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Showing posts with label Camping. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Camping. Show all posts

Exploring Mt St Helens: Camping, Hiking, Caving And Enjoying The Last Days Of Summer

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Labor Day weekend means camping and cookouts for many families. We're no exception. It's become our family tradition to celebrate the official end of summer ( and that's exactly what Labor Day means to us ), with a long road trip to a far away place in search of a new and exciting adventure.

Just pitching a tent, roasting s'mores, and singing campfire songs don't work for us. We crave excitement, adventure, thrills, new experiences and lifelong unforgettable memories !

Last year, it was our first time trying "roughing it up"  a.k.a tent camping. I wanted to  make sure my 5 year old would be cozy and conformable sleeping ( almost) under the stars :) To make things more adventurous, we took a canoe across Little Kachess Lake.

But what could be more adventurous and mysterious than exploring a cave, learning about an exploded volcano, and going on a hike in a lava bed ?! Not to mention the usual camping, lake time, BBQ, and s'mores !

That's why this year, our destination was Mt St Helens area.

Though I've already explored Mt St Helens Ape Caves a few years ago, I couldn't wait to share the excitement of caving with my son !

We were very lucky to snatch a camp site right on the bank of the beautiful Yale Lake. Though the campground had a designated boat launch and a small beach, we had a privilege of swimming just a few steps away from our tent...which later turned out to be a bit ...uncomfortable...Apparently, our new family tradition was to say goodbye to summer by taking the last dip... at 7 am... in freezing morning water :)

Next day we took HWY 83 to Lava Canyon for a short hike. I couldn't believe how excited my son was walking on the rocks where lava flew just a few dozen years ago. He wanted to bring every stone as a souvenir back home.

But the highlight of the trip was, of course, exploring  the famous Ape Caves !


- If you're traveling with little ones ( 6-8 y.o ) make sure to bring warm clothes ( the cave stays cool/cold all year round )
- Bring water... though the lower cave ( the popular/touristy one ) is relatively short, it's still quite a walk for little kids, and they do get thirsty. 
- Don't skimp on little cheap flashlights... Besides the fact that you won't see much, pictures ( even with flash ) will be very low quality.

MOST IMPORTANT : There are two parts of Ape Caves - lower and upper caves.

While the lower part is relatively short, easy and accessible ( it's approximately is .75 miles long
and can be hiked down and back in an hour ), it takes up to 2-2 1/2 hours to finish the upper cave. You will climb over approximately 27 boulder piles and scale an 8-foot high lava fall !

Last time I was there, I promised myself if I would ever bring my kid here , he'd have to be at least 8 y.o and in a good fitness shape.

Many parents being unfit themselves, AND bringing along little kids, create a lot of traffic jams in upper caves, thus preventing other people from truly enjoying this unique experience.


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Tips On Visiting Yosemite National Park

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Last summer I had an amazing opportunity to go on a road trip around Southwest. I had a privilege to visit Idaho, Utah, Arizona, Nevada, and California. One of the goals of that road trip was to visit as many National Parks as possible.

Tip - If you're planning to visit multiple National Parks during your road trip, buy America the Beautiful National Parks Pass from REI.com ($80). It will save you money and time.

At one point, I was hesitating to  visit  Yosemite National Park, but stunning pictures like the one below changed my mind...

Also, it was quite convenient for me. Driving from Nevada/Arizona side, HWY 120 took me right through the heart of the park !

Tip - If you decide to drive to/around the park, choose off-peak hours ( before 9am, and after 7pm ). One line HWY is notorious for its traffic jams and slow driving.

Summer time is THE busiest! Quite often its hard to find an available camping spot. So, make your reservations ahead of time.

Tip - If you're ExtraHyperActive/dirtbag like me, you can pitch your tent anywhere you want, and in the morning, will be rewarded with the most amazing views !

Camping/Paddleboarding Tenaya Lake

Yosemite National Park offers an abundance of activities and sightseeing destinations. Among the most popular are : rock climbing and hiking.

Have you heard of solo climbing ? Solo climbing represents the ultimate extreme in rock-climbing. Solo climbing (or soloing) is a style of climbing in which the climber climbs alone, without somebody belaying him. What if he falls down, you ask ? He dies-- no two ways about it.

Alex Honnold has made Yosemite popular by scaling the two most popular Yosemite big walls — Half Dome and El Capitan.

Tip - I wouldn't recommend to sacrifice your life for a ( breath-taking, once in a life time ) shot like this, and would suggest to hire a guide. There is a popular wall just minutes away from Camp 4/ Yosemite Village.


Yes, you can definitely opt for hiking Half Dome, but... can you really call it hiking ?

Tip -  If you have limited time for just one hike, make it Upper Yosemite Falls/Eagle Peak ! Why ?
Fewer crowds, and stunning view of Yosemite valley, and Half Dome !

Upper Yosemite Falls

On Top Of Eagle Peak

Fun fact : The setting sun illuminates one of the park’s lesser-known waterfalls so precisely that it resembles molten lava as it flows over the sheer granite face of the imposing El Capitan. A mid-February phenomenon!

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Hiking, Backpacking, Camping Desolation Peak

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Have you been to the North Cascade National Park ?

Less than 3 hours from Seattle and about 6.2 miles (10.0 km) south of the Canadian border, the North Cascade NP is the largest of the three National Park Service units that comprise the North Cascades National Park Service Complex.

The park is most popular with backpackers and mountain climbers. One of the most popular destinations in the park is Cascade Pass, which was used as a travel route by Native Americans.

The North and South Picket Ranges, Mount Triumph, as well as Eldorado Peak and the surrounding mountains, are popular with climbers due to glaciation and technical rock. Mount Shuksan, in the northwest corner of the park, is one of the most photographed mountains in the country and the second highest peak in the park 9,127 ft or 2,782 m.

Another popular attraction in the  the North Cascade Mountains is Desolation Peak.

Desolation Peak Trail, is a steep hike to high meadows, great views and the iconic fire lookout where Jack Kerouac spent 63 days during the summer of 1956 as a fire lookout on Desolation Peak. He wrote about his experiences in the books Lonesome Traveler, The Dharma Bums and Desolation Angels.

I read somewhere that in summer time you can still rent the fire lookout and a spend a couple nights "in solitude".

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Tips On Visiting The South Rim Of The Grand Canyon

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Visiting the Grand Canyon has been on my Bucket List for the past 5 years...

The Grand Canyon is one of the 7 "Natural Wonders Of The World" ( don't forget, there are many different types of "Wonders Of The World" ), and though it happens to be in this very country, I still can't believe it took me so much time to finally see it with my own eyes.

....unfortunately, it was absolutely opposite to how I dreamed/planned to visit this world famous Natural Wonder....

 NOTE: There is a big different between "visiting" and "exploring"  the Canyon.

"Visiting" mostly implies "stop by/drive by, take a bunch of pictures, and ,may be, do some light "exploring" ( short hiking, biking around the park, camping...)

 "Exploring" ( for a small number of people ) means hiking rim-to-rim or multi-day backpacking or rafting.

Hiking rim-to-rim and getting "close and personal" was my original plan/dream. But as I happened to visit the park during one of its hottest months ( middle of June with day temperatures in high 80's ), I had absolutely no desire even to try to reach the bottom of the Canyon.

So I lowered my expectations, and settled with the idea to see the Grand Canyon like a tourist ( yeah, I still hate myself  for that :) )

So, here are a few tips:

Canoe Camping On Little Kachess Lake

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How do you introduce your kids to camping ?

I wanted to make sure that my son's first time would be as comfortable, and as much fun as possible. That's why I decided to go with cabin camping at KOA in Leavenworth. My son absolutely loved it ( despite of coming back home with a permanent scar from his "biking accident" ), and couldn't stop talking about going back and doing it again.

This time I wanted to introduce him to "real camping" - a.k.a "sleeping under the stars"...well, minus the stars...good old "tent camping".

Every time I introduce my son to a new outdoor activity, one thing I absolutely must do is to make sure that  he's having fun...

With abundance of things to do in Leavenworth this wasn't a problem. But what do you do on a "regular camping trip" ? Campfire, BBQ, S'mores, may be a short hike ? And that's where the location played a big part...
Set in dense old-growth conifer forest and surrounded by high mountains, Kachess Campground is considered one of the most beautiful sites in the Cle Elum Ranger District. Link
One of the perks of selling used outdoor gear is that you actually get to try it ! Canoes are a very popular product, and this summer I sold dozens of them. I had just one left, and I decided to give canoe camping a try!

The location couldn't be more beautiful ! We were lucky to get a camp site ( on Labor Day weekend !) close to the beach. The campground was also a perfect base camp. We loaded our canoe with gear and food, and went for a day long exploration of the lake.

Kachess Lake is actually a reservoir and stores and provides water for irrigation for south-central Washington.
The surrounding undeveloped wilderness, clean streams and diverse forests support an abundance of wildlife, including deer, porcupine, native fish and migratory birds. Endangered and threatened species, including the Northern Bald Eagle, the Northern Spotted Owl, gray wolves and grizzly bears, also find havens in nearby ecosystems.
During summer, "lake traffic" can be pretty "heavy" - lot's of boaters and jet skis who have very little consideration for "anybody without a motor". But other than that it was a perfect adventure !

It was the first time I got a chance to paddle a canoe, and I have to admit, canoeing is my new love !  I think I'm gonna keep this canoe, and plan a few more outings.

As usual, I planned everything at the last minute. As it turned out the area has a few nice hiking and mountain biking trails, and as I was told later, you can rent a jet ski, boat or even a house boat from a local company.

Also, in winter, this area is popular among cross country/touring skiers, snowshoers, and snowmobilers,
So I guess, it wasn't our last time at Little Kachess Lake...

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Camping Tips

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...Welcome to this illustrated collection of camping tips, tricks and ideas that have evolved from many years of tent camping experience. Whether you are a 'greenhorn' novice camper or salty old curmudgeon, there is something here that will enhance your camping skills and abilities....


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Driving Along The Palouse Scenic Byway To Palouse Falls State Park

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The Palouse Scenic Byway, located in the heart of the Palouse region in southeastern Washington, combines 208 miles of rolling hills and farmland with rich history, small town charm, spectacular scenic vistas and outstanding recreational opportunities.

My first destination was Palouse Falls State Park.

The first time I saw the picture of the Palouse Falls, I was absolutely blown away by its beauty, and I knew that the only way to really appreciate it, was to visit it and see it with my own eyes...
Now I think that some things just look better on a (professionally taken) picture...

The park itself is pretty small, with a few campsites. There are many trails that wind around the canyon, but after my sudden encounter with a rattlesnake, I decided to stay withing the park's boundaries.

One of my biggest (secret) desires was to paddle my SUP to the falls, I thought it would truly be an unforgettable experience ! Though it looked like there was a trail that lead to the falls' pool, there was no way I could bring my SUP down there.

Well, I guess not everybody can experience the falls like Tyler Bradt ( by plunging his kayak into it )

But overall, just driving along The Palouse Scenic Byway was absolutely amazing experience !

Eastern Washington is often ignored for the western side of the state. To many people Eastern Washington is a treeless desert. But, if you look closer you can see so much beauty here !

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Camping With KOA In Leavenworth

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I've never been a big fan of camping. The idea of paying to sleep in the dirt, and "interacting" with other "happy campers" has always been a huge turn off for me. For somebody like me ( ADHD/Bipolar ), "social aspect" of camping is probably #1 reason why I hate camping so much.

But recently, I had to force myself to check into one of America's most popular campgrounds - KOA ...and, to my surprise, I had a great time !

My kid has been talking about the whole "camping experience" ( tent+fun+s'mores ) for quite some time, and I really wanted his first time "in the wild" to be memorable. To do that, I had to make sure that he would be comfortable , and it'd be fun.

To make it comfortable, I was thinking of staying either at a cabin or a yurt. And to make it fun, I had to come up with a location with enough things to do to keep him busy for a day and a half. Staring at the map of Washington, I couldn't think of a better location than Leavenworth !

KOA is located just 5 minutes away from downtown Leavenworth. I figured if there would be nothing to do at the camp, at least, I could always rely on my favorite adventure town.

But lucky for me, I didn't have to worry about things to do at KOA!

Upon our arrival we were blessed with warm sunny weather, and as soon as my son saw a swimming pool, I knew we would kill at least half of the day :)

Being very ( XHyperActive )(like farther, like son) swimming wasn't enough for him. The campground has a few awesome bikes for rent, and though, you can only ride around the territory, 45 minutes of uphill/downhiill biking wore him out a bit, and really whetted his appetite.

A quick ride to downtown, and after a bratwurst and some chocolate fudge, he was ready for more fun.

Waterfront Park is the place to take your kids no matter what time of the year it is. The trails are flat and wind along the Wenatchee River and through quiet riverbank forests. Throughout the park there are small beach inlets that are perfect for kids to play and for the parents to sit down and relax.

Back to the camp, and it was still early for camp fire. The Wenatchee River curves along the campground, and was just a short hike from our cabin. Its rocky beach became his next playground until it got dark.

Campfire and s'mores (!) became the highlight of his camping experience. Running around the camp with a flashlight looking for monsters was another...

Though, he was absolutely stoked to sleep in his own bunk-bed, he couldn't figure out why there was no bedding or pillows.

NOTE: Either bring your own bedding, or, at least, a sleeping bag and a camp pillow. There is a heater inside, so you'll be warm and comfortable.

Also, there is NO toilet in the cabins (so, you'll be lucky if your cabin is close to the public restroom like ours was).

All in all, we had an unbelievable experience. I just hope that next time, tent camping won't be a huge disappointment for him, and camping in general will become a big part of his childhood.

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Selk’bag Introduces 4G Lite Sleepwear System

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Makers of the original Selk’bag release lightweight, two-season version of their wearable sleep system

Mountain’s Best Gear, North American distributor of the Selk’bag Sleepwear System announces the fourth edition of its technical sleepwear system, Selk’bag 4G Lite. With lighter-weight materials, brighter colors and more refined sizing and fit than the previous third generation model, the 4G Lite is the sleepwear system for recreational camping, indoor wear, car travel and even tailgating.

The new 4G Lite builds upon the success of Selk’bag’s original mobile and comfortable sleepwear system created by Rodrigo Alonso of Müsuc in Santiago, Chile. The uncommonly comfortable Selk'bag is an excellent solution for those who are unsatisfied with traditional mummy or rectangular sleeping bags.

Reinforced nylon soles and ripstop and water-resistant fabric make the 4G Lite durable for outdoor use. The 4G Lite’s thermal collar and baffled construction keep the wearer warm at all angles, as well.

“Selk’bag 4G Lite is an evolution in what people should be expecting from sleeping bags,” says Phil Benson, CEO of Mountain’s Best Gear. “This sleepwear system provides mobility and lightweight warmth at an affordable price.”

The 4G Lite has a comfort rating of 45 degrees Fahrenheit, making it ideal for two-season wear. By simplifying the third generation version, Selk’bag has created a more consumer-friendly sleeping bag alternative with no-zip, quick-release hand systems, sleeker design and a more snug fit.

Available in kid and adult sizing, the 4G Lite comes in three bold, fun colors – Dark Shadow, a dark grey, Surf the Web, a royal blue, and Hyacinth Violet.

Technical features include:
• Baffled construction to eliminate cold spots
• Soft, yet durable ripstop nylon shell with DWR (durable water resistant) finish
• Reinforced nylon soles prevent wear and lateral grips give traction on multiple surfaces
• A hood with drawstring for added warmth
• Compacting carry sack
• Thermal collar around the head and neck to prevent drafts
• Exaggerated draft tubes to stop heat loss around zippers
• Wide zipper tape, preventing snags
Selk’bag 4G Lite is available for purchase from Selk’bag’s online store (store.selkbagusa.com) and other retailers including Mountain Gear (www.mountaingear.com) at $79 for the kids’ version and $99 for adults.

Visit Mt. Rainier Video That Really Inspires To Visit

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I'm not sure who's in charge of marketing at Mt Rainier National Park, but I know they've been doing a pretty bad job inspiring people to visit this one of the most beautiful and unique parks in US.

I think the video below really brings up all the excitement, adventure, and discovery that you can find at Mt Rainier.

"It's more than experience. It's a way of life"

Every time you go camping , a bunch of marshmallows die...

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a brutal, long and slow, screaming-enhanced agonized death.

Next time you go camping in the woods, stop and think before you eat. You might be hurting an innocent, adorable, fun loving marshmallow who has feelings, friends and family.

Gear review : Zippo Emergency Fire Starter Kit

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I have to admit, I am not a "survivalist ", next Les Stroud or Bear Grylls, and my longest backpack trip has been for 3 days. But I still consider myself " the Last Boy Scout" : I am always ready. Even on day hikes I have my ....essentials. And my most important essential is a " fire starter kit" that includes waterproof/windproof matches, plumber's candles, cotton balls covered with melted paraffin, and a light plastic BIC lighter.

But, honestly, my most favorite " fire starter " is a bottle of camping fuel. Gather some dry wood, pour a few drops of fuel, and Voilà ! - you have a huge camp fire.

Huge disadvantage- even the lightest aluminium bottle filled with fuel adds some significant weight to my average 40 + lbs backpack.

So, recently I was introduced to a pretty cool emergency fire starter kit released by Zippo : a lighter that looks almost like a regular Zippo lighter with standard Zippo flint/wheel ignition, but when you open it up there are four waxed ‘tinder sticks’. An o-ring seal for the hinged cover keeps water out of the fire starter kit and the tinder sticks are water resistant.

With my kit, I also got Campfire Starter cedar puck, which is basically compressed cedar sawdust and wax. The puck is very light, the back of it is scored so it can be used to start four fires, it’s made from 100% all-natural recycled materials, and it gives off a Western Red Cedar aroma.

In this video you can see the new outdoor line of products by Zippo. One of my favorite here is hand warmer ( just curious how different it is from popular Grabber handwarmer packs ?):

Zippo lighters were for decades known as the most reliable cigarette lighters. But remember Quentin Tarantino's movie " Four Rooms ", when Bruce Willis' character makes a bet that he can get a Zippo lighter to light ten times in a row, with his finger at stake if he loses ?

I really hope that Zippo Emergency Fire Starter will prove to be ...a bit more reliable.

Mt St Helens : hiking, mountain biking, caving, camping.

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This weekend was my second time at Mt St Helens area ( ex 21 off I-5 ). Last year I made a short trip to Ape Caves, and ,frankly, wasn't impressed neither with the caves nor with the area. I blame two factors : weather and the lack of time. The latter is the crucial one. If you are planing a trip down there ( assuming you are coming from Seattle area ), make sure you give yourself at least a couple days to explore that area, because there are just too many things to do in one day.

If this is your first time in the area, make sure you stop by the Woodland Chamber of Commerce's Tourist Information Center just west off I-5 on your way to HWY 503. Here you can get the latest updates on road conditions, campgrounds, free maps and area information.

Next - where to camp ? While there is abundant number of campgrounds along the Lewis River Road (HWY 503), there is one that remains a hidden jewel of the area - Lake Merril Campground. On a hot, sunny summer weekend ( like the one we just had) it's hard to find a vacant spot even at a major 45-tents campground like Cougar Camp, but when I arrived at Lake Merril Campground ( which has only 8 spots ( meaning- less crowd, quieter )), I found a spot ! by the lake ! And the surroundings were breathtaking. The most amazing perk ? It was FREE !

Camping at Lake Merril Campground

The area's two most visited attractions are - Ape Caves and ... well.. Mt St Helens ,of course !

The Crater

Sitting on Volcano

80% who made it to the top.

Climbing a volcano ! Exciting ? It was OK for me...According to the statistics:
In past years ,between 11,000 and 12,000 people have received climbing permits ( yes, you need one -$ 22 ). More than 80% make it to the summit ( where the hell the other 20% go?), making it one of the most- climbed peaks in the world !


For me the hardest part of the climb was getting to the trailhead ( Climber's Bivouac ), the gravel road was horrible. I really got scared for my car suspension system ( though I am driving Subaru Forester ). Once at 3,700 feet (Climber's Bivouac ) I found a cool thing - Climber's Bivouac is also a campground ( official), so if you want to get a good night sleep ( instead of driving for 2 hours and then hiking), come here the night before. As usual I am not gonna describe the hike and ruin it for you, just will say that it's a lot of fun scrambling on big andesite boulders and hiking in the smooth, sandy lava ash.

One funny fact about "climbing" Mt St Helens:
Though USGS scientists believe that "climbing" is safe...rangers suggest carrying goggles, a hamlet and an ash mask.

And I did see somebody wearing a helmet ! Not sure if it was a safety concern or something a doctor prescribed.

Mt St Helens is a great mountain biking destination ( according to the authors of
" Mountain Biking Washington ". I swear, I use this book for the last time. It's the worst guidebook I've ever used). Two trails ( from that book) I wanted to try: Plains of Abraham and Kalama Loop.

Note to myself ( and others) - don't hike Mt St Helens and mountain bike the same mountain on the same day. Tha's what I did. After my hike, I drove to the Lava Canyon and tried to MB Plains of Abraham.
Needless to say I didn't make too far. And it wasn't even the difficulty of the trail. Late in the afternoon, those flies become notorious. If your insect repellent doesn't work, you are done.

Mountain Biking on Plains of Abraham

Back at the camp, I took a nice relaxing sunset paddle around the beautiful Lake Merril and called it a day.

Next morning I decided to give MB here another chance. Kalama Loop Trailhead at the Kalama Horse Campgrounds is about 6 miles away. According to the book:
The popular route skirts the base on the southwest side of Mt St Helens and is frequently used by horseback riders.

My description: Do you like riding your bike in horse crap? Do I need to continue?

All in all, I really like the area. It's a great family destination as well as for those interested in multi sport outdoor activities.