Table Mountain and Artist Point

2015 Trip, Day 5: Wednesday, August 19

The smoke from yesterday had not cleared from the Snoqualmie Pass area today, much to our sadness.

I was feeling incredibly discouraged. So far our vacation had involved a whole lot of worrying over what the conditions would bring each day. Every day we were making lots of phone calls to ranger stations and checking online for weather forecasts, fire conditions, and smoke reports. Now after 24 hours of smoke there was still an air quality advisory through the next day for the Snoqualmie Pass area. After making a phone call to the Glacier Public Information Center, Greg suggested we head to the Mt. Baker area, which was currently experiencing clear skies. So we headed north.

We had expected to spend the last three days of our trip backpacking, but we weren’t doing that now. So we needed more groceries for car camping and stopped at the Woolley Market in Sedro-Woolley. Also got some sandwiches for lunch.

Since we hadn’t planned on going to Mt. Baker, we hadn’t brought any of our books and maps with us. I downloaded hike descriptions to my phone and then we stopped at the ranger station in town to buy a few maps.

The Mt. Baker area was indeed clear and we enjoyed a sunny drive along Highway 542. We arrived at the Silver Fir Campground (the only campground in the area, not including the Douglas Fir Campground that’s 20 minutes back in the other direction) only to find no empty campsites. Well, there were empty campsites, but we couldn’t use them. Some people had reserved sites but then failed to show up and use them. The Weebers here were one such group.

Just before leaving the campground, we happened to see the Hoodoo camp host who is stationed at Douglas Fir Campground and also looks after Silver Fir. We told him we were looking for a campsite and he said the campground had been full for weeks, then turned away to finish cleaning the bathroom. Good grief. Hoodoo employees, in my experience, are some of the most unhelpful people! (We found out the next day that people are allowed to camp in the campground’s day use area when all the sites are full. No one had yet claimed the day use area and we could have taken it, but Mr. Unhelpful failed to mention that to us.)

On the map we saw a campsite symbol at Hannegan Pass so we headed up there. The road is a pothole-plagued mess, but when we got to the end we did indeed find a few campsites and we snagged one:

It was only 4:30 so Greg suggested we drive up to Artist Point and do the short hike up Table Mountain. So we drove back down the potholed road, then drove the curvy winding road up to Artist Point. When we got there I felt like doing a jig. We finally made it to Artist Point! When we visited this area in July 2010 the snow melted really late that year and Artist Point was inaccessible. When we visited last year it was raining and we didn’t even bother driving up there. Third time’s the charm! The evening light on Mt. Shuksan was divine.

Rugged mountains north of Mt. Shuksan:

Heading up to Table Mountain:

Some sections of the trail cling to the side of the mountain. See Greg on the left?

We reached a viewpoint that we thought was the summit, but it wasn’t. It actually proved to have the best views, we would later discover. It also had tons of annoying “rock art” stacks.

We kept going across the plateau towards the true summit, which we needn’t have done, it turns out. We lost the trail at one point and just headed cross country.

The point we designated as our turnaround point was not really the summit, but the views weren’t going to get better than we already had, so we called it good. Nice view of Mt. Baker:

Looking down the length of the plateau that is Table Mountain:

The jagged peaks of North Cascades National Park:

Glacier Peak to the south:

And of course a fabulous view of Mt. Shuksan:

Some panorama shots from my iPhone:

All the peaks to the south of us were somewhat shrouded in smoky haze:

A shot from the way down, with Mt. Baker in the background:

When we got back down to the car sunset was already well underway. We had wanted to photograph sunset at Picture Lake, back down the road a bit from Artist Point, so got in the car and headed down there. We needn’t have bothered though. Winds often calm down in the evening, but they didn’t today and the lake was not doing any reflecting:

Screw the lake. I’ll focus on the mountain:

Earlier at Artist Point we talked to a nice woman named Suzanne who told us about seeing amazing stars the night before, and even a bit of the northern lights. We wanted to stay and see the stars, but our pots, pans, and stove for making a car camping dinner were back at the campsite. Fortunately all our backpacking gear and food was in the car, so after driving back to Artist Point from the lake we made dinner backpacking style. I don’t think we’ve ever used our JetBoil in a parking lot before:

We sat in the car and ate our dinners as dusk fell:

We were glad we stayed because the stars were a sight to see!

We got to bed pretty late that night (11:30), but it was worth it!

< Day 4 | Day 5 >

Snoqualmie Tunnel

2015 Trip, Day 4: Tuesday, August 18

When I got up first thing this morning and headed to the bathrooms, I noticed that the guy in the site next to us was sitting in the driver’s seat of his car, bundled in a blanket or sleeping bag, engrossed in his phone, with the engine running. Idling one’s car and polluting the air (not to mention wasting gas) is one of my all-time hugest pet peeves. It’s even worse in a campground where people are eating and sleeping outside.

Our plan for the day was to pack up, hike Snow Lake, then move camp over to the Cle Elum area. As we drove to the Snow Lake trailhead, though, we were horrified to discover that our luck had changed. The winds had changed direction and the entire area was blanketed in smoke.

When we got to the trailhead, even the nearby mountains were faint due to the smoke.

We decided we’d hang around for a day and see if the smoke cleared out. So we headed over to Iron Horse State Park to hike through the Snoqualmie Tunnel, which is almost 2.5 miles long. It was built by the Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul and Pacific Railroad (also known as the Milwaukee Road). Survey work began in 1908 and the first train went through in 1915. The last train went through the tunnel in 1980 and eventually the entire rail line was removed. The right-of-way is now a trail in the 1,612 acre Iron Horse State Park, with 100 miles of trail stretching from Cedar Falls to the Columbia River.

We set out down the wide gravel trail (really more like a road) under the eerie light of the smoke-filtered sun.

We quickly reached the tunnel.

In we go! That light in the distance is the other end of the tunnel. It is straight as an arrow. Once we were out of reach of the daylight at the east end of the tunnel we turned on our headlamps.

Inside the tunnel are all sorts of weird old contraptions whose function I can’t even guess at.

At the other end of the tunnel you get a better sense of the mountain through which the tunnel was bored.

Looking west through smoky skies at Mount Kent, McClellan Butte, and Bandera Mountain.

Looking northwest:

We had a smoky view of Granite Mountain, which we’d hiked up the day before.

After hiking the tunnel the day was still young and still smoky, so we went over to Dru Bru and pored over our books and maps, trying to decide what to do if the smoke hadn’t cleared the next day. I felt very stressed.

We wanted to stick around and do Snow Lake, but we were not excited about going back to Denny Creek Campground and the freeway noise. So even though it was out of the way we headed over the campground at Kachess Lake where we had no trouble getting a site, much to our relief. The lake, like all lakes in the Pacific Northwest this summer, was exceedingly low.

We hoped for the best in the morning and went to bed.

< Day 3 | Day 5 >

Granite Mountain

2015 Trip, Day 3: Monday, August 17

We’d heard a lot about Granite Mountain. Despite the steepness and difficulty of the hike, it is EXTREMELY popular, which is why we hiked it on a weekday instead of a weekend. We were not disappointed.

We hit the trail at 9:30. The first mile of trail was the same as we hiked yesterday on our way to Pratt Lake, then we branched off to begin some majorly steep hiking up the mountain. This trail is not fun. It is very steep in places and incredibly rocky, requiring patience and concentration to navigate.

The trail spends a lot of time going across and up several different avalanche chutes on the south face of the mountain, from which we started to get views.

The trail crosses a huge open and mostly treeless area on the summit as it continues to wind its way up. There were thousands of dead beargrass stalks from the fabulous 2014 bloom up here.

Our first glimpse of the lookout!

The trail reaches a flattish area below a towering wall studded with granite rocks. Cool!

Marmot chilling out.

While we were resting, a chipmunk started licking the salty sweat off my trekking pole!

The trail passes beneath the lookout before coming up the backside to the summit. You can see how this mountain got its name.

Finally at 1:30 we reached the top. Views, views everywhere! Mt. Rainier to the south:

Looking northwest:

Looking northeast and east. WOW. We had mostly clear skies, but could see smoke off to the east. Mt. Stuart was barely visible through the haze. (Click photo for bigger size.)

The lookout was built in 1955, replacing an earlier 1924 lookout. It’s no longer staffed, but it’s maintained by volunteers, who sometimes open it up on weekends. Today it was locked.

There were SO MANY chipmunks at the summit. They were brave and tenacious little buggers, and clearly expected handouts. This hike is very popular and I have no doubt that these guys are fed by hundreds of hikers every week.

At 2:50 we reluctantly started heading back down.

A peek through the trees at more mountains to the north:

Kaleetan Peak and Chair Peak towering above Crystal Lake and Denny Lake:

Down, down, down, the steep trail.

We finally got back to the car at 5:45, extremely sore and tired. Tough hike, but beautiful! 3,800′ elevation gain, 8 miles. We rewarded ourselves with post-hike beers at Dru Bru. We even got pizza, delivered from Pie For the People across the street. Delicious!

< Day 2 | Day 4 >

Pratt Lake

2015 Trip, Day 2: Sunday, August 16

The campsite at Denny Creek Campground was only ours for one night, so we packed up camp this morning (royal pain in the ass) before heading over to the trailhead to start hiking. Our destination was Pratt Lake but the Granite Mountain hike also starts here and it’s VERY popular. There were at least 100 cars at the trailhead.

We started hiking at 10am. I’ve never seen ranger reports at trailheads before, but I like it. I wish more forests did this.

At some point along the trail is this long boardwalk:

About 10 seconds after I took that picture I was about a third of the way across when some trail runner came blasting up behind me. He asked if he could pass and I said I would let him pass once we were off the too-narrow-for-passing boardwalk. He told me he was trying to win a $500 race and I repeated what I’d said before. Learn some trail manners, jerk. I’m not falling off this boardwalk so you can win $500.

For the first four miles of trail we were stuck in the forest with nothing to see. It’s an extremely uninteresting stretch of trail and I was starting to get antsy. We got a tiny view of Olallie Lake and Mt. Rainier through the trees, but that was it.

Near that spot was a patch of fall color on a rock slide. No! I’m not ready!!

We encountered some bizarre discrepancies in our hiking books that we could not reconcile with reality. In the third edition of 100 Hikes in Washington’s Alpine Lakes the authors mention a spot at three miles called Lookout Point. In Day Hiking: Snoqualmie Region the author says “At around 3 miles you’ll find a fine viewpoint at 3400 feet. Pause to take pictures of the Snoqualmie Valley and the peaks above the Olallie, Talapus, and Pratt Lake basin.” Sounds like a mighty fine view, not one that would be easily missed. And yet we saw no sign of this viewpoint. Weird.

After two hours and four miles we reached a junction with the Mount Defiance Trail where we expected some views. The authors of 100 Hikes mention a “view south to Mt. Rainier at a junction with the Mt. Defiance trail.” They also have a picture looking down on Pratt Lake from the “4150-foot saddle” which in the text is described as being right before the trail junction.

We saw no views in any direction and it seems like it would be physically impossible to see Pratt Lake and those mountains from this spot. The angle is all wrong. In any case, all we saw was a wall of trees:

From the saddle the trail goes down, down, down into the lake basin. This section of trail is rough and rocky and it makes for slow going. I took this picture of Greg ahead of me on the climb back out of the lake basin later:

FINALLY we had some views, looking down into the lake basin (trees block the view of the lake from here) and pointy Kaleetan Peak (kaleetan is Chinook jargon for “arrow”):

Just before the lake the trail passes through a lush green forest with a lot of moss.

The trail traverses the slope above the eastern shore of the lake.

The day use area and campsites are at the far end, where had a nice view down the lake. This lake was named after Mountaineers member John W. Pratt of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.

We sat and rested for awhile and then I decided I wanted to go half a mile further down the trail to see Lower Tuscohatchie Lake. Greg decided to stay at Pratt Lake and chill out. Almost immediately I was pleased with my decision to explore further as I encountered a nice mountain view from the trail:

Looking down the valley of the Pratt River:

The trail crosses a logjam at the outflow of Lower Tuscohatchie Lake via a bridge.

I went out on the logs for a good view and was not disappointed. Pratt Lake is pretty, but this one is more beautiful. The name may come from the Muskogian Indian name for “stream of the warrior” (“tushka” is warrior and “hachi” is a stream”.)

I reunited with Greg back at Pratt Lake and at 3pm we began the long long slog back the car, getting back at 6:30. It was a 13-mile day for Greg and a 14-mile day for me. I was so sore and tired and just wanted to eat dinner and go to bed. But the Denny Creek Campground was full and it looked like we might be homeless for the night. Fortunately the camp host let us stay in the large “multi use” site. It was a huge non-reservable group site and had the longest picnic table I have ever seen.

< Day 1 | Day 3 >

Wallowa backpacking canceled

2015 Trip, Day 1: Saturday, August 15

A day late, we finally left on our annual week-long trip to the mountains. We were supposed to have left for the Wallowas yesterday morning, but they have some major fires over in that area and this was the smoky view from a webcam in Joseph Thursday evening:

Time for Plan B! We decided to head to the Snoqualmie Pass area. There were fires to the north and south but no smoke, and no fires in that area, so we hoped for the best. It was gray and bleak and overcast when we stopped at the visitor center at Snoqualmie Pass and picked up a few maps we didn’t already have.

The Denny Creek Campground was full when we arrived. The camp host told us there was one site available (apparently a reservation no-show), but it was only after we paid for two nights that they told us the site was reserved for the following night. They had failed to put the reservation card on the post stating that fact. Too bad there is no place else to camp in this area as the freeway is right above us and it’s VERY loud here.

Day 2 >

Exploring the Kettle River Range

May 15-20, 2015

This year for our spring trip Deb and I headed to the NE corner of Washington to explore some hikes in the Colville National Forest. On our way through Kettle Falls we stopped at the ranger station and asked if they had any ranger district maps for the area. She pointed at the 14-year-old Colville National Forest map and said “that’s it.” Well, then.

We drove up Highway 25 to Evans Campground and got out to have a look at Lake Roosevelt. The water level is REALLY low, so it doesn’t look like much right now.

No lake

We stopped at St. Paul’s Mission. The guy at the museum told us that the lake level is always low this time of year. Because it’s a reservoir the lake would “reappear” soon for the summer recreation season, thanks to the Grand Coulee Dam.

Lake Roosevelt

The old mission building has been restored and is now open to the public.

St. Paul's Mission

At the mission is a cool old boulder with some history. This grooved boulder was a favorite whetstone used by Native Americans who camped along the Columbia River. It was left here by a glacier and is made of amphibolite, more fine-grained than local bedrock.

Sharpening stone

We drove up to Trout Lake and snagged one of the five sites. This campground is at the dead end of a five-mile-long gravel road. We had a nice private campsite with nice tall trees, and the lake was a 60-second walk away. The birds serenaded us from dawn to dusk, and the frogs took over at night. So awesome! It was, for the most part, pretty quiet. There was a bachelor party at the other end of the campground on Friday and Saturday nights, but they weren’t obnoxious.

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Our bible for the trip was Day Hiking Eastern Washington, by Craig Romano and Rich Landers. I haven’t found any other hiking book, past or present, that covers this area with more than a passing mention.

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Day 1: Hoodoo Canyon

Saturday was supposed to be the cloudier day (it wasn’t) so we stayed low and hiked the Hoodoo Canyon Trail, which had the added benefit of starting right from our campground. We saw quite a few wildflowers, including balsamroot, paintbrush, Oregon grape, larkspur, serviceberry, lupine, lilies, wild strawberry, violets, and pentstemon.

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Looking down on Trout Lake:

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When we stopped for a quick snack and some sunscreen we discovered that we each had ticks crawling on our clothes. We knew this was a “ticky” trail and we had done all the necessary tucking-in and all that. We both HATE ticks and we flicked them off each other’s clothes, which is actually hard to do! They stick like velcro! We flicked them off, returned to snacking and sunscreening and then they reappeared like something out of a horror movie. We think they were crawling up our shoes and onto our pants. Shudder.

We continued on to a sort of viewpoint where we could see up the canyon:

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Then we turned and headed back to a junction where a side trail that goes down, down, down to Emerald Lake at the bottom of the canyon. It is a beautiful and aptly-named lake surrounded by cottonwoods. Quite lovely! Ticks be damned, we hung out here for awhile enjoying the scenery. It was turning out to be a warm cloudless day (so much for the forecast) so Deb even went for a swim!

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After flicking the ticks off our packs and clothes we headed back. A tick inspection later revealed neither of us got bitten, thankfully.

When we got back to our site a large family was using the site next to ours as a day use area. When they left we found they had declined to take their trash with them. HUGE pet peeve of mine.

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Day 2: Wapaloosie Mountain

It rained hard for most of the night. Having only expected a drizzle we hadn’t done as good a job protecting chairs, firewood, etc. as we could have. Sunday morning we headed into Kettle Falls for ice and a few other things. Since we had a signal I got out my phone to check the Forest Service site for trail information and got this:

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They forgot to add: “Ha ha! Joke’s on you! We don’t keep any offices or ranger stations open on weekends so if you want information right now you are SOL.”

The Wapaloosie Mountain trail climbs up the east side of the Kettle Range and connects with the Kettle Crest Trail. I had hoped that the low snowpack and mild winter would mean that spring would have already arrived up here. I was wrong. The vegetation hadn’t leafed out yet.

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After about a mile and a half of steep and steady climbing we broke out into meadows, which were still mostly brown. The clouds that we were expecting yesterday hovered over us, but fortunately we still had some views. Looking east:

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Looking south at White Mountain, Barnaby Buttes, Snow Mountain, and Bald Butte. The rounded peak in front of Bald Butte is Columbia Mountain.

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From the Kettle Crest Trail there is no path up to the summit of Wapaloosie, but it’s very easy to get there by heading  cross-country. Looking back at the snowed-under trail junction:

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There’s a nice big summit cairn to let you know that you’ve arrived. (There was also trash to haul out, in the form of a liquor bottle.)

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That is one rusty hammer! It seems unlikely, but maybe it dates back to the days when a crow’s nest lookout used to be here? (I didn’t even know about the crow’s nest until I got home, or I would have looked up in the trees to see if there were any remnants.)

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There are no views from the summit, although you get a peek at some views a little ways off to the side.

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And we could see tomorrow’s destination: Copper Butte.

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We lingered on the summit for a bit then headed back down. Here’s an iPhone pano shot of the view to the east and south from the meadows (where the best views are):

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Back at the campsite that evening while I was sitting and reading, Deb went down to the dock to see if there was any wildlife to spot. The bachelor party had left that day, but there had been some day visitors, including a family that had left just a short while earlier. When Deb came back from the dock her hands were full of trash. “Here is your irony for the day,” she said. “The weekend-long bachelor party left a clean campsite but the family of four who came for the day to fish just left their trash sitting on the dock when they left.” I seriously wonder what goes through people’s heads when they do this.

Day 3: Copper Butte

We decided to approach Copper Butte via the Marcus Trail, which is on the west side of the range, involving a longer drive for us since we were camped on the east side. Fortunately the previous day’s overcast skies were gone. We saw deer at the poorly-marked trailhead (they used a small trail sign instead of a road sign). We actually saw deer nearly every day of this trip.

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The trail starts off by following an old logging spur through the White Mountain burn of 1988. The trees are growing back VERY densely.

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Then the trail emerges from the forest and traverses the meadowy north slopes of Copper Butte. This is open range, I’m sad to say, so there are cow trails everywhere. It’s a mess.

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There was a tangle of downed trees near a spring. I did not clamber across this log nearly as gracefully as Deb did!

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More meadows!

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A zoomed-in cropped picture of….a prairie dog? Not sure.

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The trail meets up with the Kettle Crest Trail, which we followed up 1.5mi to the Copper Butte summit. Romano and Landers called this last stretch “easy” but we must define that word differently. Still lots of uphill to go! Then we encountered snow, unsurprisingly.

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Mountains unfolding before us to the east:

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We made it! At 7,140′ Copper Butte is the tallest peak in the Kettle River Range.

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The ladybugs had just come out of hibernation, evidently. There were THOUSANDS of them:

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There was once a lookout here.

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All that remains are some rusty artifacts and a bedframe:

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Snowy peaks to the south:

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iPhone panorama:

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Back at camp that night we forced ourselves to stay up late enough to see the stars. The days are so long that we hadn’t been able to stay up on the previous nights. We went down to the dock and looked up, surrounded by millions of stars and a chorus of frogs. WOW.

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Day 4: Barnaby Buttes

For our final hike we headed up to Barnaby Buttes. You hike up the old lookout access road to get there, which switchbacks up and up and up to the crest of the range. It’s forested and shady the whole way up until reaching the area burned in the 1988 White Mountain Fire:

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As with the other high-elevation hikes we had done, we were too early for the wildflower show, but did see a few glacier lilies (or are these avalanche lilies?):

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Rambling north along the Kettle Crest Trail we had some pretty nice views to the west:

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Hiking through a sea of downed trees from the fire:

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The trail skirts the base of the butte but doesn’t go up to the summit. The access road used to go all the way to the summit, but time and the fire have erased all traces of it so you pretty much have to go cross-country. There are definitely plenty of downed trees to navigate, but it didn’t turn out to be that bad, actually:

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Up on the summit are the concrete footings and steps for the lookout tower that once stood here:

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Looking south at White Mountain (we think the smoke on the left is from a mining or logging operation):

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Looking north at Snow Peak and Sherman Peak:

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We relaxed on the summit, soaking up the views and sunshine on our last hike. Except for the birds and a few insects, it was very quiet.

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On the way down we spotted a bunch of empties just off the trail, so we flattened them and packed them out.

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When we got back to the campground we were surprised to discover a big RV there. There is no room for RVs here, so they had parked in the day use parking.

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We later met and talked with the couple and they were nice. They said they had been coming up here every summer since 1969! They had arrived early and were expecting the grandkids for the holiday weekend. When I asked the husband if the lake was stocked he said “Of course! There would be no reason for people to come up here otherwise.” I beg to differ: the scenery, nighttime frogs, bald eagles, osprey, and other birds are reason enough for me!

Speaking of which, we enjoyed watching two bald eagles at the lake Tuesday night and Wednesday morning. They were trying to chase off an osprey. Turf war! Here are the two eagles up in a tree, one of them about to land:

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We reluctantly headed home Wednesday morning. We thoroughly enjoyed exploring this area. Except for Hoodoo Canyon we saw no other hikers on any of the trails. We were early in the season, but I get the sense that this area doesn’t see too many visitors even in summer. (Craig Romano wrote a good article about the area for WTA and mentions that this is the place to go for solitude: http://www.wta.org/magazine/1054.pdf). What a great trip!

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.

Cook Hill

On Sunday Greg and I were supposed to meet up with geocaching friends to do the Cook Hill hike. They got a bit of a head-start on us and we got delayed, so we ended up about an hour behind them on the “trail.”

We started hiking up the old logging road and came to the famous chair.

Road hiking.

More road hiking.

That road is surprisingly steep and I was really struggling. Greg had on sandals (hiking boots sitting outside the front door, whoops!) and he was barely winded.

Saw some coralroot which was growing right up through some ferns.

One patch of lupine alongside the old road.

We reached the junction where the Russ Jolley “trail” branches off and found a note from our friends. We had caught up a bit and were now only 30 minutes behind them.

We had to battle this tall vegetation, which would have been a lot worse if our friends hadn’t bushwhacked through here 30 minutes earlier.

Then we broke out into the meadow where some balsamroot were in bloom. They were past peak but still nice.

The wind was AWFUL. I thought we were going to get blown off the mountain! Photographing the wildflowers was difficult. All my photos are full of blurry bits of yellow.

Views to the west.

And the Hood River Valley to the east.

We still had a lot more climbing to do before reaching the summit. There wasn’t really a trail, just flagging. The underbrush was low, but even then it’s surprising how slow the going is when there is no established trail.

Almost there. We finally caught up with our friends a few minutes after I took this picture.

We finally reached the summit and I was disappointed to see that the meadows there were not wildflower meadows like on Dog Mountain. There were a few flowers here and there, but it was mostly just grass. This was the largest concentration of flowers in the whole meadow:

It was hard to stay upright with the wind blowing so hard. Here’s Greg being blown backward.

View down to the Columbia and the Oregon side of the Gorge.

The clouds parted just enough to give us a peek at Mt. Hood.

And there’s Dog Mountain next door.

We had a GPS track that showed you can continue along the summit and connect up with the road system to loop back down, but going further along the summit would have required some serious bushwhacking and our friends had also heard that the upper part of the road had a lot more blowdown than the lower part. So we returned the way we came.

For all the accolades this hike gets online, I was expecting some spectacular results. Unfortunately this hike turned out to be more work than Dog Mountain with less reward than Dog Mountain. That one balsamroot meadow was nice, but the summit was not worth the work it took to get there. So the final verdict is that it’s good to check this one off the list, but I don’t plan to hike it again.

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.

A weekend on the Olympic coast

Two weekends ago Greg and I spent a long weekend up along the coastal section of Olympic National Park. Oregon has beautiful beaches, but the Olympic coast is PRETTY. DANG. STUNNING.

On the drive up on Friday, we drove up along the north shore of Lake Quinault to check out two things. The first was a huge Western Red Cedar that we couldn’t visit when we were here in May due to a downed tree on the staircase. According to two different Quinault brochures (see one of them here), this is the largest WRC in the world (circumference: 63.5′, diameter: 19.5′, height: 174′) but on Saturday we would visit another tree with the same claim.

World’s largest (or is it?):

A pretty sweet nurse log with roots stretching a little further each year to get to that soil far below:

The forest here is so pretty:

Then we drove a little further up the road and stopped at the Kestner Homestead, which the Park Service is apparently in the process of restoring. You’re supposed to get there via a trail from the nearby ranger station, but with so few visitors around we parked at the end of the driveway for the homestead. I’m not sure the history of this place. I bet we would have found out if we had walked the trail from the ranger station. 😉

It’s a real fixer-upper:

Lots of cool old stuff laying around:

Mossy shoe:

Seen better days:

We arrived at Kalaloch Lodge right before sunset and after checking in and bundling up we hurried down to the beach for sunset. Boy was it COLD on the beach!!

The next morning we headed to La Push to visit the beaches there. On the way we stopped to visit two old trees on DNR land. The first one was a cool old corkscrew tree that had no signs whatsoever. We only knew about it because there’s a geocache there. There’s a short trail from the road and even has an old rotting boardwalk. Maybe there was a sign once.

Further up the road was a big cedar which, like the cedar we saw the day before, lays claim to the largest in the world.

We parked at the trailhead for Second Beach and walked through the forest down to the beach. It was quite cold, but dry. Not too many people around, so it was actually kind of pleasant down there. We walked south along the beach and then turned around and came back. I know it’s cliche, but I do love a good walk on the beach! 😀

The natural arch at the north end of the beach:

Sea stacks off shore:

Enjoying the beach:

We drove on over to Rialto Beach and tried to walk up to Hole-in-the-Wall. But we found ourselves unable to get across Ellen Creek:

Doesn’t look like much in the picture, but it was just deep enough and swift enough and wide enough that the only way across was to get our feet wet. So we turned back.

We stopped at Ruby Beach for sunset, but all we got was the faintest smear of pink. I went somewhere where I could put some trees in front of it to make it more interesting.

On Sunday we got up at 7:00 and since we hadn’t switched our clocks back yet it was really 6:00. Not easy to do this time of year! We made the LONG (two hours one way) drive up to Cape Flattery, the most NW point of the continental U.S. It’s on the Makah Indian Reservation, so you have to purchase a $10 annual recreation pass in Neah Bay.

A beautiful little cove:

Another beautiful little cove:

Tatoosh Island and the Cape Flattery Lighthouse:

After Cape Flattery we headed to the trailhead for Shi Shi Beach, which we had read was a gorgeous beach. Apparently the money from that recreation pass is not used for monitoring the trailheads. We had seen all these houses along the road advertising “securing parking here” and now we knew the story behind that.

You have to hike a two-mile trail through the forest to get to the beach. The beach is just inside the borders of Olympic National Park, but the trail is on reservation land. Until a few years ago, the entire trail was along an old road and was a huge muddy mess. Then they re-routed the first mile of trail and built bridges and boardwalks.

But the second mile is still along the old road and is one long mudpit. We are talking EPIC amounts of mud. I wish I had sound to go along with the photo below, which was taken at the first stretch of mud. Even from 50+ feet away I could hear the sucking sound of the mud as Greg slopped through the mess.

After that first mudpit we discovered that there was so much mud and it’s so persistent year-round that there are very well-established little detour trails in the forest alongside the road. Some of these detour trails were also muddy, prompting Greg to mutter at one point, “Great, the detour has a detour.” 😆

But we were well-rewarded for our efforts. Shi Shi Beach is stunningly beautiful. Not only that but we had it all to ourselves AND the sun came out when we arrived! 😀

The north end of the beach:

Looking south to Point of Arches. We didn’t hike down there this time, but we’ll be back…

Tiny Greg on a big rock:

On the way back, on one of the detour trails, I spotted these cute mushrooms growing on a tree.

After slogging back to the car through the mud, we headed back. We had wanted to visit Lake Ozette too, but there just wasn’t enough daylight left. Next time. We stopped at Ruby Beach again for sunset, but it was a bust.

After a cold dry weekend, it started raining on Monday, but we were headed home so no biggie. If you’ve never visited the coast up there I highly recommend it. It’s absolutely gorgeous!