Monday, October 26, 2009

Umtanum Creek, October 22, 2009

Umtanum Creek, October 22, 2009

We were so intrigued with the Umtanum Falls Creek trail last week we went back to Ellensburg, this time to hike the Umtanum Creek trail from Highway 821 (Yakima Canyon Road). The weather was perfect for hiking, a golden October day with mostly blue skies and comfortable temperatures.

The hike starts off by crossing the Yakima River on a suspension bridge – though the bridge sways and creaks, it is perfectly safe. Then you can go over or under the railroad tracks to a network of trails that are not signed.

If you are unfamiliar with the area the trails (left) lead to various points on Umtanum Ridge; the Umtanum Creek trail goes (moreorless) straight. These are not your typical hiking trails – these are trails designed to roam and wander. As far as we are concerned “somewhere” is destination enough.

The Umtanum Creek trail heads into the canyon, following the creek, at times veering away. The first mile or so can be a little confusing; the trail changes each season depending on what the beavers are up to and social trails run hither and yon. Aim yourself toward the canyon and follow the “best” trail.

It used to be that you could find the remains of an old homestead at about a mile; but now there is little left but posts and a few apple trees gone wild. Imagination comes into play in such a setting; where would you put a homestead if such a thing were possible? How sweet it would be to live in a cabin and fall asleep to the chorus of frogs and wake to meadowlarks. Idyllic as this sounds, it would take a lot of hard work to set up a homestead and keep it going. In such an isolated spot you’d learn to read the weather and the land, you’d learn how to fix things when they broke down. Though these lowlands are lovely now in their golden October attire, in the spring it is tick-laden and you need to be on the alert for rattlesnakes.

We stopped at the remains of another orchard; an ideal spot for lunch. Here was a stumpy, lichen-encrusted apple tree laden with fruit; some apples had fallen to the ground, some we picked and ate on the spot.

Hunters we met said we might spot sheep on the canyon walls but I never seem to have much luck when it comes to spotting wildlife. Therefore when Jim spotted sheep I was delighted to actually see them; two of them sitting on a rocky shelf a hundred feet or so above us. As for wildlife photography, I will never put Art Wolfe out of business but I did get some decent images; so did Maxine and Silverback.

The bighorn sheep seemed aware of our presence but were not alarmed at our being there. We waited and watched; soon four rams headed purposefully toward the single ram and the doe. Not knowing much about the life cycle of bighorn sheep, we wondered if it was rutting season yet and would there be a fight for the doe?

Then, somewhat humorously, the rams joined forces and bounded off together, away from the doe. They reminded me of a bunch of gossiping teenage boys that weren’t that comfortable around girls. No girls allowed!!

We resumed hiking through mostly open terrain but the canyon began to gradually close in; at times the trail narrowed through brushy thickets and along the edge of beaver dams. At one point the trail contoured a talus slope; here, someone had built an elaborate walkway of steppingstones, seemingly in the middle of nowhere. Who?

A few hardy Ponderosa pines graced the rocky slopes, alluring trails led to draws and rocky outcroppings that called out for further exploration. Always bound by the tyranny of Time we knew the hours were moving faster than our feet; we’d dawdled too long in the autumn glory of the canyon.

When we reached a thicket of tough, interlocking vegetation we knew it was time to turn around. Jim estimated we were still a couple miles from Durr Road so that would have to wait for another day.

On our way out an amazing thing happened: we had only seen a few people on the trail, the hunting party, a woman and her dog and a young local who had hiked all the way around the rim. So I was amazed when the brush parted and a familiar red jacket appeared; it was a local Mountaineer I have known for 30 years. It’s surprising how often this kind of encounter occurs when one hikes on a regular basis.

Back where the trail goes under/over the railroad tracks we met the young hunter again. He’d left his truck a few miles from the trailhead on Canyon Road so we gave him a ride back to his truck.

Stats: About 6 miles round trip, no significant elevation gain.

Hardy souls with rugged rigs can leave a car at Durr Road where the road crosses Umtanum Creek but since we have not done so, I cannot attest to what kind of rig you’d need to tackle the purportedly rough road. You’d need two cars for a one-way hike with a car shuttle.

As for hiking out to the Umtanum Creek Falls. trailhead on Umtanum Road, that would add up to about a 10-11 mile hike one-way. Perhaps a long summer day with a car shuttle; perhaps someday.

No comments:

Post a Comment