around Discovery Bay on its way from Port Townsend to Port Angeles. This is exactly the kind of shadow route that I look for when I’m out scouting; if I’m ever stealth travelling through this area I can avoid the busy highway and move quickly on foot or bicycle. I will definitely be back to explore this road further.

Riding an unmapped, abandoned road near Highway 101.

The rest of the ride home to Sequim was uneventful. Overall, this was an interesting if somewhat grueling trip of about 70 miles that gave me a better feel for the area and opened my eyes to the potential of scouting by bicycle. Stay tuned for more!

Return to Burnt Hill

Return to Burnt Hill

Today I returned to Burnt Hill, a place I’ve hiked several times before and reported on previously here. This mission had three primary objectives:

  1. Get a good workout and enjoy a nice Spring day outside.
  2. Scout new shadow routes down the mountain and other points of interest.
  3. Give my new scout vest system a good field test.

The hike goes up a steep forest road to the top of the hill. After about a mile it comes to a rock quarry with a peculiar piece of artwork made out of someone’s trash. I thought this was an interesting way to turn litter into something strangely magical, so I took a picture:

Appreciating the weird magic of trash art.

At about 1.75 miles the trail levels out at a clear-cut and a nice vista of the northeastern Olympic mountains. At this point objective #1 was completed.

Performing Kuji-Kiri cuts at the clear-cut near top of the hill.

From the clear-cut I continued west down a forest road I hadn’t travelled before. I wanted to see if it could connect me to trails I had previously scouted at the base of the hill, giving me a complete shadow route from the hill to my house. The road went on for a mile, bringing more spectacular views of the Olympics to the south and the Strait of Juan de Fuca to the north. At road’s end, a dirtbike/foot trail continued down the hill in the direction I wanted to go. I was hoping it would take me all the way down, but it soon started curving back up so I had no choice but to bushwhack downhill toward my destination.

Bushwhacking down the steep hillside.

After some hill scrambling I came to a stream cutting down the hillside in the direction I wanted to go and started following it. This was a mistake, as the stream soon went over a cliff and the whole area cliffed out. This reinforced two points about mountain navigation: one, water takes the fastest route downhill, not the route easiest for humans to walk; and two, when contour lines on a topographical map are closest together, travelling perpendicular to them is probably going to be difficult. In this case it was nearly impossible, so I had to skirt around the steep area and take an indirect course at an angle to the contour lines.

Streams on hillsides are good for getting a cool drink, but bad for finding a safe route down the hill!

I finally got down the hill and connected to an unmapped trail I had previously scouted. This connected to a forest service road that isn’t technically open to the public, but the Shadow Scout philosophy is that this only matters if you’re caught, which is unlikely! I avoided problems by following a path along an irrigation canal above the road that I already knew about:

Irrigation canals often have trails that make good shadow routes.

The road also went by a facility with padlocked doors that could be considered a challenge, if you’re so inclined.

Secure facilities in obscure locations are excellent places to practice lockpicking skills.

Finally the private road came to a gate that connected to a road leading back to my house, which successfully completed objective #2 for this mission. Note the striking sign on the gate; are they planning a Jurassic Park-type facility here? I will keep an eye on it.

Don’t trespass. Especially if there are dinosaurs around. Unless you’re a Shadow Scout.

As for mission objective #3: the scout vest performed very well. It sustained no damage from over a mile of sliding down steep slopes, scrambling over logs and light bushwhacking. I was able to quickly access my water pouch, filter, phone, sunglasses, snacks, gloves, map and other items without having to stop and rummage around in a pack.

All in all, a very good day of shadow scouting.

Scouting the Dungeness River

Scouting the Dungeness River

The Dungeness River near my home.

I live near the Dungeness River; it cuts right through the town of Sequim, but it’s mostly wild on both sides with few access points until it joins the Strait of Juan De Fuca several miles to the north. I was curious to see what this stretch looked like, and I also wanted to investigate the possibility of using it as a bug-out route from my house. Since I can walk to the river in ten minutes, inflate a raft and float down it where no one is likely to be looking for me, it seemed like a potentially excellent shadow route in an exfiltration scenario. If I could float the approximately six miles to Dungeness Bay, I could then take a hypothetical small boat stashed there or contact a friend with a boat and sail across the Strait to a discreet location on the southern Vancouver coast. From there I could be picked up by a Canadian contact or simply stay in Canada as a lone fugitive for as long as I needed to. Anyway that was the scenario, but first I needed to scout the feasibility of the river exfil.

I put my little two man Intex Seahawk 2 inflatable boat in a backpack, along with the manual pump and a paddle (I considered taking my Intex Challenger inflatable kayak, which is a much better boat, but it’s bulkier to carry and I didn’t want to worry about dragging the skeg on the rocks of the shallow river so I took the raft):

I also packed a few supplies — machete, water, filter, snacks, cell phone, etc. — in a small dry bag and put it in the backpack. Ready to go, I jumped my back fence and made the short walk through the woods to the river. Finding a good spot on the bank, I inflated the raft, assembled the paddle and cinched up the dry bag tight inside the backpack. I didn’t bother bringing any paracord to tie the pack to the raft, and for some reason I didn’t think of wearing the pack on my shoulders with the waist belt fastened so it would be secure to my body. Instead I just threw the pack in the back of the raft thinking I would use it as a back rest. This laziness and inexperience with river rafting would really cost me.

I pushed off into the shallow, fast-flowing river, trying to use the flimsy paddle to guide me. I quickly realized that the current was deceptively strong and I had almost no control over the little raft. It didn’t help that the raft has no skeg, so I would frequently spin around and find myself going sideways or backwards downstream. I flailed around with my paddle, hands and legs, trying not to crash into the logs near the banks which could potentially puncture the raft or damage a body part. When I came to a large fallen tree across the river I managed to get to a bank, drag the boat and pack over the log and continue. Soon after that I hit a particularly fast, deep section of water and found myself sucked toward a pile logs. The next thing I knew, the raft had capsized and I was completely underwater. I desperately grabbed the raft and managed to crawl back onto it. To my dismay, I saw my backpack, paddle and hat all floating downstream. Realizing that my only hope to retrieve the pack with the expensive smartphone and other supplies inside was to chase after it in the raft, I set off in pursuit.

I continued my roller coaster ride, bouncing off logs and spinning my way down the river. Once or twice I found myself floating in the water and had to use the raft as a flotation device until I could crawl back on it. I was able to slow and control the boat somewhat by dragging a stick against the river bottom as the boat floated sideways. I had to get to the bank several times to bypass some particularly hairy sections of the river, while looking around hoping I’d find the pack snagged on some logs.

After a little while of this I saw the railroad trestle over the river where the Olympic Discovery Trail crosses and there’s a public access area. Realizing that the pack was lost–probably far down river or sunk to the bottom–and that I had no water or means of communication, which meant continuing down river would make getting back home that much harder, I decided to abort the mission. The only problem was I was on the left side of the river and needed to get to the right bank. I barely managed to ford the waist high water, pulling the raft behind me without getting knocked over or losing the raft. I stashed the raft in some bushes and road-walked a few miles back to my house in the midday sun and soaked clothing.

It was a fun little adventure and I did get some useful information, even if it turned out to be an expensive lesson. I still think this route is doable, but I will need better equipment next time. Here are my take-aways from this mission:

  • Don’t underestimate the power of river water, particularly in the spring.
  • Use a hard-shell or inflatable whitewater kayak, not a cheap inflatable raft, on a fast river.
  • Attach your pack to the raft or wear it on your body.
  • Carry your phone on your body in a waterproof bag — something like this.
  • Wear a hat with a strap on it.
  • Install a tracking app on your phone if you are worried about losing it. These can tell you its current or last known location from the built-in GPS chip. Of course these apps allow others to track you, so I don’t recommend it.
Ned Hill

Ned Hill

I like unpopular, forgotten trails, and hikes to higher elevations in my area that I can do in January. Ned Hill fit the bill, so I decided to check it out.

The trail starts about a third of a mile past the Deer Ridge trailhead; it’s on the right, marked by a post that’s easy to miss. The trail is narrow and steep, with a dusting of snow. It climbs 900 feet in about 1.2 miles, so it’s a good little workout. There aren’t a lot of views, but I did catch some glimpses of Mt. Baldy and other peaks to the south.

A glimpse of Mt. Baldy through the trees.

At the top there’s a very rickety lookout which has somehow been standing since 1933. The main poles are trees that still look pretty solid, but the cross poles and platform look very rotted out and ready to fall. I started to climb it but changed my mind; it looked like the whole thing could have come tumbling down on my head. This page by lookout expert and scout extraordinaire Will Hite has a lot more history and details about the site.

The rickety remains of a lookout built in 1933.
Another shot of the makeshift lookout.

The only other thing of interest on this hike was a set of tracks in the snow most of the way up. I’m not sure what animal made them; a large dog or a cougar?

Cougar track on the trail?

I ran most of the way down, except for some steep sections where you need to be careful not to slip in the snow. Not a bad little workout in quiet mountain surroundings. Worth checking out if you’re in the area.

Burnt Hill

Burnt Hill

Burnt Hill is just down the road from my house, a foothill of the beautiful Olympic mountains to the south. I didn’t see any trails listed for it at WTA or other sites, but looking at topographical maps I saw some trails or forest roads that looked worth scouting.

Driving to the end of Johnson Creek Road, I found a gated trailhead where Discovery Passes are required. From there it’s a straight, steep climb up a forest road for about 1.5 miles to a fork in the road and a clearing with views of the Sound to the north.

The view north to the Sound, Miller Peninsula, Protection Island and Quimper Peninsula.

Go left to nice vistas of the mountains and valleys to the south. Go right to the summit of the hill at 2400 feet, where there are more limited views and the road ends about 2 miles in.

The view from the clearing near the top of the hill.
Another view of the Olympics.

Most people will turn around here, but I’m not most people. I continued on a dirtbike trail then bushwhacked down the west side of the hill, eventually connecting to trails and coming out on River Road, about 8 miles in total. The trails are mostly unmapped and it’s tricky to avoid an active mine on the west side of the hill (I snuck through it), but that’s all part of the adventure. You can also connect to roads around the north side of the hill and loop back to where you started for a longer hike if you’re not deterred by minor annoyances like “no trespassing” signs.

I only saw a few people on a sunny Sunday in January, including a woman who had pushed a bicycle up the hill and two guys in a four-wheeler. I am very pleased to have discovered this scenic year-round hike in my backyard, and will be returning for further scouting.

P-5000 Road to Spada Lake

P-5000 Road to Spada Lake

I decided to scout the the old P-5000 road (now called Forest Road 6126) that runs along the Pilchuck river after reading WTA user mato’s reports and doing a little research. Apparently people could drive this road all the way from Menzel Lake Road to Spada Lake 30 or 40 years ago, and it was a popular motorcycle trail until a boy was killed in 2005 and they restricted it to non-motorized travel. I wanted to see if it was still possible to hike the entire route to Spada Lake, and there was only one way to find out.

The road begins at a gate off Menzel Lake Road about 5 miles southeast of Granite Falls. The first eight miles are an easy, pleasant river walk. Then you come to a pile of trees across the road and things quickly go south. At 8.5 miles, the full-on bushwhack begins.

Entering the bushwhack section.

For the next five miles, you will be pushing aside bushes, scrambling over trees and up and down washouts, while making sure you’re still on the road. It’s not as bad as it looks, but it’s definitely a grind. There was a faint trail most of the way and it’s usually not hard to figure out where the road is by following the corridor through the trees.

At about nine miles you come to a ruined bridge over Wilson creek, but it’s an easy scramble and ford to get back on track.

The ruined bridge over Wilson creek (9 miles in).

I hammock-camped in the forest above the road; everything was covered in moss, a reminder that this area gets heavy rain. About 13 miles in I came to a crossing of Pilchuck River that I was concerned about from looking at the maps. As it turns out it’s no problem; there’s a ruined bridge that can still be walked across.

The ruined bridge over Pilchuck River (13 miles in).

Then you hit a perfectly maintained forest road—a beautiful sight after all the bushwhacking—that takes you down to the Culmback Dam on Spada Lake—which is another beautiful sight after having no views but trees and bushes for miles.The entire route to the dam was about 15 miles. From there it was a long road-walk down to Gold Bar and refreshments, ending a long but adventurous 24 hours.

At Spada Lake. Mission accomplished!

I liked the post-apocalyptic feel of this scouting mission; this is what hiking will be like after civilization collapses, when everything is overgrown and falling to ruin and nature reclaims the land. Is this is a glimpse of our future? Shadow Scout thinks so!

Squire Creek Pass

Squire Creek Pass

At Squire Pass.

Starting in Darrington, I walked a loop of about 20 miles over Squire Creek Pass. I road-walked about 3.7 miles to the Squire Creek trailhead and hammock-camped near the creek. The next morning I hiked up to the pass, which gets very overgrown and rocky toward the top. The pass area is a large flat rock surface good for camping, with spectacular views of the nearby peaks. I hiked down the other side via Eight-mile Trail, which is very rocky and steep in places (poles are helpful). Then I walked five miles on forest road 2060, connected to the Frog Lake Trail down to Mountain Loop Highway, cooled off in Clear Creek, and walked the highway back to Darrington.

One of many old-growth trees on this trail.

This was a surprisingly tough hike! You have to tread carefully over rocky slopes while bushwhacking and looking for the trail, and your knees will take a pounding going down Eight-mile trail. Don’t expect a mild, well-groomed, easy to follow trail. But the reward is a very nice wilderness area featuring rugged mountains, clear creeks and old-growth trees that you will probably have all to yourself (I didn’t see a soul). You are only a few miles from Darrington, but it feels much more remote.

Nice view of Whitehorse Mountain.
Nice view of Three Fingers as you approach the pass.