Finishing The Chinook Trail Bit By Bit – Panther Creek to Grassy Knoll Trail

After over two years I finally managed to do a bit of the Chinook Trail that I missed back in 2018. Things like work, distance, pandemics and well, life, tend to get in the way. However, with a bit of free time my wife and I did a 3-day, 2-night backpacking trip along the Pacific Crest Trail. We started at the Panther Creek Campground, where I got off the Chinook Trail back in 2018 due to a lack of water carrying capacity and an oncoming cold/flu, and over two days hiked to a campsite just north of Big Huckleberry Mountain. Along the way we passed the junction to the Grassy Knoll Trail, which is where the Chinook Trail goes as it continues east. After camping with a great view of Mt. Adams on night two, we hiked all the way back to the car on day three.

Unfortunately we got a late start on day one, at about 3pm, during a Northwest heatwave where temperatures were close to 100 F – starting off at the Panther Creek Campground we were in the shade, but with temps like that and a constant uphill slog, we were dripping with sweat the entire way. Otherwise it’s the kind of hiking you would expect on the PCT – well-maintained trail with plenty of signage. As I suspected in 2018, once you depart Panther Creek there is really no water anywhere. We were well prepared though – I think I had close to 10 liters of water in my pack.

With the late start and the scorching heat, we didn’t want to go too far on day one, so we stopped at a small, one or two site PCT camping spot just off Forest Road 68. There was no views and nothing special about the site, but there is a flat spot for a 2 or 3 person tent located a fair distance off the road that worked perfectly. We made a quick n’ easy dinner, drank a couple of beers that I packed – they were warm but tasted great and lightened my load a bit for the next day.

We got an early start on day 2 and continued east on the PCT – the trail leveled off a bit, and the early morning air felt nice. It wouldn’t last long as the heat returned with a vengeance. We passed a day hiker that was in a talkative mood – unfortunately due to the pandemic we had to keep a safe distance and didn’t want to linger too long. We continued until we reached a potential camping spot with an open field and a nice view of Mt. Hood. However, it was so early in the day we thought we really should continue a bit further, so we kept going. We soon passed the junction with the Grassy Knoll Trail. This is where I would have turned back in 2018 while doing the Chinook Trail, so I marked the occasion with a mental note that I had just completed an additional 9 miles of the Chinook Trail. Someday I hope to complete the stretch from the Grassy Knoll Trail to the town of White Salmon, and then the stretch from Lyle, WA to The Dalles, but that might be a mission for 2022 at this point.

We continued just a mile or two past the trail junction to a single tent PCT site that had a great view of Mt. Adams and the Big Lava Bed. The heat was still pretty intense, but there was some shade that offered some comfort, with just bunches of swarming bugs to content with. We got there fairly early, giving us plenty of time to rest, take in the view and have some snacks before calling it a night.

Knowing that the return trip to the car on day 3 would be long, but all downhill, we wanted to get an early start. Taking advantage of the cooler, early morning hours made the return hike pleasant, although tiring and test for our legs and knees. Still, we busted out about 12 miles in just over 4 hours, so not too shabby.

We really enjoyed this hike, despite the heat, and it was the perfect pandemic hike as there were just a few people on the trail, no other campers and there were great views of Mt. Hood and Mt. Adams. There are no real Instagram hot spots here – they were all at the Beacon Rock Trail – we drove by there on our way to Panther Creek and the parking lot was absolutely packed. It was nice to log another 9 miles of the Chinook Trail – at this point I’d estimate that I’ve completed 260 of the 300 miles now. I hope to hike the Grassy Knoll to White Salmon section in 2022, and am 50/50 on the Lyle to The Dalles section – I might hike it, or I may just do it on a mountain bike. We’ll see when the time comes!


Backpack Decision Time – Go With The Tried And True Osprey Atmos 65 Or The New Mountainsmith Zerk 40?

Last year I saw an announcement from Mountainsmith / The Trek that there was going to be a new “fastpack” available via Indie Go Go – the Zerk 40. Co-designed by the Real Hiking Viking, who had a whole bunch of long distance hikes under his belt, it was touted as the ultimate thru-hike pack. Lightweight, large enough with a 40 L capacity to carry everything a lightweight or ultralight hiker would need, but best of all, quick and easy access to water, snacks and other knickknacks needed throughout the day, so one wouldn’t have to stop and remove their pack to get to whatever they needed. I found out about it too late to get it at the early bird price of $100, but I was able to jump in and get one for $125 (these won’t be available until July 2019, but those that bought them through the Indie Go Go sale just received them in April). I was pretty happy with my Osprey Atmos 65 in nearly every way, except weight (it’s heavy) and capacity (65 L is a bit much). However, at just $125 I thought it’d be worth picking up a Zerk 40 to see how I liked it, and how it would work with my current gear.

I received it a couple of weeks ago, and had a chance to do a quick day hike, loading it with some extra stuff I knew I wouldn’t need to add some weight to it. First impressions were good – it seems strong, I like the rolltop access to the main compartment, and there are tons of pockets – double water bottle pockets on each side, pockets on each shoulder strap, and a huge, stretchy pocket on the back. I put it on and was immediately impressed by how it fit – it was comfortable, primarily due to the wide shoulder straps that take the bulk of the weight (as opposed to my Osprey pack, where weight is distributed to the hips). For heavy loads I think it’s probably better to have weight on the hips, but for a lighter pack I like the wide shoulder strap approach. In any case, the quick hike went very well – I barely felt the pack and I loved the large shoulder strap pockets and easy access to water.

My next test was to take the gear I had on the 2.5 week Chinook Trail hike I did last October, and see if it would all fit into the Zerk 40. Long story short, it didn’t all fit. Not even close. While I didn’t necessarily need 65 L of capacity, I probably needed 50-55 L or so. However, there were a few things I could ditch or downsize. I traded out a bear cannister for a food bag, ditched the camp shoes and sun umbrella, and took out a few other odds and ends. By doing all of that I was able to eventually get everything to fit, and probably could have added a few other small items if I needed to. However, the one thing I didn’t add to the pack was extra water beyond two Smartwater bottles – if I needed more than a couple of liters of water I’d probably struggle to get it in there. The real test though was to see how it felt with the pack on – it felt okay. At about 18 pounds it was fairly heavy compared to what most thru-hikers carry, but it is rated for up to 30 pounds and there is no way I’d want this on my back with 30 pounds of stuff in it. I’d be beggin’ for my Osprey. So having it on in my living room felt okay with 18 pounds of stuff in it, but I’d really have to take it out on a hike of 5-10 miles or so to truly test it for comfort. My plan is to give it a try on a few overnighters this summer and see how it does.

On the flip side there is my Osprey Atmos 65 pack – it is a great, solid and dependable pack that I’ve had for over a year now, and put about 350 miles on it. Amazingly it still looks, and almost smells, brand new. In all of my hikes so far I have included the brain, but this year I have removed it for weight savings and reduced capacity (I just don’t need that much capacity). For comparison sake I took everything out of the Zerk 40 and put it in the Osprey – there was obviously lots of empty space (perfect for extra water), but the true test was to see how it felt with 18 pounds of stuff in it. As I suspected, it was much more comfortable – since the pack weighs over 2 pounds more than the Zerk 40, the total weight was close to 20 pounds.

I don’t have any long hikes planned this year, primarily just overnight trips. My plan is to use the Zerk 40 as much as possible this year to thoroughly test it out. I suspect that for quick trips it’ll be easy to get the weight down to the 12-14 pound range and it should do quite well. For any future long distance hikes though, I think my plan might be to go with the Osprey, and just do what I can to minimize the load. It’s super comfortable, has great ventilation and with a lighter overall weight I think it’ll be the pack to go with for longer hikes.

First Go At Chuckanut / Blanchard North-South Thru Hike

The last two years I have made it my goal to hike every trail in the Chuckanuts – everything from the most popular trails, such as Oyster Dome, Pine/Cedar Lakes, and Fragrance Lake, to some obscure trails that I just stumbled upon using the Gaia app, such as the Secret Trail or the Fiona Ridge Trail.

As I have hiked through the Chuckanuts, and joined several work parties, the thought grew that perhaps there was a way to hike the whole area, north to south (or vice versa). There are several great east/west trails, and lots of trail through the Chuckanuts, as well as Blanchard Mountain, but nothing really in between in the Oyster Creek area.

There are some older maps showing a “Lost Lizard Trail”, which would connect the Lost Lake area in the Chuckanuts to Lizard Lake on Blanchard Mountain, making a north-south trail hike possible. However, I haven’t been able to find it, and through online research it seems like no one else has either. Best I can guess, it was a proposed route at some point that was never completed (non-existent “Lost Lizard Trail” below):

So i discovered with the Gaia app/website you could easily create a route using existing trails, roads, and even mountain biking and motorcycle trails. It took some work, but I was finally able to come up with a route that started in the Fairhaven district of Bellingham, and allowed you to hike about 14 miles in a southerly direction through the Chuckanuts, connect with Blanchard Mountain, and then finish on Chuckanut Drive at the base of the Oyster Dome trail.

I proposed this route to a few friends who seemed into doing it – 14 miles is a great day hike, but between work and family commitments, conflicting schedules, etc, it hasn’t worked out for all of us to get together to do it. So having a free day, dry, and temps in the low 60’s I decided to just go for it. I decided to drive to the Alaska Ferry Terminal in Fairhaven, starting at sea level, and working my way south from there.

The trail starts out pretty mellow, following Padden Creek initially as you make your way past the Fairhaven Historic District on the way to Fairhaven Park. You have to leave the trail for a few hundred yards, walking past the tennis courts, restroom and parking lot before getting back on trail at the Chuckanut Community Forest (or as locals refer to it, the Hundred Acre Woods). There are quite a few options for ways to get through this section, but with a goal of connecting with the Interurban Trail, I decided to take the Main Vain and Swamp Trails.

The Interurban Trail then connects with Arroyo Park and the Lost Lake Trail – in working on this thru trail, I had to decide between using the lower Lost Lake Trail, or the higher, rougher Ridge Trail. Since this was my first time, and not knowing what the middle section of the trail was going to be like, I decided to go with the easier Lost Lake Trail. In doing it this way, it isn’t a ridge hike, but it is a great north-south route.

One of the things I liked about this route was that it followed the east side of Lost Lake, which is one of the better sections of trail in the Chuckanuts, but for some reason they don’t show it on the trail maps. There must have been a decision at some point to de-emphasize that trail, and it seems to have happened at the same time they stopped permitting camping at Lost Lake. In any case, there is a large rock in the mid-section of the lake that made for a great lunch spot (enjoyed a can of Bitburger there as well).

I was excited for the next section – it was the middle connecting the Chuckanuts with Blanchard Mountain – no man’s land! After reaching the south end of Lost Lake, you hit a Y in the trail – going to the right takes you back towards multiple trails in the Chuckanuts, but going left takes you out of the area and into what I thought would be primarily logging roads. It wasn’t a great start, as the trail was quite overgrown – I had to use my trekking poles to push my way through. However, for trails that supposedly aren’t used that often, it wasn’t quite as bad as I expected.

Eventually the trail did merge with logging roads, crossing the upper section of Oyster Creek, past a pond called Easy Reach Pond (where you can’t really see any water – it seems to just be an overgrown swamp), and into a network of motorcycle / mountain biking trails. There was only one clear cut section, and it was rather small – for some reason I expected more clear cuts in this area.

This section was all pretty mellow – not too much in the way of hills, just easy hiking. However, that changes as you approach the base of Blanchard Mountain. I knew there would be some uphill hiking involved – after all I was at about 800 feet and I knew Lizard Lake is at about 2000 feet. The last section of logging road was a pretty gentle uphill, but then it met up with the British Army Trail – a trail that I’ve been looking forward to checking out. I’m not sure how it got the name, but it didn’t take long for me to decide it was because of how steep the trail was – it would be good training for any army! It’s a great trail though – it doesn’t get as much attention as it deserves, but it’s likely because there really isn’t a proper trailhead at either end of the trail.

Eventually you get to the shores of Lizard Lake, probably my favorite lake in the Chuckanut/Blanchard area – it’s not the largest lake, but it is really nice and has probably the best campsite in the area. I haven’t reached the lake from this direction before, but I liked how it came close to the shoreline.

At this point I had reached the base of the Lily-Lizard Connector Trail, the last uphill of the route, so I took a breather and drank half a liter of water and refueled with a Snickers. However, I don’t think I was dreading this uphill as much as the final downhill section – 2000 feet of descent on the Oyster Dome Trail….

Well, this final section took much longer than I had hoped – distance-wise it was only a few miles, so it should have only taken an hour. However, after the previous 13 miles, my pace slowed down quite a bit as I descended. However, it was awesome to finally reach Chuckanut Drive, just shy of 9 hours after I started (this time included a 30 minute lunch break, and a couple of other 15 minute stops along the way).

Oh, if you are paying close attention you may have noticed that the Gaia GPS app said this would be a 14 mile through hike – in the end, it somehow ended up being 18! There was the extra bit at the beginning, from the Alaska Ferry Terminal to Fairhaven Park, but that likely is just shy of a mile. So somehow the actual hike was about 3 miles longer than I expected. It was fine, but I’m still not sure how or why the app was so off.

I am happy to have finally completed this route, and as sore as I am a couple of days later, I’m already planning to do it again, possibly this coming week. I am going to go in the opposite direction, starting with the steep uphill Oyster Dome climb, but I may veer off and take the Pacific Northwest Trail up to Lily Lake instead. Knowing my knees, I’m thinking it may be better to do it as an uphill climb and get it out of the way first, and then have the gradual downhill from the Lost Lake area to Fairhaven to look forward to. I am also thinking of doing the Ridge Trail from Lost Lake to Arroyo. These changes add a few miles, but I think after doing it I’ll be able to combine the two to come up with the definitive Chuckanut/Blanchard thru hike route.

I really can’t recommend this route enough – you really get to take in everything the area has to offer – great views, lakes, moderate uphills and downhills, and it also works year round (other than occasional winter snows). I’m not 100% sure how access works in the middle section, as parts of it are not DNR or state park land (maps just say it’s “Private Land”), but I didn’t see any signs saying you couldn’t hike through, and didn’t see any logging trucks or equipment. In fact, I didn’t see a single person from Arroyo Park until Oyster Dome Trail – probably because it was a Thursday, but I was surprised not to see anyone in the Lost Lake or Lily/Lizard Lake sections.

If you have any questions about this hike, you can send me an email at I would be more than happy to send GPX / KML file of the route to you as well.






WTA Trail Work At Larrabee State Park & Shiny New Hard Hat

Another great day of trail work, this time at Larrabee State Park – now that I’ve done 5 trail parties I’ve earned a shiny new WTA hard hat. Going with the trail name “REVERB” they put that on one side of the hat and my real name on the other. Everyone joked that I should rub it in dirt and rocks, but when I actually went to do it they said no, keep it shiny!

We took our tools across Chuckanut Drive to the work site – today we were working on a re-route, so we were making new trail just below a steep bank with Chuckanut right above us. In among ferns, branches, blackberry vines and undergrowth, there was a ton of trash – mostly glass bottles. We cleaned as we made trail, filling up 5 or 6 buckets in the end. It was kinda interesting, as we dug deeper we started to find all sorts of glassware from long ago, likely from the 40’s through 70’s, and we compared our finds as the day progressed. In the end we got a lot accomplished, and the rain that was in the forecast thankfully held off until we were back at the toolshed enjoying our post-work snacks and beverages.

Making New Trail With The WTA On Lookout Mountain

It was my 5th volunteer work day with the WTA, which means I’ll receive my very own green hard hat! This one was at the Lookout Mountain Forest Preserve, near Lake Whatcom, an area I haven’t had a chance to explore yet. It’s a great area to explore, with a short hike to one of the tallest waterfalls I’ve seen in the greater Bellingham area. We had a good group of about 15 volunteers, with the goal of creating a new switchback to replace a section of trail deemed too steep, and filled with roots in anticipation of greater foot traffic in the coming years. There is a plan to add lots of new trail to Lookout Mountain, and at the end of the work party we had the opportunity to view the network of trail that is planned for the area. Needless to say, there will be LOTS of volunteer opportunities in the area this summer!

The area where the new trail was going in was moderately steep and well marked with orange flags. My group took the bottom part of the trail, while another group started at the top, the goal being to meet at the switchback. We transplanted ferns, moved duff and worked on creating nice, gradual uphill trail. We lacked rocks – the area was primarily soft dirt, but we made really good progress throughout the day. Our lunch break was up at a nice waterfall, with a wood fenced lookout that made a nice perch for our group of volunteers.

We pushed hard through the afternoon, and by the end of the day we had the trail nearly completed, other than the switchback and some shoring up of the trail with rock or logs to prevent erosion on the downhill side of the trail. Otherwise it was looking really good and I was surprised that making a substantal length of trail go so fast.

To volunteer, please visit the Washington Trails Association website at:



Volunteering With The WTA (Washington Trails Association)

One of my resolutions for 2018 was to get involved with trail work with the WTA (Washington Trails Association), a resource that I’ve used in researching new trails to hike and overnight adventures. Last year my wife and I made a big effort to hike every single trail in the Chuckanuts, as well as Blanchard Mountain, and I think we made it 95% of the way there, so it was only natural to get started with trail work in this area. It doesn’t hurt that it’s literally across the street from where we live.

So far I have volunteered four times – twice on Blanchard Mountain (Alternate Incline Trail) and twice in Arroyo Park. We’ve built up turnpikes, turned mud bogs into comfortable trail that will last for years, built rock walls, and more. Mostly it’s been digging up rock, moving rock, rolling rock, etc. So much rock work that I have literally had dreams about rock! I’ve learned the difference between a McLeod and a Pulaski, helped set up a zipline to move dirt and rock from a pit up to the trail, and gained knowledge about water drainage. It’s been great excercise, lots of fun and I’ve met a bunch of great people. I’m looking forward to doing more, perhaps even some overnighters before the year is over. If you’d like to help fund this great organization please visit their “Join WTA” page.