From the Cascades to the Olympics

Spring is here and it was time for the North Cascades Institute cohort-ions of the ninth – C9 graduate students - to take our spring retreat on Sunday, May 23rd through Tuesday, May 25th. With itinerary in place, gear packed and risk managers appeased, it was time for our departure and to get peninsular at Olympic National Park.  
Day 1—After a nice drive across Highway 20 to the Keystone Ferry on Whidbey Island, we quickly found ourselves enjoying a refreshing sea breeze. The cohort arrived in Port Townsend and made a b-line for the nearest brewpub. Oh graduate students. I quickly found myself at the Water Street Brewery sipping down a smooth locally brewed Irish Stout and enjoying my company. 

(Title) Justin McWethy sets up camp at Boulder Creek Hot Springs (Above) Rebecca, Justin, Brandi and Mike pause for a goofy pose aboard the Keystone Ferry

Corey and Justin enjoying some cheer at the Port Townsend brewpub

We then headed for Olympic National Park, ogling at fine Coast Salish totem poles in Sequim and trying to restrain Paul from seeking out every gear store on the Olympic Peninsula. We arrived at the trailhead for Boulder Creek Hot Springs after following the Elwha River for a stint that evening. We hiked a few miles in and made camp in the rain, then headed for the springs for jacuzzi time! The hot springs were fantastic. Not too hot, not too cold, but just right. We all slept great after a good soak.  

The graduate students venture down the trail toward the hotsprings

The hotsprings with cherry tree adjacent

Day 2—We awoke at a leisurely hour, with the rain taking a break. “What’s that? What Brandi? I can’t hear you.”  Brandi awoke without her voice feeling under the weather. We packed up our camp and headed back to the trailhead after a quick dip up to our knees in a pool with a beautifully blossoming cherry tree above. Brandi set up camp in the back of the van while the rest of us checked out Madison Falls and basked in some glorious and much needed sun. In our free time, our next mission—rock climbing! 

Madison Falls

Paul ascends a climb near the Lower Elwha

We pulled up to the Lower Elwha Dam, which is enjoying its last dam summer before removal. We inspected the dam and made some comparisons to our dams back home on the Skagit. We noticed a cement pad above the dam submerged under water. Any readers out there know what the purpose or history of that cement pad is? We crossed the dam and proceeded to the climbing area on the other side, which will soon lose its easy access with the removal of the dam.  The access to this area will change to a two-mile trail from somewhere off Highway 112. We climbed a few routes on the visibly stratified sedimentary rock above the Elwha River until our tendons burned and our tummies growled. Nice job everyone!
We then headed to Lake Crescent to stay with Olympic Park Institute staff for a night filled with good food and fun games. Some of their staff live in a house owned by the Park Service right on Lake Crescent—what a spot! 
Day 3—We woke up to a glassy Lake Crescent and headed for Olympic Park Institute to check out the campus, meet the rest of the staff and shadow their instructors for the morning.  A fantastic time was had by all. Some of us observed a water quality lesson and others went out to witness kids in big canoes.  

Lake Crescent, as viewed from the Olympic Park Institute’s staff housing

Mike enjoying the view from inside a large old-growth cedar stump

The cohort departed in time for a late lunch at Sirens in Port Townsend. While Justin had “the best burger of my life!” I enjoyed a fine IPA from Port Townsend Brewery that made it into my “Top Three Favorite IPA List.”  After riding the ferry back to Whidbey Island and making the drive back across Highwasy 20 to the North Cascades, we were all in for an early bedtime with fond memories of the Peninsula.

Photos courtesy of the graduate students of Cohort 9.

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