Monday, July 5, 2010

Easton Ridge, early June, 2010

Easton Ridge – June 5, 2010

I meant to post this last month but I’ve been doing more hiking than writing!!
This was probably my 10th visit over the years, ranging from brutally cold Mountaineer snowshoes trips to solo hikes in spring when wildflowers are at their best.

However the days of having this trail to yourself are probably history unless you hike mid-week. Our hike took place on Saturday and while we expected to share the trail with others, we weren’t psychologically prepared for the crowd gathering at the trailhead for a Mountaineers-related Naturalist hike.

We waited for the group to get ahead of us before we started out. Despite our relaxed pace we soon caught up with them as a faster trio of hikers caught up with us. We guessed we’d have to lollygag for a measure of solitude (we don’t mind an easy-going shamble from time to time) so we tarried and then some. We stopped for photographs of wildflowers along the lower stretch of the trail between the creek and the unsigned junction where the trail meets a gravel road.

There isn’t a trail sign there so when you get to the road head left and pick up the trail at the first, big switchback in the road. It’s hard to miss.

Flowers were aplenty – Hooker’s fairy bells, Solomon’s Seal, waterleaf, vanilla leaf, flowering current, trilliums and at higher elevation lots of spring beauties and golden glacier lilies, always a sight for sore eyes. We also saw serviceberry, vine maple with new, bright green leaves and Luina (not yet in bloom).

The next stretch between the road and the Domerie Peak trail junction is steep but the trail is in good shape. We stopped briefly at the junction (signed Easton Ridge, Thomas Mountain and Domerie Peak) discussing where to go. That was an easy decision - we knew most of the hikers were heading toward Domerie Peak so we opted for Easton Ridge instead.

At this major junction there are two obvious trails. The trail to left goes to Thomas Mountain and Domerie Peak. The trail to the right is the Easton Ridge trail but after a few paces you’ll come to another junction that is not signed or as obvious as the first junction. Take the uphill fork. The other trail contours above the logging road and soon ends (I know, I’ve hiked it).

Though the Easton Ridge trail is not as distinct as the first stretch it’s not all that hard to follow. When in doubt – go up. The trail improves as it approaches the ridge and skirts a rocky outcropping. That first outcropping makes a good spot for a break or a photograph of Kachess Lake below.

From the first outcropping the way now is mostly airy as it continues toward the ridgeline; there are a few more outcroppings along the way. Each outcropping provides a more expansive view of Kachess Lake, Easton Lake and Easton below. On a clear day there’s also a good view of Mount Rainier.

After the third or so outcropping we left the trail, taking a shortcut to the top of the ridge – this makes a nice ridge-run (a phrase often used by hikers who enjoy following ridgelines.) There are several outcroppings that make outstanding turnarounds or lunch spots with views in all directions – here you can view the path not taken, the forested summits of minor peaks including Mount Baldy.

Here is where we picked up one tick – not nearly as prevalent here as they are in other sites east of the crest (Umtanum Ridge and Creek is teeming with ticks). Other than the tick we had the ridge to ourselves and enjoyed a lazy, leisurely lunch.

We dropped back down to the trail and continued (east) for another half mile or so before turning around. My memory is not foolproof – I seem to remember a few years ago we hiked the trail until it ended at a rock outcropping but today we stopped shy of that.

This was our first warm day hike in a long time; it was nice not to have to bundle up and wonderful to bask in sunlight. We retraced our route back to the trailhead. The big group was still on the mountain so there were still a lot of cars at the trailhead, more than I’ve ever seen. We also met more hikers on the trail, getting a late start.

On our way back we stopped at Turtle Bar in Easton for milkshakes and for me, a hot-spiced cider with a cinnamon stick. The Turtle Bar used to be a funky place with delicious but greasy grub. It’s been spruced up, the prices are a little higher than they were but the food is better. In the past the old restaurant was mostly used by snowmobilers or cold and wet Mountaineers in need of sugar, caffeine and grease - now it’s become a more popular spot for residents and visitors to stop.

We hiked about 5.2 miles round trip with 1,859 feet of elevation gain per the GPS. The map is Green Trails No. 208 Kachess Lake.

To get there: From Seattle take I-90 east and turn off at Exit 70. Drive over the freeway and turn left onto a frontage road signed Kachess Dam Road and proceed to Forest Service Road No. 4818 and turn right. Stay on Road No. 4818 to an unsigned road junction and turn right – follow that road about ½ mile to the trailhead, elevation 2,400 feet, no facilities. A Northwest Forest Pass is required.

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