Saturday, October 3, 2009

Kautz Creek, September 30, 2009

Kautz Creek Trail (Indian Henrys almost!) September 30, 2009

We made a last-minute stab at Indian Henry’s Hunting Ground via Kautz Creek and almost made it.

The first ¾ mile or so parallels mineral-daubed Kautz Creek – floods tore out existing bridges and rearranged the topography dramatically over the last few winters. The first section of the trail no longer resembles the trail as we knew it years ago – it still parallels Kautz Creek and has an unfinished feel to it, as if waiting for the next weather-related calamity.

Alders are growing back in, filling in the blanks, playing their role in settling the landscape. The rock-lined trail near the creek is sandy, almost like a beach.

Kautz Creek looks like a madman’s playground; the old footbridge lays asunder, the water here copper-colored from minerals - boulders, sand, rootballs, uprooted trees tangled together – all attest to violent weather. Gaze long enough upon this scene and you’ll understand there is a very fine line between destruction and creation.

Once we crossed the creek the trail reverts to good trail as it starts to climb toward Indian Henrys. I have hiked the Kautz Creek trail in all seasons over the years, including snowshoe treks to Mount Ararat with The Mountaineers. It wasn’t an easy snowshoe or hike 20 years ago; it’s still a challenge.

With recent rains mushrooms are popping up, breaking through the duff, lighting the dark forest with their luminescent colors. Angel wings peek out from under decaying logs, speckled amanitas glow as if lit from within.

As we gained elevation we encountered bear grass long past bloom; snow had settled in the well of each plant, an indication of more snow to come. We crossed a quiet stream on a footbridge; soon after we came to a viewpoint though there was no view today.

The forest gradually opened up to small meadows; fresh snow had fallen and was melting. Hellebore lay yellow and flattened, the boughs of evergreens were weighted down with melting snow, blueberry shrubs glittering with water soaked us as we passed through.

Mount Ararat soon came into view above crimson, high-angled meadows. The scene was resplendent with fall color beneath a pewter sky broken by a silent stampede of wind-driven clouds.

By now our feet were soaked but we kept hiking, stopping only long enough to eat, drink and change into dry socks. A turnaround time was established; we suspected we wouldn’t have time to get to the patrol cabin at Indian Henrys.

The trail continued with ups and downs, none terribly steep; we hiked through wan meadows where flowers had gone to seed and grasses were bent by snow. The clouds lifted from time to time giving us an odd view of Mount Rainier and peaks we could not identify without consulting the map.

Though turnaround time was rapidly approaching we continued to a rocky pass where we hoped for a view of the patrol cabin but our high point only revealed we had further to go; the patrol cabin would have to wait until next year.

Reluctantly we turned around though found it hard to leave the moody, ever-changing landscape of snow, clouds, light and shadow. Only the promise of a hot thermos of tea waiting in the car enabled us to hike a little faster.

Stats: According to our GPS we hiked 11-1/2 miles and gained about 3,138 feet of elevation, including ups and downs.

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