Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Covel Creek Falls Trail No. 228, South Cascades

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

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