Friday, March 27, 2009

Untanum Creek Falls

Umtanum Creek Falls (3-26-09)

You can almost reach out and touch Time with your fingertips on the east side of the mountains. You find yourself driving slower, walking slower, talking slower, forgetting to consult your watch; it’s almost impossible to hurry once you are over Snoqualmie Pass and headed toward the desert.

We took the scenic route to Ellensburg via Old US 10 rather than I-90. It was a good choice. The drive is scenic with old flumes, views of the Yakima River; later in season the rolling hills will be saturated with colorful flowers. We didn’t see flowers but we did see gophers and a golden eagle. The only other place I have seen a golden eagle is at the Woodland Park Zoo. I was unable to get a photo of this majestic eagle but the memory will last.

Winter is reluctant to leave but we did find signs of spring in Ellensburg and on the trail to Umtanum Creek Falls. The ridges looked like frosted loaves of breads; the anticipated greening of the hills hasn’t started. It is still mostly a brown and beige world.

The trail to Umtanum Creek Falls is not yet user-friendly. Ice and mud make for dicey going – I suggest gaiters, perhaps even Yak Trax if you are there early in the day. On the trail we saw evidence of beavers where they have gnawed trees and constructed several dams.

We negotiated a tricky creek crossing – apparently there’s nothing to it later in the year. In less than a couple of miles we reached the overlook of Umtanum Creek Falls. The basalt bowl into which the waterfall plunges was icy – we doubt the bowl ever sees the sun; frozen cascades were strung across the dark cliffs on the far side. Photography was impossible.

We like to hike loops so after leaving the waterfall we retraced our steps, looking for an easy crossing of the creek to follow a ridgeline back to the trailhead. Easy stream crossings are few and far between. A simple rock hop later in the season is now a challenge with over-the-ankle water, small downed trees and debris. We did manage to work our way across one of these and headed uphill to a castle-like rock outcropping atop the ridge, an easy cross-country scramble. This aerie was well worth the creek crossing.

From here gazed again at the waterfall and the hillsides above. The outcropping is formed of columnar basalt with a spine of giant footstools; it is easy to step from one rock to another to a high point. From the outcropping a trail descends to the base of the waterfall – you can also circumnavigate the rock though some of the rocks are loose. We considered that but even without consulting the watch, we knew it was getting late in the day.

The ridge broadens out and is slashed with a few gullies; views galore of folded hills daubed with snow and Ponderosa pines. We also found our first east-side wildflowers; sagebrush buttercups and a few lomatiums. A barbed wire fence forced us to lower ground but it was still easy going back to the car. And no more stream crossings.

On our way back to Ellensburg we stopped to photograph an abandoned ranch with outbuildings in various stages of collapse and decay. As always, we wondered who lived there. What happened to them? Where did they go?

No words can describe how hard it was to leave and head back home to clouds, rain, lingering snow and the tyranny of the clock.

You can hike 3 to 10 miles on the trail; expect more creek crossings and brush. Elevation gain will vary.

Getting to the trailhead: Head east on I-90 to exit 109 in Ellensburg. At the end of the exit ramp turn right, under the freeway and in a little over ½ mile turn left at Umtanum road (traffic light). Follow the road; it becomes gravel in about 5 miles and at 10 miles from the freeway find the signed parking area on the left side of the road. The road is OK for passenger cars.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Middle Fork Road Closure from 3-23 to ?

Just a heads up. The Middle Fork Snoqualmie Road in North Bend will be closed beginning March 23 for road repair by King County. That includes weekends. The road will be closed to hikers, mountain bikers, vehicles. The date to re-open is not known. You can still get to the Mailbox Peak trailhead and the Granite Creek road but not beyond. Stay tuned.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

The hike to Boulder Loop and Little Si, March 18

Boulder Garden Trail and Little Si (3-18-09)

The Boulder Garden trail is always a pleasant surprise the first time you hike it. It’s even pleasant the second, third or fourth time – you get the idea. Not only is it an enchanting hike it is a trail that can be hiked year round. But, enchanting? Well, yes. Once you are on the trail you’ll see the first of several mossy outcroppings. Paths of varying disposition lead to them where there are overlooks of North Bend, Rattlesnake Ledge and beyond. The moss is thick and loosely attached to the rock. Step carefully – you might step on an elf. Always step on rock when there is a choice – moss is fragile.

The hike begins on the Little Si trail with an immediate uphill. That first up is probably the steepest uphill on the entire loop. On a cold day the up is welcome. In roughly a ½-mile look for the Boulder Garden trail on the right, signpost missing, elevation about 800 feet. Long, lazy switchbacks climb gently to a high point. The trail heading straight uphill is the Old Si Trail. Your trail begins to descend (it is a continuation of the Old Si trail). As the Old Si trail starts down you’ll pass through a cool, shady forested area where the trail is squeezed between mossy boulders, some the size of ships.

The Old Si trail comes out on the Little Si trail. Here you can either turn left on the Little Si trail and go back to the trailhead or extend your hike by turning right, continuing on the Little Si trail as we did.

Not far past the junction you’ll pass below another mossy, rock garden at the base of Little Si. This is a dark, cool place to take a break on a hot day. The trail rounds the side of Little Si in a squiggle of switchbacks, some long, others short and steep. Don’t be fooled as I am every time by a glimpse of sky through the trees. Just when you think you are about to step out onto the summit the trail makes another switchback or two before you are finally there.

Here you will usually encounter cheerful groups of dogs and hikers. Today there was one other group of hikers besides us and two dogs who seemed to have arrived on their own, undoubtedly beloved, local pets who like Little Si just as much as hikers.

Today the sky was clear with in-you-face views of Mount Si with its snow-capped pinnacles and snow-filled gullies.

As of this writing both trails are snow-free and isn’t it nice that both trails begin from the same trailhead?

The stats: The Little Si trail is 5 miles round trip with about 1,200 feet of gain. The map is Green Trails No. 206S Mount Si NRCA, Snoqualmie Pass, Gateway Peaks, Side A. The Boulder Garden Loop is about 5 miles round trip with about 900 feet of gain, about 5 miles round trip. The map is Green Trails No. 206S Mount Si.

Getting to the trailhead: From Seattle drive I-90 east to Exit No. 32 (436th Avenue), turn left over I-90 and proceed to North Bend Way, turn left, then in about ¼ of a mile turn right on Mount Si Road, continue to the Little Si trailhead and facilities, 500 feet. No pass required.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Section Line Trail

Section Line Trail, Tiger Mountain - March 12, 2009

This wasn’t the first time I’ve hiked the Section Line Trail but it’s the first time in treacherous conditions. Recent snow made this getting-in-shape dream hike a hazardous undertaking. True, there wasn’t a lot of snow but it was cold enough that most of the snow had turned to ice.

Intermittent snow began at the Tradition Plateau trailhead. From there we hiked the Bus Trail to the Bonneville Powerline trail and its junction with the Section Line Trail. The Section Line is one of the steepest trails on Tiger Mountain; signs along the way insist the trail is not maintained yet enough hikers use it the trail is not difficult to follow. It makes a great conditioning hike though not for hikers with knee problems.

We followed a set of fresh tracks in the snow. As the grade steepened it became a challenge to stay vertical on the ice, my boots are worn. I pulled on Yak Trax , glad I’d carried them. Charlie needed no devices other than a trekking pole (I prefer rocks to snow). In mixed terrain Charlie heads for the snow, I head for the rocks.

The Yak Trax gripped the snow and I began to pick up speed though even Charlie suggested we hike the West Tiger 3 trail on our way back to avoid the steep descent on ice.

While there wasn’t a lot to photograph we did notice how pretty the snow was where it was untrammeled; especially with blue shadows cast by trees. We took a short break at the junction with the West Tiger Railroad Grade before tackling the last steep pitch to the summit of West Tiger 3 (elevation 2,522 feet).

It was good to linger on the summit – the sun was warm and it wasn’t crowded. There was one other couple and a sad-faced snowman whose eyes seemed to follow us with every bite of food we took.

The West Tiger 3 trail was just as slippery as the Section Line trail, despite its heavier traffic. We met a few hikers coming and going, including a runner whose feet never seemed to touch ground.

As we began to hit stretches of dirt and the trail leveled off I removed my Yak Trax. Big mistake. As we rounded a switchback there were still several stretches of hard ice; and I had to perform a Irish Jig a couple of times to keep from falling. As for Charlie, he never came close to a tumble.

The hike is about 7 miles round-trip with about 2,000 feet of gain. The map is Green Trails Tiger Mtn WA - No. 204S.

Getting to the trailhead: From Seattle take I-90 eastbound and get off at High Point Exit No. 20 just outside of Issaquah. Turn right on the frontage road, proceed 0.6 mile to the High Point trailhead (old-timers still call it the Tradition Plateau trailhead), kiosks and restrooms, elevation 520 feet. Allow about 30 minutes drive time from Seattle.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Section Line Trail, Tiger Mountain

In progress

Karen's Hikes

This blog will focus on my hikes, past and present with updates from hikes previously published in the Seattle Post Intelligencer. This will be an on-going work as I return to trails previously described as well as new trails.