Sunday, June 28, 2009

Iron Goat Trail, June 26, 2009

Iron Goat Trail hike (in progress)

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Esmerelda Basin

Esmerelda Basin - June 24, 2009

I never get tired of this popular hike so was surprised that my friends, Bob, Arlene and Barbara had never been there. I was more than happy to repeat this time with them. It’s a popular hike and with good reason; dramatic views and wildflowers.

In late June Esmerelda Basin is at its best; the snow almost gone and flowers aplenty. We couldn’t have picked a better time to hike.

This trailhead is shared with the Ingalls Lake trail so get an early start on a weekend. Better yet is to visit mid-week.

The trail climbs for about ¼ of a mile as it parallels the North Fork of the Teanaway River. We crossed several streams; not a problem in late June. In about a ½ mile we came to a junction: the Ingalls Lake Trail forks uphill (right), the Esmerelda Basin trail continues straight.

The trail was bordered by shooting stars, a purple flower found near streams and in meadows where snow has just melted. We passed boggy meadows full of them – delightful to see, difficult to photograph.

From the junction the trail climbs in long switchbacks as it pulls away from the forest. Forest alternates with small meadows and tumbling streams; as we climbed we saw more flowers, including yellow violets. We also saw glacier lilies, Indian paintbrush, Western pasque flower, phlox, lomatiums, spring beauties, yellow wallflower, lupine, lomatiums and more.

At higher elevations we spotted clumps of Douglasia, a delicate appearing but hardy ground-hugging plant that loves this high, dry country. We crossed more streams, one providing an ebullient waterfall that sashayed down a rocky draw.

As we approached Fortune Creek Pass we saw many of the flowers we’d seen at lower elevations but these flowers were smaller. At higher elevations where flowers are exposed to the elements, the plants work much harder to survive and are generally smaller than at lower elevations.

Silver snags stood like sentinels against a darkening sky; bad weather was moving in. A shaft of sunlight singled out Mount Daniel to stand out in bold white, a startling contrast to sullen peaks and clouds. Esmerelda Peaks were dark and forbidding, shunned by the light.

Tika, Arlene’s golden retriever, romped and rolled in the snow before we reluctantly turned around. Mid-way down the rain began to fall and we hurried. We needn’t have; it was only a few scattered drops, not even enough to merit a parka.

Stats: The map is Green Trails No. 209 Mount Stuart. The hike to Fortune Creek Pass is about 7 miles round trip with 1,750 feet of gain.

Getting to the trailhead: From Seattle head east on I-90 and get off at Exit No. 85 then go east (right) onto Highway 970 and in about 7 miles turn left onto Teanaway River Road. Continue about 13 miles to a road junction just past 29 Pines Campground (where pavement ends) and Forest Service Road No. 9737 begins. Drive about 10 miles on Road No. 9737 to the end of the road and trailhead, elevation 4,200 feet. A Northwest Forest Pass is required. Fill out a permit at the trailhead – dogs are allowed on the Esmerelda Basin trail but must be leashed; they are not allowed at Ingalls Lake. Allow about 2.5 hours drive time from Seattle.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Ranger Creek Trail, June 20, 2009

Ranger Creek Trail (South Cascades), June 20, 2009

You have to look a little hard to find the trailhead. From Enumclaw head east on SR 410 and between milepost 54 and the Buck Creek Recreation area, find roadside parking. The trail starts on the left-hand side of the road, the sign a little hard to spot due to foliage. From the highway a short spur leads to a signed junction on the White River trail (No. 1199). From this junction you can head west (left) to Camp Sheppard or head east (right) on the White River trail about 1/8 of a mile to the junction for Ranger Creek.

Turn left, uphill onto the Ranger Creek trail (if you continue straight on the White River trail you could also access the Deep Creek trail but according to the powers-that-be at the White River Ranger Station the trail is badly damaged by storms and is not likely to be cleared any time soon).

The Ranger Creek trail is a quiet, pleasant forested trail shared by mountain bikes but we only saw two pairs of mountain bikers the entire day (no other hikers). As many times as I have hiked here, I have seldom encountered another hiker.

There are several options – for a short hike with a view it’s 2.6 miles to Little Ranger Peak. The spur to Little Ranger Peak is signed, despite a few bullet holes in the sign. From the viewpoint there you can see Suntop Mountain, surrounding foothills but on a cloudy day, not much else. There’s a moss and flower covered outcropping for hikers without vertigo to venture out upon for a closer look – however, this is not recommended. A fall from the rock would likely be fatal and for a smidge of a better view, not worth it.

Back on the trail we opted to continue another two miles to the Ranger Creek shelter. Earlier we’d met a local volunteer with a chainsaw clearing downed trees from the trail - he said the trail was in good condition to the shelter.

As we climbed the dark, mossy forest began a gradual transition to a more-open feel - occasional rock outcroppings can be glimpsed through the trees; a small freshet is crossed two or three times. There are very few flowers along the trail – the forest too dark for much to bloom. Vine maple appears from time to time, it’s bright green foliage adding a little color to the somber hues of evergreens. Just before we reached the shelter we spotted a few marsh marigolds blooming beside a freshet.

The 3-sided shelter is in good condition and was built by the Boy Scouts (a stretch of the Palisades Trail was also built by a Boy Scout troop). The shelter was unoccupied and made an ideal setting for lunch.

From the shelter hikers can continue onto the Ranger Creek trail and connect to the Dalles Ridge trail and even beyond to Noble Knob – that would make a very long day, though and still too much snow at higher elevations.

After lunch our Mountaineer group agreed that warming up with a little bit more uphill sounded appealing. The Ranger Creek trail continues behind the cabin – instead, we opted to check out the Palisades Trail (No. 1198). The Palisades trail is signed and starts from the shelter.

We hiked about a ¾ mile, hoping to reach a high point with views before turnaround time. On our way we encountered a few trees across the trail about ¼ mile from the shelter. We were able to get over and around these; mountain bikers have managed to get around these too.

Past the blowdowns the trail enters more meadow-like surroundings with rocky outcroppings on both sides of the trail. As you begin to see sky through the thinning forest you know views are nigh and you can’t help but pick up momentum on this undulating stretch of the trail.

We stopped at 2-3 viewpoints hoping the clouds would clear; they did not but we enjoyed views of the White River and the airstrip at Buck Creek. We especially enjoyed the colorful wildflowers hugging the edge of the precipice, mostly penstemon.

With a car shuttle hikers and mountain bikers can make a long one-way hike back to SR 410 by continuing on the Palisades trail to a lower trailhead – study the map for particulars. The map is Green Trails No. 238, Greenwater.

Our stats for the day were 11.4 miles (round trip) with 2,700 feet of elevation gain.

Getting to the trailhead: From Seattle head to Enumclaw. From Enumclaw head east on SR 410 and just past milepost 54 park on either side of the highway - if you get to the Buck Creek recreation area you’ve gone a little too far. The trailhead is about 28 miles from Enumclaw.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Mount Rainier Mini-hikes, June 17, 2009

Since my friend Lola and I are co-leading a Mountaineer hike to Ranger Peak in the South Cascades we made the Ranger Creek trail our first stop. The trailhead is not well-signed or easily spotted from the road but is located between milepost 54 and the Buck Creek Recreation Area on SR 410 heading east from Enumclaw (trail is on the left). This trailhead also provides access to the White River trail and the Deep Creek trail further east (the main trailhead for Deep Creek begins just off the Corral Pass Road about a mile from SR 410). However, after stopping at the White River ranger station in Enumclaw we learned (and saw the photographs) that much of the Deep Creek trail has been destroyed and not a high priority on their list of trails needing repair.

A short path leads uphill to a signed junction to the White River Trail where the hike to Ranger Peak begins. In about 1/4 mile the Ranger Peak trail takes off to the left - the White River trail continues straight, crosses Ranger Creek and continues to the junction for the Deep Creek trail where the trail ends (Corral Pass Road). We hiked about 1.5 miles of the Ranger Creek trail - and the trail is in good condition. A local descending the trail said the trail was fine ahead - no major problems as far as he got before he turned around at the snowline.

From there we drove to Chinook Pass to see how Tipsoo Lake was faring. It is still mostly frozen over and foggy enough we could barely see the lake. We didn't linger.

Back on 410 we turned around, turning off at Cayuse Pass onto Highway 123 for a hike to Silver Falls. Rather than drive to Ohanepecosh campground (another access to the trail) we stopped short of it and parked at an unobtrusive trailhead (a wide area beside the highway) . The trail is well signed with other connections including Laughingwater Creek and the East Side Trail. We followed the signs to Silver Falls.

It had been a while since my last visit - I knew that the trail had been damaged from previous storms but there is a bridge over the falls (the trail was closed at one point). I wish I could provide more information on previous damage but I'd rather not err so will leave that to readers to ferret out if so inclined.

The view of Silver Falls is dramatic but nearly impossible to photograph. There's a good reason I'm not showing photos of the waterfall. In fact, I have decided to abandon waterfall photography altogether until I develop the patience to work with a tripod. Even with a tripod, it is difficult to photograph such waterfalls - waterfalls such as Silver Falls often plunge through dark, narrow gorges and so you have the problem with light. Black rocks, a blur of white water. Still, it is enough just to sit, gaze and listen to the thunder of water.

We continued past the waterfall - there are side trails that lead to other overlooks (please be cautious), then hiked to Grove of the Patriarchs (the junction is well signed). The grove is about 0.9 miles from Silver Falls.

You can also get to the "official" trailhead (and facilities) for Trail of the Patriarchs by driving a little further on Highway 123 to the Stevens Canyon entrance to the park - continue 0.2 miles to where the road is gated. Be sure you don't block the road as the road is undergoing repairs. The Stevens Canyon road is closed will be open later this summer.

The Grove of the Patriarchs is a popular trail - go mid-week if you can or get an early start. What is spectacular about this trail is not only the magnificence of the old-growth cedars and Douglas firs but the silence of the forest. Regardless of your religious background it feels sacrilegious to speak above a whisper. Right now the leaves of the vine maple trees are young and green, a sweet contrast to the aged, furrowed bark of these conifer giants.

After a short stretch beside the Ohanapecosh River on the trail cross the river on a suspension bridge - a sign recommends crossing one at a time. We hope that visitors will heed this sign. While the bridge is not high above the river, a tumble into the river wouldn't be fun as the river is swift. After the river crossing you can make a loop on a boardwalk that winds through the ancient grove. Benches are provided at intervals where one can just sit and ponder the meaning of Time. These trees were here hundreds of years before us and they will be there hundreds of years after us but for natural processes - yet even these trees will eventually be toppled by Time.

We retraced our steps back to the car then drove a short distance to Ohanapecosh Campground (open), Interpretive Center (open) and Ranger Station. We hiked the Hot Springs Nature Trail, site of Ohanapecosh Hot Springs and long-gone cabins from its heyday as a resort; back in the early to mid-1900s visitors journeyed there for the curative waters of the springs. Today the springs are just a seep and though signs warn you not to drink the water, after taking a look at the seeps, you surely wouldn't want to. The Nature Trail is signed and begins from the Interpretive Center.

Reluctantly we retraced our route back to Seattle. Though we toyed with the idea of making a long loop with the car via US 12 and SR 7, it would have been a very long drive.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Ingalls Creek Trail, June 14, 2009

Ingalls Creek (Alpine Lakes Wilderness), June 14, 2009

Twelve of us Mountaineers enjoyed this hike despite the threat of thunderstorms. This hike has a good reputation for wildflowers and the trail did not let us down.

The trail is best described as undulating the first 6 miles to Falls Creek Camp (a good turnaround for a day hike). With ups and downs the trail parallels Ingalls Creek, at times dropping down to the stream to potential campsites and lunch spots. On this sunny Sunday the trail was crowded -- our group added to the “crowd” so I dare not bewail a crowded trail as “we” were part of the problem. Yet the trail is long enough with alluring spurs that even on a busy day, hikers can find a place to be alone to peer at a flower or listen to the chatter of Ingalls Creek.

The flowers: Indian paintbrush (including yellow paintbrush), columbine, thimbleberry, mertensia (bluebells), collomia, balsamroot (almost gone), yarrow, Queens cup, serviceberry, wild rose, pussy-toes, Solomon’s seal, vanilla leaf, larkspur (starting to fade), lupine (lots) and best of all Mountain ladyslipper orchid and lots of mariposa lilies (sometimes called Sego lilies) and honeysuckle.

After thumbing through several field guides I’m still not certain of the “proper” name for this lily so I won’t be offended if an expert corrects me.

In the morning it was hot and humid; “little” uphills felt like “big” uphills. By the time we reached Falls Camp the thunder was booming and rain began to fall. Fortunately it didn’t last long, just long enough to soak the bushes. As the heat returned it felt good to have the wet foliage brush our legs.

About a mile before Falls Camp we noticed that the course of the creek had changed. It looks like last winter – and/or the winter prior was hard on Ingalls Creek. Parts of the creek had moved far away from its original bed and what had once been a creek-bed was a jumble of rocks, roots and a few standing trees.

My memory may not be correct but as I recall the lunch-spot where the Falls Creek trail begins on the other side of Ingalls Creek looked different. Now there is a little beach there rather than the abrupt edge I remember. A large, de-barked log spans the crossing; we could see where the Falls Creek trail began on the other side. It appears to be an extremely risky crossing, especially now as the creek is running high. One slip on the log into the creek would probably be fatal.

It didn’t rain long but it rained hard enough that new puddles had formed on the trail and the muddy sections were a little muddier. Despite the rain, the trail is in great shape at least as far as we hiked.

We hiked 12 miles round trip with 1,450 feet gain according to the GPS.

Getting to the trailhead: From Seattle drive east on I-90 to us 97 (north) and about 12.5 miles north of Blewett Pass turn left on Ingalls Creek Road (signed). Proceed about a mile to the trailhead. Fill out a Wilderness Permit at the trailhead; a Northwest Forest Pass is required. Maps: Green Trails No. 209 Mount Stuart and Green Trails No. 210 Liberty. Allow about 2.5 hours drive-time one-way.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Chiwaukum Creek, June 12, 2009

A Disappointment - Chiwaukum Creek - June 12, 2009

Twice, this trail has not met my expectations.

The first time was early September in 2008, when friends and I hiked there to celebrate the annual Unbirthday hike. I’ve always loved that trail and therefore was disappointed not only in the lack of views, lack of flowers but a crossing of Chiwaukum Creek that was too dicey for most of us, necessitating a turnaround. Since it was a day hike and not a backpack, we wouldn’t have had time to climb into higher country where flowers are at a premium.

I’ve so loved this trail that I included it in “Best Wildflower Hikes, Washington” co-authored with Art Kruckeberg (Professor Emeritus of Botany, University of Washington). Kruckeberg, as always, painted detailed, lovely verbal portraits of flowers you may encounter on this trail. However, timing is everything on this hike.

This year you may find July flowers on June hikes – or vice versa. In June this year we found few flowers, none exceptional other than Tweedy’s lewisia. Even Tweedy’s lewisia was anything but fresh – it was already dried out, past its prime. This, despite a report a mere week ago that hailed this trail as a wildflower hike.

Backpackers who can cross Chiwaukum Creek on a logjam will probably encounter glorious wildflowers at higher elevations. Once safely across the creek (oh, how I miss that bridge!) backpackers or strong hikers can continue to Timothy Meadows or Chiwaukum and Larch Lakes. Even far beyond. Day hikers in search of wildflowers will want to seek elsewhere – this is not the trail for wildflowers.

Years ago the hike started beside Chiwaukum Creek – today the trailhead has been moved further away from the creek. The best part of the lower elevation stretch of the trail is now private property. The trail drops down to the creek only a few times within that first 4-5 miles. It is for the most part, a forest walk.

As for the flowers; there are some. We spotted a few clusters of wasted Tweedy’s lewisia, spent trilliums and a wee bit of Mertensia, such puny blooms it was hard to decide whether they were old or just getting started. We spotted a bit of wild ginger, Solomon’s seal (at its peak), lupine, Indian paintbrush, Western star and fresh bead lily (our favorite), serviceberry, yarrow, luina (past bloom). We were frustrated because we knew the best wildflower displays were beyond our reach.

My partner, Silverback, took a break as I hurried on in hopes of finding more flowers before turnaround (to no avail). Though Silverback downplays it, his quick thinking may have saved my life. On our way out I didn’t hear the warning rattle. The stream was loud and my hearing isn’t what it used to be. He was hiking a couple steps ahead and startled me when he turned around, called my name and suddenly lifted me off the trail. It all happened too fast to coherently recount but apparently he heard the rattle, by the time it registered it was rattlesnake, it had coiled as I approached it (about two feet away from me), so he instinctively grabbed me. Looking over my shoulder he watched the snake uncoil and disappear into the vegetation. The encounter was a little too close for us; be aware and watch, listen for rattlesnakes if you hike/backpack here.

We stopped at the 59 Diner, a favorite eatery of hikers (and everyone else) near Coles Corner. Still frustrated at our lack of photography, we stopped at Skykomish and spent time there photographing the (closed) Skykomish Hotel and other abandoned buildings/homes. We picked up a brochure (a walking tour of Skykomish) and plan to go back when we have more time. It looks like the little town is getting ready to celebrate the 4th of July.

Iron Bear (Iron Creek), Teanaway Ridge

Iron Creek, Bear Creek trail - June 11, 2009

Old-timers still refer to this trail as the Iron Bear trail though it is only in Mary Sutcliff’s out-of-print “Teanaway Country” that refers to this trail by that name. No matter what you want to call it, it’s a fine flower hike in late spring through early summer. By mid-June some of the earlier flowers were withering but others are just getting started. This is usually a lonesome trail, never as crowded as popular trails like Esmeralda Basin or Ingalls Lake deeper in the Teanaway.

It took us a couple hours to drive to the trailhead from Seattle. The Iron Creek road is well signed and in good condition the first 3.5 miles – the last stretch of road could be dicey in spring as you drive through a creek to get to the trailhead. If that is the case, you can find parking a little further down the road. We had no problem getting to the trailhead (mid-June).

The trail starts off leisurely through the forest, crosses a small stream then begins to wind around a rocky hillside before it enters another forested stretch. A couple of minor streams/freshets are also crossed – none a problem. Forest and open areas alternate to Iron Bear Pass – it is about 800 feet gain to the pass. From Iron Bear Pass there are options – the Teanaway Ridge trail begins here – we headed north on the Teanaway Ridge trail (right) the trail continues for several miles, coming out at Stafford Creek Road in the Teanaway. If you head the other direction (left) you’ll eventually get to Red Top lookout. That was too many miles for us – we were content to savor the flowers, stopping our hike at a high point (knoll) overlooking Mount Stuart, Miller Peak and other Teanaway peaks. We might have stayed there forever had we not heard ominous booms in the distance as dark clouds began marching toward us. Time to head down!

Fortunately, the storm veered off and we were soon at the trailhead – we missed the rain. That was good - you never want to get caught in a thunderstorm.

As for flowers – this hike is often described as a “flower hike” and indeed it is. Bring a flower guide if you have one. We saw Indian paintbrush, lupine, death camas, puccoon, waterleaf, false Solomon’s seal, mountain ash, serviceberry, forget-me-nots, larkspur, lomatiums, penstemon, desert parsley, wild onion and several tiny flowers we could not identify. The starring attraction of this hike is bitterroot, just coming into bloom above Iron Bear Pass. The flower was discovered by Meriwether Lewis in the Bitterroot Mountains in Montana.

We hiked about 7-8 miles round trip with roughly 1,800 feet of elevation gain to our high point.

The maps are Green Trails No. 209, Mount Stuart and No. 210 Liberty.

Getting there: From Seattle take I-90 over Snoqualmie Pass, bypass Cle Elum and follow US 97, pass Mineral Springs campground and turn left on Forest Service Road 9714 (Iron Creek Road), continue 3.5 miles to trailhead, elevation 3,800 feet, no facilities. A Northwest Forest Pass is required.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Packwood Lake, June 5, 2009

Packwood Lake (Gifford Pinchot National Forest, Goat Rocks Wilderness)

Was I the only hiker in the Pacific Northwest who had never been to Packwood Lake? It was beginning to feel that way. What was I waiting for? The perceived long drive from Seattle for starters – about 2.5 hrs from Seattle. Plus, it sounded like it would be crowded, with a general store, resort and boat rental.

It is a long drive but it enhanced the experience - it took longer than we planned to get there because we stopped to gawk at waterfalls along State Route 123 between Cayuse Pass and Ohanapecosh.

En route to Cayuse Pass we passed scenes of devastation – where streams blew out last winter, covering the highway with trees, water and mud. Apparently Greenwater was even cut off from Enumclaw for a spell last winter. Today SR 410 is in good shape as is SR 123 between Cayuse Pass and US 12.

Cayuse Pass and Chinook Pass are open; the Sunrise Road remains closed as are stretches of the Stevens Canyon Road. Some loops of the Ohanapecosh Campground are now open for the season.

At Highway 12 we continued to Packwood and found Snyder Road (FS Road No. 1260) well signed, near the abandoned Packwood Ranger Station (the Packwood District trails now fall under jurisdiction of the Cowlitz Ranger District). The 6-mile road to the trailhead is paved and snow-free.

The trail to the lake is mostly through second growth and old-growth forest. We encountered a few blow-downs but nothing a hiker can’t step over or get around. There is very little snow, route-finding not a problem. The forest was quiet, broken only by the soft hooting of a hidden owl and the gurgle of freshets.

Summer flowers are beginning to appear – bear grass and Canadian dogwood still beaded with raindrops from an early morning shower. We also spotted vanilla leaf, flowering current, salmonberry, vine maple, Oregon grape, yellow violets and pinedrops, the tallest saprophyte in our region.

In about 4.5 miles we reached the lake and before we even had a chance to say “Guard Station” we encountered an agile, elderly fisherman who was just packing up from a fishing trip. His first words were “Would you like some bug juice?” We gladly accepted.

Though mosquitoes seldom bite us these mosquitoes were anything but polite. From him we learned there hadn’t been a general store or a resort there since the 1980s; you can’t rent a boat either. The only structures at the lake today are the Guard Station and a historical Ranger Cabin that is under restoration.

The fisherman had ridden his bike to the lake via the Pipeline Trail, an ATV trail (Trail No. 74) and was going back the same way. We asked if could hike the ATV road back to the trailhead to make a loop. Sure, he said - there was only one junction and it was signed.

After we bade our farewells we followed the lakeshore to the historical Ranger Cabin, peeked in, then crossed Lake Creek on a sturdy footbridge. A little beyond is the site where the resort once stood. There is little evidence today that a general store and a resort once stood there. We lingered for a while, enjoying views of Agnes Island on the lake.

Hikers can continue on the trail after crossing Lake Creek to campsites and connections with other trails including Mosquito Lake and Lost Lake.

We re-crossed the bridge and picked up the ATV trail. We looked at the dam before continuing on the trail as it parallels Lake Creek to an unsigned junction. You can take either trail, they meet again - the uphill trail is rocky, the lower trail appeared to be muddy.

Though the fisherman said the ATV trail was not scenic we beg to differ; moss-bordered freshets trickle down from cliffs above the road and there are a few logging artifacts along the way. It is the kind of road that raises questions: what is this object? What was it used for? One stretch of the road has been recently repaired from a washout.

While the ATV road makes a pleasant loop it might not be so pleasant on a busy, summer weekend. The Packwood Lake trail is hiker-only, mountain bikes are not allowed. The trail around the lake is also hiker-only – ATVs are not permitted beyond the end of the road.

Soon, we were back at the trailhead, having hiked 9 miles with 400 feet of gain. We did miss the view of Johnson Peak from the lake; but we’ll likely return.

Just before we left the trailhead we watched an old-timer walking toward the trail with a chainsaw, a pack and a hard-hat. He looked to be in his 70s – when asked, he said “Just clearing a few trees off the trail.” We were impressed!

Getting to the trailhead: From Packwood follow US 12 to Forest Service Road No. 1260 (Snyder Road), continue 6 miles on paved road to trailhead. The map is Green Trails No. 302 Packwood. The loop is about 9 miles with roughly 400 feet of elevation gain.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Three hikes, Mount Rainier National Park, June 1, 2009

Carter and Madcap Falls, Trail of the Shadows, Kautz Creek Overlook (June 1, 2009)

Our first stop was the Kautz Creek overlook – overlooking where the Kautz Creek used to flow before it changed its course during the floods of 2006. Today, the “old” bed doesn’t even resemble a creek-bed – it’s more of a gash in the landscape, littered with broken timber, root balls and eroding banks. A trickle of reddish water still stands at the bottom of the gash, colored reddish from minerals released during the flooding.

The trail has been rerouted – yes, you can still hike the Kautz Creek trail and the first 2-3 miles of the trail are free of snow. Last year we almost made it to Indian Henry’s – what foiled us then was not the character of the trail but too late a start.

The floods destroyed the footbridges across Kautz Creek – new bridges are in place. It’s probably half a mile from the trailhead to the bridges, very little elevation gain. A boardwalk with interpretive signs leads to the overlook giving visitors a “look” at the natural cataclysms that rearrange the landscape as casually as a child dumping buckets of sand.

The next stop was the trail to Carter Falls – we thought we’d give it a try despite being advised against it at the Nisqually Entrance of the park. The ranger on duty said he couldn’t recommend the trail but we figured he said that because we are old. Well, we are old but we are also seasoned hikers.

The trail starts a couple miles past Longmire National Park Inn on the Nisqually-Paradise Road and is well signed. Cougar Rock Campground is a little beyond.

Getting across the Nisqually River involves crossing it on a footbridge with one railing. It’s safe enough but could spook a tourist who has never crossed on such a bridge. The bridge crossing was in the sun and there’s a good view of Mount Rainier as well. You could say it’s a Kodak “moment” on a sunny day.

The trail then climbs a bit before turning again toward Mount Rainier, heading upstream. From this point the trail is mostly in old-growth forest and parallels the Paradise River. There are occasional views of Eagle Peak through the trees and on such a hot day, the forest was welcome. As we gained elevation the trail paralleled a wooden water pipe used to bring water to an old hydro generator on the Paradise River.

About 1/8 of a mile below Carter Falls we began to hit snow on the trail; my partner, Silverback was post-holing so he took a break while I continued to Carter Falls. I could see where other hikers had post-holed as well but I managed to get to the waterfall without breaking through the snow. The view was disappointing – the waterfall was indeed full of “sound and fury” but a photograph wasn’t possible. It was, at best, a white blur through dark evergreens.

Though the trail from this point was mostly under snow I was able to follow tracks to an overlook of Madcap Falls. Here, the view was better but the light ghastly for photography.

It will still take a couple of weeks for the snow to melt near Madcap Falls.

The trail to Carter Falls is about 2.2 miles round trip with 600 feet or so of gain. Madcap Falls is just a bit beyond.

Our last hike was “Trail of the Shadows”. The trail was soothing – it was quiet, there was no one else on the trail, the mineral springs bubbled, the birds called, the trees were huge, the deer shy, the shadows cool.

The hike is a ¾ mile loop that begins across from the Longmire National Inn. The trail loops around mineral springs and seeps, the log cabin built by Longmire (still standing) and rounds a large meadow through a boulevard of old-growth trees. There is also a link from the loop to the Rampart Ridge trail – we saved that for another day. We took our time, stopping at the springs and the cabin. “Iron Mike” is an active spring in a setting of mossy mineral-stained stones. Interpretive signs tell the story of Longmire and the mineral springs.

These trails are all accessible from the Nisqually entrance of Mount Rainier National Park. You’ll probably need to pay a fee to enter the park unless you are “old” enough to have the “Golden Age Passport”.

Our preferred way to get there (from Seattle) is to head south on I-5, get off at the SR 7 exit in Tacoma, follow signs to Mount Rainier National Park on SR 7. Allow about 2.5 hours drive-time one-way.

Easton Ridge, May 30, 2009

Easton Ridge - May 30, 2009

We’re glad the bridge that crosses Silver Creek is still there. Otherwise, we’d have hiked the Kachess Ridge trail instead (both hikes begin from the same “trailhead”). Easton Ridge is a good wildflower hike in late April through May if you don’t mind a few snow patches here and there at higher elevations. This late May was a little too late for wildflower displays we anticipated but it was still a good hike. We saw only two hikers, perhaps because it’s not all that easy to find the trail. It doesn’t appear in many guidebooks (if any) and a trailhead sign is missing at a road junction.

We saw Calypso orchids, glacier lilies, Solomon’s seal, Indian paintbrush, spring beauties, vanilla leaf and flowering current in bloom. After crossing Silver Creek on the thank-God bridge the trail began its pitiless climb. It was already hot so we were thankful for a brief stint through forest before intersecting the dirt road in blazing sun.

At the dirt road, turn left. At the next switchback in the road, find the trail heading uphill on an eroded, steep path – take in the view of Kachess Ridge before leaving the road.

Here, we spotted our first tick of the day. It wasn’t the last. This is the first year I’ve ever encountered ticks on this trail but apparently this is a bad year for ticks. A couple days after the hike, we were still finding an occasional tick (not embedded, though).

More unrelenting up through forest leads to a signed junction - the left fork is the Domerie Divide Trail. What we call the Easton Ridge trail is the middle (upper) of two right-forking trails. The lower right-hand trail leads to a dirt road. It’s easy to confuse them if you haven’t been here before. Guess how I found THAT out.

We took a break at the first rocky outcropping with views of Kachess Lake, a good turnaround if there’s still snow on the trail. There wasn’t, so we continued climbing. Views improved as we gained elevation; we found more flowers including phlox and stonecrop along the ridge-crest. A rough path follows the ridge-crest to the “end” of the trail, marked by a large rock outcropping (perhaps the site of an old beacon). You can also get to the outcropping by following a better trail a little below the ridge. At higher elevations there are also views of Lake Keechelus and Mount Rainier when not hidden by clouds or haze.

Carry extra water if you go. The snow is melting fast enough you can’t depend on snowmelt for water.

To get there: From Seattle drive I-90 east and get off at Exit 70. Proceed over the freeway and turn left onto frontage road (signed Kachess Dam Road), continue to Forest Service Road No. 4818 and turn right. Stay on Road No. 4818 to an unsigned road junction, turn right, continue to the trailhead, elevation 2,400 feet (it is also the trailhead for Kachess Ridge). For Easton Ridge turn right on a path to Silver Creek, a few paces upstream you’ll find the bridge. A Northwest Forest Pass is required.

Trail data: From the trailhead to the rocky outcroppings on the ridge crest it is approximately 7 miles round-trip with about 1,700-1,900 feet elevation gain.

Information: For additional information and conditions contact the Cle Elum Ranger District at 509-852-1100 or visit their website at A good reference is the Cle Elum Ranger District Trail Guide - find it at REI, recreational equipment stores or ranger stations.