Monday, December 31, 2012

Mount Washington, The Owl Spot

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

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