Indian Racetrack and Red Mountain

With a beautiful forecast for Sunday I was flipping through my hiking books trying to decide where to go. In Matt Reeder’s new book he has the hike to Red Mountain via Indian Racetrack and I decided to do that. All I have to say is WOW. I can’t believe this hike doesn’t get more attention. The views are fantastic!

Just past the wilderness registration board is the abandoned and unsigned trail to the Basin Lakes area. Matt mentions this in his book, but I didn’t have the time to explore up there today.

Crossing Falls Creek, the outflow from Basin Lakes.

Crazy to think how that creek becomes this (Falls Creek Falls) a few miles downstream!

After that the trail climbs steeply. It’s so steep in this spot that they’ve laid logs down for erosion control.

I saw a whole bunch of mushrooms.

The trail levels off for a bit and then there’s just lots of forest hiking.

Then the trail reaches a meadow with a snowmelt pond.

Red Mountain ahead. Almost there!

Indian Racetrack, where Native Americans used to race their horses.

This is the trail to Red Mountain and thank goodness for that sign or I would not have seen it. Once the trail comes out of the forest there it totally disappears in the meadow.

Back in the forest for the final push up the hill.

The last 0.2mi of trail before it dumps out on the road is very very steep. I was very glad to get onto the well-graded road which shortly brought me to the summit. Oh man the views! An unobstructed 360-degree view!

Looking north out over Indian Heaven Wilderness to Mt. Adams, which had a fresh dusting of snow.

Mt. Rainier also had fresh snow:

Close-up of Indian Heaven:

Looking south to Mt. Hood:

Looking southwest (that forested bump left of center is called The Wart:

Looking west to Mt. St. Helens:

The lookout isn’t used anymore but is in good shape. (You can see from the first picture below how this mountain got its name.)

There isn’t much inside.

It seems that maybe the Red Mountain lookout is in some limbo. A winter storm blew the roof off in 2006 which caused the walls to collapse. Yikes!

Volunteers with the Passport in Time program restored the lookout in 2010 but at that time future plans were uncertain. The website firelookout.com says that it’s slated to become part of the rental program, but I don’t know when that was last updated. A 2011 report from the Forest Fire Lookout Association said that once toilet facilities were installed the lookout could become part of the rental program. There are still no toilet facilities up there and the inside needs a bed, a stovepipe, etc. so who knows what’s going on.

Anyway, I sat on the catwalk of the lookout for over an hour, enjoying the views and reading my book. It was the perfect temperature and I had the place all to myself. Pretty awesome! My timing was perfect because right when I was leaving two other hikers showed up, and five minutes later I passed a group of four hikers headed up (they asked me to take a jump shot of them and I was happy to oblige).

Almost back to the trailhead, just after passing the wilderness registration board, I passed two hunters who were decked out in full camo with facepaint and everything (yes, hunting is allowed in wilderness areas, just like cattle grazing is allowed). Their weapons looked strange…perhaps they were bows? Neither of them carried overnight packs. I turned to see if they would fill out a wilderness permit but they just blasted right past the sign without giving it a glance.

Mowich Butte & Sedum Point

On Friday Greg and I headed up to Mowich Butte and Sedum Point. I had hiked up to Mowich last year and failed to find the site of the old fire lookout on Mowich. Turns out I was VERY close!

Instead of hiking up from below, we drove up Road 41 as far as we could before we reached the dirt berm, beyond which the road has been decommissioned. It’s hard to see in this photo, but there’s a campfire site on the left where some idiots tried to burn all their trash before leaving. It didn’t burn, and just left a huge mess. This was just the first of LOTS of garbage that we saw on this hike.

In addition to that first huge berm, the road has dozens of berms along its length as part of the decommissioning process. I don’t understand the point, though. Are they meant to deter vehicles? No vehicle is going to make it past that first berm. Are they meant to deter ATVs? The ATVs just go up and over them. We saw plenty of ATV tracks. I wrote to the Gifford Pinchot Forest to ask about this, but they never wrote back.

Anyway, up the road we go.

There was lots and lots of vine maple along this hike. This would make a great fall trek!

After we turned onto the Mowich Butte spur we got a peek through the trees at Three Corner Rock.

Almost to the top of Mowich Butte the road becomes more overgrown.

Last year when I visited and walked that overgrown road, I ended up at what I thought was a dead end. I didn’t see the site of the old lookout, and I didn’t see many views. Turns out that for some reason a small section of the old road has become so overgrown that it just looks like you’ve reached the end. This view is looking west along the road, with all the trees growing right in the middle of it. Back in the 30s when the lookout tower was built this view would have been an unobstructed one over to the tower. We pushed through the branches on the left side and there we were.

Mt. Adams and Mt. Rainier would be visible from here, but it was overcast this day and we had no views.

From Mowich Butte we hiked back down to Road 41 and then east towards Sedum Point.

All along this hike we’d been seeing lots of garbage, which looked to have been left by the ATV crowd. We’d also been seeing rubber bands here and there. We finally came across the source of those rubber bands, although I can’t imagine why an ATV rider would be carrying a package of rubber bands. And why the hell did they leave them here? Also, one of the packages was tied to a plastic water bottle with some twine. So far, my imagination hasn’t come up with a plausible reason for this scenario.

We only had one small plastic grocery bag, so we couldn’t haul out all the trash we saw, but the rubber bands we did haul out. In the process of bagging them up a little green frog hopped out of the bag of green rubber bands!

We saw a few of the old mile markers from when this road was actually a road.

Shortly before reaching Sedum Point we intersected the PCT.

The road goes along the base of Sedum Point, but that’s as close as you can get before you have to scramble. Scramble we did, until we got up to a rocky Sedum Point. Once again, overcast skies obscured long-distance views. This is looking west, to an unnamed hill in the foreground. I’m not positive, but I think that the forested hill that is just behind the foreground tree on the left is Mowich Butte:

Looking southwest. The pointy peak at left is Greeenleaf Peak. The pointy peak at right is Three Corner Rock.

Sedum (stonecrop) was blooming on Sedum Point. An appropriately-named landmark!

Penstemon also bloomed there.

Other wildflowers we saw on our hike:

And mushrooms!

It had been threatening to rain all day, and it did sprinkle a bit on the way back to the car, but it wasn’t too bad. Someday I’d like to hike up here coming up via the PCT from Road 43.

Mt. Mitchell

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Today I hiked up Mt. Mitchell, a former lookout site near Swift Reservoir just outside the boundary of the Gifford Pinchot National Forest on land owned by the state of Washington. The hike is about 6.2 miles round-trip with 2,100′ elevation gain. The trail starts off in the trees and stays there for most of the way, but I did get a glimpse of Mt. St. Helens

First glimpse

Hiking through a beargrass meadow on the way to the top:

So much beargrass!

The summit had 360-degree views. Here’s Mt. St. Helens and Mt. Rainier with Swift Reservoir below:

Beautiful view

Closer view of Mt. St. Helens:

Reward for the climb

Mt. Adams:

Mt. Adams

Looking south to Mt. Hood:

Distant Hood

Phlox was growing all around the summit area:

Summit wildflowers

Spreading phlox

Looking east over Sugarloaf Ridge. There is a faint trail that goes out that ridge, I’ve read, but I didn’t tackle it:

Sugarloaf Ridge

It was a warm day and shortly after beginning my descent from the summit I ran out of water. (I carried two liters, but it wasn’t enough.) Still, this was a really great hike with fantastic views!

2011 Update: Unfortunately this hike is no longer doable. The access road crosses a piece of private property that changed hands in 2011 and was bought by a company called Cougar Cabins LLC. They refused to allow recreation access across their land. Not cool! Read more here and here.┬áThere is a longer “back door” route which you can read about here.