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Bellingham, Washington
(Population 69,800)
Base Camp to the Essential Northwest By Melissa Wagenberg


Photo: kayaks on the bank of a river
BELLINGHAM BASICS: A San Juans paddle break

A sleeper of a city set between the Cascades and the Pacific Ocean, Bellingham is the jumping-off point for two domestic must-dos: Mount Baker, one of the most accessible glacial climbs in the lower 48, and the San Juan Islands, an archipelago of 170 forested isles that offer some of the country's best sea kayaking.

Aspiring climbers use 10,788-foot (3,288-meter) Mount Baker as training ground for ascents of Alaska's Mount McKinley and Argentina's Aconcagua, but the 7,000-foot (2,134-meter) climb is spectacular in its own right. On a three-day expedition with the American Alpine Institute ($495; +1 360 671 1505; www.mtnguide.com), you'll hike through a thick forest of hemlock and Douglas fir to emerge into an alpine zone where by early fall melted snow has revealed the massif's crevasses and glacial ice. On a clear day, you can see 14,410-foot (4,392-meter) Mount Rainier to the south and, to the west, Bellingham Bay—which you'll need to cross by ferry ($12 round-trip from Anacortes; www.wsdot.wa.gov/ferries) to explore the San Juans. A handful of outfitters runs kayak tours out of Friday Harbor on San Juan Island; Outdoor Odysseys's three-day trip focuses on spotting orcas and eagles, though you're also almost guaranteed to see porpoises, harbor seals, and river otters ($375; 800 647 4621 [U.S. and Canada only]; www.outdoorodysseys.com).

Between mountain climbing and paddling, be sure to check out Bellingham's bouldering scene—the community is as welcoming as it is hard-core. After work, rock rats scurry to the sandstone cliffs at Larrabee State Park, six miles (9.7 kilometers) south of town.

Visitor Vitals: Bellingham is an hour and a half north of Seattle and an hour south of Vancouver, B.C. The Fairhaven Village Inn ($139 and up; 877 733 1100 [U.S. and Canada only]; www.fairhavenvillageinn.com), in the historic district, is near many outdoor shops. Or, pamper your hard-working muscles with a stay at the New Agey but elegant Chrysalis Inn and Spa ($150 and up; 888 808 0005 [U.S. and Canada only]; www.thechrysalisinn.com). If and when the notorious Washington weather turns foul, hunker down with an African peanut soup at the homey Colophon Café (+1 360 647 0092).

Relocation Plan
Why Stay? It's Seattle, only better. A small-town vibe, with outdoor gems minutes away, and without the Microsoftees and Nirvannabes.
$300,000 Buys: A two-bedroom, two-bath, 1,192-square-foot (363-square-meter), 20-year-old lakeside home on two-thirds of an acre with mountain views.
Job Market: Shaky. "There are a lot of people with master's degrees serving tables," says Andy Bourne, the coordinator of foreign programs for the American Alpine Institute.
Gathering Spots: The über-fit and the determinedly vegan fuel up with tofu alfredo pasta at D'Anna's deli (+1 360 752 3390) and end the day at the Factory (+1 360 714 8154), a nexus for hip-hop DJs and live rock. Dress code: A hoodie and a beat-up Nalgene bottle.
Required Reading: AARP magazine. Bellingham is one of the top retirement havens in the country (hence the tight real estate market).

Nine other tempting towns await inside the September issue of Adventure. Pick it up to discover your own adventure Shangri La.

Photograph by Patrick Bennett


Additional Excerpts
From the print edition, September 2004

Where to Live and Play Now: Spend a week in these enticing base-camp burgs and you may never go home.
- Bellingham, Washington: The Essential Northwest
Pelton's World: Surviving a foreign fleecing
The River Wilder: Maine's classic American river trip
K2 at 50: The controversy surrounding the world's most vicious mountain


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September 2004



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