Monday, May 24, 2010

Lost Lake, South Cascades, May 16, 2010

Lost Lake, South Cascades (May 16, 2010)

It’s always fun to “get away with something” by hiking a trail earlier in the season than guidebooks suggest. Such an experience was our recent hike to Lost Lake from Greenwater Lakes in the South Cascades. Generally considered a summer/fall hike this less-seldom-hiked trail can sometimes be hiked earlier for those wishing to push the envelope a bit. Well, that’s us for sure!

The trail to upper Greenwater Lake is in good condition - bridges are in and with beefy railings. It’s only about 2 miles to Greenwater Lakes with 200 feet or so of elevation gain. Since I’ve blogged about Greenwater Lakes already this year I don’t have much to add except that I always enjoy this trail, especially the green, green, green lakes.

The Greenwater Lakes trail is popular so Lost Lake is a good hike to consider either in the spring or in the fall when there’s room to park at the popular trailhead. On this spring-like day in May, there were a few other cars at the trailhead.

Our hike to Greenwater Lakes, the first “leg” of the trail was without difficulty and not that busy despite it being a sunny day. We hiked at a moderate and steady pace – not too fast to miss out on the beauty of Greenwater Lakes but fast enough that we’d be able to get to Lost Lake without feeling hurried.

After crossing the Greenwater River for the last time (on a double bridge) the trail begins its gradual climb through old-growth forest with occasional views down to the Greenwater River the first mile or so. At about 3 miles from the trailhead we reached the junction for Echo/Lost Lake (elevation about 3,028 feet). For Echo Lake, take the left fork – otherwise stay straight for Echo Lake.

As is so often the case in spring we mostly had the trail to ourselves – past the junction we crossed several small tributaries (none of the crossings warranted a bridge) and noted that Devil’s club is beginning to leaf out as well as nettles. The spring flowers are out – stream violets, trilliums, flowering currant, vanilla leaf (not yet in bloom). Everything looks brand new!

As the trail pulled further away from the river we began to encounter snow. At first it wasn’t a problem; a few hikers had beaten a path into the snow and it was chilly enough in the forest that the snow hadn’t melted. A few stretches were a little on the icy side but we managed to get through that without an ignominious pratfall. You might want to take trekking poles in case you run into an icy, stubborn patch. Fortunately for us the icy stretches were layered with pine needles; we did OK without Yak Trax.

About a half mile from Lost Lake we heard voices and met a group of youngsters who had made it to the lake with their dogs. They said the snow was “worse” above the lake but that we should be able to follow their tracks the rest of the way. About ½ mile from the lake we passed lovely Quinn Lake (left), notorious for its turquoise-colored water and sense of solitude. A short spur leads down to the lakeshore – we don’t know whether or not there is a campsite there, we didn’t hike around the lake (we were on a mission to get to Lost Lake).

What the hikers meant by “worse” was that within ¼ mile or so from the lake the snow was deep, soft and we began to post-hole. This is exhausting and exasperating after a while – not enough snow to warrant snowshoes but just enough to make a hiker crabby. Well, I should only speak for myself.

I recognized the semi-open terrain from a previous hike to the lake (about the same time of year) so we carried on and am glad we did because I knew we were close. Where snow has melted beargrass is beginning to appear, a good sign of warmer days to come.

After a bit more of wallowing in soft snow we reached the lakeshore (4,007 feet). The lakeshore was snow-free and there was a good selection of logs to sit upon for lunch. The light was not good for photography (white sky) but we simply delighted in being there and having a whole lake to ourselves. There are some dandy campsites near the lakeshore but alas, we were only out for the day.

Noble Knob (and Lost Lake) can be reached from Corral Pass but getting to that trailhead is no easy task for passenger cars. Most hikers will be content with the view of Noble Knob from Lost Lake, Noble Knob is further away than it looks through a strong hiker with route-finding skills could probably get up to the knob and back down before darkness on a long, summer day. You can also get to Noble Knob from the Ranger Creek trail or the Deep Creek trail (two long, steep trails accessed from SR 410).

The snow had softened up some on our way out; that made walking easier on the icy sections but a little more challenging on the snow (more post-holing). We made good time heading back to Greenwater Lakes; where only a few hikers remained, like us, reluctant to end the pleasant, spring day.

The hike to Lost Lake is 12 miles round trip with 1,800 feet of elevation gain. The maps are Green Trails No. 238 Greenwater and No. 239 Lester.

From Greenwater continue east on SR 410 to Forest Service Road No. 70, turn left and continue about 9 miles to the trailhead (right). A Northwest Forest Pass is required. You will need a wilderness permit if you are camping at Echo or Lost Lake.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Barlow Point, Old Government Trail

Barlow Point, Old Government Trail, Railroad Grade (May, 2010)

The first time I hiked to Barlow Point was in the early 1980s with the late Archie Wright, his wife, Margie and Silverback (Silverback and I go back a long way but that’s a long story). It was a crisp, autumn day – Margie brought apples and an iced cake for our summit lunch and knowing Archie, he probably carried up a thermos of “cowboy” coffee.

Barlow Point is the site of a former lookout – there was little trace of it on that long ago fall day and even less in 2010 – just a mere twinkle of broken glass was all we could find and that may or may not have had anything to do with the lookout.

Either the mountains have grown taller or someone’s been taking down some of the trees because we saw many more Monte Cristo peaks than we did on that hike in the 1980s.

Just like my first visit I get all turned around on Barlow Point, even with the map and am never 100 percent sure of what peaks I’m looking at. To the best of my knowledge we saw Big Four (I initially had it confused with Del Campo, good grief!) and Mount Pugh (other peaks I won’t even attempt to name). It’s weird too – I’ve climbed several of those peaks yet they can look so different depending on where you are standing in relation to the peak.

At some angles Sloan and Pugh look like brothers, one’s just bigger than the other. But from another vantage point, they don’t look like they are related at all. In any event, the views from Barlow Point are – for lack of a better word, inspirational. If you’ve never wanted to take up climbing before you might develop an interest upon viewing these monstrously beautiful peaks from Barlow Point.

The trailhead for Barlow Point (and the Government Trail) is accessed from the upper parking lot at Barlow Pass. We prefer to park at Barlow Pass per se because we perhaps misguidedly believe we are less apt to get the car broken into along the Mountain Loop.
As for the Barlow Point trail there isn’t a sign for the trail at the trailhead kiosk.

Behind the restroom is a dim network of trails in dark forest. Look about for the “best” path; that’s the beginning of the Barlow Point trail. If you veer off too much to the left (toward the Mountain Loop Highway) you’ll find yourself on the Railroad Grade – that’s OK too if that’s what you’re looking for.

Keep on the main trail, you’ll soon come to a signed junction (2,335 feet) for Barlow Point (right) – the Old Government Trail continues straight.

After a bit of up and down the trail wraps rounds a rocky outcropping on decaying puncheon. Here we found trilliums and violets blooming like crazy anywhere there was a bit of earth to cling to. From the outcroppings the trail continues through forest. Boulders have come to rest and over time trees have embraced the boulders with their roots as if to hold them in place. The boulders came down some time ago, some under a fine sheen of moss. Old stumps rear up like the remains of bombed buildings, stark but lovely to behold and difficult to photograph in the dappled light. The forest is a pastiche of new evergreens, old evergreens and snags. We also spotted yellow cedar.

As the trail climbed our attention was drawn to growing views of what I mistakenly took to be Del Campo (it’s Silvertip Peak). We also found evidence of trail work here and there - piles of sawdust beside the trail attest to recently cut downed trees. En route to the summit there are openings in the forest where one could spend an afternoon dawdling on a mossy outcropping and enjoying the view.

We spent quite a long time on the summit (at 3,134 feet) gazing at the surrounding peaks and enjoying the sun. It felt like spring had finally arrived; there was no need to hurry, we had the place to ourselves (not uncommon). Silverback looked around for an old brace that held the lookout in place he remembered from our 1980 hike but no trace remained.

When we hiked down o the junction for the Government Trail we were surprised to run into a friend and fellow hiker, Kim, who loves abandoned, seldom-hiked trails as much as we do. Kim was on her way to Barlow Point – she had never been there. Before we parted company we talked about the historical trails in the area. When I mentioned remnants of old puncheon on the Government Trail she said her feet get all “tingly” even thinking about hiking on old puncheon. We know the feeling!

She continued on her way to Barlow Point, we set off to follow the Old Government as far as we could, perhaps as far as Buck Creek or at least to a tributary I remembered from my first visit long ago when I came upon a mink or a river otter at the seasonal waterfall that occurs there in spring.

The Old Government trail is a gentle one for the most part; with a few blowdowns and ancient puncheon. We found a few boot prints here and there though this trail doesn’t get much use. We encountered historic puncheon here and there, some of it broken and a broken bridge where someone had nailed wire to make for easier walking. However, it hadn’t rained much and it was a just a big step to cross the tributary the bridge once spanned.

At times we could see the old Monte Cristo railroad grade below the trail, a little further on we could see the Mountain Loop Highway and beaver ponds near the road. From the Mountain Loop Highway you’d never know there was a trail.

We called it quits at the tributary; it wasn’t as pretty as it was back in the late 1980s. There have been blowouts over the years and where the seasonal waterfall once fanned out over an outcropping there’s a mess of downed trees and rubble. Though you wouldn’t think so the trail continues to Buck Creek – cross the creek and pick up the trail on the other side. We turned around at that point so couldn’t vouch for what shape the trail is in beyond the tributary.

On our way back we looked for the railroad grade and when we spotted it we left the Old Government trail and dropped down to hike it back to the trailhead. We dropped down a bit too soon and had to work through some pesky alders before getting to the Railroad Grade. However, if you want to visit the railroad grade instead of heading to Barlow Point continue on the Old Government trail to an obvious trail that cuts down to the railroad grade (it’s not very far from the trailhead).

Barlow Cut is not as obvious as it used to be; we passed right through it without my recognizing it. The old kiosk that tells about Barlow Cut and the Monte Cristo railroad is gone, you’d be hard-pressed now to identify it.

The Barlow Point trail is about 2.4 miles round trip with 1,000 feet of elevation gain from the trailhead (per our GPS). To get there: drive from Granite Falls about 31 miles to Barlow Pass - park in the upper lot (left) or along the highway. A Northwest Forest Pass is required.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Glacial Heritage Preserve (5-8-10) and Westberg Trail (5-9-10)

Two Wildflower Hikes: Glacial Heritage Preserve (May 8, 2010) and the Westberg Trail (May 9, 2010)

After a couple of cloudy-rainy-day hikes on Tiger Mountain I was in need of sun and wildflowers. It so happened that my friend Lola was free on May 8th; happily that was also Prairie Appreciation Day at the Glacial Heritage Preserve. Since the preserve is open to the public only ONE day out of the year we weren’t going to miss it.

The preserve is one of the last remnants of a prairie system that once covered large areas of our state. The camas-covered prairies also provided food-gathering areas for Native Americans; today the preserve serves as an outdoor classroom for students to study the plants and ecology.

Only a few years ago the entire area was covered in Scots broom but volunteers have spent thousands of hours restoring the area to it’s natural habitat – thanks to funding from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Natural Resource Conservation Service, the Forest Foundation and the Nature Conservancy. Volunteers have removed and continue to remove Scots broom and plant native plants. The Scotch broom is removed by pulling, burning, mowing, controlled fire and some use of herbicides.

The preserve is owned by Thurston County Parks and Recreation – the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife manages a portion as well. The land was purchased in the late 1980s when private citizens realized the importance of prairies and their role in human and natural history

The Preserve is not only a sanctuary for wildflowers, it is also a home to over a hundred bird species ranging from peregrine falcons to western bluebirds. Several species of butterflies can also be seen here; there are even herds of black tail deer and elk.

When we arrived the parking area was rapidly filling up with visitors but we managed to squeeze in. First we picked up a brochure at the Welcome Booth designed for the self-guided trail (a loop) with designated areas of interest (marked by numbers). There was also a shorter loop for visitors wanting an easier walk – the long loop was just under four miles. There were also activities for children including a hay ride.

Even on our way into the preserve we’d noticed camas growing in nearby fields and along the road. Inside the preserve the grassy mounds and swales were a sea of blue – from the edge of the road all the way to the horizon. Common camas was an important food of Native Americans. Bulbs were dug up in the spring and then cooked in pits dug into the ground. In addition to common camas we saw a bit of death camas as well as western buttercup and spring gold. The brochure said we’d spot chocolate lilies though we failed to spot them.

There were 38 “stops” along the self-guided trail, each with an explanation in the accompanying brochure. In one area Garry oak trees are being released from the shade of Douglas fir and shore pine. The conifers grow faster than the oak trees and have a high tolerance for shade. Prior to settlements fires destroyed some of the conifers but the oak trees withstand fires better than the conifers. Some of the oaks here are over 150 years old; the conifers are much younger. Today controlled burns and cutting are used to maintain the presence of the oak trees.

There were several displays to visit as well; one dedicated to butterflies, another to birds, another to bats, another to native plants and more. We got a kick out of the wildflower displays where volunteers had set up giant homemade plants and fashioned bee wings for children to wear so they could go out and pollinate the flowers. They were, of course, encouraged to buzz as they pollinated the flowers. It was fun to watch them; they never had stuff like that for kids when I was growing up!

I could dedicate more pages to this event but better yet – for a taste of the prairie you can visit nearby Mima Mounds year-round. Right now would be a good time to go – here you will see mounds in the earth; no one can say for sure how the mounds were created. The mystery of the mounds continues to mystify the experts. We stopped by nearby Mima Mounds after our walk through the Glacial Heritage Preserve; there were fewer people here so we pretty much had the place to ourselves. We saw more common camas and flowers we’d seen in the nearby Preserve but there were tons of violets here as well.

Mima Mounds Natural Area: To get there: From Seattle go south via I-5 to 10 miles south of Olympia, get off at Exit 95, then go west on Maytown Road SW about 4 miles through the little town of Littlerock to a T intersection turn right onto Waddell Creek Road SW, continue 0.8 miles north and turn left. To get to the Glacial Heritage Preserve you’d turn left at the T intersection but the preserve will not be open to the public again until next year – UNLESS you’d like to volunteer some time to helping various organizations on their ongoing work in maintaining the preserve. If so, visit the website for The Nature Conservancy at or for additional information. .

Westberg Trail – May 9, 2010

Last year I blogged about the Westberg Trail, a favorite trail that has become an annual event. The Westberg Trail is near Thorp on the east side of the mountains (see driving directions below). The trail is named to honor a popular high school coach (Ray Westberg) who died too young. There are memorials on the high point of the hike in addition to a memorial for Westberg. There’s even a summit register! The views of Mount Stuart from the trail are breathtaking, especially with clumps of golden balsamroot in the foreground and a green checkerboard of fields below. We made the mistake of not bringing a wildflower guide; never again!

In addition to “cow” clover and balsamroot we saw sagebrush violets, a variety of lomatiums, lupine, larkspur, sagebrush, serviceberry and flowers we could not identify. We missed out on seeing bitterroot this year – we were either too early or too late to see them.

After the climb to the memorial we continued hiking on a Green Dot DNR road (these roads are open to motorized vehicles) to a high point with views of Mount Rainier and a partial view of Mount Adams (in the distance). There’s a network of these Green Dot roads; one goes to an observatory but that is not open to the public.

It was the first “hot” hike of the year; shirt-sleeve weather has finally arrived! But if it’s flowers you want to see, go soon. The displays will soon be over.

Getting there: From Seattle head east on I-90 over Snoqualmie Pass and get off I-90 at Exit 110 (Thorp Highway) and turn right. In about two miles turn right again on Cove Road, go straight at two stop signs. Just past the second stop sign find parking on the right hand side of the road, just before a gravel road and the beginning of the hike, about six miles from I-90, elevation 1,850 feet. There are no facilities. No permits or passes required.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Section Line Trail, Cable Line Trail, May 2010

Two Hikes on Tiger Mountain – May 2010 (Cable Line Trail, Middle Tiger via West Side Road, TMT, Artifacts trail)

This is May? What happened to spring?

This has been an odd spring but the work of getting (or staying) in shape continues no matter the weather or the number of birthdays (I wish I could slow those down!). .

I’ve become fond of the Cable Line Trail; it’s a great opportunity to get into or stay in shape. Though I am long in the tooth I get a little faster every time I tackle it and feel I could climb forever.

We arrived at the Cable Line trailhead on a rainy Saturday morning; despite the nasty weather there were already other hikers on the Cable Line. I passed a few hikers on the trail; a few passed me. It used to be that everyone passed me so I have no complaints. Besides, it’s not about ego – it’s about feeling fit because being fit feels good.

This trail simply gets down to the business of getting to the summit of West Tiger 3 as efficiently as possible; mostly straight up. When it’s muddy, care is needed to keep from slipping in the mud whether climbing or descending. When it’s dry care is needed to keep from skidding on the packed dirt, especially descending. It was muddy though we managed to stay upright, coming and going.

It was too cold to spend time on the summit; we elected to hike down via the Section Line trail, another favorite trail. We’ve hiked the Section Line trail often enough now that we have “favorite” trees and always give them a pat in passing; seeing our pet trees is almost like running into old friends.

At lower elevations spring is springing into action – woodland flowers are blooming. We spotted trilliums, bleeding hearts, violets, fringe-cup, vanilla leaf (no flowers yet), wild ginger, false lily-of-the-valley.

By the time we got back to Tradition Plateau we still felt like hiking so hiked the Swamp Trail, the Ruth Kees Big Tree trail and the Adventure Trail. These trails are more lonesome than many trails at Tiger though we did run into a few other hikers.

This reminds me -- a woman was recently assaulted on a trail near Tradition Plateau (a potential sexual assault) but she fought back and the man ran off. We were surprised to hear of this – that happened on a Saturday morning, generally a busy time on Tiger Mountain. Since then a sketch has been released of the assailant; if you haven’t already done so take a look at The Seattle Times for the sketch. And be on the alert.

As we hiked the lower elevation trails we noted how beautiful horsetails are when they are in their proper place; (not our yard thank you!). We’ve been battling horsetails for two years now and are slowly making progress. They’re ugly in the yard but beautiful in the forest.

The second hike on Tiger was yesterday (May 5, 2010). The weather was – well, awful. The forecast was for showers with partial clearing but it never cleared, at least not in Issaquah. We drove to the trailhead on SR 18; we wanted to start out on the Iverson Railroad Trail.

The Iverson Railroad trail was closed so instead we hiked the West Side Road to access the TMT; but soon after we started hiking we got side-tracked by the old “Artifacts Trail” and followed that instead, pausing at the site of a fatal train crash in 1925; mangled ties and contorted metal tell a sad story.

Though we had the map with us we were so wet that we elected to hike until we reached a high point or the next trail junction, whichever came first. Big mistake! After passing more artifacts we were unable to identify the trail grew steeper as the rain intensified. It wasn’t too much longer before the rain turned to snow – we kept on going.

As we climbed the trail grew even steeper and the snow deeper, not enough to warrant an ice axe or traction devices but enough to render the trail slippery, making it more difficult to follow the trail. When we could climb no higher we deduced we’d reached Middle Tiger (a summit without a view, even on a nice day).

Then we made another mistake. Rather than hike back the way we came we followed a more discernible trail we believed would connect to the TMT. We soon came to a signed junction (whew!) and only had to hike another mile to the West Side Road. This stretch was gorgeous but we were too cold to stop for photography; the precipitation intensified, turning from snow to rain.

Finally we reached the West Side Road but did not stop other than to gulp down an energy drink before the final stretch back to the trailhead. We were so wet that despite good rain gear, boots, hats and gloves we were getting cold, hungry and tired. That’s never a good combination - it seemed to take forever before we got back to the trailhead.

We were overjoyed to reach the car, a hot thermos of coffee and dry clothing. It was only after we’d changed into dry clothes we were able to eat our lunch – our fingers (despite our wool gloves) had grown so cold while hiking down from Middle Tiger that they were unwilling to grapple with packs and get our lunch out. It’s all too easy to see how hypothermia can get hikers into trouble.

It rained all the way back to Seattle despite a forecast of “showers” with a few sun breaks. We were happy to get home and dry out our gear.

In retrospect we should have turned around sooner than we did and putting ourselves at the risk of hypothermia. We had good gear but on such a wet hike it never holds up as well as we’d like it to; plus, I made the same mistake I have made over and over again, not bringing enough extra food. I don’t eat much when I hike; another mistake. I get so interested in what I am doing I just don’t think about food!! For that reason I carry a protein drink along and that has come in handy several times over the years (GU packets work well too when your fingers refuse to cooperate).

We are eager to repeat our loop on a dry day so we can enjoy this hike, rather than merely survive it. According to the GPS we hiked about 11 miles with roughly 2,800 feet of gain (taking into account numerous ups and downs).

Monday, May 3, 2010

West Fork Miller River, mid-April 2010

West Fork Miller River (mid-April, 2010)

Hikers with cross-country hiking and route-finding skills will get a kick out of this hike as will history buffs; it’s not a hike for a novice.

It’s not the mileage or the elevation gain that make it a challenge; it’s the rugged terrain. The “hike” is an old road that it is becoming trail-like over time; this road will never be repaired – it is the kind of place where likely the only other people you might run into are fishermen, hunters and those looking for old mines.

For some, a place like this is a hiker’s paradise. The terrain is so scenic it’s hard to take it all in. For starters, the road parallels the West Fork of the Miller River for quite a way (nothing but clich├ęs come close to describing the essence of a wild river), huge old growth trees, wildflowers (in season), boulders dripping with beaded moss and ferns, some with overhangs deep enough to provide shade for bears and such. The biggest tree we saw was a cedar tree; you can’t miss it, it’s on the right-hand side of the road, not very far from the trailhead.

Did I say trailhead? There is not a designated trailhead per se; nor is there a sign, not even a road number. However, it is easy to find if you want to find it (see driving directions below).

The scenery is not the only thing that will slow a hiker down – watching where you place your feet will also take concentration. Parts of the road resemble a stream; in fact, are a stream, especially the first mile or so. In April we did not have to cross raging torrents or resort to wading shoes but rock-hopping on slippery rock skills will come in handy. You might want to bring poles - again, nothing dangerous, just painstaking.

In late April flowers are becoming to bloom; trilliums, bleeding hearts, yellow violets were prevalent, especially along the first mile or so. There is also an ideal campsite a few steps from the “trailhead” above the river with a campfire ring.

There are several blowouts where streams came down and tore up the road. Avalanche activity, stream blowouts and floods have completely taken out sections of the road but again, not impassible.

When the fall rains return (or the spring snow melt) you may not be able to safely negotiate crossing these gullies and streams. You’ll have to check that out yourself; you won’t find trail conditions of this place at ranger stations or in guidebooks.

As the forest opens up cliffs comes into view on the right-hand side of the road. These are impressive cliffs indeed. A little further along a waterfall comes into view (right); to the best of our knowledge it is without a name.

The Cascade Mountain massif comes into view on the left side of the road as elevation is gained. At about our half-way point the road climbs above the river where you can see an enormous landslide or avalanche has taken a huge bite out of the landscape; it must have been a devastating climatic event to cause that amount of chaos. The slope all the way down to the river is composed of nothing but downed trees and debris. Past the avalanche debris the road returns to forest and is road-like for a while. We soon began to encounter snow with fresh boot prints (there had been one other car at the trailhead) and wondered if we would encounter other hikers before turnaround. Later we did meet the other hikers – they turned out to be a couple of young fishermen.

We also noticed a few cairns beside the road – where do they lead? Old mines? Secret campsites? Seldom-climbed summits?? Following the cairns is no easy task for a hiker; such temptations are best left to those with scrambling skills and in-depth knowledge of the topography.

Those who know how to do so safely can ferret out mines that can be accessed from the West Fork Miller River Road but proceed with caution – entering old mines can be dangerous and the terrain rugged. Hiking cross-country above the old road is about as far away as you can get from even a strenuous hike. According to what we have read from other sources, none of the mines are easily accessible.

Past the big landslide the road pulled away from the river through forest; here the road was in relatively good shape and out of harm’s way. The last mile or so was mostly in snow; not deep enough for snowshoes.

When we got to Coney Creek there was no safe way to get across. The creek was running high and wild; rock hopping would be impossible (upon more research we read an account where someone almost got swept down the creek while attempting to ford). This, Coney Creek is probably the logical turnaround point for most hikers.

Another caution; watch out for the resident bear. We almost met him on our way back to the trailhead. About ½ mile from the trailhead we stopped at a large boulder with an overhang; an ideal spot to pose a friend for a photograph. Silverback agreed to pose – I could not hear him about the sound of the river but just before getting into a sitting position under the overhang he yelled “Pinocchio!” to make sure there wasn’t an animal inside.

He reasoned that if there was an echo, there was “nobody” home. Much to his surprise he heard muffled snarls and snorts (which I could not hear) so I couldn’t understand why he was backing away from the overhang until he said there was a bear inside. We backed away slowly from the cave then picked up our pace, turning around every so often to make sure we weren’t being followed. We weren’t.

Don’t make the mistake we did – we should have known better. Make sure there’s “nobody” home if you think crawling under an overhang is a good idea.

6.7 miles round trip to Coney Creek, elevation gain about 1,000 feet

To get there head east on US 2 toward Stevens Pass and in about 1.9 miles past Skykomish and just past the Skykomish Ranger Station turn right onto Money Creek Road. The road is in good condition for passenger cars as of late April 2010. In about 3.5 miles from US 2, look for a green gate barring vehicular access to an old forest service road (right) and park in the unofficial parking area near the gate (no Northwest Forest Pass required). The old road that serves as “trail” is not signed.

Marten Creek Trail, Mountain Loop, April 25, 2010


Marten Creek Trail to View of Three Fingers

The Marten Creek trail is a lonesome trail; perhaps it always has been except when miners worked the region in hopes of striking it rich. Mines remain today but are known only to a few but their handiwork remains – old puncheon, wooden bridges. The area around Marten Creek is riddled with old trails/roads, baffling to hikers over the years as they did their best to get to rumored-Granite Pass with views of Three Fingers, Liberty and Anaconda Peaks. Did one of the old roads once extend to the Darrington region? There are questions to be raised; questions, perhaps, that may never be answered.

What is true about Marten Creek is the beautiful, deep forest, site of the first experimental forest plantation (established in 1915) after a major forest fire destroyed much of Long Mountain. Signs along the first mile of the trail designate the year and place seedlings were planted.

A sign at the trailhead informs visitors that an Eagle Scout Project has worked or is working on a trail project. Details are unknown to us (the sign was mostly blank) though we suspect trail maintenance because this is the best shape the trail (road) has been in since my first visit back in the 1980s..

A road-bridge project on The Mountain Loop (from Granite Falls) makes parking a little difficult; find a wide place near to park near the highway, don’t block road equipment. Hopefully the trailhead sign will be back in place in the near future. Though the trailhead sign is not visible display the NW Forest Pass just in case the Forest Service takes a gander at vehicles parked at trailheads.

The hike starts out on an old road that once led to mines and passes the designated Experimental Forest Plantation by the Forest Service, the first of its kind in the country. Between evergreens of various ages/origins are boulders that broke away from peaks above before the trees took root.

We looked for and found a bus-sized boulder on the road/trail where a tree is growing on top. The boulder has been described in the out-of-print “Monte Cristo Area” by Harry M. Majors and Richard McCollum. It’s fun to find points of interest others have written about; we also found the remains of an old wooden bridge also mentioned in the book.

Marten Creek is on the west (downhill side) and at times can be glimpsed through the trees. Vague paths – mostly game trails – veer off into the green-gray glooms of the forest where they either die in brush or lead to forgotten campsites.

At about 3 miles the trail breaks out of the forest and the summit ridge of Three Fingers comes into view through the thinning evergreens. The forested peak beside it is Anaconda Peak (a high point of Gordon Ridge).

The trail was in fair condition to that point; we hoped to be able to follow it all the way to Granite Pass but our hopes were dashed. At about 3-1/4 miles from the trailhead we lost the trail altogether in a Rorschach mess of snow, downed trees, rocks and brush. We satisfied ourselves with the fine view of Three Fingers (3,875 feet) and resolved to return – when the snow melts, before the shrubs leaf out.

There were (are?) old trails – or wagon roads – on both sides of the Marten Creek valley. I remember years ago the trail crossed Marten Creek and dead-ended in brush. My memory might not be correct but it felt like we got closer to Granite Pass this time than in the mid to late 1980’s when we followed the “other” trail that ran up the valley closer to the creek. More recent trail reports indicate that the road (trail) we were on does cross Marten Creek before getting to Granite Pass. That makes sense but just how to get to that crossing is another matter.

The hike to our turnaround point is 6-1/2 miles round trip with 1,400 feet of elevation gain.