Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Recent Hikes, March 2010

Big Four Ice Caves (March 21, 2009)

Since this hike was described last fall I won’t go into detail except to mention that once again we hiked in a downpour.

The trail is free of snow and flowers are beginning to come out – violets, coltsfoot, skunk cabbage.

There were very few hikers on the trail; the rain kept the crowds away.

We’d planned to hike to Barlow Point as well but it was raining so hard we decided against that and turned the rest of the day into a photo-foray.

Stops included: Red Bridge (River Road), near the “Sinkhole” to see vestiges of an old Monte Cristo Railroad bridge, the Youth-on-Age Nature Trail and the Old Mill Pond; we also stopped at several points along the Mountain Loop, pulling off onto the side of the road for more photography.

The most “interesting” stop was at Red Bridge – here we parked at the gated road and walked a way. We’d spotted what looked like an old bridge on the far side of the river so wanted to investigate. We hiked the gated road perhaps 1/16 of a mile (this is called River Road but is not so signed) to where a rough path led down to the gravel bars of the Stillaguamish river. There we got a good look at the structure, definitely part of an old bridge. Here we looked across the river and saw the supports for the bridge on the other side. Neither of these edifices can be seen when the vegetation leafs out.

Since we wanted to see the other part of the bridge we hiked back to the car, crossed the river and parked on the other side of “Red Bridge”. Here we found a path that led to the bridge (not signed). It appears that this site does get a few visitors – there is some graffiti on the bridge but at least no trash.

To the best of my knowledge this old bridge is not mentioned in the Monte Cristo guidebooks – but I will double-check on that (I may be mistaken). Whether it was a part of the Monte Cristo railroad or an early logging bridge remains to be known. Anyway, it was fun to spot it.

We stopped at the “new” Mountain View Diner near Robe and are pleased to report that since ownership changed hands, it’s a good place to stop for food (or visit the Lounge). I’ve always liked the Mountain View Diner but we strongly recommend stopping when they are open – everything is baked/cooked and fresh. On Saturday they had had a brunch that morning and the leftover desserts were two desserts for the price of one because they said the “servings” were too small to charge for one. I enjoyed freshly baked ginger-bread, Silverback had a chocolate chip cookie. Before dessert, we shared a BLT (the best BLT I’ve ever eaten).

Mailbox Peak – March 23, 2010

The trail is just as steep as ever but it’s easier to follow the trail that it used to be. This was our second visit to Mailbox in the past few weeks; this time I got to the summit, Silverback stopped a couple hundred feet short.

We’re both in better shape than we were last time. A regime of hiking and eating better has helped us both. Though I am going on 67 this hike to Mailbox was the “easiest” it’s ever been for me. I never ran out of wind or energy.

When Silverback moved out here from Denver last April, he could barely walk uphill. He’s lost about 80 pounds and will soon catch up with me. It’s just a matter of time!!

There was no significant snow until we reached the boulders (where Silverback stopped last time). At that point hikers can choose between scrambling the boulders or hiking up beside the boulder field and scrambling up to the ridge on snow.

We tried the snow route first but gave that up soon – the sun was shining and the snow on the trees was melting. It was like a miniature rain-storm! Though we had ice axes, we didn’t have umbrellas so gave that up and continued on up via the boulder field.

I’m always happier on rocks than I am on snow; climbing on boulders is fun, it’s like play. There was a little bit of snow on the rocks but not enough to worry about. We soon met the trail again.

Beyond the boulder field there were scraps of snow here and there; but no significant snow until the actual summit itself. The mailbox is bare and open for business. There are always surprises inside and it’s fun to read the summit register (always).

As I started down another group started up; Silverback and I retraced our route over the boulders and back into the forest where the trail is marked with silver diamonds. The trail – while not snowy – is extremely muddy and slippery, the mud being the consistency (but not the flavor of chocolate icing).

Admittedly we were both tired by the time we got back to the car. We knew we’d be paying for our hike today and so we are. I’m a little stiff and am suffering a bit of a mountain “hang-over” – i.e., dehydrated, sleepy. Silverback is also feeling the effects from yesterday but neither of us suffering badly enough to say “Enough!”

The stats are about 6-7 miles round trip, altimeter said we’d gained 4,300 feet but I don’t think it’s that much elevation gain.

Other hikes:

March 20, 2010 (Cedar Butte and Rattlesnake Ledge)

This was a Mountaineer hike that I co-lead with Steve Payne as part of The Mountaineers Conditioning Hiking Series class. It was a pacing hike.

First we hiked to Cedar Butte (from Rattlesnake Lake), then hiked to the ledge. Cedar Butte was relatively quiet; we had the little summit to ourselves. Rattlesnake Ledge; that’s another story – it was probably the most crowded I’ve ever seen that trail but on a warm, sunny day it doesn’t matter. You expect a lot of people out on a trail like this on a nice day. It was fun to see other hikers – of all races, ages, shapes and sizes.

Cedar Butte is about 400 feet of elevation gain as I recall. Not sure of the elevation gain to Rattlesnake Ledge but it’s not a lot.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Wrestling with Wallace Basin, March 3, 2010

Wrestling with Wallace Basin (March 3, 2010)

We’ve grown fascinated with hikes in/near Gold Bar, Sultan, Index, Skykomish and Wallace Lake. Old trail reports and hiking guidebooks hint of splendor in Wallace Basin – a lonesome place that apparently doesn’t see many visitors. That’s partly because it’s hard to get to, let alone find. That entire area is a complex web of roads (some closed), fading trails, ATV trails and sadly, garbage dumping.

Wallace Basin is seldom visited by anyone according to the lack of trail reports and descriptions. We’d been reading Harvey Manning’s explorations of Wallace Basin in his “Footsore” series; there and in other dated tomes he writes of an old trestle that spanned the Wallace River above the upper falls.

We wanted to find it though we suspected there wouldn’t be much of the trestle standing years later. By sheer luck more than brains, we found the road* that eventually gets into the basin.

To get there: hike the Woody Trail (Wallace Falls State Park) to Upper Wallace Falls. From the upper falls continue on a steep trail marked with blue diamonds to an old road.
Turn right on the road, continue a short distance to the Wallace River where the road ends abruptly. Of course there was little sign of there ever having been a trestle though Silverback spotted the landing where the trestle attached to the far side of the river. Though the trestle is gone the end of the road is a scenic spot for lunch or a good turnaround; you’ll also escape the crowds at the waterfalls.

Incidentally if Wallace Lake is your destination you’d turn left at this junction - signs along the road will tell you when you are leaving the park and when you re-enter it again.
We opted to explore further and headed toward Wallace Lake on the road. In less than ¼ mile from the blue diamond trail we came to a junction where a sign with a directional arrow pointed the way to Wallace Lake but we turned right onto an old road that invited our interest. Dare we hope we might actually get to Wallace Basin from that old road?

The road was wide enough to allow for logging in the past – big stumps with springboard notches, sporting caps of sassy salal brightened the dark forest of second and third growth. A lot of logging happened here, though the forest is gradually taking the land back. We passed what looked like a hunter’s camp with an old fire-ring and at another point an odd post painted white with a green “X”; its meaning a mystery to us.

We were often within sight and sound of the river as the road snaked deeper and deeper into the forest. A thin carpet of moss covered the road; indicating a lack of foot-travel. Soon we came to a thicket of salmonberry that had taken over the road; thankfully it had not leafed out yet and we could still discern the road. Silverback mentioned that it was a good idea to hike before the vegetation leafed out otherwise you’d have to eat your way through the salmonberries.

Past the salmonberry the road became more user-friendly again with only an occasional fallen tree to step over. It was so quiet that you could literally hear a pine needle fall to the ground. We found ourselves talking in low voices; such forest seems to ask that of visitors.

Then we came to a series of obstacles that might dampen a hiker’s enthusiasm: blowdowns, tangles of downed trees and the road all but gone where blowouts occurred. Tributaries had run amok here, tearing up the road up as easily as we’d tear a piece of paper. Peering through the ghostly gloom, looking up at the jumble of gravel, rootballs and boulders we can only suggest that one should tread lightly here when it is wet or streams are high. One can only guess when these blowouts occurred – or when they will occur again.

After picking our way across the washouts we picked up the road again and were given a brief reprieve on good road before our next obstacle; here, a blowout had occurred so wide that the road had become a seep. Coltsfoot burst forth from the muddy globs and boggy groundcover we could not identify doing it’s best to hold the water-saturated ground in place.

We picked up the road on the other side of the seep but all too soon we came upon another blowdown that almost obscured the trail. The road ran past areas that had been heavily logged, so long ago that some of the stumps were almost ethereal, slathered with lichen and moss. We lost sense of distance as we wrestled with the vegetation and navigated through more blowdowns – had we hiked a couple miles? Or less? Or more?

We stopped to consult our watch at an obscure junction and turned around regretfully; we’d have to come back when days grow longer. We felt like we’d hiked a couple of miles on the road though the mileage was less according to the GPS. As we retraced our route we descended to the river a couple of times for a better look at the landslides that had come down on the other side.

Hiking back went faster than we thought; perhaps because we were familiar with the obstacles. We hit the main road much sooner than we expected and made quick work of the hike back to Wallace Falls and the trailhead.

A Detour

Lake Isobel anyone? Like something out of Poe’s writing that “dank tarn” and “ghoul-haunted lake” is not easy to get to - not that it ever was unless, perhaps, you’ve got a floatplane. Now a part of the Wild Sky Wilderness the legendary lake remains elusive except to those who have fallen under her spell and understand her wily ways.

That graceful lake is tucked away in a sullen basin below the loosely defined Ragged Ridge – the lake is beautiful but often the lakeshore is strewn with garbage (an old moldy sleeping bag gave us the heebie jeebies). Today volunteers have organized work parties to haul out garbage and will continue to do so (see ) for details on clean-up parties not only for Lake Isobel but other areas in the region.

We hope the lake – and it’s hidden waterfall – will become easier to access as land management agencies manage the complex, confusing road/trail system. As changes occur we’ll do our best to keep you posted.

I’d been to Lake Isobel with guidebook author Bob Dreisbach and again with friends. In the late 1990s Isobel was easier to access – then you could hike a gravel road to the Copperbelle Mine (now private property according to my understanding). Last time I was there the road was gated.

In the 1990s Bob led a friend and me past the Copperbelle the lake via an intricate route of tottering bridges, rocky roads and brushy trails – where there was no trace of a path we relied solely on Bob’s memory. No one I’ve met could read the land as well as Bob – a topographical genius who seldom needed to look at the map and never needed to use a compass.

On my last visit to the lake with friends we went a different way, bypassing the Copperbelle mine as we believe it was and is on private property. Starting from the “trailhead” at Reiter Road we ferreted out a route on ATV tracks, at one point shimmying across a log over May Creek. We also crossed a deteriorating bridge still being used by ATVs/Jeeps (that bridge is probably gone).

We may return and try to get to the lake again – if we succeed I’ll write about it. And if we don’t, I’ll write about that too as finding a way to challenging places is an adventure in itself.

Getting to a place is as much fun as being there; sometimes more so.

*There is a question as to whether or not the road to Wallace Basin is an old logging road or a railroad grade (railroad logging). Sources do not agree.