Saturday, May 21, 2011

Return to Easton Ridge, May 20, 2011

EASTON RIDGE (May 20, 2011)

Finally – we enjoyed a delightful hike with summer-like conditions including wildflowers, sunshine, views and unfortunately – ticks. It’s unfortunate that when conditions are favorable for a pleasant hike on the east side that’s about the time the ticks are out and about on their relentless search for blood. We knew we’d need to be on the alert for the ticks but we didn’t prevent them from enjoying our day in the sun.

This hike is a favorite standby – the trail melts out earlier than many and it’s often where we spot the first glacier lilies and yellow bills of the season. This year was no exception – driving back from Umtanum Ridge a few days ago we noticed that Easton Ridge was mostly snow-free so a return to Easton Ridge was in order.

Easton Ridge is an enigma of trails ranging from established trails to game trails. Not even maps and guidebooks agree on mileages and elevations -- lingering snow always adds to the adventure. After parking at the trailhead (Kachess Ridge/Easton Ridge) we turned right onto a short path that leads to an old camping area along Silver Creek then walked upstream a bit to cross the creek on a bridge (happy the bridge is still there!).

We expected to be hiking in snow before the hike was over but that wasn’t too high a price to pay for getting to see wildflowers starting right from the trailhead. Glacier lilies and Calypso orchids added color to the first forested switchbacks after crossing Silver Creek. Trilliums are also at their peak, sweet and fresh.

After climbing a few switchbacks the trail meets a gravel road (about 2,700 feet). We turned left onto the road (no trail signs at the road). The road soon makes a switchback – and the trail is obvious (left, uphill). The sign is missing but there are splendid views of Lake Kachess here and improving as the trail begins to climb more steeply.

After gaining about 1,200 feet we reached the trail junction (signed) at 3,400 feet per the Green Trails map. Easton Ridge Trail No. 1212 (right) Domerie Divide Trail No. 1308-2 is to the left. As we continued on the Easton Ridge trail we began to encounter snow patches (not enough to obscure the trail).

A short steep climb brought us to a familiar-to-me rocky outcropping (about 4,300 feet). Here we stopped for views of Easton Lake and Kachess Lake before continuing upward. There are also views of Mount Rainier but it was hazy enough that getting a good photograph of the mountain was out of the question.

We began to encounter more snow than trail but route finding is easy and we managed to stay on the trail most of the time. The trail continues to several high points; each one inspired us to continue further until it looked like snow would be mostly continuous.

We stopped for lunch at one of the high points and that’s where the ticks were waiting for us. Having to watch for ticks was kind of an “ick” factor though the 360-degree views compensated for our discomfort.

More flowers are beginning to bloom along the crest of the ridge including purple Douglasia and spring beauties. There are lots of glacier lilies blooming where snow has just melted as is their way. Friends sometimes ask how I remember to tell avalanche lilies and glacier lilies apart. My solution: think G for gold (glacier lily) and A for white (as in avalanche, snow).

There are good views of the Domerie Creek drainage of the northeast side of the ridge, including Mount Baldy. You cannot see Thomas Mountain from this ridge. On the southwest side, of course, are views of Easton Lake (so green!) and Kachess Lake (so blue!).

On our way back we ventured a little way onto the Domerie Divide trail to a favorite viewpoint of Kachess Lake, Silver Falls. The outcropping is a little exposed; don’t get too close to the edge.

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, turn right. Stay on Road No. 4818 to an unsigned road junction and turn right – continue about ½ mile to the trailhead, elevation 2,400 feet, no facilities. A Northwest Forest Pass is required. The maps are Green Trails Kachess Lake No. 208 and Green Trails Easton No. 240.

From the trailhead to Easton Ridge is about 5 miles round-trip about 1,950 feet gain.

Additional information: Cle Elum Ranger District (509-852-1100).

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