Oyster Dome, 02/21/10

With sunny weather predicted for both weekday and weekend, we decided that we would go out for our first “real” hike on Sunday. That was the easy decision.  Where was another story.  Call it early-season malaise.

Puget Sound and the San Juan Islands from the Oyster Dome trail.

We committed to nothing until early Sunday morning when I finally printed out a map of the Oyster Dome and vicinity.  Since we hadn’t really known where we were going, I hadn’t done my normal prep work on the route.  I recalled reading something about ~6 miles and ~2000′ of elevation gain.  Sounded like a great way to start off the year.

The Oyster Dome sits atop South Chuckanut Mountain, right on Puget Sound and right between Mt. Vernon and Bellingham.  Easy access off of I-5.  We figured it would be busy, but didn’t get as early a start as we would’ve had we been prepared the night before.  Still, we pulled to the side of WA-11/Chuckanut Drive ~10 miles from the freeway and parked just across from the trailhead at 09:25.  There is limited parking on the side of the road.  Well, limited good (i.e., wide-shouldered) parking.  When we returned we found cars parked for quite a ways in each direction—some with their rears sticking well out into the busy road.  We set off up the trail, neglecting to bring along our trekking poles—a decision we and our knees would come to regret.

For the first hour or so, the trail switchbacks steadily upward through second-growth trees until the first junction, ~1.8 miles in.  I wanted to reach the top of the Dome, and, after consulting my map, it seemed that the most direct route would be to take the left fork, the Samish Bay Connection trail.

The way up.

The connecting trail wasn’t as well-maintained as the main trail; it was muddier, ruttier, and had some steeper, slipperier sections.  Still, we were moving well and made it to the spur trail to the Bat Caves ~1.2 miles from the junction behind us.  We opted not to take the short spur.  We instead continued another ~0.1 mile to the Rock Trail spur.  This spur was unmarked aside from a small carved arrow in a nearby tree.  For reference, it’s just uphill from the signed Bat Caves spur.

In just a few minutes, sunlight was sneaking in through the trees and we sensed the top.  At ~12:15 we stepped out onto a large rock outcropping, with beautiful 180° views over Puget Sound.  There were a few people scattered about, eating snacks and basking in the sunshine.  We did likewise.  I did have reservations about approaching the edge of the cliff.  And reservations about Nicole approaching the edge of the cliff.  My fear of heights remains, stubbornly.

Nicole atop the Oyster Dome.

After a nice break, we turned around to head down.  Because we weren’t especially looking forward to going down some of the portions we came up, I decided that we’d make a loop, continuing on the trail until we reached an intersection with Max’s Shortcut.  That trail would take us back down to where we began, but it would do so by adding a bit more distance and taking us past the Samish Overlook, which we saw mentioned on our map, next to a P that seemed to indicate there was parking there.  Here, again, it was unfortunate that our map had no distances and I hadn’t done more research before we left.  It would be ~3 miles until we met up with our first intersection.

The way down.

Just before that intersection, we stepped into the middle of a parking lot with views overlooking the area.  At this point we were wishing we were parked there, as our feet had become heavy and our knees were sore.  But we were pleased to find and make use of toilets there.

After the overlook, we headed down the ~2 miles to the trailhead, passing scores of people on the way up.  We reached our car sometime around 14:00.  We hadn’t seen that many on our way up, or on Max’s Shortcut.  An early start seemed to do wonders.

All-in-all, it was a good day out on the trail.  It may have been a bit more than we wanted, but the views at the top were excellent and it was a great workout on the way up.  But since the season is early, our next hike will probably be shorter.  And flatter.

Stats, estimated by comparing this trip to other reports: ~9 miles, ~2000’+ of elevation gain in ~4.5 hours.

Don’t think there are any more photos at Flickr this time.

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