It’s been raining for a while now, not the heavy kind but enough that I’ve retreated to my tent with a book. Cozied up in my sleeping bag, I occasionally stop reading to watch the raindrops gather at the top of my Dagger™, then suddenly race down the sides.
I’ve set up camp in Dash Point State Park just south of Seattle, Washington for the night, awaiting the arrival of my travel buddy for our upcoming trip. My eyelids feel a bit heavy after my own day of travel and I’m just drifting off when... Instant panic bubbles up as I realize... Oh no! Where are the keys to the rental car?!
I frantically pull apart the inside of the tent, lifting my Cosmo™ pad, Rhumba™ sleeping bag — nope. Let’s see... backtrack, Where was the last place I had them? Well, inside my raincoat which I hung on the driver’s side headrest to dry when it began to rain. Inside the car. The locked car.
See, this was my first day in Washington state gearing up for my first NEMO GO FAR trip. My college friend, Bre, and I had a great week planned — first to Olympic National Park for a few days, then off to North Cascades for the rest of the week. In fact, this trip would be my first long distance adventure on my own.
Our trip was off to a bumpy start and believe it or not, losing the keys was just the tip of the iceberg. Bre’s travel situation included one canceled flight, a missed flight, and a delayed flight before arriving in Seattle 24 hours later than expected. Sheesh. So really it couldn’t get any worse. After some sheer panic, I was able to locate the keys in the depths of my sleeping bag. Crisis averted. A bright spot in an awful, jet-lagged day.
DAY 1 & 2: Olympic National Park - South Coast Trail
Where I learned that I’m happiest when completely immersed in nature.
Olympic National Park has everything an adventurer could ever dream of; rugged coastlines, lush rainforests, looming mountains, and some of the world’s largest cedar trees. The “plan”: Bre and I would backpack from Third Beach (near La Push) to Toleak Point for an overnight along Olympic’s coastline.
Seemed simple enough. However, picking up our backcountry permit, tide charts, and bear canister is hard when the Ranger Station hasn’t opened for the season yet! And yes, we did check ahead of time. So, a visit to the Park Ranger Office Headquarters further into the park the next day would start us on the trail a day late.
No problem, we made the most of our unexpected extra time and explored other parts of the park not on our original plan. We ended up finding an educational wilderness trail in the Kalaloch rainforest which was totally amazing. Who knew a dead tree held so many forms of life after its own death, sometimes for decades to come! And we discovered the Kalaloch Big Cedar tree, one of the largest cedar trees on the West Coast. So… day one in Olympic? Success.
After a good night’s sleep in our Dagger™ 3P, we headed to the Ranger Office, collected our necessities and we were finally on our way to the Third Beach trailhead. This hike was about a 12-mile round trip, the perfect distance for us since it wasn’t just a stroll along the beach. Some of the trail goes up from the beach into the forest and the elevation gain was hellish — at most points the descent up (and down!) the trails was downright scary with heavy backpacks on our backs.
We had to hoist ourselves up the steep slopes on ladders and ropes! But what’s an adventure without a little danger? The high vantage points (once we’d scrambled up the slopes, that is) offered magnificent views of the coast. Oh, and did I mention that the weather was absolutely pristine? Sunny, clear blue sky with temperatures in the mid 60s. Great weather for hiking.
At Toleak Point, we found ourselves in a whole different world — it felt like we were dropped into a Jurassic Park movie. Huge trees, beautiful beach and some of the biggest rock outcroppings I’ve ever seen. The outcrop of rocks offshore were definitely my favorite scenery of the trip — carved and shaped over time by the wind and water.
Once we reached our camp spot, we were surprised to find that past visitors had built tables, benches, and swings all from driftwood along the campsites at Toleak Point. A perfect little paradise.
After we set up our Dagger™, and of course tried out the driftwood swing, we settled down for dinner. As we ate, I noticed we weren’t the only ones inhabiting Toleak for the night. Two bald eagles were nesting high in the trees above us.
As the sun began to dip down toward the ocean, the eagles would take turns soaring out and landing on an outcrop of rocks about 300 yards from shore. They’d hang out for a bit then take off and come back to perch in the trees. As our new eagle friends soared high above, Bre and I sat in contented silence with the sea breeze teasing our hair and watched the sun slowly drift down to meet the ocean. What a wondrous place, this spot on the beach — with a front row seat to nature’s most spectacular show.
Toleak Point gave me that immersive feel of nature that I’ve never really experienced before. We had backpacked 6 miles to this place with no highways or cars to be heard, just the crash of the ocean waves. There were three other groups of people camping along the coastal point that night but we didn’t hear them and barely saw them. We had it all to ourselves. Us and nature.
The next morning we packed up and headed back the way we came, breathing in the ocean air and soaking up every last bit of this place before we returned to our car for our next adventure.
DAY 3: Olympic National Park - Hurricane Ridge
More bear bell, please.
“Where to next?” we said.
We had reached the (purposely) unplanned part of our trip, where we wanted to be spontaneous. Point to a place on the map. And go. We had some ideas and decided instead of retracing our steps and going back out of the Park the way we came, that we would instead work our way to the tippy-top of Olympic to visit Hurricane Ridge.
Bre and I made the hour drive to a campground just below the Ridge and set up our camp. After a dinner of mac and cheese, we started our journey up the winding, narrow road to Hurricane Ridge by car for the sunset. And wow, what a sight to see. It was so peaceful up there.
Bre and I quietly took seats on a stone wall and gazed out at the Olympic range. A group of deer moved slowly up and down the slopes below us and occasionally a couple would come up to check us out, only a foot away. Once they realized we didn’t have any food, they would move on, slowly working their way across the slopes to the next group of people.
Soon, the sun began to set and we headed back down the steep road before complete darkness fell. We didn’t want to drive off any cliffs. The next morning brought us back to Hurricane Ridge for one last hike before we headed inland for North Cascades National Park.
We found a trail that boasted 360 views of the mountains and, perhaps, mountain goats, though from all the signs it sounded like they were not friendly creatures. As we began the trail, a couple was just finishing and informed us that the hikers before them had spotted a bear 100 yards off trail. We thanked them for the information and re-assessed whether we should keep going. We had purchased bear bells for the trip and decided to run back to the car to grab one as a good precaution to keep bears (and I guess aggressive mountains goats as the sign warned) from bothering us.
Off we went again, my backpack obnoxiously ringing with every step. I’ve never actually used a bear bell before, what an annoying device! It must’ve worked though, the only animal we encountered was a marmot peeking out of its burrow. He didn’t look too happy about all the ruckus either.
Amazingly there was still about four feet of snow along the trail in some areas. We slipped and slid our way up the summit to the promised 360 degree views. We stopped for a rest (and much needed break from the overbearing bear bell, pun intended) and breathed in the crisp mountain air.
Soooo many mountains out there. And I wanted to explore every single one.
After some time, we headed back down the trail, feeling like we’d soaked in every ounce of mountain air that Olympic had to offer. We hopped back in the car and were off to our next National Park.
DAY 4: North Cascades National Park - Cascade Range
"A little bit of everything good" - Mazama General Store
Who knew the Olympic and North Cascades National Parks would be so different from each other? We got to appreciate two different pictures of Washington: The coastal rainforest region and the densely forested, glacial lake region. However, we never lost sight of the mountains. To me, North Cascades has an east coast feel to it — lakes, forests, and mountains that felt like home in the Adirondacks and the Whites.
Bre and I had some ideas of hikes we wanted to do but we wanted to talk to the experts. So, our first stop—the Ranger Station! And they were actually open! The park ranger took us through the park by map, recommending both short and long hiking trails. Surprisingly, she also recommended driving up through the Cascade Mountains, where the most fantastic views were. She also recommended we visit a sweet little town called Mazama.
New park map in hand, we thanked the ranger and were out the door and ready to explore. With no real plan on what to do first, we decided the mountain route sounded different and that we should give it a try.
And we were so glad we did. The views were breathtaking. The mountains loomed over us as we drove the winding road up and down and made our way to the other side of the Cascade Mountain range.
The drive felt surreal — we stopped often to take pictures and gape at the majestic peaks that sat before us. Before we knew it, we were out of the mountains on the other side of the range and on into Mazama.
A quaint little mountain town, Mazama warmed my heart and reminded me of the inviting mountain towns of Colorado. This community definitely had character.
What struck me the most was the architecture of residents’ homes. Houses were designed to blend into the trees and mountains with brown wood and angled roofs that matched its natural surroundings. What a great way to integrate and live in harmony with one’s surroundings in nature.
Keeping with the theme of the community’s “at home with nature” feel, the Mazama General Store had a rustic feel as well. As we walked in, we were welcomed with the scents of baked goods and brewing coffee. Bre and I were instantly drawn to a section dedicated to the “Mountain Goat” (Mazama translates to mountain goat in Spanish). The town’s namesake was everywhere — t-shirts, hydroflasks, hats, beer cups, coffee mugs. We wanted it all. Not to mention the other local merchandise sold there which included soaps, beer, pottery and so much more.
We must’ve spent an hour in there, soaking in every bit of the store’s local culture. We finally settled on t-shirts, sandwiches, and slice of double chocolate banana bread before we made our way to sit and enjoy our lunch in the sun. Such a cool little town, we were so glad we had taken the ranger’s advice.
After our hearty lunch, we made our way back through the mountains to our campground on Lake Diablo.
DAY 5: North Cascades National Park - Lake Diablo
The devil wasn't in the lake — he was in those damned hand-dryers.
This is the part of the trip that I wish we’d had more wiggle room to be more spontaneous. We booked a campsite on Lake Diablo two months earlier, since this part of the trip landed one day out from Memorial Day weekend and campgrounds were filling up fast.
As with any trip, there’s always the worry you’ll end up with obnoxious neighbors. We also weren’t expecting our lakeside campsite to be 5 feet from three other campsites. With absolutely no privacy on our first night, we had a group of college kids camping next to us who were a bit rowdy going into the night. After our long hike days all week, our bedtime of 9 pm wasn’t exactly easy to keep with noisy neighbors.
I’ll also mention that we were about 300 feet from the bathrooms, where the electric hand-dryers startled us awake in the middle of the night. Definitely not the outdoor experience we were hoping for in North Cascades. We made the most of our camping situation and thank goodness we weren’t there through the weekend (we headed back to Seattle on Saturday). We explored the hiking trails around the beautiful glacial lake, Lake Diablo.
After some short hikes around the lake, we decided to finish our Washington trip with a long hike. We decided on an 11 mile round trip route on Friday that took us up about 5 miles of grueling uphill switchbacks. It was an awesome trail, however we were told that we’d have some great views of the mountains at the top. We found the summit (could you call it a summit?) but the only views we could see were small glimpses of mountains through the dense treeline. I guess being an east coast girl makes me a little spoiled with my “360 degree summit view” expectations.
A little disappointed, Bre and I headed back down the switchbacks. After about a half mile of hiking, we realized how great the trails were for trail running. Running back down the switchbacks was SO much better than going up. We arrived back at our campsite, sufficiently tired with sore knees. We knew we’d probably regret running the 5 miles back down the mountain the next day. But, for now, we were content.
We started our dinner and were taken aback when we ran out of fuel halfway through boiling water for our dinner. What perfect timing, now we didn’t have to worry about wasting a can of fuel since we couldn’t bring it back on the plane. We finished boiling our water over our campfire and later celebrated the last hours of our trip with Reese’s s’mores. And what a trip it had been.
If my GO FAR trip taught me anything, it was that sometimes things don’t go according to plan. Nothing’s perfect and planning your trip down to the tee isn’t the best way to go. Adventure is in the unplanned surprises, the spontaneity, and being flexible when things don’t go the way they’re supposed to.
When we started planning, I remember feeling that if we didn’t completely book our time, we’d miss out on something. I finally told myself to take a step back and leave some of our trip to fate. I enjoyed being flexible. It gave us room to decide what we wanted to do in the moment rather than follow an itinerary we had made months before. We realized it was a blessing that we didn’t have everything planned down to the hour.
Every trip needs a little plan, but what I appreciated the most about my adventure were the things I wasn’t expecting. A bumpy start forced us to re-evaluate our travel plans and find a way to accept and make the most of any situation. I ended up appreciating that bumpy start. I was proud of the fact that we overcame a travel debacle and were able to make the most out of losing the first 24 hours of our trip.
The unexpected is always going to happen and if we didn't go with it, we would have missed out on some pretty great experiences. We wouldn’t have discovered a little mountain town full of love and pride, nestled behind the Cascade range. We wouldn’t have experienced being completely immersed in nature, with no distractions, on the coast of Washington. And, we also had some GREAT times figuring that all out. From now on, I’ll live by the Mazama motto... and I’ll have “a little bit of everything good.”
- Dagger™ 3P Backpacking Tent - This tent has more comfortable living space and storage area than any other tent I've seen in its category. Divvy™ stuff sack came in handy as well.
- Cosmo™ Sleeping Pad- A good night’s rest is key to staying happy on the trail and this pad provides amazingly comfortable cushioning for your body after a long day on the trail.
- Rhumba™ 15° Reg - This bag was perfect for the various temperatures I encountered from sea level to elevation. Rhumba™ was replaced by Jam™, a technical, performance bag designed specifically for women.
Fillo Elite™ Pillow - Supreme comfort and packability, this pillow is a must have for every adventure.
The NEMO GO FAR (Get Outside For Adventure & Research) Program gears employees up and sends them out to spend time in interesting places in NEMO gear. We believe great design starts with real adventures, and are committed to making sure all NEMO employees get to experience it. Sam Rokos manages Warranty and Repair at NEMO, loves to x-country ski, and is an aspiring triathlete.