Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Granite Lakes Road - Hike or snowshoe!

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).

Karen Sykes