Backyard 7 Summits Project: Kitsap County’s Highest Peak

By Cleo Clark-Athans, Grade 4


Climbing Gold Mountain © Liesl Clark

We did it!

We reached the highest point in our county today. It’s called Gold Mountain and is only 1,687 feet high. It took about an hour and 10 minutes to get to the top. Two miles to the summit, but it was straight up through a thick forest, until we hit a logging road with extraordinary views.


We could see across many lakes and Hood Canal to the Olympic Mountains out on the Peninsula. My brother was happy to get to the top, with sweeping views and high winds.


Million Dollar View, 50 Miles Wide © Liesl Clark

Although our county doesn’t have extremely high peaks, I’m planning to climb all 7 of the highest mountains as part of my Backyard Seven Summits Project, an attempt to get kids outdoors to explore the high points in their own counties.


Gold Mountain Lets You See From Sea to Summit © Liesl Clark

We’ve done 2 out of 7 summits and they’re all beautiful hikes, in the Blue Hills of Kitsap County. Most people don’t even know about these peaks. They’re hilltops for all of us to get on top of for great expansive views of a luscious green landscape from the sea to the glaciers on the highest points of the Olympic Peninsula.


Sibling Time Together © Liesl Clark

The journey down is like a dream, easy, and it goes by fast, with so much to see on the horizon miles and miles away. But if you watch your feet there are semi-precious stones to be found on these trails, like agates. We learned this from a man we met on the trail. He also said he saw fresh puma tracks. Hiking gets people outside but it also gets people to talk to each other.


PNW Whimsey © Liesl Clark

There’s plenty to marvel at when you just get outside. Our dog, Sailor, knows this.

Have you climbed your own seven summits in your neighborhood? If so, please write in the comments below so we can hear about your adventures.


The Backyard Seven Summits Project © Liesl Clark

How to Build a Backyard Quinzhee

A what? A quinzhee.

Life is Good in a Quinzhee, Photo © Liesl Clark

Life is Good in a Quinzhee, Photo © Liesl Clark

Quinzhee is an Athabaskan word for snow shelter and when there’s enough snow about, our resident mountaineer can’t help but make one with the kids. Mountaineers learn how to build them as an emergency refuge from the ravages of winter storms in the mountains. It’s more fun when you have one just 5 feet from your back door.

How do you build a quinzhee? It’s easy. And you don’t need a lot of snow on the ground to pull it off. We built this one with only about 8 inches of snow on the ground.

First make a huge pile of the white stuff, packing it with shovels and skis if you have them, without walking on the pile. Get it as tall as you can and make it cone-shaped, adding a good volume of snow to the back end. Really pack it down. Let it sit as long as you can, to settle the snow and let the snow crystals sinter. Sinter? Yes, sinter. Sintering is bonding of the snow crystals and this happens when snow crystals come in contact with each other. Packing it really helps.

We let ours sit over night. But you might not be so lucky. In the event you are stuck out in a storm in your backyard because you forgot your house key, you can let it sit for an hour.

It Might Look Like a Pile of Snow. But In No Time It'll Be Home.

It Might Look Like a Pile of Snow. But In No Time It’ll Be Home.

Next, you’ll want to cut a small entrance close to the ground. You’re essentially cutting a flat slab-like face on the surface of the quinzhee. Then, you can start digging into it.

Digging Out the Tunnel, Photo © Liesl Clark

Digging Out the Tunnel, Photo © Liesl Clark

Dig a small tunnel to start, only large enough to allow your body to slither in. Dig in about a body-length. Then you can start to enlarge the room.

Excavating Snow From the Quinzhee, Photo © Liesl Clark

Excavating Snow From the Quinzhee, Photo © Liesl Clark

Dig an oval-shaped room, complete with sleeping platforms on either side of the tunnel and inside the void. You want to elevate the sleeping platforms off the ground if you have enough space because the cold sinks to the bottom and the small entrance-way will keep the heat from escaping out the entrance because your entrance is low to the ground. But if you just want it to be a fun playspace, forget about the sleeping platforms. Who’s going to camp in this thing unless they absolutely have to?

Quinzhees are actually warm at night.

Quinzhees are actually warm at night.

When the snow falls, isn’t it fascinating how we come to use it for our pleasure and benefit? Some of us like to slide on it, others strap skis on to travel over it, my husband and I like to think about how the snow can be turned into a resource for our family. This quinzhee has been a true hit.

Inside the Quinzhee, Photo © Liesl Clark

Inside the Cozy Quinzhee, Photo © Liesl Clark

Next time the snow falls, don’t just shovel the snow off your sidewalk or driveway randomly. Throw it into a big pile and you’ll have a fodder for a quinzhee in no time for the whole neighborhood to enjoy.