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

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Feeling Good at Federation Forest State Park

FEDERATION FOREST STATE PARK (A Washington State Park) The siren of high country trails may be calling but beware - there’s still snow at higher elevations. Fortunately there are trails where you can hike without getting into snow. Federation Forest State Park is a good example. In fact, any time of the year is good to visit the park, the Catherine Montgomery Interpretive Center and/or a picnic overlooking the White River. In late April it still felt chilly but trilliums know its spring and have populated the park accordingly. This is also one of our favorite parks because it can be enjoyed year-round and trails are well-signed for first-time visitors. Come back in the fall for colorful displays of vine maple (we’ve even enjoyed a picnic in December). In August you’ll appreciate the parks shady trails. We started out on the Fred Cleator Interpretive Trail that meanders through the forest and leads to more options for loops and/or further exploration. The trails are named to honor Fred W. Cleator, an early conservationist and forester. The West Loop is about a mile, the East Loop (1/2 mile) that parallels the White River. Starting from the parking area we started out on the Fred Cleator trail, hiking west and took our time along the West Loop trail. This is not a place to get into shape but rather a place to contemplate, taking time to read interpretive signs describing the medley of evergreens as well as a rich under story of native shrubs and woodland flowers. On our April visit with a friend the first thing that caught our attention was the trilliums, swirls of false-lily-of-the-valley and ferns unfurling to fill in the blank space between the trees. Though the trails are easy they can be muddy with standing water in spring so sturdy boots are suggested. Later this spring you’ll also see vanilla leaf, bleeding hearts, Canadian dogwood and bead lily. Though the main trail junctions are well-signed secondary trails bisect the main ones; unless you continue heading west or cross SR 410 to check out the White River trail all trails lead back to the Catherine Montgomery Interpretive Center, the White River or Highway 410. There are approximately 12 miles of trails, including a stretch of the historical Naches Trail. That segment dates back to 1853 as the Naches Wagon Road when the Naches Trail connected Puget Sound to Eastern Washington. The park provides picnic shelters, picnic tables, a covered shelter, restrooms with running water, drinking fountain and an ADA-compliant restroom. The lower picnic area (a little east of the Visitor Center) beside the White River is a appealing place to hang around and watch the changing light on the White River as it surges downstream (in spring the river is brown with silt). In summer graze on an abundant supply of thimbleberries. Gardens at the Catherine Montgomery Interpretive Center highlight edible and poisonous native plants from different regions of Washington. Montgomery was considered a pioneer in education with a passion for conservation. Inside the interpretive center are interpretive displays that elaborate on the differences in ecosystems ranging from the east side to the west side of the mountains. When is the interpretive center open? Upon doing some research we learned that the park was originally called Big Tree Park and was situated near Snoqualmie Pass’ by the 1930s logging, wind-storms and fire had damaged the forest to the extent that park advocates sought a better location to protect old-growth forest. They rightly anticipated a future in which few old-growth trees would remain outside of national parks; hence the park was relocated along the White River and dedicated in 1949. With the support of the General Federation of Women’s Clubs of Washington (GFWC-WS) and with the cooperation of state legislature, State Parks was able to purchase land for the park in 1941. Much of the parks development took place when Montgomery willed a generous sum to the Washington State Federation of Women’s Clubs (her bequest was used to build the interpretive center). As we headed west we came upon skunk cabbage (swamp lanterns) and puncheon that was damp and slippery. Wire has been nailed down over the worst of it but the heavy rains of late have left stretches of standing water on the trail. Today there are over 600 acres of forest within the park with some 18,000 feet of shoreline along the White River. The park has something for all visitors ranging from history buffs to families with children. Looking for the Hobbit House? A kiosk near the Upper Picnic Area displays the trail system, including where to find the Hobbit Trail though it does not show on the park’s handout – when the Interpretive Center is open you can borrow a more extensive trail guide. Whether 6 or 60; you’ll be delighted if you find Hobbit House (or it finds you) with its arrangement of thumbnail-sized mailboxes (complete with flag), gardens, fences and wee figurines tucked away in the nooks and crannies of stumps, trees and rocks. Sometimes we find it, sometimes we don’t. Having found Hobbit House only twice in several visits, we’ve come to the conclusion that finding it may be more to serendipity than skill. If it finds you consider it a gift. No matter - whether or not you find Hobbit House, the beauty of the forest is guaranteed to put a spell on you. All the trails within the park are enchanted. To get there: From Enumclaw travel east on SR 410 about 18 miles, at milepost 41 find well-signed Federation Forest State Park on the right-hand side of the highway. Stats: Mileage is variable as is elevation (no significant elevation gain) Additional Information: Camping is not allowed, dogs must be on leash and under physical control. Fires are only allowed in fire rings in designated picnic areas. Bicycles are allowed on paved roads only. The park is open from 8 a.m. to dusk (year round). For additional information on this park, including closures, rules and regulations, visit Washington State Parks online at: For photos go to Flickr, click on the first album: Karen Sykes

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Road Walk to the Manastash Ridge Observatory

A Hike to the Manastash Ridge Observatory It might take a bit of conniving to find the road we walked and/or familiarity with the Green Dot Road system managed by the Department of Natural Resources. However, once you solve the riddle of how to get to the road the rest of the hike is direct and well worth the effort to find it. We went with friends more familiar with the snarl of dirt roads in the L.T. Murray State Wildlife Recreational Area (MRO) and parked at the gated road which is easily spotted. It is only 5.2 miles from the Umtanum Falls trailhead on Umtanum Road. Note the abundance of bird-boxes along the roads. There’s plenty of room for hikers to bypass the gate to hike the road, part of the Green Dot Road system. Just so you know, roads with Green Dots are posted and are open to vehicles during certain times of the year. You can get these maps from the Department of Natural Resources but they are large and a bit cumbersome. You don’t need the map unless you are a “maphead” and are intrigued by the intricacy of complex maps and lesser-hiked roads. It was a sunny day but cool enough that we started out wearing several layers. As the day wore on we began shedding layers like trees shedding leaves. The road is dirt and in a couple of weeks from now will be bordered with wildflowers. Some early season flowers are just beginning to emerge – lomatiums, yellow bells, and sagebrush buttercups. In another couple of weeks this hike to the MRO will be a flower walk There are a few magnificent pine trees to admire, their lower branches neon-green with moss, the earth around their trunks scattered with fallen pine cones. The trees were especially beautiful silhouetted against blue skies and white, puffy clouds. You’ll pass a couple of watering troughs for stock and elk. There are secondary roads that branch off so follow the main road. This is open country with rolling hills, sagebrush, wildflowers, and occasional seasonal streams from snow-runoff. It’s Big Country at its best, especially on a sunny day as we were graced with. This area is a mixture of open range, private property and the L T Murray State Wildlife Area. With about 1,000 of elevation gain it’s just enough exercise to “count” so be sure to carry plenty of water as most of the hike is in the sun. Be on the alert for ticks - it’s also getting to be that time of year again. Check clothing from time to time, wear long pants and shirts with long sleeves. Check yourself (and others) as well as packs and clothing before leaving the trailhead. Ticks will wander around for a few hours before they find a place to set up shop, often on the back of neck near the hairline. They go through three life stages; at first they are too small to easily spot – by their second/third stage they are visible but still hard to detect because they have been designed to inject a painkiller into skin so animals and humans won’t know they have made you a target. Ticks can carry diseases, including Lyme’s disease. If not diagnosed in time (after you discover a tick has embedded itself) you may have a bulls-eye rash around the site, a definite sign you’ll need antibiotics. There are various methods of removing them before they begin to feed, too many to mention here. Ticks are annoying and present a definite “ick” factor but don’t let them keep you away from the grandeur of the east side. About half-way to our destination we were rewarded with the sight of a large elk herd crossing the road ahead of us. There were at least 100 running single file across the road and onto a game trail to parts known only to them. There are two feeding stations in the L.T. Murray State Wildlife Recreation Area; one is in the Oak Creek Wildlife Area (near Naches) and another somewhere else within the Wildlife Recreation Area. We stopped just to watch, enthralled - there’s simply no other way to react. After they disappeared we continued hiking the road as it continued to climb at a moderate grade. Depending on where you are there are views of the Stuart Range before you get to the MRO. As we gained elevation and approached the MRO Mount Rainier came into view but the mountain was a little too hazy to photograph. The MRO is closed to the public and inside a chain-link fence topped with barbed wire. You can still get good views of the observatory. I found a large old log nearby where I could stand a little higher for a better view but still couldn’t get the shot I wanted. It is certainly understandable why the Observatory needs to be kept off-limits to the public. The MRO is managed by the University of Washington (Astronomy Department). It houses a computer controlled 30” Boller and Chivens telescope – under-graduates from the University of Washington are the primary users. The MRO was built in 1972 – the site was chosen because of the dry environment and dark sky conditions on the east side of the Cascades. The MRO was built at the initiative of George Wallerstein, a Professor of Astronomy at the University of Washington. We hiked back the way we came and may be doing this hike again when more flowers are out. For solitude go now; for wildflower displays go in a couple of weeks. To get there: From Seattle take I-90 east to Exit 109, Canyon Road. At the bottom of the exit turn right towards Ellensburg. Turn left at the second stop light, Umtanum Road, aka Dammon Road. In 1.6 miles pass the Dammon School, Watch the speed limit here, the sheriff does. In five miles you will be at the top of Shushkin Canyon where the pavement ends and the dirt and gravel begins. The road is often narrow so use caution. There are scattered homes in the area. At 15 miles from Ellensburg the turnoff for Observatory Road is found (unsigned). Here is the GPS waypoint: N 46-59-43 W 121-53-29 There is a small parking area here. Do not block the gate and any gates you do open please close again. If the gate is open check to see if any closure hours are in effect. It's a long walk back to town. Four wheel drive vehicles are recommended for beyond the gate when the road is open to vehicles. It is a Green Dot Road so there may be traffic in season. The road is closed to motorized vehicles from December 1 through May 1 for critical wildlife protection. A Discover Pass is required. Stats: 9.8 miles round trip with 1,000 feet of elevation gain. For additional visitor information/history on the MRO refer to their website below: Manastash Ridge Observatory Homepage . For photos click on the first set at Flickr: Karen Sykes

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Cougar Mountain Regional Wildland Park

COUGAR MOUNTAIN REGIONAL WILDLAND PARK (Red Town Trailhead) Cougar Mountain is “Your Big Backyard” as described by King County Parks which is a perfect description. This backyard is over 3,100 acres in size and that’s a pretty big backyard. It’s pretty hard to lose your way as there are free maps available at the trailhead and trail junctions are well-signed. This intricately-engineered trail system could be compared to a giant cobweb, thankfully, without a giant spider. Hike as little or as far as you like including options for longer hikes as the park is connected to Squak Mountain State Park. Despite the popularity of the park there’s plenty of territory that provide solitude any time of the year. You can bring the family and the dog (leashed, of course). Bicycles are not allowed though there are a few trails open to equestrians (all depicted on the map). Every season has its’ own distinctive ambience – first of all Cougar Mountain is indeed a mountain, the high point at 1,598 feet is just a tad above Wilderness Peak (1,595 feet). True, Wilderness Peak is forested and without a “big” view though views are not impossible to come by in this park. Here, it’s the changing of the seasons that create the magic, not big views. In winter the entire forest glows green with shag-carpet moss, old trees sport shelf fungus, a variety of lichen and swatches of sword fern border the trail. The pale, slender trunks of alders are delicately wrapped with the yarn of moss. Thick, gnarled Wizard-of-Oz cottonwoods lean over the trail, their branches festooned with the green fire of licorice ferns. Do you remember those giant Crayola boxes from childhood? Do you remember all those shades of green? You can find all those shades of green, especially on cloudy days. The late author-hiker Harvey Manning described the park as a “great big green and quiet place”. Though social trails beckon; you are respectfully asked to stay on designated trails. This is not only to protect the wilderness but also to protect unwary hikers from tumbling into a mine-shaft as this place once bustled with coal mines and loggers. In the fall each stump, fallen tree or log is daubed with lichen and mushrooms abound, including turkey-tail fungus like the ruffled skirts of square-dancers peeking out from the dark roots of evergreens and deciduous trees. In fall red splashes of vine maple provide fiery hues to the tawny landscape. Big leaf maples let loose their golden leaves in the fall like Rapunzel letting down her hair; on a frosty, winter morning the leaves will crunch under your feet. In spring yellow violets wink and delicate saxifrages, creamy trilliums, red flowering currant, Indian plum, bleeding hearts, forget-me-nots and fringe-cup splatter the forested backdrop like a Pointillist painting. That first sense of spring is heady-stuff when hikers are greedy for the warmth of sunlight and bright hues just about the time you think winter will never end. Look for nettles springing up from the duff and curls of bracken already ravenous for light; nettles are one of the first signs the forest is awakening from a long winter. Though grand views are not the mainstay of the park that doesn’t mean there’s nothing to see; several historical landmarks are designated on the map that tells of the toil and danger those miners once endured for a paycheck. To see some of these landmarks we suggest starting at the Red Town trailhead and exploring the trail system (with map in hand). There’s a kiosk at the trailhead with plenty of maps; our first stop was the Ford Slope coal mining exhibit and the nearby Steam Hoist as well (both exhibits can be reached via the Wild Side Trail which starts at Red Town). We’d planned to follow the trail system to the De Leo Wall but were side-tracked by the Meadow Restoration project; one of my favorite sites that my companions had not seen before. The recovering meadow was once a baseball field used by the coal miners. You can walk a short loop through the meadow where you will also find a couple of benches, one strategically placed under a tree. It’s not hard to imagine deer at dawn grazing in this quiet place in the middle of a metropolitan area. After our visit to the meadow we hooked up with the Quarry Trail to reach one of my favorite settings in the park, a big jumble of boulders. The mossy boulders are arranged in such a way that a protective arch forms a small cave for a drenched hiker to get out of the rain (not enough room for two, though!). At the next designated junction we turned off onto the Coal Creek Falls Trail, justifiably a favorite of those who frequent the park. We’ve seen the waterfall in all seasons; a lacy trickle in summer, a boisterous cascade in fall and spring and once frozen solid during a cold snap. Here Coal Creek is crossed on a poetic bridge with views for all who venture this far. Take advantage of the “furniture”, boulders on both sides of the bridge where you can settle for a while whether you seek a cool breeze on a hot day or want to photograph the 30-foot high cascade. From there we followed the trail-system back to Red Town. Back at the trailhead we crossed the road and walked down to pretty North Creek Falls which tumbles down a sandstone cliff, only a short distance from the car. Stay tuned for another installment later this spring as we explore the park from another trailhead. Getting there: Red Town trailhead – From I-90 take Exit 13 and drive south on Lakemont Boulevard SE for about three miles to the entrance to the Red Town trailhead (on the left side of the road). Our wandering added up to about four miles with around 500 feet. Additional Information: King County Parks – 206-296-4232 or visit their website: For photos go to: and scroll down to the second and third sets from the top. Karen Sykes

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Trail of the Shadows, Mount Rainier National Park

Trail of the Shadows (Mount Rainier National Park) The best time of year to enjoy this short hike is any time. In winter it’s an easy snowshoe hike and in spring, summer and fall it’s a pleasant hike. The trail is also a sweet winter consolation prize if your snowshoe trip is foiled by lack of snow (such as happened to us recently). The hike begins across from the National Park Inn at Longmire; we hiked the loop counterclockwise. You can see Rampart Ridge from the trailhead and on a clear day, Mount Rainier. Though there wasn’t enough snow on the trail to warrant snowshoes we saw some folks wearing them; snowshoes do provide traction on packed snow and will also prevent you from breaking through the snow. As of this writing snow is minimal, well-packed and potentially icy. We’ve noticed there are two types of snowshoers; those who put them on at the first sight of snow and those that don’t put them on until they are in dire need of using them (that would be us). Our snowshoes stayed in the car. The trail is mellow with minor ups and downs. After a short stretch you’ll skirt a large, boggy meadow interspersed with hot springs. You may smell sulfur and you may see steam rising from the springs. You’ll pass the site of the Longmire Springs Hotel (established in 1890) though the interpretive sign may be partially buried by snow. You might find it a challenge to imagine today but this site was a popular tourist spot with lodging available for travelers to spend the night and soak in the springs. Don’t walk out into the meadow and do heed signs advising you to stay on the trail; don’t venture beyond the designated viewpoints. At about 1/3 mile the Longmire cabin comes into view (James Longmire’s son, Elcaine and his family lived there). Peek inside and try to imagine what it would be like to share such a small space with your family. A short distance past the cabin you’ll notice a structure (right) resembling photographs or movies you may have seen of crumbling structures found in the remote jungles of South America. This is Rusty Springs, also known as “Iron Mike”. The mossy, rockery-lined enclosure bordering the spring does look like a scene from an Indiana Jones flick or the National Geographic. The minerals that seep from these springs are indeed the color of rust. Not so long ago folks traveled from afar for the healing properties of the springs and they were relaxing to those who believed in their restorative powers. The next stretch of the loop is mostly flat with occasional views of other hot springs in the clearings where alders and cattails have grown around the edges of the meadow. We also saw several alders that had almost been chewed through by beavers; some trees looked as if they might topple if you sneezed. Further along the path you’ll eventually come to a signed junction for the Rampart Ridge Trail, a steep trail that climbs to an overlook of the National Park Inn, Eagle Peak, and the Nisqually River. Experienced hikers/snowshoers can study the map for other options. After passing the junction with the Rampart Ridge trail the path skirts more hot-springs as the terrain changes slightly, becoming marshier. A spur leads to closer views of more hot springs quietly bubbling away, staining the water with peacock-feather hues from their minerals. On the last leg of the loop you’ll pass through old-growth Douglas fir, Western red cedars and huge stumps (this area was logged by settlers including the Longmire family). You’ll cross a small tributary on a pretty bridge and as the trail breaks out into the open near the road there is another good view of Rampart Ridge and Mount Rainier – on our hike clouds obscured the view of Mount Rainier except for one exposed, snowy shoulder. Statistics: The loop is ¾ mile with no significant elevation gain. To get there: Drive to the Nisqually entrance of the park via Highway 706, continue about six miles to Longmire and park behind the National Park Inn. For additional information on fees, rules, regulations, current conditions, weather, call Mount Rainier National Park (360-569-2211) or visit their website at . The recommended map for Mount Rainier National Park is Green Trails (Mount Rainier Wonderland Map 269S). Tire chains are required to be carried by all vehicles entering the park (November 1-through April 1) and use them if needed. For photos click on the second set at Flickr: Karen Sykes

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Return to Melmont (A Ghost Town in Pierce County)

Melmont Ghost Town, Melmont Schoolhouse The ghost town of Melmont is near the Carbon River Entrance of Mount Rainier National Park and can usually be hiked to year-round on an old railroad grade. We enjoyed the historical walk so much last spring that we returned a few days ago to see what it was like in winter. Melmont dates back to the early 1900s when a subsidiary of the Northern Pacific Railway (the Northwest Improvement Company) opened the Melmont coal mine. Though little remains today of Melmont the settlement bustled with activity – then the town included a saloon, train depot, post office, schoolhouse, hotel and cottages used by the miners. The coal was shipped to Carbonado for processing by rail. By 1915 the little, spunky settlement of Melmont began its slow fade into oblivion - the post office closed and a few years later the Northwest Improvement Company ceased operations. Though a few mines were opened by another mining company (the Carbon Hill Coal Company) all mines had closed by the early 1920s and most of Melmont was destroyed by a forest fire. The hike is not designated by a sign. To get to the railroad grade - from Wilkeson/Carbonado continue on route State Route 165 as if approaching the Carbon River Entrance of Mount Rainier National Park (go mid-week if possible, parking is limited). Drive across the Fairfax Bridge that spans the Carbon River and note a small parking spot on the left-side of the road. Park there, walk back across the bridge and look for a short, steep path on the north side of the bridge that descends to the railroad grade – the path is rocky and steep (a hand-line was in place on our recent visit though you might not need it). Turn left (south) onto the railroad grade and enjoy! Spring or winter are the best seasons to explore Melmont before the vegetation leafs out and obscures what artifacts remain. In early December the vegetation was not dense and we were able to get better views along the way, including the visibility to follow a steep path that led to a wrecked car between the rail-grade and the Carbon River that looked it had come to rest some time ago in a tangle of small trees, blackberries and other assorted foliage (not a hiker-friendly setting!). Explore such paths at your own risk – though the railroad grade is safe (other than being unpleasantly muddy at times) if you go off-trail it is all too easy to get lost or injured due to dense vegetation and cliffs. Also, since parking is limited so keep your party-size small. The first feature you’ll notice along the grade is a wall embroidered with moss and licorice ferns (right) that was part of a retaining wall utilized by the Northern Pacific’s railroad grade. A bit past the retaining wall you’ll come to another stone structure (left). Though it might look like something you might see in an Amazon jungle it is an old shed (powder shack) used by the railroad to store dynamite. The roof is gone as is the dynamite and though the walls are standing it looks like moss and ferns are holding the structure together. A little further along you’ll come to a split in the trail. The path (left) climbs to the site of the Melmont schoolhouse; an ideal setting for lunch on a sunny day. We stopped there first - enough of the structure remains that with a little imagination you can visualize what the schoolhouse might have looked like once upon a time (see additional information). After a break we hiked back to the railroad grade and continued toward the site of Melmont. The town site is not much beyond the spur to the schoolhouse and at first glance looks like a grassy, plateau about the size of four football fields. A couple of short paths drop down to the site and on this cold, sunny day wisps of ground fog rose from the ground where the grasses and shrubs still glittered with frost. Thin ice had formed over pockets of moisture in the grasses creating beautiful effects that we attempted to photograph with some success. As for structures, none remain though there are a couple of old wrecked cars, riddled with bullet holes – apparently abandoned cars make good targets for target practice. You can understand why the town took root here on this plateau between the railroad grade and the Carbon River. It becomes a lush meadow in summer and is in the sun on a clear day. We found a grassy hummock in the sun, ideal for lunch though we had to keep moving as the shade seemed intent on following us. Other reports from those who have explored these sites indicate some foundations of the Melmont Bridge remain though we did not come across them on our visit last year. We found them on another visit but getting to them involves a steep descent on an exposed, steep slope above the Carbon River (it is not for the faint-hearted, a stumble would be a disaster). In winter the Melmont town site is a good turnaround. Come back in the spring and continue on the railroad grade to Manley-Moore Road about a 7-mile hike one-way (a car shuttle can be made for a one-way hike by leaving a car below the bridge at Manley-Moore Road (further along the Carbon River Road). This is probably best done in the spring when days are longer and we can guarantee you will want to dawdle and/or explore. While the walk to the Melmont schoolhouse and the town site is easy, the trails can be muddy as the railroad grade is also used by ATVs. Sturdy boots and gaiters are recommended, especially during the rainy seasons. Statistics: It is about 4 miles round-trip to the town site of Melmont/Melmont schoolhouse with about 400 feet gain. When (or if) you encounter private property signs do not trespass. Refer to the site below for a “Code of Ethics” regarding ghost towns which should apply to anyone interested in discovering ghost towns. There is much more history as well as old photographs of what Melmont was like in its heyday (other ghost towns too). Additional information/resources: . To view my recent photos of Melmont click on the link below, scroll down to third set. Karen Sykes

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Iron Goat Trail, October 2013

THE IRON GOAT TRAIL FROM SCENIC TO WELLINGTON The Iron Goat Trail between Skykomish and Stevens Pass is one of the best fall hikes around. Though Halloween has passed keep this hike in mind for next year if your friends and family enjoy Halloween-related themes - it is a great Halloween hike (spooky tunnels, oh my!) and with snow-sheds that haven’t been used so long that stalactites are growing from the ceiling. The “trail” is an old railroad grade once used by the Great Northern Railroad. Engineers didn’t realize how dangerous the route was across Stevens Pass until it was too late when in 1910 an avalanche knocked a train asunder in which many lives were lost and passengers trapped for days awaiting rescue from nearby settlements. The transformation of the railroad grade to trail began in the 1980s thanks to the dedication and efforts of the late Ruth Ittner, a prominent member of the Seattle branch of The Mountaineers. Ruth Ittner, employees of the Skykomish Ranger District, Volunteers of Washington (VOW) and others worked tirelessly to turn the abandoned railroad grade into a hiking trail for hikers of all ages and abilities. Ittner was also the founder of VOW and is honored by Washington Trails Association (WTA) as one of the 12 Hiking Legends. Ruth was hard to say “No” to – she’d take you aside and gently ask “Wouldn’t you like to volunteer for ____ (fill in the blank)”. Ruth was never too old to take on anything new and exciting including climbing courses and The Mountaineers photography courses. There are three trailheads to access the Iron Goat Trail; the Martin Creek trailhead (off the Old Cascade Highway), the Iron Goat Interpretive Site (at Scenic) where we started our hike and the Wellington trailhead at Stevens Pass. Of these trailheads Martin Creek and Scenic are the most accessible; getting to the Wellington trailhead is challenging if you are coming from the west because you must first drive east to Stevens Pass, turn around and head back west to find an easy-to-miss, steep gravel service road to the trailhead. If you start from Scenic take time to admire the red caboose and look at the interpretive kiosks to get a thumb-nail sketch of this historical railroad. Further along the grade other interpretative signs tell of the avalanches that doomed the route and cost the lives of many. The trail from Scenic to Windy Point is a good length for this time of year. There are 30 switchbacks from Scenic to Windy Point and in late October the trail was in good condition. The fleet of foot can continue beyond Windy Point as far as time, weather, energy and daylight allow. Though most of the fall color has past its seasonal blaze you’ll find colorful mushrooms of all shapes and sizes bordering the trail. At the first signed trail junction keep right and head uphill toward Windy Point. You can also turn left and walk a short distance for a view into a tunnel (you cannot hike through the tunnel). Peek inside where an interpretive kiosk gives a brief account of the Wellington disaster. On our hike clumps of mushrooms snuggled beside the trail, peeking out from pale bracken, still-green sword ferns and other vegetation. More forested switchbacks lead to a talus slope with a view to the west and US2. After negotiating the switchbacks and rocky steps the trail levels out on the railroad grade; here hikers can opt for a loop by turning west and following signs back to the trailhead. The railroad grade is easy-going once you are on it. Our goal was Windy Point for its views – plus Windy Point is situated in the sun making that an ideal spot for lunch or turnaround. In October the seasons were in transition; fireweed had gone to seed in silvery swirls and the leaves of Solomon’s seal were thin and translucent. Only the heart-shaped leaves of Wild Ginger were still green though something likes to nibble on the leaves. Before you get to Windy Point you’ll pass a sign for a toilet (right); a toilet with a view set far enough off the trail to ensure privacy. A little past the toilet sign you’ll come to Windy Point; here there are big views and the trail appears to end in a jumble of boulders (it doesn’t end there). Even though we planned to hike further we stopped to take in views of the first snow of the season dusting the peaks and ridges near Stevens Pass. Here you can also look straight down to US 2 and views across to the Chiwaukum mountains. Another feature of Windy Point (especially if it isn’t windy) is that it’s situated in the sun with plenty of places to settle a while. Just above Windy Point is a collapsed tunnel where the trail continues along the footing of the tunnel – the footing is about 2-1/2 feet wide but is covered with fallen leaves and could be slippery in frost or snow. Since the footing is also a few feet above the ground; some hikers might find this stretch a little spooky. You may wonder – as I did – what is the difference between a tunnel and a snow-shed? A snow-shed is open on one side, a tunnel is closed. After exiting the footing along the tunnel the trail continues through a shady, forested stretch and skirts seasonal waterfalls along an old retaining wall. When the light is right you might get lucky and see rainbows in the waterfalls. In about 4.5 miles we reached the west portal of the Wellington snow-shed. Here, you will see a tangle of rebar and a sign warning hikers of “extreme danger”. Stay on the established trail and watch for rock fall. Bring a flashlight not just for safe footing but also for better views of the ceiling and mineral formations along the concrete wall. Look up for old insulators along the grade – you may also spot old railroad ties on the open side of the snow-shed. About the mid-way through the tunnel a spur (right) leads to a platform designating the site of the Wellington train disaster (1910); here you will need a good imagination as no artifacts are within view (if any exist at all). This is also a pleasant place to linger as it is also situated in the sun with a bench. Shortly past the eastern portal you’ll come to the Wellington trailhead (this trailhead may be closed as it will soon be winter and it may not be possible to drive to the Wellington trailhead). Here we found a picnic table in the sun (the restrooms were locked) and enjoyed a leisurely lunch before retracing our route back to Scenic. Getting to the Iron Goat trailhead (Scenic trailhead): From Monroe on US 2 continue east to milepost 58.3. Turn left (north) onto the Old Cascade Highway and then immediately turn right into the trailhead, facilities and parking lot. While there is a sign for the center on US 2 the turn comes up quickly (look for the red caboose). A Northwest Forest Pass is required. Stats: Scenic to Wellington is 8.9 miles round trip with 1,550 feet of elevation gain. The map is Green Trails No. 176 Stevens Pass. For information on access to the Martin Creek trailhead or the Wellington trailhead and/or a detailed history of the Iron Goat trail visit their website for Volunteers of Washington (VOW): Additional Information: For trail and road conditions contact the Skykomish Ranger District – call 360-677-2414. You can also visit the WSDOT websites for up-to-date road/mountain pass conditions. To view photos of the Iron Goat Trail click on the link below, scroll down to the set for the Iron Goat Trail: . Karen Sykes