Hiking with dogs is fun and there are plenty of trails on the Olympic Peninsula that are canine friendly. As a quick guide, anything in the National Forest allows dogs on the trail.
However, I don't have a dog. That makes hiking with one a tad bit more difficult.
A recent weekend of dog-sitting for my in-laws gave me a chance to take their black Formosan mountain dog Shasta for a short hike. She loves walks and regularly goes on two-mile neighborhood jaunts but I wasn't sure how Shasta would handle a forest trail, so I picked a short and relatively easy one that I hadn't hiked in several years: Mount Zion.
Though the trailhead is easy to find, not all the forest service roads are marked and I ended up taking a slight detour for several miles before returning to the correct road. It was a nice day for a drive anyway.
The thing I like best about hiking with dogs is they seem to share my enthusiasm for the trail, stopping to check things along the way and just plain enjoying the day.
About 100 feet beyond the sign-in kiosk, Shasta reminded me of the main reason I don't like hiking with dogs. I suppose the best way to handle the situation is to carry plastic baggies. However, dogs always seem to unload at the beginning of a hike. Never fails.
That means for the next four miles you're carrying a smelly bag. Some hikers hide the bag to recover on the way out but I'd probably forget.
Some hikers leave a pile on the trail. I can't stand that. Mountaineers use a PVC tube filled with kitty litter and screwed-on caps to cart out human waste in an odorless way; that technique could be used for a dog's waste, I suppose. I chose to bury it off the trail and used a stick and bark to move the mess.
As I was busy with this task, Shasta decided to visit with a man and his granddaughter headed up the hill behind us. Apparently, they were more fun to hike with as she decided to head off after them while I shoveled. Yup. I love hiking with dogs. Nothing better.
The other hikers were waiting for me with Shasta just around the bend.
I gathered up her leash and headed uphill in front of the other hikers as we were on a faster pace. The rules say a leash is required. A lot of hikers disobey this rule.
Personally, I don't mind if somebody's dog is off leash if it's under voice control but some people fear dogs and lots of owners overestimate their pooch's friendliness and ability not to dart off after wildlife.
I've only walked with Shasta a few times and I didn't want to return sans dog. That'd be a great job as a dog-sitter. "Sorry, I lost your dog in the mountains. Maybe somebody'll find it." Yeah.
The trail climbs rather steeply up the mountainside, up 15- to 20-percent grades through second-growth Douglas-fir. Remains of a long-ago fire can be seen on scorched trunks here and there.
The trail is relatively wide and easy to follow as it makes its way through the trees and an understory of rhododendron, salal, Oregon grape and leafy ferns.
In early summer the pink blossoms of the rhodies would rival those of the nearby Mount Townsend or Tubal Cain trails.
This time of year, the trail is several shades of green with splashes of yellow and brown. The smell of fresh decay fills the nose. I can only imagine the scents Shasta picked up as she quickly nosed her way from tree to tree. We startled a pair of grouse that loudly drummed their way aloft. Shasta, surprisingly, didn't even bat an eye. She was more interested in the trees than chasing off after birds, I guess. Maybe she didn't notice.
The sun poked its way through a blanket of clouds that hung on the surrounding peaks from time to time giving me hope that the view at the summit would be clear, or at least present something of a view. Nope.
We reached the rocky clearing at the top of the mountain. All around a gray wall of mist clung to the treetops. The trees sank into the gray as tendrils of fog crept across the rocks. It was quite chilly.
Somewhere beyond the fog was a stunning vista spanning from the Hood Canal bridge to Sequim Bay. Mount Baker lies to the northeast across the blue water of Puget Sound. But it was a vision of my memory on this day.
Shasta and I checked out the survey marker on a nearby rock before heading along the trail heading to the left. I hoped, perhaps, the mountain would be clear to the south to present a view of the Needles and other peaks of the Olympics visible from Zion's southern flank. This required a bit of fancy footwork and Shasta hesitated near the end at a razor's edge of rock necessary to cross to get to the viewpoint. The thick fog made making the crossing pointless so I decided to head back down.
We met other hikers a short distance down the trail as they rested at a switchback and Shasta visited for a while before we made our way back to the car.
How long: 1.8 miles from trailhead to summit.
How hard: Fairly easy.
How to get there: Take Palo Alto Road south from U.S. Highway 101 into the Olympic National Forest. At the sign pointing to Mount Zion Trailhead, turn left on Forest Service Road 2810. Follow the road six miles to trailhead. Parking is in a fee area, National Forest pass required. There is a vault toilet at the parking area.
Leif Nesheim is hiking columnist and a former reporter for the Sequim Gazette. He is a reporter at the Daily World in Aberdeen. He can be reached at lnesheim