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.


  1. Glad the snake missed you Karen! :)

    I'm leading some folks to Alpine Lookout Saturday, I scouted the hike last week....If more snow melts, we might make it!

  2. Good luck on your hike, Grizzy! I've never been to Alpine Lookout, it's still on my "list".