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.

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