Saturday, August 22, 2009

Huckleberry Creek (Mount Rainier National Park) August 21, 2009

Imagine three guidebook writers on the same hike – now before you think this is a tale of warring egos think again. It was a great trip with Alan, Craig and Silverback (Silverback has also taken the plunge into the life of a writer). We had a fun time from beginning to end.We met up at the Dalles Picnic area for a car shuttle (this one-way hike involves a car shuttle).

Alan and Craig had driven their rugged rigs to the lower trailhead on Forest Service Road No. 73 (the last stretch of this road is rough) before meeting us at the campground. When Alan and Craig met us we all rode up to Sunrise in Silverback’s car (not a 4WD).After a short stint on the Sourdough Trail we descended into Huckleberry Basin on the Huckleberry Mountain trail (the trail is signed). Short switchbacks with breathtaking views got us off to a scenic start on this 10-mile hike.

It’s fascinating to hike through a variety of terrain and this hike is no exception. After a scenic stretch through the remains of a moraine interspersed with meadows we stopped for an early lunch as biting bugs at Forest Lake seemed likely.

There are a few flowers still in bloom in the meadows – namely monkey flowers, yarrow and asters. Lupine has already mostly gone to seed. Gentians were the dominant flower in the meadows – I think these lantern-shaped flowers are brilliant blue because they herald the end of summer. It is always heartbreaking (for me) to leave the high country behind but the forest and the promise of a seldom-hiked trail also have a strong appeal.

After dropping about 1,100 feet or so we reached Forest Lake, a campsite on the edge of heaven where forest, meadows and high country overlap. There is one designated campsite at the lake (not occupied) and there were no bugs.

From there we continued to descend into deeper and deeper forest, crossing Huckleberry Creek several times on footbridges. The forest was a mix of yellow cedars (not a true cedar tree – this, we learned from Craig who has a background in forestry), Douglas firs, Alaska cedars, vine-maple with an under-story of huckleberry/blueberry shrubs, Devils Club (higher than we could reach), Canadian dogwood (a few still blooming), ferns (oak, deer, bracken, sword ferns).

The trees grew larger the further we descended; becoming a Hansel and Gretel trail as the trail wound through the forest. Mid-way we hiked through the aftermath of a blowdown above a gorge where trees had been cut out to free the trail from limbs and brushy tangles (otherwise the hike would have been extremely difficult). In addition to Huckleberry Creek we crossed Prospector, Josephine Creeks and Lost Creek (in that order). None of the crossings were difficult.

Though seldom-hiked the trail was easy to follow in its entirety with only one short stretch where route finding with our boots was required (the trail was covered with vegetation). We stopped to admire several gargantuan cedars and Douglas firs but found the dappled light in deep forest a challenge for photography.

Just inside the border of the park we came upon an old patrol cabin; locked and shuttered for good. An old trail register (not used in a very long time) was on the porch, fading signs with rules and regulations inside the park were still apparent, including one that dating back to the 1940s. Here we also found a boundary sign and a benchmark dating back to 1900.

From the patrol cabin it was roughly a mile back to FS Road 73, the trail still easy to follow. However, there is no longer a trailhead sign for Huckleberry Creek. We believe it is probably just as well, it is undoubtedly the parks intent to keep it from becoming a party place (though the nature of the terrain would keep most evil-doers out).

Alan’s rig was waiting at the trailhead; we all piled in and headed back to the Dalles Campground where this pleasant adventure came to an end. Craig faced a long drive and headed home; Alan ferried us back to Sunrise to our car - only a few cars remained late in the day. It was so cold at Sunrise that we bundled up in jackets, taking only a few photos before driving back home. It felt like fall was well on its way.

Stats: Elevation loss (about 3,834 feet) in about 10.1 miles (according to our altimeter).

Note: This is a steep, downhill trail, not recommended for those with bad knees. Forest Road 73 is not recommended for passenger cars. Most hikers will be happier hiking from Sunrise to Forest Lake, then climbing back to Sunrise (that would mean a reasonable elevation gain of about 1,100 feet).
Posted by karen at 3:37 PM

1 comment:

Alan said...

It was a fabulous day out there Karen -- and all that downhill was harder than one would think ahead of time!

As fun as the day was, I'm still happy my truck was still there waiting for us at the end :)