'Hiking' Mount Walker - the easy way

Somehow, driving to the top seems like cheating. When I think of a mountain hike, I think of majestic views earned by the sweat of a rugged hike.

Mount Walker offers the views all right, but why walk when you can drive? I don't know. It kind of seems like cheating. I cheated.

My wife, Mandy, and I drove to the top of the mountain then I hiked down while she drove to the trailhead to meet me. That way we both could get the views, I could do my hike and she could read and keep an eye on luggage that filled the back seat after a recent family trip.

Not only is Mount Walker a good view for the motorist heading along U.S. Highway 101 on Hood Canal, it makes a nice hike, whether uphill, downhill or round trip.

We first visited the south viewpoint and saw the deep blue water of Hood Canal. Seattle and Mount Rainier are supposed to be visible across the water, but I couldn't see them through the clouds. It was still pretty, though.

We drove the half-mile to the north viewpoint, which offers views of Mount Jupiter, Mount Constance, Buckhorn Mountain and the town of Quilcene in the floodplain of the river. Smoke from the mill by Port Townsend plumed in the distance, as did smoke from several chimneys in the valley.

On a clear day, Mount Baker can be seen in the distance, but clouds and afternoon haze kept the mountain secret from us.

Bidding adieu, I headed down the trail as Mandy returned to the car. I got sidetracked on a couple of meandering spurs before finding the real trail. If you actually look at the trailhead sign and follow the arrow, you won't have this problem.

The hike plunges through a forest of Douglas-fir. The National Forest Service's Mount Walker Trail description says it is "fairly steep," with grades between 10 and 20 percent. My calculations - based on a 2,005-foot elevation gain in two miles - show an average grade of 19 percent. Since some short segments of the trail weren't that steep, that means other parts were steeper. But it isn't that bad on the way down, as there's no reprieve other than pauses on the ascent.

I've hiked the trail before, round trip starting at the bottom, and it definitely makes you puff by the top and gives the calves a workout on the way down.

Though I've been on the trail in winter (you have to hike the extra distance from the highway to the lower trailhead because the road is closed in winter) and now the summer, I've never been there when the rhodies are in bloom - based on their abundance, I imagine it would be beautiful in early summer.

The best views through the trees are near the top of the trail to the west and north. Mostly though, it's just a steep forest hike. My camera batteries died a short distance down the trail. Fortunately, the best scenery is at the top.

Rhododendrons, salal and Oregon grape fill the space at the firs' feet. The salal berries were a little past their prime but the ones that were the perfect combination of plump and withered were extraordinarily sweet, like little salal raisins.

The air was crisp and I definitely was underdressed in a T-shirt, shorts and sandals - a fleece top, pants and wool socks would have been welcome.

I met a handful of hikers on their way up. On a weekend, the trail often is quite busy; it's easy to reach from the road and offers stunningly gorgeous views.

All too soon I reached the road and hadn't even broken a sweat. Sure, the cold helped but mostly it felt like I hadn't really hiked. Shhhhh, don't tell anyone, they might think I'm not a real hiker.

Leif Nesheim is hiking columnist and a former reporter for the Sequim Gazette. He is a reporter at the Daily World in Aberdeen. He can be reached at lnesheim

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