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.

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