Monday, May 3, 2010

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.

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