Monday, December 31, 2012
THE OWL SPOT (MOUNT WASHINGTON) There are two types of snowshoers in the Pacific Northwest – those who are so enthusiastic about snowshoeing they put their snowshoes at the first sight of snow. Others, like us, consider snowshoes a tool only to be used when necessary and hold out until they are actually needed. You might be able to leave your snowshoes in the trunk of your car if the Owl Spot on the Mount Washington trail is your destination. On December 22 we bare-booted it to the Owl Spot though more snow has fallen since. The trail to Mount Washington is the kind of trail you won’t know what the conditions are like until you get there. A look at the Green Trails map shows several routes to Mount Washington but getting to that summit is a steep, strenuous hike or snowshoe no matter how you approach it. If you don’t want to work that hard consider what old-timers referred to (including Harvey Manning and The Mountaineers), the Owl Spot about 2.25 miles from the trailhead. The Mountaineers dubbed this then-unobstructed viewpoint the Owl Spot in the 1970s/80s. Then, the organization offered “owl” hikes, trails that could be hiked in the summer after work. The Owl Spot hike provided enough exercise to “count” and the views from the Owl Spot (when Rattlesnake Mountain and North Bend first come into view) were well worth it as were the sunsets that often necessitated hiking back to the car by headlamp. Though the trail to Mount Washington is not signed it’s hard to miss once you’re on the Iron Horse Trail. The hike begins at the trailhead (Olallie State Park) as a short path next to the restroom that climbs to a roadbed leading to the Iron Horse Trail; here, turn right. In a few hundred yards look for an obvious trail (left) that ducks into the forest; that’s the trail. The trail is an old logging road and is rocky, especially near the beginning. Years ago some hikers claimed you could find a wrecked car hidden in the trees near the trailhead though we never found it. Hikers a little long in the tooth may also recall hearing about the legendary Dirty Harry, a gyppo logger who bludgeoned logging roads into the foothills (this road might have been one of Harry’s). When you hike or snowshoe this road (or other old roads near North Bend) picture Dirty Harry barreling down a rocky incline in a beat-up logging truck, brakes smoking, a crazy grin, a cigarette clenched in his teeth. The road-trail (shown as a jeep track on old maps) climbs at a steady grade through the forest engineering a tricky route between cliff bands and overhangs. Our favorite time to go is in winter when icicles form on the cliffs that parallel the road-trail in places and make for good photography (don’t stand under the icicles, the reason should be obvious). In about one mile you’ll come to a large overhanging cliff (right) that is akin to a cave. You can climb a short, rocky path into the cave as it provides a weather-proof spot for lunch or a break. Look to the ceiling for the glint of hardware climbers use to practice fancy climbing maneuvers. Near the entrance splotches of bright yellow and green lichen create Jackson Pollock-like splotches on the reddish boulders and be thankful graffiti-artists have not found this place. It is a cool and restful sanctuary on a hot, summer day and a refuge on wet days. Past the cave the trail continues a steady climb through corridors of alders and evergreens; interspersed with cliff-bands often festooned with icicles in winter. En route you might notice a small hand-made sign with a directional sign for Mount Washington at about 1.5 miles though the way is obvious. There is no sign for the Owl Spot but you’ll know it when you see it. The Owl Spot is where the trail curves around a rocky face with views of Rattlesnake Mountain, North Bend, Mount Si and its adjacent foothills. The view has shrunk over time as trees have grown taller but it still lives up to its name. The bench under the overhanging cliffs was buried in snow when we were there and most of the hikers had adopted snowshoes by then. We hiked back the way we came but were not ready to go home. The skies had cleared and yearning for more views we drove further east on the frontage road to exits further east on I-90 though the best views of Mount Teneriffe and Si were between Tanner and North Bend on the frontage road. Other options from Exit No. 38 include hiking, skiing or snowshoeing the Iron Horse trail in either direction. You can also reach Twin Falls by heading west (right) on the Iron Horse trail as well as Cedar Butte and Rattlesnake Lake (study the Green Trails map for details). Getting there: From Seattle head east on I-90 and get off at Exit No. 38. Turn right after making the exit and then make another right turn at the spur to the trailhead signed “Olallie State Park”. Passenger cars may need to park along the road rather than the trailhead as the spur to the trailhead is steep and may not be plowed. If you do park along the road you can also walk up the gated road (a little above the road to the trailhead) and that will also take you to the Iron Horse Trail. Don’t forget your Discover Pass – it’s required. Additional Information: The hike to the Owl Spot is 4.25 miles (round-trip) with 1,900 feet elevation gain. Refer to Green Trails Map No. 206S Mount Si NRCA, Side B for more detailed information and other options. . Karen Sykes
Thursday, December 6, 2012
Usually when hikers talk about Mount Si that’s where they end up going. Mount Si is a great conditioner year-round except, perhaps, when trails get icy in winter. If navigating ice in winter isn’t your cup of hot cider, there are other options for hikers at the Mount Si Natural Resources Conservation Area, managed by the Washington Department of Natural Resources (DNR). The Talus Loop trail is a sweet compromise between an easy hike and a strenuous work-out. Plus, the loop provides a measure of solitude for hikers who prefer solitude. If you are a genuine misanthrope you should be prepared to share the first stretch of the Mount Si trail with other hikers, runners and mountain climbers with weights in their pack as they train for loftier ambitions than Mount Si. Display your Discover Pass at the Mount Si trailhead and start up the forested trail. You can start from the lower Talus Loop at .7 miles and climb to the upper end of the Talus Loop at 1.7 miles (where the trail meets the Mount Si trail). Both the upper and lower junctions of the Talus Loop are signed. That makes a nice loop. We prefer starting from the upper trail junction at Snag Flats to make the loop and re-connect with the Mount Si trail at the lower junction on our way out. That way you’ve got the “up” out of the way and you can take your time heading down (or, if you’re feeling spunky you can continue to Mount Si). Take a field guide and take a look at the variety of moss and lichen on this trail (you don’t see as much on the regular trail). The upper Talus Loop trail descends briefly to cross a small creek followed by a short easy climb through silent forest to the namesake of this trail; a large, open triangular-shaped talus field with views out to North Bend and nearby foothills. The talus field is the obvious spot for a break as it is usually in the sun until later in the day. It’s a pleasant place to stop any time of the year; on a sunny day the rocks are warm, even on a winter day (unless it’s raining). The trail has been engineered so there are several spots to “settle” for a while. After the trail traverses the talus field it makes a series of long, descending switchbacks through the forest again where in late fall/early winter you’ll find a variety of mushrooms, fungi, lichen and moss. The trail crosses the bottom of the talus slope again where vine maples are taking root and in fall, providing fall-color displays. Overall the trail has more of a natural feel/ambience as fewer hikers use the trail and less vegetation has been disturbed. You may experience a bit of culture shock when the lower end of the Talus Loop deposits you back onto the thronged Mount Si trail but by that time you’ll be just as cheery as the folks you meet coming and going. To get there: From Seattle head east on I-90 and get off I-90 at Exit No. 32 signed 436th Avenue SE. Go left (over the interstate) and continue ½ mile to North Bend Way and turn left. Continue about ¼ of a mile (toward North Bend) and turn right onto Mount Si Road. Continue 2.5 miles to the designated trailhead/parking lot (left). A Discovery Pass is required. Additional Information: The Talus Loop hike is 3.7 miles round-trip with 1,750 feet elevation gain. The suggested map is Green Trails No. 206S (Mount Si NRCA). For additional information on this trail and others in the Mount Si Natural Resources Conservation Area (Department of Natural Resources): www.dnr.wa.gov Karen Sykes
Wednesday, October 31, 2012
From Tipsoo Lake to Deer Creek Falls via the Eastside Trail (A hike with a car shuttle) Do you like to gamble? Then roll the weather dice on this “iffy” one-way gorgeous hike that involves a car shuttle. If you can’t work out a car shuttle you can still enjoy the best of the high-country by hiking the short stretch of the Eastside trail from Deer Creek toward Chinook Pass (or vice versa) and turn around if/when you get into snow (be prepared for rain or snow with good boots, gaiters and trekking poles). We started at Tipsoo Lake just below Chinook Pass (you can hike this trail either way). WSDOT does it’s best to keep State Route 410 open through Thanksgiving though significant snow can cause an earlier closure. Be sure to check WSDOT for updates on mountain passes and carry chains in case weather changes. From November 1 through May 1 you are required to carry chains in your car in Mount Rainier National Park and use them where required. Any hike that begins from Tipsoo Lake at Chinook Pass is going to be beautiful, with or without snow. Late fall is a poignant time to visit Tipsoo Lake whether you are just driving over Chinook Pass or planning a short hike. Here the seasons mingle; a couple weeks ago the vegetation was a swirl of Halloween colors sprinkled with the bold reds and crimsons of blueberry shrubs. The Eastside Trail begins on the south side of State Route 410 across from the Tipsoo Lake parking area (below Chinook Pass). If there is too much snow to follow the trail from Chinook Pass unless you are familiar with the route you can also start at the Deer Creek trailhead on Highway 123 and continue as far as conditions/energy allow. There is no fixed date for the closure of Highway 123; however significant snowfall will close Highway 123 as well as Chinook Pass. If you hike from Tipsoo Lake down to Deer Creek Falls it is 5.36 miles one-way with a short uphill stretch back to Highway 123 (if you have left a car at Highway 123); otherwise it will be uphill all the way back to Tipsoo Lake so budget time and energy accordingly. . The most scenic route is to hike from Tipsoo Lake to the Deer Creek trailhead – a good reason to leave another car at the Deer Creek trailhead on Highway 123 so you can continue to Deer Creek Falls. Strong hikers can continue down to the new bridge overlooking Ohanapecosh Falls where we’d turned around on a long, summer day. Then we’d hiked from the Ohanapecosh Campground to Ohanapecosh Falls and back the way we came (the Ohanapecosh Campground is closed for the season). Since our recent October hike snow has come and gone from Chinook Pass. On our hike (starting at Tipsoo Lake) it was cold enough that a recent dusting of snow covered the ground, not enough to obscure the trail. However if there is much snow or ice on the trail we recommend traction devices and trekking poles. You also might want to hike in rain-gear even if it’s not raining or snowing; in places the trail was narrow and we got thoroughly soaked by moisture-laden vegetation. On a clear day there are good views of Mount Rainier and Governors Ridge just a few paces from the Tipsoo Lake trailhead. A short descent leads to a pretty tarn (5,185 feet) between the Tipsoo Lake trailhead and Highway 123 across from the Deer Creek trailhead. Paper-thin ice bordered the shoreline. Here, ancient flower stalks lie on the ground with pale, yellowed leaves adding a cheerful touch to the mostly black and white day. Shortly past the tarn the trail continues its descent and comes out on Highway 123. Cross the highway to pick up the Deer Creek Trail and continue as far as energy and conditions warrant (the trail sign is not obvious from the highway). From this point the trail is mostly in the forest; the trail is steep but in good condition. Watch for signs of wildlife – we saw elk tracks and where a bear had shredded the bark of a tree. We stopped to marvel at an enormous display of Chicken Of The Woods (Polyporus Sulphureus), fastened to a fallen tree (the red-orange fungus was growing all along the length of the tree). At five miles we came to the bridge at Chinook Creek. The heavy fall rains had not yet arrived so the stream level was low and the waterfall modest. Stream levels will be rising rapidly given recent rainfall and the trickles we saw will likely be roaring cascades. From there with map in hand we followed trail signs back to Highway 123. The steepest stretch of the trail back to the car is just below the Deer Creek Falls trailhead. Please remember you hike at your own risk so do not rely on cell phones (there isn’t any cell phone reception outside of Greenwater on State Route 410). To get to the Deer Creek trailhead: From Enumclaw drive east on State Route 410 to Cayuse Pass (the junction with Highway 123); turn right onto Highway 123. The trailhead is on the right side of Highway 123 about 4.5 miles from Cayuse Pass. To get to the Tipsoo Lake trailhead on State Route 410: Instead of turning onto Highway 123 at Cayuse Pass continue straight to the first trailhead parking for Tipsoo Lake (left). Walk across State Route 410 and find the marked Eastside Trail a few feet above the highway. Statistics: The hike from Tipsoo Lake to Deer Creek Falls is 5.36 miles one-way (with a car shuttle). The elevation gain from Deer Creek Falls back to the Deer Creek Falls trailhead on Highway 123 is 440 feet elevation gain. If you start at Tipsoo Lake and hike down to Deer Creek Falls the elevation loss is 2,530 feet. The high point of the hike is Tipsoo Lake at 5,350 feet elevation. Additional information: The recommended map is Green Trails No. 269S (Mount Rainier Wonderland). Chains are required from November 1 to May 1 inside Mount Rainier National Park. A Northwest Forest Pass is required at trailheads within the park. For road closures, weather and trail conditions call Mount Rainier National Park at 360-569-2211 or visit their website: www.nps.gov/mora/index.htm - you can also check road conditions by visiting the WSDOT website at: www.wsdot.com Karen Sykes
Thursday, October 4, 2012
MILDRED POINT (MOUNT RAINIER NATIONAL PARK) We’ve been like chipmunks dashing about on last-minute errands these last golden days of fall. Like them we are also driven by shorter days and a dwindling supply of high-country delights. We lose a little over three minutes of daylight a day this time of year so put a hike to Mildred Point on your calendar before winter sets in. The Comet Falls trail used to be the most popular approach to Mildred Point but the Comet Falls trail is closed about 1.6 miles due to trail damage. Fortunately you can still hike to Mildred Point from Longmire by starting out on The Wonderland Trail. The trail system is well signed and the park has placed signs indicating where trails to Comet Falls/Van Trump Park are closed. The Wonderland Trail at Longmire crosses the Nisqually-Paradise road in about ½ mile and begins to climb through the forest. The trail is in good condition, even a prehistoric stretch of puncheon that crosses a boggy area below the junction with the Rampart Ridge Trail. At the next junction we left the Wonderland Trail, turning right onto the Van Trump Park trail which continues to Mildred Point. As we hiked bright-eyed Canadian jays (often called camp robbers – guess why!) darted from tree to tree, their eyes sparkling as they perched on trees above us in an obvious bid for hand-outs. Eventually the forest transitions to parklands where fall is making a dramatic entrance as blueberry/huckleberry shrubs turn every hue of orange and red imaginable. We were surprised to see many gentians still in bloom in these quiet meadows where subalpine evergreens have quietly taken root as if to anchor the meadows in place. At 4.5 miles we came to the last junction signed Van Trump Park, another Comet Falls trail closure sign and a second sign pointing toward Mildred Point. The trail crosses meadows as it makes its way toward Mildred Point but make no mistake, this is a steep trail. Take a break and look to the west for a view of Pyramid Peak. Though few hikers visit Mildred Point the trail has been hiked often enough that the trail is deeply embedded in the meadow, in places a knee-high ditch which tempts hikers to hike beside the trail rather than in the ditch (this is never a good idea as over time hikers create a “new” trail to avoid the ditch). That first view of Mount Rainier when it breaks out of the forest never fails to incite awe. Though there was no wind where we’d stopped to look at The Mountain we watched lenticular clouds racing toward the summit, like ships without captains. The trail is out in the open and the last stretch is dusty and steep (carry plenty of water, this is a dry trail). If not for the haze from forest fires there are great views of Mount Adams and Mount Saint Helens to the south (we could barely make out Mount Adams through the haze). The trail ends at the edge of an abrupt cliff where a sign warns hikers they’ve reached the end of the maintained trail (as if there could be any doubt). This is one of the most scenic vistas inside the park but don’t get too close to the edge. We were spellbound by a series of waterfalls plunging from the Kautz glacier – in such a setting it is hard to decide where to draw the line between creation and destruction as Mount Rainier goes about her geologic business. You can explore a little further on game-trails that contour the ridge-top – we followed one through a few small, subalpine trees where we were startled by the sight of a mountain goat’s head peeking at us over the lip of the void. Before we could say “camera” he’d dropped out of sight. We spotted more goats in the distance as they traversed an almost vertical meadow. Turnaround time always comes too soon and soon we were back in the forest, grateful for the occasional cool breeze that wafted our way. Additional Information: the hike is 10 miles round trip with 3,750 feet elevation gain. For updates on fees, rules and regulations, current conditions, and weather, call Mount Rainier National Park (360-569-2211) or visit their website at www.nps.gov/mora/ . Map: Green Trails (Mount Rainier Wonderland Map 269S). . Karen Sykes
Tuesday, August 28, 2012
Summerland (Mount Rainier National Park) Summerland is one of the most popular hikes inside Mount Rainier National Park and suffice it to say you will know why this is a popular destination once you get there. Here are a few reasons of our reasons this hike is a favorite - first off, the views. For starters: views of the Fryingpan Glacier, the Emmons Glacier, Little Tahoma, Mount Rainier and Panhandle Gap. Add to that a herd of 30 (we counted) mountain goats and scads of wildflowers still blooming at Summerland – these are just a few delights you’ll experience on this trail. Get an early start (the trailhead is not large enough to accommodate many vehicles). Also add an extra layer to your pack - it’s getting to be that time of the year when mornings are chilly though it will feel like summer as the day progresses. The trail gets off to a mellow start as it climbs through sheltered forest the first couple of miles before coming to a switchback with a view of Fryingpan Creek where the creek drops through a gorge. A little further are more switchbacks with even better views of the creek. In the morning these switchbacks are usually in the sun and are good places to stop for a drink or a snack before continuing to Summerland. Next you’ll cross a couple of streams and as you approach Fryingpan Creek late-summer wildflowers make their appearance including fireweed, asters, mountain daisies and pearly everlasting. After crossing Fryingpan Creek on a sturdy bridge with a railing the trail meanders through meadows that in late August are a purple haze of asters and fireweed before the trail commences its climb to Summerland on a series of steep switchbacks. There are still enough wildflower displays to stop you in your tracks, especially the closer you get to Summerland. Between pockets of forest the hillsides are covered with wildflowers. Between Fryingpan Creek and Summerland we saw lousewort, lupine, asters, mountain daisies, magenta paintbrush, bistort, valerian and we couldn’t help but notice the swirled leaves of hellebore were already threaded with strands of gold. When you get to Summerland take time to check out the shelter; also an outdoor toilet (signed) is located uphill from the shelter should you need one. Hikers are not allowed to camp inside the shelter but it’s a great place to hang out if you’re backpacking and would prefer to prepare your meal under a roof rather than a dripping tarp. Summerland is far enough for many hikers though strong hikers (or backpackers) can continue on to Panhandle Gap – even beyond. An ice axe or poles will come in handy if you are climbing to Panhandle Gap as there is still snow up there. Mornings are getting cold and that means the potential for hard, steep snow. Though wildflowers are fading between Fryingpan Creek and Summerland from Summerland on up toward Panhandle Gap the wildflowers are still going strong, especially pink and yellow monkeyflowers. If you don’t want to hike as far as Panhandle Gap another option is to continue on the trail until you come to two tarns below the gap (right) that are ideal for a turnaround or a leisurely lunch. Here there are even better views of Panhandle Gap (as of August 27 there was still a cornice at Panhandle Gap) as well as close-up views of wildflowers and the abstract shapes of melting ice in the tarns. The flowers at these higher elevations included Elmera, Tolmie’s saxifrage and Alpine buckwheat. Note that the flowers at these elevations are small and grow close to the ground, their adaptation to inclement weather. At the higher tarn where we stopped to eat we were at first puzzled (then amazed) to spot a herd of mountain goats descending a snow-field toward the tarn just below “our” tarn. They were far enough away that at first we couldn’t figure out what we were seeing but when they got off the snow and onto the dark moraine we could see they were mountain goats. Seeing mountain goats is always a bonus but never have we seen so many. We extended our lunch time just for the pleasure of watching them before they headed back up the mountain. On our way back to Summerland we noted views of the Emmons Glacier that we’d missed hiking up as the glacier was behind us then – the view was almost disquieting, the crevasses so close together that it was hard to tell where one ended and another began. Just above Fryingpan Creek we met a hiker who said a bear had gotten into her backpack when she’d left the trail briefly for a “party separation”. Be extra vigilant when it comes to bears – if you venture off trail for any reason don’t set your pack down, take it with you (if you are camping hang your food). We didn’t see the resident bear but just after crossing Fryingpan Creek we did see blue gentians beside the trail. We call gentians the “goodbye flower” because they herald the end of summer. While we enjoy these poignantly-beautiful flowers we don’t look forward to the end of another summer, especially after this summer got off to such a late start. To get there: From the White River entrance of Mount Rainier National Park (via State Route 410) continue about three miles to the trailhead on the Sunrise Road – the trailhead is on the right-hand side just past the Fryingpan Creek road bridge. No facilities. A pass or a fee is required to enter the park – for details refer call 360-569-2211 (Park Headquarters) or 360-569-6575 (Park Information). Additional Information: The hike to Summerland is 7.25 miles round trip with an elevation gain of 2,100 feet. Map: Green Trails No. 269S, Mount Rainier Wonderland. Add mileage and gain accordingly if you venture beyond Summerland. Karen Sykes
Tuesday, July 31, 2012
COVEL CREEK FALLS (Trail No. 228/228A - Gifford-Pinchot National Forest, South Cascades) Any hiker who has hiked this trail will tell you it’s a spectacular hike but ask someone how to spell Covel Falls you might get different answers. Nobody seems to agree on how to spell “Covel” including land-management agencies. No matter: though the map, trail signs and hiking guides can’t seem to come to an agreement all peevishness will come to an end once you reach the waterfall. For that matter you can even refer to this waterfall as Curtain Falls or Phantom Falls, two other monikers for this 75-foot high waterfall. Covel Creek is one three waterfalls in the Covel Creek drainage (Covel Creek drains into the Cispus River which then drains into the Cowlitz River). Covel Falls is the smallest of the three waterfalls. The other two waterfalls are Angel Falls and Bridal Veil Falls. Covel Creek Falls felt akin to Tunnel Creek Falls in the Columbia Gorge, another hike where the trail goes behind a waterfall. We parked at the Cispus Learning Center in Randle and stopped in at their office to pick up a trail map which caused us some confusion finding the trail – plus, the trail is not as well-signed as it could be as several unmarked paths wind in and out of the grounds. Per the advice of a person in the office we started out on the 0.6-mile Braille Trail (Trail for the Blind), a unique, one-of-a-kind trail that enables those with impaired vision to experience the forest through touch and other senses. The Braille Trail is not only interesting on its own; it is also the easiest place to find the trail to Covel Falls. Hike clockwise on the Braille Trail until you come to the “Forest Loop” sign. Walk up the broad, smooth trail to the left of the sign and continue to Covel Creek which you will cross on a footbridge. Past the creek the trail continues to climb at a moderate grade as the trail parallels the rambunctious creek and skirts several small waterfalls (some of those also seemed worthy of names). After a mile or so you’ll come to a signed junction (1,800 feet) where the Covel Creek Falls (Trail No. 228A) continues (right) and the Burley Mountain (Trail No. 256) goes left and becomes part of the Angel Falls Loop (you can hike the loop in either direction from this junction). We opted for Covel Creek Falls as that makes a scenic turnaround for hikers who don’t have time or energy for the loop. After a short drop the trail goes behind Covel Creek Falls – now you know why many call this waterfall Curtain Falls. Some hikers decry the safety rope that parallels that stretch of the trail behind the falls as it detracts from the splendor of the waterfall but you might as well take advantage of the rope, it was put there for a reason by the Forest Service. Since spray from the waterfall can render the trail muddy and slick it is not a place you’d want to fall. From Covel Falls you can continue on the next stretch of trail which is quite steep to Angel Falls to complete the 4.5-mile loop or hike back to the Cispus Learning Center the way you came. Since we didn’t have time to continue to Angel Falls we hiked back to the junction at 1,800 feet and hiked about a quarter of a mile of the trail (left) toward its junction with the Burley Mountain Trail (No. 256). Geologists as well as photographers will especially enjoy this stretch – it’s exciting and unique with vine maple reaching for the sky and growing wherever it can between tall, bulging cliffs tinted with different colors from lichen. Though the trail is narrow in spots it is not dangerous as long as you watch your step and avoid hiking under the cliffs in winter when there is some danger of falling chunks of ice or rocks. The cliffs have eroded in such a way that caves have formed under the rock where the cliffs overhang the trail. Though we didn’t have time to finish the loop (we had other commitments) we can attest after looking at photographs of Angel Falls that it would be worth your time to do so, especially if you are camping or lodging in/near Randle. If so you should have plenty of time to complete the Angel Falls loop. The Angel Falls loop is 4.5 miles round trip – the high point being Angel Falls at 1,950 feet. Getting there: From Randle on US 12 head south to State Route 131(Forest Service Road No. 25) for about one mile then turn left onto Forest Service Road No. 23. Continue about 10 miles then turn right onto Forest Service Road No. 28. In less than a mile turn right onto Forest Service Road No. 76 to the Cispus Learning Center. For additional information call Gifford Pinchot National Forest (Cowlitz Ranger District Station at 360-497-1100). The map is Green Trails No. 333 (McCoy Peak). Karen Sykes
Wednesday, July 4, 2012
EDGAR ROCK (SOUTH CASCADES) Edgar Rock is a volcanic plug from an ancient volcano that serves as a landmark near the community of Cliffdell on State Route 410. You can also hike to Edgar Rock on a short, scenic trail. The rock was named for John Edgar, an Army Scout killed in the 1850s during the Indian Wars. Edgar Rock was also the site of an 8 by 8-foot fire-lookout cabin put up in 1938 (destroyed in 1978). You can still see where the structure was placed atop the peak as evidenced by four anchors that held the cabin to the rock. Finding the trailhead is more challenging than the hike but worth the effort. The trailhead, is a wide spot on a narrow, forest service road with limited parking – plus, the sign for Lost Creek is almost “lost” in vegetation at the trailhead. If you end up in someone’s back yard you’ve driven too far! Once you find the trailhead, park and head right (uphill) on the trail. The hike starts out on the Lost Creek Trail No. 964 - only the last stretch of the hike is designated as the Edgar Rock Trail No. 964A. The trail starts off climbing through grassy, Ponderosa-pine forest and is in great condition. Near the trailhead look for pinedrops and ghostly Indian Pipe – these parasitic plants lack chlorophyll and depend on a working relationship with other plants to survive (look for them under Ponderosa pines). Also notice the bluebird boxes and heritage trees as the trail gradually climbs out of the forest. Heritage trees are specifically left in place for wildlife habitat. In July the wildflower displays lit up the landscape with vivid color ranging from the shocking blue of larkspur to the subtle pink of Nootka roses. Yellow composites (too many to name) are scattered across the landscape like gold coins – there are many yellow composites and they are hard to tell apart without a field guide. In early July balsamroot had passed its peak bloom but other flowers were just emerging from winters sleep. We saw buckwheat, yarrow, pinedrops, Indian paintbrush, Hooker’s onion, Nootka rose, penstemon, blue bells and a few we couldn’t identify. About a mile up the trail you’ll come across an odd relationship between a tree and two boulders. Here the boulders seemingly hold a tree in place at the edge of the trail – or is it the tree holding the boulders in place? You be the judge. Though this trail is often lonesome you might not have it to yourself. The trail is also open to mountain bikes, motorcycles and stock (closed to ATVs) though we’ve never met anyone else on the trail. According to the Naches District trail guide only the last 1/3 mile of the trail is designated as the Edgar Rock trail (Trail No. 964A). Though the junction isn’t signed the junction is obvious and hard to miss. At the junction, stay right, heading uphill, continue to Edgar Rock and enjoy views of the Nile valley and the American river below. The open country invites further exploration where faint trails beckon. We explored a side trail that led to a rocky area with numerous wildflower displays and a small natural arch. Though at first glance the topography above tree-line may appear desolate, look again, there’s life everywhere – wildflowers spring from crevices in the rocks and the sky is constantly changing, serene and blue one moment, dark and tumultuous the next. Even on a cloudy day humidity can be high – be cautious when the sky darkens and thunder rumbles, especially near Edgar Rock where the trail is exposed as it winds between boulders, weathered snags and outcroppings. Though the hike is short when humidity is high, even a short hike can feel strenuous when it’s muggy outside. Since this is a short hike it’s also good opportunity to visit the nearby Boulder Cave Day-Use Area. The driving directions are the same as for Edgar Rock except that when you reach the forest service road turn right, rather than left (follow signs to Boulder Cave). There is a $5 fee per vehicle to visit Boulder Cave (bring a flashlight). Getting there: From Chinook Pass drive east on SR 410 to River Road (Forest Service Road No. 1706) and turn right to cross Naches River. At Road No. 1704 turn left, continue past private cabins to a fork in the road – take the right fork which says “dead end” and that is Road 311 that leads to the Lost Creek trailhead. Park on the shoulder of road (there are no facilities). Display your Northwest Forest Pass and keep party size small as parking is limited. Map: Green Trails Old Scab Mountain No. 272. For additional information contact the Naches Ranger District (Okanogan-Wenatchee Forest) at 509-653-1401. Karen Sykes
Wednesday, May 30, 2012
Deep Creek Trail No. 1196 (South Cascades) If you think you need to get in better condition for strenuous hikes before snow melts out on higher elevation trails this is the hike for you. The Deep Creek trail is a trail you can hike as little or as far as you’d like (strong hikers can hike to a junction with the Noble Knob trail when the Corral Pass Road is still snowbound). Refer to the maps for options. In May we expected to encounter snow well before the junction with the Noble Knob trail so we started from the White River (Trail No. 1199) trailhead on State Route 410. Though the Deep Creek trail is steep there are advantages starting from SR 410 – it’s an easy, pleasant 2-mile hike to the junction with the Deep Creek trail. And it’s scenic - en route to Deep Creek you’ll cross Ranger Creek and Dry Creek. The footbridges are all in good condition. There are also wildflowers along the trail including stream violets, vanilla leaf, rattlesnake plantain and trilliums at lower elevations. The hike starts out on the White River Trail a few feet above SR 410 (see getting there). The left fork leads to Camp Sheppard/Snoquera Falls, turn right for Deep Creek. You’ll soon cross Ranger Creek on a footbridge. After crossing the creek the trail contours above the highway through forest then crosses a talus slope before re-entering the forest. Watch for clumps of yellow stream-violets nestled near the streams. There’s nothing prettier than stream violets to herald spring and celebrate the melting snow. Stream violets bloom April through July in various settings and elevations. The trail crosses not-so-dry Dry Creek on another footbridge. In about ½ miles past Dry Creek the trail skirts a few cabins before it reaches the junction for the Deep Creek trail on the west side of a footbridge. Of the streams Deep Creek is the most dramatic – in May it was swollen with snow-melt falling in short, furious cascades over boulders, pushing its way between eroding banks where ancient trees defy the law of gravity and stand tall as if to keep the river within its banks. This is a spectacular setting and it’s also a good opportunity to refill your water bottles before you head uphill. As of this writing the trail sign for Deep Creek is lying beside the creek. You’ll also see a footbridge crossing Deep Creek but don’t cross Deep Creek unless you want to hike out to a lower trailhead along Forest Service Road No. 7174 (Corral Pass Road). The Deep Creek trail continues on the west side of Deep Creek and immediately starts climbing; some stretches are very steep. Below the junction for the Noble Knob trail there are only peek-a-boo views out to the White River valley, Mount Rainier, forested foothills and ridges. However, there is an overlook about a half mile from Deep Creek – find the unsigned path to the overlook at the end of a switchback though views are partially blocked by trees. It’s still a pretty setting to take a break before resuming the climb. Though we were denied the views we’d hoped for we took pleasure in the forest itself, a green concoction of evergreens, vine maple, salal, ferns, Oregon grape, vanilla leaf, trilliums, pipsissewa, rattlesnake plantain, false lily-of-the-valley, wood sorrel and yellow stream violets. We didn’t get to the Noble Knob Trail – we began to encounter snow. The snow was still deep enough to obscure the trail and route-finding became more challenging. We continued, looking for clues such as cut logs and old tracks but when we began to post-hole (break through the snow) we called it a day and made that point our turnaround (5,210 feet). We’d already gained over 3,700 feet of elevation – that much gain certainly qualifies as a “work-out”! Though we weren’t able to hike as far as we hoped in our books no hike is a failure. Early summer hikes are often referred to as “snow-line probers” by experienced hikers. Some hikers pack snowshoes for such conditions; others carry on as best they can without snowshoes but once you hit significant snow, the “hike” is usually over. From our turnaround it would have taken another mile or so and another 600 feet of elevation gain just to reach the junction with the Noble Knob Trail. As it was it was an 11-mile round-trip hike for us. If Noble Knob is your objective then you might want to wait for the Corral Pass Road to melt out (the road is not suitable for passenger cars); then you can drive to the trailhead for a shorter and easier approach to Noble Knob. Meanwhile, why not get in shape for those steep, summer trails and tackle Deep Creek on a cool, cloudy day? Workout-hikes like this are an investment for the rest of the hiking season, building reserves for more adventures. Getting there: From Enumclaw drive east on State Route 410 for 29.8 miles to parking area on the right side of the highway (there is also space to park on the left side of the highway). Walk up the spur to the White River Trail No. 1199. This trailhead also provides access to the Ranger Creek Trail. A Northwest Forest Pass is required – the trail is also open to mountain bikes and equestrians. Maps: Green Trails No. 238 Greenwater and No. 239 Lester. For additional information call the Mount-Baker National Forest (Enumclaw district) at 360-825-6585. Karen Sykes
Wednesday, May 2, 2012
SNOQUERA PALISADES (Trail No. 1198) When it’s still winter at higher elevations in the mountains the Palisades Trail (No. 1198) makes a great spring hike. The hike begins on the White River Trail (No. 1199) off State Route 410 east of Greenwater. In 0.1 mile turn left at the junction with the Palisades Trail. Plenty of wildflowers grace the trail including bleeding hearts, yellow violets, trilliums, red flowering currant, even Calypso orchids. Calypso orchids (also known as fairy slippers) are tiny, intricate flowers often springing from duff near evergreens. A little later in spring the air will be sweet with the scent of vanilla leaf as the ground-cover in the forest grows into a plush carpet of wood sorrel, twin-flower, salal, Oregon grape, ferns, moss and lichen. Hear that roar? That’s Lower Dalles Falls and you’ll hear it before you see it. In spring the 280-foot waterfall puts on a spectacular display from melting snow. A short spur leads to the base for a closer look. Note the majestic Western red cedars near the waterfall. As the trail climbs away from the waterfall toward the Palisades it follows a delicately engineered route between Dalles Creek and tall, dark cliffs – watch for loose rocks. You’ll soon come to a sturdy staircase that makes quick work of climbing a particularly steep pitch – the bridge was built by the Boy Scouts of America. . Above the stairs you’ll cross Dalles Creek - look below and to the right for a partial view of another waterfall (some refer to this waterfall as Upper Dalles Creek Falls). After crossing Dalles Creek the trail re-enters the forest and is level for an easy half-mile or so as it continues to the first of several promontories (3,320 feet elevation) that overlook the White River valley, Sun Top Mountain and forested foothills. Notice how gnarled snags lean out over the cliffs as if they too are taking in the views. Here stonecrop and delicate saxifrages cling to the rocky outcroppings. Be on the lookout for ticks – like us, they like warm rocks in the sun. How far do you want to hike? Any of the overlooks along the Palisades make dandy lunch spots or turnaround. You can continue to a robust shelter at Ranger Creek where the Ranger Creek Trail (Trail No. 1197) comes in from State Route 410 (see the map for details). To get to the Palisades trailhead: From Enumclaw drive east about 28 miles on State Route 410, park on the left side of the highway (parking is limited), elevation (2,352 feet). The trailhead is just past the overlook of Skookum Falls and is designated with a small sign. A Northwest Forest Pass is required. It is about five miles round-trip to the first viewpoint with 1,100 feet of elevation gain. For additional information, rules and regulations and/or current trail conditions, call the Snoqualmie Ranger District (Enumclaw) at 360-825-6585. The map is Green Trails No. 238 (Greenwater). Karen Sykes
Thursday, April 5, 2012
Little Mashel Falls (Charles Lathrop Pack Experimental and Demonstration Forest)
Pardon the pun but you can pack a lot of fun into Pack Forest near Eatonville. Pack Forest is named for Charles Lathrop Pack – Pack was a lumberman from the east coast who gifted the University of Washington’s College of Forest Resources with the means for the University of Washington to purchase land in the 1920s. In addition to it being a year-round gem for hikers, equestrians, bicyclists and hunters (during hunting season) the 4,300-acre forest provides an outdoor classroom for forest management students.
In spring Pack Forest is especially beautiful, our favorite season to hike there. Late March and April are when the wildflowers begin to bloom, birds sing and waterfalls roar. In late March we saw Coltsfoot, red flowering currant and Indian plum.
While road junctions are signed first-time visitors may find it tricky to get to the waterfalls. In spring (or during rainy periods) the trails to overlooks can be slippery so if you hike with children exercise caution near the overlooks.
The names of the waterfalls can be confusing (there are three main waterfalls). Little Mashel Falls is correctly named; however it is also known as Bridal Veil Falls and trail signs refer to it as Middle Falls. There is also an upper Little Mashel Falls (Tom Tom Falls) and a lower waterfall (Lower Little Mashel Falls) that is difficult to reach on a rough trail partially blocked by blowdowns.
En route to and from Little Mashel Falls you’ll come across signs on trees that alert you when you are leaving Pack Forest property; trails outside Pack Forest are rough, not maintained and potentially hazardous (you can hike on those trails but you hike at your own risk).
When you get to Little Mashel Falls you may well wonder why it is called “little” as the waterfall is a far cry from “little”, especially in spring. The “little” is because the waterfalls originate from the Little Mashel River.
The hike to Little Mashel Falls starts at the upper trailhead parking lot (left) inside Pack Forest across from the administration buildings. There is also a lower parking lot (with portable toilet) between the gatehouse (entrance) to Pack Forest and the upper lot.
From the trailhead walk a short distance up the main road to Road 1000 (Lathrop Drive) and turn left. Hiking clockwise bypass all numbered roads until you reach a Y (about 1-1/2 miles from the trailhead) and a metal signpost designating the Falls Trail. Turn left onto Road 1070.
You’ll soon come to a boulder (left) with blue hand-painted letters signed “Falls” with a directional arrow and another metal signpost. You’ll see two trails off to the left. The first is a rough path blocked by branches - take the other path as it crosses a grassy area and skirts a small pond. From the pond the trail makes a brief descent to a junction designated with three yellow diamonds; turn right. Then turn left at another marker for Middle Falls and you’ll soon come to wooden steps that descend to an overlook of Little Mashel Falls (also known as Bridal Veil Falls and Middle Falls!!).
The view of Little Mashel Falls is stunning though in spring the force of the spray from the waterfall is more like wind-driven rain than mist. A rope at the overlook bars access to a slippery, steep path that descends to the base of the falls – it’s dangerous and a fall could be fatal. You can descend little further from the overlook on the trail to a lower overlook, a good turnaround this time of year.
To extend your hike walk back to the trailhead and continue along Road 1070 a short distance to where it descends to an old railroad grade. Turn left to see an old railroad trestle that spans the Little Mashel River. The river makes a big bend as it goes under the trestle before it pours over a lip to form Upper Little Mashel Falls (also known as Tom Tom Falls).
The Eatonville cut-off road is just above the trestle; the area near the trestle used to be a popular party spot but the trestle is on private railroad property (do not cross the trestle). Cars that do park above the trestle will be towed.
To get there: From Seattle drive south on Interstate 5 to Tacoma, get off at Exit 127 for Highway 512 and in about two miles exit onto State Route 7 (toward Spanaway). Continue on State Route 7 to the entrance of Pack Forest, 780 feet elevation. Enter Pack Forest and continue to upper parking lot (903 feet elevation).
The hike is about 5-3/4 miles round trip with approximately 700 feet gain including minor ups and downs.
Additional Information: There are usually trail maps available at the administration buildings but on our recent visit there weren’t any available. You can print one out from their website before you go: www.packforest.org . For additional information call 206-685-4485 (Seattle).
Thursday, March 15, 2012
That's not totally true. Let's just say that I haven't been anywhere "interesting" in the mountains for what is beginning to feel like a very long time. The cost of gas, the weather, avalanche danger, aging cars .... so to keep fit I've been running and do so about three times a week, sometimes four. When I start hiking again (if it ever stops raining) I'll run less often. However, I am feeling good about the running - my longest run to date is 12.5 miles, almost a Half Marathon. I'm considering the Seattle Half Marathon this fall.
The other activity that keeps me moreorless sane is my enjoyment of photography. I don't venture far these days so I often revisit the same places but always find something "new" to photograph or at least a "new" way of looking at something I've photographed in the past.
Places I return to frequently include the Pike Place Public Market, the Volunteer Park Conservatory, Jack Block Park (a Port of Seattle park in West Seattle), Alki, little parks along Beach Drive SW in West Seattle and just around the neighborhood pea-patches. Another favorite place: Georgetown. I'm sure I could come up with more but the truth is, I'm still not getting outside enough to be my usual happy self and at times I feel "dull" for lack of a better word.
The weather lately has been demoralizing to say the least. It looks like it's going to be another short summer with snow lingering in the mountains too long. Just about the time the snow melted LAST year the days were already getting shorter.
Sometimes you just can't win but you gotta keep going.
Wednesday, March 7, 2012
March 5, 2012
It was a surprise to have this popular trailhead all to ourselves on this snowy morning. The Twin Falls trail to the bridge/overlook of Twin Falls is a popuar trail for several reasons - it's close to Seattle, Issaquah and North Bend and it's scenic. It's also an easy enough hike that it's suitable for hikers of all ages and abilities. In otherwords, it's a good four-season trail suitable for anyone. Since it is suitable for anyone, that often translates to "everyone" so if you are seeking solitude this is not the trail for you on a sunny weekend. Whenever you go don't forget your Discover Pass - it is required.
Unless ... it's a wintry day mid-week with an early start. We've hiked to Twin Falls in all kinds of weather but this was our first time in snow. It felt a little odd to be breaking trail on this family-friendly hike though the snow will soon melt. It's only about 2-1/2 miles round trip to the bridge-overlook above Twin Falls (that's where many people stop). There is also a lower overlook of Twin Falls before you get to the bridge but as of this writing it is closed due to damage from recent snow and ice storms. Please heed the warning.
The trail starts out following the South Fork of the Snoqualmie River with viewpoints of the river along the way. After the trail follows the river a while it climbs to a small ridge where there are benches for a rest-break or peek-a-boo views of the river (we were able to get a peek at one of the waterfalls from the bench). The trail drops down again, is level for a bit then climbs again on a circuitous route to avoid a slope prone to mud-slides. Along the way note a large, hollowed out stump (left), a perfect setting for a photo of a hiker avoiding inclement weather.
A bit more down on an elaborate set of stairs leads to the robust bridge, the thundering falls and dizzying views to the river and waterfalls below. As of this writing there was about three inches of snow on the bridge but it wasn't slippery. Hikers can continue further to another overlook of the waterfalls and/or to the Iron Horse trail (getting to the Iron Horse trail involves some uphill.
What this writer cannot adequately describe was the beauty of the fresh snow highlighting every twig, fern and tree along the trail. On a cloudy day such as this one it was like hiking through a pen and ink drawing or an etching, every detail sharp and crisp.
The temperatures were such that the snow was not designed to last and began to melt as we hiked out. We also began to meet a few other hikers coming in to enjoy the gifts of this four-season trail.
It is about 2-1/2 miles round-trip to the bridge overlooking Twin Falls.
To get there from Seattle: drive east on I-90 and get off at Exit 34, follow signs to the park/trailhead.
Rattlesnake Lake and more:
Since it was still cold we skipped the hike to Rattlesnake Ledge on our way back but did stop at the lake for photography. It was cold and wintry; we could see Rattlesnake Ledge was snowy and didn't look at all user-friendly. The water was high in the lake but it made for good photography.
To get to Rattlesnake Lake and Rattlesnake Ledge: Take Exit 32 from I-90, continue to trailhead/parking. A Discover Pass is required.
We also stopped at Mill Pond Road (between Snoqualmie Falls and North Bend) for photos of Mount Si reflected in an old mill pond on our way home. Conditions were great for photography; the sun had come out, the skies were blue and what clouds there were were fat, puffy and white.
Our last stop was Snoqualmie Falls; we spent more time photographing flowers in the gardens at Snoqualmie Falls than the waterfall itself; the mist from Snoqualmie Falls was extreme and the upper overlooks were closed due to icy conditions.
Though we enjoy the hike to Rattlesnake Ledge from Rattlesnake Lake we enjoy more solitude on the Rattlesnake Mountain Trail. Getting to this trailhead is a shorter drive – a plus with rising gas prices. Let the feet do the work rather than wheels when possible. If you’ve never hiked this end of the Rattlesnake Mountain trail take a side trip to Snoqualmie Point before you hit the trail; the views are worth the few minutes it takes to drive up there. It’s also a lovely setting for an after-hike picnic or sunset photos.
Though this is now a well-established trail and is featured in hiking guidebooks and the media hikers were hiking a network of old roads and boot paths to Rattlesnake Lake long before the trail was constructed. Despite it being an official trail with publicity we have yet to encounter other hikers once we’ve hiked past Stan’s Overlook. Stan’s overlook is about 2.5 miles from the trailhead and a natural turnaround for hikers wanting an easy hike with views of North Bend, Mount Si and Teneriffe.
Once you leave the trailhead the trail climbs at a moderate grade through second- and third-growth forest with clues that this was once majestic forest. You’ll notice a gigantic, hollowed-out stump (left) as you climb, an ideal spot for kids playing hide’ n’ seek. Note the size of the gigantic roots that branch out, still clutching the earth with bare knuckles. In the fall this forested stretch of the trail is a smorgasbord of gold, yellows, reds and brown as vine maple is prevalent.
After the short climb through forest the trail opens out to climb a more-open stretch; more stumps lean out over the trail and note how the bare patches of earth (made when the new trail was created) are filling in with salal and other vegetation. Several stretches of the trail have been logged in the past; note how wild blackberries are wrapping their arms around the stumps and note how in the fall mushrooms seemingly appear seemingly overnight. From this cleared stretch you’ll begin to get glimpses of the Snoqualmie peaks but the best is yet to come.
Stan’s Overlook (2,100 feet) always fools me; it’s further away than I remember. Twice now we’ve almost turned downhill where another logging road comes in from below. It is especially tempting because in the thin layer of snow on the road we could see where others have come and gone. Clue: this may be another approach to Stan’s overlook (stay tuned). We love to explore so next time we hike there; we’ll hike down the road and see where it comes out (if anywhere).
If/when in doubt; you can rely on good signage - after another uphill stint a hard-to-miss sign points the way to Stan’s Overlook and other points of interest beyond. For Stan’s turn left at this junction - an old road leads to a picnic table and a spread of views to please the taste of any hiker. On this last day in February the picnic table was covered with snow; it wasn’t picnic weather. Though the sun was out it was chilly. We opted to continue hiking until we ran out of energy or time, whichever came first.
Once past Stan’s Overlook the trail climbs through mostly second- and third-growth forest. Some hikers get bored hiking through what some might call unremarkable forest but we can always find something to please the eye; a wisp of fern, an animal track, unusual bark on a tree. This stretch of the trail is mostly “up” but at a more modest grade than the beginning and with a few downs to hold one’s interest.
With our lazy start-time we had to push to get to Grand Prospect, about 4 miles from the trailhead (according to the trail signs); other write-ups suggest it is more like 5 miles to Grand Prospect. No matter; once you are there the view is indeed “grand”. A signboard helps identify the sea of peaks across from you; some you’ll recognize. Today the graphics on the sign were covered with snow.
We only lingered long enough for a quick bite to eat, following a patch of sunlight that kept moving further and further away as minutes passed. It was warm in the sun but still cold in the shade. As always, when we gaze upon the Snoqualmie valley peaks and beyond we remember good hikes in the past, peaks we’ll return to when the snow is gone.
We packed up and hurried down; pausing to note that a cougar’s tracks had crossed our path. We’d heard of a “large” cougar that calls this region home and we would love to have seen it from a safe distance; there was also a smattering of bunny tracks that were not there on our way to the overlook. We believe the cougar had spotted us; that gave us a slightly eerie feeling. Friends tell me I have a way with cats but not kitties that size!
On our way down we only met two hikers coming up the trail; at Rattlesnake Lake we would have encountered many more.
To get there from Seattle: drive east on I-90 and get off at Exit 27. From the off-ramp turn right and continue a short distance to the end of the road – go through the gate (right) to the trailhead at 980 feet (straight takes you to the Snoqualmie Point Overlook, always worth a stop before or after a hike).
Additional information: The map is Green Trails No. 205S Rattlesnake Mountain. It is about 5 miles round-trip to Stan’s Overlook, about 8 miles round-trip (per trail signs) to Grand Prospect.
Tuesday, February 28, 2012
The Granite Lakes Road in North Bend is a year-round favorite for hikers and snowshoers in winter. Choose from an easy hike to Granite Creek (about 6 miles round trip), a 12-mile round-trip to Granite Lakes and in summer a splendid but strenuous hike to seldom-visited Thompson Lake. Another plus; there is little avalanche danger along the road unless you are climbing beyond the junction to Granite Lakes/Thompson Lake in the winter.
The trail starts at a gated road with occasional views to the valley below, across the valley to clear-cuts and on a clear day, views of Bessemer Mountain. As you hike note the huge stumps notched with springboard notches from bygone logging days. In winter and spring small tributaries engage in chatter as they tumble from hillsides above the road. You’ll see that Time is slowly restoring the land to its natural state as moss, ferns and lichens tiptoe down to the edge of the alder-lined road.
On our hike in February it felt and looked like winter; be sure to get weather updates and dress accordingly. You might need snowshoes depending on snowfall. There was no snow at the trailhead but soon after we started out we began to hit patches of snow interspersed with bare ground. In about 2.5 miles we came to a stretch of glare ice that covered the road and we rued our decision to leave traction devices behind.
We very carefully worked our way across the ice; thankfully the stretch was not long. Beyond the ice the surface of the road returned to a hiker-friendly combo of softer snow and dirt and we began to get glimpses of Granite Creek through the trees (left). If you look closely you may also spot old logging spurs through the corridor of second and third-growth forest as the road continues climbing beside Granite Creek.
When we reached the bridge crossing at Granite Creek we called it a day; from that point snowshoes and/or traction devices would have been needed. The bridge (at about 1,400 feet) is a natural turnaround for many hikers in late winter/early spring. Along the road the creek tumbles poetically through moss-slathered boulders on its way to the lowlands. This is no rickety bridge with a marginal handrail; this one was built to last and dates back to logging days when legendary characters such as Dirty Harry built logging roads most feared to travel.
In winter snowshoers, skiers and hikers often continue further. From the Granite Creek Bridge it’s another couple of miles to the next junction at 3,090 feet. At this fork the lower fork descends to Granite Lakes (when the ground is snow-covered route-finding skills will come in handy). We’ve been to the lakes in all seasons; most hikers will prefer dropping down to the lakes after the snow has melted and vegetation leafs out.
The left fork (Trail 1009A) climbs to a ridge overlooking Thompson Lake; best left for a long, summer day. Getting to Thompson Lake is a strenuous undertaking though well worth the effort. Thompson Lake is truly one of the most spectacular places we’ve hiked to in this region. The lake can also be reached from the Ira Spring/Defiance Peak trail No. 1009, another long approach definitely not recommended with snow.
On our way back the glare-ice had melted; of that we were glad. We met only one other party on the trail; a couple with plans to summit Revolution Peak, a lesser-known peak in the region.
To get there: From Seattle head east on I-90, get off at Exit 34, turn left onto 468th Ave, continue for about a half mile to SE Middle Fork Road (Forest Service Road No. 56). Continue about two miles to the Mailbox Peak trailhead and park or drive a little beyond (less than ½ mile) to a gated DNR road (right) with limited parking. A Discovery Pass is required at both trailheads. The road is less than .5 mile past the Mailbox Peak trailhead.
The suggested map is : Green Trails No. 2065 Mount Si NRCA. For general information on the Department of Natural Resources regarding recreation call 360-902-1000. Granite Lakes is on DNR land – Thompson Lake lies within the Alpine Lakes Wilderness and is managed by the United States Forest Service (USFS).