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week 26-28: pacific northwest

crater lake

Amy: As we made our way north from San Francisco, we noticed a national park that hadn't been on our radar: Crater Lake. It's Oregon's only national park, so we had to stop. I assumed the lake was formed by a meteor strike, but apparently, this is a common misconception! It was actually created by a giant volcano that erupted about 7,000 years ago. Oral history from the Klamath Indigenous Peoples contains accounts of the explosion and marks the crater as a sacred place. Amazing how storytelling can span literal millennia.

We also learned that the lake has a more morbid recent history - many people have gone missing or died in mysterious circumstances around the lake. In the last few decades, people have fallen off the steep crater edges (including a woman who threw her baby to safety as she plunged to her death), crashed cars, planes and helicopters into the lake's glassy surface, and others have simply vanished while hiking the nearby Pacific Crest Trail. A few murders have even happened here, including a couple of GM executives in the 1950s. There's also a giant tree called "the old man" that bobs around the lake, upright. Like a woody iceberg, only a few feet of its trunk are visible at a time. A mysterious, but worthwhile stop.

bill: crater lake is very cool. it is the deepest lake in north america! it is also very high at the rim of the crater, about 2400m, so because of the amount of coastal precipitation they got 53 feet of snow this year! so even in late june most of the park is closed still and there is very little to actually do here, but the lake is very cool to look at.


bill: portland is probably my favourite city we have been to so far. it has a reputation for being “the coolest city on the continent”, a city of 2.6 million metro that punches well above its weight in terms of art, culture, music, food, and beverage. we spent 4 days here and i can see how it would be easy to spend the rest of your life here; housing is about half the price of anywhere else on the west coast but salaries are equally high. the cool parts of the city are all urban residential, with blocks of single-family homes surrounding main streets full of cool bars, restaurants, “food truck pods”, microbreweries, vintage clothing stores, and music venues. you can buy a single-family

home in the alberta arts district for $450k usd two blocks from the main strip and one block from the park. portland is young and thriving, but it seems like a place where you can still be old and be cool, you don’t have to move out to the suburbs and stop doing cool stuff once you have kids, there are lots of 50-year-old people here with full sleeve tattoos in all vintage clothing. we went thrift shopping on nw 23rd street, checked out some of the weird stores like this taxidermy shop where you can buy a two-headed cow skeleton for $8000 or a whole human skeleton for $6000. we spent a few days in the alberta arts district, including “last thursday” a monthly arts event that was busier and more happening than any annual community event i have been to anywhere else. we checked out the ecliptic microbrewery and watched some incredible jazz on mississippi street, and we ate at a lot of incredible food trucks.

a lot of what is “happening” in portland seems to be happening in these urban residential neighborhoods, but we wanted to check out the downtown. it turns out that most of the people walking around downtown portland on a thursday afternoon, like 70%, are living on the street. this isn’t just one are, it is spread across the whole downtown, old town, and chinatown area. the whole downtown seems fairly abandoned otherwise, nothing really happening, no business people, no patios, no young people, though there are a few good food trucks. it is a very sad place and left us both pretty bummed out.

apparently alberta street is more famous than a whole canadian province, smh

but overall portland was very cool. i wouldn’t come back here again for vacation because it is mostly cool is just a very extremely livable sense, but it is definitely worth a visit. the only downside being that portland gets 155 days of rain per year, which is only slightly less than vancouver or seattle.

Amy: We can picture living in Portland. It's hip and progressive, has a HAPPENING food truck scene and plenty of green space. One of our first stops was the International Rose Test Garden, which showcases the newest rose varieties in a giant tiered garden that's free and open to the public. We spent an entire morning weaving through rows of blossoms in every colour of the rainbow (the only shade they have not been able to reproduce is black...sorry Bill). I wish we could have captured the wafting perfume of 10,000 rose bushes in full bloom for the blog.

We spent our days in Portland exploring the different neighbourhoods and their legendary food cart pods. This is a BIG thing in Portland - essentially 5 to 20+ food trucks will occupy a vacant lot in a neighbourhood, offering cheap, delicious eats of every cuisine imaginable. There are upwards of 1,000 food trucks in Portland!! We had amazing jianbing (traditional Chinese street food similar to a crepe with eggs and sweet spicy sauce), hand-pulled chilli noodles, a Japanese tofu katsu sandwich, Korean bibimbap, NY and Detroit-style pizza.

Beyond the food, other highlights were:

- The Pearl District/W 23rd Ave had the best selection of vintage stores - I scored a sweet denim jacket and cords.

- We had a LOT of fun in the Alberta Arts District, where we stumbled upon a cheap soaking pool in an old schoolhouse and a neighbourhood festival.

- Mississippi Ave had a great collection of breweries, bars and restaurants.

- We exited Portland via Cathedral Park across the iconic green St. John's bridge.

haystack rock

bill: we stopped at haystack rock on the way north, we had planned on doing some surfing here but the water was frigid! even putting our toes in was intolerable for more than a few seconds!

Amy: The towering Haystack Rock and sea stacks at Cannon Beach are Oregon's most recognizable landmarks. We explored the tide pools and watched some nesting puffins from afar.

olympic national park

Amy: Olympic may just be my favourite national park. Miles of coastline with sea stacks and tide pools, pockets of rainforest, and some of the best sunsets we've seen in the US. We decided that backpacking would be the best way to immerse ourselves in everything the Pacific Northwest had to offer. That, and we needed a nature intermission after our week in San Fransisco and Portland!

Day one began with a 5am wake-up call - we had to hike across a section of the coast while the tide was at its lowest. Sections of the coastline are impassable during high tide, so we had to plan our route carefully and hike with a tide table. This provided some extra spice to our adventure! We hiked out to the foggy coastline and crossed a driftwood debris field, then navigated slippery rocks and barnacle-covered boulders to get past the low tide point. We could see the tide rising as we crossed this section, which was a little nerve-wracking, but we made it to a serene misty beach on the other side and made ourselves a nice cup of tea. The rest of the day involved hauling ourselves up some wooden ladders, and trekking through sections of mossy rainforest, so thick in sections that it felt like dusk at 10am. The best part of this hike was camping on the beach. We set up our tent in a driftwood nook and spent the rest of the day reading in the sun. We ended the day with a driftwood campfire and stellar sunset over the ocean.

The next day we repeated the process, hiking along beaches and through rainforest to a lovely camp spot on the beach. We explored the tide pools and watched the sun set between the sea stacks. On our hike out, it was low tide, and we saw dozens of orange and purple starfish and giant anemones.

it is dark as night in some of the densest parts of the rainforest

bill: west of seattle is a large peninsula composed almost entirely of olympic national park, a range of coastal mountains surrounded by rugged coast. we figured we were already going to be spending lots of time in the mountains in the coming months, so we opted to do some exploring of the coast instead. along the olympic coast is a large swath of backpackable camping, so we did a three-day 30km 600m backpacking route from oil city to third beach. i have never hiked the west coast trail in canada because of the lottery system, but this is probably about as close as it gets, maybe even a bit more rugged. we moved about 10km per day but progress was very slow due to needing to navigate over giant kilometre-long piles of driftwood trees and scramble over slippery kelp-covered boulder fields. between these are lovely sections of hiking on pristine untouched beaches, sometimes kilometres long flanked by massive sea stacks, as well as overland sections that involve lots of ladders and fixed ropes to climb up very steep terrain between the beaches and the cliff tops. we camped every night on the beach and fell asleep to the sound of the waves. this kind of trip involved a lot more logistics due to the need to navigate through “low tide pass points” where certain areas of the trail were only passable when the tide was below a certain height, so we had to study the terrain as well as the tide tables to know when we could make our moves to the next site, often this meant getting up early in the morning to catch a 6:30am low tide. there are very few places to set up a hammock on a beach but i rigged up a hammock stand out of driftwood, only a little bit sketchy. overall, fantastic trip, very cool coastline, serene, the sea stacks were incredible, very different from all of the rest of the hiking we have done so far, highly recommend.

Amy: We both agreed this was one of the coolest hikes we’ve done. Forest, beaches, sunsets, seashells, fresh salty air…I am a happy gal.

On our way out of the area, we visited the town of Forks of Twilight fame (spoiler alert: it’s very small and doesn’t have much going for it). We also did one final hike in Olympic Park and had a great dip in the clear blue water of Crescent Lake. That night we camped at an amazing hilltop spot with a 360 degree view of the forest. It can hit or miss finding good campsites on the road - but this one was especially excellent. Also notable - we had the BEST burrito in Port Angeles on our way to Seattle (thanks Carl!).

apparently the secret ingredient to make the world's best burrito is tater tots

bill: on our way back to seattle we stopped to climb storm king mountain, a very short but very steep 7km 660m hike, basically nothing but relentless switchbacks up to a fixed rope section to the summit, but the views were very worth it, looking out over crescent lake which we needed to take a swim in afterwards to cool down, the first real lake we have swam in all year.


bill: seattle is a cool city. it is very hip, very queer, very outdoorsy, lots of cool stuff happening. it is also very expensive to live here; a house is in the order of multiple millions cad, which is about 5x the cost of living in portland. is seattle 5x cooler than portland? no, probably not, but the tech boom here has increased the population of the city by 40% over the last 15 years and the city is buckling under the weight of all this new population, leaving it massively behind on infrastructure and housing. we went to some outdoors stores, microbreweries, got some pizza, some indian food, did a walking tour, and went to the aquarium. we watched the sun set over the city from the park with mount rainer in the background. i like it here, but i don’t think i could afford to live here, and it rains almost as much as in vancouver.

Amy: We took the ferry from the Olympic Peninsula to Seattle - a fun way to get a great view of the skyline. Once within the city, we walked around Capitol Hill, a hip trendy Westboro-esque neighbourhood. We explored some parks, a botanical garden, the original REI outdoor store location, and got some great NY pizza and beer. The next day, we went on another free walking tour to orient ourselves and get some historical context. Our tour guide told us a hilarious story about a giant 500lb octopus at the Seattle aquarium that would escape its enclosure at night and eat the fish from other tanks before sneaking back into its cage by dawn. We decided it was worth visiting the aquarium to see one of these giant octopi. Worth it!! We also tried to explore Pike Place Public Market, but it was so busy you could barely move. We left pretty quickly and got lunch elsewhere, then watched sunset from a hilltop park.

north cascades national park

bill: last time i was in the north cascades mountains, i had a blast: did a hike up well into the alpine and camped up near an alpine lake, woke up to a view of the clouds far below and then scrambled up a nearby peak. i therefore expected that north cascades national park would have a bunch of cool stuff to do, but without much knowledge of the area it is hard to plan, so we did what we have been doing a lot of; asking a park ranger for their suggestions. the ranger suggested we backpack the rainbow loop/mcalester pass trail, more than 50km over 5 days with about 700m elevation per day. i figured since this is a national park built around mountains with a lot of really cool alpine, glaciers, alpine lakes, and cool volcanic peaks, anything the ranger suggested as being good would be a good bet.

turns out that was totally wrong and the trail was a total slog, basically never getting above the tree line, which meant essentially no views of anything the whole time except a lot of trees and a few fleeting glimpses of some mediocre mountains through the trees when they were thin enough. hiking 700m with full packs per day just to get to slightly higher trees in a different place is very stupid.

in canada, every park designed backpacking trail we have ever done goes to something cool; if you are going to hike 50km, it is probably to see something worth seeing, but this trail seemed to be just hiking for hiking’s sake. the mosquitos were also terrible, like fully cover yourself from head to toe or don’t leave the tent terrible, and the bear hang infrastructure was lacking which left me paranoid every night about luring bears into our camp. on the last night we heard loud thumping around our tent and what sounded like our garbage being rifled through, on inspection it turned out to be a massive deer who then wandered off, i fell back asleep to wake up 4 more times to loud thumping 6 feet from the tent, each time a terrifying way to wake up, and each time the same deer kept coming back to graze 6 feet from the tent for some reason. halfway through the 5 days we realized that this trail wasn’t going to pay off in any way and were super disappointed at both the amount of effort we had put in for no reason, but also that we had wasted 5 days here that we could have spent doing any of the other cool things in this area, so we hustled to try to make it all the way out in 4 days to give us time for one day hike before we had to go north.

our last hike in north cascades very much redeemed our experience. we did the maple pass loop (15km, 700m) which was literally right next to the last loop we did, but in 700m somehow climbed well into the alpine with amazing views of dozens and dozens of cool volcanic peaks, multiple alpine lakes, and cool glacier cirques. this is why we hike in the mountains. we took a well deserved dip in rainy lake at the end which was in this awesome glacial amphitheatre, a very epic place to swim. we were both amazed but also disappointed that such awesome hiking exists here but that we wasted so much of our time here slogging through the trees. oh well, we have to rest of the summer to climb mountains and we are off to canada now where there are a lot more of them!

Amy: Bill said it. The backpacking loop we did in North Cascades National Park sucked. Lowlights: our view being blocked by trees for 98 percent of the hike, being eaten alive by mosquitoes (there were at least 100 on the screen door of our tent) and thunderstorms. Highlights: seeing some cool wildflowers, being outside, eating camping snacks.

After finishing our hike early, we drove 10 minutes down the road to Washington Pass where we finally got an amazing view of jagged mountains - better than anything we saw on our 4-day hike. Sigh. Although tired, we decided to squeeze in one more hike to Maple Pass. Thank goodness we did, because we FINALLY got some amazing 360 degree views of the mountains! This made our stop in the North Cascades worth it. Onwards to Vancouver!

washington pass - the liberty bell

looking back at black peak, which we should have climbed instead of doing our stupid hike

here is this week's video:




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