Monday, August 10, 2009

West Boundary Trail, August 9, 2009

West Boundary Trail (Mount Rainier National Park)

Hiking abandoned trails is a little bit like listening to jazz - you know where the trail begins but you never know where it will take you.

The Boundary Trail is one of our favorite hidden trails within/near Mount Rainier National Park. It is believed that most of the Boundary Trail was built during the Civilian Conservation Corps era; most of the trail was removed from the parks maintenance list in the early 1970s. The trail once circumnavigated the boundary of the park. A few stretches remain and are still somewhat user-friendly including a section near the Carbon River entrance and another near the Nisqually entrance. Some maintenance continues on those trails – don’t attempt these trails unless you have route-finding skills and equipment.

We’d hiked the trail from the Carbon River entrance to Alki Crest 5-6 years ago, getting as far as Tolmie Creek (no, we don’t know why it is called Alki Crest). We didn’t know how far we’d get today but conditions were ideal for a steep hike in the forest: cool and cloudy.

The boundary trail starts from the nature trail just on the other side of a footbridge (assuming you are hiking the nature trail clockwise); it’s hard to miss. The “abandoned trail” sign was missing but again if you are looking for the trail, you won’t have any trouble spotting it. Though steep, the first part of the trail is as good as established trails inside the park, at least initially. We also spotted 3-4 old signs for the Boundary Trail along the way.

The trail is mostly in old-growth forest, ideal conditions for saprophytes such as coralroot and Indian pipe. We don’t see as much Indian pipe as we used to so we were glad to come across some at the end of a switchback. We also saw vanilla leaf, a variety of ferns and moss (a little on the dry side), Devil’s club with spikes of red berries and lots of thimbleberry past its prime. We found a few blueberries off-trail; always good to find these. Shelf fungus juts out from snags peppered with woodpecker holes and from fallen/downed trees beside the trail.

At one point the trail crosses a steep slope where a washout occurred; a path of rubble descends all the way to the Carbon River Road. It would truly have been a sight to witness from a safe vantage when this occurred. A little further there is a split in the trail at a cut log – turn left.

At about 3,200 feet we crossed a stream; not a problem in August. This is a pretty spot to linger a while and take a break, especially on a hot day. Beyond the stream the trail is a little rockier but still easy to follow and in surprisingly good shape even where maintenance ends.

At another point we skirted a boulder field (left); it was so foggy we could barely see the shapes of the rocks. Here the hellebore was almost tall and Corydalis covered parts of the trail; we sought the trail with our feet. It was moist enough from fog and drizzle that we got soaked going through the Corydalis; we’re grateful for our quick-dry pants.

Once past this spot the trail was easy to follow; near the crest we encountered markers on the trees, some with numbers but don’t know what purpose those serve or have served in the past.

The trail levels out briefly at Alki Crest, a forested pass without views. Nevertheless, this is a good turnaround and there are fallen trees that serve as places to settle for a while before turning around or continuing. We elected to turn around as we were short on time and knew it would take us almost as long to get down as it did to climb to the crest.

On the previous visit we did get go down the other side of the “crest” and got as far as Tolmie Creek. The crossing was tricky and from the creek the trail was marginal at best, difficult to follow. It is about a 1,200-foot descent from the crest to the creek.

There is also a route of sorts to Florence Peak from the Boundary Trail but I’ve only done it on snowshoes and it was a long time ago. I don’t know whether or not there is a “trail”. Some branches of The Mountaineers lead Florence Peak as a winter scramble.

Stats: 6 miles round trip, a little under 3,000 feet gain.

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