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 http://www.nwhikers.net/ ) 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.

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