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.

1 comment:

  1. Wow,this hike seems like it'll shake the winter cobwebs out in a jiffy! So glad you're still working with trails and keep up the good work!