Thursday, November 5, 2009

Halloween Hike, October 31, 2009

Robe Canyon and Big Four Ice Caves (October 31, 2009)

Sometimes the Monte Cristo Area is at its best when it’s at its worst.

Several of us got together for a Halloween hike in the Monte Cristo area. The setting, of course, was Robe Canyon with its spooky tunnels. With fantasies of getting to the tunnel, lighting candles, eating candy and being generally silly even the downpour could not dampen our spirits.

Besides, the weather report indicated only a 20-30 percent chance of rain. That didn’t sound so bad. As we drove toward the trailhead the rain intensified but we were prepared with rain-gear, good boots and some of us carried umbrellas as well. How hard can it be to hike 3 miles in the rain?

Well, we didn’t get very far - shortly past the point where the trail comes out near the Stillaguamish River we were stopped by a raging ….uh, tributary. Since parts of the trail to that point were literally under water and our feet were still remarkably dry, we thought it best to turn around and enjoy Halloween elsewhere.

My main concern with rain is keeping the camera dry and being able to see through my glasses so I carried and used an umbrella the entire way. My pack got soaked and so did my legs but both pack and legs dried out quickly at home. Despite the deluge we were jazzed by the colors the rain brought out on the trail, the brilliant green of licorice ferns growing on gold-green Big-leaf maples, the gray green of the Stillaguamish River flowing beside the old railroad grade.

Back at the car spirits were still high so Plan B went into effect; we’d celebrate Halloween at the Big Four Picnic Shelter. Diving into the cars, still in our boots, off we went up the Mountain Loop Highway to Big Four. En route we were mesmerized by the “new” waterfalls pouring off the foothills near Lake 22 and elsewhere along the route. Sheets of water, like panes of glass, slid across the highway. It was both ominous and gorgeous.

The Picnic Area was virtually deserted; another party was just leaving so we had the place to ourselves. We gathered under the picnic shelter and ate our lunch, passed out candy and donned our masks. Steve by far had the best costume; he emerged from the restroom in the form of a werewolf. My devil’s horns paled in comparison.

After finishing lunch we hiked out to see the new bridge over the Stillaguamish; we were already wet so we might as well keep hiking. After leaving the picnic area the trail crosses a marshy area on a boardwalk; here the water was almost as high as the boardwalk. It is the kind of rain I have been known to describe as “fat” rain. Big, big drops.

When we got to the bridge we thought we might as well continue to the Ice Caves; why not? Those of us with cameras hunkered down with umbrellas and took photos of mushrooms, the colorful leaves of Canadian dogwood and other vegetation. As the trail rounded a hillside of devastation from floods/blow-outs from recent years ago we came to another “tributary” that was flowing fast and deep enough to call for caution (though by then we were so wet it wouldn’t have mattered if we’d stepped into the water).

After leaving the mangled forest we came to another series of boardwalk and bridges; here it had rained so hard that the boardwalk was covered with water in places. One bridge is broken in the middle with a wicked slant; you can bypass it by walking beside it.

We were surprised by the fall color that still surrounded the ice caves and the waterfalls spilling down the cliffs of Big Four; the bad weather seemed to only enhance the rugged beauty.

Though the elements were downright unfriendly we felt it was a privilege to spend time there – however, we gratefully stopped in at Ike’s at Granite Falls for hot drinks and food before driving home.

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