Monday, July 19, 2010

July hikes

July Hikes (A few in June too)

As I wrote a few days ago, I’ve been hiking more than writing. I’ll try to fill in some of these blanks soon!

Thorp Lake and Lookout ) July 18)

Surprise Lake/Trap Pass (July 14)

Mount Defiance (July 16)

Marten Lake (July)

Sasse Mt/Hex (July)

Summerland (July)

Iron Bear (June)

Doe Falls (July)

Heather Lake (July)

Edgar Rock/Boulder Cave (late June)

Plus “conditioning” hikes in the Issaquah Alps/Mount Si Recreation Area

Monday, July 5, 2010


This is to let followers know that for reasons I can't decipher I am unable to post photographs. When I figure it out, things will return as normal.

In the meantime you can view photographs of my recent hikes at:

Easton Ridge, early June, 2010

Easton Ridge – June 5, 2010

I meant to post this last month but I’ve been doing more hiking than writing!!
This was probably my 10th visit over the years, ranging from brutally cold Mountaineer snowshoes trips to solo hikes in spring when wildflowers are at their best.

However the days of having this trail to yourself are probably history unless you hike mid-week. Our hike took place on Saturday and while we expected to share the trail with others, we weren’t psychologically prepared for the crowd gathering at the trailhead for a Mountaineers-related Naturalist hike.

We waited for the group to get ahead of us before we started out. Despite our relaxed pace we soon caught up with them as a faster trio of hikers caught up with us. We guessed we’d have to lollygag for a measure of solitude (we don’t mind an easy-going shamble from time to time) so we tarried and then some. We stopped for photographs of wildflowers along the lower stretch of the trail between the creek and the unsigned junction where the trail meets a gravel road.

There isn’t a trail sign there so when you get to the road head left and pick up the trail at the first, big switchback in the road. It’s hard to miss.

Flowers were aplenty – Hooker’s fairy bells, Solomon’s Seal, waterleaf, vanilla leaf, flowering current, trilliums and at higher elevation lots of spring beauties and golden glacier lilies, always a sight for sore eyes. We also saw serviceberry, vine maple with new, bright green leaves and Luina (not yet in bloom).

The next stretch between the road and the Domerie Peak trail junction is steep but the trail is in good shape. We stopped briefly at the junction (signed Easton Ridge, Thomas Mountain and Domerie Peak) discussing where to go. That was an easy decision - we knew most of the hikers were heading toward Domerie Peak so we opted for Easton Ridge instead.

At this major junction there are two obvious trails. The trail to left goes to Thomas Mountain and Domerie Peak. The trail to the right is the Easton Ridge trail but after a few paces you’ll come to another junction that is not signed or as obvious as the first junction. Take the uphill fork. The other trail contours above the logging road and soon ends (I know, I’ve hiked it).

Though the Easton Ridge trail is not as distinct as the first stretch it’s not all that hard to follow. When in doubt – go up. The trail improves as it approaches the ridge and skirts a rocky outcropping. That first outcropping makes a good spot for a break or a photograph of Kachess Lake below.

From the first outcropping the way now is mostly airy as it continues toward the ridgeline; there are a few more outcroppings along the way. Each outcropping provides a more expansive view of Kachess Lake, Easton Lake and Easton below. On a clear day there’s also a good view of Mount Rainier.

After the third or so outcropping we left the trail, taking a shortcut to the top of the ridge – this makes a nice ridge-run (a phrase often used by hikers who enjoy following ridgelines.) There are several outcroppings that make outstanding turnarounds or lunch spots with views in all directions – here you can view the path not taken, the forested summits of minor peaks including Mount Baldy.

Here is where we picked up one tick – not nearly as prevalent here as they are in other sites east of the crest (Umtanum Ridge and Creek is teeming with ticks). Other than the tick we had the ridge to ourselves and enjoyed a lazy, leisurely lunch.

We dropped back down to the trail and continued (east) for another half mile or so before turning around. My memory is not foolproof – I seem to remember a few years ago we hiked the trail until it ended at a rock outcropping but today we stopped shy of that.

This was our first warm day hike in a long time; it was nice not to have to bundle up and wonderful to bask in sunlight. We retraced our route back to the trailhead. The big group was still on the mountain so there were still a lot of cars at the trailhead, more than I’ve ever seen. We also met more hikers on the trail, getting a late start.

On our way back we stopped at Turtle Bar in Easton for milkshakes and for me, a hot-spiced cider with a cinnamon stick. The Turtle Bar used to be a funky place with delicious but greasy grub. It’s been spruced up, the prices are a little higher than they were but the food is better. In the past the old restaurant was mostly used by snowmobilers or cold and wet Mountaineers in need of sugar, caffeine and grease - now it’s become a more popular spot for residents and visitors to stop.

We hiked about 5.2 miles round trip with 1,859 feet of elevation gain per the GPS. The map is Green Trails No. 208 Kachess Lake.

To get there: From Seattle take I-90 east and turn off at Exit 70. Drive over the freeway and turn left onto a frontage road signed Kachess Dam Road and proceed to Forest Service Road No. 4818 and turn right. Stay on Road No. 4818 to an unsigned road junction and turn right – follow that road about ½ mile to the trailhead, elevation 2,400 feet, no facilities. A Northwest Forest Pass is required.

Howson Creek trail, July 4, 2010

Howson Creek Trail (July 4, 2010)

What better way to celebrate July 4th than hiking? Given it was raining on the west side of Snoqualmie Pass we headed east (as usual).

This trail has been on my agenda (again) for some time. I first wrote about the trail in “Hidden Hikes” and wanted to find out for myself how “hidden” it was after a few years have passed.

The hike is just as steep as it ever was; finding the trailhead is harder. Unless, of course, you hike this trail every year – a few years ago a sign made finding the trail pretty easy. Now – the sign is missing. Therefore we drove right past it and had to backtrack to find it again (the map and “Hidden Hikes” helped). The driving directions in “Hidden Hikes” is just about right on – the odometer reads 6.1 miles from the Last Resort on the highway heading toward Salmon la Sac.

The trailhead (as you head toward Salmon la Sac) is on the right-hand side of the highway at an elevation of 2,246 feet. There’s plenty of roadside parking on the other side of the highway. The trail – an old jeep track – once you spot it soon becomes genuine trail though there are no signs to clue you in. In a short mile or so (elevation 2,663 feet) Howson Creek is crossed – an easy crossing in early July.

After this gentle start the trail gets down to business – it starts to climb steeply and doesn’t relent. Despite the lack of signage we found the trail easier to follow than it was a few years ago – though faint in spots we were always able to find our way. Someone (the forest service? A friend?) has blocked off the game trails with branches and placed a couple of flags where the trail is a little confusing. We would have been able to follow the trail without the flags but I’d been there before and recognized some of the terrain. If you find the flags leave them – for first-time visitors who could be confused. The game trails are many and some are almost as good as the trail. Or would it be better to say the trail is almost as good as the game trails? You can be the judge of that.

The trail falls roughly into “thirds” – the first third climbs through an old clear-cut, the second third through mostly mellow forest with a few wildflowers (not very many) and the last third a long contour on talus below a rocky ridge. The steep grade does not relent; it is a thigh-burner so we paced ourselves accordingly.

It was a cloudy day so the views we anticipated never materialized – other than a sliver of Cle Elum Lake on the way down that was about the extent of our views. We were a little disappointed not to see Lemah Mt, Mt Stuart and others but we were gratefully for the cool, cloudy day. It was perfect hiking weather for a steep trail.

Our favorite part of the trail was the “third” – here the trail is mostly on talus and rocky, a few “pointy” evergreens anchor the trail in place. Once you are on the trail that contours below a rocky ridge (left) you will see Hex Mountain (just a little bump on this cloudy day) and Sasse Mountain (a forested summit a half mile from the “end” of the Howson Creek trail).

Stay on the main trail – a couple of rocky spurs lead to the ridge (left) and another trail drops into the valley below (right). I have no clue where the lower trail goes – if anywhere – some time we’ll go back and explore it.

We stopped where the trail meets the rocky ridge (saddle) at about 5,422 feet. You can continue to Sasse Mountain from this point. There is a faint trail juncture just a bit below the saddle to the right. A faded flag marks the continuation of the trail to forested Sasse Mountain, a half mile away (the left uphill fork is the correct path). We skipped Sasse there’s no view – however, you can hike from Sasse over to Hex. That would make a dandy one-way hike via the Sasse Mountain trail with a car shuttle. Hmmmm – maybe one of these days!

On our way back the clouds had cleared enough we got a better view of Cle Elum Lake; the water is very high. Some of the trees along the shoreline appear to be inundated. We heard muffled fireworks as we descended the steep trail but were not surprised we had the trail to ourselves. I have yet to meet another hiker on this trail.

There are reasons why this trail is not as popular as many in the region – for starters it’s hard to find. It’s a steep, difficult trail. There are easier trails that lead to better views. But if you like lonesome trails and like to explore this one is fun.

We checked out one of the spurs on our way back down and climbed to the ridgeline we’d contoured below. From where we clambered the ridge was narrow and other than a glimpse of Red Mountain there were no outstanding views. If we had accessed the ridge closer to the saddle it would probably have been more interesting – looking back at the ridge it “fattens” as it approaches the saddle.

I bet there are some nice views up there.

Stats: 8 miles round trip with 3,381 feet of gain (including our side trip). The map is Green Trails No. 208 Kachess Lake.

Flowers: Indian paintbrush, vanilla leaf, lomatiums, penstemon, phlox, lupine, thimbleberry – with the exception of vanilla leaf the flowers were few and far between.