Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Lime Kiln Trail, June 2014

The Lime Kiln trail is a pleasant hike with historic structures from the region’s heyday when the Everett and Monte Cristo Railway ran along the South Fork of the Stillaguamish River in Snohomish County. The Lime Kiln Trail can be hiked year-round and is suitable for hikers of all ages and persuasions. The “trail” has been around since the railway was abandoned in 1934. Today parts of the railroad grade crosses private property; the lime kiln and other artifacts were mostly forgotten until the late Harvey Manning published a description of the railway grade back in the late 1970s in “Footsore 3” (Mountaineer Books). Those getting a little long in the tooth will never forget Harvey Manning; no matter what you thought of his politics and such - his writing inspired hikers to ferret out wild and scenic places he wrote about, no matter how obscure. And let’s not forget Bob and Ira Spring whose sharp black and white photos often took up a whole page in Mountaineers Books. Manning’s’ writing trail descriptions were brilliant thickets of words that gave you itchy feet; unlike some of the limpid guidebooks publishers are coming out with today, full of “stats”, GPS waypoints (some of us don’t need them), how to find the trailhead and with little poetic sense cannot inspire one to experience the delights of those hoary explorers who are all too quickly fading into obscurity. Fortunately there are a few hiking guidebooks where hiking through history is the focus. If you don’t already own a tattered copy of “Footsore 3” by Harvey Manning (Mountaineer Books) check out used-book stores, the Good Will, Salvation Army, and Half Price Books but get one if you can. That dog-eared tome changed my life from one of hopelessness to a love of the mountains that will last the rest of my life. Though I’m not young I still enjoy the challenge of rugged trails, obscure trails, abandoned trails and looking for artifacts even if the price is a losing battle with Devil’s Club, salmonberry, rotting stumps and nettles. Sometimes it just feels good to tussle with Mother Nature; it builds character. Finding the trailhead the first time can be a little challenging but we’ve provided directions below. Don’t leave anything of value in your car; there have been car break-ins at that trailhead and popular trailheads along the Mountain Loop highway. Play it safe but don’t let the creeps spoil your hike. The trail crosses sections of private property and is thusly signed. You have the right-of-way on the trail; always respect private property. As of this writing there is no facility available at the trailhead but no passes are required either. Hold off on the coffee until you get back to Granite Falls or step off trail where the brush is thick and be discreet. The park is managed by Snohomish County Parks and Recreation (thank you, Snohomish County). The trail starts off level, partly on an old road, and is muddy in a few spots; not enough to deter you but sturdy boots are advised. Though we did run into a huge group of children with adults serving as book-ends – children don’t seem to mind getting wet and dirty). They were having a ball! The trail is well-signed with mileages, points of interest and reminders not to remove artifacts. The trail begins on what was once a gravel road but is growing more trail-like each passing year as vegetation encroaches. On previous visits the trail crossed a dangerous water-saturated slope that was prone to mud-slides. We’re happy to report that today you can bypass the unstable slope on a sturdy bridge (imagine our sigh of relief). The railway grade is pretty now, bordered with ferns, buttercups, miners lettuce, bleeding hearts and saxifrages. Deer fern is especially eye-catching with its elegant fronds and vine maple filling in the voids between the evergreens; in a word, lovely. Creeks are crossed on sturdy bridges, including Hubbard Creek. I’d never noticed the name of that creek; we wondered if it was named for the same Hubbard for which a peak in the Monte Cristo area was named. Weathered signs point out places where mills once stood though nothing remains but a few rusted artifacts, including part of a stove, broken crockery and indistinguishable rusted machinery near the trail. Thanks be to the land management agencies and volunteers who maintain this historic corridor - do we need to remind you to leave things as you find them? You might think you’ve time-traveled into a South American jungle when the lime-kiln looms into view. Cluttered at its feet are bricks, some of them still engraved with names and dates they were made. The kiln is about 30 feet high and 20 feet wide. Moss slathered and flickering with licorice ferns this ruin appears more ancient than it is. Getting a good photo of the lime kiln is easiest on a cloudy day. As much as we love the sun-dappled forest it makes photography difficult. As you continue along the railroad grade there are occasional glimpses of the South Fork of the Stillaguamish River below. In about 3.5 miles you’ll come to a sign for the River Loop (a short loop that leads through the forest and down to the river where you can choose a sunny or shady spot for lunch). Before going down to the lunch spot we hiked a little further to the end of the railroad grade - here you may be able to get a glimpse of the abutments of the railway trestle (bridge) where it once crossed the river. A short, steep and slippery path drops down to the river for a closer view but is not recommended. I have gone down in the past and can verify the view from there isn’t much better than what you see from the end of the railroad grade. When we hiked back to the lunch spot we had it mostly to ourselves; here, the river is will put a spell on you, make you want to take a Rip Van Winkle nap or construct a cairn as a few others have done. The trees reach down as if to drink from the river and a little downstream are private spots where you can find a lonesome niche to go Zen. As is too often the case the trail seemed twice as long hiking back to the car. We took another break at the Lime Kiln as the light had changed and gave us another opportunity to fail getting a decent photo. Getting there: From Granite Falls continue through town and at a T-junction turn right on South Alder Avenue (the high school is to the left) and continue to a T and turn left on E. Pioneer Street (it becomes Menzel Lake Road). Turn left on Waite Mill Road and past a school bus turnaround turn left onto a gravel road (uphill). At the next fork both roads are marked “Private Road” – you’ve gone a little too far. A few yards below the private roads you’ll find the trailhead (signed) on the left with room for about 20 vehicles. Stats: 8.1 miles with 700 feet elevation. Photos can be found on Flickr – click on the first album. Karen Sykes


Jaime Ray said...

You are in our thoughts and prayers, Karen.

Joseph Yanda said...

Thanks for the Harvey Manning and Ira Spring references; required reading for anyone needing worthwhile diversions.