Sunday, April 26, 2009

Lime Kiln Trail, April 25, 2009

This was a Mountaineer hike to the Lime Kiln Trail in Snohomish County, near Granite Falls. I've hiked this trail in the past and will hike there again - it's that kind of trail. One visit isn't enough. It's a four-season trail.

Spring has finally arrived. We saw trilliums, flowering red currant, bleeding hearts, skunk cabbage, yellow violets and false lily-of-the-valley. On my last visit the trail was bordered with hoar frost - on this visit the trail was lined with salmonberry with bright pink blossoms.

We stopped to ponder artifacts along the way - from bygone railroad and logging days. The trail follows the line of an abandoned railroad grade and ends where a railroad trestle once spanned the Stillaguamish River. The trestle is long gone but the supporting structures on both sides of the river remain. The lime kiln is fascinating and looks more like a Mayan ruin than anything you'd find in the northwest.

The hike is about 6 miles round trip with about 450 feet of elevation gain (including ups and downs).

Getting to the trailhead: From Granite Falls turn right on South Granite Avenue, drive 3 blocks then turn left onto Pioneer Street (it becomes Menzel Lake Road). Turn left on Waite Mill Road and drive about 1/2 mile to a school bus turnaround, continue on left branch of the road where it splits (just past the school bus turnaround). Go another 0.2 miles to the well-signed trailhead and parking, no facilities as of this writing. A Northwest Forest Pass is not required.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Charles L. Pack Experimental Forest, April 22, 2009

This is one of my favorite hikes in spring. The Pack Forest is not far from Eatonville and in late April we are pleased to report that spring has finally arrived. We hiked several of the trails within Pack Forest, including the Reservoir trail, the Hugo Peak trail, Trail of the Giants and a few of several nature trails. You can pick up a map at the gatehouse (the entrance of Pack Forest) that is a must if you have not hiked these trails before. There are also interpretive guides at some of the trailheads (Trail of the Giants, Hugo Peak).

Wildflowers have returned - we saw trilliums, yellow violets, red flowering currant, Calypso orchids and coltsfoot. The forested trails are "greening up", flowers are blooming and alas, mosquitoes have also returned.

We ended up hiking about 6 miles with roughly 850 feet of elevation. If you hike the Hugo Peak trail (it begins from the gatehouse) it is about 5 miles with roughly 950 feet of gain. You can also start from trailhead parking, a little further up the entrance road. Parking is on the left side of the road, the Hugo Peak trail is well signed - it starts a little further up the road just past trailhead parking.

Getting to the trailhead: From Seattle go south on I-5, get off at Exit #133 (South 7) and follow signs to Mount Rainier (on State Route 7). You'll go through Eatonville and Elbe. Just before you get to Le Grande find Pack Forest (left), well signed and hard to miss.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Westberg Trail Revisited, April 19, 2009

I returned to the Westberg Trail for a Mountaineers hike. The hike was for the Mountaineers Conditioning Hiking Series (Seattle branch). The hikes begin in April - each month mileage and elevation gain are increased. By September hikers who stick with the course are hiking up to 18 miles round trip with up to 4,500 feet of elevation gain. Leading hikes for this series has helped me to stay in shape as well.

This time I mentored a new hike leader and was able to lead from the "rear". I enjoy leading from the rear because it gives me a chance to photograph the wildflowers and wildlife. The new leader did fine and will be leading more hikes for The Mountaineers (John Connelly).

We hiked beyond the memorials for increased mileage and gain. The hike ended up being 9 miles round trip with just under 2,500 feet elevation gain. It was also the first "hot" hike of the year. Still no sign of ticks. A few changes with the flowers - more grass widows, lots more sagebrush violets but bitterroot has yet to bloom. Balsamroot is just getting ready to bloom - another week or so for them if it stays warm.

Since I didn't get any great photos yesterday I am sharing a sketch made by one of our hikers, Catherine Jean Barrett. We thought her sketches were beautiful -- if you'd like to see more of Catherine's work you can reach her at

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Westberg Trail, just one reason this is a favorite hike

Westberg Trail, April 15, 2009

Westberg Trail, April 15, 2009 (Manastash Ridge, Ellensburg)

Sick and tired of snow friends and I headed east for one of my favorite April wildflower hikes, the Westberg Trail named for Ray Westberg (a popular local wrestling coach who died too young). In other write-ups I’ve seen his name sometimes spelled “Westburg” but on the memorial to the coach at the ridge-crest, the name is spelled “Westberg” so I’m sticking with that.

The trail is short and steep. Hikers have created side-trails to ease the pain of elevation gain but the main trail is easy enough to follow in open terrain. About ¼ mile from the ridge-crest you’ll come to another well-defined trail heading right at a large ponderosa pine. For hikers wanting to make a loop remember this junction and on your way back turn left at this junction. That trail descends a grassy, ponderosa pine-filled valley to a road that parallels an irrigation channel (turn right to get back to the trailhead). However, the irrigation channel was running high and we don’t know whether or not it’s a problem to cross it there.

We continued straight toward the ridge-crest; the main trail bears right, following the line of the ridge toward a high point marked with a cairn, a post, a summit register and views of the Stuart range and the Kittitas valley. A little beyond you’ll find the Westberg memorials and other memorials.

For a longer hike continue past the summit and memorials a short distance to a gravel road and explore. When/if you encounter “No Trespassing” signs, heed them.

We recommend waiting a couple more weeks for the best wildflower displays. In mid-April flowers are just beginning to bloom; the drab winter-blasted hills are just barely greening up and flowers are getting a late start. Balsamroot hasn’t even started to bloom. We did see grass widows (Sisyrinchium), a member of the iris family at lower elevations but not at peak. We also saw yellow bells, spring beauties and a few sagebrush buttercups. At higher elevations the ground is carpeted with gold star (small yellow flowers). We also saw a few lomatiums and wild onion.

There’s lots of sagebrush along the trail and a few ponderosa pines. Bring a field guide – my favorite for this region is “Sagebrush Country, A Wildflower Sanctuary” by Ronald J. Taylor (Mountain Press Publishing Company). Also be on the alert for ticks - we didn’t see any today but I picked up one last year and needed to go on antibiotics.

Getting to the trailhead: From Seattle head east on I-90 over Snoqualmie Pass and get off at Exit 101 (Thorp Highway) and turn right (south). In about two miles turn right again onto Cove Road, go straight at two stop signs. Just past the second stop find parking on the right, signed Ridge Trail Parking, no facilities, crowded on weekends.

Trail data: It’s about 4 miles round-trip from the trailhead to the memorials at the summit, elevation gain approximately 1,700 feet.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Easter Sunday in the rain, April 12, 2009

Lincoln Park hardly qualifies as a hike but when the weather was as bad as it was today, Easter Sunday, it was the perfect place to visit. It was raining when I got there and raining when I left. I was prepared for photography and armed with umbrella and raincoat.

Earlier this week I spotted a fawn lily in West Seattle near Greg Davis Park about to bloom. I remembered having seen them in Lincoln Park once upon a time and hoped to see some today. I didn't but the cherry trees are still in bloom, forsythia is a yellow blaze, the daffodils are still blooming as are bluebells and camelias. Fringecup is about ready to bloom. Nettles are knee-high but that won't bother you on the trail.

Lincoln Park is where I like to go to practice what I call "seeing", looking at old things in a new way and then try to make art of what I see. Sometimes I succeed, sometimes I don't. Where is the line between a pretty picture and art? I don't know, do you?

I'm not sure the camera and I see the same way but I found lots of subjects to photograph - rain-splashed camelias, rain drops in puddles and on the beach scraps of seaweed as bright as scarves you might find in a department store. Despite the rain, there was color everywhere. Lincoln Park is greening up and the birds are singing.

It was quiet in the park - it was Easter and it was raining. But it was just right for me.

Squak Mountain, April 10, 2009

Yet another pleasant conditioning hike in the Issaquah Alps. We started from Squak Mountain State Park and hiked to Central Peak via the Equestrian Loop, Phil's Creek Trail and the Summit Trail. From the Summit Trail we hiked the Bullitt Access Trail and from there took spurs to West Peak and the Valley Connector Trail. After "bagging" West Peak we continued down toward the trailhead via the Valley Connector trail until we got to an unsigned junction. At the unsigned junction you can turn left (that will take you out to the gravel access road - follow that down to the trailhead). We continued straight until we intersected the access road again near the trailhead. The loop roughly adds up to 7 miles with about 1,900 feet of elevation gain (including ups and downs).

Signs of spring at last - a few battered triulliums and the shrubs are greening up. For solitude try West Peak - if you like company stop by the Bullitt fireplace en route to the turn off for West Peak and the Valley Connector. You can't miss the chimney by the way. There's also a picnic table there. No fires allowed in the fireplace.

The weather - cold, cloudy, a little bit of drizzle.

Trail conditions: On the trails where horses are allowed the trails are muddy - but so are the trails where horses are not allowed. It's that time of year!

Monday, April 6, 2009

Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge, April 5, 2009


This was the second hike of the sunny weekend, this time we left snow behind and soaked up sun in the Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge (NWR). Though my boots were still damp from wet snow the day before, nothing could dampen the simple joy of sun, the non-stop piccolo of bird-song, the sights, sounds and scents of a winter world slowly awakening.

The parking lot was crowded. Lola and I figured it was not only the sun that lured so many visitors but also because parts of the 5-mile dike trail will soon close as the Nisqually NWR restores 762 acres of the estuary. The restoration will return the diked areas back to influences of the tides. The project will also restore over 30 acres of riparian surge plain forest (critical for juvenile salmon and songbirds); freshwater wetlands will also be enhanced. The wetlands will be managed intensively to control invasive plants – this will benefit wildlife and migratory birds. The project began in 2008 and work will occur over a 3-4 year period.

We walked the 5-1/2 mile loop for closer views of the estuary; perhaps stroll is a better word. We are not birders (we both have poor eyesight!) but we marveled the airy waltz of various flocks twisting and turning in the sky above, marveling at their synchronicity. We can however attest to plenty of Canada geese and mallards. The bird-song was constant and a delight; occasionally we’d recognize the poignant call of a red wing blackbird.

The remaining dikes are in places bordered by willows just leafing out in reddish or golden hues, Indian plum now at it’s best and in other places, ragged cattails lined the boardwalk. We stopped to sit on benches, allowing the sun to drench our winter-wan skin.

At various points along our walk we spotted turtles sunning themselves on logs in the channels; we spotted a river otter heading toward the sea but the otter was swimming too fast for a good photo. We also spotted a grumpy-looking raccoon perched in a tree, out of reach. He truly looked annoyed at the sight of so many people out and about!

As we headed back away from the estuary we stopped at several overlooks where skunk cabbage is blooming near the Nisqually River making the whole forest glow; we watched a robin hop on the bank of a tributary, almost hidden by skunk cabbage. Speaking of birds, this is a birder’s “hotspot”; many folks we met carried binoculars.

Visitors will find changes when they visit the Nisqually NWR but they are all to the good. For example, there will be a new boardwalk trail built upon the base of the old dike. The Visitor Center includes a bookstore – call for hours and schedule. Bicycles and pets are not allowed – jogging is prohibited. Cost: $3 per family – also accepted: Golden Eagle passes, Golden Age, Golden Access Passports or an Annual Refuge Pass.

Before heading back we visited the nearby Nisqually Reach Nature Center on 4949 D’Milluhr Road NE – it’s not easy to find (try Mapquest) if you haven’t been there before. There we found interesting displays and also a superb view of Mount Rainier. The center provides estuarine environmental education on the Nisqually River delta. The center overlooks Puget Sound at the mouth of McAllister Creek. They offer hands-on experience for school children, research opportunities for college students and more. For additional information see

Call the Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge at 360-753-9467 for additional information. For detailed information on the restoration project visit the website at .

Getting to the trailhead (Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge): From Seattle take I-5 south to Exit 114 and follow signs to the Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge (south of Tacoma, north of Olympia).

For additional information on the Nisqually Reach Nature Center visit their website at . They are open to the public on Wednesday and weekends from 12 to 4 pm.


Two hikes, April 4/April 5 2009

FROM SNOW TO ESTUARY (two hikes, April 4 and April 5)

High Point Trail, Tiger Mountain Trail to Fred’s Corner (West Tiger Mountain Natural Resources Conservation Area), April 4, 2009

Finally, it is beginning to feel like spring – this past weekend was the first sunny weekend we’ve had in a while. How better to spend it than hike both days.

This was the first hike of the weekend, a Mountaineer hike I co-led with a new leader, serving as her mentor. Due to the snowy weather we’d had to change the destination and since it was the first Mountaineers Conditioning Hikes Series, we chose Tiger Mountain as our last-minute destination.

We started out on the High Point Trail and followed that to the junction with the Tiger Mountain Trail (the TMT). The trail soon became a mess of sloppy snow and mud but the promise of warm weather lured us a little further to where the TMT crosses High Point Creek. Here, we found the bridge closed and though it looked “safe” enough to cross we wanted to set a good example and not break the rules. We did, however, attempt to make a bridge (to no avail).

Though this was the first CHS hike of the season but the group was strong and we weren’t ready to turn around so we went the other direction on the TMT, climbing to Fred’s corner. We dubbed this hike hike “The Bridges of Tiger Mountain” with apologies to the author of “The Bridges of Madison County”. Counting the small bridges over tributaries, there are a lot of bridges on Tiger Mountain.

By the time we got to Fred’s Corner (where it meets an old railroad grade) we were in about a foot of snow and that was melting fast. Just below Fred’s Corner was a sunny, spot where we’d stop for lunch after checking out the next “big” bridge (about 0.3 miles from Fred’s Corner on the TMT). The bridge was in fine shape; just beyond a landslide occurred earlier in the year.

During lunch one the hikers got out his GPS and suggested we make a loop (a little too complicated to describe here but if you’ve got the map you’ll discover other ways to get back to High Point). Thanks to the GPS we knew where to go when we reached a couple of unsigned junctions and soon were back on the High Point trail and the trailhead.

We estimated we hiked roughly 5.5 miles with approximately 1,600 feet of elevation gain (including numerous ups and downs).

Sturdy boots with gaiters are suggested for these trails. While we were in snow at higher elevations it is melting fast with these warming temperatures and there will be mud where a couple days ago there was snow. In a word; messy!

Signs of spring were still far and few between – Indian plum in bloom, 2-3 battered skunk cabbages, leaves of fringe-cup, bleeding hearts and wild ginger (no flowers yet), elderberry starting to leaf out as is salmonberry. .

A cautionary note: don’t attempt these loops without the map and if you’ve got a GPS, put that in your pack too. You may need it.

Getting to the trailhead: From Seattle take I-90 eastbound and get off at High Point Exit No. 20 just outside of Issaquah. Exit (right) and park along the frontage road near the gated road, elevation 560 feet – don’t block the road, driveways or leave valuables in your car – there have been break-ins at trailheads along I-90.

Map, trail descriptions and signs are not always in accord. The map is Green Trails Tiger Mountain Map 204S, Issaquah Alps Series.

Friday, April 3, 2009

This is spring?

I don't know about the rest of you but I am wearying of the incessant snow, ice, fog and rain. While I am not an expert on climate I can predict that summer hiking will get off to a late start this year. Two inches of snow fell in North Bend this morning and while the sun is expected to shine today and tomorrow there could be hazardous driving conditions tomorrow (icy roads). I'm co-leading a Mountaineer hike tomorrow - and guess where we're going. Tiger Mountain. Again. Be safe out there. Choose your destination wisely. There are likely to be avalanches in the high country as snow melts and refreezes resulting in an unstable layer of snow at higher elevations -and ice on lower-elevation trails, at least in the morning. A pox on this weather. Grumble, grumble.