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.

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