Sunday, August 26, 2007

Snowy Creek, Rainy Pass trail

Last weekend I decided to try the newly constructed Rainy Pass trail on Nason Ridge. I started up from the Snowy Creek trailhead and about a mile in, turned right on the Rainy Pass trail. A new post, presumably for the trail sign, was at the junction. Unfortunately, the Rainy Pass trail was very steep and being mostly unused and probably still being constructed, was slippery and hard to hike. I don't think I went a half a mile before I gave up as dangerous and not much fun. The pine needles and moss made keeping my footing difficult on the steep slopes. I am surprised that the trail was so steep, I'm used to constructed trails, as opposed to scrambles created by fishermen or animals, to be less steep.

I continued along the Snowy Pass trail and ate lunch at the meadow about 3 miles in. Surprised that no one was camped there, it is a great place to backpack to with plenty of room to camp and fresh water. I continued toward Rock Mountain until about the treeline when I decided to turn around. Back at the meadow I spotted a mountain goat on the cliff and spent about 10 minutes watching it and having a snack. Many people have mentioned seeing the goats along Nason ridge trails, I had not previously seen any there in several trips to various points along the ridge, even Alpine Lookout which is well known as a goat hangout. I also heard some large animal, probably a deer, crash through the woods as I re-entered the forest. I saw only 2 other groups on the trail, surprising for an August weekend.

I had an odd experience driving to the trailhead. I was driving on Highway 2 a few miles east of Steven's Pass when I wanted to make a left turn to the Smithbrook access Forest Service road. Highway 2 in this area is a 4 lane, divided highway but is not limited access. The left turn is legal and marked with signs. As I approached it, I moved to the left lane, slowed down, and signaled well before the turnoff. A driver was coming up fast in the left lane and did not like me turning, he pulled to the side and started gesturing at me as I turned. I don't know why he felt that way, the right lane was completely clear and all he had to do was move right. I didn't stay to find out.


Friday, August 17, 2007

WA Cascade Grizzlies, part 2

In my previous post, I talked about how I felt about having grizzlies in the WA Cascade mountains where I hike and camp. While I like it, other backcountry users have expressed fears and reservations. I can respect their feelings but do feel that many are due to people's lack of knowledge of or familiarity with grizzlies.

Some people are fearful of the bears, for themselves, their children, and their pets or livestock. This fear isn't irrational, grizzlies do kill and severely injure people and may attack livestock and pets. However the likelihood of a grizzly attack in areas of such low density is quite low and people can do things to reduce even that danger. A favorite book is Stephen Herrero's Bear Attacks: Their Causes and Avoidance in which he discusses the ways to reduce the risk. I've discussed some of the things I do when hiking or camping, being alert and making noise hiking and keeping a clean camp are ways I reduce my risk. Herrero goes much further and talks about living and working in areas of high bear frequency and surviving an attack. Also, Wikepedia's list of fatal bear attacks lists more black bear than grizzly. Also of course lightening, hypothermia, falls, drowning, getting lost, and combinations of these kill backcountry users every year.

Others worry about restrictions on backcountry use, closed trails, camp areas, etc. Certainly in Yellowstone NP some areas are closed to entry for specific periods, mainly spring, and sometimes when grizzlies spend time in an area. It is possible that some parts of the Cascades could have periodic closures or even become off limits. I hope not permanently but could accept seasonal closures or area closures because of grizzly activity. I doubt this would be much of a problem unless grizzlies started frequenting popular areas or authorities got overzealous. Of course I would be disappointed if I got to a trail or campsite and learned it was closed, but I'm used to closures because of fire, salvage logging, or washouts. I've learned to have alternative routes or sites and to check ahead of time for accessibility.


Thursday, August 09, 2007

Washington Cascade Grizzlies

Grizzly bears in the North Cascades of WA state have been in the news lately, both the monthly magazine of the Washington Trail Association and Conservation Northwest have had articles about grizzly recovery. Because I do a lot of hiking and camping in the north Cascades, I am very interested in this subject. That there are grizzlies in the north Cascades is not new to me, I've known for years a few grizzlies wandered through if not lived full time there. A couple of acquaintances have thought they had seen grizzlies at different times and gave a description more credible than a 'big brown bear'.

I'm not disturbed by the presense of grizzlies in my prime hiking and camping areas. I hike and camp every year in Yellowstone and/or Glacier NPs where grizzly concentrations are much higher. Also, I grew up and learned to hike and camp in far northern Idaho and am comfortable with the possibility of encountering one. I don't take the same precautions locally as I do in Yellowstone or Glacier, I don't make lots of noise when hiking or carry my bear spray. I probably would do so if I were in an area with a known grizzly 'frequenting the area' (NP speak for a bear has been seen in area).

Having local grizzlies encourages me to keep a very clean camp, something I should do anyway to minimize visits by black bear and other animals. Skunks are not fun to have in your campsite and provide good motivation to keep it clean. Knowing there might be a grizzly causes me to be more alert while hiking in several ways, to look for bear sign and to be aware of what is around me. Because of this, I notice things, including animals, I might not otherwise be aware of. I think having grizzlies in the local mountains is a good thing.


Sunday, August 05, 2007

Recent hikes

I have done a few local trails recently and enjoyed mild weather. A couple of weeks ago I hiked to Heather Lake in the Wenatchee National Forest, not the closer Heather Lake on Mt. Pilchuk. I was a bit surprised at how few hikers were there on a weekend, 1 pair spent the night there and I met 2 groups coming down. This is a popular and heavily used trail, perhaps the rainy weather caused people to stay home. It didn't rain while I was on the trail and the cooler day was nice for hiking. Very scenic at the lake with patches of snow on the surrounding hills.

Last week I hiked up Tunnel Creek, near Steven's Pass, to the Pacific Crest trail and then south to Trap Lake. Many hikers going up but most probably went north as I only met 1 hiker after I left Hope Lake. This was an extremely clear and nice day, cool enough to enjoy hiking and not many bugs. I saw patches of snow at the passes but none on the trail. Tunnel Creek is one of my favorite ways to access the PCT, a moderately steep 1.5 mile trail connects at Hope Lake and passes other beautiful alpine lakes.