Saturday, August 22, 2009

Huckleberry Creek Trail, Mount Rainier National Park

Huckleberry Creek (Mount Rainier National Park) August 21, 2009

Imagine three guidebook writers on the same hike – now before you think this is a tale of warring egos and such think again. It was a great trip with Alan, Craig and Silverback (Silverback has also taken the plunge into the life of a writer). We had fun from start to finish.

We met up at the Dalles Picnic area for a car shuttle (doing this hike one-way involves a car shuttle). Alan and Craig had already driven their 4WD rigs to the lower trailhead on Forest Service Road No. 73 (the last stretch of this 6-mile or so road is rough). When Alan and Craig joined us the four of us went up to Sunrise in Silverback’s car (not a 4WD).

After a short stint on the Sourdough Trail we descended into Huckleberry Basin on the Huckleberry Mountain trail (the trail is signed). Short switchbacks with breathtaking views got us off to a pleasant start –how many times I had peered down into the barrens and meadows below Sourdough, wondering what it would be like down there.

It’s fascinating to hike through a variety of terrain and this hike is no exception. After a scenic stint through the remains of a moraine interspersed with meadows we stopped for an early lunch as biting bugs at Forest Lake seemed a real possibility.

A few flowers are still in bloom in the meadows – namely monkey flowers, yarrow and asters. Lupine has already mostly gone to seed. Gentians were the dominant flower in the meadows – I think these lantern-shaped flowers are brilliant blue because they herald the end of summer.

It is always heartbreaking (for me) to leave the high country behind but the forest and the promise of a seldom-hiked trail also had a strong appeal. After dropping about 1,100 feet we reached Forest Lake, a campsite on the edge of heaven where forest, meadows and high country overlap. There are two designated campsites at the lake (not occupied) and no bugs.

From the lake we continued our descent into deeper forest, crossing Huckleberry Creek several times on footbridges. The forest was a mix of yellow cedars (not a true cedar tree – this, we learned from Craig who has a background in forestry), Douglas firs, Alaska cedars, vine-maple with an under-story of huckleberry/blueberry shrubs, Devils Club (taller than we could reach), Canadian dogwood (a few still blooming), ferns (oak, deer, bracken, sword ferns).

The trees grew larger the further we descended; becoming a Hansel and Gretel trail as the trail wound through the forest. In addition to Huckleberry Creek we crossed Prospector, Josephine Creeks and Lost Creek (in that order). None of the crossings were difficult.
The trail was easy to follow in its entirety with only one short stretch where route finding with our boots was required (the trail was covered with vegetation). We stopped to admire several gargantuan evergreens but found the dappled light in the forest a challenge for photography.

Just inside the border of the park we came upon an old patrol cabin; locked and shuttered for good. An old trail register (not used in a very long time) was on the front porch, fading signs with rules and regulations within the park were still apparent, including one that dated back to the 1940s. Here we also found a boundary sign and a benchmark dating back to 1900.

From the boundary it was about a mile back to FS Road 73, the trail easy to follow. However, there is no longer a trailhead sign for Huckleberry Creek. We believe it is probably just as well, it is undoubtedly the parks intent to keep it from becoming a party place (though the nature of the terrain would keep most evil-doers out).

Alan’s faithful rig was waiting at the trailhead; we all piled in and headed back to the Dalles Campground where our pleasant adventure came to an end. Craig faced a long drive so headed home; Alan ferried us back to Sunrise to our car - only a few cars remained late in the day. It was so cold at Sunrise that we put on jackets, taking only a few photos before driving back home. It felt like fall was well on its way.

Stats: Elevation loss (about 3,834 feet) in about 10.1 miles (according to our altimeter).

Note: This is a steep, downhill trail, not recommended for those with bad knees. Forest Road 73 is not recommended for passenger cars. Most hikers will be happier hiking from Sunrise to Forest Lake, then climbing back to Sunrise (that would mean a reasonable elevation gain of about 1,100 feet).

1 comment:

  1. Terrific writeup! Finding old semi used trails like this is great. It's a shame the Forest Service is letting FS Road 73 fall apart.