Lost in the Whistle Wood
It was a grey day. A wet road led to the trailhead. I parked between cedars and fir, the only car in sight. The woods greeted me like an old friend. We embraced. When was the last time I’d visited Whistle Lake? Last summer? Yes, swimming with a friend by a rocky outcrop on the west side. And the time before that it was covered in snow!
Many trails I seek in their best season, with wildflowers, or golden leaves. But the Anacortes Community Forest Lands are wonder filled year-round, each season offering its special gifts. All the lakes, wetlands, forest, and hills are linked together by miles of trail options and days, weeks, months of happy exploration. I came to walk to the lake, as I had many times before. After that I had no agenda.
The old forest road to the lake is wide with a gentle grade, an easy walk. It’s framed by huge cedars at the start then by a rock face on one side and a tree lined shore on the other. I reminisced as I walked, remembering when I’d lived nearby and walked my dog here. How I’d seen people of every age in summer swimsuits, toting an air mattress or rubber raft up this trail. In winter cross country ski tracks traced the route through the snow. On this January day, the lake was calm. I heard voices along the west side, so I turned east.
All the trails are marked and numbered, so if I’d brought a map, I’d be able to track my route with some accuracy. If I’d brought a map. But I’d walked these trails so many times, I felt confident without one. The trail followed the lakeshore around the east side until it reached a rocky shore. I took a seat, had a snack and a sip from my thermos. A row of cormorants were evenly spaced on a log suspended over the water, looking like clothes pins on a line. I gazed across the lake to the curving summit of Mount Erie rising in the distance. The south end of the lake has a rock face where teenagers jump in, screaming, but not today. Madronas leaned out over the rocks, stretching skyward at the water’s edge. One old tree that had shed its papery, red bark, revealed a puckered-up surface below. A long hollow gouge left only the outer shell still thriving.
I turned away from the water, the usual route I used to take with my dog, on to trail 29, which is more narrow with some twists and turns, ups and downs. I could have turned left on the first trail, or the next, but wanted to lengthen my walk so I kept going, a little beyond where I’d been before. I have a good sense of direction, a natural compass, but on a grey day, with no visual clues like mountain peaks or town spires, I wasn’t sure. This trail wasn’t familiar. Still, I kept walking. Whenever I thought the trail should wiggle to the left, it would inevitably wiggle to the right.
I came to an overlook and spied the Sharpes Corner round-about, Skagit Valley, and the North Cascades. I hoped this trail wasn’t leading me down to Highway 20. Eventually, the wiggles started turning toward the west. Even with the ups and downs, switchbacks and rock faces, I felt I was finally moving in the right direction. Near the end of my hike, I met two women and asked how far I was from the main trail. They insisted on guiding me until I could see it and knew I was just a short stroll from the parking area.
I had to laugh. I love getting lost. It makes me more aware of my surroundings, working my mind as much as my muscles. It was a longer walk than expected, but a better one. Aren’t we fortunate to have so many trails that we can get lost now and then? I rewarded myself with tea and cookies at the corner store.
You may want to bring a map.
Directions: From the round-about on Commercial Avenue in Anacortes, go south to the top of the hill. Turn left at the T onto Fidalgo Ave. and left again on Hillcrest. Turn right on Whistle Lake Road and follow the signs. The road will turn left and then right onto a dirt road before it ends at the parking area. Please don't leave valuables in the car.
By Bus and Bike: The nearest bus stop is on R Avenue and 33rd, 3 miles away. For a cyclist the hill from Commercial Ave. to Fidalgo Ave. could be daunting. There are no bike lanes, but the speeds are low. The road narrows as you approach the lake.
Mobility: The main trail to the lake is wide and smooth with a gentle uphill grade. Other trails around Whistle Lake vary widely from rough and narrow to smooth with room for two people to walk side by side.
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