Cabins at The Cove Palisades at Lake Billy Chinook 2012

13 11 2012

13 friends rented all three cabins at The Cove Palisades State Park on Lake Billy Chinook the weekend of November 10-11!

The Cove Palisades State Park closes in October but its cabins are available for rent all winter long. The cabins feature a living room with kitchenette and futon and a rear bedroom. Heated and with running water and with lovely views, they each sleep five. One can paddle the lovely canyons of Lake Billy Chinook from then until winter sets in.

Why go? For us human-powered recreation junkies, the thought of summer on the lake makes us cringe. Party boats, wave runners and speed boats ply the lake, their noisy exhausts reverberating off the canyon walls. There are over 100 boat slips at this marina alone! But once closed, the lake is very pretty in its quiet solitude. Further, if you reserve all the cabins, you can have the lake just for you and your friends!

I’m a happy camper with my morning cup of Joe!

This weekend, we drove over snowy Government Camp pass – in fact it was snowing on and off the entire way to the destination. Laura and I had made plans for Friday dinner – we’d grill steak on the cabin’s propane grill, and enjoy baked potatoes and salad as well as grilled veggies. These turned out delicious!

Later, Jessie, Mike and Joel, our cabin-mates for this weekend, showed up. Then we saw April and Jim. I drifted off to sleep – and yes Laura and I were up first in the morning.

Laura and Jessie by the fire.

The cabins share a five-foot diameter fire pit with a lake view. Saturday morning, we shared a fire to warm us up and had a breakfast. Jim and I each brought bins of wood.

As the sun rose and began to warm up the area a bit, Jessie, myself, Mike and Joel gazed upon the lake.

Although gray early on, it was to be a beauty of a day!

Soon it was time to paddle. Thirteen paddlers. Rod, Jim D., Jim H., Jessie, Joel, Laura, Becky, Bob, Andrea, Kristi, April, Mike and George. Getting a group of that size going doesn’t always happen in a snap.

Andrea and April almost ready…but some cars are still on roof racks!

Laura and I get our boats down to the dock early,
and she is ready to go. But as I look back toward the parking area, there are lots of kayaks remaining on roof racks! It’s going to be a while.

Last to go are Kristi and George – so Mike and I help things along by carrying their boats down to the docks.

Today is Becky’s first paddle! So we pay extra attention to her needs.

Jessie lends a hand at the dock, stabilizing Becky’s boat, which she rented from Portland State University’s Outdoor Program.

The forecast calls for temperatures in the mid 40’s and light winds, less than 10 mph. Once on the water the sun comes out and I began to believe I was over dressed! I didn’t bring a baseball hat, figuring it was too chilly. Lucky for me Kristi loaned me a sun hat she brought along.

The dominant features of Lake Billy Chinook are sky and canyon walls. The sun’s arc across the sky changes the glow and colors along the walls.

Jim D. about to head into Crooked River Canyon.

I’m not a geologist, though I took Geology 101 in college. What I can say is that examining these canyon walls tells a story. It is a story of violent volcanic activity taking place over millions of years. Layer upon layer of rocks and ash reveal the episodes. Basalt columns formed as the rocks cooled – some dozens of feet thick. Other layers are softer – ash from distant eruptions. Rain and thermal warming/cooling cracked the structures, sending rocks, sand and boulders down the sides.

We search for a lunch spot. One drawback of this lake is the few sandy takeouts. Mostly the drop off from lake shore goes straight down. We find a narrow area to disembark, but most of us just take lunch in our boats.

During lunch we see a potential change in weather dark clouds back toward the cabins, so most of us head back. But Bob, Jim D., George and April continue upstream.

Once back on shore, we retreat to our cabins for snacks, naps and getting ready for dinner.

It’s not long before dark! Tonight we have a great party by the fire pit. No shortage of firewood! The stars are out! It’s dark enough to easily spot the Little Dipper and the North Star. The Milky Way glides overhead.

We’ll see what tomorrow brings!

Mount Rainier National Park

2 11 2012

Mount Rainier from a meadow above Sunrise

Summer of 2012 featured a record 80+ days where it only rained one hour during that time! With the end in sight, and the inevitable rain switch about to be turned on, my friend Tully and I headed to Mount Rainier National Park for a last campout!

It was beautiful weather. There were wildfires nearby, and before we arrived, smoke obscured views of 14,410 ft Mount Rainier.

For us, the wind blew the smoke away. We were treated to crystal clear views.

We camped at the White River Campground. It’s on the eastern side of the park, higher elevation.


We figured we’d have the park to ourselves, since it was after Labor Day. But that was not the case and the campground had lots of guests in its not-so-spacious campsites. This was because the wildfires closed many nearby outdoor destinations, sending people here.

Sausages brown ‘n serve!

We planned to hike from the Sunrise area. This is a higher elevation staging area on the eastern side. It has a lot of trails. Some of the trails follow ridges with spectacular views in several directions! I could see Mount Adams to the south, and all the way to Mount Baker north. Looking all around I watch to see signs of big fauna – bear, elk, the elusive mountain goat – but see none. We catch sight of gray jays and ravens, as well as various unidentified raptors.

For dinner, we did a stir fry – which consisted of green pepper, carrot, nuts, pineapple, chicken, onion, broccolli, and baby carrots. Scrumptious! Another night we did a skewer meal over rice. Breakfast was pretty traditional – eggs, toast done on the grill, and this time instead of bacon – sausage patties. Sausage patties are a lot easier to clean up than bacon, because they don’t produce much grease! I’ll be cooking more of them in the future!


We also spent some time hiking the area around the Grove of the Patriarchs. It is in the Ohanapecosh area. While the grove’s hike is only 1.3 miles, it’s packed with incredible flora. 1,000 year old Western cedars, Western hemlock and old-growth Douglas fir! Quite a few of them! They’re simply huge compared those typically seen around the Northwest.

The Grove is located on an island in the Ohanapecosh River. It’s a place you can feel the history. These trees were already hundreds of years old when America became a country. They were 200 years old when Columbus landed in the New World!

You walk across a suspension bridge to get there – one at a time.


1,000 year old cedar in the Grove of Patriarchs

By far the best time for experiencing the outdoors in the American Northwest is September – after Labor Day.

After Labor Day, the weather is still dry and warm – summer. But kids are in school and parents home. Hiking trails and camping are generally a lot less busy!

So, if you can, make plans to head into the outdoors in September!