OC mountaineering course is a go

After a rocky couple of years, Olympic College’s mountaineering course managed to draw enough students and will begin classes today.

As I wrote last month, the course drew 40 students and had a lengthy wait list during its heyday in the 1950s. Last year, it was cancelled when only 10 people signed up. Low enrollment also forced its cancelation three years ago.

At least 15 students signed up for this year’s course, which is getting increased support from Olympic Mountain Rescue, a volunteer group that depends on the course for fresh recruits.

“Getting 15 or 16 students – it’s actually fantastic,” said Kevin Swem, an OMR volunteer and one of the course’s instructors. “We have several guys trying to get through OMR (training) and this is one of our primary resources.”

The first class is this evening and a ropes course is scheduled for the weekend.

A few students typically drop out after the fist couple classes, sometimes because they find out just how much of a physical challenge and time commitment the course is. It remains to be seen whether this year’s class is merely a happy blip or a longterm revival.


Two big conservation purchases announced for Olympic Peninsula

Black bear peaks from ferns in the Hoh River Valley, Olympic National Park.
A black bear peaks from ferns in the Hoh River Valley, Olympic National Park. Tristan Baurick/Kitsap Sun

Two land deals with timber companies will put nearly 11 square miles of Olympic Peninsula forestland under conservation protections.


The more significant of the two was the Nature Conservancy’s purchase of 3,184 acres along the Hoh River from Rayonier for $7 million.

Combined with property already acquired by the Hoh River Trust, the purchase creates a 32-mile conservation corridor extending from Olympic National Park to the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary. The Hoh River is one of four major rivers flowing from the Olympics. Its valley is famed for moss-draped old-growth trees and its value as habitat for threatened species, including the marbled murrelet and spotted owl. The Hoh also boasts one of the healthiest native salmon runs in the country.

The Conservancy has purchased forestlands on the Queets and Clearwater rivers and now manages about 11,130 acres in Jefferson County.

The second purchase, also announced on Mar. 31, was Pope Resources’ sale of a conservation easement on 3,392 acres near Hood Canal. Unlike the Rayonier’s sale, Pope’s deal with the Trust for Public Land allows the Poulsbo-based company to retain ownership and continue logging but development is now prohibited.

Pope granted full ownership on an additional 215 acres. The full deal cost the trust $4.9 million.

Pope’s Jon Rose said the easement and sale will helps meet the Navy’s goal of curbing development across from the Bangor naval base. The public will be allowed access on the property, which connects to the Dosewallips River.

The company has been selling its properties to Kitsap County as part of the Forest & Bay Project. More on that here. 

Report: Plenty more people would bike if it weren’t alongside cars

Cyclists ride along Winslow Way during the 2015 Chillly Hilly on Bainbridge Island. Photo: Tristan Baurick/Kitsap Sun
Cyclists ride along Winslow Way during the 2015 Chillly Hilly on Bainbridge Island. Photo: Tristan Baurick/Kitsap Sun

Most studies on cycling participation look at either recreational riding or transportation riding. A new study commissioned by People for Bikes looked at both, and the results were surprising.

About 34 percent of Americans over the age of three rode a bike at least once last year, according to the report. Velo News notes that’s much higher than similar reports, such as 2014 data from the National Sporting Goods Association, which puts bicycling participation at just 12 percent.

Yes, 34 percent is quite high, but the stat is tempered by the fact that respondents had to ride just once to be included.

As Bike Snob NYC put it, this “probably includes people who like to get drunk, go to Walmart, and joyride Kents through the seasonal decorations section.”

Other interesting findings from the People for Bikes report:

  • Those who rode for transportation are much more likely to have done so to get to and from social, recreation and leisure activities (70 percent ) than to have commuted to work or school (46 percent).
  • Almost half of adults don’t have access to an operational bike.
  • Fifty-four percent of adults perceive bicycling as a convenient way to get from one place to another and 53 percent would like to ride more often. However, 52 percent worry about being hit by a car and 46 percent say they would be more likely to ride  if bikes were physically separated from cars on a designated path or trail.
Burke-Gilman Trail, Seattle. Photo: American Trails
Burke-Gilman Trail, Seattle. Photo: American Trails

This last bit is striking. If cycling routes were perceived as safer, cycling participation would likely skyrocket. And we’re not talking about more carbon fiber speedsters – they’re already riding, and riding wherever there’s pavement.

“Infrastructure improvements will have the biggest impact on underserved populations such as young adults, females, and nonwhites,” the report says.

In other words, the untapped army of cyclists will come from the ranks of the young, the old, and basically anybody who’s not a white, middle-aged male.

Infrastructure like the Burke-Gilman Trail in Seattle and the Olympic Discovery Trail, particularly the section between Blyn and Port Angeles, fit the bill of a car-free paved path that connects to several destinations, including neighborhoods, commercial areas and parks.

In Kitsap, two ambitious trail plans are working their way toward becoming reality. There’s the Sound to Olympics Trail, which would start at Bainbridge Island’s ferry terminal and eventually cross the Agate Pass Bridge and North Kitsap. At the Hood Canal bridge, the STO would link to the Olympic Discovery Trail. The first leg of the STO should be finished this fall.

Kitsap County has a planned north-south route that would run nearly the length of the county, from Poulsbo to the borders of Pierce and Mason counties. Not much is happening with with this yet-to-be-named trail, but the county and Ueland Tree Farm have been working on an agreement to get the trail started just outside Bremerton.

Olympic College’s storied mountaineering course needs students

Students in Olympic College’s mountaineering course practice “plunge stepping” at Hurricane Ridge in 2009. (Photo courtesy of Mike May)
Students in Olympic College’s mountaineering course practice “plunge stepping” at Hurricane Ridge in 2009. (Photo courtesy of Mike May)

Olympic College’s mountaineering course, purported to be the nation’s oldest – and perhaps only – college climbing class, isn’t nearly the draw it once was.

In the 1950s, the class typically had 40 students and a lengthy wait list. Last year, it was cancelled when only 10 people signed up. Low enrollment also forced its cancelation three years ago.

Olympic Mountain Rescue, the Bremerton-based volunteer search and rescue group, is attempting a revival. Some of its most experienced members have offered to team-teach the course this spring. The class’s longtime instructor, Brad Albro, is expected to serve some role but health issues prevent him from heading it up.

The class keeps OMR’s ranks strong. Standout students are recruited for the group, which helps track down hikers and climbers lost or injured in the Olympics and Cascades.

“Not having the students to draw on has really put us in a pickle,” OMR member Kevin Swem told me last year after the class was cancelled. “Right now, we have people who want to join (OMR), but they don’t have the basic skills.”

I haven’t taken the class, but my mom did about 45 years ago. Legend has it she was kicked out for giving some unsanctioned lessons on mushroom foraging during one of the field trips.

The Kitsap Sun’s own Seabury “Mr. Outdoors” Blair took the class in the 70s. He managed to hold off on getting into trouble until after completing the course. Read about that here.

The class involves a weekly lecture and field trip. Rock climbing, wilderness navigation, first aid and avalanche awareness are a few of the basic outdoor skills covered. The class usually builds up to a traversal of Mount Rainier’s Nisqually Glacier.

At five credits, the class costs around $550. All equipment except mountaineering boots and clothes are provided.

Students must have an “above average fitness level.”

The class begins April 6 and ends June 19. The weekday lecture is scheduled for Thursday evenings from 7 to 8:40 p.m. The field trips are one to two days each weekend.

For more about the class and how to sign up, check out the flyer below.
Continue reading

A proud history of women on two wheels


It’s a machine for transportation and recreation, but to hear Susan B. Anthony describe it, the bicycle is also a powerful tool for emancipation.

Asked in 1896 for her take on cycling, the champion for women’s rights responded:

“I think it has done more to emancipate women than anything else in the world. It gives women a feeling of freedom and self-reliance. I stand and rejoice every time I see a woman ride by on a wheel… the picture of free, untrammeled womanhood.”

I ran across Anthony’s quote in a series of stories produced by the League of American Bicyclists for Women’s History Month.

“March is Women’s History Month, and what better way to celebrate than to learn more about the women who forged a path toward gender equity in bicycling?” writes Liz Murphy in the league’s blog.

Here are some highlights from the series:


In 1895, Annie “Londonderry” Kopchovsky, a young immigrant and mother of three, set off on a 42-pound Columbia bicycle (that’s it to the left) to circle the globe. Why? To prove female “physical endurance and mental fortitude,” and to score a victory for the “new woman.”

She urged women to trade their corsets for two wheelers.

“Tell the women to discard their corsets,” Kopchovsky told a reporter. “If women will exercise properly on a wheel, they will have nicely rounded figures, bright eyes, and healthy cheeks, and will feel well the year ‘round.”

Author Maria Ward didn’t just want women to bike, she wanted them to wrench.

About 125 years ago, she published “Bicycling for Ladies,” a do-it-yourself guide to biking and bike maintenance.


She encouraged ladies not to demur when confronted with a flat tire or loose chain.

“Most women can sew on a button or run up a seam; sewing, in fact, is regarded rather as a feminine instinct than an art,” Ward wrote. “I hold that any woman who is able to use a needle or scissors can use other tools equally well. It is a very important matter for a bicyclist to be acquainted with all parts of the bicycle, their uses and adjustment. Many a weary hour would be spared were a little proper attention given at the right time to your machine.”

Ward’s entire book is available online. Read it here.

And then there’s Belva Lockwood. She became infamous throughout the nation’s capital for doing two things: a) studying law and b) riding bikes.


Doing one would have been scandalous enough in the 1880s, but to do both … well, that was enough to make the president nervous.

Fearing the spread of such behavior, President Grover Cleveland apparently ordered his cabinet officers to then order their wives to refrain riding bicycles in Washington D.C.

Read about more women (including a few recent ones) in bicycling history here.

Top photo: Women cyclists, circa 1901, via the Online Bicycle Museum.

First look at Olympic National Park’s re-opened Pyramid Peak


The popular Pyramid Peak Trail, which takes hikers to some stunning Lake Crescent overlooks, re-opened this week after a six-month-long closure.

In August, an infamously dangerous section crossing a steep slide area was closed for rerouting and repairs.

“The washout is the most dangerous place that I’ve ever traveled on trail and I’m a plenty experienced hiker,” a hiker wrote in a Washington Trails Association trail report in June. “One slip and any one of us could have easily perished.”

Re-routed trail section
Re-routed trail section

Olympic National Park’s trail crew and Washington Trails Association members tackled the section during the closure, pulling the route to a lower section of the slide and cutting in a few new switchbacks on its wooded east side.

The rerouted section is about half way up the 3.5-mile-long trail.

I tried out the trail on a Sunday. The repaired section’s path is a bit narrow and the footing a little loose but it’s in passable shape. Sufferers of vertigo should probably stop and turn back. It’d still be worth the hike because the slide has cleared enough trees to get a good view of the lake and the Olympics.


Hike on and you’ll get to visit a World War II-era cabin strapped (with steel cables) to the peak. The one-room cabin was used to watch for the hordes of enemy aircraft that never did make it to the West Coast. I had read that the cabin was boarded up, but I found it wide open and showing signs that it’s getting use as an unsanctioned campsite.


The north side of the mountain is owned by the U.S. Forest Service. A Forest Service clearcut several years back allows for some peek-a-boo views of the Strait of Juan de Fuca.

Up and back took me about three and a half hours, so it’s a good option if you’re staying at nearby Lake Crescent Lodge or camping at Fairholm for a the weekend. There was no snow on Sunday but the top of Pyramid got a dusting on Monday morning.

To access the trail, follow Highway 101 to Fairholm on the lake’s west side. Turn right and follow North Shore Road (aka Camp David Jr. Road) about three miles to the North Shore picnic area. There’s parking along the road and at a small parking lot down the hill a bit. This is also a good spot to park if you want to explore the flatter Spruce Railroad Trail along the lake’s shore.

I’ll have more about mountain biking the Spruce trail, staying at the lodge’s Roosevelt Cabins and other things to do around the lake in a feature we’re planning for later this month.

Pyramid Peak as seen from Lake Crescent Lodge.
Pyramid Peak as seen from Lake Crescent Lodge. Photos: Tristan Baurick/Kitsap Sun

New Bainbridge park comes with bomb shelter


Last week, Bainbrdge voters approved a $5.9 million park bond to buy a largely undeveloped property in Winslow.

The former Sakai family strawberry farm has a pond, wooded areas and some open spots alongside busy Madison Avenue. At 23 acres, the property is full of possibilities. A large section will probably be preserved as open space, leaving about 10 acres for for ball fields, an off-leash dog park or a playground – or all three plus a few more uses. Some park officials would like to build a recreation center with classrooms and offices.

The bomb shelter is in a bunker-like storage building
The bomb shelter is in a bunker-like storage building.

Perhaps the most intriguing feature is the property’s cavernous bomb shelter.

Probably installed at the height of the Cold War, the steel room is buried in the back of a big concrete storage building that looks like it, too, could withstand Khrushchev’s worst.

Park officials say the concrete building will work great for storing park vehicles and other large equipment. But the bomb shelter, with its rounded, windowless walls, doesn’t present any obvious park-related uses.

It might be a good spot to hide out when one of Bainbridge’s regular pertussis outbreaks becomes a Level 5 pandemic. Of course, you’ll have squeeze in with these guys.

Park staffers John DeMeyer and Terry Lande and park advocate Bruce Weiland peek in the shelter.
Park staffers John DeMeyer and Terry Lande and park advocate Bruce Weiland peek in the shelter.
Inside the bomb shelter.
Inside the bomb shelter.
Park staff member John DeMeyer stands at the storage building's mossy entrance.
Park staff member John DeMeyer stands at the storage building’s mossy entrance.
Park staff wander the property's concrete storage building.
Park staff wander the property’s concrete storage building.

Photos: Tristan Baurick/Kitsap Sun

VIDEO: The search for eggs in the sand

I wrote a story for Sunday’s paper about a bill that could lead to Puget Sound’s largest and most comprehensive study of forage fish.

The story, which you can read here, outlines plans from Sen. Christine Rolfes, a Democrat from Bainbridge, to put dozens of volunteers and Washington Conservation Corps members to work surveying beaches and waterways for signs of smelt, herring and other small fish that support a multitude of other larger species, including salmon and marine birds. Forage fish, Rolfes says, appear to be in sharp decline, and that’s bad news for the animals that depend on them for food.

Surf smelt. Meegan Reid/Kitsap Sun
Surf smelt from Fay Bainbridge Park. Meegan Reid/Kitsap Sun

What might the survey look like? Suquamish videographer John Williams has some idea. He produced a short video (above) of a smelt egg survey conducted in North Kitsap a few years back. Looks like quite a painstaking process involving lots of beach visits, searching sand with magnifying glasses and then sifting sand using a technique that resembles gold panning.

As was mentioned in the story, state Dept. of Fish & Wildlife and several environmental and sport fishing groups back Rolfes’ bill.

In addition to the survey, the bill would, for the first time, require a recreational fishing license for smelt fishing. Rolfes said that shouldn’t be too much of a burden on smelt fishers because most of them already have a license for other types of fishing. A license for smelt would help Fish & Wildlife periodically survey fishers and track where and how much smelt is being caught.

For more of Williams’ videos about Puget Sound, head over to Sea-media.org.

SK park’s public access fight coming to a close


The private lock on the public park is finally coming down.

Kitsap County announced today that it is finalizing an agreement that would restore public access to Anderson Point Park. The 66-acre park on Colvos Passage has been closed since 2010 but is expected to reopen this spring.

The park’s neighbors erected a locked gate on Millihanna Road, the only vehicle access into the park, in 2013 to curb the traffic, crime, noise and litter they say the park attracts.

Anderson Point's beach.
Anderson Point’s beach.

County officials said they are “near agreement and resolution” that would turn the gate’s management over to the county parks department. Park staff would leave the gate during daylight hours and lock it at night.

The draft agreement stipulates that the county must improve Millihanna Road in phases over the next several months.

Millihanna is a one-lane gravel drive branching from Banner Road. It’s poorly-suited for the high volume of traffic the park once attracted, Millihanna residents say. The road is private but the county contends it has had a shared use agreement since 2001, when the park was established.

Millihanna’s residents threatened to sue if Anderson Point were reopened. In March, their attorney stipulated that public access could resume if the county agreed to widen the road to two lanes, install speed bumps and speed limit signs, and expand the Anderson Point’s parking lot.

Continue reading