Monday, May 25, 2009

Wallace Falls State Park

Yep, been there done that and will definitely do it again! This is a perfect hot weather hike (by hot weather I mean to Pacific Northwestern folk). The trail is so well maintained with benches and picnic spots. It even has cabins at the trailhead – perfect for longer hikes.

Of course this hike was swamped and we walked about a eighth of a mile (by Jon’s estimate) uphill to the trailhead. Along the way I snapped a picture of an interesting watermill made with steel water buckets.

The trailhead offers a map of the trail system, which features falls, but also Wallace Lake, Jay Lake, Shaw Lake and the Skykomish River. It was a little too late in the day to make a longer hike, but the trail to Wallace Lake was tempting.

As I said, the hike is perfect for warmer weather as it’s completely canopied in moss-laid trees, which my trail book describes is reminiscent of the Hoh Rain Forest on the Olympic Peninsula (a trail I hope to visit later this year). The cool canopy is perfect when hitting the switchback as we assented up the mountainside next to the falls.

Along the trail Jon shared his knowledge of some of the geology, cracking open stone exposing fossilized leaves in carbon layers and pointing out stone formed out of volcanic ash.

At the top of the falls we rested under the canopy of Western Red Cedars and mused at what it would take to follow the obscured trail to Wallace Lake. We sided on common sense and made our way back down the hillside. We took a detour just past the bridge crossing North Fork Wallace River and followed the Old Railroad Grade, which added an additional mile to our hike, but a peaceful one away from the busier Woody Trail.

Along this less used trail we encountered some very tall Devil’s Club, a sign of a well established ecosystem; a testament to nature’s recovery since this place was logged.

On our way back to Seattle we stop outside Sultan at the Reptile Zoo and Old School BBQ. A hot but educational zoo and no you don’t eat them at the barbeque – I had tasty mesquite chicken. It was a great look into rural roadside economies, thanks Margo!

Boulder River Wilderness: Boulder River Trail

Easily one of the most scenic falls I’ve seen is along this very accessible trail (at least to the falls). The drive to the trail along the southern portion of the Mountain Loop Highway on WA-530 the trail is south of the town of Hazel and access by the easily missed French Creek Road. The trial is part of the Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest covers a total area of 1,724,229 acres.

Amazingly this somewhat remote place is very busy and we once again parked along the forest road before the parking lot. The trail to two falls hugs a cliff face of Boulder Ridge that supports lush undergrowth and fallen trees. The route to the falls was a short highly trafficked dirt trail and our timing couldn’t have been better with the sun shining in the sky early in our hike.

After the falls the trail was much less popular as it followed the river up and down Boulder Ridge. At one point we caught a glimpse of a Common Garter Snake resting in the spring sunlight that still sown (we hiked under a clouded sky on our way back).Some of the trail at river elevation was washed out and muddy making for interesting hiking. The trail ends a little over 4 miles at Ford Camp (probably an old logging camp). We saw some insulators nailed to trees along our hike to the camp that were probably part of an old electric distribution line during its operation. The weather started to turn and our stop was relatively short since we cooled off quickly next to the river.

Once we got back to the trailhead we moved our cars to a turnout a little ways down the forest road. Resting with a beer I noticed some rain clouds and I thought what a perfectly timed hike.

Twin Falls Natural Area, Olallie State Park

Originally this hike was scheduled to be along the Snoqualmie River on the Middle Fork trail, but the forest road leading to the trail was washed out. As I was writing this summary, I came across some significant information as I plan these early season hikes – the lower western slope of the Cascades is probably the second wettest place in the state. Luckily, a neighbor next to the washed out road directed us right across the freeway to a popular trail called Twin Falls. I took this hike two years ago and recognized it immediately.

It was nice spring day so of course the trail was busy and we had to park along the road leading to the parking lot and the trailhead. The trail follows the south fork of the Snoqualmie River and climbs to two waterfalls. After the falls the trail climbs further and connects to the Iron Horse Trail (John Wayne Pioneer Trail), which follows the former roadbed of the Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul and Pacific Railroad for 300 miles (480 km) across two-thirds of Washington from the western slopes of the Cascade Mountains to the Idaho border.

The trail was a little more elevation gain than planned, but nobody seemed to mind since most of switchbacks are at the beginning and the falls are only a 1.25 miles into the trail. The trail is also of soft dirt and well managed making it easy on the feet. Being next to a river and falls most of the trees were covered in moss and licorice firs and the ground was rich with spring growth. At the top of the switchbacks is a bend with a distant look at the falls. The trail was busy and the benches were taken so we continued on.

The trail descended a bit and followed the river below. At one point there’s an old growth Douglas Fir protected by a slit-rail fence. The tree is a reminder of what the Cascades was before logging. The trail then reaches a boardwalk and bridge over the river. The bridge crosses just above the lower falls and provides a view of the multiple stages of the upper falls and plunge pools as the water makes its way back toward the trail’s beginning.

After spending time taking in the falls we decided to continue on up the trail towards the Iron Horse Trail junction. The trail follows a few more switchbacks and becomes a little less crowded and less managed. The vegetation becomes dryer as the trail breaks through the canopy exposing Grouse Ridge just beyond I-90 and the Mount Tenereffe beyond that.

We ate lunch at the junction of the Iron Horse Trail and made our decent back. It was very pleasant hike that taken to this point would be great on a mid-week getaway, but with its connection to Iron Horse and further trail networks in Olallie State Park it could be a much larger venture.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Washington Park Arboretum

In the last weekend of April my Mom came to visit. Instead of scheduling a hike for Sunday I took her out to the Arboretum.

It was a beautiful spring day, everything was in bloom and the parking lot was almost full. After spending a couple of minutes in the Graham Visitors Center looking through brochures I took a map of the park ($1.00 donation). While there are several paths straight out of the center leading people on a network of trails east of the main Azalea Way, a grassy thoroughfare that runs straight through the park, I decided to avoid the crowds and walk south on Arboretum Drive East. One of the first plants we saw was a strange blossoming tree (shown here) that wasn’t identified, which was a bummer since the great thing about coming to this park is to see all the exotic and native plants (about 10,000) and most are tagged.

We continued on a series of small trails avoiding the crowds winding our way through the Japanese Maples (one of my favorite trees), Rhododendrons, Ashes, Camellias and found ourselves on the south end of the park in a new exhibit called the Pacific Connections Garden.
While the garden was just planted and in its infancy it displays plants from around the Pacific Rim (U.S. Pacific Northwest, Chile, China, New Zealand and Australia). Its center piece of this garden is an interpretive shelter constructed with the support of the Pomegranate Center and features a green roof. After a couple of minutes looking at the information displayed in the shelter we made our way to Azalea Way. It was a quick return and previewed many of the gardens that we saw from the other side with the addition of pond features and gardens on the west side of the park. The return to the visitor center was quick, which was good since we both were getting hungry.

In short, a great walk through a beautiful park that I will visit many times again.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Cougar Mountain – Wilderness Peak and Creek Trails

Last week I visited the eastern side of Cougar Mountain. Noa and I did this hike by ourselves, so there was no pressure to keep pace with a large group. It was a beautiful spring day, and the trail was full of stops as we focused our camera on the nature around us. The frequent stops were encouraged by my research of the mountain’s features and vegetation. The trails wound us through deposits of glacial erratic left from the last ice age to the highest point on the mountain (1,595 ft.) not really noteworthy, but its environment definitely worth exploring.

The understory was full of blossoming flowers (tons of Trillium) and new fern fiddleheads. I spent a lot of time taking photos of the many of the trees - Douglas-firs, Western Red Cedars mainly. I even captured what I think was a Big Leaf Maple doing its interpretation of a Tim Burton back drop. The mountain has many peaks and once up top there were many birds. I was able to snap a last minute photo of a Red-Breasted Sapsucker (woodpecker) as it flew from tree to tree pecking at its bark.

The way back down the mountain provided a new environment to photograph since the trail route we took was configured as a loop; I prefer this over the out-and-back trail. Noa and I agreed that we would like to revisit this trail later in the year when all the vegetation is in full bloom.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Mount Margaret NFD 4832 Rd.

This week I tried out snowshoing for the first time. I went with a small group of friends and had a great time despite the rainy weather.

I chose a route from a snowshoe book I picked up from REI the day before that sent me to the southern point of Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest. Unfortunatly, the description of the trailhead was a little obscure and we drove a quarter mile pass the book's described starting point. We only discovered this after walking for about a half-hour. Thinking it was a little too much trouble hiking back to the cars and that there is little chance of getting lost we plowed on.

We hiked about 2 miles along a forest service road up what I now know is Mount Margaret (only 400 feet of about 2400 feet of mountain side). We stopped about three-quarters of our way up the road for a snack. We found cover under a Hemlock from the soggy rain/snow mix that was coming down on us most of our hike. However, the tree provided little cover and we stood as we ate.

After eating we hiked up the road a little further. By this time we were tired of heading up a service road, which provided very little excitment and views. After an eigth of a mile we decided to head back. We chose to have some fun with our snowshoes and cut straight down the mountain side. It was a blast and it took a fraction of the time to get to the mountain base.

On our way back to the freeway we saw the true trailhead. Oh well, gives me a reason to schedule a next time, and we had fun anyway.