When prepping for a climb of Mount St. Helens or potentially the Wonderland a Trail, the best preparations is simply getting out and hike no matter what the weather brings. It’s a great way to understand how to adjust to adverse weather conditions and test out and understand your gear. Much better to do a gear check closer to home than 10 or 20 miles in the middle of nowhere.
Just outside of Langley are a set of county trail systems that all connect to each other. If you are looking for a short hike, Saratoga Woods has some easy trails leading to an abandoned air strip, but if you want to stretch your legs study the map and pay attention to the connector trails to challenge yourself.
We set out on a rainy Sunday to get in another good hike and to explore the DNR and Metcalf Trust trails with a goal to get in more than 7 miles, but trail conditions and weather made that tough.
According to the map, it looked like there were more direct entrances to the Metcalf and DNR trails. After driving up and down Saratoga Road we discovered signage indicating that three trail heads resided on private land, so we started at the Saratoga Wood entrance and followed the map to find the connector trail.
Before entering the Saratoga trails you’ll notice three routes to choose from. To take the connector trail you’ll first want to choose the Indian Pipe Trail and take this straight down until you find the connector trail which is the first juncture after the MLT trailhead and is marked by a wooden sign high up on a tree called Coral Root Link. While the initial trail provides an easy flat start, once you head up the connector to the DNR trails there are a series of inclines and declines that makes for a good training hike.
The connector leads you to Blazing Saddles where you can choose left to go to Roller Coaster or right to head down Whispering Pines. We chose to head toward Roller Coaster which I’m assuming go its name from the constant incline/decline. The rain made it extra challenging, slushy and slick.
I had a nasty fall a mile or so beforehand after tripping over a thick root system and ramming my forearm into a fallen tree (be careful out there kids!), so I was being extra cautious here. If I stayed on the edges there were root systems that I couldn’t see that would cause another fall, and if I stuck to the middle, I was sure to fall to a messy muddy slide to the bottom. So I gracefully, waddled my way toward the bottom of the decline.
Note to self: bring hiking poles next time.
From Roller Coaster, you can connect to Pteromys which leads into the Metcalf Trust Trails. While the trails in the whole system are well-marked, be sure to look for the newer trail signs. My assumption is some of the trails were either renamed or nicknamed. When we came upon Pteromys, we didn’t see the trail marking. We did see the large wooden sign tacked on a tree high above us labeled “Flying Squirrel” which was a little confusing since that’s nowhere on the map. We found the trail marking behind us which made us realize Flying Squirrel and Pteromys were one in the same.
Remember how I said hikes like these were a good way to check out gear? It also is a good way to train yourself on when to use your gear. I had my rain pants in the backpack in case weather got rough. For the most part it was sprinkling here and there. The rain began to pick up about three miles in and I didn’t think I was getting wet, but as we approached a small clearing I determined I needed those rain pants. It wasn’t till after the hike, I realized I was soaking wet. Had I been out on a backpacking trip, I’m not sure if I would’ve been able to get my things dry for the follow day. Lesson learned.
We completed 7.2 miles that day in 3.5 hours not much more than what we did the previous day at Trillium. Dodging puddles, root systems and making our way up and down the path, stopping to add layers/rain pants added more time. It was a good experience to help us understand how much mileage we could cover as when we set off on an overnight backpacking trip this timing on less flat terrain will be a more likely scenario.
If you are visiting Whidbey, I highly recommend this system of trails. I think this is one of my favorites in the south end of the island. While there aren’t sweeping views, you get an opportunity to twist and wind through a large tail system in mostly dense woods. If you love wandering around towering trees on well marked and clean trails, you’ll enjoy it too.
Just pay attention while navigating those root systems!