Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Fuller Mountain


No kidding, you can get lost here. Ask me how I know that – yes, we came close to getting lost on a previous visit to this cute little peak.

My first visit was on a Mountaineer hike led by the late Archie Wright. That was a day in fall and as we switchbacked toward the summit through a high sea of swirling sword ferns, I wondered how we’d find our way back. Archie, of course, knew the way.

I returned a few years later only to learn the hard way that staying on the trail was easier said than done. We eventually found the bald little summit but lost the trail on our way back. Over time the sea of sword ferns had grown deeper, the trees taller. We stood confused in a Sargasso Sea of ferns, salal, Oregon grape and look-alike second and third-growth forest – there were no distinctive landmarks.

That was on a cold winter day and the hours were moving much faster than we were hiking. Flummoxed, we thrashed around, cursed a bit, briefly panicked and finally found the wisp of a trail, making it back to the car with daylight to spare.

Fast forward to the present – suddenly it seems like everybody is discovering or re-discovering Fuller Mountain though we did find recent trail reports confusing. It seems that most hikers can only describe staying on the trail a little challenging.

Finding the “trailhead” is a challenge in itself unless you familiar with North Bend and the logging road layout. From Seattle drive to North Bend on I-90, follow North Bend Way to Ballarat Avenue, turn left. Ballarat Avenue eventually becomes the North Fork Road (gravel) and jogs uphill (left). We continued on the gravel road about three miles to Spur Gate 10. Spur 10 is a network of logging roads managed by Hancock Forestlands (formerly managed by Weyerhaeuser). We parked at the major road junction, the last place a vehicle can park without a (costly) permit to drive on Hancock’s gated roads.

The hike starts kitty-corner at the road junction at Spur 10; the sign for Ten Mile Creek is gone. Find the creek near the road junction at Spur 10 and you’ll spot the obvious trail. You might hear the creek before you see it. You’ll see two posts where the trail starts, the only indication of trail (the interpretive trail was created by Weyerhaeuser years before these lands were acquired by Hancock Forestlands).

Along the short trail some trees are designated with signs to help visitors recognize the trees that grow here. We noted a “Red Alder”, the biggest red alder I’ve seen in a while. Shortly past “Red Alder” Ten Mile Creek is crossed on what used to be a rickety bridge. The existing bridge is an improvement - a fat log with a rope and chicken wire on slippery wood makes it pretty easy, even for landlubbers like me who don’t relish stream crossings.

Near the bridge we stopped to gaze at ponds created by beaver dams – by golly, this is a pretty place!

The trail crosses an old road before it comes out to a road junction at the edge of a quarry; the end of the old interpretive trail. After you leave the trail turn left for a short distance on the gravel road, then almost immediately turn right onto an older gravel road and look for the trail (left). Previous reports mentioned it was marked by blue flags; we did not find blue flags but the trail is easy to spot if you’re looking.

As for the trail itself it provides more challenges of a different nature; the trail is uneven, rocky and being overtaken by vegetation, lots and lots of sword fern. We enjoyed peek-a-boo views of Klaus Lake below as the trail switchbacked toward the summit. En route there are a few blowdowns; none impassible.

It’s when the trail levels out on the broad summit area that things get perplexing; here, a myriad of trails twists and winds through a jungle of vegetation. Plus, the vegetation is surrounded by look-alike-trees; there are no distinctive landmarks. There are also flags here and there (some with polka dots, some white, some orange) these merely add to the confusion. A GPS would be handy for this hike; ours is broken and needs to be replaced.

It is beyond the skill of this hiker to describe exactly how to find the grassy bald with the view of Mount Si, Fuller Mountain and beyond. You are on your own once the trail gains the undulating summit ridge; we aimed for the sky and followed tread as best we could and by luck more than crook, we found the mossy knoll and settled down, satisfied that we did actually find the “summit” of Fuller Mountain.

There were no views today; Mount Si was barely discernible through the thick layers of clouds but I enjoyed the ambience anyway; the thick layers of intricate mosses that covered the rocky bald were fun to photograph; this is also a summit you’ll likely have to yourself since it is no easy task finding it.

But worth the try!!

The hike is 4 miles round trip with about 600 feet of elevation gain.

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