Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Deep Creek Trail, May 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

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