Author Archives: Nikhil Navali

About Nikhil Navali

I’m Nikhil Navali, pursuing my masters in Computer Science at Cornell University. I love to be outdoors enjoying the fresh air and indulge in various physical activities. That said, I dont shy to sit days together with just my laptop and internet. I am basically a “Neophiliac” who wants to try many things in the world ranging from testing my taste buds to trying out adventurous activities. My favorite passtime includes reading books, watching historical documentaries on youtube and updating my bucket list which is always fresh and full.

A weekend in scenic Central Oregon

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A visit to unknown scenic places in Central Oregon with a sense of adventure, road trip and RV stay experience.

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I had found Smith Rock State park online which had an average rating of 4.9 stars with over 700 reviews. I looked at the pics and decided to visit it along with few other places around. I originally planned it for New Year’s eve but when I shared the plan with a hiker friend, she asked if we could go on the coming weekend (12/16/2017) and I agreed. I was quite impressed with the way she packed the food for us, not only she carried enough stuff to feed for 4 people, she ensured the freshness by storing it with the ice packs in a big carton. We left Seattle on Friday night and reached our Airbnb RV camper for the night. I had booked it since it was economical and also gave an opportunity to get a feel of an RV. I immediately fell in love with the amenities, space, ambience and enjoyed my short one night stay.

Day 1: Along the Columbia river, snow drive and Smith Rock State Park 

We started our day with driving east to Vista House where we had amazing misty views of the Columbia river and the banks. We visited Multnomah falls and could see it only from a distance. I was aware of the closures in the area due to the summer fire, so I didn’t expect much anyway but still wanted to drive through the area which was a long pending one. But the weather held up quite nice and we had a nice time exploring the areas. A train route between the mountains and river caught my eye which immediately made it to my bucket list. We reached the junction of Hood river and drove south from there on. The towering Mt Hood looked stunning and that was the closest view I had of that mountain. We gained elevation while passing beside it and had an exciting snow drive before reaching the barren lands of Central Oregon. It was a stark contrast from the snow covered trees but my awe still maintained. It was very soothing to see variety of terrains en-route Smith Rocks state park. It was around 1:30 PM by the time we reached the park and we had lunch on the bench overlooking the tall rock face. It was clear and sunny yet quite cold. Glancing the top of the rock face, I wished to climb to the top. Fellow hikers there told us it was not that a lengthy hike, so we aimed for the top. A river bordered most of the rocky hills and the scenery was mesmerizing throughout the hike. We could see climbing hooks at many places and few climbers too. Once at the top, the distant snow mountains were visible. We were still not quite at the true top, so we scrambled around to get there. I was extra careful since I was still recovering from my recent ankle sprain but I thoroughly enjoyed the scrambled. This place was a scramblers and climbers playground. We explored more of the place by inching towards the edges at various places. There was one peculiar formation called Monkey face which was a thin rock tower with climbing hooks. We spent quite sometime figuring how to get down and finally decided to descend from the opposite side. It was sunset time and the Sun had painted an array of colors on the sky. It was a soothing walk back along the river and it was dark by the time we reached the car. It was a fantastic day with misty/snowy morning, sunny afternoon and a colorful evening. I ended it with a dip in the hot outdoor Jacuzzi at the motel.

Activity Overview

Day 2: Painted hills, scenic drive, Mt Hood and Wind Mills 

Painted hills was also a long time bucket list entry and I had thought that the hills looked so vibrant only in the photos. It was time to check out and we started for the hills after the breakfast. We saw few colored hills en-route and stopped for a quick survey. We then drove to the main area and were enthralled to see the bright shades of red on the hills. I think it looked exactly or even more beautiful with the plain eyes. Sun was out while we did a short hike to the overlook. The plains, deltas and hills looked so different that I imagined a mini world to be out there. It was also interesting to read about the geography – Apparently the hills were formed due to the settling of the volcanic ashes. I had seen a boardwalk between the red hills online, so I scouted all through the park and finally found it at the 4th attraction. It was not so shiny and vibrant but still a decent walk. There we could see more colors from the palette. We left the place after fully taking in whatever we could and started our drive back to Seattle where we were gifted with one of the most beautiful drive.

The stretch from Painted hills to Biggs junction in North was marked as Oregon scenic byway and we just happened to take that route. The first part was through a hilly semi-barren terrain and then through the fields. My favorite view of the evening was one with the fields and Mt Hood in the horizon –  it just felt peaceful and idyllic. Shortly after we could see more mountains in the distance and there was a marker which pointed to the visible mountains. Then the wind mills started popping one by one and soon went beyond our counts. We saw the blinking red lights from the mills in dark and they were all over the place. Everything came together perfectly and the drive turned out be magical. We had driven for 8.5 hours for the day and I hardly felt it partly because I slept once it was dark. It was a fantastic weekend in Oregon finding the hidden gems.

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Snowshoeing to Lanham Lake

A meetup event with last minute change of plans due to crowded Stevens pass forced us to park at Nordic center and snowshoe to Lanham lake instead of the original plan of Skyline Lake. It was insanely crowded and I was surprised to see the number of cars waiting to blanket the parking lots. Even though we reached around 9:15 AM, we couldn’t find a spot at the ski resort and at the next lot too. I wasn’t expecting much due to the forecast, but the clouds were over the mountains and we had nice views. The frozen lake nestled between snow covered trees with tall mountains in the background and Sun peeping occasionally from the clouds. I wore my new Cortez down and hard shell jacket which kept me warm throughout and I cherished the bright blue color on me. The organizer had bought Green tea and shared with everyone. I played around walking on the frozen lake and pushed a bit by inching more towards the middle. It was an easy short snowshoe but still a rewarding outing.

Activity overview

Photos and Videos here

 

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Winter hike to Franklin falls

After being frequently bombarded by Franklin falls pics on the WH&C group, I decided to visit it this winter. The forecast was perfect for any kind of hiking for the last day of the year and I decided to visit the falls even if it was only by myself. Fortunately, two other hiker friends – Gaurav and Priya joined me and we started for the trailhead at 7:35 AM. The sun rays were just kissing the peaks around I-90 and the orangish hue and the snow looked stunning. The road to the trailhead was closed which added an extra 5 miles to make a total of 7.2 miles roundtrip. It was still very cold, we layered up and started our hike. The first 2.5 miles was on a relative flat wide road and then the last 1 mile had a bit of an elevation. It was an usual partial snow covered winter route along a creek. We didn’t wear micro-spikes until the very end where we had to descend to the falls. I tried for a distance without it but after barely avoiding a fall, I decided to put them on. The main waterfall was cascading in liquid form but water around it was frozen in pointy ice formations which adorned the waterfalls to give a majestic look. Compared to the cars at the trailhead, there were relatively less crowd at the falls, so we had all the time to enjoy the place and click pics. It was quite cold near the base of the waterfalls and my fingers started to pain slightly. We left the place after having our share and made a quick return to the trailhead in the Sun. As soon as we took the exit to enter I-90 we were presented with shiny mountains in the broad daylight. The unusual winter Sunny day gave us one of the best holiday present and I thoroughly enjoyed it. After seeing the Olympic mountains in the west, I craved for more and Gaurav then took us to a Microsoft cafeteria which had unparalleled views of entire Greater Seattle area, mountains from North Cascades, Mountain loop highway, I-90 peaks,  Mt Baker, Mt Rainier and Olympics. The views from the cafeteria matched those from the visitor centers in the National Parks. I was surprised at every glimpse I took as Gaurav walked us along the glass windows. All in all, we made the best we could on the last day of the year.

Activity Overview

Photos and Videos

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Winter hike to Blanca Lake

I almost didn’t get up since alarm was on vibrate mode. I woke up at 6, got ready in 20 mins and left my home. A meetup hike with Jim again and I have started to like his hikes and the group. It was a snow drive again and I felt the snow in between was scraping my car’s belly. We were split across 5 cars and mine had the lowest clearance. I realized even Crosstrek’s clearance was not very good enough for the winters here. We started the hike at 9 AM and the first 2 miles was a walk on the washed out road. Then the switchbacks started and it was steep for the next 2 miles. The long distance, snow-shoes weight, previous day’s snow hike and less sleep was all taking a toll on me and my back hurt a lot. The views on the ridge were soothing and the winter wonderland was at its prime with various shapes of snow. We then dropped around 500 feet to the lake. I wasn’t expecting such green lake and it looked vibrant with all the black and white around. We had fun and lunch facing the lake and started our return hike at 1 PM. It started raining slightly by 3 PM and by 4 it had picked up. It was 11.9 mile hike and I was just glad to have completed it. I neither wore snowshoes nor microspikes, my new Quechua boots was excellent in blocking the cold and water but it has a hard sole. So I might get a soft layer below my feet. We all were done with the hike by 5 and started our drive back to Seattle. I was glad with the rain since it washed my car quiet neatly.

Activity Overview

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Winter Hike on Beckler Peak

Sai and I decided to hike Beckler Peak on a Saturday. Since, I knew road conditions were tricky, we drove in my car instead of his sedan. Till about 1.7 miles from the trailhead, there was snow on the road and it was still an ok drive. Then we saw a car(BMW SUV) parked on the side after which there were no tire marks on the road. Also at this moment, I had a short slide on the road towards the mountain on the left. I wanted to try reaching the trailhead in the car itself, so continued driving. I was slow and the drive was not that bad. It was sunny and the temperatures warm enough to be comfortable in just my sweat shirt. We left our snowshoes in the car and started hiking around 10 AM. The weather was near perfect conditions for winter hike – clear sky, Sun’s rays melting the snow into shiny droplets and piercing through the trees and almost non existent wind. Enjoying the ambience, we slowly hiked up, sometimes with knee length snow. There were 3 ahead of us and fortunately for us, they had broken the trail for us. There was a view point with a decent 180 deg views and since the summit had near 360 deg views, I was excited to reach the top. We reached a forest where the trail passed between huge trees with snow on them. Due to the warmth, snow melted and kept falling on the ground. They made such a sound that I had initially thought they were gun shots. Trail was bit wider so there was less chance of falling directly on our head, but still I experienced some sprays and Sai took a shot on his shoulder. My microspikes kept getting stuck on the snow, so I just hiked without them and couple of times Sai found them lying on the trail. All three who were ahead of us turned back without making it to the summit and we decided to do the same due to the interest of time and difficulty of unbroken trail. We went back to a view point and spent ample time enjoying the snow, clouds and surrounding mountains while having our lunch. I had qualms about return journey on the car in the last 1.7 miles, but there were many people on the trail by afternoon with their cars. We had a quick descent and reached Skykomish for a quick snack where we had Hot cocoa and a sandwich. Weather was a pleasant surprise and we had a good day out.

Activity Overview

Photos and Videos here

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