Thursday, August 13, 2009

Kachess Ridge Trail, August 12, 2009

Kachess Ridge Trail No. 1315 (August 12, 2009)

We needed a break from Mount Rainier (not because we don’t love it but because it’s a long drive). Besides, weather was marginal at best.

If I had a $20 bill for every time we’ve turned off I-90 at Exit 70 to access the trailhead for Kachess Ridge (Easton Ridge, Domerie Divide, Thomas Mountain, etc), we could take a long vacation. I admit it’s been a while since I’ve trekked up to the high point of Easton Ridge on snowshoes but it’s still first on my list of places to go when spring flowers begin to appear and it’s sunny on the east side. In summer not so much – there are too many other places to go and the “trails of Easton” are accessible earlier and later in the year than many other favorites.

As is often the case there was no one else at the trailhead – a good thing, really – because there’s room for only 4-6 cars. The trail doesn’t give you a chance to warm up; it takes off at a steep run – straight up. The trail is shared with mountain bikes; at times we encountered loose rocks over a thin layer of dirt. It’s more of a challenge going down this trail than climbing.

Steep switchbacks climb to partial views of rocky ridges. A side trail at the end of a switchback leads to a nice viewpoint of the valley below (for a view of Lake Kachess continue on a scramble path to higher points along the ridge).

The main trail keeps climbing until it turns (left) into the Silver Creek valley – here the creek announces itself with a splashy waterfall and an alluring but potentially dangerous path leading to its base. We continued following the main trail, at times within sight of the creek, at times within sound.

Just a bit past the signed trail junction for the Kachess Beacon trail, you’ll reach the first crossing of Silver Creek – there are several crossings, some of them dry. The first crossing is the worst but in August it’s not too bad.

After crossing the creek the trail alternates between shaggy, pocket meadows and forested sections. Many flowers have gone to seed but we saw Monkshood, cow parsnip, arnica, mountain daisies, yarrow, fireweed, a little columbine and splash of monkey flowers near a rivulet.

At one point the trail has been detoured to pass the site of what appears to have been a huge avalanche; trees on the far slope look like the proverbial matchsticks or pick-up-sticks hurled by an angry giant.

Memory is a tricky thing at best; I remembered meadows big as football fields below the West Peak of Kachess Ridge; I was looking forward to showing these “big” meadows to my Bob and Silverback. After what seemed an endless climb with no sign of a meadow anywhere we stopped for a break; Silverback said he’d catch up. I said we’d wait at the big meadow.

We soon came to a small meadow; certainly not the Ponderosa-sized meadow I remembered so we kept on hiking, passing the Silver Tie trail (that trail will have to wait for another day).

The trail kept going; and so did we until it dawned on me there was no “big meadow” and we were not far from the pass below West Peak and another peak (without a name but certainly worth of one).

Thinking that Silverback wouldn’t catch us and seeing the pass within reach we climbed up to it and took a break. Hence we were surprised when within 5 minutes Silverback appeared through the mist and joined us. Having a snack had given him the stamina he needed to get to the pass. It was chilly and starting to drizzle; our visit was short.

I’d like to say I scampered up a side trail on the peak-without-a-name to a viewpoint of Red Mountain but it was truly more of a trudge. The side-trail continued but time was running out.

Incidentally you can get to this “pass” by a system of logging roads from Salmon la Sac (we don’t know the condition of the roads). Also a 12.8-mile loop (from/to Easton) in this mostly forgotten land is described in “Best Loop Hikes Washington” (Mountaineer Books) – it is called West Peak/Thomas Mountain. I won’t describe this loop – I haven’t done it but hope to try it soon.

As for our sorry butts we returned the way we came, wondering as we often do why a hike feels so much longer on the way out than going in, even when it was mostly downhill.

This doesn’t sound like a compelling hike but we like it – folks seldom hike here and though this land has been logged, it still has a wild and lonely feel that other places near Teanaway and Salmon la Sac do not. There are ridges to run and explore, peaks to climb (even those without a name!) and meadows that are lush enough to attract deer, elk and the occasional lonely photographer.

Getting to the trailhead: From Seattle take I-90 east and turn off at Exit 70. Drive over the freeway and turn left onto a frontage road signed Kachess Dam Road and proceed to Forest Service Road No. 4818 and turn right. Continue to an unsigned junction; turn right. From there it is just a hop, skip and jump to the not so obvious trailhead near Silver Creek. There are no facilities but display your Northwest Forest Pass anyway. Follow a short little path to the signed trailhead for Easton Ridge and Kachess Ridge. Easton Ridge is to the right (you cross Silver Creek on a footbridge). Kachess Ridge is straight uphill.

Maps: Green Trails Kachess Lake No. 208. Call the Cle Elum Ranger District at 509-852-1100 for road and trail conditions.

Stats: About 2,600 feet elevation gain, 11-1/2 miles (round trip)

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