Friday, February 26, 2010

Greenwater Lakes

Greenwater Lakes - February 20, 2010

It was a wonderful day for a hike – sunny and almost warm. Getting to the trailhead was easy too – Forest Service Road No. 70 was in good shape all the way to the trailhead, no ice or snow at all to contend with.

It’s unusual to be able to do this hike so early – in a normal year (whatever that means) the roads/trails off SR 410 are popular with skiers, snowmobiles, etc and a Sno Park is required. How strange to find the Sno Parks devoid of snow and only a dusting of snow on higher destinations.

We displayed a Northwest Forest Pass on the car at the trailhead and began our hike. We were not alone on this sunny day but that may be because some hikers assume it’s too early to hike this trail.

The bright sunlight increased our spring fever – we looked for other signs of spring as well as unprecedented warmth and lack of precipitation of any kind. Mother Nature is still holding her breath; uncertain as to whether or not more snow is to come. Despite the sense of imminent spring it felt like winter in the shady areas and foliage has yet to burst forth from tight, protective buds.

The lakes (also known as Meeker Lakes) are the greenest lakes we’ve ever seen; they are well named. An overcast day would have been welcome, at least for photography. The combination of blinding sunlight and dark shadows made photography impossible but we weren’t complaining; we were glad to experience sunlight so warm we didn’t need gloves until we hiked through shade.

The trail is in good shape with sturdy bridges where needed. We hiked as far as the turnoff toward Lost Lake before turning around and picking out a lunch spot in the sun on a sunny log. At various scenic spots a few hikers were setting up campsites; campfire smoke drifted across the green, green lakes like a good omen.

We spent so much time enjoying the lakes that we used up our turnaround time and headed back to civilization except for a quick stop at Wapiti Woolies to check out the sale rack and grab a hot drink.

To get there – from Enumclaw head east on SR 410, turn off onto FS Road No. 70 (left) – the road is paved. In a little less than 10 miles look for a short, gravel spur (right) that leads to trailhead parking and the beginning of the trail.

Do you need a Sno Park? We didn’t have one so displayed the Northwest Forest Pass instead. Most of the other cars at the trailhead did not have Sno Parks either so we are not certain whether or not a Sno Park is “officially” needed to hike here. Signs along FS Road No. 70 warn that Sno Parks are needed but in all honesty, we don’t know what rules apply when there is no snow whatsoever. We gambled and got away without one – however you might not want to take that chance.

Other recent hikes include another hike on Cougar Mountain – we hiked from Red Town to Coal Creek Parkway and got back to the car just in time to beat the rain. En route we hiked to Sandstone Falls though that trail is “closed”. We found a few signs of spring here and there; Indian plum is blooming and nettles are springing up though the landscape is still mostly in winter mode. The hike is about 6 miles round trip.

On February 24th we hiked to Twin Falls from Exit No. 38 off I-90 despite the rain. Where better to hike on a rainy day but to a waterfall? There were only a few hikers on the trail; no surprise given the weather. Despite the rain we enjoyed our easy stroll and were mesmerized (as always) by the waterfalls at the overlooks. The hike is a little over 3 miles round trip.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Index Galena Road, revisited (February 17, 2010)

Index-Galena road revisited, February 17, 2010

We were so intrigued by the roads/trails along the Index Galena road that we returned with our friends Jim and Maxine. Once again we had unusual but wonderful spring-time hiking conditions, not a cloud in the sky. Our objective was to see if we could hike around the road closure on a bypass trail and continue toward Mineral City.

En route we pointed out the “trailhead” for Jumpoff Vista where we had hiked recently. There were no vehicles parked at the trailhead and none further up the Index-Galena road to where it is barricaded (about 2.5 miles from the Jumpoff Vista trailhead parking).

As for the barricade it is hardly needed; there is still water flowing over the road. We can’t imagine anyone other than perhaps someone wearing hip boots that would likely tackle the road on foot. The bypass is absolutely necessary.

The bypass is not signed but it takes right off uphill on the right-hand side of the road near the closure. If you’re looking for it, you’ll find it readily enough.

The path is steep and slippery but there are trees and roots to cling to when needed. It’s actually kind of fun in a way, a little bit like playing in a gym. The forest that borders the bypass is absolutely stunning with mossy trees, the rainforest-like ambience punctuated by occasional big boulders. The route is also marked with pink flags and occasional splotches of paint but it wouldn’t be hard to follow without the flags – enough people have hiked in there that the trail is discernible most of the way.

It drops down again to another broken stretch of road where the asphalt crumpled like chunks of gingerbread creating an eerie scene. Fallen trees lie across the broken road as if to remind one and all that this can be a violent place.

The bypass climbs again around another washout before finally dropping down to the road again. From that point (indicated by another barricade) the road was in good condition.

We continued hiking the road stopping at various spurs; some spurs lead to mining claims (we did not try to find those, of course), others led to old campsites, even a cable car crossing (no sign of the cable car). The scenery along the old road is splendid – peaks we were not sure we could identify (I’d rather not name them at all then get them wrong and be taken to task by a topographical wizard). There are many places to stop along the way where you can sit in the sun and soak up the views beside the river.

Roughly a couple miles from our starting point we stopped to investigate an arrangement of big boulders beside the road – here, it looks like rock hounds have found some goodies. The rocks appear to be a conglomerate of jasper, quartz and granite.

Not too far past the boulders we crossed Howard Creek on a good bridge; and a little further we came to the strong bridge that still spans the river. The bridge was in the sun and that made a good spot for lunch and a turnaround. Silverback and I hankered to continue toward the site of Mineral City but figured we didn’t have enough time to “get” anywhere in particular. Jim was having trouble with new boots so we turned around resolving to return, next time to follow the Silver Creek road-trail as far as possible.

On our way out we met two hikers coming in; other than them we saw no one else on the road. Almost forgot to mention that it looks like the Index-Galena road is a likely candidate for a “new” road. We noticed surveyors tape and flagging on a route above the bypass trail and had heard that there were plans/hopes to rebuild the road higher up on the hillside above the river.

As is often the case in such soulful places I was “feeling” more than “seeing” and my photographs reflect that. The photographs I took do not do this place justice – but the contrast in light was not my friend either. The road-walk is far more spectacular than any of these photographs suggest. I’ve noticed that when I am truly excited about a setting that the resulting photographs fall way short of my anticipation.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Jumpoff Vista (North Cascades)

Jumpoff Vista (February 9, 2010)

It had been a few years since I last tramped this road with fellow guidebook writer, Bob Dreisbach (author of Seattle Outdoors). Then, the old 4-mile forest service road had been in fairly good shape and made a good off-season hike. In addition to the exercise we’d been rewarded with views of Gunn Peak, Baring and other peaks in the vicinity. Older guidebooks suggest views of Spire Peak and Conglomerate Peak as well.

Silverback and I set out to hike the road on a balmy, February day. First we drove the Index-Galena road to view the infamous washout (the road washed out a few years ago and it is not known whether or not it will ever be repaired). It appears that a rough trail cuts up the bank to get around the washout for those determined to continue on.

On a side note the Index-Galena road leads to the site of Mineral City and a mostly forgotten trail that went to Poodle Dog Pass above Monte Cristo. As of this writing I don’t know of anyone who has successfully completed that entire hike and with each passing year, the terrain grows wilder and more desolate without road or trail access. That status seems unlikely to change.

There’s another road at the barricade that branches off to lakes known mostly to fishermen and the old Sunset Mine. Bob Dreisbach and I once hiked that road as well and did find the old mine – in my opinion such exploration can be hazardous and is not recommended. Given the rough nature of that road the fishermen won’t have to worry much about hikers despoiling their hidden lakes.

We got out of the car to photograph the washout but did not linger. At the barricade the road closure sign has been vandalized with racist graffiti and there are bullet casings all around. There is something about the end of a road that seems to attract unsavory elements though some may argue that hikers are also an unsavory element.

We backtracked to the gated forest service road (it is 4 miles from the Index turnoff on US 2). Our odometer said 3.9 miles – close enough. One other vehicle was parked there; there is room for 3-4 at the most. A bright yellow sign on a tree explains that Friends of the Forest removed trash from the site; thank you. I’m seeing more and more of these yellow signs, always a welcome sight.

There have been significant changes to the road since my visit with Dreisbach. As the road climbs toward Jumpoff Vista several washouts break up the continuity of the road. The first two or three are not enough to stop hikers; perhaps even cyclists (they will need to carry their bike across). Canyon Creek is responsible for most of these. In this odd winter that does not feel like winter, the crossings presented no problems for us. These crossings could present challenges later in spring with the melting snow-pack (assuming it ever snows again) or drenching rains. Right now, no problem.

Much of the hike is through forest but there are sporadic views of Mount Persis and the connecting ridge to Mount Index as well as the forested valley below. Further up the road are growing views of Baring and Gunn Peak; the higher you go, the better the views.

Before you get to those rewarding views you’ll come to a landslide or rock avalanche that destroyed a 200-foot or so stretch of the road. Some hikers may opt to stop here and I suggest you think twice before crossing this, especially if it has been raining for any length of time. We felt it was okay to continue since the weather has been stable and did so, proceeding cautiously across the mess of trees, dirt and rocks. Incidentally the road is snow-free all the way to the landing (as of this writing) though that can change.

From that point the road was in good shape with only a few trees to step over. As we climbed we passed a large, mossy boulder field (right) just before reaching pretty Bitter Creek. This is one of the prettiest spots along the road. A little beyond Bitter Creek Baring comes into view but it has a completely different aspect than how it appears from US 2 – it looks like a completely different mountain.

We continued on the road to an old landing where there are occasional unobstructed views of Gunn Peak as well as Baring; the road continues. Past the landing the road grows indistinct as alders are taking over. By spring the road above the landing will be even more challenging to follow as much of the upper road will be blocked by alders (at lower elevations you’ll also have salmonberry and devil’s club to contend with).

We can only imagine how impenetrable the road will be when the alders leaf out. Early spring or fall is the best time for this hike (now is a good time unless winter snow returns). If you do visit in the winter it might make a good snowshoe trip – at least as far as the rockslide.

From the landing there is a choice of two very overgrown spurs to get to that view; since the views from the old landing were good enough for us we made that our turnaround point. We estimate we were a couple hundred feet below the “end” of the road.

The hike to the landing is about 8 miles round trip with roughly 2,000 feet of gain (2,100 feet according to my altimeter). Silverback’s GPS gave us a slightly different reading. To get there from Monroe continue on US 2 (east) to the turn off for Index (left). Continue 4 miles to a gated road on the right-hand side of the Index Galena Road.