Monday, December 31, 2012

The Owl Spot on Mount Washington

THE OWL SPOT (MOUNT WASHINGTON) There are two types of snowshoers in the Pacific Northwest – those who are so enthusiastic about snowshoeing they put their snowshoes at the first sight of snow. Others, like us, consider snowshoes a tool only to be used when necessary and hold out until they are actually needed. You might be able to leave your snowshoes in the trunk of your car if the Owl Spot on the Mount Washington trail is your destination. On December 22 we bare-booted it to the Owl Spot though more snow has fallen since. The trail to Mount Washington is the kind of trail you won’t know what the conditions are like until you get there. A look at the Green Trails map shows several routes to Mount Washington but getting to that summit is a steep, strenuous hike or snowshoe no matter how you approach it. If you don’t want to work that hard consider what old-timers referred to (including Harvey Manning and The Mountaineers), the Owl Spot about 2.25 miles from the trailhead. The Mountaineers dubbed this then-unobstructed viewpoint the Owl Spot in the 1970s/80s. Then, the organization offered “owl” hikes, trails that could be hiked in the summer after work. The Owl Spot hike provided enough exercise to “count” and the views from the Owl Spot (when Rattlesnake Mountain and North Bend first come into view) were well worth it as were the sunsets that often necessitated hiking back to the car by headlamp. Though the trail to Mount Washington is not signed it’s hard to miss once you’re on the Iron Horse Trail. The hike begins at the trailhead (Olallie State Park) as a short path next to the restroom that climbs to a roadbed leading to the Iron Horse Trail; here, turn right. In a few hundred yards look for an obvious trail (left) that ducks into the forest; that’s the trail. The trail is an old logging road and is rocky, especially near the beginning. Years ago some hikers claimed you could find a wrecked car hidden in the trees near the trailhead though we never found it. Hikers a little long in the tooth may also recall hearing about the legendary Dirty Harry, a gyppo logger who bludgeoned logging roads into the foothills (this road might have been one of Harry’s). When you hike or snowshoe this road (or other old roads near North Bend) picture Dirty Harry barreling down a rocky incline in a beat-up logging truck, brakes smoking, a crazy grin, a cigarette clenched in his teeth. The road-trail (shown as a jeep track on old maps) climbs at a steady grade through the forest engineering a tricky route between cliff bands and overhangs. Our favorite time to go is in winter when icicles form on the cliffs that parallel the road-trail in places and make for good photography (don’t stand under the icicles, the reason should be obvious). In about one mile you’ll come to a large overhanging cliff (right) that is akin to a cave. You can climb a short, rocky path into the cave as it provides a weather-proof spot for lunch or a break. Look to the ceiling for the glint of hardware climbers use to practice fancy climbing maneuvers. Near the entrance splotches of bright yellow and green lichen create Jackson Pollock-like splotches on the reddish boulders and be thankful graffiti-artists have not found this place. It is a cool and restful sanctuary on a hot, summer day and a refuge on wet days. Past the cave the trail continues a steady climb through corridors of alders and evergreens; interspersed with cliff-bands often festooned with icicles in winter. En route you might notice a small hand-made sign with a directional sign for Mount Washington at about 1.5 miles though the way is obvious. There is no sign for the Owl Spot but you’ll know it when you see it. The Owl Spot is where the trail curves around a rocky face with views of Rattlesnake Mountain, North Bend, Mount Si and its adjacent foothills. The view has shrunk over time as trees have grown taller but it still lives up to its name. The bench under the overhanging cliffs was buried in snow when we were there and most of the hikers had adopted snowshoes by then. We hiked back the way we came but were not ready to go home. The skies had cleared and yearning for more views we drove further east on the frontage road to exits further east on I-90 though the best views of Mount Teneriffe and Si were between Tanner and North Bend on the frontage road. Other options from Exit No. 38 include hiking, skiing or snowshoeing the Iron Horse trail in either direction. You can also reach Twin Falls by heading west (right) on the Iron Horse trail as well as Cedar Butte and Rattlesnake Lake (study the Green Trails map for details). Getting there: From Seattle head east on I-90 and get off at Exit No. 38. Turn right after making the exit and then make another right turn at the spur to the trailhead signed “Olallie State Park”. Passenger cars may need to park along the road rather than the trailhead as the spur to the trailhead is steep and may not be plowed. If you do park along the road you can also walk up the gated road (a little above the road to the trailhead) and that will also take you to the Iron Horse Trail. Don’t forget your Discover Pass – it’s required. Additional Information: The hike to the Owl Spot is 4.25 miles (round-trip) with 1,900 feet elevation gain. Refer to Green Trails Map No. 206S Mount Si NRCA, Side B for more detailed information and other options.
Karen Sykes

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Talus Loop, Mount Si Natural Resources Conservation Area

Usually when hikers talk about Mount Si that’s where they end up going. Mount Si is a great conditioner year-round except, perhaps, when trails get icy in winter. If navigating ice in winter isn’t your cup of hot cider, there are other options for hikers at the Mount Si Natural Resources Conservation Area, managed by the Washington Department of Natural Resources (DNR). The Talus Loop trail is a sweet compromise between an easy hike and a strenuous work-out. Plus, the loop provides a measure of solitude for hikers who prefer solitude. If you are a genuine misanthrope you should be prepared to share the first stretch of the Mount Si trail with other hikers, runners and mountain climbers with weights in their pack as they train for loftier ambitions than Mount Si. Display your Discover Pass at the Mount Si trailhead and start up the forested trail. You can start from the lower Talus Loop at .7 miles and climb to the upper end of the Talus Loop at 1.7 miles (where the trail meets the Mount Si trail). Both the upper and lower junctions of the Talus Loop are signed. That makes a nice loop. We prefer starting from the upper trail junction at Snag Flats to make the loop and re-connect with the Mount Si trail at the lower junction on our way out. That way you’ve got the “up” out of the way and you can take your time heading down (or, if you’re feeling spunky you can continue to Mount Si). Take a field guide and take a look at the variety of moss and lichen on this trail (you don’t see as much on the regular trail). The upper Talus Loop trail descends briefly to cross a small creek followed by a short easy climb through silent forest to the namesake of this trail; a large, open triangular-shaped talus field with views out to North Bend and nearby foothills. The talus field is the obvious spot for a break as it is usually in the sun until later in the day. It’s a pleasant place to stop any time of the year; on a sunny day the rocks are warm, even on a winter day (unless it’s raining). The trail has been engineered so there are several spots to “settle” for a while. After the trail traverses the talus field it makes a series of long, descending switchbacks through the forest again where in late fall/early winter you’ll find a variety of mushrooms, fungi, lichen and moss. The trail crosses the bottom of the talus slope again where vine maples are taking root and in fall, providing fall-color displays. Overall the trail has more of a natural feel/ambience as fewer hikers use the trail and less vegetation has been disturbed. You may experience a bit of culture shock when the lower end of the Talus Loop deposits you back onto the thronged Mount Si trail but by that time you’ll be just as cheery as the folks you meet coming and going. To get there: From Seattle head east on I-90 and get off I-90 at Exit No. 32 signed 436th Avenue SE. Go left (over the interstate) and continue ½ mile to North Bend Way and turn left. Continue about ¼ of a mile (toward North Bend) and turn right onto Mount Si Road. Continue 2.5 miles to the designated trailhead/parking lot (left). A Discovery Pass is required. Additional Information: The Talus Loop hike is 3.7 miles round-trip with 1,750 feet elevation gain. The suggested map is Green Trails No. 206S (Mount Si NRCA). For additional information on this trail and others in the Mount Si Natural Resources Conservation Area (Department of Natural Resources): Karen Sykes