Barlow Point, Old Government Trail, Railroad Grade (May, 2010)
The first time I hiked to Barlow Point was in the early 1980s with the late Archie Wright, his wife, Margie and Silverback (Silverback and I go back a long way but that’s a long story). It was a crisp, autumn day – Margie brought apples and an iced cake for our summit lunch and knowing Archie, he probably carried up a thermos of “cowboy” coffee.
Barlow Point is the site of a former lookout – there was little trace of it on that long ago fall day and even less in 2010 – just a mere twinkle of broken glass was all we could find and that may or may not have had anything to do with the lookout.
Either the mountains have grown taller or someone’s been taking down some of the trees because we saw many more Monte Cristo peaks than we did on that hike in the 1980s.
Just like my first visit I get all turned around on Barlow Point, even with the map and am never 100 percent sure of what peaks I’m looking at. To the best of my knowledge we saw Big Four (I initially had it confused with Del Campo, good grief!) and Mount Pugh (other peaks I won’t even attempt to name). It’s weird too – I’ve climbed several of those peaks yet they can look so different depending on where you are standing in relation to the peak.
At some angles Sloan and Pugh look like brothers, one’s just bigger than the other. But from another vantage point, they don’t look like they are related at all. In any event, the views from Barlow Point are – for lack of a better word, inspirational. If you’ve never wanted to take up climbing before you might develop an interest upon viewing these monstrously beautiful peaks from Barlow Point.
The trailhead for Barlow Point (and the Government Trail) is accessed from the upper parking lot at Barlow Pass. We prefer to park at Barlow Pass per se because we perhaps misguidedly believe we are less apt to get the car broken into along the Mountain Loop.
As for the Barlow Point trail there isn’t a sign for the trail at the trailhead kiosk.
Behind the restroom is a dim network of trails in dark forest. Look about for the “best” path; that’s the beginning of the Barlow Point trail. If you veer off too much to the left (toward the Mountain Loop Highway) you’ll find yourself on the Railroad Grade – that’s OK too if that’s what you’re looking for.
Keep on the main trail, you’ll soon come to a signed junction (2,335 feet) for Barlow Point (right) – the Old Government Trail continues straight.
After a bit of up and down the trail wraps rounds a rocky outcropping on decaying puncheon. Here we found trilliums and violets blooming like crazy anywhere there was a bit of earth to cling to. From the outcroppings the trail continues through forest. Boulders have come to rest and over time trees have embraced the boulders with their roots as if to hold them in place. The boulders came down some time ago, some under a fine sheen of moss. Old stumps rear up like the remains of bombed buildings, stark but lovely to behold and difficult to photograph in the dappled light. The forest is a pastiche of new evergreens, old evergreens and snags. We also spotted yellow cedar.
As the trail climbed our attention was drawn to growing views of what I mistakenly took to be Del Campo (it’s Silvertip Peak). We also found evidence of trail work here and there - piles of sawdust beside the trail attest to recently cut downed trees. En route to the summit there are openings in the forest where one could spend an afternoon dawdling on a mossy outcropping and enjoying the view.
We spent quite a long time on the summit (at 3,134 feet) gazing at the surrounding peaks and enjoying the sun. It felt like spring had finally arrived; there was no need to hurry, we had the place to ourselves (not uncommon). Silverback looked around for an old brace that held the lookout in place he remembered from our 1980 hike but no trace remained.
When we hiked down o the junction for the Government Trail we were surprised to run into a friend and fellow hiker, Kim, who loves abandoned, seldom-hiked trails as much as we do. Kim was on her way to Barlow Point – she had never been there. Before we parted company we talked about the historical trails in the area. When I mentioned remnants of old puncheon on the Government Trail she said her feet get all “tingly” even thinking about hiking on old puncheon. We know the feeling!
She continued on her way to Barlow Point, we set off to follow the Old Government as far as we could, perhaps as far as Buck Creek or at least to a tributary I remembered from my first visit long ago when I came upon a mink or a river otter at the seasonal waterfall that occurs there in spring.
The Old Government trail is a gentle one for the most part; with a few blowdowns and ancient puncheon. We found a few boot prints here and there though this trail doesn’t get much use. We encountered historic puncheon here and there, some of it broken and a broken bridge where someone had nailed wire to make for easier walking. However, it hadn’t rained much and it was a just a big step to cross the tributary the bridge once spanned.
At times we could see the old Monte Cristo railroad grade below the trail, a little further on we could see the Mountain Loop Highway and beaver ponds near the road. From the Mountain Loop Highway you’d never know there was a trail.
We called it quits at the tributary; it wasn’t as pretty as it was back in the late 1980s. There have been blowouts over the years and where the seasonal waterfall once fanned out over an outcropping there’s a mess of downed trees and rubble. Though you wouldn’t think so the trail continues to Buck Creek – cross the creek and pick up the trail on the other side. We turned around at that point so couldn’t vouch for what shape the trail is in beyond the tributary.
On our way back we looked for the railroad grade and when we spotted it we left the Old Government trail and dropped down to hike it back to the trailhead. We dropped down a bit too soon and had to work through some pesky alders before getting to the Railroad Grade. However, if you want to visit the railroad grade instead of heading to Barlow Point continue on the Old Government trail to an obvious trail that cuts down to the railroad grade (it’s not very far from the trailhead).
Barlow Cut is not as obvious as it used to be; we passed right through it without my recognizing it. The old kiosk that tells about Barlow Cut and the Monte Cristo railroad is gone, you’d be hard-pressed now to identify it.
The Barlow Point trail is about 2.4 miles round trip with 1,000 feet of elevation gain from the trailhead (per our GPS). To get there: drive from Granite Falls about 31 miles to Barlow Pass - park in the upper lot (left) or along the highway. A Northwest Forest Pass is required.