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Following the frost at Coal Creek

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Photo by Lindsey Anderson
Photo by Lindsey Anderson

What with shorter days and snow falling in the pass, Benji and I decided to find a trail nearby. After searching articles and maps, we settled on Coal Creek Trail, a moderate to easy hike just outside Bellevue. It is situated over rich natural resources and winds along some of the most beautiful moss and greenery I've seen in the state.

We arrived at the trailhead after an easy 25-minute drive from Seattle. Though it was cold and muddy, we came prepared this time, as Benji and I wore hiking boots and layered sweatshirts. As we made our way down the trail, I was instantly aware of how stinky it was. The first half mile smelled like a decaying animal corpse mixed with human feces. Benji loved it.

The closer we got to the creek, the more rank the air grew. I started to worry that perhaps Coal Creek doubled as a dumping ground for serial killers, but my nerves dissipated as we climbed in elevation and away from the stinky creek. I can only imagine how it smells during the summer heat waves.

Despite this trailhead starting just feet from a busy road, once we got going, we couldn't hear any cars. The sounds of small sparrows and chickadees filled the air. The path was well maintained for the most part. We only passed a few fellow hikers while on our trek, though I'm sure the cold weather keeps plenty of explorers home.

The mud made the trail slick, and I found it difficult when the path narrowed along a steep incline. There were several wooden bridges for us to cross. Benji is usually a very confident hiker, but the bridges at Coal Creek did make him nervous. The last one we crossed creaked as we stepped onto the slick wood. I tried not to look down at the ten-foot drop below us and quickly pressed on.

Photo by Lindsey Anderson  

Throughout our adventure, I was delighted by the gorgeous varieties of moss. In some patches, it grew so thick on tree trunks that small mushrooms sprouted out of it. The moss seemed to thrive in the cold weather, becoming more varied and thicker the higher we got.

Small bits of frost dotted patches of mud at the beginning of our hike, reminding us that we are now close to the winter season. As we continued, the frost became more plentiful, decorating tall grasses and branches in the shade of trees with sparkling crystals.

If there was a grand finale to this trail, we did not find it. Unlike the last few hikes we'd gone on, which led to alpine lakes and secret beaches, Coal Creek Trail just ended. We followed the signs for the 2.7-mile loop, but instead of walking in a circle, we ended up at an entrance to a neighborhood. I assumed the trail must be an out-and-back, so we turned around and started following the signs backward. This led us to a YMCA.

Cold and tired, we sat inside the lobby of the Y and recalculated our next move. The ache of frost that had settled on my toes left me pondering if there was any way to avoid continuing on the trail. There was not. Armed with my iPhone's maps app (I will never cave and download Google Maps), Benji and I re-entered the trail. He led the way past the familiar trees he'd peed on, the ice-lined branches, and the verdant moss.

We took the walk back slowly, watching our steps through the mud. As we rounded a steep corner, Benji let the inertia of gravity quicken his pace and took a tumble off the trail. He was okay but will need more practice hiking in his winter boots.

Though I can't say I was thrilled to enter the stinky portion of the hike once again, I knew that it meant we were only half a mile from our car. We dashed past the river, not stopping to take pictures as we had the first time. When we finally reached the car, we were both relieved. Benji was thrilled to take off his boots, and I was ecstatic to turn the car's heat to full blast!

Photo by Lindsey Anderson  

All in all, Coal Creek was a fun hike with lots of natural greenery. I enjoyed looking for ice crystals along the path, even if it may have led us astray. The smell may keep me from visiting again soon, but Benji would give it four muddy paws up.