Thursday, October 15, 2009

Umtanum Creek Falls, October 14, 2009

Umtanum Creek Falls, October 14, 2009 (L. T. Murray State Wildlife Recreation Area)

The last time I was at Umtanum Falls the cliffs above the waterfall were coated with ice and lethal; venturing beyond was then out of the question. Yesterday venturing out into the rain was almost out of the question too; where to hike without getting soaked? The weather forecast thundered that rain would most likely be statewide, even on the east side of the Cascades.

Umtanum Falls came to mind. Even if it were raining in Ellensburg, we figured we could put up with it for a three-mile hike. Indeed it did seem to be raining statewide; usually by the time we get to Easton rain is light if there is any but it was raining hard. It didn’t begin to slack off until we hit Cle Elum. Here we made a decision to drive to Ellensburg via Old Highway 10 rather than I-90. We stopped for photos a few times above the Yakima River en route to Ellensburg, then turned off onto Umtanum Road, driving approximately 10 miles to the trailhead. It had stopped raining by then but anvil-shaped clouds were stacking up in the sky; not a good sign.

Not too surprisingly we had the place to ourselves and set off on the trail hoping to spot some wildlife before we finished our hike. Other than a couple of Douglas squirrels and either a muskrat or a beaver dashing into the brush near the creek, we didn’t see wildlife but did see some fall color. The sweet smell of alders and cottonwoods accompanied us as we hiked, the trail was muddy in places near the creek and we could tell from wet vegetation we had just missed getting rained on.

In about a mile we came to the overlook of the waterfall; much smaller than it was in May but still a dramatic sight as the creek plummets into a punch bowl shaped by vast, geological processes. You’d never know that this dramatic place is so close to the road, sandwiched in between gentle, rolling hills dotted with Douglas firs; the drive to the trailhead gives no hint of this grandeur.

Striving for a closer look we crossed the creek to pick up the trail that continues down into the bowl and eventually comes out at the other end of Umtanum Ridge on the Umtanum Creek Canyon Trail. Years ago we’d hiked the Umtanum Creek Trail but lost it in dense vegetation before we got very far; hikers that hike the entire trail are likely few and far between.

Again, we must caution that the trail from the overlook to the punchbowl is exposed and narrow in places and drops very steeply into the bowl on a talus field. Down in the punchbowl below the waterfall we felt like we were in the Columbia Gorge with many waterfalls and dizzying cliffs. Here someone had formed a large cross of stones; there must be a story behind that.

The colors in the punchbowl were so intense they looked artificial; the walls were slathered with blue-green and orange lichen, bright green grass grew in profusion near the pool, shrubs in shades of yellow and orange were strung like hanging lights across the dark cliffs, shedding leaves as brilliant as coins.

There is a campsite of sorts near the pool; sadly, a few beer cans littered the area (Silverback carried them out). We continued on the trail as it contoured below rock outcroppings, cliffs and lowland forest of firs and Ponderosa pines; we didn’t get much further. The trail soon became much more difficult to follow; brush not only borders the trail but has become part of the trail. Good tread alternated with tread that was almost non-existent. The shrubs that lines the trail were soaking wet; we became soaking wet too as we shouldered our way through the wet jungle.

Despite this unpleasantness we were compelled to keep at it; we could see open terrain ahead and rocky outcroppings that begged for a visit. Just when we thought we might get to the base of a colorful outcropping we came to a brush-choked draw where we lost any semblance of trail. Given more time we would have persevered but we were a long way from home and days have grown shorter.

Reluctantly we turned around and retraced our route back to the punchbowl and the overlook. Denied the outcropping we desired we crossed the creek above the waterfall and climbed the outcropping I’d climbed earlier in the year with my friend Jim. Getting to the top of this outcropping is on a user-made trail that wastes no time getting to the base of the outcropping. From there it’s a walk-up to the high point (2,543 feet) and views of the surrounding hills.

Back on the trail Silverback spotted what he believes were cougar tracks; fresh scat further along the trail seemed to confirm that we might not have been as alone as we thought.

Stats: About 3-1/4 miles round trip with roughly 6,00 feet of gain (according to the GPS).

Notes: If you’ve got one display your Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife Vehicle Permit; though there is no sign requesting the permit according to guidebooks this pass is required.

No comments:

Post a Comment