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.